Here’s another basic tutorial and I wanted to dedicate it entirely to basic pattern blocks. This gives me the opportunity to show you how you can use them to create a wardrobe for yourself.
But first, what are basic pattern blocks, or slopers anyways? In case you are a newbie.
They are patterns you draft before drafting the actual garment patterns. The base of it all. You can draft made-to-measure blocks or use industrial measurements to draft for specific sizes. But if you’re going to draft patterns for yourself, I definitely recommend you to use your own measurements.
There are different basic blocks for different garments: skirts, pants, bodice with darts, bodice without darts, bodice for knits, jackets… Each of them can be drafted with different amounts of ease.
So, once you have completed the basic blocks, you just choose the one that’s most adapt for creating the pattern you want, and go from there. This means, that you don’t start each garment project from zero, you start by tracing the basic block.
I have prepared a few examples to give you an idea on how this thing works.
The Basic Skirt Block
Starting from the easiest one. The skirt block is usually the first pattern block you draft when learning patternmaking.
With the this block you can obviously create all kinds of different skirt patterns. All, except the circle skirt. I’ve got a whole bunch of skirt pattern tutorials here on my blog, if you’re interested.
But for the purpose of this tutorial I bring you two different skirt shapes: flared and fitted, that can both be drafted out of the basic skirt block.
Gathered Skirt with Yoke
So, this skirt has a yoke that eliminates the darts, and the rest of the skirt has volume that you gather to match the yoke size.
Trace the basic skirt block.
- Separate the yoke somewhere above the hipline. If the darts remain too short, you can re-draw them longer so that the tips touch the yoke line. Whereas if they extend below the yoke line, it doesn’t matter. The line should flow smoothly between the front and back pieces.
- After you’ve cut the yoke, close the darts and adjust the lines to remove angles. Then, measure the top edge of the lower section pieces to calculate how much volume to add. Draw a line in the center of both pieces.
3. Once you have the measurements, you can calculate the volume to be added like this: the measurement you got times 0.5. For example, if your front piece measures 26cm, you’d calculate 26cm x 0.5 =13cm.
You can also simply double the volume and add the same amount as your measurement (here: 26cm).
Add half of the volume to the c-front/c-back, and the other half in the middle, where you drew the line. In this case, I’d add 6.5cm at the c-front and 6.5cm in the middle.
Then, re-draw the lines and add some flare to the side seam, as shown.
These are the pattern pieces. If you cut the yoke pieces twice, you’ll get the facing, too. In this case the closure is at the c-back, but you can also place it at the side seam. The zipper should arrive to the hip level. Add a notch also in the center of all the pieces to distribute the gathers evenly.
Pencil Skirt with Drapes
Here’s a bit more complex design. The front of the skirt is overlapped and the top layer has drapes arranged into pleats that absorb the darts. This will require an extra layer underneath to fix the drapes in place with tiny hand stitches.
- After tracing your basic pattern block (both sides of the front piece!), decide on the length of the skirt and lengthen the pattern accordingly. Make the hemline narrower by inclining the side seams inwards. You can measure around your legs to work our how much space you’ll need for walking. However, there’s a slit at the front.
- Then, draw the overlapped sections of the front piece. Here, the slit is de-centered. The layer underneath doesn’t necessarily need to arrive at the side seam, as it’s going to remain hidden in any case. Trace the pieces. You’ll need one of each the way they are.
3. You can use the main pattern to add the drapes to the top layer: Draw slightly curved lines, as shown. Two of them should end at the dart tips. Lengthen the left dart to create a more harmonious look.
4. Then, rotate the two darts, and slash & spread the other two lines. Notice, that the pleats will be folded upwards and the pleat allowance needs to fit into the spaces between the folds if you want to avoid creating bulk.
Fold the darts and cut the side seam. It’s going to be quite tricky due to the curved shape. Another option is to simply gather the volume. In that case just draw a slightly curved side seam.
Prepare a straight waistband for the skirt. The pattern is a rectangle that will be folded in half. You’ll find instructions here.
