Back to basics – making your own dress block (part one)

After a year of studying Draping on the Stand at Morley college I have signed up for Intermediate pattern cutting.

The class started with an interesting round up of who does and knows what. As usual we had a group of young fashion industry workers, plus a few hobby sewists like me. It is a nice way to learn more about the careers associated with fashion – most of which involve long hours and low pay, unfortunately. But majority of these nice young women enjoy their work, and they are keen to learn more.

The class will be making dress patterns using the tutor’s size 12 standard bodice block, but there is an option to use your own.

I decided to remake my personal blocks. If you do a fair amount of pattern cutting for your own use it makes sense to start with your own measurements rather than the “ideal” or “average” size 10 or 12.

Drafting a dress block to your own personal measurements

My prior experience meant that the actual drafting very straightforward and I achieved it in about an hour and a half, after I got home from work. Here are my tips

  • Use a good book. I used Winifred Aldridge – the same book I used in college – second hand ones are available for £5 or £6.
    Metric Pattern Cutting W Aldridge
    Metric Pattern Cutting
  • Measure your body carefully, ideally getting a friend to help as some of the measurements are hard to do on yourself
  • Select the standard size that is most close to your size and compare your measurements to the standard ones
  • I like to use the straight edge of the cardboard for the CB, but purists would advise you draw in the CB to start
  • This is the line you will initially square off against
  • Getting this right (ie getting every squared up or down) is crucial to making a good job of your blocks, and all pattern drafting
  • Use a fine pencil. A 2H is recommended to increase accuracy
  • You may also need a rubber
  • Work on lightweight card rather than paper as you will be using the blocks many times
  • Make sure the card is big enough for the task.You need a good set square. Ideally a metre stick too.
  • A curved ruler is also really useful. This is the one I used on the neck and armhole
    Neck curve ruler
    Neck curve ruler
  • When making a dress block you first make a bodice block and then adapt it.

I found the Aldridge instructions easy to follow and they work well if you use standard measurements.  When you make the block up with your own measurements your “figure faults” – yes this is how she describes them – may mean you require further alteration.

Key learning point

When making your own dress blocks the drafting is the easy bit. It is the fitting that gives you a headache.

Also my tutor told me that it is impossible to fit yourself. I will soon see if this is true.  I am hoping that selfies of front and back, plus feedback from you, my dear blog readers, may suffice. I will get as far as I can on my own and then I may have to ask for her help.

My specific “figure faults” and how my first attempt at a bodice block turned out

I would be interested in your analysis.

Here is mine: There is something wrong with the neck. Experience tells me that there is actually something wrong with the shoulder and this is creating the issue at the neck. There is a problem with the bust with a “dent” appearing the right of the bust. This might appear to be too much fabric above the bust point, but I believe this is caused by the placement of the bust point being too high. And although the fit at the waist is good I think it too is also a bit high.

Lowering both the bust point and waist is a very simple alteration to make and if my diagnosis is right this will be a major improvement.

The tricky area, as is apparent in both the pictures (as well as me fitting in my lino-printed pyjama pants) is the shoulder. The pitch is wrong. In other words the angle is too acute. My shoulders, while relatively narrow, are also fairly square.

What went wrong here? Well my shoulder measures 10cms compared to the standard measurement (for a s12) of 12.25cms. By creating a shoulder length of just 10cms I found that the pitch was exaggerated. What would you do? I think the obvious thing to correct this is to use the standard shoulder measurement of  12.25 cms, then alter the block by taking off a couple of cms at the armhole, and/or the neckline.


Bodice block fitting
Fitting the toile
Fitting a bodice block
FItting the toile (back view)

I need literally to go back to the drawing board. I will redraft the bodice and let you have a look. Thank you for those that can offer suggestions.

29 Responses

  1. jay

    Suggestions – fit the whole block, make both sides in calico. Make it to hip level, so you can more easily see where the waist is right or wrong in fit and level. Have the toile fastening or pinned at the CF which you have clearly marked with felt pen. Remember shoulder line can be moved to a different angle, but also SP and NP can be moved forward or backward, each separately or both together, this can take several sessions of trial and error to get right. Fit over underwear, not tee shirt or top.Have generous turnings, but snip neck turnings, and possibly eventually armhole trunings at intervals so you can see where the fitting line is. Have an elastic to get your waist level. Draw the fitting lines of the neck and armhole in felt pen. Use a different colour for each set of alterations as you work towards your best fit. Be ready to shape the CBseam if you need to (you can deal with the shape another way for styles but it’s handy to have the fit info. Same for CF. Tack block so you can rip out and repin easily. Good luck, your own block is much more useful when you’ve got it done, even though it’s a pain to get it right in the first place.

  2. Linde

    Good morning, Jay is spot on with all her suggestions I couldn’t fault anything that she said. It is a pain to do but it will be so useful to you.

  3. Anne

    I agree with Jay, too. When doing my blocks I found it difficult with just the half body calico the tutor advocated (I think to save money) and didn’t get anywhere until I used a full piece over a proper base. My tutor reckons that Winnie is better with some figures than others. I do think it is extremely difficult to fit yourself – don’t you have access to the tutor at Morley for this?

