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Dear Maddie: Pattern Making Books + Tools

I have an arsenal of pattern making books and tools. A living room doesn’t exist in my apartment because a sewing studio has replaced it. In my silverware drawer and next to my spoons and forks are scissors and curved rulers. In the dividers that hold my utensils are also seam rippers and awls. My bookshelf is not full of fashion magazines or light summer reading but textbooks on fitting, pattern making, and construction. And hanging next to my coats in my closet are fabrics upon fabrics. I have all these tools at my fingertips, and they’re all great resources, but if I was cast to an abandoned island for the rest of my life, let’s say for breaking a coveted sewing rules like pressing the right side of the fabric without a press cloth, I would have no problem choosing a few essential items. These items, mostly books and tools, would keep me sane for the rest of my life. The only other thing I would need would be a hair dryer.


Originally published in 1965, this book represents the way pattern making used to be. I love this book. Love, love. It is geared towards both students and professions – it not only shows how to draft and grade a basic bodice, skirt, and pant but also how to transform the pattern into other designs. Most modern day textbooks give a few pattern variations but this one gives tons. Tons! If I had to guess, one hundred plus variations are provided. And what’s neat is that you learn about silhouettes that are now dated but were once cool – pinafores, chemises, push up sleeves, winged sleeves, etc.

This is the classic pattern making, tailoring, and dressmaking textbook. It is used for many introduction to pattern making classes and many technical designers and pattern makers keep it at their disposal. When I started as an Assistant Technical Designer, I was required to make a sloper. Because the industry sends their blocks/slopers to manufactures to create patterns for their design, it was important that I knew how to create one. I used this book to draft my bodice and skirt slopers as well as fit it. It has been published for many years and it’s important what year you buy. The newer versions have eliminated or changed important information. The version that I used to draft my sloper and develop my tutorials was from 1987.


This book is severly outdated – 1980s, poofy hair, and blue eye shadow – but the content within it is great. It shows common fitting errors on all types of garments (shirts, pants, jackets) and how to correct the pattern. What’s great is that it uses photos (and not sketches) to show the fit issues and how to fix it.



This book gets you familiar with the production side of pattern making, familiarizing readers with procedures and terms used within the industry. It contains standard measurements for sizes, how to measure garments flat, and grade rules for alpha and numeric sizes. To be honest, there’s not a lot of information in it but it’s a great resource for me when I’m grading a pattern or when I have a measurement question? Does a rise grade the same for all sizes or does it jump like other width grades? This books answers questions like that.


Once you understand the basics of pattern making, this book will be a fun read. You probably won’t make any of the patterns but you will be amazed at how a basic pattern can be manipulated to create crazy designs.


At the request of one of my favorite commenters, Kenneth King suggested this book (seriously – scroll down and read his comment). According to him, “It was the gold standard, the only book my teacher who trained in Paris at the Ecole Guerre-Lavigne approved of. Absolutely amazing.” I couldn’t agree more Kenneth. Fortunate for  you, the blog The Perfect Nose offered this book as one of its Friday Freebies. Click here to get your own copy (and be sure to follow her directions if you’re going to post it on your blog).


For pattern making, there are only a couple of tools that I need and constantly use – a straight ruler, an L-square, a curved ruler (this one and this one), French curves, paper, pencils, and an eraser. There are a lot more pattern making supplies that make drafting and manipulating pattern easier, such as a cutting board, but you can definitely improvise. Seamstresses are great at innovating, being handy, and coming up with solutions when you don’t have tools at your disposal.


  1. Reply


    Cool! Great suggestions! And thanks for all the links!

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    I have the Helen Joseph Armstrong book but used a slightly different technique provided by my teacher for my “block”. “Block” appears to be Aussie for sloper. In fact I just posted my first self drafted skirt. Next step a self drafted blouse! Thanks for all the tips Maddie!

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    Very interesting! Some good tips for summer reading 🙂 I really like the layout aswell, with the pins!

  4. Reply

    Latrice Smith

    I have the Armstrong book myself, love it.
    I almost have a similar setup as you do. Half my living is my sewing studio. As soon as you walking in you are greeted by a cutting table and iron board.

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    Kenneth D. King

    May I also recommend the Marion Hillhouse book titled:
    Dress Design Draping and Flat Pattern Making
    It was the gold standard, the only book my teacher who trained in Paris at the Ecole Guerre-Lavigne approved of. Absolutely amazing.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      Absolutely! I’ll update the post right away.

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    What a great post! These are definitely going on my list of books to check out. I’ve paged through the first two Pattern Magic books at Barnes and Noble. Those designs are so interesting and insane. Ha! It really opens up your mind to all the possibilities within the sloper and most basic patterns.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      I know! I’ll probably never make any of the garments in Pattern Magic but it’s an eye opener of the possibilities possible through simple pattern manipulation.

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    These are great recommendations! I have been wanting to get Pattern Magic for awhile. Would you add to your list of supplies a dress form? I love draping and find it very helpful.

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    I made some blocks a few years ago but then got pregnant be for I made anything…time for a bit of redrafting I think!

  9. Reply

    Natasha Estrada

    I prefer to drape my blocks when possible. Its a more streamlined process. The best advice anyone gave to me for patternmaking was to make 1/4 or 1/2 size blocks and work through the text and make mini patterns in every major style and keep it in a binder. That way you have a reference and then the pattern manipulations get stuck in your mind and your hands.

    I need to redo this process since I no longer have my binder or all the info in my fingers. I imagine this would also work well for learning alternations.

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    We weren’t allowed to go back further than the 3rd of the Helen Joseph Armstrong book edition in school as there were errors in many of the instructions including the drafting of your fitting shell. The later editions have errors as well but they’re not as major. That said it is still an old standby!

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      That’s super interesting because I was told the opposite. It just goes to show that every seamstress, pattern maker, school, and/or curriculum has their own opinion on what is right and what is wrong.

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    These are great Madalynne, and thanks for the link. Much appreciated.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      No, thank you!

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    Maddie!!! I just hopped on over to your blog to ask you about book recommendations and found this post. Sweet! Anyways, I learned pattern-drafting from Cal Patch’s Design-it-Yourself-Clothes, but am currently looking for a more detailed, slightly more advanced book. I’m so glad to find this post! If you have any other recommendations, let me know =D

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    Hi Maddie! Such amazing resources, as usual. I want to make my own clothes but I’m afraid I’m an absolute beginner. Where do you recommend a complete novice start?

    Also, I looked through your “what I’ve made” page and I couldn’t help but notice the amazing fabrics in all of your dresses. Where do you shop for/find the fabrics you use to make your clothing?

    Thanks again for this lovely resource. I always have your pages pinned/bookmarked.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      I’m glad I could help! Every book has its focus and I would suggest starting off with general sewing and pattern making books and then move into more advanced ones.

      I find most of my fabrics in two places – New York and Philadelphia. Mood, Parons, and Pacific Trims are my favorite stops in NYC, while Jomar is my go-to in Philly.

  14. Reply

    juliana calado

    Hi Maddie,

    I’ve read some great commentaries about a book by Donald H. McCunn, called How to Make Sewing patterns. Do you know this one?

    unfortunately, the one by Marion Hillhouse book is not available anymore, and it costs a FORTUNE. Sadly, I will rely in other sources.
    thank you for your suggestions,


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