Digital design tutorial – how I do it

When starting a new project, I like to make some sketches and images of what I want to do. I generally start with some paper sketches, but these have the disadvantage of 1. me not being a great artist and 2. being difficult to color, especially with patterned fabrics.

So generally, once the design is clearer in my head, I make a digital ‘sketch’ of what I want the finished project to look like. Below two examples of past and current projects:


In this post, I’ll attempt to show how I make my images in photoshop. A similar post was written by American Duchess, but her method is slightly different from mine. You can, of course, also use a combination of methods, just pick whatever works for you! The main difference is that I don’t have a tablet, so draw my lines differently (I’m also not nearly as good an artist as she is!). My method should also work if you’re no good at drawing. I also tend to use layer masks for coloring instead of erasing outlines.

This tutorial will assume a slight familiarity with photoshop, but I’ll try to be as clear as possible, and questions are always welcome!

To start with, I always look for a base picture. This is because I’m not a great artist, and drawing with a mouse is very tricky. This shape of this base should resemble your finished vision as closely as possible. Color, etc. doesn’t matter. It’s also possible to use a combination of pictures. I tend to look for fashion plates and pictures of existent dresses. If you wish to use (modern) art, or a modern photo it would be good to first ask if you’re allowed to use the image! Especially if you’ll be posting it online.

For this tutorial, I’ll be using this dress from the Glasgow Museums. The dress I’ll be designing will have the same shape, but have a chintz dress and a plain petticoat with a ruffle at the bottom.

Damask robe a l’Anglaise with floral pattern, 18th century </br> © CSG CIC:

So let’s start with opening this image in photoshop! The picture will be your base layer. The outlines of the different ‘garments’ (dress, petticoat) will all be on separate layers. The colors will each have their own layers as well.

I always start with the outlines. To draw the outlines, I use the pen tool. This can be a bit tricky to use at first, but I’ve found it much nicer than the mouse when figured out.

To start, open photoshop, make a new document and copy your base into it. The first thing to do now is to select the brush for the lines. Select the brush tool on the left, and select your brush at the top. I personally like this ‘brush’ tool (the one bordered in blue), at the smallest size.

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I always first check if my line won’t be too wide by drawing a bit. In this case, I find it a bit too thick. The pencil can’t be smaller (it’s already at size 1), so let’s make the base image a bit bigger. (First, to remove the line, undo one step or use ctrl-z)

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To do this, select Image -> Image size. I generally just enlarge the image by 2 by setting it to 200 percent.

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Now lets start making the line. First, switch to the Pen tool in the left toolbar. Click where you want your line to start, a small square will appear here. Next, click where you want the first section of line to end. You will see the two dots connected like this. (It’s a very thin grey-ish line)

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The problem now is that the line is straight, but I want it to follow the neckline. To do this, you don’t release the mouse on the second click, but drag it away to the side. You will see the thin line becoming curved. Drag it until the line is at the right place, and then release the mouse. It’ll look something like this.

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It’s now following the curve. The great thing about the pen tool is that it will make the next curve nicely follow the last one. That’s also the annoying thing about the pen tool, because it’s not always what you want. To give an example, if my next click is somewhere above the last point, it’ll do this.

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You can see the curve between the second and last point. If you don’t want this, but just want a straight line from the second to third point, you can press ALT and click on the second point before you make the third. You’ll see that one of the ‘guidelines’ sticking out from that point will disappear. This is what it’d look like.

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From this point, you can keep clicking where you want your line to come. I usually do this in small parts, so I don’t select the entire outline at once. In this case, my first segment is the neckline and part of one sleeve.

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I now want to turn this guideline (path) into an actual black outline. First, make a new empty layer for the lines in the layer menu bottom left. Next, right-click on the path and select ‘Stroke’. Make sure the ‘Tool’ is set to ‘Brush’, and that your foreground color (bottom left square) is the color you want the outline to be (black). Then click OK.

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You will now see the black outline in the same place as the path!

