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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.


1900 dress formYou will need:


A tape measure for taking your measurements. Not a solid ruler, not a metal tape measure from the toolbox, but a dressmaker's fabric tape measure.

A friend to help you take measurements.

A notebook to write your measurements in.

Sharp pencils (preferably hard pencils such as 2H) and an eraser.

A metre ruler or yardstick. It’s just about possible to draft with a shorter ruler, but not half as easy or as accurate. I struggled for a long time without a metre ruler but was amazed what a godsend mine was when I finally bought one from www.morplan.com. At the very least, look for something long and very straight that will help you draw accurate long, straight lines, and then measure them with a normal ruler or tape measure. But if you possibly, possibly can - you need the real thing to get it right.

A set square (preferably a big one) or something rigid with an exact right angle at the corner, such as a hardback book. Again, you can buy a real patternmaker’s square at Morplan and again, you really need the right equipment to expect to get a good, accurate draft. If you're watching the pennies the book will do, but it's really no substitute. (A right angle is the angle at the corner of a square.)

A calculator (to prevent brain meltdown). If you’re using inches, you may find the Patternmaking Calculator useful – it’s a calculator that uses fractions! And it’s free!

A Flexicurve (optional) to help you draw smooth curves. Again, you can buy proper curves at Morplan.

A large sheet of paper. If you don’t wish to buy a large roll of patternmaking paper, try using a roll of brown paper or the back of an old roll of gift wrapping paper.

A large, flat working surface. The higher, the better, to save your back!

Scissors. Make sure you use a different pair of scissors for cutting paper and card to your fabric scissors; cutting paper with fabric scissors will blunt them faster.

Sticky tape (eg. sellotape or Scotch tape), for sticking sheets of paper together.

Tracing paper, both a small piece and a couple of large sheets. You'll need the large sheets to trace, from the draft, a pattern that you can cut up and pin to fabric.

Scrap fabric, which you'll need to make a mock-up of the finished draft. Classically, we use calico or muslin but I recommend recycling by cutting up old bedsheets or curtains.

Once you have your equipment assembled, it's time to take your measurements.


Victorian dressmaker measuring her client


Taking measurements is a vital element in the creation of a perfectly fitting block or garment. Extra care at this stage can save you an extraordinary amount of time, effort and extra expense later. So before we begin, I need you to make me a few promises:

 

  1. You will be honest about your measurements. Telling little white lies will only result in a garment that does not fit. I can guarantee that you will not be satisfied with the resulting block if you have not given your true measurements.

     

  2. You’ll take it seriously – too often, a costumer is left working with inaccurate measurements because she had a measuring party involving herself, her best friend and a few too many glasses of wine! Make sure you get it right, I can’t stress that enough!

     

  3. The measurements have been taken whilst you’ve been wearing what you would normally wear under a the finished garment, as much as possible (a slip and well-fitting bra are fine but there’s no point measuring yourself for a fitted bodice block whilst wearing a sweater.) It may help to wear a close-fitting top with sleeves since you'll need to know where your "armscye" (armhole) is.


Do we have a deal? Right, here goes!

Measuring diagramTie a string or ribbon around your waist, where you bend naturally – not too tightly, just snug, and horizontal. This will help you to take the vertical measurements accurately. Move around, bend from side to side and so on until it sits comfortably.

Remember to stand up straight (but not overly so) with your weight evenly distributed.

Bust (1) – measure horizontally around the fullest part of your bust along the nipple line, and straight across your back. It helps if you stand with your back to a mirror, with the person measuring you in front of you, so that they can see in the mirror that it’s straight across your back. Remember to lower your arms.

Natural waist (2) – breathe normally, and don’t suck in your stomach. Measure around your waist along the ribbon, horizontally.

Hips (3) – measure horizontally around the widest part of your hips. Note the level where you’re taking this measurement at one side.

Waist to hip (4) – measure down your side from the waist tape to the level where you took your hip measurement.

