by Catherine Haug, February 12, 2012 (All diagrams and sketches by C. Haug, unless otherwise noted).
Today, we can just go to a fabric store or online to purchase a pattern for the garment. But what if this was no longer a possibility? Or what if you wanted to make something for which there was no pattern? Or what if commercial patterns just don’t fit your body (this is my problem…)?
This is the second article in a series. See also:
- #1: Making Simple Garments
- #3: Garment Creation: Supplies
- #4: Garment Creation: The Basics of Fitting
- #5: Garment Creation: Common Fitting Issues (under construction)
- or see Home, Farm, Ranch; scroll down to ‘Garment Creation’ for an index
This discussion includes:
- Drafting or draping a sloper
- Drafting a block form a sloper or other blocks
- Grading (to change the size of a pattern up or down)
Basic Fitting Patterns
In times before commercial patterns, people went to their dressmaker/tailor who took measurements and then drafted a pattern according to those measurements. A few days later, you went back to the dressmaker/tailor for a first fitting. If you were a new customer, this fitting was for a special pattern called a sloper, which was then used as a guide to draft patterns for different styles.
Today, you can do all of this yourself, without using a commercial pattern at all. The first step is to learn a bit about your body, and how to make garments fit and hang properly on your body. The way to do this is to create a sloper – that special first pattern of days gone by.
Your sloper can then be used to help you modify commercial patterns, or to create patterns for your own designs. While Vogue, Butterick & McCalls pattern companies offer basic fitting patterns, as does Burda from Germany, you’ll get a more satisfying result if you make your own.
This is a basic fitting pattern that fits your body closely, with very little ease. As such, it is a fabric double of that part of your body to which it is fitted. The sloper is then used to create basic patterns (blocks) from which infinite pattern designs can be created.
There are basically two slopers:
- bodice (or upper torso) sloper, which fits the body from shoulder/neck to waist, and also fits the sleeve from shoulder to wrist. I used flat-pattern method following instructions from BurdaStyle.com: Constructing the basic bodice and Sleeve, but you could use the draping method as illustrated in Threads Magazine, by Kathleen Cheetham (see References, below), if you have a helper. See also Cat’s Bodice & Sleeve Sloper (pdf), for more.
- skirt (or lower torso) sloper, which fits the body from waist to hip. I used Drape a Skirt Sloper from Threads Magazine to create my sloper, but you could use flat-pattern method, such as demonstrated by Don McCunn in this video: How to Draft a Lower Torso (aka Skirt) Sloper.
Related to slopers are muslins or toiles. Muslin or toile is an inexpensive cotton fabric that is used for draping or refining the fit of a sloper, block or pattern. Fitting garments made of muslin are called muslins. There are two methods to create a sloper:
- flat-pattern, which involves using straight edges, curves, measurements and calculations to draw a draft on paper. The draft is then cut out of muslin fabric so the fit can be refined to the body. The needed changes are then marked on the paper draft. This can be done by one person, though the fitting process works better if there is a second person. Sometimes it takes two or more successive muslins to get the fit just right.
- draping, which involves working with the muslin fabric draped directly on the body. This has the added advantage of creating the pattern and muslin all in one step. However, it requires at least two people: one to wear the draped fabric, and one to fit the fabric to the body, securing with pins and marking with pen. When completed, all markings are transferred to paper.
By whichever method the sloper is made, it only indicates seam lines – no seam or hem allowances are added. These are added only when the sloper is cut out of muslin fabric to be sewn and fitted. See also Prepare your garment or muslin for fitting for info on reference lines, match points and seam allowances.
After fitting is complete, the sloper, with all the noted changes, is drawn on tag board or other stiff paper. See Cat’s Bodice & Sleeve Sloper, which shows original draft (from BurdaStyle and Leenas.com), and changes that resulted from muslin fitting.
NOTE: none of my sketches include a seam allowance. All lines indicate seam or stitching lines.
The terms ‘sloper’ and ‘block’ are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference. The block is drafted from the sloper to add wearing ease, and there are different blocks for different types of garments.
Like the sloper, no seam or hem allowances are added, except during fitting with muslin fabric; also, each block is drawn on tag board or other stiff paper. It is worth noting that blocks are useful not only for sewing garments, but also for knitting or crocheting them.
For women, there are:
- Bodice block, made from the bodice sloper. This is used for fitted dress bodices or blouses, with only a little added ease in shoulder, bust and waist.
- Shirt block, made from the bodice sloper plus hip measurement. This has more added ease than a bodice block for a relaxed fit, and extends past the hips. See my articles Cat’s Shirt Block (pdf) and Drafting a Sleeve Block (pdf; also applies to drafting any sleeve) for details.
- Skirt block, made from the skirt sloper but with wearing ease and a slight A-line flare. This is used for making skirts or the skirt part of a fitted dress. See my article: Draft a skirt block from the skirt sloper.
