I’ve been comparing pattern drafting by the freehand method (drafting directly on to fabric) and standard drafting of paper pattern pieces. I wore an outfit to a friend’s wedding recently that I made by using both methods.

Some time ago I made a pattern for a skirt block – a straight, knee length skirt which can be used as a template for other styles. I made this using the standard pattern drafting method. It worked well, and I was happy with the fit, but somehow I didn’t progress further and it languished amongst my fabric stash. Out it came recently, and seeing as the fabric had a nice feel and texture to it, I decided to finish it, line it and wear it. Leafing through my newly acquired Freehand Fashion: Learn to sew the perfect wardrobe – no patterns required! I saw the top I wanted to make to go with it: a batwing jersey knit top.

This meant drafting straight on to the fabric using measurements from the bodice block described in the book. Having made all my measurements, I made up the bodice block with calico before making the batwing top. I have also since made flare and full flare skirt blocks using this technique.

Having got this far, I think the freehand sewing method, once you’re familiar with it, could prove to be quicker and bypasses some irksome tasks. Here are some comparisons of the two techniques:

Drafting and cutting
Standard drafting on to paper involves drafting out separate back and front pieces for bodice or dress/skirt/trousers then sleeves, collar and pockets etc if needed, which are then pinned onto one long length of fabric along the fold or on the straight grain, in the same way as you would if using a commercial sewing pattern. Using the freehand method, the fabric for each part (say, the bodice) is usually folded in half, then in half again with a fold overlying a cut edge, along which a seam allowance is pressed under… like so.

Fabric folded for freehand sewing

The measurements for the front and back are then marked together onto the quadruple-folded fabric, starting on the right-hand side at the folded edge overlying the cut edge (as on the image above). Some measurements for front and back are the same, and some diverge, making two outlines. The top two layers are usually cut along the outline for the front, and the bottom two layers along the outline for the back. Hey presto – your two pattern pieces. A single front folding out, and two back pieces with pressed in seam allowances. Clever, and it’s all the folding.

I’ve flipped it round this time (cut edges uppermost) to make a jacket.

Freehand drafting in progress

Making multiple patterns
So, if you have paper patterns and want to make multiple garments from the same pattern, simply pin the paper pieces on to new fabric and off you go. If you want to customise, trace the pattern pieces and make your alterations. With freehand sewing you do need to mark out measurements each time from scratch. But, there’s no pinning, no twisting paper pieces to lie on a straight grain, and it’s quicker to cut out.

An aspect of freehand sewing I like is that for each main part (bodice, skirt, sleeves etc) a piece of fabric is cut to a sufficient width and length which is usually small enough to lay out on a table and mark up. No moving around a long length of fabric on the floor on my hands and knees – this is not my favourite task!

A disadvantage could be slightly less economy in fabric use, but maybe that’s a small price to pay. Have you tried any of these methods? What do you think?