What do houses and well-designed fashion patterns have in common? They are both built on a framework—a carefully measured, solid structure that forms a foundation on which to build… a pattern grid. A pattern grid is a combination of intersecting seams, surface planes, and style lines used as the underlying framework of a style. Any type of pattern-draft can incorporate a grid and is best to keep them as simple as possible for ease of assembly when planning your bag design.
The design and formation of any designer bag is based upon simple body shapes when laid flat, fit into a square or rectangle, of which the size depends on the final shape and parameters of the pattern.
Though the grid used to create a particular pattern may take some detective work to discover, you can spot a grid-less pattern from a mile away; details and stitching float on the surface in a seemingly random arrangement and design elements repeated on multiple surfaces often appear close-to, but not in exactly the same position. Grid-less is fine if that randomness is intentional, it’s not fine if it’s simply a lack of planning.
In contrast, a pattern layout built on a grid looks far more organized and makes assembly easy to do. Take a look at the examples I have given. All three patterns make up a simple one-piece body; all similar in style and shape yet different in assembly. See how the front, back, sides, and bottom all line up on the same horizontal and vertical axis? The underlying grid adds a real sense of structure to the body of the bag.
To incorporate a grid into your next pattern layout, start by identifying the elements you plan to use throughout your design. Draft out a rough pattern the approximate size of the square or rectangle on paper. Every bag design has some kind of top finishing which often provides the focal point of the style – the bag ‘opening’; it can be a flap, a frame, a zipper, or a draw-cord detail. The ‘body’ will have 5 planes: front, back, bottom, and 2 ends.
With the pieces defined, you can begin to experiment with different grids (A B C). Begin by dividing the pattern (square or rectangle) into 3 parts: (i) center panels for front and back, (ii) a bottom, and (iii) side panels for gussets or ends. The side panels can be cut to any shape so long as they make a complete gusset end when made up.
Though I consider the grid part of the styling, I think it is best described as a kind of visual discipline. And, while some may consider a grid restrictive, I think of it as liberating. It frees me to spend my time experimenting with the more creative elements of design—the shapes, colours, textures, and details that communicate the fashion message.
Need more versatility? Add more grid-lines to your pattern-draft. Though I prefer the tighter structure of fewer seams, you might want to add more seaming so you have a greater choice of where and how to line up the elements. This is particular true for leather and suede. They are often small skins and must be pieced together to achieve the dimensions of your design.
Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or just getting started, any designer can profit from analyzing the substructure of the fashion designs they admire. With a little detective work, you can approximate the design of the grid for just about any style and apply the same or a similar structure to organize and present your own ideas. In fact, you may find that what you admire most about someone else’s work is something that is, in large part, invisible.