From Illustration to Sewing


Your Best Foot Forward

There is really not a separate line between illustrating fashion and actually making it. These things go hand in hand. There are very few of us that are so good at it we don’t even need to try very hard. This is a very big misconception of the facts. It’s is, indeed, hard work. It’s hard for everyone. Especially those who have the calling and what it takes. Haven’t you heard the saying “Anything that’s worth something is never easy?”

Well, it’s not! You have to fail several times, learn several lessons and die a little each time before you make any kind of headway. Now, I don’t mean to discourage but, let’s face it, you have to want to do it failing or not to make it happen. Live, eat, breathe and sleep it! You will seldom find someone in any pursuit that has been successful at what they’re doing by just halfway or barely putting any work into it. You spend hours and burn the midnight oil to get there. If you’ve been to college you should be used to it by now. Did you really think life was going to be any different? :-)

The Modern Fashion Workforce

In the industry these days everyone is savvy to networking, computers, tablets even computerized sewing machines and sergers. If you’re not, you learn very quickly. The fashion industry is like technology it moves and changes very fast. One day there’s a new trend, the next day it’s old news. Well, that’s an exaggeration on my part but, not entirely. You get the drift. Sometimes, instead of paper and drawing tools, we use electronic means, tablets, windows surface drawing because it’s faster and can be very accurate and makes for some pretty stunning illustrations. So your work area is downsized from the equipment you used to work with. Everything is faster now and yes we have to work even harder to keep up with deadlines because we are able to work faster. Which means that we have doubled the load.

Grow Thicker Skin

Just like anything else that you’ve learned how to do like, walk, ride a bike, swim, feed yourself, drive, you get the idea. Drawing and sketching or art, in general, may not be someone’s cup of tea, but if you want to be in any kind of a fashion job you really need to try to apply yourself to it. It takes time. Don’t stop doing it. The more you do it the better it gets. No matter how many mistakes you make there’s always somebody that has it worse than you. So stop whining and keep going. We are our own worse critic. Don’t pay much attention about other people’s opinions about your drawings. They are merely illustrations, sketches, ideas about the way something will look.

Fabric Boards

Not only is it a good idea to make a fabric board or at least have swatches, it’s essential! You cannot make a decision about what kind of fabric flows with your design without it. It would be like driving in a really thick fog. Why make it harder on yourself, right? Go find some fabric you think would do what you want your design to flow with. Flowing is everything. If it doesn’t flow well when the model walks down that runway, nine times out of ten, no one is going to buy it!

Care for Your Fabric

When you do find your fabric to work with be sure you take care to find out about washing instructions and such. You wouldn’t want to make a beautiful garment and then find out that if you wash it all of the sudden it’s Barbie size. What a nightmare!

Before you buy anything, study, feel, smell and read the care instructions for the fabric. Yes, there are care instructions for fabric just like when you buy garments! Because clothes are made from them. Some fabric has sizing in it to give it bulk and make it stiff. This easily washes out. But, you’re going to have to iron it afterward.

But then, you can also put sizing in a garment to make it fuller. You can get sizing the same place you get starch. Usually, that sizing really should only be put in a garment made with cotton. But, I really wouldn’t recommend this because so many people don’t launder their new clothes before they wear them anymore. It can be very scratchy.


Thread gauges are very important. Choose your thread wisely. It’s very easy to get confused. There are many sizes (gauges) to choose from. Don’t be afraid to ask an attendant or sales person if you need help in the fabric store. They will not think bad of you that’s what they are there for, to help. Sometimes even the best of seamstresses need help. After all, we are human. You might be working with fabric you’ve never even seen before.

Keep Your Basic Essentials

Always keep your sketch book, paper, drawing pencils and pens within reach. Even if you have all of the tech needed to be able to work, always keep your basics at arm’s length cause you never know. The power can always go out. When it does its usually right in the middle of what you are doing. Annoying, isn’t it? If you have to travel take it with you, you know, only what you’ll be needing. Hey, power can go out anywhere! Anything can happen.

Still, don’t get totally dependent on your surface pro or tablet for your art. I know it’s faster but, if you don’t hone your skills it’s like not being able to do basic math and always relying on a calculator then when you don’t have it, you’re in trouble! So never stop drawing with a pencil. Do not get rusty. Your boss might want you to brainstorm an idea for her/him and you don’t have your tech pad or enough charge on it but you always carry a small sketch pad for quick sketches. It totally beats drawing on a napkin with a Bic pen. I mean some lessons don’t have to be that hard.

The Sewing Machine

Your machine is your friend, best bud, your bread and butter, if you will. Usually, if a designer doesn’t really have enough experience to sew, they learn pretty quick. Trust me, it is essential to learn to sew if you are going to create a design. Once you have made something that doesn’t come of the rack and nobody else has it. The feeling is like none other.

So if sewing is not your strong point, don’t worry. You will get it once you start draping and stitching, not in that order, of course! Some fabric stores offer basic sewing classes to get you started if you weren’t lucky enough to take it in school like it did.

Pinning to a Dress form

When you pin to a freeform it is important that you use the right kind of pins. They need to be dressmaker pins. These are longer than regular straight pins. Plus, if you using a pin cushion freeform you can pin them to the actual freeform and they are less prone to break. Yes, you can break straight pins. I have done it! Also, they have larger heads on them so they’re easier to grab.

Pattern Making

You don’t always have to make your own patterns. But, I assure you will want to make a pattern for your first creation. There are lots of books about pattern making. They tell you everything you need to know and tools, as well. They are available at bookstores, fabric stores, I think you can also find something at Half Price Books. I go there for a lot of subject matter. I homeschooled my kids so I used to go there on a regular basis because our support group had a discount for us when we signed up. So, anyway, it is a less expensive way to go if you’re on a budget and if your doing fashion design or illustration on your own, you probably are.


I know this is a lot of information to spring on people and can be quite overwhelming. But, take a deep breath! You don’t have to do everything at once. If you already know how to draw and you’re a fantastic artist then you’ve won half the battle. If you already know how to sew or even know a little, that’s a good thing. A lot of designers that became successful, regardless of what they know now, started out not being able to sew a stitch. So don’t be scared. If you do nothing but illustrate or just sew you can still be successful designing. It can lead to someone seeing your work, being impressed by it and either hiring you for your drawing or wanting to buy your design.

I’m not going to get into that because it’s a whole new level! Kiddos, if you’ve read this whole article! :-) Good luck on your endeavors!

Remember, don’t be scared.



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Pamela Kay Conoly

Love for fashion, cooking, chocolate is my go to! From San Antonio, Texas, resides in Fort Worth, Texas. Author of Blog