Draping versus Flat pattern cutting – where do you stand?

There are basically two different approaches to making patterns for clothes – flat pattern cutting and draping.  When I recently posted some pictures of skirt-spiration, Jay mentioned that she thought some of the designs lent themselves to draping and some to flat pattern cutting.

Flat pattern cutting

It is called “flat” pattern cutting because (although clothes are for bodies in three dimensions) the patterns are cut on a flat surface in two dimensions, where virtually all the lines you create are either at right angles (to resemble the grain of the fabric) or curved to fit the curves of the body. So flat pattern cutting – using a set square, paper and pencil to create first blocks then patterns is what I know best. However I have always been intrigued to know more about draping, or modelling, on the stand (a mannequin), as I felt it might be fun. Also I like shapes,  asymmetry and handling fabric. Also with paper you need to make up a toile in fabric to get a sense of whether an idea might work.

Draping on the stand



The second approach is very different and is much more about what the fabric wants to do, or what the fabric will allow you to do. This approach is known as “drape” or “working on the stand” whereby a designer or pattern maker will begin by draping basic fabric, such as calico, onto a mannequin or dress making dummy (such as those being hugged by Alber in the image above) and working much more like a sculptor the fabric is smoothed, creased, spliced and pinned until the desired shape is achieved. Once the garment is roughly the right shape, the fabric can then be marked with pen lines and notch marks and annotations of what piece is which, so that it can then be removed from the mannequin and flattened out without later confusion. It is from this drape that a first pattern can then be traced and the lines and measurements smoothed and checked, before a new first toile is sewn and ready for a fitting on a fit model.

In order to try to investigate Jay’s approach I tried making two skirts with the draping method, and with the flat pattern cutting method.

Experimenting with the two approaches – the Westwood pleated side seam skirt

Basically I have made the same skirt twice. The flat pattern cut skirt is superior in terms of length, fit, waist line and hem circumference . The draped skirt is pattern matched at both sides which is more pleasing. But I couldn’t have made the purple one without having made the green one first, and some of the advantages are due to making a second attempt and learning from the first one.

My findings

Pros and cons of draping

  • It is freeing – for example a skirt can become a dress, you can change the placing of the side seam relatively easily etc
  • it helps aid creativity and improvisation
  • you can much more easily visulise the effect you are planning
  • you can start draping without a design in mind
  • you can drape a garment in your fashion fabric – great for fancy dress or something to wear this evening
  • it might save a lot of time in terms of seeing how a garment looks in 3D right at the start
  • It is hard to get a symmetric result, but lends itself to asymmetric looks
  • It is not good for fitting – unless your stand is exactly the same size and shape as you are (ie custom made)
  • It can be hard to replicate a design – it is not easy to transfer a design to paper
  • it can be expensive in terms of equipment and fabric (compared to paper and set squares)
  • you can create a garment from a specific piece of fabric, thus reducing waste
  • although grain lines are marked with either a drawn line or thread traced it is likely that you will be working with a non-straight grain. This can be more challenging when constructing a garment.

Pros and cons of flat pattern cutting

  • If you make a pattern from your own or a standard block you will have the right size that will fit
  • You still may need to make a toile to “see” what the design looks like, but you will be confident of the overall dimensions
  • For me FPC is closer to the construction process and easier to control things like symmetry, grain,
  • with draping the pins can be very deceptive – holding a garment to the stand for example, whereas in real life it will droop
  • you need a sketch (real or imaginary) of what you are trying to achieve
  • you can be very accurate with your measurements
  • you can create balance and symmetry relatively easily
  • bias cutting tends to be used for specific features eg collar, waist-band, with everything else being very much on the correct grain.


I am still a beginner with draping on the stand. I have had about 100 hours of tuition (30 of them of the nearly 30 years ago), and I have made up about ten garments. I still prefer flat pattern cutting as it is more predictable, and I come back to it each time in order to “capture” what I have done. I have tackled so many new projects and ideas and I have created several outfits I wouldn’t have conceived before. Also, and I suspect this may be the reality with many designers, I am finding myself moving from draping to flat and back again as I develop an idea.  I am planning to do a further term on draped bodices, and a short course on bias drape. There is a class on draping jersey which I may try too.

Any other views?



20 Responses

  1. Kim Hood

    I did a little draping as part of my C&G qualification years ago and not since. I suppose you use the method most familiar and comfortable to you – so mine is flat pattern cutting. It would be good to have some time just playing with draping sometime. Your garments have shown the value in both methods.
    P.S. Do you sleep?!

  2. Elizabeth

    It seems to me that the skills complement each other. I think draping is more difficult, but I have spent more time with flat pattern cutting. Watching someone who really knows how to drape is very inspirational. But I think you also need a lot of knowledge to drape – i.e. about where you might need to cut facing pieces, how to pin or baste so that the drapes reflect the final product, etc. Which you would learn if you used this technique primarily, just the way I know how draft a facing or collar or sleeve on a flat pattern. If you are not making multiples and you want to use a piece of fabric to the full, and I think particularly if you want to work on the bias a lot with your designs, you need to drape. So it’s another weapon in our arsenal (or another tool in our kit, to choose a less military metaphor).

