Do you have a favourite piece of clothing that just fits you like a glove? Have you ever wished you could replicate it? Well, you can, thanks to pattern drafting!

Pattern drafting is one of the handiest skill sets in any sewists toolkit. It allows you to replicate a garment or custom-fit a commercial pattern to your liking.

In this post, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to get you started on pattern  design. From what it is to how it’s done as well as what tools you will need to get started.

What is pattern designing or drafting?

According to Jennifer Lynn Matthews, pattern drafting “can best be described as the process of transferring a [sewist’s] vision onto paper. This process turns an idea or concept into a two-dimensional pattern…that defines how the three-dimensional garment is assembled”. In simpler terms, this is the guideline sketch of how you will cut and sew your fabric for the clothing piece that you want to make.

What Tools you’ll need:

  • Pattern Paper and a pencil: his paper is used as a grid for lining up the pattern pieces.
  • Tag paper: this is a thicker paper for making slopes and more durable patterns.
  • Scotch 69 or any type of tearable tape that has a surface that you can write on.
  • Weight: anything that will help you to keep your pattern down like canned food or bean bags.
  • Paper and fabric scissors (yes there is a difference!).
  • Lightweight and light coloured fabric like Muslim fabric.
  • Sketching book.
  • French curve: this type of ruler is used to shape the arms and neckline of your garment.
  • Hip curve: this ruler is used to shape the hip and long curve lines.
  • Grid-rulers.
  • Awl: to mark patterns for sewing different elements in the pattern
  • Notcher: for piercing a small hole into the edge of your paper.
  • Pinpoint tracing wheel: used to trace the pattern pieces.

Drafting terms explained:

1. Slopers: slopers are based on your body measurements. They can be used to alter an existing pattern as well as make your own pattern design. Slopers are the main structure from which modifications are made.

Types of slopers:

  • Bodice front sloper and back sloper.
  • Skirt front and back sloper.
  • Pant front and back sloper.
  • Sleeve sloper.

You can get free bodice slopers for download here.

2. Seam allowance: This is the space where a garment is sewn and the edge of the pattern. This will guide you as you create your garment. In South Africa the seam allowance is xxx.

3. Pattern notches: notches will guide you where to begin and end your stitch. They also serve as a guide to the order of assembly of a garment.

4. Drill holes: are marked on a pattern as circles to indicate where darts, buttons, and pockets.

The process:

Here is an overview of the process of the pattern design process.

The basic foundation: this begins with the drafting paper or based either on industry-standard measurement or in the case where you are sewing for a specific person you can use this measurement guide:

3 steps to the foundation:

A. The block or sloper: this pattern type is used as the basis of all pattern variations. This type of pattern is traced onto the paper to create the working pattern.

B. The working pattern: is used for making the style lines and design features, patterns are further adapted during this stage.

C. The final pattern: this is the pattern from where the garment will be cut. It should clearly indicate how the garment should be made up.

Testing Garment: After the drafting is completed the pattern must first be tested to see if there are any other measurements that would need to be adjusted. This must first take place before cutting out the material. During the process, it helps to have an eye for fitting issues.

After testing and adjustments are done you can translate the pinned changes on the test garment with marks on the pattern to alter and manipulate the pattern.

Resew a test garment with the changes. This step must be repeated until you have a final fit and pattern.

What is pattern drafting used for:

  • Customizing garments: every body type is different. Some people struggle to find mass-produced clothes that fit well. Creating a custom pattern for your body type allows you to create a wardrobe that is custom to you.
  • Once you have a pattern you can play around and get creative with material and styles without having to worry about the fit.
  • Similarly, once you have a block or sloper with your measurements it’s easier to adjust commercial patterns to your body type.
  • Replicating commercial clothing that already fit well like your favourite blouse or t-shirt

Different types of drafting techniques:

There are many drafting techniques, in this post, we will focus on the 4 most popular techniques.

  • Drafting anew: this is where you use custom measurements to draft a block or sloper from scratch. This is quite an essential skill to learn in order to advance your drafting skills and really understand pattern making.
  • Tracing completed garments: as previously mentioned this is a great way to trace clothing that already fits well. Although it seems like an easy method, worn clothing’s seam tends to change as it’s used. This method should, therefore, be used as an intermediate sewist. You can also take a loved clothing item apart in order to trace it more accurately.
  • Draping: this is when you drape clothing onto a model or stand to create blocks. You can see this method used in many fashion shows. We recommend taking an in-person class in order to learn this technique.
  • Modify a well fitted commercial pattern: this is where you take a pattern and mold it into a custom pattern. You can find thousands of free patterns online for
    use here.

Learning how to draft patterns is a very powerful skill in sewing. Now that you have all the information about what it is, the different techniques of drafting and the process of drafting its time to jump into it and begin to draft your own.

Last Updated: April 16, 2020