Friday, July 30, 2010

Drafting Part I - Overview

With all the computer glitches behind us now, welcome (finally) to Part 1 of our drafting series!

This is the part in which I drone on and on about the basics without actually drafting anything. Some of you already know all this, and some don't, but I always feel it's worth boring the former into a coma so the latter can start with them on the same page. Here we go!

1 What You Might Need For Drafting:

This is an example of what I usually use when I draft:

  • Big sheet of paper (butcher paper is nice)
  • Color pencils (and eraser)
  • Long straight ruler
  • T-square or set-square or your gridded cutting mat or some other thing to help you square lines (i.e make them perpendicular to one another).
  • Measuring tape
  • Curved ruler, flexible ruler, french curves, if you like some aids for curve-drawing -not shown in picture because I usually sketch my curves free-hand (not as hard as it sounds).
  • Narrow twill tape, ribbon or thin string
  • Child

There have been times when, for want of big enough blank paper, I have drafted on newspaper with a ball-point pen or sharpie and laid that out and pinned that onto my fabric. I am just confessing that here so you'll be reassured that you don't need special magic drafting paper. When I am enabled to, though, this is the kind of paper I like to use for drafting:

It's regular thin brown kraft paper with vertical lines. Those lines help me draw parallel lines more easily. I know a person can buy special drafting paper that has a grid marked out which is probably even better, but I don't need it. I buy this paper from Ikea - it's KOTTE wrapping paper - for about $2 a (8 m long). Sadly, Ikea only has wrapping paper in stock during the Christmas season - so check back there maybe in October.

The KOTTE paper is still available, but it is now called SNOVITA. At 99c a roll that's 8 m long, it's a good deal.)

2 Measuring (and Measuring Children)

Children, especially small ones, are very hard to measure. They don't stand still. They have no waist. They are ticklish and shrug a lot. Candy or a movie or some other enticing thing helps. I personally prefer measuring children who are 4 years old or older, because they can be reasoned with and made to stand relatively still for measuring. Also their tummies are less round, which makes for easier measuring and therefore a better fit.

I personally feel that the most important success factor in drafting is getting accurate measurements from the start. If forced to estimate exactly how important, I'd say a good draft is
  • 70% accurate measurements
  • 20% drafting /drawing skills
  • 10% knowing how to analyze a muslin/first fitting

When I drafted as a younger person under mum's tutelage, we did a lot of estimating of key measurement points like the base/side of the neck or the shoulder point. Skilled and experienced measurers and drafters like mum and other people in her generation can get away with it. Now that mum and I inconveniently live in different countries and I can no longer have her visually advise my measuring process, I find I need more objective methods of pin-pointing these measurement positions. Here are some methods mum and I (and other people) collectively use now:

I Tie twill tape/ribbon/unbulky string around waist:

Sometimes, if it is helpful, you might even like to tie another string around the hips, or chest. This string is a good marker of the important horizontal reference lines (waist, hip, chest) for measuring. Now this cord in the picture is not a good choice because it is thick and adds bulk to the waist measurement when you wrap the measuring tape around the waist, on top of it. But I used it for the photo for its lurid visibility.

Note in the next photo that the cord is horizontal because the waist is horizontal. Even if your child wears her pants with the front waistband under her tummy. Remember this photo, incidentally - it shows quite clearly that small children have those wonderful bellies that are so cute, but that you will need to take into account when you draft for them.
Try your very, very hardest to complete all your measurements before removing this waist string. If you take it off and then retie it the next day to take more measurements, it will likely not be in the same position as before, and you might end up with measurements that are inconsistent with the day before's and drive you nuts when you draft them.

II Drape a thin chain or string over the back of the neck
This gives two vertical lines from which you can measure the width of the neck, the distance from the side/base of neck to the shoulder point, the depth of the front neckline etc.

III Use small stickers or body/washable marker pens:

Children like them, and they make convenient markers for the important measurement points,

like the shoulder point (pink strawberry), the side/base of neck (pink heart), the depth of the front neckline (yellow circle)

and the back of the neck.

If the child shrugs off the chain (always happens), the stickers /body marking ink will still remain.

We'll be taking many more measurements to make a sloper than if were adapting a commercial pattern to fit your particular child. In other words, we're going beyond height, waist, chest, hip, length of skirt. Remember - we're making ours from scratch, so we need more numbers to shape things the right way from the start.

When I am drafting, I usually take all the measurements in one go, and write them down. I usually have about 5 minutes to do this, before the child in question decides she's had enough and runs away. For the purpose of this tutorial, though, I will pretend that I have the luxury to take a measurement, plot it on the paper and then take the next measurement, while the child stands perfectly still. It is a gross misrepresentation of how it's done in real life, but it makes for clearer step-by-steps. OK?

