An updated version of this post is in my free .pdf
e-Book on Personal basic pattern making blocks.
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I’ve already described (here) the textbook approach to pattern making : draft the pattern for a closely fitting shell, then use that as the basis for pattern alterations.
This post is about ways of getting a good-fit starting point. The ‘official’ method is to take your measurements, then draft a pattern from scratch on a blank piece of paper. But the aim is to get a well fitting basic. And there are much easier ways of achieving that.
You can :
– use simpler methods for measuring and drafting.
– take the measurements and let someone else do the drafting.
– get a fitting shell without drafting, and no more measurements than you normally take when choosing a pattern size.
Reminder : I’m using these word meanings :
‘fitting shell’ : a basic closely fitting pattern. The same shape as the person it’s for, with little movement ease and no design features. Not usable directly as a garment pattern.
‘block’ : basic starting pattern for a type of garment, with the usual ease and style elements. Such as a basic fitted blouse or casual jacket.
Yet another note :
All these simplifications make some assumptions.
Some of these methods make very simplified patterns.
All of them include some wearing ease. So they make assumptions about the clothes you want to make.
Many people, especially custom dressmakers, like to make a fitting shell which is a ‘second skin’. Enough ease to breathe, but no assumptions about how loose the garments made from it should be, how much stretch there will be in the fabric used, or how easy it should be to make various movements.
If you want a ‘second skin’ you will have to use a drafting method with no allowance for ease. Or do draping. Not one of these easier methods.
As amateurs and hobbyists, we only have to fit ourselves and our families, and please ourselves with the methods we use and the clothes we make. So we can do things in a much easier way than professional designers and dressmakers, if we want to !
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Fewer measures, easier drafting : the Casual Block
There are several books which give very simple instructions for drafting a personal fit. Thcy can do this because the modern ‘casual’ or ‘dartless’ block is simple :
– no darts.
– front and back patterns the same except for the neck line.
– as the front and back pattern armholes are the same, the sleeve cap is symmetrical.
Much easier and cheaper to manufacture. And much easier to make a basic pattern for.
Simplest of all is ‘Sew What ! – Fleece’ by Jessop and Sekora. They use 7 measurements to draw their ‘body template’. Then they add extra width to front opening, shoulders and side seams, to make tops and jackets. Easy pull-on pants from 5 measures and a similar approach. Book leads you through a sequence of projects so you learn both simple pattern making and sewing. All in fleece, so no need to neaten edges and prevent fraying.
Sew What ! Fleece pp.76-7
(the seventh measurement is sleeve length.)
For a less easy starting point, there’s Cal Patch’s Design-it-yourself Clothes. This simplifies block making and pattern altering. Few darts, so not for large cup sizes. Problem : the instructions are mainly in paragraphs of words. Not good for a visual person. Also the focus is on pattern making, it’s not for beginners to sewing.
She uses 24 measurements in all. For a wide range of clothes : skirt, tee, shirt/ light jacket, dress, pants. Modern styles.
I don’t know how well these methods work for larger sizes.
The simple Casual Block doesn’t fit me well. I now have my own ‘casual block’ with personal neckline and shoulder slope, back shoulder darts, and personal armholes and sleeve cap – very different front and back (post on that here). Many people with a full front look better if they add a bust dart to the casual block. Now I can apply the simple style changes which people suggest for the casual block, to my own version of it.
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You measure, someone else makes the shape : physical tools
I’ve tried several physical methods for making a basic starting point from your own measurements.
Bonfit Patterners use plastic slot-together templates to get different size bodies (see my review). Probably good for a Casual Block if you don’t need an FBA. I don’t think the Bonfit book about pattern making which is with my old kit is good. Small dim print and few illustrations
There are also a couple of interesting block drafting rulers which I haven’t tried.
The Point and Pivot Pattern Ruler is from Eileen in South Africa.
This covers personal measurements for bust, bust point and cup size, waist, hip, waist length, and could be adapted for shoulder length.
The video shows how to draft a bodice.
There are several similar rulers from Australia :
Tracing multi-size patterns
The Sure-Fit system is a join-the-dots tracing method. She claims it can be used for any size body.
