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SPP iconDraping on the body

Math phobics, please form an orderly queue! This is the most intuitive method of scaling a historical pattern to your own size. With no calculations, you will drape the fabric directly on yourself or on a dummy, using Lovise’s pattern as a guide.

If you drape on yourself, you’re going to need a skilled friend to help and a lot of patience. Far better is to use a duct tape dummy - essentially a cast of your own torso - who will stand still, endure being pinned without complaint and who will wait all night for you to start work again tomorrow, should you wish to take a break!

If you make a dummy on which to drape your dress, don't forget to wear your corset, if you plan to wear one under the dress, since this will make a difference to your measurements. See the link above for instructions from Threads magazine.

For draping, you will need:

  • Your duct tape dummy or accurately adjusted dress form OR yourself, your corset and a skilled and patient friend
  • Lots of cheap fabric to play with (calico or old bedsheets are ideal)
  • Fabric scissors
  • Marker pen (one that won’t seep through the cheap fabric!)
  • Pins
  • Lovise’s pattern (not necessarily in life size, you just need a guide)


Draping the waistcoat

1860s waistcoat bodiceLet’s begin with the simplest bodice, the waistcoat. Before draping the waistcoat, look again at the photographs and the pattern, noticing all the details of the shape you’re looking for. Where are the seams and edges?

Cut two rectangles of fabric that are both a little longer than the length from your shoulder to hip along the grain, and about half your bust measurement. Draw a line down the grainline along the long side of each of them, about 2” from the edge.

1. First we’ll drape the front. Pin the line on one of the pieces of fabric down the centre front of the dummy. (Click to enlarge the images.) Smooth upwards and put a pin in at the top of the centre front, where the neckline will be. Step 1

2. Smooth the fabric from the chest over towards the shoulder and pin along the shoulder. You’ll need to begin snipping fabric away around the neckline, but be careful only to snip away what’s really superfluous!

3. Mark the neckline and shoulder line. As a rule of thumb, the corners will need to be right angles, 90 degrees or thereabouts.

Steps 2 and 3

4. Continue to smooth fabric down around the armhole. Snip away the excess a little at a time (remember to leave room for big seam allowances) and mark the edge of the armhole, then continue down to mark the side seam. Smooth downwards only at this stage, keeping the grain of the fabric reasonably vertical, and don't worry about excess fabric under the bust. We'll come to that next.

You may find it helpful to mark the bust apex (nipple), bustline and waistline.

Step 4

5.You should be left with some excess under the bust. Looking at the waistcoat front on the pattern (link above), you’ll see that this is formed into two darts on the original.

The tops of the darts are a little way to each side of the nipple. On the photo it looks as though the darts extend quite a way above the bustline, but this makes no sense to me - the fullest point should come at the bust, not above it - so I've just left the tops of the darts a tad above the bustline on my version (right). Also notice on the original that the darts slope inwards towards the waist, one a little more than the other. The dart towards the side seam is a little bigger.

You may find that you don't have a lot of excess - this is to be expected on a modern figure. You could always put one dart in, then make another tiny one just so you get the look of two.

Divide the excess into two darts a little way apart, comparing their size and direction to the pattern and the photo and tweaking until you get a pleasing look. I found that the sloping darts seemed to emphasise the small waistline, a really pretty effect! Mark the position of the darts with your pen. Below the waist you'll have to make an educated guess for now, and fit the darts properly over your skirt at the mock-up stage.

Step 5
6.Finally, mark the waistline, comparing to the pattern once again. Notice that the centre front dips below the waist, but the side seams end at the waist. You’ll need to cut another small piece to approximate the little peplum there. Step 6


Drape the back in the same way, starting at the centre back line and smoothing across until you can mark the edges. Notice that the waistcoat won’t need to be fitted perfectly into the back waist – you’ll have the little belt across the back to help.

If you have significant differences between your left and right side (eg persons with scoliosis), you may want to drape both sides and have separate “left and “right” patterns for the fronts and/or backs. If the differences are small, you may be able to do this at the mock-up stage.

Take the pieces off the dummy and smooth out the lines if necessary, not forgetting to mark each piece with the name of the garment and which piece it is. (I also add the name of the person it’s for and the date.) On the front piece you’ll need to add a little at the centre front, since your buttons and buttonholes will be placed along the centre front line. And there you have your pattern, ready to double check with a mock-up!

Draping the bolero

1860s boleroBefore draping the bolero, look again at the photographs and the pattern, noticing all the details of the shape you’re looking for. The bolero is a short jacket, not quite reaching the waist. It’s fitted using the side front and side back seams, and at the front you’ve got the opportunity to add a little dart in the edge (on the front piece, near D) to help shape it in a little more if you need to.


1. Begin by draping the back, starting as before from the centre back line and smoothing across. Notice on the photos that the back neck is quite high, and graduates down towards the throat at the centre front.

Look at the pattern and look carefully at the photos to get the position of the side back seam – it starts quite a way up the armhole, curves gently and ends up only just over an inch from the centre back. I did it by marking where the seam should begin and end and the direction it would begin to travel in at each end, then filled in the rest as best I could by comparing to the pattern shape.

Remember not to plan this garment to fit tightly over the torso: it’s a jacket, so allow it to have a little room.