I have included a measuring table at the end of this post, which you can print out and begin to fill up. The key will explain what the different colors and text mean. We will be drafting the front sloper first, and it will be half of the full front piece, just like commercial patterns. This is important to remember because some of the measurements we take will be subsequently divided by 2 or 4 before being plotted.

One way to calculate these half- or quarter-values is to use a calculator (or mental arithmetic). Another way is to fold the measuring tape, which I know a lot of people also do. So for example, if you measured someone's shoulder width as 15 3/4 inches, and wanted to divide that by 2, you'd fold the tape like so

to get the half-value of 7 7/8":

3 Ease

Let's talk a little about ease. Ease is the allowance given in measuring beyond the exact fit. There are two main kinds of ease that we might mention throughout our series.

The first is design ease, which is the allowance added according to a particular style of garment to make it a certain shape, like an A-line skirt. We are drafting a sloper (i.e. exact fit) so there will be no design ease in the measurements.

The second is fitting ease, which is the small allowance to enable the model to feel comfortable in a close-fitting garment like a sloper. Whenever a measurement is taken around the entire circumference of the body e.g. the waist, it is tricky to decide how snug to keep the measuring tape.

How much fitting ease to add, where and how are very common questions. Everyone does it a different way, and to a different extent - there are rules of thumb, and industry standards and all that, but it is also dependent on the drafter's personal preference. If you have read drafting books, you will probably have noticed both similarities and differences in the way the various authors include ease in their measurements.

Let's answer those questions now:

Q1 Where is ease added?
The short answer is: wherever there is movement of the body, like in sitting, breathing and well, moving. When I make a sloper, I add ease only in the waist, hip, chest and armscye - these are the areas that tend to expand or stretch in the course of the wearer's normal movement. I do not add ease in the shoulder width, the neck, or any of the vertical dimensions because these do not change in the course of the wearer's normal movement.

Q2 How is ease added?
Usually I take measurements when the model is dressed in whatever she will be wearing under the garment I'm making. For a sloper, this means just underwear. However, thin, close-fitting clothes (like a snug Tshirt, bodysuit, leggings) are also OK because they don't add significant bulk. Having established that, do you measure the exact, snug value and then mentally add some fitting ease before recording it? Or do you hold the measuring tape more loosely to allow for the ease in the actual measurement? Both work, and it is a personal preference either way.

Q3 How much ease is added?
The amount of ease to add is also a personal preference. Some folks like very snug slopers, and some like more comfortable ones. Some figures are more toned and have more defined curves, and can handle less ease, while others have less defined/demarcated areas of fullness and might be more flattered with an extra bit of ease in their slopers.

Here's what I usually do:
I start with a snug (exact) measurement. A good rule of thumb is to keep the measuring tape snug enough so it does not move up and down but just loose enough so it can shift about horizontally if you move it. For instance, if you are measuring the waist and the measuring tape is unable to stay at the waist level but keeps falling down to the hips, it is too loose. Having established this snug measurement, I then loosen the measuring tape a quarter inch at a time until I think I've found a comfortable fit. I sometimes have the child breathe in so her chest/waist expands, and take that final measurement. Often - and you might be surprised by this - you only need a very little bit of ease, like 1/2" in the total waist measurement for a sloper.

Then I make a muslin from the sloper and let that tell me if more ease is needed or not. I prefer being conservative with adding fitting ease, because it is often much easier to observe fit issues in a too-tight sloper than one with so much ease that the wearer is swimming in it. In a too-tight sloper, you might say, "Oh, I need to let out the the waist by another 1/2 inch", but if the sloper is huge all over, the only conclusion is "What the......! I've made a sack! I can't even begin to tell where to take it in and where!" A common mistake thereafter with a very loose sloper is to desperately take in all the ease in just one area, like the waist, instead of distributing it between the different seams to get a more accurate fit. But more on that later!

4 Reference Lines

Throughout the tutorials, you will find yourself drawing some vertical and horizontal reference lines. Pick a different color pencil for these reference lines so you won't mix them up with the actual seam lines of the sloper. This will make more sense later in the actual tutorials.

5 Miscellaneous Stuff:

In spite of all its rules and methods, drafting is very personal. Different people have different drafting styles. Also, different people like different fits. This is why drafting using the approach in Book A will yield quite a different fit of the same resulting garment than if you'd used Book B's. Some like a lot of ease in their sleeve caps. Some use different formulae for drafting different parts of the sloper. Some swear by measuring additional points on the body to draft certain curves, while others do it free-hand.