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To continue, first delete the path you just made. You can do this by pressing Enter, or right-click on the path and delete. Continue on making paths, stroking them and deleting paths until you’ve outlined the whole dress. Don’t do the petticoat yet, as this will be a different layer. General guideline: everything which needs to be a different color on a different layer. The whole dress done:

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For the petticoat lines, make a new layer and do the missing lines same as the dress. In this case that’s just the hem. I also drew a squiggly line to mark the top of where I want my ruffles to be. These type of lines are easier using the mouse and the brush tool.

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The ruffle still looks a bit weird, some lines resembling the pleats can improve the image a lot. Always try to draw there ruffle or pleat lines in a new layer! This will make it easier to color everything the same color later on.

After all the lines are drawn, you can hide the base layer, getting this outline!

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Now it’s time for coloring! The dress will be a chintz fabric. I usually just google for images resembling the fabric I want to use. In this case, it’s a chintz from Betina Printing.

Copy the image onto a new layer, underneath the layers with the outlines.

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It’s not quite big enough, but I like the scale. If the print is too big, just make the picture smaller. Then I just copy that print layer and move the copies to fill the whole dress. I generally don’t look too much at seamless lines, you barely see it anyway with a busy print like this.

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The whole dress is filled! Now, first make sure all the prints are on the same layer again. You can merge layers by selecting all layers you want to merge and clicking ‘Merge layers’.

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Now let’s make sure only the dress is colored. We’ll do this with layer masks. For now, hide the layer with the print on it. Select the ‘wand’ tool from the toolbar left. Make sure that at the top, both ‘Contagious’ and ‘Sample all layers’ are on. (Tolerance can be low, 0 even).

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We’re now going to select all the areas within the dress, so the areas we want colored by the chintz. Click on one part at a time. To add the next part, hold SHIFT while you click. This will add the selection to your current one, instead of replacing it.

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Once you’ve got the whole dress selected, you can make the selection a tiny bit larger. This will make sure the color will go up to the line, and not stop a couple of pixels before. To do this, click Select -> Modify -> Expand. Set it to 1 pixel, that should be enough, and click OK.

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Now, for the magic! Turn on your fill layer again, and go to this layer. At the bottom of the layer menu, there’s a ‘Mask’ button. The little black square with a white circle inside. If you click that button, a layer mask will be added. This will hide all the non-selected parts of your document, making sure only the parts of the dress are still visible!

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Similarly, you can also color the same way just using a solid color. We’ll do that for the petticoat. Add another layer (below the lines), and fill this with the color you want the garment to be.

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Now we’ll do the same thing again, starting with hiding the color layers. Then, hide the layer on which you drew ruffles etc. This will make the selecting process easier!

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Select the entire petticoat, enlarge the selection by 1 pixel, un-hide the color layer, select that layer and click ‘Mask’ in the layer menu.

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Unhiding the color for the dress and the ruffles, you’ve now got a basic design done.

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What if you change your mind, or want to compare different colorways? It’s quite easy to add another color option. (Of course, for the fill layer, you can also just fill the layer with another color. This option will keep both versions though).

Let’s try to give the dress a solid red color. First make a new layer for the red, and fill this with the chosen color.

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Now we want to give this layer the same mask as the original dress layer. You can, of course, repeat the whole process, but there’s also an easier way. Hold CTRL on your keyboard, and click the mask layer for the dress. (So the one with the black-white outline!). Doing this will select all the white parts of that particular layer. In this case, the dress!

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Now you can just go back to your color layer and click ‘Mask’ again to apply the mask!

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You can switch layers to compare versions, or you can copy the whole image (Select everything, Image -> Select merged) to a new document. This is usually what I do, so I can see the versions side-by-side and choose which one I like best.

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This is basically how I do my digital designs! I personally find it very useful to see colors and patterns applied side-by-side when picking a design. I hope this was helpful.

