Week 1: Drafting the Basic Blocks

pattern pictureFrom Practical Home Dressmaking Illustrated by Lynn Hillson

Welcome to the first Tutorial of Pattern Month!!

Firstly, you will find it useful to know the four stages of Pattern development:

1. The Basic Block. This is the Basic Pattern that is used as a basis for all adaptations. The Block Pattern is traced on to pattern paper to produce the Working Pattern.

2. The Toile, Sloper or Mock Up, which will inform the fit of the Basic Blocks more accurately. Adaptations to the Basic Block are made as a result and the Basic Blocks now will not change. Toiles can be made at any stage to check the Patterning process.

3. The Working Pattern is used to cut and adapt the Basic Block to achieve the Fianl Pattern and is your design in pattern form for the first time! Adapting the Basic Block, which is not very design lead!, to a design this pattern is so called because after a toile is  made changes will still need made to the Working Pattern until you are happy with scale, fit, finishings, pocket placement, dart/pleat/gather placement and all manner of small details. When happy the Working Pattern will then become…

4. The Final Pattern. The final, working and ready to be made up Working Pattern traced off with all markings, notches and notes on construction ironed out.

This week we shall be concerning ourselves with drafting the Basic Blocks. These are the Bodice Block, the Skirt Block and the Sleeve Block. Drafting the Blocks is the start of creating patterns to fit the individual figure, however difficult, for any style, past or present with flat pattern cutting. From these three Blocks any number of Final Patterns can be created from the humble A-Line Skirt to the most extravagant imaginings.

Firstly it is important to take accurate measurements. The Basic Blocks are to be made up to your measurements so it is imperative that accurate measurements be taken so that they fit as accurately as possible, with minimal changes needing to be made in the later stages of creating your Working Pattern.

I will take the Bust, Waist and Hip measurements,  Nape to Waist, Back Width and Chest measurements then check which size these most closely resemble in the Standard Body Measurements Chart below. You will also need your Waist to Hip, Armhole Depth, Neck Width, Shoulder and Dart measurements which you will find on the chart. I have found that taking these smaller measurements from the Chart greatly increases the accuracy of the pattern and saves time!

It is not easy to measure oneself however; if no partner can be found use a mirror to ensure the tape measure is placed as correctly as possible. I have a few hints and tips on measuring oneself accurately here.

And so, without further ado, and making sure we have a nice cuppa sitting next to us, it is time to draft the Basic Bodice Block. For this I have used Winifred again, of Metric Pattern Cutting fame. All one needs to do is follow her instructions- listed to the left- without hesitation or deviation.

A few notes:

  • 1cm = 5/8th of an Inch
  • It is extremely important to maintain precision in all details. A few millimetres out could mean the whole is several sizes too small or too large by the end of the drafting process.
  • ‘Square Up/Down’ or ‘Square Accross’ means draw down or accross at a 90 Degree angle. Try to make this angle as accurate as possible using a set square or Patternmaster. If none is at hand a piece of card can do the trick nicely!
  • Mark all Waistlines, Bust Lines and Hip Lines as illustrated.

Click to enlarge the images and print if necessary, I find it helpful to tick off each point as I go or I can get terribly confused about half way through.

PATTERN CUTTING Standard Body MeasurementsThe Standard Body Measurements Chart, with illustration showing where each measurement should be placed.

PATTERN CUTTING Basic Bodice BlockThe Basic Bodice Block, with space to note down your measurements from the measurements needed.


The Sleeve and Tailored Skirt Blocks. Click for an enlargement and to print. All Block Patterns are taken from Metric Pattern Cutting by Winifred Aldrich.

Remember to comment below with any thoughts, queries or struggles and triumphs… Good luck, brave pattern makers!

Happy patterning!

29 thoughts on “Week 1: Drafting the Basic Blocks

  1. I am laughing and giggling with myself. It took me 2 years to learn and understand the extra large bust dart. Last year I had a mastectomy and now I must start over to learn the opposite direction. When the chest wall is totally flat and the rib cage is prominent, like a small child, do you leave the dart off of your pattern draft?

    1. I think I would still draft with the dart in place, but move it to under the arm… you may still need some shaping there… then I’d make up a toile and see what it looks like! Everyone’s different so the best thing to do it start from scratch, then use the toile to draft a new block and go forwards from there! I can understand why you’re giggling though 🙂 well done on grasping it though, and sticking with it now!!

  2. Hi! you are missing a page on the bodice instructions. The one where you finish the pattern with the waist darts and the hip/waist curves. Can you upload that one please??? Thanks!

  3. Hello, thanks for the great tutorial!

    I’ve just drafted the bodice block and sleeve block to the size 10 measurements. I’ve been very precise but the curves on the sleeve armhole block are 2cm longer than the bodice armhole curves. Is this right or have I gone really wrong somewhere?

    Thanks x

    1. No, that sounds about right! You have to ease the sleeve in to the Bodice Block around the curve when you make it up. Alternatively, you can make the curve of the Sleeve Head slightly shallower to accommodate however; I would make up a sample first as it helps to have a little room to move when fitting the sleeve and you will probably find that the 2cm helps you. Well done too, I’d love to see your Toile when you have one!! Any more questions don’t hesitate to ask xxx xxx

  4. Phew! That’s such great news and thanks for replying so quickly! I was dreading starting this project but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be!

    I’m going to transfer it now to new paper so that I can keep the original and then I’ll make up the toile!

    I’ll send you a pic when I have it ready..thank you! x

    1. You can go ahead and cut it in to two however; I normally keep it as one piece and trace it off so that the Basic Block isn’t touched. This means that it can be re-used again and again and acts like a reset button! When you have traced it off you can definitely cut it in two as you will need to make it in to a Working Pattern, add Seam Allowance etc etc. Let me see pictures of what you make, and good luck!! xxx

  5. Hello,

    What a fantastic and clearly detailed resource your pattern drafting tutorial is. I did an evening class 10 years ago in pattern cutting and haven’t done much with it since. Reading your tutorial has brought it all back in my quest to start drafting again. Perhaps I have missed it, do you have instructions for a basic trouser block too?


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