Getting Started in Pattern Drafting: How to Make a Dress Pattern

Pattern drafting can seem like a big, scary undertaking to many sewers. While it is definitely a large field of study that one can spend many years learning and perfecting, most anyone with an interest and at least advanced beginner sewing skills can get started understanding the basic theory of flat patternmaking.

Here are some tips on how to get started learning more about drafting your own designs.

Patternmaking Tools

Selection of some patternmaking tools

1. Prep with a basic block.

Patternmaking is based on what is called a basic block/sloper. For home sewists, you will likely only be interested in creating a basic sloper for your own unique body shape and measurements. Most patternmaking textbooks recommend starting using a fitted bodice with a waist seam.

This basic block includes a waist and side dart in the bodice front as well as a waist and shoulder dart in the bodice back. From this basic block, you can vary necklines, sleeves, dart styles and more to create your own unique garments.

2. Now start collecting  the necessary tools and supplies.

At a minimum, you will need pencils, rulers, a variety of curves, pattern paper, scissors, pins, a tape measure, a tracing wheel, and muslin fabric. There are loads of other helpful patternmaking tools, but you can get started with just the essentials, adding to your collection as your experience, interest and budget dictates.

PatternMaking Books

Selection of patternmaking book resources

3. Find a helpful resource on how to draft basic pattern blocks.

The online Craftsy class, Patternmaking Basics: the Bodice Sloper, is a great place to start. You can also check your local library or bookstore for textbook resources — there are lots of good ones available.

4. Measure up!

Using the measurement chart from the patternmaking resource you are using, ask a friend to help you take and record your upper  body measurements. Then use those measurements to draft your personal bodice sloper as instructed in your patternmaking resource. Yes, there will be a few math calculations, but nothing too scary or difficult!

5. Make it perfect.

Be sure to take the time to true and balance your bodice sloper. Some things you need to watch for include:

  • The center front and center back need to be on grainline.
  • The bust level on the bodice front needs to be on perfect crossgrain.
  • The side seams of your bodice front and back need to be the identical length, and also the identical angle so the garment will hang correctly on the body.
  • The armholes should look rather like a horseshoe, and the back armhole should be approximately 1/2 inch longer than the front armhole to create the right shape for the sleeve to hang properly
  • True all darts

6. Don’t be shy, add a skirt!

Once you have finished your bodice sloper, the next step is to make a basic skirt sloper. These two slopers together can be used to create a variety of other sloper styles, including dress patterns. Repeat steps 3 and 4 above using your lower body measurements to create your skirt sloper.

7. Make it your own.

Now the fun begins! Once you have a sloper for your bodice and skirt, you can begin changing the dart types and placements to create designs that are pleasing to your personal taste. Most textbooks recommend starting by repositioning darts to new locations on the sloper. Don’t forget to add seam allowances, and the appropriate amount of wearing and design ease to your final pattern designs.

Look to RTW garments or other patterns for inspiration in creating your own designs. As you gain more experience you will be able to take on more and more complex drafting tasks. Be sure to check out the wide selection of online Craftsy patternmaking courses

Have you ever tried any patternmaking? What was your favorite design from your self-drafted patterns? 

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