Make Your Own Dress Patterns

Make Your Own Dress Patterns

by Adele P. Margolis


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"Anyone who can work through the labyrinthian directions for sewing that accompany the commercial pattern can surely learn the comparatively simple and clear rules for pattern making," says nationally acclaimed sewing expert Adele Margolis. Her profusely illustrated primer allows you to create your own fashionable patterns and personalized commercial patterns. You'll learn how to design and execute everything from skirts, dresses, and blouses to sportswear, jackets, and children's clothing. You'll also find tips for: shaping fabric to your figure; mastering the art of flares, flounces, pleats, and tucks; creating fashionable necklines, pretty pockets, stylish sleeves, and much more.
Simple step-by-step directions and more than 1,000 illustrations show how to successfully complete apparel for work, home, and play that reflects your personal style and taste.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486452548
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 10/06/2006
Pages: 480
Product dimensions: 6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

Make Your Own Dress Patterns

A Primer in Patternmaking for Those Who Like to Sew

By Adele P. Margolis, Judy Skoogfors

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1985 Adele P. Margolis
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-13231-0


Geometric Gems


The simplest patterns to make are for clothes designed merely to cover, not to conform to the wearer's contours. Such designs were in times past and are still a favored way of dressing. Patterns for them are derived from geometric shapes.

For a nonconforming body covering, ease of construction and ease of fit are more important considerations than individualized shaping. While the wearer lends a degree of dash and animation to the garment, its handsomeness depends largely on the beauty and character of the fabric of which it is made. Individualization of such a one-size-fits-all garment is more a matter of style than of the relationship of its lines to the lines of the figure—how one drapes it, wraps it, winds it, belts it, trims it, accessorizes it.

All one really needs to know to make the pattern for such clothes is the length and width and which geometric shape to use.


There are rectangles, squares, circles, semicircles, and triangles with which to work.

Cut as long and as wide as you wish, a rectangle becomes a fashionable stole (Fig. 1a). Cut wide enough and long enough for controlled fullness (gathers, pleats, smocking, shirring, and the like), the rectangle can serve as a skirt (Fig. 1b), a collar and cuffs (Fig. 1c and 1d), a trimming (Fig. le), and so on.

Fold a rectangle in half, slash an opening in front, and fling one end over your shoulder (Fig. 2a). Carve out sleeves and behold! a caftan (Fig. 2b). For a slip-on shape, simply cut out a neckline (Fig. 2c). (Make a neckline large enough to slip over the head but not so large as to slip off the shoulders. If necessary to piece the fabric, plan a center seam.)

With a hole to slip over your head, a square becomes a capelet (Figs. 3a and 3b). Or slash an opening from one corner of the square for an unusual shoulder drape to a cape (Fig. 3c).

A circle with (Fig. 4a) or without (Fig. 4b) a front opening can also become a cape. Or a collar (Fig. 4c) or cuffs (Fig. 4d). With a placket and a waistband, it could be a skirt (Fig. 4e).

A semicircle (Fig. 5a) or triangle (Fig. 5b) of either single or double thickness, trimmed or untrimmed, makes an elegant shawl.


Before making the pattern, see Chapter 3, "It's a Pattern!"

1. Determine the size and shape of the garment (or part of it).

2. Use a length of pattern paper of sufficient length and width. (Tissue, shelf, or wrapping paper will do.) Piece the paper where necessary.

3. Sketch in the desired shape of the pattern.

4. True the lines with an appropriate drafting tool: ruler, yardstick, triangle, French curve, compass, or any circular shape of appropriate size (in a pinch, a bowl or plate works well).

5. Fold the pattern in half lengthwise and/or crosswise to even out both sides of a balanced design.

6. Add seam allowances where necessary. Indicate the grain of the fabric with a double-headed arrow.

7. Test the pattern in some trial material to perfect it for size, shape, fullness.


To make patterns for clothes designed to conform to the figure, one must know length, width, and figure (rather than geometric) shape. Such garments and those with more intricate styling than that offered by a simple geometric shape are developed by drafting or draping. Draping is a highly personal, slow, often costly method of producing patterns. Flat-pattern drafting is a simple, standard, fast, comparatively inexpensive method. Therefore, the latter is (understandably) more widely used today than draping. (Directions for draping will be found in Chapter 15.)

Flat patterns start with and are variations of a "block" pattern—a geometric shape again. (The block pattern is also called a sloper or basic pattern.)

Accustomed as they were to dealing with rectangular lengths of cloth, those inventive souls who devised the flat-pattern system saw the rectangle as a logical starting point. By measuring a certain amount down, up, or over, within the rectangle, they found it possible to construct a "block" pattern for a bodice, a skirt, sleeves, slacks, and the like. This was, in fact, the method used (still used by many) for producing style patterns as well as slopers.

Great as it is, a pattern is flat while you are not and thereby hangs a tale.


