Practical Patterning

Laying out a Bowline Bag.
Laying out a Bowline Bag.

I haven’t found any patterns for sale for projects I’m sewing for the boat.  There’s no Vogue or Simplicity book of patterns to select from offering patterns with instructions.  That’s how I learned to sew – using a pattern – along with a variety of sewing classes and friends and mentors.  There are some great books out there with ideas and directions – some better than others.  Maybe you are lucky to have the old item to take apart to make a  pattern.  Even then fabric stretches out and may not fit right anymore.  This is different, this sewing for the boat.  There is a bit of engineering involved.  Maybe even a bit of McGyver involved.  So I’m getting better at patterning, with much help from my engineer husband of course.  It’s not rocket science, but it has its challenges.  I try to think of this as an opportunity for creativity!

Here are my thoughts on patterning:

– Get good tools.  I’ve written about tools a couple of times.  Boy, they do make a difference. What would I do without my metal yard stick and good markers?

– Measure the space or item twice.  Consider how the item will it be used.   Does it need extra “ease”?

– Draw out designs.  Note cut-outs or other distinguishing features.  Which way is up?  Does the item have differences on each side?

– Write out your desired finished size the way it will be used (hung from a rod if a curtain for example).  Then add your hems, casings, or other add-ons. Write out your cut size.  Did you check your math?

– Write out your instructions.  Think through the stages of construction.  Like reading the recipe all the way through before you start.  Consult with books, web pages on steps needed.

– Lay out your fabric on a solid working surface.  Is there a one-way design?  Is there a right side?  Designs you want centered on the item?  Flaws in the fabric to avoid?

– Are you going to make a pattern on paper?  Sometimes I use brown wrapping paper or open a paper grocery bag then save them for the next time.  There is also plastic patterning material.  Do you need to tape the patterning material to the space and mark it?  You could also use an old or inexpensive shower curtain.  Goal is to not have it stretch. If I am making something simple, I may draw the pattern right on the fabric using the selvage edge as the baseline side.  Or better yet strike a line and use a metal T square or two metal rulers if it is a rectangular item.   Mark the pattern with details (e.g., top, starboard, cut outs, etc).  Keep the pencils sharp for accurate lines.

– Do you want to make a mock-up out of inexpensive fabric?  Rip it apart after you mock it up and you have the perfect pattern.

– Measure twice, no –  three times, before you cut your pattern or fabric.

– Is your project symmetrical or does it need to be different on the other side?  This is important if you flip your pattern or have a right and wrong side to the pattern.  How do I know this?  Ask me about the swim ladder cover that needed openings for connection points at different places on each side.  I had flipped the pattern.  Mistake.

– I mark the wrong side of the cut piece with the measurement.  Mark points to use to match up when you get to the machine.

– Hold the pattern down on the fabric with pins, heavy books, blue tape or double-sided tape.

– One last check and you are ready to cut or hot knife.  Take your time with this step.

– Document your work.  The captain says it’s all about the documentation (or all about storage depending on the day).   If you are creating a pattern for something specific to your boat, you are likely to need to recreate it in a few years.  This step will save you time and money next time.  Make notes of pattern sizes, materials used (including color and thread size), and how you constructed it.  I have a file on my computer of sewing project directions. Most are now posted here on Seamless Sailor.  You don’t want to have to reinvent the…hatch cover.

When all else fails go to version 2.0 and try again!


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