Drafting a sloper for a grown adult (like a woman) is similar in technique to that of a child. But you will be quite disappointed if you use this tutorial to make a sloper for yourself (assuming you, the reader, are older than 10 years old and have reached puberty, I mean). Two reasons: one, there are many, many more measurements needed of a mature female body that we have left out for a child, like the bust. Two, there are darts to include to fit that bust, which change the shape of the final sloper dramatically. Just the question of where to position the bust dart is worth a whole series of tutorials. Someday maybe I'll get around to doing the adult sloper. Like when I get a personal chef. But not today.

Please remember that this is a sloper, not a pattern. So this series will NOT address questions like,
  • "so what style of dress will this be?" or
  • "How tall is your 5-year old? I want to know if this pattern (ptoooi!) will fit my 5-year old."

It WILL, however, address questions like,
  • "So now that I have a sloper, how can I adapt it to make patterns?" and
  • "So how can I use it with my commercial patterns?"

For my attempt to explain the differences between a sloper and a pattern, see here.

In the following tutorials, I will use some real measurements but I will not reveal the age of the child from which they were taken. This is to help you resist the temptation to copy all my numbers and recreate my sloper and subsequently be still unable to draft one for your own child/niece/unsuspecting young model you bribed into practising on.
And finally, when all is said, drafted and done, make a muslin/mockup and try it on your model! Straight away, you will get a visual, 3-D idea of what you did right, and what you did not-so-right. Often it takes two fittings, maybe more, to refine all the funny bits. And usually you will be making small alterations - 1/2" to 1" changes. If you find yourself taking in something like 3" in the hip, you're probably adding way to much ease and forgetting that this is a sloper, not a pattern. It's OK to start over! And now that you've seen the effect of your drafting on the actual model, you might be surprised at how much better and faster the second time around is.

Here is the revised measurement table you can print out. The more time I spent on it, the more I added to it, so it has more changes to it than I originally intended. But it flows with the sloper tutorial instructions better now!

Next week: The Front Sloper

P.S. I've deliberately changed my post feed setup to "short" for this series so you'll have to come back here to read the full post. One main reason: there is so much information to be packed in to each drafting post that I am quite certain to overlook something/write stuff I'll want to change 2 seconds after publishing it. This is my control-freak way of dynamically editing and updating these posts whenever something comes to mind. I'll be posting full feeds for all the other non-drafting posts. Thank you for understanding!


  1. LiEr, you are amazing! I plan to try this with my 4yo, who could definitely use some clothes that fit properly instead of inevitably being too short or too loose. Now to get said 4yo and her partners in crime to behave while I tackle the project...

  2. I am so glad to have stumbled across this series -- I've just finished up making a sloper for my 5-year-old (using 3 different books - 1 great, 1 good, 1 awful) and I am really interested to see how you are going to proceed. Hopefully you will make my task much easier next time around!!

  3. I'm looking forward to doing this, will have to wait til after the summer though as the kids are on holiday with grandparents and then with us! I shall be absorbing the whole series and then give it a go, so bear with me and keep them coming!

  4. Even though I don't plan to use this (my only grandchild has more nice hand-me-down-from-cousins clothes than she'll ever wear), I find it a very interesting read. How generous of you to go to all the trouble to write this up and post it for others!

  5. Im really looking forward to following this series of tutorials. My eldest is nearly 4. Its very generous of you to take the time and share your knowledge.

  6. You are absolutely incredible! This is so very well written, so easy to follow along, that I am sorely tempted to do some drafting myself without having any reason whatsoever to do so. Thank you!

  7. Oh good, sewing help AND an excuse to visit IKEA!!! Am deciding on whether or not to approach the next-door neighbour on being my guinea pig or if I should wait till I visit my cousin later this summer. Or do both! (I have just finished my 3 years of correspondence courses so imagine I'll have all this free time. Probably not true at all but it's nice to dream).

  8. Great! This is really interesting! I've always used commercial patterns, never tried to draft any myself, but I'll keep this in mind. My kids are all teenagers now, so they refuse to use "homemade" clothes anymore, but I sew for myself, and I'm sure I can pick up a trick or two...

    Thank you!

  9. Silly question? Is a sloper worth while for boys? It seems like they're mostly for blouses and dresses and skirts, but I'm just a beginner, so maybe they're useful for shirts too?

    If not, please someone send me an extra daughter because I think this is fantastic and really want to draft.

  10. Hi, LiEr, sorry, previous boy question was me. I'm Kathleen, not a blogger and not usually a commenter, so I'm not so clear on the etiquette here, sorry. kathleenpoling (at) yahoo (dot) com

  11. Yeah! I can't wait!

    I loved your post about sewing with your girls. The girls of Twin Fibers just started a flickr group of things kids have sewn.

    Glad your computer is running again!

  12. Wow! This is such awesome information! I've tried my hand at drafting patterns for my daughter's clothes, but it's always such a struggle to get accurate measurements. Clearly I didn't know about your sticker trick. That's brilliant!!

