Look at this beautiful 1944 pattern – on sale here at midvalecottage’s etsy shop.
It’s a 32″ bust – way too small for me – and having a bash at drafting this from my sloper looks like more fun than pattern grading. The shape of the pattern pieces provide a clue or two. One for the to-do list once my personal block is tickety-boo.
Because I’m a dirty swot keen to learn as much as I can in these five short weeks, I jostled ahead and drafted a rough bodice pattern to test out the block. All I did was add in waist darts according to the handout instructions – very quick and dirty. You’re not supposed to use those honkin’ great darts from the neck to bust point in a garment. This rough test garment is called a muslin or toile.
It wasn’t great. I knew there’d be some tweaking required but the thing was just too short (which I suspected when I looked at the my nape-waist measurement taken by a classmate – I’m used to adding 7-8cm as standard to commercial patterns because I’m so tall, so the number just looked wrong. Should have double-checked). Plus there’s some truly spectacular bagginess at the armhole – the armscye on the right side of the picture has been pinned to get rid of it… it was great to have this toile at the second class to amend my block’s gross flaws before taking it any further.
I marched in with my pencils, pins, and enthusiasm, and plonked down for the first of five three-hour sessions.
Our teacher turned out to be a softly-spoken, rather serious fashion industry type. He gave us a slim volume of photocopies from what we were told is the standard text for patternmaking students, Metric Pattern Cutting by Winifred Aldrich and instructed us to take measurements. Note he didn’t instruct us how to take measurments, just to refer to the handout and do them – while explaining that measuring is an art in itself. Add this to the awkwardness of needing to ask classmates for help (trying to measure yourself is difficult and often ends in trouble) and making complete strangers fumble about with measuring tape and bustlines. It was a little frustrating.
That done, we started drawing up our close-fitting bodice blocks following the standard instructions (see pages 14 – 15 here) – a pretty simple process with flashes back to year 7 geometry, except instead of protractors and compasses, we were using these:
By the end, I’d pretty much finished my first bash at the bodice block but it looked a bit screwy to me. I was keen to go home and test it out.
Three terms come up again and again… but what do they mean?
This definition of sloper comes from the excellent Make Your Own Dress Patterns by Adele P. Margolis:
The sloper is a basic pattern cut to a standard size from a table of standard body measurements. It contains all the necessary information about the shaping, contour seams, and ease that will make the sloper fit a particular size. It has no fullness, design details, or seam allowances. It is used as the basis for creating new designs.
By contrast, Complete Dressmaking in Pictures edited by Constance Howard explains that:
Basic block patterns are drawn to the exact measurements of a person … These patterns should fit the figure perfectly when the darts are taken in.
Margolis doesn’t use the word block; instead she talks about personalised slopers. Then again, Harriet Pepin in Modern Pattern Design uses block, sloper and basic or foundation pattern interchangeably. Confusing? Just a bit. The key words here are standard vs. personalised.
The BurdaStyle blog featured a number of basic, generic sloper patterns in a recent post. These are great if you’re generic… but who is? Seems to me it’s worth investing the time to customise from the very start rather then start with something made for that mythical ‘average’ figure and modifying it.
Final definition: what’s a pattern? Well, a block/sloper is used to make a pattern, and a pattern is used to make a garment. A pattern has all the information to construct a particular design – seam allowances, notches, darts, ease for design or comfort. Patterns are also made of lightweight paper or tissue, whereas blocks/slopers are templates placed on heavier card for longevity. Patterns are the point of the whole exercise!