- Written by Cathy Hay
Easy Pattern Drafting for Absolute Beginners
by Cathy Hay
“Using your individual measurements, a pattern is drafted by scratch using the most exacting of standards. It's very clinical and scientific. Everything is measured with a ruler to the greatest degree of precision possible, much like an engineering drawing, using a drafting square and a scale formula. It's extremely complicated, and everything must be checked and double-checked. There are slightly different methods you can use, but they all involve a lot of measuring and calculation. When you are taught this for the first time, you feel as if you're studying nuclear physics, rather than pattern drafting.”
The bespoke clothing industry and the patternmaking industry make pattern drafting seem terribly complicated and mysterious, and why not? Every pattern drafting method I've ever seen seems terribly complicated to me.
But let's cut them a little slack. Anyone who’s ever had a go at dressmaking would probably agree that the biggest challenge in making a great garment is to make it fit correctly.
Although patterns are made and sold for our convenience, available in a range of convenient sizes, most of us know that this still does not guarantee a well-fitting garment. Firstly, human beings are not mass-produced in bulk. We’re all different and require different sized clothes. Secondly, many of us have found that commercial pattern sizes often cannot be relied upon for accuracy.
And so the single most freeing skill that a sewer or costumer can have is to learn to draft his or her own patterns. To take your own measurements and a blank sheet of paper and draw a pattern that fits you individually frees you to understand the makeup and adjustment of a pattern better, not to mention the scope it gives you to shape the design.
To begin, a basic “block” can be produced. This gives you a standard shape and a standard system that can then be adapted in myriad ways to produce all sorts of garments. Once the block pattern is drafted, you can make up the result in fabric and check the fit. Any changes can be transferred back to your block pattern to save effort later and give you a well-fitted pattern that you can use again and again.
Yes, the traditional process of pattern drafting is complicated and mysterious. Sparsely explained diagrams dizzy us with geometry and jargon. But I'm here today to change all that for you.
With sixteen years of sewing and a Maths degree under my belt, not to mention three year's training as a teacher of Mathematics, I'm well-placed to take the mystery, the jargon and as many numbers as possible out of the process. Baby step by baby step, I'm about to show you how you too can harness the freedom of drafting your own patterns.
Before we begin
We will begin with a basic fitted bodice block that will cover you from neck to hips. This will be suitable as a basis for garments that fit close to your skin such as shirtwaists, blouses and tops.
This block would not be suitable for coats or jackets, however. For them we’ll make a similar but looser fitting block. Eventually, you'll begin to learn that the difference is in the amount of "ease" you add to the pattern (how loose the fit is.) But for now, to keep it simple, let's just call this a fitted bodice block and not make it too complicated or over-flexible.
Theoretically, the fit of your finished bodice block will be 100% perfect. This is absolutely possible, but not guaranteed with the method we'll use today. In order to achieve absolute accuracy, many many measurements must be used, which may make this tutorial overwhelming. My aim today is to provide an easy guide for beginners that'll leave you confident and curious to learn more. I've had to make some compromises about the balance between ease of drafting and perfect fit, and I hope you'll follow with me. As you try this method out and tell me how it came out, we'll notice the places in which it doesn't work perfectly, and from there we'll gradually add levels of complexity that'll give a better degree of accuracy. It'll also be useful for you to see this happen and ask yourself questions about why results come out the way they do and how they can be improved, eventually giving you a better understanding of how pattern drafting works.
Furthermore, we’ll be concentrating on the torso today, and we’ll leave sleeves until later.
For now, however, I recommend having a go at this basic block in order to try out the skills you’ll need to learn for basic pattern drafting.
First of all, we'll run through the equipment you're going to need, and then I'll talk you through taking those all-important measurements. Finally, we'll take pencil and paper and begin our draft.
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A couple months ago, I spent several days straight working on trying to draft a basic block that came somewhere close to fitting me, and despite consulting various sources, including this article and The Costume Technician's Handbook, the formulas just never worked right. I've taken college patternmaking and draping, and I understand how it works - I can swing darts all over the place! But all of the basic block instructions I can find end up completely wonky when drafted to my measurements.
The biggest difficulty, I think, is that I'm very full-busted, so I require much larger bust darts than drafting instructions expect. There's around a 10" difference between my bust and waist, which is especially pronounced because I'm short-waisted. Whenever I try to draft a basic block for myself, I end up with strange things around on with the darts, the armscye, etc. - things just don't line up the way they're supposed to. Do you have any recommendations ?
Ava, I'm so sorry I didn't see your comment until now - our comments feature hasn't been working properly for a while, it seems, and I haven't had them sent on to me.
I think the best way to tackle drafting when you have a full bust and small waist, but are shortwaisted, is to take a leaf out of the Victorians' book. Victorian women were often smaller, but had much more pronounced hourglass figures than we do.
They tended to include two or three small darts side by side, and they'd use multiple pieces in their patterns to allow the excess to be removed little by little in mutiple spots.
You can flip through this book online and find lots of options. You have to have your wits about you and some patience to follow the language, but these instructions *are* useable. Give them a try, or just use the general idea in your modern draft
Hi Ayse, it's not a regular curve, so there's no perfect way to draw it; it's a freehand curve, crossing all the points specified. You can use your French curve to help you by bending it into a reasonable-looking curve that matches the diagram before drawing along it.
As for a basic sleeve tutorial, tht's also in the Beginner section, here: http://yourwardrobeunlockd.com/articles/free/beginner/246-drafting-a-basic-fitted-sleeve
Hi, I'm referring to our page 8, "from b to C is half our bust measurement plus 5cm (2")"... I think it supposedly 6" instead of 2" right? My bodice looked weird, and I've tried redoing it 3 times to make it right. But then, I read again your note on "beginning to draft", you say we are to add 6" for the paper width. Pls confirm.
I'd like to ask a question regarding the correct measurement for the armscye, based on my personal figure.
i have, what is sometimes referred to as, a dowager hump...although perhaps not as pronounced as that term might suggest...therefore, measuring from the bone at the base of the back of the neck, and down over the hump to the armhole depth, is not going to give me an accurate measurement for drafting the armscye (since there is extra length in the spine area). I have so much trouble drafting a correct armscye since I also have a shallow depth from shoulder to armhole level. What would you suggest so that I could successfully draft a proper fitting armscye? Thanks
Merrin, thank you for your question. There's no simple answer for that one, I'm afraid; as with so much in costume making fr the unique individual, this is one for our ingenuity to solve.
Have you tried measuring to the armscye level both over your back and down your front too, and looking for a solution inbetween the two figures? Alternatively, you may get a better measurement by measuring further out from your neck, from the top of your shoulder down the side of your back?
It might also help to measure around what will be the armscye to give you more clues. Placing the tape measure on your diagram, with the end held against the measurement you've taken in a ring, will enable you to arrange it into a sensible curve that looks right. Putting all of these rough figures together will give you a ballpark - something that you can start with to get you to the mock-up stage, where you can then refine what the numbers have told you. Good luck!