An Art to a Dart

The body has height, width, and depth. Within this roughly cylindrical framework there are a series of secondary curves and bulges, each with its high point, or apex—more in a woman, less in a man, and differently placed in a child. These concern the patternmaker for the pattern must provide enough length and width of fabric to cover the high points (where the body is fullest, the measurements largest, and the fabric requirements greatest) while at the same time providing some means of controlling the excess material in a smaller adjoining area. Dart control is the means by which this is accomplished.

Wherever on the body there is a difference between two adjoining measurements (bust or chest and waist, hips and waist, lower shoulder blades and waist, upper shoulder blades and shoulders) or wherever movement creates a bulge (as at the elbow), you will find that some form of shaping by dart control is necessary.

Dart control is the basic structure of all fitted and semifitted clothing whatever the design. The rules for dart control apply equally to children's, boys', and men's clothing as well as to girls' and women's. The needs of a woman's figure are most marked, so the principles of dart control can be more clearly demonstrated by it. There is this too: there are more variations in design in women's clothing than in men's. Therefore, the illustrations in this book are largely limited to women's clothing.


This is how dart control works. Say your hips measure 37 inches and your waist measures 27 inches. The garment must fit at both waist and hips despite their difference in measurement. That 10-inch differential comes out in dart control.

The greater the difference, the larger the amount of control. The smaller the difference, the smaller the amount of control. It is not whether a figure is short or tall, heavy or slim, which determines that amount. It is always the relationship between the two adjoining measurements.


However heavy, slim, short, or tall, columnar figures need less shaping because there is less difference between adjoining measurements (Fig. 6a).


However heavy, slim, short, or tall, hourglass figures need more shaping because there is more difference between adjoining measurements (Fig. 6b).


There is this, too: the larger the amount of stitched dart control, the larger the resulting bulge. The smaller the amount of stitched dart control, the smaller the resulting bulge. This means that the shaping will be greater in those areas of the body that have the greatest need. Gentler shaping is reserved for those areas where the needs are less.

All of this vital information—the amount and the placement of the dart control—is contained in the basic pieces of a sloper (Fig. 7). (See page 204 for children's sloper. For boys' and men's slopers, use simple basic patterns.)

Note that the total amount of dart control is divided three ways—front, back, and side. In the bodice, since the bust needs the most shaping, the largest amount of control is placed in front. In the skirt (or pants), since the buttocks require the most shaping, the largest amount of control is placed in back. If you place the front and back bodices and skirts side by side so that the center fronts and center backs are parallel to each other, you can readily see the dart control on the side seams (Fig. 8).


The fascinating thing about dart control is that while the amount of control remains constant (established by standard or personal measurements), it may be shifted or divided so that it appears anywhere on bodice, skirt, or sleeve. There is only one rule: the dart control must originate at an outside seam and end up at or pass over the crest (apex) of a figure curve. It's as if the high point of the curve were the pivot of a pinwheel from which the control can be swung in any direction (Fig. 9).


The simplest and most usual form in which dart control appears is in darts. Material is stitched to take in an amount needed to fit the smaller dimension. As it tapers off the high point (the dart point), it releases enough material to fit the larger dimension.

A different position for a dart means a new design for a garment. The shaping is in no way altered by the position of the control. It doesn't make any difference whether the darts come from the center, sides, top, or bottom. Exactly the same shaping results though it does alter the shape of the pattern piece.

In many designs, the simple waistline dart is used in the same position and in the same amount as in the sloper. It is elementary but effective shaping (Fig. 10).

You may not get any superior shaping by shifting the dart to another position but you will get some welcome variety. Wouldn't it be dreary to have the same old waistline dart in all one's clothes?

Shifting the dart control to a new position is the first and easiest way to design by darts.


Some of these tools are already in your sewing equipment. A few special ones can be purchased at an art store, a dressmaker's or tailor's supply store, or a well-equipped notions counter of a general store or from a mail-order house. The latter often advertise in the pattern books. These are by no means all the tools which a pattern drafter uses but will be quite sufficient for those who don't make their living at it.

For doing the exercises in
For developing full-scale patterns
this book with quarter-scale

Blank paper tough enough for the
construction construction and final patterns; shelf paper
paper for the (join pieces for width) or wrapping paper,
patterns and a both good and easily obtainable; tissue
notebook of paper, less bulky for a final pattern but
white, unlined more of a problem in pattern construction;
paper for the pattern paper.

Soft paper
Unbleached muslin or cotton for testing the
napkins for pattern; use the same degree of firmness as
testing fullness intended for the design; test fullness and
or drapery, drapery in voile or other soft fabric. Use
designs for knit styles.
tricot or other inexpensive knit fabric to test

Scissors—sharp and reserved exclusively for cutting paper.

Scotch tape

Several pencils of medium-soft lead sharpened to fine points; a colored pencil.

An eraser (it is possible to make mistakes).

A gauge for determining seam allowances, facings, and other small measurements.

A small ruler.

