My in-laws like to speak fondly of my husband’s grandmother’s talent as a home dressmaker. She lived in New York, and used to window shop at the finest designers then go home and make up her own designs using her favorite elements just from looking at the garments! When I picked up sewing as an adult, I remember sighing over these stories, wishing I had the talent and skill that Muriel displayed in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I had no idea how to get those skills. I won’t say I have them completely, yet, but I can see them on the horizon. What’s changed? I learned how to draft pattern blocks and manipulate them into garment patterns.
- You’re watching a movie or TV show, and you wish you could dress like your favorite character, but the style is “out of style” so you can’t buy it commercially.
- You’re browsing a pattern designer’s website, but experience tells you that any pattern you buy will take several alterations to fit you.
- You want to make a garment from your own imagination, and you can’t find a commercial pattern that lives up to your design.
- You find an out-of-print sewing pattern, but it’s 6 sizes too small. If you want to use it, you will have to grade it up and make many adjustments.
Many of us learned to sew because we wanted to suit our exact wishes and needs. But home sewing education in the United States (the only country where I have had in person sewing instruction!) often focuses on the construction steps only, assuming the user will start from a commercially available paper pattern. We skip design opportunities and jump right to (some) fitting and stitching.
Fitting and construction are important, but I’d like to introduce you to some of my favorite resources for pattern drafting, starting with drafting a sloper or block. You can use a block to begin making your adjustments to commercial patterns and/or you can use it to design garments on your own.
There are some significant gaps in my experience, and I want to acknowledge them. I can read French, German, and Japanese sewing books with a lot of time and concentration, but English is my primary language and most of my books are in English. I will focus my overview on resources covering designing after 1920, since historic sewing is a vast field by itself. While some of the resources I discuss have men’s and children’s drafts, I mostly work in women’s wear, so this bias will be reflected in the resources I describe. Also, I will only talk about resources I have actually used myself. There are resources that fit this general scope which I have not tried as it is a big field.
This post will review the sources I have used that teach how to draw a flat pattern of a darted bodice. I will note where books extend beyond that, but “I will be able to draw a bodice block using this” is the common skill set that connects these resources. I have made some notes on size inclusivity, but be aware that the examples all use a standard block which can worry a student that they’ve made a mistake if they aren’t used to seeing their own figure represented in a flat pattern.
For example, this is my personal moulage front, scaled down to 50% size and presented next to a standard block. The shoulder dart has been rotated to the underarm, but I wanted to share this so you know that your draft can and probably should look different than the exercises offered in these resources.
This list gives the resources in the order I recommend for learning bodice drafting specifically.
A Deep Dive Into the Origin of Flat Patterning with Step-By-Step Instructions
Author: Kenneth D. King
Title: The Moulage
Available only as an E-book at: http://www.kennethdking.com/book/#moulage
Email Professor King to purchase the PDF file at email@example.com
- Includes a video of how to take measurements (many people struggle with this!)
- This system is size inclusive, because you’re starting from measurements with no special rulers or patented tools.
- This resource is also gender inclusive, since Professor King includes notes on drawing for male bodies.
- Professor King offers step-by step/ line-by-line instructions and worksheets to support your drafting and checking your muslin with many tips for figure variations and special cases. This book includes 60 pages just on calculating and drafting.
- The book uses inches and centimeters, offering worksheets for either measurement system.
- The draft results in a no-ease copy of the figure called a moulage. The moulage covers the torso from the neck to the low hip, without arms.
- Professor King includes an order of work for assembling your muslin to check your draft.
- A well-fitted moulage muslin can also serve you well as a cover for a dress form.
- He includes instructions on how to redraft a moulage into a sloper with darts.
- There is also an introduction on how to use a sloper to correct commercial patterns.
An Overview of Pattern Making for Women’s Garments
Author: Esmod Collective authorship
Title: Women’s Garments Volume 1
Hard Copy or E-Book: https://www.esmod-editions.com/women-s-garments-volume-1-c2x18457446
- Do not freak out when you see that the cover of this book is mostly in French. It is fully bilingual with English/ French text throughout.
- This system is size inclusive, because you’re starting from measurements with no special rulers or patented tools. The book uses centimeters for measurements, but a person preferring to draft using inches could still use the book with very few conversions.
- This book provides drafts for three bodice blocks: a classic bodice block with darts, a 5-piece block with darts that is helpful for very fitted garments, and a bodice block without darts for garments with more ease. These blocks all extend from the neck to the low hip.
- The drafting directions are not as intricately illustrated as Kenneth King’s book, providing 15 pages total of drafting instructions and graphs for all three blocks (each block gets 5 pages of instructions and graphs).
- Adjustments for posture are described well with very clear illustrations.
- There is no fitting or construction advice.
- This book has no index at all, which annoys me more than it should.
For Those Who Prefer Videos to Books
Charlotta School of Pattern Cutting: How To Draft A Made to Measure Bodice Block To Fit You
- This system is size inclusive, because you’re starting from measurements with no special ruler or patented tools. Charlotta loves her “Patternmaster” type ruler, but a student could use a clear quilter’s ruler and get the same result.