The lining piece is where you fix the drapes in place with hand stitches. The pleats only hold the drapes in place on one side, which means they easily collapse.
The Dartless Bodice Block
The dartless bodice block is suitable for loose-fitting garments, either tops or dresses. You can turn it into t-shirts, sweaters, or classic shirts for example.
As the name suggests, there are no darts. Therefore the shape is rather boxy. By adapting the amount of ease, you can regulate how loose-fitting the garments will be. In fact, you can even make simple coats with this pattern if you add enough ease.
This is the easiest bodice pattern to draft, but I also have the block available in the shop if you want.
Let’s see this simple blouse first. You only need to make a couple of modifications to the dartless bodice block. This is sleeveless, too, so just trace the bodice. I posted a demo video on You Tube, too.
- Modify the neckline first. In this example we have a wide v-neck. If you don’t want to leave an opening, make it wide enough for the head to pass through. Measure around your head and then compare the neckline measurement to 1/2 head circumference measurement to ensure that the neckline is larger. The front and back necklines should match at the shoulder.
- To create a tiny dropped shoulder, extend the shoulder line by 2cm both front and back, and then adjust the lines curving them slightly down from the original shoulder tip. Make the front and back identical. Unite this line to the armhole, as shown.
- Lengthen the c-back line, making the blouse hem longer at the back. The front is completely straight. Create a continuous line between the front and back pieces.
4. In this case we can add a little dart to remove armhole gaping, since this is a sleeveless blouse. Make a toile to figure out exactly how much to remove, or just make a 1cm wide dart just above the armhole notch. You don’t want to tighten the armhole too much. The dart tip ends at the bust point.
5. Draw a line at the side seam where you’d like the dart to end up, slash it open, and rotate the dart from the armhole to the side seam. Adjust the armhole line.
Add paper to cover the gap and re-center the dart 3-4cm away from the bust point.
6. You can also add little slits on both sides. Mark a notch where you want the slit to start.
Cut the front piece twice, if you’d like to have a decorative seam at the c-front.
You can easily make more variations on this same blouse: change the neckline shape, the blouse length, the dart position, the shoulder line length, add sleeves, add a collar, add buttons…
With this example I want to show you how to quickly draft a dress pattern out of the dartless bodice block. This time you need to trace the sleeve pattern, too.
Here we have a wide neckline, again to avoid having to add a zipper, elbow length plain sleeves, and a gypsy skirt.
- Leave 6cm wide shoulder seams and draft the neckline. You can lower the c-front the amount you prefer. You will also need to lower at the c-back in order to draw the neckline this wide.
- Chop the block along the waistline if you traced the whole length and measure its width.
- Decide how long you want your dress to be and then divide the length between the two rectangular sections that form the skirt. In this example the uppermost section is slightly narrower. Then, you’ll need the waistline measurement to calculate the length for the first rectangle: waistline measurement times 1.5. If you’re using lightweight fabric, you can also make it times 2.
The second rectangle length is the first rectangle length times 1.5 (or 2).
4. As for the sleeve, you can just shorten it by your desired amount and leave the rest as it is.
Here are the pattern pieces. You gather the top edge of the rectangles to match it with the piece above. Mark a notch in the center of the skirt pieces to distribute the gathers; that’s where the side seam will be. You’ll also need a notch at the lower edge of the smaller rectangle (it’s missing from the picture).
You can cut the rectangles in half and sew the side seams if they become too long to be cut in one piece.
How to make variations to this design? Well, make it sleeveless, alter the sleeve style, change the neckline shape, make it a maxi dress by adding a third section…
I hope these two examples give you an idea about the kind of garments you could make with this basic pattern block.
The Basic Bodice Block
This is probably the most versatile among the basic pattern blocks! With the basic bodice block you can make all kinds of fitted and semi-fitted tops, shirts, and dresses.
I’ve got two examples representing two different styles: a semi-fitted blouse and a pencil dress.
Semi-Fitted Peplum Blouse
This blouse has a gathered peplum and bell sleeves, but I also threw in a ruffle neck as it might be useful for your sewing projects.
