Each week throughout the summer we’ll hear from a designer about a pattern or book that caused them to head in a new direction and helped form their career. It’s the pattern that changed their life.
Florence Knapp is a skillful sewist, and a wonderful writer. Her blog, Flossie Teacakes, is totally delightful. Florence sews clothing and quilts and writes “all about that stitchery and the life that goes on around it.” She is especially skillful at fussy cut English Paper Piecing. When she’s not sewing, she works with her husband to produce education apps for children called Squeebles.
I first “met” Florence online last summer and have enjoyed her blog ever since. I’m excited that she’s visiting my blog to day to share the pattern (or the book in this case) that changed her life.
I’ve always enjoyed diving in and discovering how to do things myself, so not being in possession of even the most rudimentary principles behind drafting clothing patterns didn’t feel like a barrier to my creating dresses and tops from scratch when I first began dressmaking. I think when you exist in a knowledge blackout, sometimes you can just be happy blathering around in your ignorance, with no real concept of just how badly you’re getting it wrong!
So, while I think I may be stretching the theme a little here, when Abby asked me if there was a pattern that had changed my life, what sprang to mind was actually a book of patternless patterns that I discovered in 2010, which was my first step on the road to educating myself in how to draft patterns properly: Cal Patch’s ‘Design-it-Yourself Clothes’.
Cal’s book is aimed at arming a home-sewer with the skills needed to successfully draft clothing patterns based on their own personal measurements. The book begins by walking the reader through creating basic blocks for simple tops and skirts and then teaches how to alter those blocks to work for the slightly more complex designs in the book.
At the time, I would have been utterly overwhelmed by any of the drier textbooks available on the subject of pattern drafting, but Cal’s book felt completely accessible. Using her bite-sized lesson-based projects I was able to pick up skills gradually and experience first-hand the joy of wearing a skirt tailored to my own exact measurements and drafted with a newfound understanding of and respect for darts!
What I loved about Cal’s book was that it told me the things I really needed to know to get going, but it didn’t bog the text down with lots of superfluous theory, or indeed much in the way of sewing construction methods for once the pattern had been drafted – the book seemed to correctly assume that I was of an ilk inclined to want to work those things out for myself. I think a lot of publishers may have looked at this as an entry-level book aimed at the home-sewing audience and felt they had to fill in all the gaps – I’m so pleased they didn’t dumb the book down in that way as it would inevitably have meant far less actual pattern drafting ground would have been covered.
Over five years later, I still feel Cal’s book is fairly unique in the audience it serves and that she was fairly maverick in the way that she went about putting the book together. She is such a good teacher.
Later, I bought many of the weightier textbooks that go into things at a deeper level and I also took a short course in pattern drafting at the London College of Fashion, but I’m not sure I would have done either of those things without the wonderful stepping stone of Design-it-Yourself Clothes (or the online support and advice that Cal provided when I was taking those first steps!), so for me it was a fairly pivotal book.
The book also made me appreciate what a privilege it feels to be actively learning again. I stayed up until one in the morning reading when Cal’s book arrived, and later, at the London College of Fashion, I was that irritating ‘mature student’ asking question after question.
I haven’t gone on to do great things with all the knowledge that I’ve accumulated, I just like that I have the ability to design clothes that I really love wearing. It feels like an empowering skill to have. Perhaps like a person who grows their own vegetables, with dressmaking, I enjoy the sense of self-sufficiency and independence that comes in reclaiming a skill that’s generally carried out in a mass-produced, piecemeal format in factories nowadays.