- Personally, I bought a patternmaster and I really like it. I use it in almost all my pattern drafting alongside my Picken Square.
- Charlotta teaches how to draft a bodice block that extends to the waist in this online class specific to this topic. She also has a substantial library of drafting lessons available via her website and through her Patreon page.
- Working with Charlotta has the advantage of being able to ask her questions via the chat function directly inside the lesson tab.
- Her bodice block class includes a basic sleeve draft and some fitting tips to prepare for making your muslin (she says toile because she’s using British sewing terms).
Trying out a drafting system using special rulers
I’m grouping two resources under this header, because they both require special equipment.
I like rulers and squares, based on my buying habits alone. Check out my Board of Drafting Stuff (and some other sewing stuff).
Picken Square/ “Drafting and Pattern Designing” Women’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences
- The Lacis museum sells a reproduction of the “Picken” Square at lacis.com. This was a tool developed by the Women’s Institute of Domestic arts in the 1920’s. It is a tailor’s ruler which incorporates a 27″ square and includes the curves often used in pattern drafting.
- I really like this square and I use it in most of my pattern drafting for consistent right angles. For some reason my right angles are not always quite true when I use a standard ruler. It only uses inches and inch-based scales.
- The inexpensive booklet, “Directions for Use of the Lacis Picken Square for Pattern Drafting” shows how to take measurements, draft a hip-length blouse sloper, and draft a sleeve. This is a great start if you want to see if this style of drafting is for you. The booklet’s instructions result in a loose, dartless bodice sloper that will make up a hip-length blouse with set-in sleeves. A blouse in this era was called a “waist” so bear that in mind while reading.
- The information in the booklet is also in the 160-page book, “Drafting and Pattern Designing” also available at lacis.com. If you want the full book, you can skip the booklet as they are redundant.
- The book includes drafts for other styles of bodices: two styles of princess-style/close- fitting bodices and bodices with cut-on sleeves.
- This system is moderately size inclusive because you are starting from your measurements, but the chart of “average proportions” tops out at 50 inches. I always ignore those charts anyway.
Haslam System of Dresscutting “Book of Foundations Draftings”
ISBN: 978-1936049363 (this includes 1930’s-1950’s eras)
ISBN 978-1936049721 is the book I have actually used
- The Haslam System calls slopers “Foundations” and the Foundations Drafting books usually include only the sloper for a bodice that extends to the waist, skirt, and sleeves.
- Haslam Foundations are manipulated through flat pattern methods to make the designs of the Haslam System books, published from the 1930’s through the 1960’s.
- Haslam foundations changed through the years, so be sure you are using the one you want for which era matching your Haslam design book. As far as I can tell, the 1930’s drafts have less ease through the hips and are dartless, the 1940’s drafts have bodice and skirt darts, and the 1950’s drafts are very close fitting with darts. I have only used the 1940’s drafts, so take that with a grain of salt.
- You can still pick up some of the original books on the secondary market. Some sellers offer PDF versions, including PDFs of the rulers that you can either print at home or can get printed by the seller. I have not found a ready-made Haslam ruler for sale (if you find someone selling them, let me know, because my printed copy fell victim to my cat).
- These are basically pamphlets, so I would be wary of sellers looking for more than $15 for a reproduction book.
- This is somewhat size inclusive, but be aware that the standard chart ends at a 52” bust.
- The drafting directions are very skimpy as they were originally meant to support in-person classes. Novice drafters may want to join an online group to get help.
A Survey of Pattern Drafts
Author: Natalie Bray
Title: Dress Pattern Designing: The Basic Principles of Cut and Fit
- This book devotes 16 pages to drafting a bodice block, and results in a standard, darted bodice block that extends to the low hip.
- Further bodice blocks for dartless bodices, loose fitting shirts, jackets, cut-on sleeves, and raglan blocks are included.
- This system is size inclusive, because you’re starting from measurements with no special ruler or patented tools. There is some discussion of “Average Measurements” that extends to a 116 cm bust.
- Measurements are in the metric system. The book includes a passionate two-page argument for using the metric system in pattern drafting, I assume reflecting the era of the original edition (1961).
- This book has a thorough discussion of grainline and how grain impacts block drafting.
- While there are some brief notes on adjustments for people who are not the “average” height of 160-165cm (5’4” – 5’5”), there is no discussion of fitting/ adjusting your block. The author assumes you know how to do this or that you are drafting a standard block for industry use.
- This book’s index is unusual. It’s essentially a detailed Table of Contents for each chapter.
A Brief Reference for Many Drafts and Styles
Author: Winifred Aldrich
Title: Metric Pattern Cutting for Womens Wear
- I believe this is used as a textbook in flat pattern cutting courses. It offers an introduction to the principles of pattern cutting, with a range of basic blocks and examples of their application to garments. This was first published in the 1980’s, and some of the hairstyles on the cartoon-ish models reflect that era, but the styles presented are classic.
- A student more comfortable with inches will need to make some calculations to use this book.
- This resource is size inclusive, because you’re starting from measurements with no special ruler or patented tools.
