Evolution of a Pattern

Evolution of a pattern - Noodlehead

Evolution of a pattern - Noodlehead

I’ve been asked several times when teaching classes questions like “how do you come up with your designs?”, so I figured it might be a fun topic to share here.

For my design process, I always start by sketching ideas. They’re not super detailed or very elaborate, but mostly something I do to get the basics down and get the idea on paper. After I’ve found myself sketching something multiple times I come back to the idea again and see if I have any further insight on how I might construct the item itself. I usually find myself wanting a specific item that serves a certain purpose. I typically consider what I would l like when making things. That’s why, as a busy mom, I usually go for classic simple uncomplicated items that will serve their purpose well. I really enjoy taking my sketches and solving my own design problems and trying to incorporate those ideas into something do-able in the home-sewing world.

Evolution of a pattern - Noodlehead

After I have things sketched out I sink heavy into the prototype process. Now, sometimes I can get really close within the first few tries, but usually it takes multiple attempts and trials before I get anywhere close to what the final product will be. I usually spend a few weeks tweaking different elements or trying different variations. I’ll use the item and try and evaluate anything that needs tweaking.

Evolution of a pattern - Noodlehead

looks pretty close, but not quite there…

When I think I have the pattern pieces and measurements all set, I’ll get started writing the instructions. I’ve taken a liking to writing them in google docs and going through multiple rounds of self-editing there before transferring them to InDesign. It feels less formal so I feel more relaxed about the process. I’ll get the basic steps down and some notes, and then build on that as I go. As I start to get closer to completing the instructions I’ll make notes of where I think I’ll need to add illustrations. It’s always a tough balance to try to include just the right amount of illustrations, rather than not having enough or too many. For the illustration part, I sketch out on paper each step where I think I’ll need one. It’s a small thumbnail containing the pertinent information. These are rough and quick pencil sketches since I then follow-up by illustrating them in Illustrator. I’ll use the pattern pieces themselves (in super small-scale) to help guide the illustration process as well as my thumbnail sketches. I sometimes take pictures with my phone of more complicated steps that I think might be harder to translate later on. This part can be quite tedious, but I *think* I’ve gotten faster over the years.

Evolution of a pattern - Noodlehead

Once I have the written instructions as close to finalized as I can I’ll then incorporate everything into InDesign. Each time I think wow, it’s just a few more steps, but in reality there’s so much more! It is a relief to get to this stage though! So after getting everything done in the InDesign file I’ll print everything out and go about sewing a bunch of samples. I’ll take notes and make changes to the text and illustrations as I need to (which is surprisingly a lot at this stage still). So after I incorporate the notes and changes I’ll read through everything another time or two to make sure I catch as many edits as I can before sending it on its next step in the journey.

Evolution of a pattern - Noodlehead

When I think I have things just perfect I’ll send the file over to my technical editor. I laugh about this part because each time I think to myself “Wow, this is the best I’ve ever done, there’s no way anyone can find anything wrong with this!” and every time without fail we find things. At this point I’m feeling really thankful for another set of eyes! My tech editor goes over the pattern and catches any and all weird mistakes I missed. After that, I incorporate her notes into my files and ask a few questions about this or that.

Once everything is edited I send the file to my pattern testers or sit down and do a in-person group test at my local quilt shop. Similar to my tech editor, they’ll give me notes and edits and I’ll incorporate those into the pattern as well as do any sort of back and forth questions. It’s surprises me every time what my testers find and the notes they send or what I think should be okay, but then find out a little more explanation or another illustration will do the trick. The end product wouldn’t be as good without these last steps! And sometimes this step takes the longest – the little tweaks really make the difference.

Evolution of a pattern - Noodlehead

just a few prototypes along the way…

After the pattern tester notes are incorporated it’s finally time for a few last checks and some serious panic mode. I’ll go back through all my notes and changes and make sure those were cleared up and that I didn’t miss incorporating any feedback.

Some patterns have gone through this process in a matter of three months, while others have taken up to a year or more in some cases.

