The biggest difference -- I don't use mock-ups when I sew, except when I am very uncertain of a project or did a lot of unique drafting. Instead, I use math. My calculator and measuring tape are my best friends when designing. When I do sew a sample, it's typically out of somewhat nice fabric and can be used as a garment itself, even if I end up tweaking it a little.
I've always been a math geek. I even competed on the Math Team in middle school, winning a trip to the State Finals in Chicago my 8th grade year. That was about the time I also started studying flat-pattern design. I bought a textbook used in fashion design programs and spent hours pouring over the various elements and how they could be achieved with a little bit of paper, scissors, and tape. (At the time, I thought I was going to go to fashion design school and become world-famous. LOL.) I used this knowledge, plus a lot of learning from mistakes, to make all my formals for high school and several articles for my every-day wardrobe. Since straight-from-the-envelope patterns typically don't fit my long-waisted, narrow-shouldered frame, I must draft at least part of every project I create.
I always start by tracing the pattern onto brown paper grocery bags. I use these for several reasons: 1) I have a ton 2) They hold up. through the project as well as through storage 3) Since they're so firm, I usually don't have to pin them to my fabric. I just use canned veggies to weight the pattern down.
After that, I start drafting. I use the "finished measurements" information for a lot of my work. These are on every pattern I've used lately, though sometimes you have to look for it. I use up the scraps of the brown paper for the math -- if I add to the bodice, where and how much to add to the skirt? If I shift the front neckline by 1/2 ", how is the back affected? By the time I head to fabric, I am fairly confident in a garment that fits ME well. I also have the freedom to adapt design elements to fit my mental image.
On this skirt, I took a standard pattern and went wild. The inspiration was a linen skirt (originally from the Gap) that I picked up at Goodwill on Tuesday. I fell in love with it and just HAD to make another. I started by cutting a yoke at the top of the pattern and closing the darts on the front yoke. This adds fullness at the bottom -- perfect for the look I was working towards. Then, I began using the slash-and-spread to add about 20 inches of fullness to each of the front and the back. Finally, I created the inset piece. It's basically pie-shaped, but squared off at the top. The top is four inches across, the bottom is 15 inches. Once I have my pattern pieces, it is an easy jump to fabric.
The pattern for this skirt. The white is original, brown paper added.
My soup cansThen, I sew. I very rarely adjust anything once it's stitched. Not to say that it's perfect, but usually everything is good enough that I don't bother changing. Careful work at the paper stage saves work at the fabric stage, which means less pin-holes, less frayed edges, less seam ripping (my least favorite task ever). This skirt required absolutely no alterations from the pattern. I LOVE it! It's still a little narrower than the linen sample it's based off of, even after adding 55" of fullness. But I think much more of this print would be overwhelming.
This is a close-up of the front inset.