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Patterns & patternmaking

Drafting 2: Historical Pattern

icon freeNow that you have your basic bodice slopers in hand, you may be wondering how form-fitting bodices with no ease are supposed to help you create historical patterns for a multitude of periods and styles! Think of them as your templates--a place to start. A sturdy set of cardboard slopers in multiple sizes will save you time when you want to draft a new pattern. You will not have to re-measure and re-draw a sloper each time you want to create a new pattern.

Instead, you can pull out the sloper in the appropriate size and start with that basic shape, knowing that it is accurate and fits properly. From there, only your imagination is the limit. This lesson will provide several examples of how you can use your basic slopers when you are ready to try a new design.

Branching Out from the Basic Sloper

If you plan to create a pattern for a wide range of sizes, start with the sloper in the middle of those sizes (for American sizes 6-26, that will be  14 or 16). If you want to make a pattern only for yourself, then you will use your custom sloper that fits your measurements (not "standard" pattern measurements) perfectly. In my photographs for this lesson, I've used an American size 14.

In the photo right, you see my front and back bodice slopers traced onto lightweight interfacing. 

I trace all my master patterns onto interfacing, which is so much easier to use than paper or tissue (and sticks to fabric nicely, eliminating the need for pins when cutting).

I highly recommend Swedish Tracing Paper (available through Clotilde.com and other online sources), as it is sewable and washable and can be used as a toile, killing two birds with one stone, but regular interfacing will also work nicely.

 The front and back bodice slopers traced onto lightweight interfacing
 

Now let's create a muslin bodice with room to "play".

For this demonstration, I decided to create a fitted bodice that opens in the back, so I've pinned the bodice front sloper on the fold. 

 For this demonstration, I decided to create a fitted bodice that opens in the back, so I've pinned the bodice front sloper on the fold.

I follow the neckline, shoulders, and armhole lines exactly when cutting out (keep in mind that I've already added 5/8" seams to my slopers).

However, when I reach the end of the armscye curve, I add room in the side seam (sloping out to reach a full inch when I reach the lower edge). Then I cut 1.5" below the bottom edge of my sloper to give room to play around with the length and fit there.

 I follow the neckline, shoulders, and armhole lines exactly when cutting out. but add room in the side seam
Now I cut out the bodice back, which needs room enough for a seam allowance and overlap (two inches is sufficient).  Now I cut out the bodice back, which needs room enough for a seam allowance and overlap (two inches is sufficient).

To make sure my front and back side seams will match, I lay the bodice front muslin over the bodice back, matching up the shoulders and armholes.

I use pins to mark how much room I'll add in the side seams and at the lower edge to match the bodice front.

 

 To make sure my front and back side seams will match, I lay the bodice front muslin over the bodice back, matching up the shoulders and armholes.

Here's the bodice back muslin cut out.

 Here's the bodice back muslin cut out.

 

Set your mannequin to match the measurements for your sloper. As detailed in Lesson One, always measure your mannequin at the bust, waist and hipline to make sure the measurements really do match the ones you're using.

Baste the shoulders and side seams of your muslin together, then try the sloper on your mannequin.

Front sloper on the mannequin Back sloper on the mannequin Side view of the sloper on the mannequin

 

This is where the FUN begins! Now you can take this basic (shapeless) bodice and begin to "sculpt" it to make the pattern you envision in your mind. Pin the bodice closed in the back for starters, overlapping it exactly as much as you added for the back closure. Now decide what shape you want your bodice to have.

Below you see basic darts pinned in the bodice front (left), and here are darts in the back (middle).  Let's take these darts in an earlier direction (right).

Basic darts pinned in the bodice front Darts in the back Darts in an earlier historical direction

 

And what if we'd like to create a curved side back piece? Here I've drawn one in freehand with a fabric marker (left), or a dropped shoulder seam? (right)

A curved side back piece, drawn in freehand with a fabric marker A dropped shoulder seam, drawn in with a fabric marker

 

The best way to get a feel for how historical garments from different time periods look is to build a library of books like Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion series, Norah Waugh's Cut of Women's Clothes, and Nancy Bradfield's Costume in Detail. The gridded pattern diagrams in the first two books are especially invaluable in demonstrating how different pattern pieces look when laid out flat. Once you get a feel for how these individual pieces work together, you can translate the shapes and lines into your own pattern designs. The idea is most definitely not to slavishly copy extant garments or graphed patterns (illegal to sell unless you own the garment in question anyway). The point is to grasp how pattern pieces function so that you can begin to create your own designs from scratch...inspired by history and grounded in properly fitted slopers.

So let's go back to our experimental bodice in progress. Here I have cut out the side back curve and the dropped shoulder seam, creating an entirely new bodice back (left).  I now have an odd shoulder seam on the new bodice front(middle).  I remove the basting stitches and tape the two pieces together with edges meeting (right).

An entirely new bodice back, with a side back curve and the dropped shoulder seam I now have an odd shoulder seam on the new bodice front I remove the basting stitches and tape the two pieces together with edges meeting

 

You can see that I've pinned the new, dropped shoulder seam, which I will now baste so I can tweak it. Because I provided plenty of ease in the back (room enough for darts), I do not need to add a seam allowance to the side back curve. Instead, I baste it and take up the ease.

Right is the bodice with the new shoulder seam and side back seam basted and curves clipped in the side back seam.

The bodice with the new shoulder seam and side back seam basted and curves clipped in the side back seam. 

Now it's time to check the seam overlap.

