So now that you have your 0-ease Moulage Block, let’s talk about what you can use it for.
- Designing your own patterns: You will still need Flat Pattern Design books for instruction on how to turn your 2D body map into different styles of Blocks (TNT/tried & trued master patterns/templates) & individual derivative designs. If you’re not very ambitious, you might be able to get away with just basic pattern-making knowledge like pivoting darts & making sure your seam lines matches.
- Checking the fit of commercial patterns: You may still need some pattern-making knowledge to know how to compare your Blocks to the patterns.
- Help making a custom dress form: Unlike Duct-Tape or Paper-Tape Doubles, your cling film + clear tape wrap will not produce a warp that’s stable enough to use as a dress form. But you may be able to make a custom dress form with the help of your Moulage Blocks.
For 1 & 2, depending on the fabric you’re going to use or the type of garment you’re making, you may have to create derivative Blocks first before you can create your own designs or check the fit of commercial patterns:
- For most garments in non-stretch woven fabrics, you will have to add at least some wearing ease to create your Basic Blocks, then design or check the fit using your Basic Blocks.
- For corsets, or garments in stretch woven or stretch knits, you may be able to use the skin-tight 0-ease Moulage Blocks directly.
- Note that your Moulage Block probably cannot be used to derive well-fitting Dartless Stretch Fabric Blocks. This is because the wrap flattening process adds darts. If you’re not perfectionist about fit (or you’re quite flat all over!), you can try taping the darts/seams close, squash the bumps like breasts, shoulder blades, hips, tummies, then trace the outlines. But because stretch fabrics have limits to their stretch & physics also dictates how they’ll naturally stretch, you may still get wrinkles & draglines. So proceed at your own risk!
You will need to add breathing & wearing ease to get your standard Basic Block / Sloper for woven fabrics. There are different ways to add ease.
I used the method taught by Simmin Sethna and her disciples Kenneth King (“Moulage” CD book – what I used) & Suzy Furrer (“Patternmaking Basics: The Bodice Sloper” Craftsy Class) … because that’s how I made my current Moulage Block. It’s a more involved method with different amounts added at strategic places, so may not be suitable for those looking for a quick/easy solution. If you’re interested, you can read about…
- My Basic Block – what ease I added where: I turned my Basic Block fitting muslin/toile into a wearable garment, so scroll down to see the chart of the ease I added.
- Liana of Sew Intriguing on how she added wearing ease: She also added ease strategically at specific places.
A different & simpler approach is to grade up one size as suggested by Kathleen of Fashion Incubator.
For those of you who’ve been “grading” commercial patterns by transitioning from one size to another – eg size 10 top to size 12 bottom, this obviously won’t work as you don’t have pre-printed sizes to work from. (I’m not even sure this is a correct usage of the word “grading” as all the professional books seem to refer grading as deriving new/different sizes from a base size – exact what we need to do here.)
I haven’t bothered to learn grading as I have no ambition of designing patterns for sale. But there seems to be one easy method that’s used in the home sewing industry: the Cut & Spread Method. If you have Fit for Real People (fitting book), Palmer & Alto explained it in Chapter 5, p28. If you don’t have that book, try this “Quick Reference for Cut-and-Spread Pattern Grading” article in Threads magazine.
I have not tested this method, so don’t know how well the result will work & whether there are any pitfalls. But another advantage I can see, apart from this being easier to understand, is that once you learn this slash & spread grading method, you can try it on commercial patterns as well, as suggested by Palmer & Alto. So you’ll have a solution to patterns that isn’t available in your size!
But for best fit, obviously you start with your new Moulage Block & grade up one size. Don’t forget to test your Basic Block to see if the ease you added is enough for you to breathe, move, & feel comfortable in. (You can use the same instruction as for testing the Mouage Block.)
Again, at this point, don’t start making design changes like lowering the neckline or moving the darts. Your Basic Block is another fundamental building block & not a final garment design. Once you have your TNT Basic Block, you can start deriving other styles of Block/TNT Patterns by introducing design elements – eg moving the darts, converting into different types of princess seam, grading up again for a Jacket Block & a Coat Block, adding extra ease for a loose-fitting garment like a tunic.
Let’s start with those of you too impatient to put in the effort to learn properly, shall we? 😉
If you’re not willing to put much effort in…
But you are willing to limit your design ambition & not be too fussy about a perfect fit, you can probably get away with just the basic pattern-making knowledge that you find free online. You may have to stick to a fitted bodice with simple variations in skirt silhouette – which still gives you a lot a of variations. Some examples of principles you need to learn:
- Changing the location of darts: Megan Nielson has a simple tutorial on this.
- Converting darts into princess seams: Craftsy has a tutorial on armhole princess seam. But you can also apply the same principle to create shoulder princess seams & other decorative seaming – like princess seams on skirts.
- Converting darts into gathers/tucks: Again Craftsy has a tutorial.
- Dealing with gaps when lowering neckline, scooping out armholes, etc.: Fabrickated has a blog post on how she used her Contour Guide Pattern to correct this type of gaps. In your case you’d use your Moulage as your personalised Contour Guide Pattern.
- For dresses, you can change the skirt to create different silhouettes: eg from your Basic Block pencil skirt to a simple full-/half-/quarter-circle skirt, or extend straight-lines from side seams for simple A-line skirts. You can vary the location of the waistline – eg raising it up to under-bust or dropping it to high-hip.
- Whatever you do, check that matching seam lines are the same lengths – unless you’re easing or have pleats/gathers.
- