If you have the bug for creating your own patterns and shapes, there's a world of possibilities out there in the land of books. Here are just some of the books I can suggest to you to get you started in the fabulous world of pattern making and draping. These are the ones I"ve used for years, and most of them are out of print, but they are still findable online.
There are a lot of fashion patterning books and tailoring books, and many of them focus on pattern drafting. I don't do much standard pattern drafting since I'm much more of a sculptor. Draping is better for you if you're more sculptural, if you think 3-dimensionally and like to cook by smell and by taste. Pattern drafting by the numbers is better if you're a serious recipe follower, enjoy knitting, and like things to be logical and structured.
If you like a more structured approach, go to the classics and try the Singer sewing books (as in Singer sewing machines). They're straightforward and to the point and were updated many times through the decades. They are out of print now, but finding older and well-used copies is easy.
Patterns for Theatrical Costumes by Katherine Strand Holkeboer (now Evans-Strnad) is a wonderful book for any costume making beginner. This book shows you historical costume shapes and silhouettes at their most basic, leaving it up to you where to play. It's a great way to start making historical patterns and costumes- and the shapes can easily translate into modern wear. It's one of the first really useful presents I got as a beginning costume person and it covers shapes from ancient Egypt to 1915 along with wizards, animal costumes, and nun's habits. I highly recommend it to anyone getting started. The patterns need to be scaled up (1/8" = 1"), but it's a simple procedure.
There are many historical costume patterning books, but Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion series is meticulously researched and detailed. These are very serious and historically accurate patterns, but they can be tricky to make up. Proceed with caution. This is for you if you truly want historical accuracy.
Norah Waugh's books can show you how to make everything from corsets and crinolines to historical costume patterns from 1600-1900. The Cut of Men's Clothes, Cut of Women's Clothes, and Corsets and Crinolines are classics in the costume making world.
From the Neck Up is THE book on millinery, also known as hat making. In the book, Denise Dreher has one of my favorite forewords of all time. Her description of the difference between rules and principles applies to so much more than hats.
If you've ever wanted to make your own high-heeled shoes (or slippers and sandals and handbags), check out Mary Loomis' Make Your Own Shoes. It's very dated and a little silly and her techniques still work beautifully. One note: I strongly suggest using modern safety precautions instead of the ones she mentions in the book. Leather glues require good ventilation and frequently a respirator.
Last but not least- here is some inspiration. Madame Barbara Karinska was one of the most imaginative and highly skilled drapers and costume makers out there. Her work for George Balanchine's ballets made her famous, but she also created costumes for burlesque, Broadway and film and even won an Academy award for her work on Ingrid Bergman's Joan of Arc.
Of course, this isn't all there is, but it will get you started. Pick what you are most intrigued by and go from there. Happy reading!
So maybe you're getting into making patterns.
If you're enjoying it, there are many tools that really help. You don't need absolutely need them, but the right tool can make your work much easier.
Tracing wheels are great tools for marking out your lines. Pin the piece of clothing down to your paper and use the wheel to press along your seam lines. Presto! You now have instant seam lines that are easy to read. Tracing wheels come in all kinds, from a smooth wheel to the extremely spiky. Pick the one that will do the least amount of damage to your fabric.
The spiked tracing wheel is my favorite.
Do you really want good clean lines? Invest in some specialty rulers. They help you make your angles clean and your curves smooth and pretty.
From top to bottom, there's an L-square ruler, which helps with right angles and straight lines. Next there is a plain metal ruler and a 2" x 18" gridded clear plastic ruler. Those both help make nice straight lines and to draw in seam allowances. next is the clear plastic French curve. That round head helps make nice arm and neck hole shapes and the rest of it makes smooth curves of all kinds. On top is a clear plastic hip curve with a gridded straight ruler built in, useful for hip shapes, curved seams, and straight lines.
Curved rulers make those "pretty curves" I mentioned in so many of the earlier tutorials. Line them up to your pin marks or tracing lines and use them to guide your hand so you can easily draw smooth lines.
Safety blades are great for cutting patterns out. You can use retractable blades or standard safety blades. They make the process fast and easy on your hands, and you can use the metal rulers as a guide for clean and beautiful lines. Just remember to use a large piece of cardboard or a cutting mat underneath your paper! You can do serious damage to your tables and ironing boards otherwise. (I speak from sad experience.)
On the left is a cutting mat. Cutting mats are great if you have room for them and can afford them. Most of my patterns don't fit on my mats, and full table sized mats are expensive. Sheets of cardboard or broken down boxes work pretty well in a pinch, so don't buy this unless you're really going to do a lot of cutting. If you've got the room and the cash, though, they can be a life and tabletop saver.
On the right is a pattern notcher, which will make nice, clean notches in your patterns. Notches are the road signs on your patterns: the little marks that tell you where to pay attention. A notcher can be easier on your hands than using scissors. They're not necessary, but they are fabulous.
All of these tools are nice to have, but don't let the cost or the details scare you off. You don't need most of them, and you can find used tools for cheap. Check out places like Craigslist or Freecycle, ask if you can borrow a friend's tools, or make friends with a tailor.
Honestly, DIY can be more fun with friends.
A. Laura Brody
I re*make mobility devices and materials and give them new lives. Sometimes I staple drape.