Aids to getting well fitting basic blocks

An updated version of this post is in my free .pdf
e-Book on Personal basic pattern making blocks.

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I keep going on about starting from well fitting basic pattern blocks. But how do you get those well fitting basic blocks in the first place. . .

Some people have no difficulty with fit. But obviously many of us do need help, as we support a huge industry of books and teachers and companies providing tools. It’s fascinating how many different methods there are.

I’ve pulled together all the information I have about methods which are supposed to make it easier to get a good basic block. These links have been scattered around in various posts. So here’s the combined list in case it’s helpful.

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Pattern Drafting Software

Most pattern making software has a demo version so you can check if you like the method of working. Though you do have to pay out before you can find if it produces a good pattern for your own body shape. The software packages include guidance about improving the fit. Sadly that doesn’t necessarily work, if the calculations don’t allow for your particular body shape specialities.

Bernina My Label [support discontinued at end of 2012]

Dress Shop

Garment Designer   (link on left in menu along top)

My Pattern Designer

Pattern Maker

Pattern Master
They have introductory software on fitting garments, so you can check if their basic blocks work for you.
A few more comments in my post on pattern making software.

P. S. Your Personal Fit and are 2 companies that do the calculating and printing out for you. Claim to send you basic personal blocks drafted from measurements you send them.
Fit Me Patterns claims to do the same for specific styles.
P.P.S. Wild Ginger, makers of Pattern Master Boutique, have personalised individual style pattern downloads at
I don’t know anything about these.

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Tracing methods

There are also paper-and-pencil easy ‘personal fit’ methods. Allow for a limited number of measurements.

Bonfit Patterner
Top, skirt, pants – plastic templates slide together to make different sizes.

Fit Nice System
Tracing very simple basic shapes for knit top and elastic waist pants. Many suggestions for pattern alterations.

Sure Fit Designs
Bodice, skirt, pants, shirt, by join-the-dots tracing method. Good booklets on pattern alterations.

The Lutterloh System only allows for bust and hip measurements. When I was trying these methods I already knew that was not enough for me.

A few more comments in my post on easier fitting shells.

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Simplest basic block drafting from scratch

For people who’re willing to do the work themselves, there are basic pattern drafting instructions on the web. Start with your measurements and a large piece of paper, and make your own basic patterns.

Perhaps the best known free ones are from Burda Style :

Fitted bodice with darts
[If your front is not average in size or location, you may want to add shoulder-to-bust-point, shoulder-to-waist-over-bust-point, and bust-point-to-bust-point measures to this method. Or try Sure-Fit Designs. Also doesn’t include sloping/ square shoulders, high round back. . .]

[Doesn’t include a bicep measure, so not much help for large arms.]

Simple bra pattern
[Developed from the bodice block, so has the same limitations.]

[Doesn’t allow for different measurements front and back.]

Conversion to princess line dress

Loose fit dartless top

Trousers/ pants
[Doesn’t include crotch length. Or allowing for the different effects waist-to-crotch height, flat/ large butt or abdomen, deep torso, sway front/ back have on the pattern needed.]

All pattern drafting methods using personal measurements claim to give a well fitting personal block, but they all have similar limitations. As do the software methods based on them. They would have to be horrifically complicated to include all 88 fitting topics in the Liechty book (see below). These detailed personal adjustments really are made more easily using a muslin.

If you’d like to start your pattern drafting with something simpler, here’s a couple of books.

The simplest is :
Jessop & Sekora. Sew What ! Fleece
Simple patterns and simple sewing instructions for near beginners.

A bit more complex :
Cal Patch. Design-It-Yourself Clothes
Basic tee, shirt, dress, skirt, pants, plus instructions for pattern alterations. Minimal sewing instructions.

For a list of some pattern making books, see my post on Pattern making – the formal route.

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Altering a muslin to fit

Sadly the ‘easy’ methods don’t work for everyone.
I spent several disconcerting years trying most of these methods (including a couple of top-of-the-line software systems and some college level pattern drafting books) without getting a good fit.

I finally realised the only way that worked for me was to start with a muslin for a basic block (from any source) and do a lot of alterations using the information in the marvellous fitting book :
Liechty et al. Fitting and Pattern Alteration. 2nd edtn.