The Sure-Fit dress kit allows for bust, cup size, bust point position, waist, waist length, high hip and hips, shoulder and arm length.
These are all schemes for making basic blocks (simple usable patterns). Sure-Fit calls this your ‘body blueprint’. You then use standard pattern making methods to get other styles. I think the Sure-Fit booklets, more visual, are very good. And the instructions can be used to make new styles whatever your source of basic blocks.
Sadly, none of these include all my challenges in getting neckline, shoulders, high round back, armhole, to fit. I need to do those fit alterations myself.
For people with a longer back crotch measure, the Sure-Fit pants don’t discriminate between those who need more vertical length and more angle, to accommodate a large rear, compared to people who need more horizontal crotch extensions, to accommodate a deep torso (see my note on pants wedges).
There are many helpful SFD videos about improving the fit at the SFD Learning Center.
These apply to fitting any personal blocks, not just the Sure-Fit Designs derived ones.
And you only have to make alterations once on the basic pattern. Then all patterns you make from your adjusted personal block ‘blueprint’ will include those changes ready made.
With the re-issue of Sure-Fit there has been a lot of interest, see Stitchers Guild discussion thread.
In the FitNice System you trace very simple basic shapes for knit casual-block top and elastic waist pants. Many simple ideas for pattern alterations to make new styles. Up to finished measurement at bust level of 48-1/2 inches/ 123 cm.
The conversion for wovens doesn’t work well for my body shape, as the simple unadjusted casual block isn’t good on me.
I had a lot of problems with the discs on my elderly Mac, but she did give me a quick complete refund without me asking.
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You measure, someone else makes the shape : software
What if you want a basic which allows for more of your personal measurements ?
The idea of pattern making software is that you put in your measurements, and it produces the patterns for you. All the software brands use different measurements and different ways of calculating the patterns.
In Pattern Master Boutique you enter your measurements and test fit a set of basic fitting shell patterns : bodice, skirt, pants, and sheath dress. If the fit isn’t right, you enter slightly changed measurements, print out another pattern, try that, and so on. Once you’ve got the fitting shell right, then you can choose from a huge variety of style elements to make your designs.
Example measurements (inches) in Pattern Master Boutique
Bernina My Label doesn’t make the two stages (fitting and styling) clearly separate. You enter your measurements (many more than for PMB), and try out simple tunic and pants styles to refine the fit, by changing the measurements again. Then there’s a range of about 25 classic styles. You’re expected to use your own pattern making knowledge to adapt these to other styles. There’s a good range of guidance about doing this on the website. Many of their pdfs give advice about pattern making which you can use with any starting point, not just BML.
Basically, the aim of BML is to produce a set of good classic blocks which you can alter to make other styles.
The fun attraction of BML is the simulation of your body shape, with the clothes on it. So you can try out different lengths, levels of ease, etc. and get an idea of what’s most flattering.
Those are the only pattern making software I have personal experience with. There are many other software companies (see list in my software post). I found this sort of fitting process is not one I enjoy at all. And I’m too far from average in too many ways for it to be very successful for me.
It’s a good idea to start small and find if using pattern software is a way of working you enjoy. And best to start by expecting ‘better’ rather than ‘ideal’ for the fit. It may take several tries to get the best fit you can. It’s not an approach which works well for me.
Wild Ginger (who produce Pattern Master Boutique) also sell Click & Sew software for fitting shells.
Pattern.stringcodes.com is an on-line company that produces personal fitting shells.
Unique Patterns provides personally fitted versions of some Simplicity and New Look designs. There are some interesting pdfs in their Education section.
As with pattern making software, both these products are more successful if you send them good measurements !
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Minimum measuring, no drafting : commercial fitting shells
Most ways of making a personal fitting shell use many measurements. And it’s difficult to take those accurately, especially on yourself. But there isn’t actually any need to do detailed measuring to get a fitting shell – if your size is within the usual pattern ranges. Well, no more than the measuring needed to choose a pattern size.
There are several bodice-skirt fitting shell patterns :
Butterick 5627 for sizes 6 to 22.