    On a side note, my favorite IKEA source for pattern drafting are the big pieces of packing paper that came in our Besta bookshelves. Each door and drawer was packed separately and resulted in a huge stack of paper that I promptly folded up neatly and hoarded back in my sewing room.

    I linked to your tutorial over at Craft Gossip Sewing:


  13. I have always wanted to learn how to do this. Thanks!

  14. Thank you for taking the time and effort to put this up. My daughter is a little over one, I have been trying to figure out how to draft a sloper for her (hopefully something I can alter/size up as she grows) and it has been pretty hard because I have no one to guide me and there are few resources on the internet for this kind of stuff. I was already stumped about how much ease to put in and this post already answered those questions! Do keep it coming, you have no idea how much help this is and thanks again!

    And I am sure you already know this, but there is nothing more slippery than a toddler when her Mum is trying to measure her :)

  15. Wow! This is fab :D. I have just spent the evening plotting your chart into Excel and I will dig out string and scissors and gaffa tape tomorrow (the latter to hold child down whilst I measure). Thank you so much for this tutorial!

  16. I will definitely follow this. I have small children adn it will such a great help.

  17. This is such a wonderful thing to share with the world! I may not be up to this part in my illustrious sewing career (of about 3 months) but I will certainly bookmark it and hope that one day it will make sense to me not just on the screen but on a wriggling child someday.

  18. This is such a useful post! Thank you so much. It's going to be a great help for measuring my 3 year old.

  19. This is wonderful! Thank you!

  20. What an amazing tutorial! Thank you so much. I can't wait to read the rest of the series.

  21. I am so, so excited about this series and looking forward to learning from you! Yay! I'll be linking as well.

  22. How ABSOLUTELY awesome, and kind and generous and giving of you to post these wonderful tutorials. Not very much is free these days, and you are special to want to help others to learn. Bless you for all of your efforts in taking pictures and explaining in such wonderful detail!! Please keep them coming, am waiting with baited breath......

  23. Thank you for starting this! I will be following this and trying it on my wiggly 4 year old and 2 year old.

  24. Hi, just arrived here via Sew Mama Sew. Thank you so much for this series. I have only recently understood the use and the need for slopers, and am eager to start measuring up my daughter!

  25. I love your post on drafting a basic sloper.

    I have just started an antique doll dressing site and this information is so vital.

    I hope you don't mind that I linked to it on our group.

    antique_reproduction_doll_costumes on yahoo.

    I am so glad your mom passed her skills down to you. I learned to sew at the knee of my grandmother, a very talented dressmaker in her own right.

    So nice to find your site. :)

    Willie Rayburn
    Moderator and group owner

  26. I need to be able to get the rest of the tutorial for "drafting a pattern" is it possible to still get the rest of it? The tutorial is fantastic. My mother used to be able to just look at a finished product and me and then just make a pattern out of paper and it would fit perfectly but, not me. Thank you for all of these wonderful things you give us.

  27. I have recently been convincing myself to learn pattern drafting. I bookmarked a book from Amazon, and keep telling myself "it's not that hard" You really broke it down into easy to understand steps. I so appreciate the time you took to bring this to us! Pattern making is one of the most dying arts in the states.

  28. Oh my goodness, thank you for this series! It is amazing and so helpful! Can't wait to practice measuring on my little gal tomorrow.

  29. Oh my goodness, thank you! This is so thorough, helpful and easy to read. I have been needing this very thing. I can't wait to practice on my little gal tomorrow!

  30. Oh my goodness, thank you for this series! It is amazing and so helpful! Can't wait to practice measuring on my little gal tomorrow.

  31. Can you put up a measurement table for female adults, or just tell the additional measurements needed to add to the table. Thanks Jolene

  32. Thank you for this series! I've been sewing for years, but have not been able to find a lot of good resources on the internet to teach me how to draft a sloper.

  33. Thank you sooooo much for this sewing blog. I learn a lot! I can't thank you enough!

  34. Thank you SO much for taking time from your family to share your knowledge. I've been drafting/altering patterns for myself & my family for 20+ years, but today I started reading your drafting posts & have discovered NEW things to learn about the whole process! It's so exciting!
    The chain draped around the neck for vertical reference point location was drafting gold. Stickers for marking points temporarily, especially on squirmy people (which, by the way, includes husbands & grown sons!) is brilliant! I can even use that tip to mark my own points & then have anyone who knows how to measure do my own measurements for me! I'm looking forward to having my best-fitting sloper EVER!
    Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou. (I've used up my exclamation point quota for next month ...)

  35. THANK YOU!!!! I would like to make women's slopers, blocks, & then eventually patterns do you have a women's tutorial? if not what would be the difference in measurements from child to adult/woman?

    I am years late haha but really hope ypu are still active on this blog!


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