Using Your Sloper Post 3 of 4: Flat Pattern Design with a Sloper/ Block

Well. Now you have a bodice sloper that fits. Good for you! Slopers are not very interesting on their own. You want to design your own garments! But how do you get there?

There are a lot of repeat resources in this section, because many of the concepts that help you draft and adjust a sloper also help you design flat patterns. I don’t generally touch on size inclusivity here, because it’s assumed you are working with a sloper or base pattern that’s already fitted to your size and proportions. 

These are not ranked as they all approach designing differently. If you’re just starting out, I recommend you decide what style of clothes you want to make and get the resources that work for those styles. Drafting is a skill and you’ll practice it more if you want to use the patterns you create. 

Kenneth D. King’s Very Comprehensive Array of Self-Published Pattern Making Books

Author: Kenneth D. King

TItle: Various. There are currently 17 titles available

Available at: http://www.kennethdking.com/book/

If you’ve been reading this series, you know I love Kenneth D. King’s books. They filled in a huge gap in my (sparse) sewing education and have made other drafting books easier to understand by providing a practical, foundational understanding. 

I own all of his books, except for the notes on Patternmaking 1 and 2. They’re my first go-to when I want to draft or design something, even though I often consult other sources. The books are very complete and detailed, taking advantage of the digital format to offer many diagrams and photographs. For example, his book on dress drafts (all dresses without a waistline seam) lavishes 110 pages on 6 styles of dresses. All of his designing books also include some fitting notes and construction tips. Overall, these are great books for beginners and those who might be shaky on how to draft a particular style. 

I especially love how Kenneth’s books include photos of a muslin of the finished garment. Many drafting/ design books have only a flat drawing or a cartoon-style summary of the design. Photos of muslins that are fitted onto a dress form help me understand what a style might look like when sewn up. 

While Kenneth’s books should help you draft most styles you can imagine, I appreciate his detailed drafts of vintage-inspired style lines and details. In theory, I could figure out how to draft a sweet little petal collar that overlaps itself in the back neckline, such as I spied in the first season of The Crown worn by Princess Margaret. I remember noticing that detail on a blouse of hers and thinking…ugh I wish I would bother to draft that, it’s so cute. Guess what? It’s on page 25-28 of his Collars book. 

General Principles of Flat Pattern Design

Author: Sara Alm

Title: Designing Clothes with the Flat Pattern Method

ISBN: 9781589239340

  • Ms. Alm introduces flat patterning methods to design from a sloper in deep detail, starting with narrow skirts and moving on to bodices, collars, sleeves and pants.
  • This book is a nice introduction into flat patterning principles, and will help you develop your own styles using general rules, rather than achieve specific designs.  
  • I especially appreciate the detailed discussion of moving darts, converting darts to ease, and converting darts into a seam.  These are techniques that many books gloss over and this book uses step-by-step photographs to lead the reader. 
  • There are a few pages outlining the overall techniques for drafting facings, hems, linings, vents, and buttoned closures.  
  • The pictures and diagrams are clear and easy to understand.
  • One major drawback to this book is the lack of an index. 

You Want to Go Into the Way Back Machine 

Author: Elizabeth Friendship

Title: Creating Historical Clothes

ISBN: 978-1-84994-048-1

  • Most resources on sewing 17th/18th/19th Century-style western clothes focus on documenting extant garments or explaining how to drape and construct garments as they were worn in the time period. This book departs from that, by demonstrating how to draft basic patterns, then apply flat pattern cutting to a selection of antique English and European women’s styles from the 1530’s to about 1900. 
  • There are brief but clear instructions on several types of sleeve blocks, trouser blocks, bodices, and skirts (including the necessary underpinnings). 
  • You could use this book by itself, as it begins with taking measurements and leads all the way through drafting, with some notes on construction order and antique sewing techniques like the mantua-maker’s stitch and cartridge pleating. 
  • There is a good overview of some basics of pattern making in general: adding volume and ease to patterns, calculating the sleeve width when you have depth already and vice versa, and drafting bodices for large busts. 
  • The description of moving darts into seams is especially good, and I appreciate the way the author shows how to adjust a bodice block to fit over a later-Victorian corset. 
  • Each section includes a page describing the garments of the period very generally, and giving references and a glossary for specialized fashion terms. 
  • I would especially recommend this book for people interested in “history bounding” because it departs from historic methods but approximates shapes well and gives visual references for the designs, usually paintings and drawings of people wearing clothes, rather than original garments. 
  • The most basic, untailored linens, such as shirts and shifts, are not covered in this book. If you want to build historic styles from the skin out, you’ll want to combine this book with resources relevant to the time period of interest. 

You Want to Party like it’s 1924

Author: The Women’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences

Title: Drafting and Pattern Designing

ISBN: 9780916896560

  • I introduced this book in Post 1 with the Picken Square. While I love my reproduction square, I think you could use this book with standard rulers especially if you already have your slopers drafted. 
  • This book has some designs that have become timeless, but it also has some delightful pieces that are really atmospheric for the 1920’s and earlier such as corset covers, fancy aprons, and knickerbocker trousers. 
  • The drafting and flat patterning instructions are scant, but they’re understandable if you have a little experience drafting and flat designing.  

