My Story

Part 4: Patternmaking Classes

I was so excited!

When I did a (Google) search (back in December 2003) on patternmaking in Sydney, all that came up was a TAFE course: The Principles of Patternmaking. It was one of the subjects in the Certificate IV in Fashion Technology. The Principles of Patternmaking consisted of one three-hour class per week, one night a week, for one year.

So I phoned as soon as I could (had to wait until January, when TAFE opened again) and got the information about enrollment day, and I turned up.  There was a long line down the hall for enrolling in the Fashion Technology subjects.  A long line before me, and about 20 or 30 people after me.  It was a case of first in, first served.  I was the second-last one to get into Patternmaking, almost everyone behind me in the line was sent away (try again next year!).

Then classes started, and I turned up to find that all the other people in the class were in some way involved in the fashion industry; they worked in the fashion industry or they wanted to work in the fashion industry.  Some had jobs on the cutting-room floor of some major labels, others wanted to design their own clothes to start their own fashion labels.  I felt a bit like a fish out of water.  I felt a bit stupid really, like someone was going to say I shouldn’t be there, and send me away.

However.. from the first class, I loved it! I was fascinated and amazed that I could learn this skill.  (And at that time it only cost about $250 a year for TAFE studies, regardless of what qualification or how many subjects you did!).  I did occur to me that this was not the kind of class that my friend had done, but I was very hazy about any of the details she had mentioned.  At the time of starting these classes, I didn’t realize she did a 10 week Community College course –  I only released that much later.

Did I make a mistake?

In about the third or fourth week I asked my teacher when we would make our own customized blocks.  The answer was… never.  This was a fashion course, directed at the fashion industry, it wasn’t about personalized blocks.  We wouldn’t be learning to make blocks at all, actually.  We would use standard industry blocks. TAFE had their own blocks, and we had to purchase a set for use in class.

I was disappointed, but not at all dismayed.  Not even the least bit fazed.  I figured that as I learned skills in patternmaking, I could eventually make my own block.   I decided that for the moment I would just keep on learning patternmaking, and concentrate on that.  I also had a lot of other things going on in my life, and if I had to wait another year or two to make my own clothes… well, at least in a year or two I would be able to do that.  What was the alternative, give up?  Anyway, I loved the patternmaking classes, I loved learning the skills, there was no way I was going to stop.

The other thing I figured was this:  Michelle had done a ten-week community college course and made herself a set of blocks, but there was no way that ten-week course would have given her all the knowledge that the one-year course I was doing, and the second year course that followed it –  Block & Pattern Modification would give me.  So what if I did it the other way around?  What if I learned patternmaking first, then make my own block sometime down the track?  Meh! I was up for it.

Asking my teacher for Block Making Instructions

So, eventually, past the middle of that year, I asked my teacher how I could go about making my blocks myself.  Since block-making wasn’t going to be covered in class, I was hoping she could suggest how I could go about it.   My teacher suggested a textbook: Metric Pattern Cutting by Winifred Aldrich.  I think I had to order it; she arranged the order and I waited for it impatiently.

Boy, was I excited when I got it.  I had four or five weeks leave from work starting soon, and I planned to work on the block and patterns in the first few weeks; I had a trip planned for the last two weeks.

Since I was using my own unique measurement, I was sure it would fit really well.  THEN I could start making myself some patterns, and some more clothes.

The Disappointment

Yeah, well….

I’m not sure you can begin to imagine my disappointment when it turned our so wrong!.

The first image is the block that I created using Aldrich directions. Using my own personal measurements.

This second image is a comparison of what my block looks like compared to that Aldrich block.

This third image is the same as the one above, but the two blocks are placed differently in relation to each other.  This third image gives a clearer indication of what the problems would be if I put a toile on made from this block: the shoulder tips are aligned because the block/toile would have to sit on my shoulders.  However, this image doesn’t show that despite the width in the block (it’s wider than my block), it was still too small in the bust.

What did I do wrong?

Now I did understand that some level of adjustment would be required, but what I didn’t understand was:  if I was using MY measurements, why was it SO wrong?

Yes, I tried making adjustments to the toile, but I didn’t understand what all the issues were: I’d try and fix one thing and it would create a problem elsewhere.  I knew nothing about draping, and had no one to help me.

I kept thinking that I was making mistakes with my measurements, and kept going back over and over them, trying to figure out where the mistake was.  This feeling was reinforced when I went back to my class and had a conversation with one other girl who had purchased the same textbook and had made her own block.  When I asked her if her block fit well, she said “Of Course”.  When I mentioned my troubles, she said something along the lines of “If you had followed the directions correctly, and taken/used you measurements correctly, then of course it would fit.  You must have done something wrong.”  (Important Context: She was a Fit Model for a major clothing label, and had the perfect (Australian) Size 10 figure.)

I kept on working on it until my spare vacation time was used up; I was going away on a two week trip during the TAFE September/October term break.  I thought I would take up where I left off when I got back from Heron Island.

Life, and health problems get in the way

Unfortunately, I got really sick at the end of this vacation – some un-diagnosed auto-immune condition that was causing reactive arthritis and fluid around my heart.    I was so sick I kept on ending up in hospital on and off.  I somehow managed to finish the last term of patternmaking (I have no idea how, when I look back), but I certainly wasn’t making any blocks.  I had to take months off work, I had a relationship break-up, I had to move house, then move house again.  Blocks were put on the back burner.

After a break, the next Patternmaking Subject

I didn’t do the second year of Patternmaking in 2005, that was a year of Taking Things Easy.  Then, in 2006, I felt well enough again and signed up for the second year patternmaking subject at TAFE:  Block & Pattern Modification.

One day I was looking in the TAFE Bookshop and came across a textbook called Patternmaking for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph-Armstrong.  This book had a different block making method and – you guessed it – I was so, so excited (again)!

Continued in Another Method.

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