At the shoulder, I can immediately see that the bodice front is not wide enough at the shoulder to overlap correctly (it needs another 5/8" around the neckline to match up properly where my finger is pointing).

 At the shoulder, I can immediately see that the bodice front is not wide enough at the shoulder to overlap correctly

For now, just make a note of this correction, but there's no need to cut out a new bodice front immediately. Instead, let's move on to further alterations to make this basic bodice into a historical one.

Here I've marked a new neckline with pins and also marked changes I want to make to the front armhole. 

 

 I have marked a new neckline with pins and also marked changes I want to make to the front armhole.
On the bodice back, I've also marked out a deeper neckline, but the biggest change will come to the armscye, which I am turning into a late Georgian/Regency armhole that curves in toward the center back.  On the bodice back, I've also marked out a deeper neckline, but the biggest change will come to the armscye, which I am turning into a late Georgian/Regency armhole that curves in toward the center back.

 

With all of these changes marked, I remove the toile from the mannequin and cut the new curves. I mark where the dropped shoulder seam needs to be widened for a correct overlap.

Endless Possibilities

I think you can see why I call this method "sculpting" with fabric. It really is less about precise measuring and more about playing with material, lines, and shapes until the results please the eye. To be sure, precise measurements do have their place here. We used them to create slopers that exactly match a standard set of measurements, but those are simply the foundations we use to artistically build patterns that are both historically accurate and wearable for the modern body.

An illustration of a bodice front with princess linesThere are any number of directions you can go in with this method.

Princess Line Bodice

Want to reproduce an Edwardian gown with princess lines? The "rule" from a 1910 tailoring book in my collection is to center them on the bust in the front of the bodice and on the shoulder blades on the back of the bodice.

  • To find the bust point, first make a dart in the bodice front (as shown above).
  • Mark the point of the dart with a pin, and crease the dart well so that the dart lines still show when you flatten out the sloper.
  • Repeat for the bodice back, having the "point" at the shoulder blade.
  • The princess lines start at the center of the shoulder and go down straight to the bust point in front and shoulder blade point in back. Right, is an illustration of a bodice front with princess lines.

 

Do note that, for most historical fashions, you will create lines that fit over a properly corseted form. Deeply curved princess lines really didn't come into wide use until the 1930s. Prior to that, they were much straighter because of the straighter lines of the corseted bust beneath. Once you've marked your front and back princess lines, you can cut along them. Then you will take your French curve and use it to gently round off the princess line at the bust and shoulder blade (the lines in the back are far less pronounced).

Pin the pieces together along the princess lines (front and back), taking up as much fabric as necessary for a good fit.

Try the sloper back on your mannequin to check the fit of the princess lines. Mark where you need to add to or subtract from the seam allowance.

Hip Length JacketA hip-length sloper you can then adjust on your mannequin and play with to your heart's content

Closely related to drafting bodices with princess lines is creating pieces for a hip-length jacket.

If you want to make a pattern for a walking jacket or another garment that comes down over the hips, you will take your mid-sized sloper, lay it out on interfacing, then measure ten inches down from the sloper's waistline at the center front. Mark that spot.

Then take the hipline measurement for your size, divide it in four and measure out from the mark you just made to this second measurement (in a straight line). Mark that spot.

Now draw straight lines from the center front down to the new bottom edge of the sloper, then from that point over to the mark at the hip on the side. Now all that is left to do is take a hipline curve tool and connect the waistline of the sloper to this new bottom line. Repeat for the back. This makes a hip-length sloper you can then adjust on your mannequin and play with to your heart's content.

Ease

One final area to consider when creating any bodice pattern from your basic sloper is garment "ease." This is the amount of space between the finished garment and the wearer's undergarments. Obviously, on a fitted garment like a mid-Victorian gown worn over a corset, there is practically no ease whatsoever. The bodice is form-fitting.

The nice thing about drafting your own patterns is that you can determine exactly the amount of ease you want and test it on the mannequin and yourself to make sure it works properly. The right amount of ease will give the wearer room to breathe and move easily. Too much ease and the bodice and/or skirt will start to look baggy (unless you are going to pull in the fit with gathers or pleats).

For patterns you plan to publish and sell, the rule of thumb is to allow at least one inch of ease in non-form-fitting pattern pieces (like my Regency Gown pattern -- there is an inch of ease figured into the empire waistline; if it wasn't there, you couldn't raise your arms at all!). But, again, this is going to differ from one era to the next and really just requires testing on live models so you can see how the various parts of a pattern "behave" on a living, breathing person.

Sloper = Canvas

As you can see, the basic sloper becomes your "canvas," and you can fit it, cut it, add to it and more to create any kind of bodice style you want. Studying vintage pattern pieces, historical pattern books, and extant garments gives you the knowledge to launch confidently into designing on your own. The main thing is to get an eye for what is lovely on the human form and learn how to visualize flat pattern shapes when you see original gowns.  Then you'll plug the modern measurements into those shapes, and away you go!

Sleeves are a bit trickier, but we'll get them nailed down soon, and skirts are a breeze.

1812 Fashion Plate

For Next Time

In the next lesson, we are going to take what we've learned so far and apply it specifically to the next DPP, creating two different options for an 1812 bodice. Here's a sneak preview to whet your appetite (left). Thank you, Suzi Clarke, for the loan of the fashion plate!

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grannyintheattic  
  Thank you so very much for these diagrams .  
 
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Hyacinth  
Patterns & patternmaking   Thank you so very much for these diagrms.  
 

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