Making a basic dress block (part two)

I am making a personal dress block. I covered my first experiment last week, and I was overwhelmed by the quality and quantity of the feedback. Thank you Jay, SJ KUrtz, Anne McC, Mary F, Cherry, Kim Hood, Linde and everyone else.

Even better one expert seamstress and blogger Pia of The Overflowing Stash contacted me to offer help as a fitting buddy. Although I am a keen follower of her blog I must admit that I found it rather intimidating with her outstanding designing, pattern cutting and construction skills. But we met up in Berwick Street for a tea and a mooch around the shops. What a talented and beautiful woman she turned out to be – not in the least bit scary, but warm, funny and very capable. The power of the internet!

Since last week I have redrafted my bodice block using the standard shoulder measurement in order to correct the angle of the shoulder seam. The pictures below show what the new, redrafted block looks like. It just looks miles better than the first version. The shoulder is much squarer although longer. When this is made up in calico it will be possible to see how much needs to shaved off to make it fit my shoulder. The new block is now about 1cm longer and this means the waist will now be in a much better place. I have also compared my new block to a standard size 12. It is very similar.

Using the second block (where I had altered the shoulder, bust point and length), I made another half toile (I know, but I am not fine tuning yet) The shoulder is too long so I reduced it at the armhole edge as the neck edge seemed to be good. There was a little too much fullness in the body so I have taken in the side seam. I am happy with the length, the armhole and the general fit.

I have now altered the bodice block at the shoulder, taking a centimetre off at the shoulder seam and tapering to nothing at the sleeve pitch points. The side seam fits well at the waist so I have curved the side seam, taking a centimetre off most of the length, but curving out to the waist seam.

At the evening class we have already made a s12 dress block, based on standard measurements and the instructions provided by Winifred Aldrich. She describes how to take the bodice block and turn it into a block for a close fitting dress. However. If you are two different sizes (ie bust and shoulders are small compared to your hips) this approach won’t work, will it? The front and back have to be separated in order to accommodate the wider hips.

How to turn a bodice block into a close fitting dress block
How to turn a bodice block into a close fitting dress block

When I made up the dress block with my own measurements I did the two halves separately. I added 3.5cms to each piece to accommodate my hip measurement.

Dress block, drafted to personal measurements
Dress block, drafted to personal measurements

Although I know the bodice is close to having a good fit I have not yet tested the skirt. Rather than make further calico half-toiles, I will make up this dress block in fabric. As many of you have mentioned the final stage of fitting can’t be achieved by pinning half a pattern to a thin T shirt.  Rather than use calico I have found some cheap polyester suiting fabric in my cupboard that I bought it for £2 a metre in Simply Fabrics. I had bought it for a draping project as checks and stripes can be useful.

Grey Prince of Wales check with light pink stripe
Grey Prince of Wales check with light pink stripe

I will make up a fitted one piece dress with my new block and see how it looks. I will be back next week with an update.

9 Responses

  1. jay

    Progress! I had a hunch that you would not be far off a standard Winnie 12, though photos can be deceptive. I agree that a one piece dress block, or pattern, can be a brain scrambler if you don’t fit the industry standard measurements. Sometimes, if there’s a big enough difference between the bodice and skirt, or the shape distribution is very different ( bust and bum inconveniently being positioned on opposite pieces!) , or sway back complicates things, it’s simply easier to put in a waist seam. I don’t think you will have to do this though. Good idea to use a checked material to keep an eye on the grain. This video shows a block being draped. I was reminded of it having seen several over-fitted blocks in the making (not yours!) It shows how a woven should fit, with a little ease factored in.

  2. Rowena

    Thank you so much for sharing your progress- I’m planning on doing a bodice block soon and it is so helpful to see all the steps that you’ve taken with yours.

  3. Mary Funt

    How fun to meet Pia. Sounds like you had a wonderful time together. This version is looking better but you are right that the fit really can’t be fine tuned with a half toile. Most real people won’t fit into a block where the hip and bust are equal so you do need to split the front from the back. Your sample dress make up in the check should give a good indication of the fitting, grain and horizontal balance lines. Jay is right about not overfitting; some ease for movement is needed.

  4. mrsmole

    Ribs and hips need ease for sitting, so once you get your plaid muslin on and zipped up, be sure to sit down. All my brides want the dress to fit tight but I warn them that this is not just a “stand-up” dress, you have to move, sit in a car and at a table and unless you love waist and crotch wrinkles…make sure you can “pinch an inch” or in your case maybe half an inch at both side seams. Checked gingham also shows up all the flaws in fitting at this stage which we love! So great for you to have a fitting buddy, Kate!

  5. pia

    That second toile is looking good! Fitting alterations can be so maddeningly confusing isn’t it? Like which fitting adjustment takes precedence over other – eg narrow shoulder vs square shoulder. Fitting pros no doubt know which to try first intuitively. But us mere mortals just have to try to reason & muddle through, and pray we don’t get stuck in a maze of draglines. So glad your simple second attempt did just the trick. Wish all fitting alterations were as easy! 🙂

    Can’t wait to see the dress toile.

    And thanks for all the compliments – you make me blush! Being an introvert I guess I’m more fearless when it comes to experimenting with my sewing. But put me in a social setting – especially in a crowd – and my brain turns to mush! Apology aplenty if I come a bit short in the social etiquette dept – I blame it on absence of firm guidance in my upbringing. Anyway, let me know if & when you need an extra pair of hands with fitting!

  6. Kim Hood

    I’m with Mrs Mole. You will find that the basic block is actually very close fitting, almost no ease, so your patterns will be made up with the ease you choose rather than what someone else decides. Having said that, once your block fits well it is a fabulous tool to have in your kit.

  7. Maria

    I’m impressed Kate. I know nothing about dress blocks but I’ve learned a few things from your article. I love the fabric and look forward to the end result.

  8. SJ Kurtz

    A well made block is 90% of the battle in sewing, I believe. So much mayhem can transpire when you know you can rely on it to fit.
    Mrs Mole is always right. You need the ease in the thighs that you wouldn’t in the bodice.
    YAY! for sewing buddies!

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