- The blocks are described with a detailed, one-page graphic and ½ page of text on drafting the block. There are not step-by-step graphics on “how to draft.”
- This is a solid survey book, but it doesn’t hold your hand as much as some of the other books.
- There is some additional material on grading, marketing, and using software to work on designs.
A book you might have a hard time finding, but should snap up if you get the chance at a price you can afford
Authors: Marian Hillhouse and Evelyn Mansfield
Title: Dress Design: Draping and Flat Pattern Making
My notes from the Moulage-drafting class I took with Kenneth D. King a few years ago had scribbled in the margin, “Hillhouse.” While Lara and I *were* watching the Haunting Of Hill House miniseries at the time, that’s not why I wrote it down. I asked Kenneth what books he recommends aside from his own, and this book was it.
- This book describes drafting a dress form cover as an alternative to fitting a commercial pattern. The authors call it a “french lining” and it’s a four-piece, princess-line pattern that covers the figure from the neckline to the low hip. There are very brief instructions on drafting up the pattern, about the same amount of depth as the Esmod book noted as #2 on this list.
- In an interesting change from almost all the other books I have, the authors direct you to pad out your dress form using your french lining, then drape your blouse pattern onto your form. From that draped pattern, you make a master pattern (sloper). A good deal of text is devoted to creating and correcting the sloper pattern.
- Individual blocks (blouse, skirt, sleeve) have their own fitting discussions.
- There is a very complete index.
- This book was published in 1948 and can be hard to find. I recommend that you get it if you find it at a price you can afford. Better yet: see if your library has it or can get it. While it is a unique book, this is largely because of the use of both draping and flat pattern working together. Those separate skills are available from many other sources.
Coming full circle: these books are both good overviews and cover a lot of the same ground (although the Hillhouse book does have that draping intro that is not covered in the Esmod book), although the example drawings are 80 years apart and it shows. You can still get the 1940’s aesthetic using the modern book.
This is all very complicated and scary. I just want to press some pre-washed fabric and cut something out!
These resources won’t let you cut by “rock of eye” like a traditionally-trained tailor, but they will let you get started with making garments in a fabric-first way.
You can’t wait to cut into that special fabric and you want to use it all up
Author: Elizabeth Haywood
Title: Zero Waste Sewing
- This book includes diagrams and detailed construction instructions for 16 women’s and unisex garments. I personally call these “blueprints” but they’re really drafting instructions for garments based on the fabric width and the measurements of the intended wearer.
- Ms. Haywood provides minimum fabric needs for each project. Her patterns are designed with the goal of using 100% of the fabric, with no scraps or waste.
- Zero Waste projects often use less fabric than similar garments cut using standard methods.
- Even if you don’t manage to use up every scrap of your fabric, the pieces left over from a Zero Waste diagram are often bigger/ more useful than from standard cutting.
- Some designs require fabric with a specific hand or don’t work well as-presented if the fabric is directional. Read through the entire description to watch out for these speedbumps.
- Measurements in this book are all in metric.
- This technique of cutting is size-inclusive within the boundaries of fabric width, but guidance is offered based on Australian ready-to- wear sizes from bust 87cm to 137cm (34.5” – 54”).
- In theory, you can chalk the lines of your garment onto your fabric and just cut it out.
- I lack the confidence in my geometry to actually cut straight from chalked lines on my fabric for these projects, and I still make a muslin first (sorry Liz). This is also because I like to fuss around with proportions due to my figure, and a muslin lets me fine- tune before committing.
If you want to dip your toe into Zero Waste Sewing techniques without buying a whole book, check out the designer’s etsy shop at https://www.etsy.com/shop/TheCraftofClothes, where you can buy her books or a range of individual drafting instructions.
You want to make something tradition-based
Author: Dorothy K. Burnham
Title: Cut My Cote
- This is the classic reference for people wanting to show off their hand weaving or fully use up special lengths of cloth.
- Both men’s and women’s garments are included.
- Includes diagrams for 28 garments from all over the world.
- These are all diagrams of original garments, not graded patterns, so a little judgement and experience is required to manipulate the diagrams into a full pattern that fits you.
- Some sellers ask a very high price for what is, essentially, a beefy pamphlet (35 pages). If you can only find an expensive copy, keep looking or see if you can get it via interlibrary loan. I paid $15 for mine (shipping included). The museum that produces it lists it as about $10 Canadian.
If you like modern gothic horror in your TV/ movies/books, I highly recommend that you get into the Haunting of Hill House universe. Start with the book by Shirley Jackson, then watch the 1963 film (skip the 1999 version, please, as a favor to me), then watch the Netflix series. The 1963 film is one of my favorite movies of all time, and it will scare your socks off if you watch it in the right conditions (at night in a dark room on a big screen, preferably with cats lurking around the house to knock things over just out of sight). If you do not like gothic horror, may I recommend the classic film The Princess Bride. It’s charming and has a truly excellent sword fighting scene.
In the next few weeks, I will be writing further posts on adjusting your muslin, using your block to make patterns using flat pattern cutting, and planning the final details like closures, pockets, and linings.