In Fitting Fashion

  • Base Patterns - Slopers and Blocks

    In preparation for my new position as a pattern making instructor at PDA, I spent quite a few hours gathering all the information I could find on basic block development.  Developing master patterns, basic blocks, or slopers as some may call them, is one of the first steps in learning about pattern making and how the flat pattern relates to the 3D body form.  After graduating from a fashion program, you will most likely never use or make blocks again but the process of it provides many learning opportunities.  

    I have many pattern making books on my shelf so I set out to look for the perfect drafting method to offer the students.  Specifically, I was looking for a version that would work for a completely inexperienced learner.  I was looking for three things:

    1.  Body measurement methods that were simple to understand and easy to replicate with accuracy.  There is no point in using inaccurate measurements to build a block.  

    2.  Drafting Instructions that were clear and easy to follow.  If any of you have ever tried drafting, it is extremely easy to get lost in the instructions and make mistakes in the process.  Doesn't that make you want to give up entirely?  

    3. The fit of the finished block should not require major adjustments.  Students in fashion schools usually design their garments for model type bodies, I wanted a draft that would work pretty closely for that purpose.

    Here are the books I referenced:

    Professional Patternmaking for Designers by Jack Handford 

    This is a new purchase and reprint of an old (1984) book.  Jack Handford's books are highly sought after because of his immense experience in the industry and as an educator.  I am so happy to have this in my collection-it sits nicely next to Professional Pattern Grading which he also authored but is sadly out of print.

    Unfortunately, it didn't make the cut for my purpose.  I found that the measurement method was a bit complicated to replicate on a live model and the draft instructions were a bit confusing.  Because I eliminated the book with the first two requirements, I didn't try the draft.





     Patternmaking in Fashion by Lucia Mors de Castro

    I bought this book on recommendation.  I was extremely disappointed to say the least.  It is a book (poorly) translated from German and extremely difficult to wade through.  I did try the sleeve draft and was not pleased with the result.  If anyone else has tried it let me know, I'd love to hear your comments.

    Obviously, this one didn't make the cut either!






     The Fascinating Art of Creating Patterns by Alyce Defty 

    I also bought this book on recommendation from a previous instructor at PDA.  It took a few months to track this one down as it no longer is available to the general public.  I wrote to the publisher and was lucky enough to obtain one of the few copies left.  It wasn't a cheap book to say the least.

    Alyce Defty was an instructor at Durban University in South Africa.  This book is basically all of her course notes- first printed in 1986.  It is incredibly detailed and a fantastic resource.  I found things in this book that are definitely not covered in any other book on pattern making.

    Unfortunately, it didn't make the cut either.  I found that the measurement method was complicated and the draft instructions a bit confusing.  Because I eliminated the book with the first two requirements, I didn't try the draft-yet.













    Building Patterns by Suzy Furrer

    This is a book also written by an instructor of pattern making.  You can see the results of these blocks at A Good Wardrobe.  Lizz has made many projects from the blocks she made from this book.

    I seriously considered using this book as a text.  It has all the information presented in the perfect order for learning the skills.  The reason I decided against it was because the bodice draft is a moulage draft requiring extremely accurate measurement taking.  I felt that this method could be used for a group with a little more experience with patterns and sewing.  I put this one on the back burner so to speak-it's simmering until I'm ready to use it.




     Dress Pattern Designing by Natalie Bray

    This book is also written by an educator and was first printed in 1961.  Natalie Bray is a Russian pattern maker who developed her skills in Paris and London in the 1930's and 40's.  The content of the book are her course lessons.

    This is also a tremendous resource.  Natalie's method of pattern making is closely tied with draping and there is a lot of theory presented in the book which does not exist in other pattern making books.  Theory creates understanding of the "why" of things.

    No, it didn't make the cut either.  The language of the book is very difficult and requires some understanding-not a beginner book in my opinion.  I have tried the sleeve draft in this book-only minimal success with that one.


    After eliminating all of the books above, I was left with this one:

    Metric Pattern Cutting by Winifred Aldrich

    This book is pretty well know in our circles.  I have the third edition which I've shown here but there are more recent editions.  The measurement methods are pretty easy to grasp, the instructions and diagrams are clear and easy to follow.  As for the fit, it's not bad but does require a bit of work.  

    Sadly, I couldn't use the draft straight from the book.  I had to make changes to improve the presentation of the information and basically ended up rewriting the drafts so it would be more easily understood by a beginner.   I didn't use the sleeve draft.  It just didn't make a good looking sleeve.  The sleeve head was too flat and wide and the bicep ease is a bit excessive for a contemporary fit.  I used this one instead which I felt was successful.






     Here is what I discovered after this entire process:

       1.  All of these books show you how to draft the basic block patterns.  If that's what you need, just pick one.

       2.   Every author has their own method of body measurement and drafting sequence.  The end result is basically the same.  You will have a pattern which you will need to make into a muslin and fit.  All blocks require fitting-none are perfect.

       3.  Sizing charts are generally outdated for contemporary fashion.  Most of these books seem to have been written 30 or more years ago.  There have been changes in sizing standards in the industry.  This is not important if you are drafting for yourself or custom clients.

       4.  Sleeve Drafts...Uhghh!  This One worked on the first try for my needs-test it and let me know what you think!

    There is just one more book that I want to tell you about because it covers a growing segment of the market.  


    Master Patterns and Grading for Women's Outsizes by Gerry Cooklin 

    This book contains the basic drafts for women's plus sizes.  Although not currently available, you may be able to find it in a library.  I think this is an incredibly valuable book as the drafts are specifically designed for the physical characteristics of a plus size body.








    As I've mentioned, if you are a student of fashion, once you enter the fashion industry you never really use basic blocks again.  In the industry, patterns are developed from previously developed patterns of a similar style-there is little need to go back to a base pattern.  As a student, you need something to start with, a block is your starting point only.  Developing the block can generate understanding of how flat patterns relate to a real body and give you an opportunity to learn fitting skills without "style" complicating the issues.  As you develop more patterns and hone your fitting skills you'll use the patterns that work to make new styles. 

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