Drafting Corset Patterns Digitally with CAD (Book Review / Storytime!)
The following is a transcript of my video “Pattern Drafting in CAD (Review + Storytime!)” on Youtube. Please note that this post contains affiliate links for Etsy and Foundations Revealed. If you’d like to watch the video and the walkthrough of the Foundations Revealed pattern tutorial, see my video below.
I haven’t done a book review in a very long time, but I’d really like to change that. This resource I’ll be talking about today, “Corseting the 21st Century Body” by Caroline Woollin – it has given me another skillset I didn’t know was possible for me. I’m gonna try not to wax poetic about this or make it seem too much like an ad, because really it’s not. I paid for this book with my own money, I put in the work to learn and practice it, and it’s saved me months or possibly years of my time, it’s paid for itself many times over, and revolutionized the way I work.
As some of you may remember, I was in a car accident in 2014 which left me with neck and back issues. Ever since then I’ve had a difficult time sewing and even doing things like leaning over a table for long periods of time for tasks like pattern drafting. And when I developed the hourglass and Gemini corset lines, these were drafted by hand, every size was graded by hand, and it put a lot of stress on my back.
The Gemini line was released more than a year after the hourglass line because I worked the old fashioned way – with pencil and paper, then I would trace a paper copy of that most recent rendition of the pattern, and literally have to mail it. If I mailed it rush, signature required, to Thailand, it’s like over $70. And it would still take 1-2 weeks to get there, and who knows if it might be damaged. There’s a lot of risks, and every part of that process takes a long time.
The fastest way to get things done is to go to Thailand, but that is thousands of dollars just in flights, plus coordinating schedules and the like. And I wasn’t able to do that last year during the development of the Gemini line, because I was still finishing up school.
Grading the Gemini pattern, sizes 18 up to 42, in the round rib silhouette and the straight rib silhouette, is 26 individual patterns. And because I was doing it by hand, there were small inaccuracies between each size, and sometimes precision of millimeters is necessary in drafting and constructing a corset.
Amber of Lovely Rats was my MVP in 2016 because she helped digitize the corset patterns for me. I know that this is a skill taught in fashion school, and I know that my dad, being a technician, had used CAD (computer aided design) programs with his work in the past, but I was very intimidated by the technology and didn’t think I’d ever be able to wrap my head around it without formal instruction like a course.
Enter Caroline Woollin, of Corsets by Caroline. She has been working with AutoCAD for at least 15 years, and in late 2016 she published a book on Etsy called “Corseting the 21st Century Body” which is all about using modern drafting techniques to bring a contemporary edge to the traditional art of corset making.
Caroline also has a Patreon where if you give just $5 a month, you’ll get a new corset pattern, already tested, graded to size and everything, every month. Individually these corset patterns sell for $10-20 USD, so getting a new one monthly for just a $5 subscription is a fantastic deal if you’re really keen on experimental corset making and testing out different styles. So she really practices what she preaches and uses CAD heavily in her own corset business.
Anyway, back to this book, “Corseting the 21st Century Body” – it’s a 97 page book, and half of that is on learning how to create corset patterns in DraftSight which is a free CAD program, and the latter half is a bit of instruction on how to construct corsets, but it’s deliberately lightweight in this area – Caroline says that you should already have some knowledge in corset making before you pick up this book because the instruction of actually assembling the corset itself is not fully extensive, the most valuable part is in the pattern drafting. And she not only gives you step-by-step instructions, but she also gives you specific exercises to build up your skills and familiarity with the various tools you’ll need for drafting patterns.
In December 2016 I first cracked open this book and I played around with the program for an hour, realized I was in over my head, and decided to shelve the idea of learning Computer Aided Design for awhile. It wasn’t until April that I gave it another try. I gave myself the goal of going through one page per day, and practicing making lines and circles in Draftsight for like 20 minutes a day. I figure, 45 pages of instruction, it would take me around 6 weeks to get through the book, and then maybe by the end of another 6 weeks of regular practice, maybe I’ll get good enough that I’ll have my first corset pattern drafted and I’d be able to test it. I was going really slow with it, and Caroline said that this is not a skill you can perfect in a weekend. She’s right, I didn’t go through it in 2 days. I ended up getting the hang of it in three days. Obviously I don’t have a perfect knowledge of every single function, but all the tools I need for drafting corset patterns and then a few more.
Caroline is a super sweet person as well, and there were times where I got stuck and felt like I wanted to throw my computer out the window, but she said I could email or message her anytime if I needed clarification. I think there were 3-4 situations where I think I just messed up on the settings and did something silly. For instance, I kept trying to save my patterns as a PDF but they would all be “invisible” when I opened my PDF file. It was just because the layers were accidentally “locked” and had the “no print” icon checked. Most of my frustrations just took the smallest check of a button to resolve.
Remember when I said it would take me an hour to grade each size of a corset pattern on paper? Within a few weeks, I had enough practice that I was able to really precisely grade each size in less than 10 minutes, and that’s with seam allowances, grain lines, labels, color coding, everything.
I was able to sit or stand at my desk, as I was comfortable, and didn’t have to hurt my neck or back. And the best part was being able to instantaneously email the corset patterns to the factory instead of using snail mail which would take 2 weeks. I would make a corset pattern and email it to them in time for them to receive it by 8am (Thailand time). By the end of their work day (which is the next morning for me), they’d have a mockup or sample made. We use a combination of methods for testing the samples – either they would mail the corset samples over to me to check in person, or they could send me pictures of the corsets on their fit models (or I would stay up late and Skype with them during their work hours). By the end of the fitting, I would know what changes to make and was able to send them the tweaked pattern the very next day.
Testing one sample used to take us a month using traditional drafting methods and snailmail, and now we could get the same done in as little as 2 days.
By the end of those 3 months, I didn’t just “Learn CAD and have 1 corset pattern drafted” (as per my original goal). Within 3 months, I had learned and practiced CAD, had 4 corset patterns drafted, tested multiple times, tweaked, perfected, and fully graded! Also, I was able to scan in and digitize many of my old corset patterns lying around – so I could get rid of paper clutter. Everything is much more organized and easy to pull up for reference, and I’m able to more quickly and easily tweak those patterns if I want to use them again in the future.
When I say that this book has revolutionized the way I work and saved me a mind boggling amount of time, and paid for itself many times over, I mean it.
Huge thanks to Caroline for creating this resource. If you have any interest in learning how to draft corset patterns digitally, you need this book. As someone who was literally physically pained by drafting by hand, learning this new skillset was so freeing. Please don’t be intimidated if you don’t have any formal education in computers or technology, we all start somewhere. Visit Caroline’s Etsy shop here.
By the way, the corset pattern I made during this video was the free overbust drafting tutorial from Foundations Revealed, for my personal measurements. If you want this tutorial to make a custom corset pattern for yourself, whether on paper or on computer, click here!
Let me know if you have any questions at all! If you have also read Caroline’s book, let us know what you think of it in a comment below!