- Dress block,made from the shirt and skirt blocks. This is used for dresses with a more relaxed fit, or for those that do not have a waist seam.
- Jacket block, made from the shirt block. This is used for jackets and vests, and has additional ease to allow the garment to be worn over other garments. It may also have a raised shoulder to allow for shoulder pads.
- Coat block, made from the jacket block. This is used for coats that require enough ease to be worn over more than one layer of garments, and has raised shoulder to accommodate shoulder pads.
- Pants block, made from the skirt sloper plus circumference measurements for thighs and calves, and length measurements from the waist: at crotch, knee and ankle. The pants block is used for making trousers, slacks, capris, shorts and jeans. I must add that it can be quite a challenge to create this block and have it fit well.
There are other blocks as well, such as the kimono block which is used not only for kimonos but also T-shirts and garments with dolman and bat-wing sleeves. It is very similar to the Japanese hippari (see Making Simple Garments). Blocks for men are similar in function to that for women, and include:
- shirt block
- jacket block
- coat block
- pants block
Commercial blocks are made for each standard size, starting with a basic size. Sizing up and down from the original block is done by a process of grading: adding incremental length and width at specific places on the block, for each size. See the following for more on grading:
- Threads magazine: Making sense of pattern Grading
- Burda Style: Grade a bodice pattern to a larger size; Grade skirt and pants patterns
Grading works great for children and young adults who have ‘normal’ body shapes. While the same method is used for adults, the result is not always so good. for one thing, we tend to grow in width while we shrink in height, but grading up increases both width and height – the latter going in the wrong direction. As we age, as gravity and life’s experiences change the shape of our bodies, these commercial blocks/patterns no longer fit well.
For example, our shoulders begin to move forward, our backs may round, women’s breasts drop, men develop a stomach pouch, our buttocks drop, our spines may develop curvature causing one shoulder to be higher than the other, or one hip to be higher than the other, and so on. I finally gave up on commercial patterns because they required too much adjustment in a draft muslin for my aging body. It was easier for me to create a sloper and blocks, and then draft my own patterns. This allows me infinite design options.
In the next installements, I will discuss fitting a basic sloper to a particular body as well as fitting in general. This discussion will include:
- fabric grain
- effective use of darts
- analyzing the sloper for fitting problems
- common fitting problems and their solutions
References & For More Information
Cat’s articles on garment creation:
- The EssentiaList: Making Simple Garments
- Cat’s Bodice & Sleeve Sloper (pdf)
- Cat’s Shirt Block (pdf)
- Draft a skirt block from the skirt sloper (pdf)
- Drafting a Sleeve Block (pdf; also applies to drafting any sleeve)
- see Garment Creation files (on Home, Farm, Ranch Files page) for index
Other great articles & videos on pattern drafting
Slopers: For information and tutorials on drafting a sloper, see:
- Threads Magazine: The Merits of a Basic Fitting Pattern
- Threads Magazine: Volume 130, April 2007, Try Plus-Size Draping for the Best Bodice Ever, by Kathleen Cheetham
- Threads Magazine, Volume 131, June 2007, Add a Sleeve to Your Bodice, by Kathleen Cheetham
- Threads Magazine: Drape a Skirt Sloper
- BurdaStyle.com: Constructing the basic bodice block and Sleeve Block [NOTE: These are actually slopers, not blocks, according to my definition.]
- BurdaStyle.com: How to Make a Basic Skirt (Sloper)
- Sew News Magazine, Sept 2006: Bodice Sloper – Pattern-Draping Method, by Connie Amaden-Crawford
- Leenas.com: index for her sloper tutorials: Patterns Drafting Lessons.
- Leenas.com: Draft Basic Bodice Pattern and Drafting Basic Sleeve [NOTE: the former is a torso sloper, which includes the bodice portion from neck/shoulder to waist, and skirt portion from waist to hip, but you could just follow the instructions for the bodice portion.]
- RandomlyTaylord (blog): Drafting the Bodice Back Tutorial (for a sloper)
- RandomlyTaylord (blog): Drafting the Bodice Front Tutorial (for a sloper)
- YouTube video: Pattern Drafting 101: Basic Bodice Sloper
- YouTube video: How to Draft a Lower Torso (aka Skirt) Sloper, by Don McCunn
Blocks: For information and tutorials on drafting and using a block, see:
- Threads Magazine, Volume 137, July 2008: From Sloper to Shirt, by Kathleen Cheetham [this illustrates a shirt block with back yoke]
- Threads Magazine, Volume 138, August 2008: Use your Sloper to Finish Your Shirt, by Kathleen Cheetham
- Vintage Sewing, 1942 – Modern Pattern Design by Harriet Pepin (see CenterForPatternDesign.com or Amazon.com. NOTE: vintagesewinginfo.com, which had pdf version of parts of this book, is no longer available.]
General pattern drafting:
- Threads Magazine:
- Draft a Two-Piece Collar with Stand