Behind The Scenes / From The Workroom

How my patterns are made

how my patterns are made

One of the questions I get asked most often these days is how my patterns are made or what programs I use to draft patterns. So with my newest pattern just a few days from release, I thought it might be nice to shed some light on the whole process for you all!

Since my brand is all about wearable fashion-forward pieces, I always like to come to design ideas organically. I tend to ask myself constantly, what is missing from my handmade wardrobe? What do I want to wear right now? I begin with the design as fashion, then try to dissect how I can make the garment construction simpler. I do not start by saying “oh there is no pants pattern, I need a pants pattern in my line”. I like to start with what I’m passionate about, and then figure out how that garment could be a sewing pattern. I feel like that maintains design integrity, and ensures I don’t lose my focus.

I spend a lot of time sketching and fully fleshing out all the design details and construction plans. Once I have the design fully fleshed out, my technical sketching done and my notes made, then I work with my pattern maker to draft and test the pattern. At the beginning of my brand, all of my patterns were drafted and graded by hand by me, but nowadays all of my patterns are professionally drafted in Gerber Accumark to industry standards. We work back and forth over a period of weeks tweaking the pattern and getting the fit and details just right. I am very picky. This is where my fit model is crucial. It’s really important to me that all patterns are properly fitted during the drafting process, that way you can be sure that all of my patterns will fit consistently.

While I’m working on the initial samples and tweaking the pattern, I experiment with different construction methods and the order of sewing to figure out what will be the most efficient and simplest construction method. I constantly ask myself, does this need to be here? Can I make this part easier?

Once we’re happy with the base pattern it’s graded, and then I spend a lot of time writing and adjusting the instructions, and creating all of the diagrams that go with the instructions. I make many notes and take a lot of photos during the drafting phase, and I look back on these when creating the instructions. At this stage, I just tend to write all the instructions in Word and I draw all the diagrams in Adobe Illustrator using a Wacom Tablet and pen.

Then I like to leave the instructions for a bit while I work on cut layouts and sizing and yardage requirements. Often when I come back to the instructions again with fresh eyes I’ve thought of another way of explaining something. I love it when that happens.

Once I’ve finalised the draft pattern, Sarah does a super thorough picky proofreading and checks everything. Then we start our testing round. Though by this stage I’ve tested the pattern over and over till my eyes bleed (kidding, but seriously), I feel it’s vital to do external testing with normal people who are likely to be (or already are) my customers.

Our testing rounds tend to be about a month long. It’s super important, and we take testing really really seriously. I love my testers and I’m so grateful for the time they take out of their lives to help provide feedback on our patterns. We choose a range of different sizes and skill levels to make sure that we cover as many types of people as possible. At the end of testing, we go through the feedback we’ve received and figure out what if any changes need to be made. I swear to you there is always some really dumb mistake like a notch that’s not quite in the right place. And sometimes significant changes need to be made to get a better fit or level of comfort. This is why testing is so vital. There are more often than not a lot of edits to the instructions to make things clearer, and diagrams are revised. This stage of finalising the pattern always feels really long to me. (Probably because it is haha)

By this point, I’m really ready to step away from technical things, which is good because it’s time to finish up the cover art for the pattern. Sometimes I’ve done all the variation sketches by this point, and sometimes I spend ages trying to get them just right. I probably spend way too long choosing colours and painting them. I love an excuse to draw and paint!

Once the pattern instructions and diagrams and sketches and everything are completely finalised on my end, then our fab graphic designer Yvette gets cracking and makes everything pretty. She rocks.

After Yvette has made all of our print-ready files and the PDF pattern too, then we send the pattern to print. It usually takes 3-4 weeks till they’re finished, then they’re shipped to the warehouse and we’re ready for release!

So much work and love go into every design! All in all, it takes months and months and months to get from the idea to the end pattern. But it’s so worth it because, at the end of it all, I got to share it with you and see something I love being enjoyed all over the world.

Oh and then I take a very big nap. With a block of chocolate hehehe.

About Author

Meg is the Founder and Creative Director of Megan Nielsen Patterns, and is constantly dreaming up ideas for new sewing patterns and ways to make your sewing journey more enjoyable! She gets really excited about design details and is always trying to add way too many variations to our patterns.

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7 years ago

Great post! I love reading about other designer’s processes and hearing all the work and love that goes into each design. Your patterns are awesome and it is clear that you have high standards for design and execution. Would love to hear more about your Wacom tablet and how you enjoy using it to illustrate things!

Stitch Wench
Stitch Wench
7 years ago

It’s wonderful to see how a professional goes about taking a pattern from initial concept to product-ready. If more small pattern companies did this, it would be in the words of Martha Stewart, “a good thing.”

7 years ago

This was an interesting post. It’s evident that you’re a perfectionist because your patterns have clean, simple lines, loads of variations and no errors in the directions.

Casey Maura
7 years ago

Really loved the insight into your process, Megan! I’m really intrigued about working with a professional pattern grader–how do you go about finding someone that does draft up to industry standards? (One of those weird questions I get at 2am and Google… haha!) Anyway, all the care and attention that you put into each pattern shows!!! :D (Was wearing one of my Erin skirts again today–those have been total workhorses in my maternity wardrobe!)

7 years ago

Wow, that was a really insightful read. Thank you for all the hard and meticulous work you put into making the patterns, no wonder they are always so perfect. You had mentioned working with a fit model now. When you were doing everything on your own, did you also have a fit model at that time? With patterns you can send them out to pattern testers, when you were doing it all yourself, how did you get around that?

I am trying to start a small clothing line myself and wanted to get your expert advice on these topics.