Dabbling in pattern drafting, and adapting to weight changes

25 Nov

I’ve started teaching myself to draft patterns. I started with a bodice block using Winifred Aldrich’s book. (It’s metric! YAY!!! After drawing up this chemise in imperial, I gained a very deep appreciation for the simplicity and ease of the metric system.)

Sadly however the bodice wasn’t all it cracked up to be. It won’t fit without major changes. The back will come close but the front is short 5 or so cm. The block is based on the back nape-waist measurement, (left side of piccie)and kinda worked out from there, the front (right side) being based on the back. I am all out front, with a full bust, but a little flat back and flat shoulderblades (they naturally fall in the perfect position for ballet! But hard to fit …) I suspect that’s why the draft is so off.

The mess of the back shoulders came about because it totally didn’t look right when I first drew them, and I tried to compensate a bit. It wasn’t working so I left it for later, and continued on. I’d almost finished the instructions when my partner came in. One look at what I was doing and his whole being lit up in delight. ‘Oh! You’re drafting!’

The guy’s an engineer. And there I was basically trying to engineer a bodice. omgsoexciting!!!!1!!!!1!!

He gave it a quick look over my shoulder, noting the mess of the back shoulder. I explained ‘It just doesn’t look right and I’m not sure why.’

‘Did you check your measurements?’ He said eagerly.

‘Not yet, that was my next step.’

Sure enough, the original measurement was wrongly interpreted and once correct it looked much more like a proper back bodice shoulder.

The amusing thing was telling my mother, and later, my best friend. Their reactions were both rather bristly and defensive on my behalf. The word patronising may have been muttered.

Laughingly, I reminded them that, hey, come on, he’s never once patronised me in his life and, being an engineer, had been so excited to see me doing something so engineery when it came to sewing, which he knows I love so much. And he could not only share in it, but, oh how exciting! he might even be able to help me with this sewing I adore!

It’s an engineer thang. An often quite childlike delight and enthusiasm in engineery-things. Of course, mum and my friend immediately got it – mum’s family’s positively bristling with engineery types, and my best friend herself has an engineering degree. Their Feministic Principals were soothed.

Next I did a skirt block. It was obviously close enough to a good fit to be worth starting with ‘fashion’ fabric. Like with the bodice, years of experience of working with patterns meant that I could see what was likely to work and what wasn’t. A big head start, I suspect, in learning pattern drafting.

So I cut it out in a purple polkadot, ultimately aiming for a purple version of this:

Rockabilly Skirt but in purple

Mouthwateringly awesome huh? I’m dying to go swishing round Darwin in that lovely floofy hemline!

But … my weight changed and when I had time to finally sew up the polkadot fabric 6 weeks later it didn’t fit. At all. So unhappy! So frustrated! I want a pretty purple polkadot floofy-hemmed skirt!

On the bright side it was obvious that without that weight change the skirt block would have worked beautifully. Wow. A basic skirt block is definitely something with a very high return for energy in.

My drafting enthusiasm is now in a sad and sorry heap. Stupid weight changes! It’s too too depressing to have put all that effort into learning to draft the basic blocks, only to have them rendered unusable within a couple of months. And frustratingly my weight is still changing. It’s actually health thang. The PTSD affects my weight like crazy, and most of it’s not even really within my control. I think it’s made worse because my weight changes very evenly over my body, including across my shoulders and hips, which are the two points that are most important in fitting.

My mother observed a few weeks ago that all my adult life my weight’s fluctuated. DUH! She’s right!

Perhaps I need to embrace this, making things that are either a) stretchy b) easily adjustable (like wrap-around things) or c) have 10 different wardrobes I can switch between.

Adapting to fluctuating weight – brainstorming

  • I’m sewing a swirl dress, which is basically a very cool vintage-based back-wrap dress. (Only the hem to go now!) It’s got a good couple of inches adjustment inheret in it. It would make a great top with a little peplum too.
  • I could expand on the swirl dress concept.
  • I’m not a great fan of knit, (it’s hot) and I find it hard to get hold of good knits in natural fibres anyway.
  • Stretch-sateen cotton trousers – these seem to fit well through a range of sizes. Stretch-sateen is a lot easier to find these days than it used to be, so it may be a realistic fabric to build a wardrobe on.
  • Would stretch-sateen cotton also work over a range of skirt sizes? And if so where can I find it with purple polkadots?!
  • I’ve just cut out some wrap-around trousers in a light linen-cotton. I hope I like them.
  • Aa number of other trousers styles are adjustable on a day to day level, I could investigate those.
  • I hate wrap skirts, but there are other options like using an opening as part of a pleat.
  • I am not a fan of elastic but it may be ok if used judiciously (how???) in waistbands?
  • Making clothes so the girth is easily adjusted: eg attaching skirt front to bodice front, skirt back to bodice back, then sewing the sides up in one seam which is easier to adjust.
  • Floofy loose dresses are perfect for the climate I live in and for accommodating any weight changes. And fun to sew and wear 🙂
  • I could try belting things, though it gets hot round my waist, but I’d probably get used to it.

As for where that leaves me with the pattern drafting, I really need to think about it more.

8 Responses to “Dabbling in pattern drafting, and adapting to weight changes”

  1. Anne W November 25, 2014 at 9:34 pm #

    Great job on the drafting, double checking measurements really does help, but I can help you with the front of that block. If you are “all up front” just following the instructions isn’t going to make a well fitted bodice block. My weight fluctuates a lot too, I have 3 different blocks… Put your measurements at the time in a box on the block, with the date & size you drafted. Then when you want to make something, check your current measurements against the block & use the one that’s nearest where you are.
    And yes, pattern drafting (and sewing) is much more engineering that you expect! I have 2 engineers in my classes at the moment, both have thanked their stars for their backgrounds & said they’ve used more of their engineering knowledge since starting drafting & sewing than in their jobs. Makes you think, hu?