A 12-inch ruler; a yardstick; an L-square or a T-square.

Curved ruler.

French curves #16, #17, and any other suitable for your design.

A 45-degree triangle for determining the grain of the fabric.

A tracing wheel with sharp prongs for use on paper (as opposed to the blunt-pronged tracing wheel used for marking fabric with dressmaker's tracing paper).

Scale models.

A full-scale sloper (basic pattern).

For your convenience in working with the quarter-scale patterns in this book, trace the 45degree triangle and the French curve shown in Fig. 11. Cut them out of stiff paper or cardboard.

Should you be unable to secure the French curves #16 and #17, use the neck-andarmhole guide provided in Fig. 12.


The sloper is a basic pattern cut to standard size from a table of standard body measurements. It contains all the necessary information about the shaping, contour seams, and ease that will make the sloper fit a particular size. It has no fullness, design details, or seam allowances. It is used as the basis for creating new designs.

In the clothing industry, the sloper is drafted in accord with a set of body measurements developed by manufacturers, distributors, and users in cooperation with the National Bureau of Standards and issued by the Department of Commerce. While this does establish a uniform criteria, the use of the standard is voluntary.

Many manufacturers gain their reputations on particular cut and fit for what they consider a "standard" size. They may arrive at this judgment via personnel, experience, or sales.

Americans are great name-brand buyers. If the cut and fit of So-and-So's size 10 are great for you, that's the brand you'll buy whether the sizing conforms to the standard or not.


Each of the major pattern companies makes a basic pattern. You may find them listed in the pattern catalogues by various names—foundation pattern, master pattern, try-on pattern, shell pattern, basic-fitting pattern, etc. Each pattern was drafted to a set of body measurements approved by the Measurement Standard Committee of the Pattern Industry.

While all pattern companies have accepted these body measurements as a base, they vary in the amounts of ease added. This makes for slight differences in basic patterns of the same size.

If a basic pattern is not available, buy from your favorite pattern company a simple fitted dress pattern with plain round neck, straight skirt, and long, straight, set-in sleeves. For slacks, buy a simple, straight-legged, fitted slacks pattern. These will serve the same purpose. See also Chapter 7, "A Set of Slopers."


Use the commercial basic pattern for the creation of new designs in standard sizes. Any alterations to make the pattern fit an individual figure can be made after the new design has been developed. (This is the same procedure as if you had bought the pattern instead of creating it.)


Many home sewers prefer to create their designs from an individual basic pattern made to their measurements and fitted to their figures. This type of basic pattern has built into it all the many little departures from the standard that say "You." Designs developed from a personalized basic pattern need no further alterations.


Simply because it is a more practical way to do the exercises in this book we will use the quarter-scale models in Fig. 13. Trace and cut out the necessary five pieces: bodice front, bodice back, skirt front, skirt back, and sleeve. Use heavy paper, oaktag, or lightweight cardboard. These slopers are going to get a lot of use; they are the basis of all new designs.

Even when you feel confident enough to produce full-scale patterns, you will find it convenient to develop the new patterns to scale. After all the problems have been solved in miniature, it is easy enough to transfer the information to life size.

All dimensions given throughout this book are for full-scale patterns. You will have to quarter them for your quarter-scale patterns.


The French underarm dart is a favorite for understandable reasons. The direction of the dart line suggests the lift one associates with a high youthful figure (Fig. 14).

1. Trace the bodice-front sloper.

2. Cut out the tracing and the dart. (You may want to make a batch of these cut-out bodices to keep handy for the following exercises.)

3. Locate the position of the new dart on the side seam. This may be a point anywhere up from the waistline 2 inches to 2½ inches. Any dart above this becomes an underarm dart. Mark the point A.

4. Using a ruler, draw a line from point A to the dart point (Fig. 14a). This is the new dart line.

5. Slash the dart line to the dart point. Start the slashing at the side seam.

6. Close the original dart and fasten it with Scotch tape. Notice that the waistline dart control is shifted to the new position (Fig. 14b). It automatically contains the right amount of dart control.


Excerpted from Make Your Own Dress Patterns by Adele P. Margolis, Judy Skoogfors. Copyright © 1985 Adele P. Margolis. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Bibliographical Note,
Copyright Page,
Chapter 1 - Geometric Gems,
Chapter 2 - An Art to a Dart,
Chapter 3 - It's a Pattern!,
Chapter 4 - Divided Darts, Added Interest,
Chapter 5 - Control Is What It Seams,
Chapter 6 - The Fullness Thereof,
Chapter 7 - A Set of Slopers,
Chapter 8 - Notable Necklines,
Chapter 9 - Easy Access,
Chapter 10 - The Pocket Picture,
Chapter 11 - Collar Capers,
Chapter 12 - The Set-in Sleeve Scene,
Chapter 13 - Sleeves in One with the Bodice,
Chapter 14 - Sleeve Finishes,
Chapter 15 - Remnants,

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