Book Review: “How To Make Sewing Patterns”, by Donald H. McCunn


Update 2016-08-28: The author, Don McCunn, has let me know there’s a new link to the author’s updates page; I’ve updated the link below to reflect that.  Also, there is a second edition of the book now available, and the author provides a list of what is new in the second edition.

Update 2016-11-06: Please see my review for the second edition.

I discovered this book after posting to the “Men Who Sew” forum at Frustrated by modern men’s patterns that fit like parachutes and tents, I asked for good books about pattern fitting aimed at men.

Previously, I had checked out Fit for Real People (FFRP) from the library. This book is frequently mentioned as the “gold standard” on fitting by many sewists, but I found it didn’t speak to me at all. 85 pages into the book, I realized FFRP hadn’t presented one thing that was useful to me, as a man of fairly average build who wanted to alter patterns to fit.

While many fit issues and principles are the same between men and women, FFRP was very far away from me on the fit continuum – mostly aimed at issues faced by plus-size, often busty women. That’s good and important. But it was too much effort to try to put that discussion through a mental filter to glean the ideas and principles that are meaningful to me, while trying to digest the material at the same time.

And so I was looking for a book that treats men on an equal basis with women. How to Make Sewing Patterns was one of the recommendations.

How to Make Sewing Patterns isn’t so much a guide to fitting, as it is a guide to drafting patterns from scratch, using pencils, curved rulers, and large pieces of paper. The process begins with an extensive set of instructions on how to make measurements, with separate instructions for measurements specific to men as well as women. And the book deserves special mention for describing special techniques for measuring yourself, if you do not have someone else available to help with measurements.

From the measurements, the book next gives a set of step-by-step instructions for drafting patterns for various types of garments. The author starts with the simplest garment to draft – a women’s skirt – and gradually builds up to more and more complicated garments. These instructions are easy to follow. Sometimes you can follow what’s going on just by looking at the diagrams.

After the basic pattern is drafted, the author gives you instructions for making a muslin, judging fit, and correcting the draft to better match the subject’s actual figure.

The strongest point of How To Make Sewing Patterns is that it provides a conceptual explanation of how flat fabric is shaped around a three-dimensional form (the body) using either darts or seams to cause the fabric to curve in various ways. This conceptual background enables you to visualize how patterns are shaped from first principles. That gives you a very powerful basis to work from, so drafting a pattern is not just a mindless set of steps.

And though more pages are given to women than men (understandable because women have more types of garments and more fit issues), men are not ignored and full discussion is given to the various issues posed by menswear. Included are instructions for drafting dress shirt patterns, for example, and even a full men’s suit.



There some things the book could have covered better.  Nearly the entire discussion assumes woven fabrics, which have their own weave and grain issues.  Patterns for knit fabrics are discussed, but in a very small appendix.

How To Make Sewing Patterns is also not geared towards altering commercial patterns.  The author’s approach has you draft your own personal “master” pattern that fits closely to your body, tweak to fit, then alter it to create various fashion designs and styles.  It doesn’t cover the pattern alteration process as you would approach it if you were altering a ready-made commercial pattern.

For instance, the book always talks about expanding the master pattern to add ease and fullness for various designs and effects. It doesn’t cover the techniques you would perform to remove ease and fullness — either to make a pattern fit, or to alter the design style of the pattern.  The techniques for doing so generally run in reverse from what is presented, but you’re left to work out on your own how you would actually do it.

So while this book was extremely enlightening and very valuable, it wasn’t quite what I was originally looking for.  That said, I definitely plan to draft patterns for a shirt and pants from these instructions – the discussion is so clear it looks very doable.

If you purchase or have a copy of the book, the author provides updates at this web page.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: “How To Make Sewing Patterns”, by Donald H. McCunn

  1. Susan Partlan

    I had thought of getting McCunn’s book but it wasn’t on Kathleen Fasanella’s list of favorite pattern drafting books she posted on her blog. At this point we have so many pattern drafting books I’m not tempted to buy it.

    1. mportuesisf Post author

      I’m not surprised Kathleen Fasanella left this book off her list of favorites. She’s an industry professional, and this book isn’t written by or for professionals. The author has a background in designing costumes for the stage, and shares the pattern drafting principles he learned from that work. That said, the presentation is solid and the section on style variations covers quite a lot of design features, as you would expect from someone who’s done costume work. A great deal of my attraction to this book is that it covers designing/drafting for men on its own terms.

  2. Don McCunn

    Hi Michael,
    I just released a new edition of this book. It contains the material in the first book and includes some new material as well.
    Don McCunn

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