    • Tropical Threads November 25, 2014 at 10:10 pm #

      Yeah double-checking is important, for sure 😀 The saying ‘measure twice, cut once’ certainly applies here.

      I think I know what I need to do to the front to get it to fit. An FBA! Even though I used my own measurements, it obviously wasn’t really creating the needed c/d cup. I tried to compensate as I went, (like instead of using half the girth measurement for each block, I measured front half and back half separately and used those.

      I like your idea of different block sizes, thanks for the suggestion. I could soon have a good collection!
      And if I then also apply the other ideas to make my clothes more adjustable to what I draft with the blocks that would take it a step further.
      Makes me feel like it’s worth trying again, which makes me feel happier, I think I’ll really love pattern drafting once I learn well enough.

      You said you can help? I gather you teach drafting? What would you suggest for the front bodice? I’m wondering if using a different drafting process might help.

      Also, I’ve been wondering this … I’ve got some well-fitting basic patterns, (Well ones that I can adjust girth on, but the overall proportions are right) like a shift pattern, plain bodice, and plain trousers. What, if anything, is there to stop me using those as the basic ‘blocks’ or converting them somehow to a basic block?
      Any ideas there?

      lol re the engineers in your class. Perhaps I should suggest to my partner he learns to draft me up some patterns 😀


      • Anne W December 3, 2014 at 5:20 pm #

        HI, so sorry I haven’t replied, the internet has been pretty useless here lately. I’ll put some stuff together for you over the weekend.


      • Tropical Threads December 3, 2014 at 7:56 pm #

        Hi Anne,

        Totally understand about useless internet! I’m looking forward to reading what you’ve put together when you’re able to post it 🙂

        On Wed, Dec 3, 2014 at 5:20 PM, Tropical Threads wrote:



  2. Juliana @ Urban SImplicity November 26, 2014 at 10:45 pm #

    Good for you for tackling drafting! It is hard work; I’ve only dabbled a little–a collar here, a kimono sleeve or a facing there, a neckline change or whathaveyou, but even that is time consuming!

    As for the weight–I hear ya sista. I have a GI condition that means my measurements fluctuate about 2 inches all the time, no rhyme or reason to it. I’m sure my high stress doesn’t help, as my weight now tends to congregate around my middle (which is not where I have historically held my weight–I’m pretty pear shaped and tend to carry on the hips and thighs). But I digress. I’ve found with skirts that it helps to have an elastic back waist (with a non-stretch woven like twill) encased in the waistband. I start with a larger waist band (in part because I”m rubbish at fitting, and in part because my hip-waist ratio is pretty big and I’m tricky to fit in the waist as a result) and then tack in some elastic to bring it in and then sew it under. I’ve made two twill skirts that pretty much fit no matter what as a result (I just can’t always wear a belt with them) Wrap skirts are nice that way too, but I don’t love the flapping in the wind problem that comes with them. I do have some nice knit dresses from eshakti that are great for those days when nothing else fits properly.

    It is hard. I don’t have a perfect solution, but plenty of empathy.


    • Tropical Threads November 27, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

      I’ve dabbled a bit here and there too in a similar manner. Hell yeah about time-consuming! People who can draft seem to think it makes their life easier, not harder, so maybe once I have the basic blocks sorted, I’ll find creating different styles with it more rewarding than trying to make one style into another? I’ll definitely report back on that one!

      Argh weight! 2 inches is a LOT of fluctuation. Mine’s that level over months but I’m still so frustrated that something I sew and love one day won’t fit a couple of months or sometimes even weeks later.

      Ok, so the elastic waistband, I’m wondering, do you have an opening and a fastener, like a zip or buttons AS WELL as the elastic? I’ve got a big hip-waist ratio too (er if that means small waist, big hips? I can never work it out!) so I need a big waist opening to get the garment over my hips.

      Thanks for the other info too. It’s gonna help! So does empathy 🙂


  3. Fashionista November 27, 2014 at 7:41 am #

    I laughed at your engineer’s excitement, they are so funny. My engineer has metal rulers (1m and 30cm) among his tools and they are the most useful addition to the sewing room.

    Wrap dresses are your friend with weight fluctuations. It is a bit of a dither to get the adjustments right for wovens, but don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t make a wrap dress out of a woven. I use Vogue V8379 but there are loads of patterns out there. Of course the ultimate wrap dress fabric is silk jersey but I think DVF has bags on all the silk jersey in the world 😉


    • Tropical Threads November 27, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

      Oooh they do sound like good additions to your sewing room!

      My engineer’s recently decided he’s going to sew himself a camo-kilt.

      ‘You’ll be able to show me how to make it on the sewing machine, won’t you?’

      Well… at least when I tell him he has to practise until he can sew a straight line, he’ll practise until he’s got it so perfect the stitching doesn’t deviate more than .00001mm from straight 😀

      I did try a wrap dress but realised after buying, it was a maternity wrap dress and um, it makes me pregnant when I’m not, actually 😀 So thanks for the encouragement to try again. That vogue looks really rather lovely!

      My main issue with them is they tend to be very revealing, but someone pointed out they need FBAs as much as any other style of dress, when you’re my cup-size, so that might make a big difference.

      Silk jersey? You’re telling me I ought to try silk jersey, wrench it from DVF? Ok if you insist!


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