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The illustrations for a post about taking a pattern-drafting class are not exciting.

The tools for pattern-drafting may be simple and dull, but the results can be spectacular.

The tools for pattern-drafting may be simple and dull, but the results can be spectacular.

The tools–a 2-inch clear ruler, a fashion ruler, a measuring tape, mechanical pencil, and paper–aren’t the most interesting things to photograph.

The instruction sheets are dull, too.

Great pants start with accurate measuring.

Great pants start with accurate measuring.

What is exciting about pattern-drafting, in my experience, is the fervor of patternmaking teachers.

Edith, my fairy godmother sewing and patternmaking teacher in Minneapolis; Steve, who worked with me on a shirt pattern for Jack in St. Paul; and Victoria, the bespoke tailor who taught the Savile Row class in London last year, all preached discipline and mastery and had boatloads of patience for their uncomprehending student: me. I did not reward their efforts. My spirit is willing, but my aptitude is weak.

I was so pessimistic that I could learn one jot about patternmaking that I passed up a class by Nina Bagley offered by the City of Columbus Recreation and Parks Department last fall about how to alter commercial patterns to suit your taste and figure.

Columbus, Ohio's Cultural Arts Center offers classes in painting, metal work, and much more.

Columbus, Ohio’s Cultural Arts Center offers classes in painting, metal work, and much more.

(I ask you–how many city governments would offer such a class–and for only a nominal fee–taught by a master patternmaker who worked in New York and Italy? I love Columbus!)

No, I would only be frustrated again. And surely I could find a teacher to work with me individually. I had just set up my new sewing room and could get back to getting things sewn again in a few weeks. Couldn’t I?

Apparently not. Call it bad luck, call it inertia, but I found myself in early December with a sewing room but no sewing community–and no desire to sew. I had scared off a couple of sewing teachers local fabric stores had referred me to. One called me and the other wrote back to say, regretfully but firmly, No. Another teacher responded positively to my e-mail, asking me for dates I could meet her for lunch, but never followed up on my response.

The measurements you took become lines on your big piece of paper.

The measurements you took become lines on your big piece of paper.

I did ponder registering for a tailoring or clothing construction course at the Columbus College of Art and Design, but blanched at the $1200 per credit hour. $3600 for one course! Surely there was another way to enter or create a local sewing community to rekindle my enthusiasm for sewing.

This was the state of affairs in early December when, as I always eventually do, I rallied.  Ever the librarian, I delved into researching my burning question again. I Googled the name of the teacher of that class I spurned in the fall, and found an interview with her on a little Columbus website.

Eventually, the lines turn into pattern pieces.

Eventually, the lines turn into pattern pieces.

I liked what I read. I dug around some more and found contact information for her. I decided to take a chance and write her. Here’s what I wrote:

Hello Nina,
This morning I read what you said in the “Locals” piece at and said to myself, “That does it—I’ve got to meet this person.” What you said about being a patternmaker and doing quality work struck a chord.
Since moving from Minnesota back to Ohio six months ago I have really missed my sewing teacher-patternmaker Edith Gazzuolo, who worked with me on challenging vintage-pattern sewing projects. She pushed me to accomplish more and at a higher level than I had before, and changed my life.
I am now looking to hire an expert or two here in Columbus to work with me one-on-one when I have questions about fitting, pattern alterations, and construction. I started a blog, Getting Things Sewn, a little over a year and a half ago partly to chronicle my projects and processes and partly to challenge myself to sew the patterns I couldn’t stop dreaming about. I have a small but growing and widespread audience around the world that’s interested in what I’m doing.
A very large part of what I do is to clarify what’s stopping me—whether a technical question, aesthetic question, or something else—and define and test processes that work for me. Right now I feel quite stopped—my projects and the blog are stalled out—and the main reason is I need some local experts on my team to answer questions that are tough for me. I am a writer first and a sewer a distant second. My spatial aptitudes are only average, and it’s hard for me to grasp fitting and patternmaking. But with the help of experts I can do good work. (Threads magazine has featured a couple of my jackets made from a 1936 pattern. One of those jackets is on my home page.)
I want to get back to sewing great stuff and writing about how I’m overcoming obstacles that frustrate so many sewers today.
I am writing you with the hope that we will meet soon and that a creative partnership will be in the offing. Edith was so important to my life that I wrote a tribute about the lasting lessons she taught me that will give you an idea of the kind of student I am and what I want to achieve. It can be seen here:
Thank you, Nina,
Paula DeGrand

Darts in the front pattern piece.

Darts in the front pattern piece.

As I paused before hitting Send I thought, She’ll be either intrigued and want to know more, or a little stunned and say no or not even reply. Having just spent 25 years dealing with phlegmatic Minnesotans, I’d gotten used to being perceived as histrionic at times. But now that I’d returned to the battleground state of Ohio, where people are not taken aback by enthusiasm (Go Bucks!), I hoped I would be seen as–normal.

I took a breath and hit Send.

Ten days later, Nina Bagley replied: Here’s my number–call me. I did. She had a pants patternmaking class at the Cultural Arts Center coming up in January; it could fill quickly; I should think about taking it. She understood how confusing patternmaking can be for novices: “I kind of go through the back door and explain so the light bulb goes off.”

Going through the back door sounded good, as well as the prospect of light being shed on this arcane art.

IMG_6625 (460x195)

Once again, that fervor peculiar to patternmakers trumped any doubts in my mind. I registered for Pants: Block Pattern Making for $100 plus a $5.25 processing fee. If I could actually make patterns for pants that fit and flatter me, how great would that be? And if I could connect with a great teacher, and make a sewing friend, or several? This could be the best $105.25 investment I’d ever made.

Yes! I'm in!

Yes! I’m in!

Tuesday at 6:30 I entered the classroom, met my seven congenial classmates, and started following Nina’s directions for turning measurements into a pattern draft. Three hours never went by so fast. And I actually kept up!

At the end of class we were all smiling as we gathered our tools and paper and bundled up to go back out into the bitter cold night. For homework we will sew muslins from our drafts to be analyzed and fine-tuned in our second class.

No one was more enthusiastic than Nina. “I can’t wait till next week! I can’t wait till next week!” she declared.

And you know what? Neither can I.