How to use the contour guide patterns

I explained how to make a contour guide pattern. This post shows you how to use it!

I set myself the challenge of making a pattern similar to this 1969 YSL evening halter neck from Vogue Paris Originals 2093.

Analysing the pattern

When copying a pattern like this from a photograph or drawing, there are up to five clues to how the pattern is drafted. (Sometimes you have to hunt on eBay, Etsy or Vintage Patterns Wikia in order to gather this information.)

  1. Description of the garment. In this case “One-Piece Evening Dress. Floor length gathered skirt attached to halter bodice gathered to neckband. Bodice criss-crossed low at sides.
  2. Technical drawing. The dress is pretty simple, but YSL often includes an interesting twist. In this case it is the way that the front and back cross over each other at the side body, creating a sexy but subtle armhole.
  3. Notions. There is a 7″ zip, some hooks and eyes and press studs, some feather boning and a purchased belt. The dress requires underlining,  interfacing and lining.
  4. Number of pattern pieces (12 in this case)
  5. Search the internet to see if there are any photographs of the outfit made up, or if the designer featured the dress in his or her collections for the year before (no luck in this case).

So what do we need to know before we draft the pattern?

Firstly we need to establish how the finished garment is accessed.  The notions include a skirt length zip and the written description mentions that the “gathered full length skirt” is “attached” to the bodice. So the front wrap-over bodice probably hooks to the back part of the bodice at the left side, and the zip starts at the waist. I would also expect the neckband (which will be interfaced) to fasten with press studs at the left shoulder line.

In addition we need to determine the style issues such as the position of the waist (I raised the waistline by 1.5″) and neckline (I reduced the neckline by 1cm). I then created a neckband at a depth of 1″ (taking a thin slice off (at the Brown shoulder slope excess).

In terms of the look of the garment the most important thing  to get right is the halter neckline. We need a garment that stays up and provides sufficient coverage. This is why boning is required at the side seams (I guess). We want the look to be sophisticated and subtle, with no hint of any “side boob”. I measured in 3″ from CF and drew a diagonal line to the waistline. This is the line that will be reduced as we use the Contour Guide Pattern.  Also we need to get the right amount of gathering at the neck and waist line so that they balance  each other, in design terms.

Using the contour pattern


Trace off your contour guide pattern, including the basic waistline dart, and trace the circle by using the hole in the pattern.

Now consider which of the adaptations you will need from the Contour Guide Pattern. For this halter neck front bodice pattern I used:

2. Cut-out armholes (Navy) and 3. Armhole ease (Turquoise), plus side ease and shoulder slope (Brown) (see previous post for explanation of numbers and colours).

Remove the neckband. Move the waist dart (by the slash and spread method) to half way between the halter line and the CF on the neckline. This creates the fullness required. Now close the navy and turquoise contour darts which will have the effect of shortening and shaping the halter line, and adding additional fullness to the bodice at the front.

Finally extend the halter line down to a point on the waist line – this creates the 3cm overlap across the side seam line.


Again we first remove the side ease and shoulder slope (Brown) and mark the 7. back dart ease (Turquoise slashing). As with the front, raise the waistline by 1.5″ and drop the neckline by 1cm. Draw in the 1″ wide neckband, taking out the Brown shoulder slope excess.

Again draw in the halter line, taking it about 3″ from the CB. createing the underlap at the side seam.

Finally I closed the back dart creating a small neckline dart. As this provided insufficient gathering I slashed open half way between the neck edges and spread the pattern to create fullness.

Contour Guide Pattern - how to use one
Making adjustments to the back


I joined the front and back neckbands to create a smooth line (remembering that a small amount has been removed of the Brown shoulder slope excess).

So that is it. You work out where you need to remove the excess and either transfer it to somewhere you need more fullness (in this case at the neck), or eliminate it to create a closer fit.

Using a contour guide pattern
Front, back and neckband pattern pieces


Obviously if you want to make up this pattern you will need to draft a skirt too! And my guess on pattern pieces would be Neckband (2 + 2 interfacing) = 4, Bodice (front, back and 2 lining pieces) = 4, skirt (front, back and 2 lining pieces) = 12 – the number we first thought of. I am not promising to make this one up although I may toile the bodice so I can judge if there is sufficient fullness and a high enough wrap over.

While my earlier post caused some interest in the value of the Contour Guide Patterns,  I was asked to do a better job of explaining how they work. Please let me know if I have now clarified how useful it might be. If you have a go at this, or are already adept with using Contour Guide Patterns, do let me know.




4 Responses

  1. Jay

    I think I do something similar at the side in making halter styles, to bring the halter line closer in to the body, though I don’t use a specific guide piece.

  2. TamsinW-P

    Hi Kate, I drew up a contour guide this afternoon as I want to make a simple loose-ish woven v-neck tank, with the v in the front and the back, where the v and the arm holes don’t gape. I decided to use darts 2,3 and 5. That threw my centre line off a bit, but I straightened that out as I want to cut the front on the fold. Do I need to do anything with the big dart at the waist as the front ended up *much* wider than the back? I ended up putting in a bust dart at the side seam, which I am not sure I want. Any thoughts? (probably not enough info really)

Leave a Reply