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Soft Shade Making Series - How to Make a Pattern

Updated: Aug 4, 2022

With the preparations for making a traditional soft shade covered in our Soft Shade Making Series, it’s time to talk patterns! Making an accurate pattern from your frame is essential to getting a beautiful, pucker-free fit for the outer fabric of your lampshade. With several essential stages to cover we've packed this post with three easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions, alongside hints and tips from professional makers, to help you perfect this important skill.

Lined and Unlined Lampshades

Soft lampshades can be either lined or unlined, the difference being that on an unlined lampshade you can see the binding tape, from the bottom of the shade. Many lampshade makers die their binding tape to blend this in with their chosen outer fabrics or add a lining so the frame isn't seen.

In this post we’ve chosen to focus on an unlined lampshade, to introduce you to pattern making and we’ll cover how to make a lining in a future post in the series. It’s worth noting that if you do want to make a lined lampshade, the lining will be fitting to the frame after* the outer fabric.

Editors note: this initially read before which was changed to after on 9th May 2022.

Fabric for your outer lampshades

The golden rule of making a lampshade is to use woven fabric for your outer fabric. This will give the best results, particularly as a beginner and we'd recommend a medium weight fabric, as this is forgiving and easy to handle.

Before choosing your fabric, consider the pattern or print on the fabric, as this will be used on the bias, therefore will be turned onto a 45-degree angle, as explained below and for some patterns and prints, this might not work.

Preparing your frame

Before making your pattern, you will need to place a ‘temporary binding’ on a number of struts on your soft shade frame, following binding the top and bottom of the frame. You can read more about this in our How to bind a lampshade frame blog post.

The shape of your frame will dictate how many panel pattern pieces you will need and for the complete beginner, two panels, each covering half of the shade is the easiest to start with. Lampshades with two-panel shades can easily be created with our French Drum or Bowed Empire frames.

Joanna Hepinstall, (@lampshadeschool) in her book Sewing Lampshades offers this advice;

If you are not sure how many seams you will need to make two templates. You are likely to be able to tell just by making the template which will work best, but if unsure, make a version of each using scrap fabric and try fitting them on the shade.

What you’ll need to make a soft shade pattern

  • Pale plain woven fabric (an old sheet or calico is ideal)

  • Lills pins

  • Soft Pencil (i.e. B or HB)

  • Outer lampshade fabric

  • Iron

  • Fabric Scissors

  • Tape measure

  • Tailor's chalk/ Fabric marker pen (optional)

  • Dressmaking pins

A note about pins

Lills pins, or sequin pins are small sharp pins that are traditionally used for pinning sequins and trims and are useful in soft lampshade making because they are short, meaning as you pin around the frame you are less likely to catch yourself. Dressmaking pins are useful for copying the pattern onto the second piece of plain-woven fabric, for which the lills pins would be too short.

Finding the bias of your fabric

An important rule when making soft shades is that the fabric must always be cut on the bias so that the stretch is even in all directions. Woven fabric is made with ‘weft’ threads that run horizontally across the fabric (also known as cross-grain) and warp threads that run vertically (also known as straight grain). The bias runs diagonally across the fabric which has a natural stretch.

1. To find the bias, lay the fabric out in front of you on the table with the selvedges at the top and bottom of the fabric.

2. Fold a triangle up from the bottom corner (even if the fabric is oblong this will represent a square)

3. Finger press the long edge of the triangle in place.

4. Unfold and mark the line with tailor's chalk.

5. To make a second bias marking, which is useful if you are working with a larger frame, mark a further 20-30cm along both the top and bottom edge and join the line again with tailor's chalk.

Pinning the fabric to the frame

1. Take your fabric and lay this over the frame, so that it meets the two temporary bound struts on either side. When positioning the fabric the chalk lines should sit at a 45-degree angle from the top to the bottom of the frame. This will ensure that the stretch is even across the fabric, resulting in a tight and even pattern.

2. Before pinning, ensure you have around 3-5cm of excess fabric above the top and below the bottom ring. This excess will be used to pull the cover over and attach the outer fabric to the frame and give you fabric to work with when attaching this to the frame.

3. Position a pin at the top and bottom of the frame where the bias stretches across the frame, then pin at the top and bottom of each of the temporary bound struts.

4. Then gently pull the fabric taut across the top and bottom of the frame and continue to pin in place, with around 1 cm between your pins, adjusting until the fabric is stretched tightly.

Professional lampshade maker Amanda Wheattie of @wyreandgimble offers this expert advice:

When stretching and pinning pay attention to the weave of the fabric. You will be able to see the warp and weft. On a well-fitted top (outer) fabric the lines of the warp and weft should be straight not curved or undulating. Use them as a guide when stretching and pinning, they will help you to see where you need to pin. If you see a ripple, trace it back along the warp or weft to the pinned edge. If using fabric on the bias this will be diagonally up or down from the ripple.

Marking the pattern

1. When you have removed all the wrinkles and puckers and you are completely happy that your fabric is smooth, use a pencil to mark the vertical struts and the top and bottom of the frame. Ensure the lines are accurate and take your time when marking them as this will affect your final pattern.

2. Carefully remove the pins from the pattern.

3. Add a 1.5 cm seam allowance to the sides of your pattern using a tape measure.

4. Cut out your pattern along the drawn in seam allowance leaving excess fabric at the top and bottom of the pattern.

5. Check the pattern is symmetrical by folding it in half and placing a few pins on along the seam line. Turn over the pattern and check the pins line up with the seamline on the reverse.

6. Copy your fabric pattern onto the second piece of calico or sheeting fabric, also copying the bias markings, ensuring these sit on the bias of the new fabric.

New for Summer 2022 – Soft Shade Making Bundles

As the popularity of making soft lampshades soars, we’ve made it even easier for you to make one of your own! Our NEW Soft Lampshade Making Bundles, include everything you need and are available in a choice of three frames - French Drum, Bowed Empire or Scallop – and are available in a wide variety of sizes. Pick from either black or white cotton tape and upholstery thread to suit your choice of fabric.

Armed with the Soft Lampshade Making Bundle’s top-quality material and tools, all you need to do is simply pick a fabric and follow our Soft Lampshade Making Series to develop your soft lampshade making skills and make a beautiful bespoke shade!

Other pattern making methods

To create a lampshade pattern, here are other methods that can be used. A more traditional method suggested by FJ Christopher in his two Lampshade Making books is to use a cushion or pillow, with a piece of brown paper placed on top. To make your pattern, push one panel of the frame down onto the brown paper, to create an imprint. Draw around the edges of the panel, then carefully cut the pattern out. Position the paper pattern onto the bias of your outer fabric as in step 4 above.

Natalie Price-Caberra in her book Handmade Lampshades uses the same method on a Bowed Empire Frame in her Frida Rocks project but instead draws around the inside of the frame.

The advantage of this method is that this is quick and straightforward, yet when using an upcycled frame this could result in errors, if each panel is a slightly different size, meaning you may need to repeat for each panel of the frame.

Double fabric pattern making

For a more experienced maker, making a pattern that covers the frame in two halves can be achieved more simply and quickly by taking your chosen outer fabric and folding it in half to create a triangle, positioning pins at the outer edges to secure the fabrics together. Lay the triangle over the frame, ensuring it covers and meets the two temporary bounds struts.

Pin fabric to the lampshade frame and mark as explained, in the step-by-step instructions above. Note that the two pieces of fabric must not shift during the pinning process as this could create uneven pattern pieces.

See the Series

If you'd like to read other posts in our Soft Lampshade Making Series, which will help you prepare your frame up to this post simply click the button below!


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