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Easy Pattern Drafting for Absolute Beginners

by Cathy Hay


Edwardian ladies

“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

ImageWe 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.

Easy pattern drafting by Cathy Hay
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 ?

Variations on Basic blocks (slopers) For body types
Fortunately there are actually lots of variations on the Basic Block pattern. Historically using block patterns is still really new, they only started in the 1830's and originally there where dozens of variations, which have slowly been reduced to the present basic block but we are not all the same, so looking at the old variations can help hugely.

Try "Corsets and Close-Fitting Patterns" BY MARY BROOKS PICKEN. This has some variations in panels for Basic blocks in the second half, for different body shapes.
Another good book is "Dress forms -Tight Lining and Boning" BY MARY BROOKS PICKEN. This is actually for making dress forms but has a great section on modifying for body shapes.

To find more variations try Archive.org or openlibrary.org
Hope this helps. Caite

Here are links to
Dress forms -Tight Lining and Boning - http://haabet.dk/TightLinings_andBoning/index.html#index
Corsets and Close-Fitting Patterns - http://www.haabet.dk/CorsetCloseFitting/index.html

saw a youtube video yesterday that said if your bust size is more than 2 inches bigger than your 'high bust size' which is taken above your boobs at around the underarm height. Then to use the high bust size measurement instead otherwise the garment will end up too big. I know this was asked years ago but maybe somebody else will come along and read it and find it useful
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.

Example from 1895

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

leon stanford
bodice pattern dress
i want a bodice block pattern
sissy wood
draft pattern
recommended reference for pattern drafting
I dont have a wbsite yet.

I followed the tute step by step but the armsyce has me confused. How do i draw the circle for it. I have a french curve but i truly dont know how to use it. Also i am in desperate need of a sleeve slopper tute which will go with this block. Any help will be appreciated

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.

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