De Gracieuse – a walk-through

Update – This is a walk-through on how to get original Victorian patterns from the Dutch magazine De Gracieuse, which was published from 1862 to 1936. It has the original patterns included, but they can be a bit difficult to find, so this is a guide. I originally wrote this post in March 2014. As of September 2016, however, the website of the De Gracieuse magazine has changed making a large part of the original post useless or faulty. This post was therefore updated in October 2016 to reflect the new website. It’s actually a bit less orderly than the previous website when it comes to browsing, so I’ve tried to tell you how best to find stuff.


The Dutch woman’s magazine ‘De Gracieuse’ (meaning ‘the graceful’) was in print from 1862 through 1936 and focused on fashion and crafts. Its fashions were directly inspired by the French fashions of the times and varied from day-wear to outerwear to evening-wear. Most craft articles focused on knitting and embroidery for both clothing and items around the house. The most amazing thing about this magazine to me is that its entirely digitized and available online! The ‘Gemeente Museum Den Haag’, has the complete collection and put it online trough the website ‘Het Geheugen van Nederland’  (the memory of the Netherlands). It contains over 32.000 pages of black/white text,  963 pattern pages and 1200 colour images for the later years. Even though the pattern pages can be awfully small and not completely legible, it is still possible to get patterns out of it!

The only downside would be that the entire website is in Dutch, so it might be hard to navigate if you don’t speak the language. So for everyone interested, here’s an overview of where and how to find what you want! Both on how to browse, and how to find the pattern pieces corresponding to the images in the magazine.

To go to the website, this is the link:

(A quick note from the future, the website address has changed in early 2020! The old URL ( will send you to a new page of the organisation behind the collection, the new URL above to the actual collection itself. The rest should still work the same!)

At the top left, you get this menu (if you don’t see the grey area, click on the button with 3 horizontal stripes on the right of the screen), which which you can browse the Collections (‘Collecties’), Institutions (‘Instellingen’) and Themes (‘Thema’s’). To get general (Dutch) information about De Gracieuse you can go to ‘Collecties’ and find ‘Modetijdschrift De Gracieuse’ (so search under M). This browsing can be fun to get background information about the image collections this website houses, but to be honest, it’s not all that useful when browsing.

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Unfortunately, while the old website had a ‘browse by year’ function which got you all the magazine pages in correct older, the new website doesn’t. So instead of browsing, it’s better to use the search function. The search function is at the top right of the screen. What’s a good improvement: there’s actually an English version of the website now! Click on the EN to get the English one.

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To find the magazine pages, you can best search for ‘De Gracieuse’. This will get you all pages from the collection, but they won’t be prettily organized by year, date or anything. Better would therefore be to search including the year. The magazine ran from 1862 to 1936, so these are the years you can use in your search. The pattern pages start in 1866.

So to find, for example, all pages from 1888, enter ‘De Gracieuse 1888’ in the search bar.


This is what you will get. (click to enlarge)

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To the left there’s a menu. Here you can limit your search result based on theme, type object, institution and collection. As you can see, all your results are already part of the collection ‘Fashion magazine De Gracieuse’, which is what you want.

The images all have a title, which includes ‘Gracieuse, Geillustreerde Aglaja’, which was the original name. They will also all have the year (which is how the year search works). Then they will have a ‘aflevering’ meaning issue and a ‘pagina’ meaning page. Per year, the pages continue on! So for instance if issue 1 has pages 1 to 10, then issue 2 will have 11 as a first page.

As you can see, the images are not ordered per issue. The top row seems all right, but at the row below you suddenly see scans from issue 7 inbetween. This is inconvienient because descriptions are sometimes on the next page, but also because this makes it harder to find the pattern pages. To get them in more-or-less the right order, you can sort the results based on title.

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This is not perfect, when you have 11 issues it would sort them 1, 10, 11, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. But it will give you all images per issue at one time.

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To go to a particular image, you click on it, giving you a page like this.

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On the right, you will get information about this page. Most information is in the title. The remark will generally tell you the original date, or ‘Verschijningsdatum’, in this case October 10th 1888. (This is in Dutch, but most months should be easy to translate to English, they’re very similar).

At the top left you can zoom in & out, you can also just use your scroll wheel to do this! In the middle you can browse to the next/previous image.