I hope this has been a fun little insight into my process. It’s been evolving ever since I started designing and I’ve come a long way since my first pattern in 2010 – which by the way, sounds like such a long time ago! I’m continually trying to improve myself and my designing and really looking forward to what the future holds. I love this quote: “always be a work in progress” – such an important reminder for me. I know there’s always something new to learn!

Have a great weekend!

19 thoughts on “Evolution of a Pattern

  1. Shasta says:

    Thanks for sharing your process with us. Sometimes when people complain about a free pattern, it really irritates me because they completely miss that there is a human at the other end who painstakingly and generously shared their ideas with us.

  2. Kathy says:

    So very interesting! Your patterns are always so well written and I love the finished product. Thank you!

  3. Judy Johnson says:

    So interesting to see how this evolved. I just finished making the Traverse bag and I love it. It’s the second time I’ve done one of your patterns and I will definitely do more. Your designs are lovely and the instructions are so clear. I’m not a super experienced sewer but I’m really happy with my results – thanks to your process.

  4. Nadeen says:

    The time, thought, and hard work you put into each pattern really shows! Thank you for sharing the process with us!

  5. kitty says:

    Thank you for sharing this very interesting post! I have to confess I never realized the enormous amount of time and work it takes to create the excellent patterns you’ve published.

  6. Natasha says:

    I’m so glad you posted this. I have sewn from a lot of your patterns and I LOVE them. I didn’t have any idea that there was so much involved! Thank you for what you do.

  7. Cate says:

    This was quite interesting. My mother-in-law just asked me to create a pouch for her walker, and since I’ve made a few of your bags, I was tinkering around with what a pattern might look like. Thanks

  8. THIS explains why your patterns are so easy to make and turn put so well. I wish more pattern designers put in the extra QA steps you do – the tech edit BEFORE the test, and the group in-person test itself. These steps matter so much; they reflect your professionalism and are key to your well deserved success. Thank you!

  9. Kim B. says:

    This is fascinating. I always imagined it would be a lot of work – and your post certainly confirms it! It makes what you do all the more amazing.

  10. Lisa says:

    As I was reading, I wondered how long it took from your notepad to finished product. 3 mos to a year is a long time! That’s a lot of patience! I have all your patterns and I appreciate your heart and soul even more❣️

  11. Sue Duval says:

    Thanks for sharing your design process. It very interesting to read about what goes into making a pattern. I think we take a lot of it for granted… hard can it be? But, obviously, you put so much thought and work into making your patterns as wonderful as possible!

  12. Sheila Jacobs says:

    So interesting to read about all that goes into perfecting your patterns – I’m so glad that you took the time to explain all of this to us – makes us appreciate them all the more. I love your patterns, the Super Tote and Trail Tote are always being requesting by my daughters for me to make. Could you share the name of the tan and grey fabric you used above. Looks like it may be a Carolyn Friedlander. Thanks so much.

    1. Anna Graham says:

      Sure! I blogged about it here: it’s from Carolyn’s Euclid fabric collection on Essex.

  13. Barbara York says:

    I was just wondering if I could get in on being one of your pattern testers.

    1. Anna Graham says:

      Sure Barbara, just send me an email and I can get your information for the next time I’m in testing mode. 🙂

  14. Dahlia says:

    I was interested in the fabric design process, but holy cow! This is really fascinating as well! Patience indeed – you are amazing Anna!

  15. Rae says:

    Love this!! It’s always so fun to peek behind the scenes and see how a pattern is made!

  16. RobynLouise says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this. Having done my own alterations/additions to clothing patterns (as I’m a unique shape and a unique personality :P) I know how many paper and muslin corrections can be required before the pattern is how you want it. Seeing the details of this process just gives me a greater appreciation of the time and effort required by those who create for an income.

  17. Amanda Jean says:

    Thanks so much for writing this post! It was fascinating to read and it makes me appreciate your patterns even more. I also appreciate hearing the reality of how long it takes you to develop a pattern. You do an amazing job! Your attention to detail shows through.

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