From block to toile to pattern – making fitting alterations

posted in: Pattern cutting | 12

I made a toile for my friend Lyn. This post explains how I created and altered the paper pattern that Lyn, with some design changes, will be able to use to make herself a sheath dress (and by further alteration) any one piece dress she desires.

If you want to do the same (much easier working in pairs) you need to start with a torso block.

  1. This can be drafted for individual measurements or a standard size (say a size 12). You can do this on your own at home using a book. Winifred Aldridge is probably the industry standard and the one I used when I was at college. Each book has a slightly different approach and the blocks will have different features. I tried making a Japanese block once and found the proportions very wrong for me – I altered it to fit but would have been better using my own individual block. There are other, quicker and easier ways too.
  2. All the pattern companies make a dress for fitting. These are inexpensive and a reasonable starting point for fitting. However, as an experiment, I  bought one and found the shaping pretty unusual (this was to fit my daughter).
  3. Use a close fitting dress pattern that you like and more or less fits you, and make the alterations from here. I suggest you choose one with a straightforward bust dart, a back shoulder dart and a high, round neck.

What I did for Lyn was use my own torso pattern as a starting point. This started life as a standard block. It has then had the front shoulder dart taken out and two darts created at under arm and under bust (vertical). I compared Lyn’s measurements with my own and altered my pattern to fit her bust, waist and hip measurements (only an inch or two difference).

Start with is a card or paper pattern that consists of a front and back bodice that finishes below the hip. However if you have not drafted the pattern to your exact measurements and know the bust dart, back length or back shoulder dart are wrong for you alter the pattern first.  Lyn’s bust was both higher and fuller than average, and that her shoulders were quite broad and a little bony. I therefore altered Lyn’s pattern by changing the position of the bust dart (raising it one inch) and carried out a FBA.

Original pattern with FBA etc
Original pattern with FBA etc

Next cut out the pattern in calico (adding seam allowances if they are not already included).

Mark the bust dart and the back shoulder dart but you can leave out other shaping as you will put these in when fitting. Stitch the darts, press, put a temporary zip in the CB, then sew the shoulder and side seams. Leaving seam allowance at the neck and arm holes is optional – but if you leave them on mark them, or snip into them for wearing ease.

Try on to toile and make alterations. You are supressing fabric where it is full, and opening it out where it is tight. Obviously it is easier to take out rather than put in so if you think you may need more leave bigger seam allowances.

Lyn in the toile
Lyn in the toile

Once fitted you need to transfer the changes to your paper pattern so you can use it to make garments. I find it essential to mark the waist (which I found on Lyn by using the green string). You can see how I trimmed the side seam too, as the toile was a little bit loose on Lyn. The “wedge at the CF came out too, and I slightly reduced the shoulder. Once all these changes had been transfered to the paper pattern I trued it and then traced off a nice new clean version for Lyn.



The final step was to create facings for the arm holes and neck.

Lyn can now use this pattern to make a sheath dress, a tunic or  a shell top.

12 Responses

  1. Lyn

    I look like I’m wearing a straight jacket!!

    This is next on my list to make. I have been busy making a toile myself. I have finished it now and have also made up the proper dress in raw silk for my first commission. I shall be blogging about it soon! Final fitting today, so fingers crossed for a good fit.

  2. Stephanie

    Kate, This is awesome. I am going to refer back to this when I work on making a proper block for a sheath this summer. I have tried on heaps of dresses here in Florence and I have realized why I have never been able to buy a sheath in a store. (I suppose I knew this already.) I don’t ever like the fit of ready to wear for my torso. I need adjustments at the armhole, back, shoulder and bust. Can’t wait to make a gorgeous sheath or two this summer (and to improve my shift dresses). Thanks for sharing more information about the block you developed for Lyn. I also need to get that W Aldridge book. That said, I’m seriously thinking of apprenticing for a bit with a tailor here next year. It could be fun. 🙂

  3. Joyce Latham

    This post makes my heart skip a beat. Love it. I have made the vogue fitting pattern for bodice, skirt, and pants. It has really helped me…not that everything fits perfectly but it was definitely worth the time and effort! Because fit is my challenge at this stage of sewing, I’m not bored with the simplistic design, and see how I could easily alter it. Now…..if only I had a sewing buddy to help me pin!
    As always, enjoying your posts and find them all very inspiring!
    Joyce ??

    • fabrickated

      I agree with you Joyce. A pattern that fits, in a style that suits, in a good colour and nice fabric is as close to perfect as it gets. The simple designs can be the most flattering in my opinion – a fitted blouse, a sheath dress, a pencil skirt, a fitted jacket, for example.

    • fabrickated

      The block is the basic pattern, before any design is added, whereas the muslin is the practice garment. No you can (and must) do a muslin from you block to fit it, but a “muslin” or toile or “calico” version can be made of any pattern.

  4. Sew2pro

    I have used the Winifred A instructions for making a block for someone else and though it was quick and easy to produce the first muslin, there was a lot of ease in the bodice. It took three goes before we got the sleek silhouette we were after. I’d love to be able to input the measurements into some programme and a PDF to print out (this is in fact what my client assumed would happen…)

    • Jay

      Aldrich blocks include ease – about 10cms at bust level. For some people and some fabrics this is too much (though still less than is often used in commercial patterns). Smaller sizes tend to need less ease. Natalie Bray’s instruction for getting round the problem of different amounts of ease for different sizes is quite handy. She suggests taking the bust measurement snugly for small sizes and a bit loose for big sizes.

      • fabrickated

        Thank you for this feedback Jay. I found Natalie Bray’s toile was very wrong for me, but the tip sounds a good one.

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