Does the thought of making your own patterns leave you in
a cold sweat? Does the thought of making patterns for other
people make your hands clammy? Are you working from a pattern
that you've gotten to fit by changing it over a number of
failed tries and mistakes in good fabric?
This demonstration will show how to draft what is known as
a "Basic Body Block" for the torso. After the basic
block is developed, I'll go on to show how to make the pattern
'more period'. Once you get this method, you'll never have
to rely on outdated or incorrect patterns again! This particular
method combines both historical and modern methods to achieve
a good starting pattern on paper. Once you've got that, you
can move on to develop a mock-up in cheap fabric which you
will then use to address any issues in fit. Once the mock-up
is done, you will be able to take that apart and use it to
make a paper pattern that will fit perfectly...
What and Where to Measure -
Get a fairly wide and long piece of paper. Butcher's paper
or similar stuff works best and is probably the most inexpensive.
You can use the pattern paper that they sell at fabric stores
but it's a bit on the expensive side. The plus to is that
it has a grid already printed on it. We will be developing
the front and back body block simultaneously in this demo
but you can do each one separately. For examples on where
to measure before starting, click
here. WARNING: take the following measurements while wearing
everything that you will be wearing under the finished garment
- that is very important.
To Start -
On your body, find your natural waist and measure from there
to where the clavicle bones meet at the hollow of your throat.
Draw those on your paper like the example below:
Measure around your waist and divide this by four. Take that
measurement and draw a line from the bottom of your first
measurement out by however much it is, like the example below:
Now measure from your natural waist to your arm pit or where
ever you are most comfortable with your armseye landing. Again,
refer to the example below:
Measure your chest, making sure that the tape is around the
widest part of your chest. Divide this measurement by four
and draw a line from the bottom of your first measurement
out by however much it is, like the example below:
As you can see in the example above, the addition of green
line shows where your center side is. Now measure the rise
from where your shoulder measurement crossed up to where your
neck and shoulder meet, like the example below:
Measure from the shoulder bone to where your neck and shoulder
join and draw this line as in the example above. More green
lines can now be added; the curve of the armseye and the curve
of the neck opening.
As you can see, just from these seven measurements, we've
now got a basic body block. This particular method is a very
simplified version of the body block technique used in most
costume shops. However, what this gets you is enough of a
pattern to add seam allowances to and cut out in muslin in
order to develop your 'toile'. The toile is the period word
for a mock-up or 'muslin'. Basically, you cut it out, sew
it together, and discover any fit problems from there. You
can then make any necessary adjustments on the toile, take
it apart, and use it to make another, permanent paper pattern
that will fit perfectly and can be used over and over again.
The above block doesn't look all that period, does it? There
are only a couple of little adjustments and two more measurements
that need to be taken in order to make it just a bit more
First, add the front point. This is pretty simple and can
be done without any specific measurements. In general, don't
make it too wide or too narrow where it joins the waist. The
other measurement, the adjusted side seam, needs two more
points to plot.
Take a look at your (or your subject's) body. At the base
of the spine, right along the natural waist, there are two
masses of muscle on either side of the spine. Measure from
the highest point of one to the highest point of the other
and divide this in half. Measure out this amount from the
center back measurement. That will give you the base of the
adjusted side seam. Next, take a look at your (or your subject's)
arm where it joins into the back, just before it curved under
into the arm pit. Measure from the top of the shoulder joint
to this point. Plot that point on the armseye. This gives
you the top of your adjusted side seam. Now, take a deep breath
and draw a gently curved line, as in the illustration above,
from the base to the top of the adjusted side seam points.
Cut this newly plotted part off of the back piece and tape
it to the front piece, as in the example below:
All of the above assumes that you're making a pattern for
a doublet. In order to adjust your body block to make a bodice
pattern, you'll need to plot your neck opening as in the example
Measure from the top of your front length measurement to
where you want your bodice neckline to start. Measure across
from this point to where you want your strap to start. Measure
from there to the top of your shoulder measurement. Do the
same for the back. Once you're done, measure out for the adjusted
side seam like you did for the doublet. The finished pattern,
with the adjusted side seam in place, should look like the
You are now ready to cut out and make your toiles in preparation
for fitting. Don't forget your seam allowances!
Last Warnings -
Date and label ALL your patterns. It's also a good idea to
re-draft patterns every year or so. Store all pattern pieces
together in an oversized envelope which is also labeled as
to what it is, when it was made, etc.
A Quick Bit About Pattern Shapes
If you are new to recreating costumes from this era, it may
be helpful to take a look at various pattern shapes from extant
Tailor's Pattern manuscripts. Examples can be found in the
Research section of this website.
For more on fitting with the toile, click
here. Happy costuming!