Being A Fashion Student 101: Fabric, Pattern Cutting & Manufacturing

Thursday 27 November 2014

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fashion student design fabric pattern cutting manufacturing

The final stage of the design process is to choose your fabrics, pattern cut, and manufacture the final design. This has to be my favourite part of the process; I'm a really hands on designer and just love experimenting with fabrics. I could literally spend hours just pattern cutting a design, amending and redesigning parts to make sure it's perfect. If you have missed the previous posts from this series, you can read about applying and 1st year tips, research and sketchbook, and design and illustration by clicking the links.



This is such a great resource to have throughout your entire design career. Always make a note of the type of fabric, composition, width, price and the name of the fabric store. Even if the fabric is not available in a few years, you can use your sample to track down something similar. Once you accumulate a range of fabrics, you have a reference point to look back on when choosing your fabrics.


As my university was in Nottingham, I did have many early mornings travelling to London to fabric source as they do have some really good stores at different ends of the price scale, but there are some great stores outside of London too. There are a lot of specialist fabric stores about, googling will help you find these. If you're looking for a certain fabric, or need some advice on what fabric to use, leave a comment below or email me, I'll try my best to help and pass on what I know.


I found it hard picking the right fabrics for my collection; I wanted the right balance between mixing colours and fabrics. In my collection, each of my looks was of one colour, so I chose to use different weights of cotton as all my pieces involved pleats so it needed to fold well. If you're using any sort of fabric manipulation, choose a weight of fabric that will sustain the process. Think about what type of fabric is suited for each piece, and if you're going to be layering pieces together, how they will work with each other.


Before you become committed in buying your final fabrics, always buy a sample. This way you can test the way it sews, the way it presses or any other process you'll be using it for. If the fabric store is far, ask in store if they do phone orders, and make a note of any information you may need to place the order.


This point contradicts what I said above, but if there is a fabric you love, buy it, even if you have no use for it right away. I always end up buying a few metres and storing them away just in case I need them. It's great when you're look back and find something that you can use.


The more prepared you are with your equipment, the smoother the making process will be. I have a little "fashion toolbox" where I would keep all my things and would store this in my locker so it will always be there. Most of the equipment I bought was from my uni shop, others I would buy from Morplan, which do great student discounts. You can also look on eBay which have some great discounted pieces.

fashion student design fabric pattern cutting manufacturing equipment


I'd recommend that you always have a 5000m spool of thread in white and black for toiling. You will accumulate a rainbow of colours over the years which will always come in handy. I cannot describe the number of pins you will be going through each year. You will get to stage where you'll be on the lookout for pins anywhere in the studio. Hard times. Dressmaker pins are ideal as they're the longest, but if you like something with a little grip, glass-heads are for you. A pin-cushion is great to keep track of your pins, but don't forget if you're not wearing it or you'll end up using your wrist as one instead. Yes, this has happened to me. It's always good to have a range of hand needles in your kit, in case you need to finish off buttonholes or little tweaks. The easiest way to remove stitches is using a seam ripper, don't use scissors as you will end up cutting into your fabric!


The vital piece of equipment for pattern cutting is your pattern master/set square. It will become your best friend. Please look after it as it's very painful to watch it break in half and a very expensive accident. If you choose to go for the set square, it might be ideal to purchase a set of french curves to use when curving necklines, armholes and other curvature patterns. A metre stick is also handy for those longer patterns. You will need a tape measure for measuring on a 3D scale, and also as a flexible tool for your pattern cutting.


I usually have 4 pairs of scissors in my set; the most important, of course, the fabric shears. They come in a range of sizes and weights, but go for something you will be comfortable using. I also use a standard pair of paper scissors for pattern cutting and just general things. The last two I use are thread clippers and embroidery scissors. It's always good to carry thread clippers to your machine to clean up your loose threads, and the embroidery scissors are a good option to use when you have tight corners to cut into, such as when making a collar.


A mechanical pencil is ideal for pattern cutting as you will always have a sharp point. A few colours of felt pens are good to mark out and differentiate between lines. A tracing wheel is perfect to mark out darts, and make transfers between fabric and paper so you'll get the exact measurements you need. For fabrics, only ever use chalk in the nearest colour to your fabric; try it out on your fabric in case it leaves a mark.


If you struggle to cut your fabrics neatly or want a quicker method, use a rotary cutter. It can take a little practice to get use to, and also use a cutting mat! A pair of tweezers and a screw driver are really handy when you're working at the machines and need to thread up a machine or change the foot.



With flat pattern cutting, you start off with a 2D pattern piece which involves using a basic block to create your designs. With draping, you start off with a 3D pattern piece which involves working straight onto the stand with fabric, and transferring this onto paper once complete. Personally I like to mix between the two; for something more structural, I like to work from the stand as it's easier to control the silhouette, whereas something that's a little more straightforward, like a raglan sleeve, I like to flat pattern cut.


Keeping organised while pattern cutting is so important as all your pieces end up looking the same. Always mark whether the piece is a front or back, seam allowance size, how many pieces you need to cut of each and whether it's to be cut on a fold or from the grain line. If you have reworked a garment, make sure you label the pattern piece with the date or something that will help you differentiate the stage it was made. Always clearly mark darts, pleats, notches or any other important marks you will need to help manufacture your garment.


There are hundreds of books available to help pattern cut, have a look around to find ones that are suited for the way you like to design. A few of my favourites are 'Metric Pattern Cutting For Women's Wear' by Winifred Aldrich which covers a range of essential fits and garment styles. For specialising in tailoring, 'Tailoring' by Creative Publ Intl is a step-by-step guide with visual and text along with tips. If you love pattern cutting as much as me (which is a lot), 'Pattern Magic' by Tomoko Nakamichi is a must. They're very sculptured with technical instructions, but you can simplify to suit your designs, and it's a great way to practise your skill.

I'm learning how how to source fabrics and best tips on manufacturing with @helloaycan #fashionstudents



Toiling can sometimes seem like a pain, but it's a lot better than realising you've done something wrong once you've started with your final fabric. This is a chance to make sure everything looks exactly how you want, and it fits exactly how it should. Try using a fabric similar to the one of your final so you know how it's going to drape and fit.


Before you start cutting out your final piece, check all your pattern pieces are clearly labeled and you have completed a lay plan so you know exactly how much fabric you need. Make sure all your pieces are in line with the correct grain line. Once you know exactly how much fabric you're going to need, cut and press ready to be cut out. Re-lay your pieces back onto the fabric and either pin down or use a heavy object to keep them down to chalk around. Remember to include all your notches!!


Always check the needle size of your machine, even change it if you are not sure. 8-11 for fine weight, 12-14 for medium weight and 16-20 for heavy weight. Use any scraps of fabric to check the stitch length, needle and thread. Make sure the machine is clean too and there is no dirt or oil that could be transferred to your fabric.


There a lot of sewing guides around but I love the 'New Complete Guide To Sewing' by Reader's Digest. It shows you step by step on how to cut, seam, how to finish off edges, as well as a lot of other things. I would definitely recommend this book! If you have any spare time, it's always good to practise some of the methods from the book you might need and compile a folder so if you need reminding, you can always look back.

This is the final part of my fashion design 101 *sad face*, but don't worry! I've had such positive feedback from this series that it would be crazy not to carry on with it. In the new year, I'm going to go into more depth into some of the topics, with tutorials and personal tips I've learnt throughout the years. I'll also be sharing with you some of my work, so you can understand me as a designer a little better. If there's anything you'd like me to cover, comment below and I'll definitely add it to the list.