After my last post about pattern drafting I got so many great comments about the various programs you use, whether as a hobby or professionally. This subject definitely brings the patternmakers out of the woodwork! That makes me happy because I love patternmaking minds. I want to put you all in a room together so we can geek out on subjects like bone structure, sleeve caps, and pattern puzzles.
Today as promised I’d like to share a few of my favorite Illustrator tools for drafting patterns. Now just to warn you, I am not writing a tutorial on “how to draft in Illustrator”, nor am I trying to exhaust the subject. I’m also assuming that you are a hobbyist drafting for yourself. If you are interested in making sewing patterns for sale, there are many issues to consider and these are worthy of a tutorial series or course on their own. I’ve included some resources at bottom if this is your interest.
So let’s dig in…
Learning the Pen and Line Tools
If you are brand new to using vector software of any type, I recommend spending some time playing with the pen tool. This is the most basic tool and when drafting you’ll use it over and over again. You’ll also use the Line tool, which allows you to draw straight lines and transform them into curved ones later on.
When I first started using Illustrator I created documents and made a bunch of random shapes freehand with the pen. Play around with it until you get used to the motions with your mouse or trackpad.
Get to Know Anchor Points
Anchor points are little dots that “anchor” a line or curve into a particular spot. These points have handles that can be pulled out to create curves. The more anchors the more complex a curve can get.
You can add anchor points to any line by clicking on the “Add Anchor” tool (the shortcut in Illustrator is the + key).
There are two ways I measure lines. The simplest is through the “Document Info” window.
For example, let’s say I want to measure an armscye. First I select the armscye line with the “Direct Selection” tool (shortcut: “A” key). Then I look in the Document Info window. If this is not visible, click on “Window > Show Document Info”.
The Document Info window has an additional dropdown menu for “Objects”.
When a line is selected, this information window will give you an exact measurement of your line down to fractions of inches, millimeters or centimeters.
The second tool I use for measuring lines is a plugin called Vector Scribe. Years ago this plugin was called SnapMeasure. It cost a mere $10 or so. Unfortunately another company bought it out, repackaged and amped the price but I’ve gotten so used to the tool that I had to bite the bullet once I upgraded Illustrator.
Vector Scribe allows you to measure segments of curves and lines, rather an an entire line. So for example, I can measure just the front part of a sleeve cap:
(DWP means “Distance Within Points”, which is the actual curve measurement along that red line.)
This plugin makes tasks like walking and checking notch placements on my bra patterns so much easier!
Guides are non-printing lines that you can pull into your document. Most Adobe software use guides in some form and they are really helpful for lining pieces up, finding exact corners, or maintaining a control point.
In Illustrator, to pull a guide your rulers have to be visible and you simply click on the ruler and drag downward or inward and a guide appears:
For example, on this sleeve pattern, I pulled in guides to mark the bicep line and the shoulder notch position. I locked the guides (View > Guides > Lock Guides) so they would not move while I was drafting and moving the sleeve seams around.
Duplicating Objects and Layers
Now here is the real beauty of Illustrator—the ability to copy over and over without losing previous work. Illustrator uses layers just like Photoshop.
If I draft something in one layer but need to make an adjustment, I just duplicate the layer. I’ll make the adjustments on the new layer and then go back and make the original layer visible so I can view and assess the changes.
Unless you are lucky to have a wide-format printer or want to take your patterns to the copy shop, you’ll have to print tiled patterns and tape together just like any pdf sewing pattern! Here is the template I use for all my patterns:
Illustrator has a feature called Artboards, which are hidden in the background and create printing boundaries. In my template I created a 7″x9″ printable rectangle for for every page, then an Artboard that covers each rectangle. Explaining Artboards would take up a post in itself so I’ll leave that to you to explore.
There are several methods of creating seam allowances. “Offset Path” is the easiest but all your paths have to be closed. Select your path, then go to Object > Path > Offset Path. Enter the seam you want in decimals:
I also use a an Action that I made up to create bra seam allowances (very curvy seams need special seam allowance treament!). I’m not going to share it because honestly it is a totally hacky workaround and would take me too long to explain!
- Keep your lines or strokes under 1 pt (point). I use .5 pt lines. Think of the difference between a sharp pencil and a sharpie marker—if you get thicker than 1 pt you are making your seam line almost a part of the seam allowance.
- Use the text tool to write notes on your pattern with the date and any adjustments you make. I can’t tell you how many times I used to make multiple versions of a pattern and couldn’t remember which was the most recent! Now I have a practice of putting dates on everything.
- Learn some shortcuts! There is a shortcut key for everything in Illustrator. The Pen Tool is P, Select Tool is A, and so on. When you start using one tool over and over there is a good chance it has a keyboard shortcut. You can actually make your own (go to Edit – Keyboard Shortcuts), and it will save you time from dragging your mouse over and over again.
- Dixie wrote a series on Starting an Indie Pattern Company with tips on drafting, grading and selling. Parts One and Two.
- Ralph Pink video tutorial series on drafting in Illustrator
- Melissa of Melly Sews offers two courses on CourseCraft: Creating PDF Sewing Patterns and Pattern Grading
- Pattern Workshop: Creating PDF Patterns from Sketch to Scale
(Please note: I am not affiliated with the courses nor have I taken them.)
Is there something you’d like to know how to do in Illustrator? I tried to think of the basics here, but if you have a question feel free to ask!