Step 1

2. Then move on to the side back piece, leaving the back piece pinned to the dummy. Start with a straight line on the fabric and pin it down where the side seam will be. Smooth across to the side back seam and trace the side back seam.(In practice, you'll find yourself adjusting this a little at mock-up stage - the edge of the side back will end up curving more than the edge of the back piece.)

On the pattern, the side seam is curved, not straight. You may find yourself taking it in a little at the mock-up stage (notice on the photos how the bolero fits into the curve of your side), but I found a way to do it at this stage.

I pinned the top of the pen line to the top of the side seam, then pinned the bottom of the line to the side seam on the hip so that the line was vertical but not fitted into the side of the dummy (see photo, right). I smoothed across as best I could and pinned to the side back seam. Then I removed the pin on the hip and smoothed back from my pins at the side back seam towards the side seam, and re-marked the side seam. The dotted line on this photo shows how I ended up with the curved side seam; the solid line is my original vertical line.

Step 2

3. Begin to drape the front from the centre front. Smooth across the shoulder as before, keeping that raised neckline in mind.

Notice how the centre front begins to cut away at just about the fullest point of the bust. Look at the angle it begins to cut away at - it's just about exactly diagonal. Begin to mark this curve from the centre front line down towards the side seam. Observe and mark the side front seam, allowing it to pass directly over the bust point.

Step 3

4. Then start from the side seam to drape the side front piece, working up towards the side front seam. Remember, it needn’t fit tightly, and you can always tweak the fit at the mock-up stage.

Finally, observe the curve of the bolero hem and fill it in between your diagonal line at the centre front and the hem at the back. Notice how it doesn't curve up very far from the back to the side; most of the curve is between the side and the front.

You'll find that below the bust the bolero hangs straight down. I pulled the side front seam in to fit it a little (see my scribbled-out and redrawn line on the photo), but I don't seem to need the little dart just in front of it that you see on the pattern. Again, our modern shape tends to be a lot less curvy than Lovise's, but you may find you need that dart. Alternatively, you could always make a tiny dart just to get the authentic look.

Step 4

Sleeves are difficult to drape, but if you’ve made arms for your dummy, by all means give it a try. I find I’m better off making a reasonable attempt at a sleeve by the flat pattern method (on the previous page) and then fitting it to the mock-up. If you’d like to try draping it, I’d recommend starting with the curved outside seam, placing this down the inside of your arm and snipping away from there. Don’t forget to leave some room in the sleeve head so that it’ll fit comfortably into the armhole and not be too tight.

Draping the evening bodice

1860s evening bodiceThis is the most complex of the three, but if you’ve done the others, it’s not difficult to see how to begin. Once again you’ve got four pieces, and once again you’ve got a convenient straight line at centre front and centre back to start from.

Make sure that the side front seam goes right over the nipple and then the seam will take care of the shape there; the fullest point of the side front seam curve on both pieces will end up at the apex of your bust. Make the seam curve nicely down to the waist and bring the side front piece up to match it, even if that makes the side front piece a funny shape – I’d say the shape of the front piece is the most attractive and obvious feature, so work on making that look good and making the side front work with it so that it fits. (It’ll be covered in lace if you’re following the original gown anyway, so don’t get caught up in making it perfect!)

Remember that this bodice, being off the shoulder, will need to fit very closely, but you can fit for that at the mock-up stage, tweaking it here and there.

It looks as though the shoulder strap ought to go right over the corner of the shoulder. Don’t chop the fabric off around the neckline too much until you’ve got the neckline organised – this will help you guard against stretching the fabric here. The same goes for the back.

Again, at the back decide the position of the side back seam on the back piece, and bring the side back piece around to meet it. This time, unlike on the waistcoat, you won’t need to add anything to your finished pattern at the join where it’s fastened, since it’ll be laced edge-to-edge.

The cap sleeve is a small piece, and can probably be draped over the shoulder of your dummy. Don’t forget to put a little ease in the top of the shoulder so that it curves on over the arm; use what you know about patterns you’ve used in the past.

Finally, don’t forget that your pattern will be a different shape from Lovise’s: you’re a different shape, and you’re simply using Lovise’s as a guide. Do your best, mock it up to tweak it, and if your garment fits together and looks good on the dummy and on you, then the shape of the pieces when they’re laid flat doesn’t matter.

Draping the skirt

1860s gown, front view1860s gown, back viewObviously, you’re going to need your cage crinoline to do this, and preferably a petticoat over it. Again, begin with a too-large piece with a line marked down the grain, and place that down the centre front. (There won't actually be a seam here on the finished skirt, but you can place the fold of the fabric on this line later, when you cut the real thing.)

Look carefully at the photos and pattern and notice the approximate size and direction of the pleats – they start by pointing backwards and then turn the other way at the side seam, ending with a big inverted pleat at the centre back.

Begin pleating towards the back and pinning to the dress form, ensuring that you’re leaving plenty of fabric to fall gracefully over the widest point of the hoop. Use one large piece of fabric or smaller ones to emulate the pieces in the final pattern; you can always rearrange the seams later in order to ensure that the tops of the seams are hidden in the pleats.

When you arrive at the side back, mark and cut the fabric at the same angle as that on the pattern. Begin again from the centre back, working towards the side back to meet the sloping edge with a straight grain edge, as in the pattern.Mark the fabric wherever you make a pleat or seam, and mark the waist and a generous hem, so that you can remove the pieces from the dummy and be left with a pattern on the fabric.

Congratulations, you just draped your own historical pattern!


Overview | Flat pattern adjustment | Draping






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