  3. Linde

    I was trained on draping and only in my last year did we do flat cutting. As a result I am much more comfortable with stand work and I find it far more creative. Neither method is superior and it is a case of what the individual feels happier doing.

  4. Sheila Harvey-Larmar

    Draping intrigues me but is rather scary at the same time. The only draping I’ve ever attempted was a toga for The Boys fancy dress at school! I’ve got flat pattern cutting under my belt and am sure I will try draping at some point. In the meantime I shall continue to enjoy watching you do it!

  5. Jay

    For styles where I can easily see how to get the desired effect, I prefer flat drafting. This because, as you point out, if you have a block which fits, there’s no further fitting needed. Draping really needs a stand in the finished measurements, but I use my half scale stand to work out ideas sometimes. Most clothes I actually make aren’t all that adventurous, so the half scale stand allows messing about with ideas I’d never actually wear without spending a lot on fabric.

  6. Karien

    For me draping was the answer in order to get a bodice block or sloper. None of the methods on flat pattern drafting was sufficient, and you don’t even need to make all those measurements and draw lines in order to get the shape. So I used this method to get a perfect fitting pattern from which I like to draft flat.

      • Karien

        Yes I did that. It would have been better to have a buddy but it can be done. Thanks to all the instructions at YouTube. After sewing the first bodice it had to be adjusted at certain points, but now I do have a perfect fitting bodice that I would not have been able to make with plain flat drafting. I tried several methods first (e.g. Aldrich)

        • gigi

          hi karien. kindly give tips on how to drape on yourself, most specially the back. how did you do yours without any assistance?

          • fabrickated

            I am not sure Karien will read this Gigi, but she suggests you have a look at YouTube for instructions on how to do this.

  7. Demented Fairy

    I’m very boring- I have done a little pattern drafting [thanks to Winifred] but hated it… I’ll opt for a commercial pattern every time.
    I’ve also sort of done some draping years ago, when my sister and I would hit the markets, buy a bit of fabric, and then I’d construct something directly on her body for her to wear out clubbing the same night. It was usually stitched on her, by hand, and would just be torn off at the end of the night.
    I’m comfortable with franken-patterning, and the occasional FBA, but I’m too lazy to do much more than that. My style choices and minimal creativity tend to come from combining fabrics and shapes, no more.
    I’m envious of your access to all these courses though!

  8. mrsmole

    While most of my sewing does not involved either method, I prefer the more precise flat pattern method for ease of making facings, pockets etc and knowing they will fit together, sew together and come out like the drawing. For me the question is always whether 2 pieces will line up and sew together and lie flat. Draping just is not that accurate on a generic mannequin. Both require lots of thinking and planning but it is nice to use either method for projects in pre-cutting sequence.Thank you for allowing us to join your adventure, Kate!

    • fabrickated

      Thank you for your insights and support Mrs Mole. I absolutely agree with you about the accuracy of measurements, symmetry etc. But as I have been draping this term I have been thinking mostly of one off designs for bridal and evening wear – impractical dresses and skirts that use lots of fabric to create interesting lines and structures.

  9. Lynn Mally

    Here’s the truth–I took a draping class years ago and bought a dressmaker form, which I padded out to my size. However, I never drape. I use the form to check sizes, to pin tricky areas, to check hems, and to adorn my hallway. Maybe I should branch out?

  10. Sheree

    Years ago, I would see garments in the shops that I wanted, but patterns were so behind the times then, so I would drape the fabric across my dressmakers dummy in order to copy the styles The combination of the boldness of youth and my slim figure (at that time) meant that it usually worked out ok. Now with such a wide choice of patterns I don’t have the need and also lack the patience needed.

  11. Mary Funt

    You must have learned so much in your draping experiments. I’m looking forward to reading about your upcoming adventures in draping and especially bias draping. Draping is the essence of couture and you certainly will benefit from having a working knowledge of draping. I find it invaluable in fitting. You will recognize where and how to adjust to correct fitting issues. I use a combination of draping and drafting and there are advantages to both. If you are draping for yourself then a mannequin padded to be a duplicate of your size will save hours of work.

  12. Anne

    I’m enjoying your posts. I’m more comfortable with FPD. Having said that, I’ve now finished padding Missy out to Helen’s sizes (a few tweaks needed) and today have my first private lesson looking at moving the wedding dress on. This will involve draping. The class is with my pattern cutting tutor who loves draping; we draped a bodice with her. Another pro to draping, for me, is that it will hopefully stimulate my creative part and free me up. I’m too constrained. My tutor feels I’m getting there!

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