I’ve been doing a patternmaking course

Don’t panic, I’m not about to become the next new Indie designer – I really only wanted a body block and I am now completely immersed in the glories of dart manipulation. I’m doing the patternmaking course at Workspace with Sarah, who is not only an expert at patternmaking, but is also the most patient person in the world.

For those of you who aren’t certain about the intricacies of dart manipulation, here is a picture (courtesy of Sarah) of a bodice block with all the potential darts drawn in.


Moving the darts to different positions gives quite different looks and is somehow a magical process. Some examples:


Above is the classic set of front darts – at the side seam and in the front. Then we have French darts which are long and come from the side seams towards the apex. Please excuse the grainy pictures – they were taken with my phone.


These next two are basically the same – a centre dart, but one has a seam at the top of the bodice and the other has the seam at the bottom. The effect is quite different.



So, I now have a bodice block which I can use to modify almost any bodice whilst being confident that the darts will be in the right place and the bodice will fit me, and which I can use to resize and hack patterns. Case in point; I have a 1940s Marian Martin pattern which is designed for a 31″ bust. I am a trifle bigger than that, so I attempted to grade the pattern. Total disaster. As you can see, the whole dress is cut on the bias and I had no real idea of how to resize it.

Marion Martin

I took the problem to Sarah and we had a lovely morning playing with this pattern. First we discovered that very few of the pattern pieces lined up properly. In the past I would have blamed myself, but now I know that this is a common manufacturing fault.

We traced the very precious tissue onto vilene, trued up all the misplaced dots and marks and sewed the pieces together.


Whilst it doesn’t look too bad in this photo, there are strange wrinkles in the bodice. We  Sarah decided to go back to first principles and manipulate the darts and design lines to see if we could replicate the pattern but fix all the problems. First the design stage:


We had a couple of iterations of this design. Then it went on to the vilene and was pinned to the dummy.

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The shape is much better and the fit is perfect. We are planning to make a few versions of this dress: the original design with kimono sleeve in stripes, one with set in sleeves in a striped jersey, and a colour blocked version in silk. We will also play with the skirt design. I am quite excited by this project and will keep you up-to-date with my progress.

One last thing that was a revelation to me: each of these photos is taken on a half-scale dummy, except for the one with the brick wall behind. I’ve seen half-scale patterns and not understood the reasoning behind them, but it is so much easier and quicker to play with a small amount of material (not to mention, thriftier) and I am a complete convert.


19 thoughts on “I’ve been doing a patternmaking course

  1. Hi Sue,

    I am very envious of your pattern making course…one day when I have more time, I hope to follow in your footsteps… I am fascinated by the dart placement options and their effect. Brava!!!

  2. I admire the precision of dart placements on your body block. I would really enjoy this course. I love this vintage pattern and its graphic design with broken diagonals, but the whole redrafting process is the work of a professional. Great job! Can’t wai to see the finished dress on you.

  3. Bless you for this great post. Thank you for this wonderful information. I would love to take such a course and you are allowing us to enjoy it through your posts.

  4. Nice dress pattern – and a fun task to make it fit. I did pattern cutting as part of my City & Guilds qualification years ago. I really ought to make more use of the knowledge – use it or lose it definitely applies here!

  5. Fascinating! I, too, have been crafting my own bodice pattern block just this week. I always thought it was me when a commercial pattern didn’t work out. But, after making my own block, I realize that it isn’t just me. To get a proper fit one should make their own set of blocks. It is truly worth the time and effort. Your other bodices and dart manipulations are awesome! I can’t wait to try different dart manipulations now as well! Excellent job, and thanks for sharing!

  6. I’ve been teaching myself patternmaking, too, but I’ve been learning from books. I have so many fitting issues that often it’s faster and easier for me to start almost from scratch with an already fitted basic block and copy the design elements from a pattern I like rather than try to fit it. The fit in the shoulder area is always so much more comfortable.

    It is fun to test out ideas and designs in half scale. I wanted to test out what I learned in half-scale, but after spending so much money on patternmaking textbooks I couldn’t justify the price of a miniature dress form, so I designed one and made it up myself. I had so much fun with it I ended up making several versions. For anyone else feeling crafty, here’s my tutorial for making your own half-scale dressform: http://growyourownclothes.com/half-size-dressform-tutorial/

  7. Very cool. Knowledge is power. you are already a seasoned, talented and skilled sewer, this will really advance your sewing.
    I am encouraged and energized by this post. Thank you 😀

  8. Well done Sue! Soon you’ll never have to buy another pattern again. Can’t wait to see your first finished garment with your own patternmaking.

  9. That looks to be quite a complex dress pattern! how interesting to be learning how to make your own patterns! I hope you have fun 🙂

  10. Very interesting and thank you for sharing it with us. I have seen the dart manipulation drawings before, but have never tried them so it is quite interesting to see how they work.

    1. No, it didn’t, but when I translated it to fabric it fitted me perfectly. This was about changing the size from 31″ to 37″, which was almost impossible for me to do when I had no idea what I was doing. Thank you for the comment.

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