Yes, ‘doing it the hard way’ – but
Hurrah, success at last 😀

If you’re very lucky you can find a good professional dressmaker to do this for you.

If I’d started this way, instead of spending years trying all the ‘quick and easy’ methods, I might have got there much faster. On the other hand, I don’t think I would have had the knowledge about patterns and my body to be able to ‘see’ the alterations needed, from the start. Like many other aspects of styling, for many of us getting a good fit is a learning process, not something that can be got right in one step.

Butterick, McCall’s and Vogue all have patterns for basic fitting garments you could start from. With some instructions about how to adapt them to fit better (not enough for me).

Butterick 5627 dress, for sizes 6 to 22.
Butterick 5628 dress, for sizes 16W to 32W.

McCall’s 2718 dress with bodice fronts for 5 cup sizes. Individual patterns for sizes 6 to 22.

Vogue 1004, dress, individual patterns for sizes 6 to 22.
Vogue 1003, pants, individual patterns for sizes 6 to 22.

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A mixed method

Donald McCunn How to make sewing patterns has instructions for a simple personal block. You make a muslin from that. Plus instructions on altering that to fit an individual body.

He also has online classes with many videos which show how to do the pattern drafting, sew the muslin, and adjust it to fit well. Plus photos of different body shapes and alterations they need.

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Kitchen cling film

Or have some fun with a helper and a generous supply of kitchen wrap.

Here’s the original article describing the wrapping method, by Kathleen Fasanella.

Here’s a blogger telling it for real with many photos 😀

This isn’t a completely simple method, as you need to add movement ease to the basic body shapes, to have a wearable pattern.

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Oh dear, this was supposed to be a quick summary 😀 but I keep thinking of comments.

I’m considering a post on which methods include which measures and so which body shape features. But even if it’s possible that may be rather a large task.

Sadly, none of the tools which are supposed to produce a well fitting basic block without much effort actually work for me. And I haven’t got a good helper. Don’t know how many of us have this difficulty. But I’m no longer innocent. Don’t believe any marketing claims that a simple method works for everyone ! Now I’ve found what I need in the Liechty book, I’m quite relaxed about it all. Before this I had several upsetting and confusing years without success, trying many methods which claimed to give a good fit but didn’t work well for my body shape. Ah well, it was one way of learning about fit.

So if the easy methods produce a successful pattern for you – then how marvellous for you, and how lucky you are. I’m jealous 😀

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Links available April 2012

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Explore posts in the same categories: pattern making for clothes

17 Comments on “Aids to getting well fitting basic blocks”

  1. sara Says:

    The “Fitting and pattern alterations” book looks more thorough than any other book I’ve ever seen. It’s expensive though! my main problem has been fitting my shoulders and getting rid of excess fabric in the upper chest area. I guess my shoulders are not at the same angle as in basic patterns, and I find it hard to visualise how to adjust this. Maybe this book would have the answer. Thanks for the recommendation!

    • sewingplums Says:

      No guarantee Sara ! – but I suspect the Liechty book is the final resource for those of us who have tried everything else without success. For me the final sticking point was comfortable armholes with sleeves to match. Hope it solves your issues.

  2. bela s. Says:

    I remember how excited I was to stumble upon the Bonfit patterns so many years ago. The excitement didn’t last long. I really like making patterns from ready to wear that fits well. As soon as something I like gets old, torn, or gets a moth hole I just throw it in a “pattern” basket and when I’m ready I take out the seams, trace, and fiddle around with it until I have something useable. It actually takes less time than fooling around with the Bonfit!
    The Jeanius class by Kenneth Kingston has been great to give me ideas how to make the tracings more accurate. I highly recommend it.

  3. Marciae Says:

    Great post and information. Thanks

  4. Robyn Says:

    I think almost any method can work if you have a good helper. Alas, most of us don’t.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Very true Robyn. So start with the methods which have most personal appeal. I thought using a computer would be right for me – ah well. . . 😀

  5. Lynn Mally Says:

    I would like to recommend the Palmer/Pletsch book Pants for Every Body as a great source for pants fitting. Even if you don’t follow their method (tissue fitting), the book offers lots of advice about trouble shooting. You can also a used copy very easily

  6. Lynn Mally Says:

    Oops–the correct title is Pants for Real People.

  7. Lynn Mally Says:

    Thanks for the reference–I missed that post!