Trace the basic bodice pattern (waist length is enough) complete with the sleeve.
- Unite the front waist dart to the bust point. You can ignore the back waist dart. Decide where you’d like the peplum to start and chop the rest of the length off. In this example it’s about 10cm (4in.) above the waist.
- Remove the little shoulder dart by shortening the shoulder seam by 1cm from its tip. Re-draw the armhole and shoulder seam. The rest of the shoulder dart volume will remain as ease.
- Modify the neckline for the ruffle as shown. The ruffle will be 7cm high, so that’s where the 3.5cm at the c-front comes from; it should be half the ruffle height. Measure the new neckline length.
- Rotate the bust dart towards the waistline.
5. Measure the waistline to calculate the peplum length. Notice, that you should measure the front waistline without the dart, as you will gather the dart volume. Add notches on both sides of the area you want to gather around the dart.
To create a looser fit, you can leave out the front waist dart, too, and gather just the bust dart volume.
Decide on the peplum height and draw a rectangle, as shown. The length is, for example, 1.7x the bodice hemline measurement. If you calculate the front and back volumes separately, you can add a notch where the side seam will be.
6. Also the neck ruffle pattern is a rectangle where the height is 7cm in this case, and the length it twice the neckline measurement. Calculate the front and back neckline separately to find out where to place the notch for the shoulder seam.
7. Complete the pattern by drafting the bell sleeve. Decide on the length and then add volume with the slash & spread method, as shown. Re-draw the lines when you’re done.
These are the pattern pieces.
You could make this with a different sleeve, for example, the bishop sleeve. And without the neck ruffle. Or maybe replace it with a peter pan collar and an opening at the c-back?
The Pencil Dress
This dress has been divided into panels and to make it more interesting, you can leave little slits between them at the shoulder line, if you want.
Trace the bodice only. In this case you should use a bodice with just 2cm (3/4in.) of ease as this is a rather fitted dress. For a quick demo video, see here.
- Start by making the neckline slightly wider. You could also choose to make it in a different shape.
- Decide on the dress length and lengthen the pattern straight down by the required amount. While you’re at it, decide also how high you want the side slits to be, and mark notches at the side seam.
- Draw princess seams, as shown. For the front piece you can more or less follow the darts. This gives you the opportunity to remove any extra ease at the waistline, by widening the dart. Make the lines rounded, following the body shapes. From the hipline down you can just draw a straight line. Mark notches at the dart tips and the waistline.
The back piece is slightly trickier, as you need to unite the shoulder dart and the waist dart, but they don’t quite line up nicely. You can move the waist dart closer to the c-back and change the inclination of the shoulder dart. Add notches.
Then you can separate the pieces. To make the slits more visible at the top, you can carve the seams slightly. Mark notches where the slits start.
Check the pattern pieces with the “walking” method to adjust the lengths. Have a look at this tutorial.
The Basic Pants Block
The last one on the list is the pants block. This is the most difficult of the basic pattern blocks to fit. Check out my tutorial on fitting, if you need help.
With the pants block, you can create different pants patterns, of course. They can be classic or casual pants. You can make shorts, capri length pants, or full length. Unite this block to the bodice pattern and you will get jumpsuit patterns.
I prepared two examples of pants, too. One design for casual elastic waist pants, and one for flared pants.
Elastic Waist Pants
In order to fit into these pants without a zipper, the waist has to be at least as wide as your hip circumference. You can add some more ease to the pants pattern before starting, if you prefer a more comfortable fit: lower the crotch line and add a bit more width to the sides.
- Here’s how you get that extra width to the waistline: draw lines straight up from the hip line. Draw guidelines (parallel to the hipline) from the original waistline to maintain the same height. You can ignore the waist dart.
- Decide on the length of the pants and draw the hemline. In this example, it’s 15cm below the knee line. You can also widen the pant legs, if you want. Add the same amount on both sides.
- Separate a waistband piece at the top. At this point you can also lower the waist. The waistband will have two layers and the elastic goes in between the layers.
And that’s all there is to it. Here are the pattern pieces.
