This weekend I was in Marseille for the sublime Le Corbusier retrospective. Walking back through le quatier du Panier, I noticed this tiny tailors shop, simply and comprehensively signed by nothing more than a paper pattern for a skirt pasted under the shutters.
These patterns are marvels of light engineering. The maker has envisioned a garment, considered how it envelops the complex human form and drafted a 2D plan of several interlocking pieces of cloth that will create said item of clothing. You can geek out on the know-how at Fashion Incubator.
Clothing was first handmade by those who wore it. As aspirational fashion developed, tailors produced clothing of a more complex nature, belonging to guilds and fiercely guarding trade secrets. The introduction of paper patterns democratised fashion. Alongside the introduction of the sewing machine in the mid nineteenth century, fashion was able to develop and spread at a pace that’s still accelerating today. This four-part history of fashion and sewing patterns is well worth a read.
Personally, I prefer to make my own. This is largely due to the problems of standard sizing. As I create clothes for people, not as products, it is well worth drafting a basic block and working it up into the pattern pieces for a garment to ensure a good fit to a unique piece. Having said that, the resources and inspiration to be found in those little paper envelopes should never be underestimated.