  8. Marie-Christine Says:

    Yes, the ‘quick and easy’ methods don’t necessarily lead to instant perfection, and a quick fit by an experienced person can lead to much better results (my best one took less than 10mn). But as you point out, doing things yourself is educational. The best compromise imho is showing up for a fitting with a block you’ve already developed that’s pretty close, it’s a good compromise of learning and time/money.

    But what’s this victim’s lament “I haven’t got a good helper”? Living in the SF Bay Area, one the world centers for custom dressmaking? Like you couldn’t afford an hour of Sandra Betzina or someone from the Center for Pattern Design, for obvious examples? It’s perfectly possible to get some help from a dressmaker for a block without further commitment, if that’s what you’re afraid of. Just like getting a custom-made wedding gown rarely leads to a contract to divorce every couple years so you can remain a regular customer, you never need to go back if you don’t wish to. But you’d have a solid foundation to work on.

    But this recurring theme of having a body that’s impossible to fit points much more to problems with body image than to reality. As long as you have a body, it can be fitted well enough, even if you’re experiencing bad scoliosis, growth problems, severe osteoporosis, in a wheelchair etc. As KF points out about her Saran Wrap method, the problem isn’t that the resulting block isn’t perfectly accurate, it’s that there is often resistance to what the resulting shapes are, even though they’re correct they usually don’t look like what we’ve been taught to expect. You could start there and get gently used to what you see of the evidence? You could also be reading a lot more of Already Pretty and such blogs, which have much food for thought in that area.

    PS; don’t overlook ‘patternmaking in fashion’ by Lucia Mors de Casto, a Fassanella recommendation which I totally second. Excellent sleves, unique even, and good rigorous method.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Many sewers haven’t got access to a good helper, for a large range of reasons. Personally, I live 5000 miles from SF, and the local dressmaker knows less about sewing than I do.

      I’ve never said I have a body that’s impossible to fit. Two points I repeat are : – no pattern drafts or fitting aids cover all 88 fit issues in the Liechty fit book. So it can be confusing when they claim they work for everyone. – it took me much searching before I found what to do about my final fitting issue. I finally found the information in the Liechty book. As I said in bold print, I now have fitting success.

      I have Lucia Mors’ book, and wouldn’t recommend it to people with fitting difficulties. The measurements she uses don’t provide the information needed to adjust basic patterns for : sloping/ square shoulders, high round back, non-average bust point position, large arms, large high hips, different sizes back and front (and many others which happen less often).

      If you like Lucia Mors’ book, perhaps you have the good fortune to have a body shape close to average, so are not aware of the difficulties some people have with finding the fit advice they need.

      I like my blog to be a helpful encouraging place where people don’t feel in the wrong when they have difficulty with good fit, or with finding their own style/ wardrobe/ sewing preferences, etc.

      • Marie-Christine Says:

        Totally agree that good fit IS difficult, no matter how you go about it :-). Just not impossible. And as for everything else in life, no one method will work for everyone.

        I’m keyboard-hunchbacked, which is why Lucia Mors’ sleeves are much better for me.. No front/back forced symmetry there.

        You do remind me of a very helpful workshop on pants fitting I took with Sandra Betzina: she stood at the door and looked at each one of us individually (and even palpated some love handles :-)) and told us what adjustment(s) we should personally listen to, and to ignore the rest. This avoided the syndrome of getting lost into dozens of adjustments for failure of being clear about what is really deviant about ourselves. I see a lot of people online wandering off into that kind of maze, tweaking themselves blue in the face. In fact, most people do not have 88 things nonstandard about their bodies :-). But women are so trained to be self-critical that most lose any sense of proportion about it. It’s a bit like medical students feeling like they have every disease they study – when you start analyzing fit of course no body part seems absolutely average :-).

        In fact we probably don’t even need a SB to help with our fittings, a good honest friend would probably be plenty?

  9. dara Says:

    I enjoy reading your blog. My issue is I have to both lower and widen darts to a d-cup size . Are there any resources to accomplish this accurately?

    • sewingplums Says:

      There’s a huge amount of guidance available on changing cup sizes. See some links in my post ‘Note on the FBA’

      For getting the bust point in the right place (lower and wider for many of us !), measure
      – the distance of bust point down from shoulder,
      – the distance between bust points,
      and move dart to match.

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