The last example is a pair of flared pants. You can make these as flared as you want. These are full length, but naturally, you could make them shorter, too. Here’s a drafting demo, if you’re interested.
- In order to add volume in the center of the pant leg while at the same time avoid adding extra volume at the top of the pants, you need darts. In this case the front piece doesn’t have one, so we’ll add it: to make things easier, this dart will be identical to the back dart. So, draw the 2cm wide dart at the front waist, making it the same length as the back dart. Then, add 2cm to the side seam, as shown.
- Now you can draw lines from the dart tips down and slash them open to turn the darts into volume at the hemline.
- Tape paper underneath to cover the gaps. Add more volume at the side seams and inseams of the pant leg, same amount on both sides of the front and back pieces. If rotating the darts caused you to end up with different amounts of flare between the front and back pieces, you can now adjust the situation. Re-draw the hemline.
- Separate the waistband piece that will be cut into two layers.
And here are the pattern pieces. You can add a zipper at the c-back or the side seam. Fold the front and back pant legs in half to find the center points; that’s where the grainlines should be.
As you can see, the basic pattern blocks are very useful if you intend to start drafting your own patterns. Making them is the first step and I have instructions for each here at my blog. But you can also find ready-made blocks on my shop page. They are especially useful if you are making sample garments, but you can adapt them to your own measurements, too.
When you make your own patterns, you should always consider making a toile before cutting the final fabric, especially when you’re just starting out. That gives you the opportunity to catch errors and modify the fit.
Once you’ve completed a pattern and tested it, you can then use it many times. Just change fabric or little details in the design.
Although all this might seem like a lot of work, patternmaking is definitely such a rewarding skill to learn and I want to encourage you to try!
This is a very huge resource especially for beginners. Thank you for sharing and I hope the heat wave pass soonest.
Thank you! 🙂 Yeah, it kind of grew longer than anticipated.. But hopefully it will help understand how patternmaking works! 😀
I started manipulating my own basic blocks a short time ago : I would never have imagined I would be so simple ! I should have started to do this years ago 😀 😀 😀
Thanks for this great article, your graphics are very explicit as always. I hope many seamstress (sewists ? sewstress ? sewsters ?) will give it a try.
Thanks! Yes, I have a feeling that patternmaking has a reputation of being something more complicated than it actually is. 🙂
Thankyou so much for this valuable information.
You’re welcome. 🙂
Wow, Minna! This is amazing. It’s concise for the number of garments you’re covering.
Each stage was so well described I didn’t even need the pictures. (Plus, I’m used to your style of instruction by now.) I saw a few pictures that loaded with my cell (a.k.a. weak) internet and those along with the words were enough for me to understand how the process was going.
Sorry if I sound gushy, but this is great! It really makes a nice compact article I could share with friends who don’t know about pattern making. It sort of sums up the whole process from block to garment with easy examples to understand.
And thank you for ending it with encouragement to try it ourselves despite the work. It gives me an inkling that there is joy in the end. And the way to find it is just to try! 🙂
Hi Ashley! 🙂 Oh, thanks so much! Yes, I’m trying to make it as easy as possible for beginners, too. I think it’s my own head (always full of questions!) that helps me to imagine the things that need to be explained. 😀
Keep up the questions, ’cause it’s working!
Thanks so much for this very useful article. You have given me inspiration to draft a whole new wardrobe from your article. It is just what I needed as I don’t have a lot of confidence in myself. You are kind. God bless you.
You’re welcome. 🙂 That’s wonderful! It’s amazing to have the possibility to inspire.
From the diagrams/illustration to explanation of the pattern. It’s a 10 on 10! You’re really good at this and I get blown away everytime I visit your page! This is really nice and lively. Thank you!
So glad to hear that! 🙂 Thank you. I really enjoy making these tutorials.
Love your tutorials ..its so easy to follow. Especially for those of us who cannot afford price to learn the art of pattern making. Again Thank you!!!
You’re welcome. 🙂 It’s my pleasure. Besides the price, some people don’t have access to fashion schools, so it’s good that there are resources online, too.