Front shoulder to waist (5) – measure from the middle of the top of your shoulder down over the apex of your bust, straight down to the waist tape.

Chest (6) - Measure across your chest from armhole to armhole, about 7cm (3”) below the hollow of your throat.

You're halfway there!

Measuring diagram, backShoulder (7)– Measure from the base of your neck to your shoulder bone.

Neck size (8) – measure around the base of your neck, touching the collarbone below the hollow of your throat.

Nape to waist (9) – bend you head forward and feel around for a protruding bone at the back of the base of your neck. Put the end of the tape measure here and straighten up, then measure down the centre of your back to the tape around your waist.

Back width (10) – measure the width of your back around 15cm (6”) below your neck bone. The ends of the measurement fall where the armhole seams of a close-fitting top would lie.

Armscye depth (11) – The “armscye” is the armhole, the fabric edge to which the sleeve is sewn. Measure from that bone at the back of your neck straight down your back to a point level with the bottom of your armhole. It may help to place a ruler under your arm, but make sure it’s level and not too snug (you don’t want the armhole to be too tight!)

Dart – for our purposes today, this is a standard measurement that's related to your bust size. Refer to the table below to find the "dart" for your bust size.

 

Bust size
(cm)
Dart (cm)   Bust size
(in)
Dart (in)
82 6.4   32 2 1/2
87 7.0   34 2 3/4
92 7.6   36 3
97 8.2   38 3 1/4
102 8.8   40 3 1/2
107 9.4   42 3 3/4
112 10.0   44 4
117 10.6   46 4 1/4

 

As you can see, this chart gives only the mid range of bust sizes, but you can see that the difference between sizes is 5cm (2") and the difference between dart sizes is 0.6cm (1/4"), allowing you to work out the dart for bust sizes that fall between entries in the table or outside this range.

This "dart" measurement is used to determine the size of the dart at the bust. The table makes the assumption that the bigger your bust size, the bigger the dart - in other words, the bigger the bust size, the bigger your cup size. Any woman wearing a 32F or a 46A will know how flawed this logic is, so here you can see what I meant about sacrificing accuracy in favour of simplicity. We'll work to make this measurement more accurate by getting a little more complex in a future episode...

 


Write down any other fitting issues that you think you might need to allow for.

Now check all the measurements again – even I find this helpful when measuring clients, just to be sure!


You will need a piece of paper that is big enough for the whole draft; stick two pieces together if necessary, and then turn the paper over so that the tape is on the back.

From top to bottom it will need to be

(your nape-to-waist measurement) + (your waist-to-hip measurement) + 15cm (6”)

So if your nape to waist is 17” and your waist to hip is 8”, the paper will need to be 31” long.


From side to side it will need to be

(half of your bust measurement) + 15cm (6”)

so if your bust is 40”, the paper will need to be 26” wide.

And now to the main event! Download the drafting instructions below by right-clicking and selecting "Save target as." Have fun!

 

Download the workbook

You'll need Acrobat Reader - download it free here!


AND DON'T FORGET - the most important thing...

 

IF YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND OR CAN'T DO ANY PART OF THIS, IT'S BECAUSE I HAVEN'T EXPLAINED IT PROPERLY!! So if you find any part of this doesn't make sense, you have my permission to spam me relentlessly until you DO get it at cathy dot hay at harmanhay dot cThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.!

 

Kudos goes to readers 1stborn_unicorn and lark_ascending, who have both been savvy enough to have spotted a typo in the tutorial:

On page 8 it says, "From B to C is half your bust measurement plus 5cm (2"). So if your bust is 40" measure 26" from B and mark C."

Actually, if your bust is 40", you should measure 22" from B and mark C.

So sorry!

 

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Gravatar
bygoneglamour
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 ?

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Caite
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

Gravatar
pattern
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
Gravatar
cathyhay
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

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

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

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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

Gravatar
Manje
Typo
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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