Butterick 5628 for sizes 16W to 32W.
(Connie Crawford’s patterns are a different shape.)
McCall’s 2718 (below) This has bodice fronts for 5 cup sizes. Individual patterns for sizes 6 to 22.
and Vogue 1004, individual patterns for sizes 6 to 22.
(Sandra Betzina’s patterns are a different shape).
These patterns include guidance about how to get them to fit well. You may get a better fit for your shoulders if you choose the pattern size by high bust/ chest, rather than full bust measurement (see my post on the FBA).
There’s also a pants fitting shell, Vogue 1003, individual patterns for sizes 6 to 22. Probably best for people who don’t protrude front or rear (see my post on pant fit).
Starting from one of these commercial patterns gives you a double payoff.
You get a fitting shell which you can use for your own pattern making.
You also know how your body differs from the average Big 4 pattern. So you know what changes you need to make, and how big, every time you use one of their patterns.
This would be my preferred method. Except they none of them say much about how to get a comfortable armhole and sleeve cap, which I really do want to do something about. And now I have a good fit pattern, it differs so much from the commercial shapes, I find it a huge hassle to do all the changes. Easier (I think at the moment !) to start from my own basic shapes and add the style elements from patterns I like.
Using a commercial fitting shell pattern, you just need to use standard fitting techniques to get a good fit.
But if you know about fitting techniques, you don’t need the extra instructions in the commercial fitting shells. You could use those fitting techniques on any simple pattern. Then you can use that well fitting pattern as a basis for simple style changes. Like TNT (tried ‘n true) patterns, but ones delibrately chosen to be good starting points for redesign. After trying a whole lot of other possibilites, that is what I find myself doing. At least with all my lengthy struggles to get software to fit, I did learn a lot about fitting myself !
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No measuring or drafting : draping a fitting shell
If you drape your fitting shell directly on your body, you only need measure enough to cut a fabric rectangle big enough to cover the area. And do the rest by draping.
Connie Crawford has a DVD on this, called the Custom Bodice DVD. There’s an interesting sample clip at the site.
There’s one review at Pattern Review from someone who managed to do it on herself. From comments added to this review, it sounds as if this method is good if different parts of you are different sizes. Or if the 2 sides of your body are different shapes. I haven’t tried draping myself.
The price of this DVD is above the customs limit here in the UK, so expensive. There is a similar sounding DVD available here, The Art of Dress Modelling by Lisa Silberberg from Shoben Fashion Media. But that’s all I know about it.
There are written instructions and photos about draping a fitting shell in ‘Patternmaking for Fashion Designers’ womenswear by Lori Knowles.
(P.S. There’s a new class at Craftsy on this, but I haven’t tried it – Fashion draping. Not for sewing beginners.)
Draping gives you a ‘second skin’ sort of fitting shell. You will need to add ease to most measurements to get a wearable pattern.
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P.S. See the comments for some more very good suggestions about getting a well fitting starting point for pattern making.
So which do you enjoy – taking accurate measurements, doing the drafting, or fitting, or draping ?
You need to decide whether you want to work towards a personal fitting shell which is a close fit ‘second skin’ with no movement ease. Or personal blocks, which can be used as patterns for simple garments. Or the TNT equivalent. But this was getting too long, so I’ve put all that in a separate post.
There’s a wealth of methods for getting a well fitting starting point for making new styles. Obviously it’s something people have difficulty with. And have been inspired to think of solutions for. Developing a fitting shell or basic blocks may not be something we have to do often. But if we find the right method for us, it can be something we enjoy rather than keep putting off.
I am planning a post on simple style changes you can make without cutting up a fitting shell. But I’m finding I have more and more to say about the starting point for doing this, so there are several more posts to come ! Personally I find it much easier to get a personal set of basic patterns rather than blocks. But there are many other possibilities if that doesn’t suit you 😀
These easy methods can be good for people who need few fit adjustments, but not for people who are far from average. None of the simplified methods do – and I spent years trying them !
Many don’t deal with different cup sizes. Let alone sloping/ square shoulders, round backs, etc. My post on Getting to know my sizes lists my differences !
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