The Contour Guide Pattern: how to make one

posted in: Designing, Pattern cutting | 14


I already wrote a post about this but I got a few requests to explain it better. Today I will describe how to make one. Next week I will describe how to use it.

Do I need one?

This information may be of value to you if you make your own patterns from your basic bodice blocks. Also if you take a commercial pattern and want to alter the design. Commercial designs for fitted bodices should already be designed correctly, but as Mary Funt mentioned previously, the cannot always be assumed. The sort of design that benefit from contouring are any where you want a closer than usual fit. Here are some examples

  • Lingerie which is worn next to the skin and will need to fit more closely than a blouse, which fits more closely than a jacket
  • a bra type design with contouring over, under and between the bust
  • Strapless designs
  • Halter necks
  • one shoulder tops
  • empire line styles (with contouring under the bust)
  • low cut neckline
  • surplice (over and under the bust)
  • cutout armholes eg racer back

The Contour Guide Pattern will help you fit the contours of the upper body more closely than a regular block/sloper because we eliminate most of the ease. If you don’t make these adjustments you will, as you cut into the neckline for example, get gaping. Maybe you have tried to lower a neckline on a commercial pattern, or created a cut in armhole and found you ended up with flabby edges and wondered why. When we cut away a portion of the neckline or armhole the garment loses the support of the shoulder and it will fall into the hollow area over the bust. The Contour Guide Pattern helps the pattern drafter avoid fitting problems before they are incorporated into the design. It shows you where to eliminate ease and reduce fullness to avoid gaping when you adapt your basic sloper to create more revealing, summer tops and dresses.

So how do I make one?

This Contour Guide Pattern, taken from Helen Joseph Armstrong‘s book, starts with a basic bodice block. If you have one made to your own measurements that is ideal. If you haven’t drafted your own block you could use a simple standard commercial bodice pattern.  Move all the dart fullness into one large waist dart (in the front) and one at the back, plus the shoulder dart, and then draw around the basic bodice blocks. Use thin card rather than paper as this is an aid you will use again and again.

  1. Measure your “bust radius”. This is the distance from your bust point/apex to the under wire of your bra or where a wire would be if you had that kind of bra. On me this was 8cm.
  2. Now take a compass and measure the 8cm, and put the point into the bust point and draw a circle on your Contour Guide. This represents your breast and the line is in the dip or hollow above and beneath the breast.
  3. Put a hole (using an awl) into the circle so you can transfer the bust shape to the patterns you will create.
    Making a Contour Guide Pattern
    Bodice block with bust circle drawn in

1 Cut out necklines (Purple)

To eliminate gaping at the neckline draw a straight line from bust point to the middle of the neckline. Where it crosses the circle measure 1/4″ and join this point to the BP and the point on the neckline creating a dart from BP to neckline.

2. Cut out armholes (Navy)

Draw a line from the BP to the shoulder tip. On the circle measure 1/2″ and, as before, connect to the shoulder tip and BP creating another slender dart with the width on the radius of the circle.

3. Armhole ease (Turquoise)

Draw a line from the curve of the armhole to the SP. Still at the armhole edge measure down 1/4″ and connect to the BP. The dart gets smaller towards the BP.

4.Empire line (Light green)

This removes excess fullness below the bust. Each side of the existing waist dart measure along the circle 3/8″. Connect these two points on the legs of the dart up to the BP and down to the waist line, taking most of the fullness out on the circular line.

5. Contour between the breasts (Pink)

This adjustment removes the excess between the breasts. Draw a squared line from the CF to the BP and measure 3/8″ either side of this point to create a dart.

6. Strapless designs (Red stripe)

This is a combination alteration taking 1,2 and 3 (above) neckline/armhole/armhole ease. Draw a line in from the mid shoulder (princess line) to the BP and mark just under 1/2″ either side of the line. Then connect up to the BP.

Contour Guide Pattern Front Fabrickated
Contour Guide Pattern Front

Shoulder slope and side ease (Brown)

Find the mid shoulder point, and square off downwards. Mark this line at 1/8″ and join to the shoulder/neck and the shoulder tip.

Mark 1/2″ at the top of the side seam and run off to zero at the waist, thus removing ease at the side seam.

7. Back (Turquoise stripe)

Contour Guide Pattern Back Fabrickated
Contour Guide Pattern Back

Create a line at the high back. To find this measure half way between the shoulder point to the base of the armhole on your block and draw across. Now extend your back dart to this position. Also make the changes to the shoulder and side seam as you have done with the front (not shown)

That’s it. Stay posted for the next exciting installment when I describe how to use this useful aid!



14 Responses

  1. Mary Funt

    Great explanation Kate. I’m sure many sewers have modified a pattern and are mystified as to why there is gaping around the new neckline or armhole. The amounts taken out are for standard sizing and you may find you need to increase for larger bra cup sizes. Most pattern drafting is based on a B cup and if you wear a larger size you will need to adjust the amounts removed. Smaller cup sizes require less. I love your color coding system.

  2. mrsmole

    Great graphics! This will be a real help and a shocker to all those who assume the paper pattern will fit right out of the envelope.I used to tell my students to imagine lying flat on a table and making a sheet of paper fit over the bust. The higher the mountain, the deeper the darts was the phrase I used. Small hills need small darts. You are an inspiration to us all.

  3. SJ Kurtz

    I love fitting systems. There isn’t one for everyone, but there certainly is one that works for you or me. Enjoying this, looking forward to more.

    Your sharpies still have points. Do you hide them?

  4. Jay

    This is a useful aide mémoire. Wrap overs too often benefit from some ease pulled out at CF, especially for larger cup sizes.

  5. Alana

    This has helped me so much over the past while with my pattern making! Thank you so much! I have been having problems with deep V necklines due to a bias. I understand you need to increase the amount used in guideline 5, but I have learned to increase it just from 3/4″ to 1″. This does not seem to be enough for any of my pattern sizes. Is there a standard measurement to use with V necks?

  6. Kanchan

    hi Kate. Good day.

    can you please suggest how to measure gap by placing scales , one from neckline to bust point and the other i am not getting how to place to measure gapping

    as the standard you have taken is 1/4th an inch.

    what if neckline is more deep curve.
    please help

Leave a Reply