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Getting Started

Definitions

A dart is a triangle-shaped cut out that controls the fit of the pattern by removing fullness at the base, and releasing at the dart point where the dart legs connect.

Wearing ease is the minimum amount required to feel comfortable during regular activities such as breathing, walking and sitting.

Design ease refers to the amount of additional fullness included to create a particular styles, such as extra width for gathers or pleats.

Seam allowance refers to the distance between the stitch line (or seam) and the fabric. Often between 1/4" (~6.4mm) and 5/8" (~1.6cm) in commercial patterns, the seam allowance can be increased to allow for future tailoring.


The Perfect Fit

Before using your slopers to make garments, it is important to confirm that they fit you perfectly. Since these are 2D depictions of your 3D body, you may need to make a few adjustments to reach your perfect fit:

  1. Print and assemble your pattern
  2. Add your desired seam allowance
  3. Cut it out of an inexpensive fabric such as muslin
  4. Assemble the pattern and try it on! Remember – there is no wearing ease, so it will be a very tight fit – like a second skin.
  5. Make the adjustments one at a time, until you are happy with the fit.
Once you are happy with the fit, remember to record your changes so you can replicate them in the future. Alternatively, save a copy of your digital file using Adobe Illustrator (or Inkscape), and make the same adjustments digitally, so you can print it on demand.

Tip: The Waist-Length Bodice, Hip-Length Bodice and Dress sloper use the same measurements, so you only need to fit the Hip-Length Bodice and transfer the changes to the remaining two slopers.


Wearing Ease

Once you have your perfect fit, remove the seam allowance and add wearing ease.

Wearing ease is the minimum amount required to feel comfortable during regular activities such as breathing, walking and sitting. Suggested wearing ease is between 1 - 4 inches (or 2.5 - 10 centimeters) around the bust, waist and hip areas. Be sure to adjust this to what feels comfortable for you.

Since our slopers are divided in quarters, you may add a quarter of the total ease amount (in other words, between 1/4 - 1") to each side seam.

You may also add ease to Center Front, but please note that this may shift where darts are located in relation to your body (e.g. adding ease to the Center Front of a Bodice would increase distance from bustpoint to bustpoint). This may work for some designs but not others.

You may also add ease by dropping the armhole, just remember to adjust the sleeve accordingly.


Design

To design your first garment, you must use the perfect-fit version of your slopers without seam allowance. The seam allowance will be added again as a final step, once you have decided where your seams will be (for example, if you will be cutting on the fold).

Dart Manipulation

A dart is a triangle-shaped cut out that controls the fit of the pattern by removing fullness at the base, and releasing at the dart point where the dart legs connect. Through dart manipulation, the space between the dart legs can become design ease, gathers, pleats, cowls or interesting style lines like princess seams.

Dart manipulation involves changing the location of a dart within the pattern. Both of the methods described below involve pivoting from the dart point or apex.

In this illustration, you can see some common Bodice style lines to guide your designs.

Slash and Spread

Slash your sloper up to, but not through, the dart apex (for example, the bust point). Using the apex as a pivot point, rotate the piece to the desired place. You may rotate to close the dart legs, redistributing the entire dart to a new place on the sloper, or create multiple darts by leaving an opening (retains a smaller original dart) or slashing and spreading at multiple spots.

For pattern drafting on paper, you may need to print and assemble slopers more often if you have too many cuts. This method works well in digital pattern drafting, as you may place an “anchor” on the apex and rotate as desired.

Trace and Transfer

Instead of cutting your sloper, place it on a large piece of paper.

  1. Starting at the apex, trace the sloper down one dart leg and counter-clockwise around the rest of the sloper until you reach the spot where you want the new line to be. Mark this spot on the sloper with a line.
  2. Placing a push-pin on the apex to help you pivot, rotate your sloper to close the dart – that is, bring the dart leg you did not trace together with the one you did trace.
  3. Trace the rest of the sloper clock-wise, stopping where you marked the sloper with a line.
  4. Complete your new sloper by drawing a line from the apex to each spot where you stopped tracing the sloper.

This method works well for pattern drafting on paper, as you won’t have to print new slopers as often. For drafting in Adobe Illustrator (or Inkscape), you can use an “anchor” to rotate pieces, and a “layer” feature to trace the new piece.

Convert to Fullness or Ease

You can also convert the dart to design elements by not closing it (creating a flare), gathering or pleating it closed, or creating multiple tiny pin tucks.

Adding Fullness

This refers to adding design ease outside of what can be accommodated in the dart – for example, to add more gathers or pleats than would be accommodated by turning the dart into a design element.

Fullness can be distributed equally on opposite sides, or on one-side in an arc shape where one side remains the same, and the other is slashed and spread. Or at an unequal amount in between.

Adding fullness is similar to lengthening or widening a pattern – slash the pattern where you want to add fullness, and then add the desired fullness.

You can add fullness horizontally and in equal increments to create fullness for pleats or gathers, or vertically to create a blouson or rouching feature.

Note on Bodice Darts

To avoid a pointy bust dart, close the bust dart point some distance from the actual bust apex. That is, back your dart up:

  • 3/4" for an AA or A cup
  • 1" for a B cup
  • 1.5" for a C cup
  • 1 3/4" for a D cup
  • 2" or more for other cup sizes

This is just a recommended starting point, and you may adjust to your preference.


Adding Seam Allowance

Add seam allowance to any seams by hand by outlining your pattern piecees at the desired distance (e.g. an outline that is 5/8" inches around the pattern piece for a 5/8" seam allowance).

Do not add seam allowance where you intend to cut on a fold, and add extra seam allowance where you want to include closures such as zippers

To add seam allowance digitally, use Adobe Illustrator to join paths. You will then be able to use the "offset path" feature, which will create an outline of the pattern piece once you entering the desired seam allowance amount. After is added, be sure to adjust as needed to account for areas without seam allowance (e.g. center front when cut on the fold)


Tips

When you are starting out, it helps to start with adding the recommended wearing ease and trying simple designs such as a pencil skirt, shift dress, and sheath dress. This will help you get used to drafting a pattern and better understand your slopers. Soon enough, they will become tried and true patterns that you can use for as many garments as you can imagine!

Resources

You can combine these basic techniques, along with skills you have learned along the way – such as narrowing pencil skirts, or cutting on the bias – to create many different designs. For additional resources, consider borrowing one of these books from your local library, or purchasing on Amazon:

  • Patternmaking for Fashion Design – Helen Joseph Armstrong
  • Metric Pattern Cutting for Women’s Wear – Winifred Aldrich
  • Pattern Cutting for Lingerie, Beachwear and Leisurewear – Ann Haggar

Note: Many of these books explore pattern drafting from a fashion designer’s perspective, starting with a Standard Sizes 8 – 12, rather than custom sizes.