    • Linde

      You are so right I always work better a full toile and if you think about it our right and left side can differ slightly.

  4. jay

    Forgot this point. Fit wearing the height of heels you most often use. Heels change posture. I think Winnie will be ok for your figure. Some bulkier figures have an easier time fitting if they start with a Natalie Bray block. Oh, just remembered, get the bodice/armhole fit sorted and transferred to paper or card before drafting the sleeve and testing this.

  5. mrsmole

    Asymmetrical…you bet, left breasts can be larger and lower, depending on whether you are right or left handed, the dominant side will usually have a dropped/low shoulder with a corresponding higher hip…think carrying babies/handbag/groceries/books on one side after 30 years causes this too. Jay is right on with the steps to a perfect fitting! Wear the best support bra you own alone under the muslin also wearing a tight chain around your neck will give an accurate location for the neckline.

  6. Mary Funt

    All of Jay’s suggestions are spot on. You can definitely fit yourself as I’ve done it. Take loads of selfies and a good full length mirror helps. I disagree about drafting your block to standard measures and then altering. The advantage to drafting for individual measurements is that fitting issues are minimized. Suzy Furrer has written an excellent book which I’ve used for every imaginable body shape and always gotten close to a perfect fit on the first shot. Suzy’s mentor was Simmin Sethea who taught at what is now Esmode in Paris. Another text which produces excellent results is European Pattern Drafting by Elizabeth Allemong. Her sleeve draft is the best I’ve ever found. Enjoy your course.

  7. Cherry

    Excellent suggestions above. I too like the Suzy Furrer book. She also has excellent classes on Craftsy.
    But as you have the body you are sewing for in front of you, why not get a sewing buddy to drape to it? Wear the good bra, neck chain, waist elastic, mark the key points with sticky dots. You would get the shoulder slope you need, bust point in the right place, etc.

  8. pia

    Fitting yourself is definitely very difficult. But I wouldn’t say it’s impossible for everyone. Some figures are just easier to fit than others! 🙂

    My current French Block was also drafted using instruction from Kenneth King, another of Simmin Sethea’s disciples. Problem with this method though is there are still a lot of measurements to be taken, and measurements are best taken by a careful & informed helper. To be honest, if I had to do it all over again I’d probably get someone to wrap me up in plastic wrap & tape, cut open & flatten (with aid of released darts, etc).

    But getting back to your toile, apart from all the useful suggestions above, I’d also suggest drawing in your guidelines – eg bust, cross-front/back, etc. to help you see if they are where they should be or being pulled out of place.

    With the photos, try to take it from a distance so the angle of the shot doesn’t mislead you to thinking something’s wrong when it’s not. Also take photo from the side – eg to help guage if the shoulder seam is in the right place, if there’s excess gaps in the armscye, etc.

    Have you tried releasing the shoulder seam near the armscye, tapering back to current SN point to find out if that helps the whole bodice sit better around the neckline? BTW, I’m also in London & learning about fitting & drafting my own patterns. So if you’re walkable from a Tube station & want a fitting buddy let me know.

    • SJ Kurtz

      These comments are worth the price of admission here! What a fine community!

      Tissue fitting myself has been impossible (flexibility issues, reading things right in the mirror or on the photo). Wrapping up in plastic wrap or paper packing tape or duct tape hasn’t worked for me, but reading these excellent comments makes me think I should vary this by making a tissue sloper, putting it on and having my sister wrap over it with plastic packing tape, and then draw lines with a magic marker. I think we can handle that without too much disagreement. She can operate those tools well enough.

      I seem to change shape every year now (after 50) and while I don’t want a super fitted look, I’d like to spend less time making a block and more time working with the finished one.

      • jay

        SJKurtz comment reminds me to write this, when you have finished the exercise and transferred all of your changes to the block, save the calico toile, write on it the date, any other notes you might forget and stuff it in the back of a drawer. If you change shape a bit, it’s a lot easier to pop the old toile on and check out exactly where to make alterations. Sorry to keep chipping in random thoughts, not everything came to me at the same time. Senior moments!!

  9. Chris

    I was going to suggest the same as Cherry above. Drawing horizontal and vertical line references on two pieces of fabric big enough to be front and back bodice (+extra all round) . Or using gingham can be useful too. Pattern can then be transferred to paper and refined.

  10. Tessa

    I do think your instinct about the shoulder being too acute is correct. Once you recut the new full toile as suggested by others above, I would release the shoulder from the SP towards the NP. That would then drop the whole bodice down which could put your bust point, waist level, CB neck all in a better starting position. You’re not too far off.

  11. Kim Hood

    All of the above is good advice, particularly working with the whole block rather than half. Adjustments are easier to spot on a whole garment – and using a tripod to photograph will prevent any twisting.

  12. Annieloveslinen

    I’m so interested in this Kate as imo a well fitting bodice block is the holy grail. I took a class too, it was rubbish, the tutor was indisposed and replaced by an artist that worked from stuff she’d downloaded, nice woman but I learnt nothing.

    I’m encouraged by the advice here that it’s poss to fit oneself and will be following your progress avidly.

  13. Lisa

    This is something I’ve wanted to learn and am enjoying following along on your journey here and reading the awesome comments! What a great community!

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