Digital vs Analog pattern cutting: the final countdown (?)

Earlier today I was working on my latest sewing project (which I was hoping to share with you later today) when I run out of thread -insert dramatic soundtrack-.

Running out of thread mid project is definitely a sewist bane (right after discovering you don’t have enough fabric for your chosen pattern, after of course having cut out half of the pieces already), and to recover from the shock I resolved to pick up my work with my Olivia dress, aka the Oliver Bonas wrap dress knock off.

This prompted me to a reflection that I am very glad to throw to the internet and see what comes back.

Enter the contestants: Digital VS Analog (the dressmaker version)

There are very few things that give my brain the satisfaction of pattern cutting. From squaring your pattern paper to carefully applying the measurements to the cutting and pasting of the adjustments and variations, every single aspect of it gives me great pleasure. Drawing a strong, straight line with the pencil obediently following the ruler, or the care and loving of carefully truing a curve, not to mention the investigative work that it takes translating an imaginary 3D shape into a series for 2D slashes and curves that allow you to materialise that mental image into its tangible expression. It’s trilling, it’s exciting and even attempting it makes me feel incredibly clever (oh, I am easily pleased).


This, is what I would like analog pattern cutting (aka pattern drafting, aka pattern making) to look like:

Whereas this is what pattern drafting ends up looking like:

In my mind (image #1) I am sitting at a desk, all my resources at hand, book open for instructions.

In reality I and up on all fours with a whole room covered in: set of different rulers, appropriate body blocks, glue, sellotape, scissors, scraps of paper for adjustments, meters and meters of pattern paper, a cutting mat to be able to draw lines without poking the paper on the carpet, an array of objects to keep the paper from uncurling (glasses, shoes, gym weights..) and pen and rubber.

The picture above is a very civilised version of this reality, where everythign is still pretty much in order as I’m just starting and -quite crucially- I miss from the picture. Usually I would be sprawled across Spiderman style trying not to cumble paper, distort lines and at the same time breathe. It is, without any shadow of doubt, harder than advanced yoga.

This instead, is what digital pattern cutting looks like:

Apologies for the blurred picture. I wanted to re-take it but I had already eaten the brownies and I think they make a valid point.

In this case the only difference between fantasy and reality is the closed book, which in truth I have open all the time with many sticky bookmarks to help me flip between chapters. All you need for digital pattern cutting is: patience, a computer with appropriate software, patience, a notebook to keep track of the changes and mental notes, tea and yummies to keep the sugar level spiking. More patience.

With digital pattern drafting I can do without back aches, scraps of paper flying everywhere  (I swear I usually end up finding some downstairs, don’t ask me how), and well, I can do it on the sofa if I can be honest with you. This, together with brownies, kind of closes the argument. But I appreciate you might beg to differ so I’m going to try and be more thorough in my analysis.

As many of you might be familiar with pattern drafting (even FBAs count!), some might not know much, or anythign at all, about its digital cousin. The latter uses a vector-based software (such as Illustrator) to create a pattern that you can then print off and put togetherand it’s easily shared with others, like your regular pdf digital patterns. Vector drawing software is a fancy way to say it’s not freehand (you don’t drag the mouse around creating lines), and that it feels much more like a technical drawing lesson than an art class.

For the novice -like myself- it’s unnerving. It’s complex, unintuitive and downright frustrating. You have to learn a whole new set of rules and deal with an extra level of abstraction since what you are looking at is a zoomed out version of what you are really doing. I am sure it gets easier with time, because it is getting easier for me, but do not go gentle into that new skill without a hefty amount of commitment, and tea.

Also, the software can be expensive, however there are many open source or free versions of it available and with a bit of trial and error you can find what works for you. As a benefit, apart from the space requirements, moving darts is 10 sec job, you can put your draft on the kitchen counter and work on it while you’re cooking ragù (a notoriously long cooking sauce from Naples) and you don’t use any paper until you’re finished and ready to print.

I am sure that with the appropriate space, such I had during my recent pattern cutting course, like a raised table to stand and move freely around your pattern, about 2 sq feet of surface to work on per person, all the pattern paper I could possibly dream of… I would stick with paper drafting all the time. It’s immediately rewarding and keeps my eyes away from an evil back-lit screen, but it’s not practical in my current living arrangements so I resort to do either digital or analog depending on the project. For a small adjustment or a quick project is paper without doubt, but for complex, long-term project such as the above mentioned dress it will most likely be digital.

For me then, it’s not a countdown to paper extinction and it’s most definitely not final. but what is your experience? Ever tried digital pattern cutting or would you ever?


3 thoughts on “Digital vs Analog pattern cutting: the final countdown (?)

Add yours

    1. Hello J! I’ve tried inkscape, but i’m not very well acquainted with it however it does look like it has the same properties as Illustrator. I know there are others but haven’t tested them yet, will report back!


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