You love the styles of the 1930’s- 1960’s

Author: Miss Haslam

Titles: Haslam System of Dresscutting

Available at secondhand resellers and at https://mrsdepew.com/

Check out this adorable booklet from 1942
  • Miss Haslam’s system doesn’t require that you use her slopers: I have used her style lines with my moulage-generated sloper with no problem.
  • The main advantage of the Haslam Dresscutting books is that they are readily available, primary sources for the latest fashions of specific years and seasons in the 1930’s-1960’s. You can often find original books on the secondary market or electronically as PDFs. 
  • The instructions are scanty, as they assumed relatively experienced seamstresses were using them. There’s never any discussion of facings and interior finishing, or even openings. You have to know how to do that yourself. The draft instructions will give you the shell and the secondary pieces that show such as collars, cuffs, and patch pockets. 
  • I wouldn’t use these booklets as stand-alone references, but they will help you nail a specific vintage style. If you want to use Haslam books to make garments, I recommend you pair the books with a how-to-sew resource such as the Vogue Sewing Book and find an online community to join for help.
  • The fashion illustrations are adorable and give a sense of colors and prints that would be appropriate for a specific year. 

You Prefer Videos and the ability to ask questions

Charlotta School of Pattern Cutting Patreon


Further resources at https://learn.schoolofpatterncutting.com/dashboard

  • Lately, when I see a vintage dress detail in a movie or a book, I search Charlotta’s patreon posts before I check any other resource. Sometimes I have to look at the Vogue Sewing Book or Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing to be sure I have the best description of what I want to understand how to design. 
  • As of July, 2021, Charlotta’s Patreon videos include more than 50 drafting tutorials for everything from a basic yoke skirt to recreating Vionnet-inspired designs to fit you.  She adds 2 or 3 new video tutorials per month. 
  • Patrons get to vote on the styles she analyses and drafts. 
  • Charlotta’s instructions are clear and her warm personality makes the tutorials approachable, even for novice drafters. 
  • Check out https://www.youtube.com/user/csmlotta to get a sense of how she works and what style lines she tends to offer. 
  • The focus of her work is on pattern cutting, but I appreciate that she also covers construction steps, fabric choices, and drafting details like pockets.

Introduction to 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

ISBN: 978-2-909617-22-0

  • I introduced this book in post 1, and it provides a whirlwind tour of adding ease to a sloper to develop bodice, blouse, and dress designs. 
  • Basic pattern manipulation is covered: shifting darts, manipulating darts into a yoke, or adding gathers. 
  • A variety of classic and contemporary designs are presented, each with about a page of text and a page of diagrams.
  • If you want a brief overview (not a step-by-step) on women’s clothing design, this book will give you a solid start on cutting skirts, bodices, shirts, and dresses. 

Moving a Dart Does Not Require Legislation

Author: Adele Margolis

Title: Make Your Own Dress Patterns

ISBN-13: 978-0-486-45254-8

The Prints and Styling are Spot on for the mid 1980’s
  • This was one of Adele’s last books, first published in 1985 but back in print as of 2006. Many of the fashion drawings bear the mark of the 1980’s Career Woman look, but the advice and the general principles described are timeless.
  • Adele does not explain how to draft a bodice sloper. She assumes you are working with a sloper you bought or adjusted. The book does provide little quarter-sized slopers for you to trace or copy and manipulate for practice. 
  • This book really has it all as far as learning flat pattern manipulation: darts, matching your seams, moving and dividing darts, shaping with seams (alone or with darts), fullness, drawing a hip-length sloper from a bodice sloper, adding ease, necklines, openings (including rules for developing a buttoned opening), pockets, collars, the main types of sleeves, sleeve finishes, and a very general overview on making muslins.
  • This book discusses drawing facings and linings more than many flat pattern design books. 

Fashions Change, but the Principles of Cutting the Flat Pattern Do Not

Author: Natalie Bray

Title: Dress Pattern Designing: The Basic Principles of Cut and Fit

ISBN-13: 978-0632065011

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Classic Collars

– Natalie Bray was born in 1897 and worked at the Katinka Court Dressmakers of Knightsbridget, London in the 1920’s. She taught classes in dressmaking and developed her own flat-cutting methods in the mid 1930’s. Her books, first published in the 1950’s, were extensions of her correspondence classes.

– Following the section on drawing blocks, this book provides a brief introduction to: circular patterns, simple pattern designing, yokes, dart manipulation, sleeves, collars and necklines, skirts, and a one-piece dress foundation.

– Drafts for bodice blocks of dartless bodices, loose fitting shirts, jackets, cut-on sleeves, and raglan blocks are included. 

– Many style lines and design elements are presented as line drawings, with clear labels. The styles presented are “classic” and would suit many eras and contemporary designs. 

Final Thoughts on Flat Design:

Remember to do a muslin of your actual design after you flat-pattern from your sloper. Moving seams around and playing with design elements can create distortions and have unintended downstream consequences, especially as you are learning how to do this. 

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