Patternmaking in Adobe Illustrator

I began this year with the intention of understanding the craft of tailoring. I had books borrowed from the library to help with anything to do with a tailored garment, especially a jacket. I’ve prepared canvas, I was ready to buy wool. Alas, 2020 had a different idea. I had already in the back of my mind wanting to pattern make digitally using alternative applications knowing that after university I wouldn’t have access to Accumark at school. For a while, I had my mind set on classic tailoring, so I stuck with it. However, with circumstances changing the course of our first semester, I had to adjust my project a little bit. Space was my biggest issue. Wool fabric was not easily available. And I felt that practicing classic tailoring was not feasible. Not if I don’t have proper guidance. I have mentioned to my classmates before that I was interested in using Adobe Illustrator for patternmaking at the start of the year, but I thought it would be just an additional practice, I didn’t think I’d actually focus on it. I still continued learning about tailoring, and my attention and focus were definitely divided. It was, however, the class to do such learning.

There were a few reasons why I wanted to use the application for patternmaking:

  1. I never enjoyed paper pattern making. It takes space – I only need my computer for digital pattern making. And a printer, which can be serviced. Lots of wasted paper – especially when I make mistakes and lines are drawn multiple times and rubbing ruins the paper (not that digital pattern making doesn’t waste any paper, it is, however, minimized).
  2. I love digital anything.
  3. As much as I love using Accumark, I can not afford to buy the program, nor do I have the computer compatible to use the program.
  4. It doesn’t take as much time – tracing is merely copying and pasting, redrafting. Of course, digital familiarity is needed in order to focus on the actual pattern making.
  5. I can easily make any scale.
  6. It’s faster to grade – when one knows how to grade patterns.
  7. It’s saved all the time and can be reprinted.
  8. I don’t have to bring big pieces of paper with me everywhere, helpful when I rely on public transportation.
  9. I can make it look as professional as I want it to be and make it look cohesive with all pieces.
  10. I can use the same files for laser cutting, which would be helpful when cutting fabrics faster (another part of sewing I don’t particularly enjoy as much)

Of course, there are down sides to using digital platforms, Adobe Illustrator specifically.

  1. Unlike Accumark, which was designed specifically for pattern making, Illustrator doesn’t have the same powerful tools like faster dart manipulation, for example.
  2. Accumark can print to scale in a single paper (given the design is not bigger than the paper itself, which I have experienced myself). While illustrator can, it, however, needs a large scale printer services that can be costly. But unlike Accumark, Illustrator allows for at-home printing. Knowledge with printing from illustrator is helpful to keep everything up to scale.
  3. Printing at home means printing in A4. It needs to be puzzled together first before cutting and that takes time. Accumark prints and cuts at the same time.
  4. Digitizing a paper pattern or draped patterns is not at all easy with Illustrator. While it’s possible with a flatbed scanner, smaller-scale scanners will need extra steps and will take longer.

Over the summer I found a Youtube channel that finally showed a practical and helpful tutorial on how to use Adobe Illustrator for patternmaking. I first heard of its possibility from a colleague at Barkers. He mentioned that there’s a way to use the vector program for patternmaking purposes. As I was very familiar with the program, I knew it was possible but I wasn’t sure how, since the tools I often use then were limited to illustrating easy designs. I searched everywhere for a tutorial, but I was unsuccessful. I saw one fashion designer on Youtube use the program, but there weren’t any tutorials available. It wasn’t until last summer when I found PatternLab London that I fully grasped the power of the program. They had extensive and comprehensive tutorials on how to effectively use Illustrator for patternmaking. I learned new tools to use in Illustrator, as well as using the shortcuts I know to help me pattern make efficiently.

While Patternlab claims to teach anyone at any level, I find that pattern-making skills and knowledge are still important to have before diving into the digital platform. The same as using Garber Accumark, knowing patternmaking on paper first is helpful in using the application. Likewise, at least basic knowledge and understanding of the interface is needed to use the program for pattern making (there are tools and languages that can sometimes be helpful to know first before working on illustrator). I don’t think I’ll be able to effectively use the program if I never knew how to draft or manipulate blocks manually. It also helped that I was already making patterns digitally via Accumark.

I started by using the digital blocks that were made available for fashion students. I practiced using those as a starting point. With the help of past years’ notes on pattern making and grading, I was able to build a graded library of patterns. I haven’t given any effort on blocks for stretch materials, but that’s on my future to-do list after my time at Massey.

For the project, however, I decided to draft a jacket from block to classic jacket pattern with features in connection with the original goal for this paper. I figured by drafting a more complex block and pattern, I’ll be able to apply the skill to a simpler design and prepare me for an even more complex design. Drafting jackets, however, was not new to me as I was able to do so on paper and digitally via previous papers taken. The two-piece sleeve, however, was quite unfamiliar. As blocks were already available, I never learned it from scratch. I stumbled upon roadblocks, but none that was too much to fix. I screen recorded all my jacket drafting and patternmaking as a little overview of how I did it. Looking back, I saw improvements as I was much more confident with the program after using it for a while.

Using Adobe Illustrator as pattern making is a really good alternative for the digitally savvy. Nothing beats the true experience of making patterns on paper as it allows the pattern maker to see and feel what happens to the manipulations being made. That’s why I still recommend learning paper pattern making first before moving to digital. But it’s still is a good skill to have especially in a globalized world, and now with the pandemic closing borders, having such skill proved important.

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