I’ll now shortly explain how to find the patterns for the pictures! In order to do so, we first have to zoom in a bit.

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You might want to click on my screenshot above to get the full-size picture so you can read the items I’ve bordered.

Below most of the garments in the magazine, you’ll find a short description. This tells you what it is, but also where to find the pattern. I’ve noticed that for most full-gowns, you’ll only find the bodice pattern! (The skirt might be in the descriptions, but they’re too small to read) Step by step, the information is as follows (all examples for the left coat):

Bordered in Brown: No 13, this is the number of the picture, used to refer to in in the text. The text for an image is not always on the same page!

Bordered in Red: Knippatr. This is the cut-out-pattern. You might also see variants of ‘Knippatroon’, as that’s the unabbreviated word.

Bordered in blue: Beschr. , or sometimes Beschrijv. This is the description. In my experience, the descriptions in the pattern pages are too small to read. Sometimes, the pattern page will only hold a ‘beschrijv.’ and no ‘knippatr.’, which means there’s only a description and no pattern.

Bordered in green: ‘Voorz.’ The pattern pages had both a front and a back side, which are scanned separately. ‘Voorzijde’ means front and ‘Keerzijde’ back. It’s probably abbreviated to ‘Voorz.’ and ‘Keerz’. (v.h. Supplem. or ‘van het Supplement’ means ‘from the supplement’.)

Bordered in purple: No. II, 12-14. This means Number 2, figures 12 to 14. I suspect that the number II refers to the description on the supplement, but these are way to small to read, so I’m not certain. The figures, so 12 to 14 here, refer to the pattern pieces on the pattern page.

Now, of course the question is, but where’s the pattern pages? In general, the pattern pieces were at the end of the magazine, so just click on the first pattern page you see after the pictures you’re looking for! (This only works if you’ve sorted by title!) The first will be the front (voorz) and the second the back (keerz).

Another option to find the pattern pages is to use the search bar again. If you type in de gracieuse 1888 “aflevering 1” , with 1888 the year you want and the 1 the issue you want, you’ll get only the pages from that issue (it’s important to use the ” ” marks around the issue though, otherwise it won’t work). This way you will also only get the pattern pages from that particular issue, easily recognized by the squiggly lines.

Here’s the one for my example (zoomed in a bit):

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If you want to check if you’ve got the correct page, just look to the top-left. Here it says: ‘Supplement Gracieuse 1888 Nr. 1’, with below: ‘Voorzijde’ . Now, as you remember from the first page we clicked on, the title stated ‘aflevering 1’, which corresponds to the ‘Nr 1’ here. The description of the dress stated ‘voorz.’, which corresponds with ‘Voorzijde’. So we’re on the correct page!

All patterns will appear in one size only. I’ve seen corsets which specified ‘slim ladies’  or ‘bigger ladies’, but generally there’s no size indication, so you’ll have to re-size any patterns yourself!

For those of you not familiar with multiple patterns drawn on one page, you have to find the correct lines for your particular pattern. All lines will be slightly different (dots, stripes, etc.). Now you have to find the lines with the correct numbers, in this case 12 to 14. The best way is to download the image, zoom in a lot and trace with a contrast color.

For this particular example, I suspect that lines 12 to 17 correspond with this pattern. I think that’s just an editing error, so if you think you’re missing pattern pieces, it’s worthwhile to check if the adjacent numbers match. What you also see here is that you have to be careful to not miss any darts (red lines). These won’t necessarily have a number. Sometimes you see an arrow at the end of the line, this means the pattern piece extends in a straight line outside of the pattern sheet. Sometimes you see a thinner line extending from the pattern line, this means they ‘folded’ the pattern to fit it on the paper. In this case, you treat the slight line as a fold line, the pattern is drawn as if it was folded at that point. You see this with the red & yellow outlined pieces.

On the side you can see the ‘description’ for this pattern. It’s way too small to read, but useful in this case because it shows the outline for all pattern pieces. This is what told me that there were probably more than 3 pieces.

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I hope this will make life a bit easier for everyone wanting to try patterns, good luck!