Pattern Drafting for fashion design : The best methods

Pattern making refers to modifying a flat piece of fabric to create a garment that suits the proportions of a human body. It is the building block of fashion design. For a career in Fashion designing, Pattern Drafting is a necessary skill to know. Pattern makers, costume designers, Ready to Wear fashion designers, sewing business owners, home sewists – they all need this knowledge, in varying degrees of expertise.

There are many methods of pattern making.

The most sophisticated and easy way is to let a computer make all the patterns. Garment manufacturers depend on these computer software programs for creating patterns with the help of talented fashion design professionals. It is super fast and without too many errors. But it is costly, so the next best recourse is manual pattern drafting. 

Manual pattern making is done by following 2 primary methods. 

Flat pattern drafting Method (with block patterns) & the Draping method.

Flat pattern drafting

This is a method of making a drawing of the garment on a pattern paper, based on body measurements, following the design on a fashion sketch. It is supposed to be the most accurate manual pattern drafting method.

The basic, foundation patterns are called slopers. The sloper has the bare minimum ease. It basically fits the figure to a T.

The basic slopers are then modified to make different types of other complicated, feature rich flat patterns. The slopers are modified and manipulated by adding ease, and other design elements like fullness, tucks, change in design lines etc.

Fashion sketches are flat, Patterns are flat. Clothes are definitely not.  It is the design elements like darts that give depth and dimension to flat patterns. Slashing and spreading of the sloper pattern adds more fullness to the pattern, Darts are added to give a 3D effect, fabric manipulations are done to add texture to the fabric. 

Draping Method

This is a method of draping the fabric on a dress form and then make the pattern from there. The fabric for the garment (or a muslin fabric) is pinned directly on to the mannequin and adjustments are made, tucks, darts and curves are pinned and the markings made with chalk.

This method enables the designer to clearly see how a particular fabric drapes and how it will look as a final garment. If you want to visualize your design in a 3 dimensional way and then make the pattern, this is the method for you.

The draping is almost always converted to a flat pattern, before making into the final garment.

It involves a lot of steps and can lead to error if you are not experienced. Some fabric looks way better on a dress form than on a human body, with all the movement involved and other details. Draping is not a good choice for sewing with close fitting styles or when designing with stretchy fabrics.

But for a creative person, this can involve a great deal of innovation and satisfaction.

19th century French fashion designer, Madeleine Vionnet, was a pioneer in creating garments by draping.


After the Pattern is made, the finished pattern and the toile made out of it will have to be tested on the dress form with the exact measurements for fit.

You have to analyse if the bodice length on the back and front are adequate, the shoulder slope is accurate, the armscye is perfect, there is balance on both sides of the pattern, whether the ease is adequate for comfort as well as movement, whether the pattern instructions are enough for even novices to sew it etc. Only then will your garment turn out to be the best.

Pattern making Vocabulary

Sloper : Master pattern made based on the correct measurement of the body. This is the basis on which other patterns are developed (foundation pattern/master pattern). Once you have made this you will be able to design garments in any style to fit the person. Slopers can be made of Bodice, skirt, sleeves, pant and collar.

Fitting Shell : Another name for sloper; a Closely fitting pattern without any design features and bare minimum ease.

Block : Basic starting pattern for a particular garment. This pattern will have design elements.

Production Pattern : The final error free pattern developed after all corrections are done. It is ready for production.

Bodice : Part of the garment from shoulder till the waist.

Bust line : Line around the fullest part of the bust.

Waistline : Line connecting bodice to the skirt on a dress; Line around the narrowest part of the torso.

Hip line : Line around the fullest part under the waistline.

Toiles/Mock ups : The sample garment made from the pattern. Pattern created using the methods described above are then tested using toiles and mockups.

Dress form/Body form : Body shaped forms in fixed proportions.

Ease : Extra measurement added to the garment for ease of movement and comfort.

Trueing : Adding seam lines after the sloper is fitted on the dress form.

Pattern Drafting software : Computer programs for pattern making in garment manufacturing. These allow you to simply input your measurements and the drafting of the pattern is done by the software. You can even convert the pattern into a 3 D model with the help of these software. CAD programs like Inkscape are widely used.

Pattern drafting tools : Large Pattern making paper, a narrow one meter long measuring tape, pencils, Erasers, Large clear grid scale, dress form, Curved scales (Leg curve, hip curve), scissors for paper.

Standard Measurements : These refers to body measurements that are used in commercial patterns. These are not individualized and cannot be for commercial patterns. So garments made with these patterns can fit less optimally than ones made with personalized body measurements. Standard pattern figure types like Misses, Miss Petite, Junior, Women’s Women’s petite Men’s and kids are used by commercial pattern companies who sell patterns for home use.

Muslin Rub : Term that refers to rubbing tailor’s chalk on the muslin fabric used in draping, to indicate seam lines and darts.

Marks on a Pattern.

Seam line : A sewing machine foot is the symbol for sewing line on patterns.

Seam Allowance : The extra fabric further from the seam lines.

Seam Numbers : Numbers on patterns showing which seams are to be sewn to one another.

Cross marks : The marks along seams etc used to indicate where sections meet.

Grain line : This is direction of the grain of the fabric. It should be marked along the length of the pattern pieces as a line.More on grainline here

Pattern details : The pattern will be accompanied by a pattern guide sheet with all the details needed for interpreting the patterns and result in the final garment. Pattern Parts and sizes and number of pieces are always marked on the pattern.

Notches : Pattern indicators on patterns for matching seams. There can be single notches and double notches. They can be added to denote seam allowance, dart legs. Double notches are given on back pattern to distinguish it from the front pattern.

Circles : Pattern indicators for dart points, tucks, buttonholes.

Fitting symbols : These marks are placed on long seams so that accuracy is maintained when sewing the seam.

Cutting lines: Symbol of scissors to show where fabric should be cut.

Pleat symbols: Arrows showing pleat positions.

Fold line : Broken lines showing where fabric should be kept on fold.

Pattern Marking short forms

CF – Center Front
CB -Center Back
BP – Bust Point
SS– Side seam
SW – Side Waist
SH– Shoulder
HBL – Horizontal Balance Line
SH- Tip – Shoulder tip

Reference : Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing.

Related posts : Best sewing pattern sites ; Free sewing patterns.

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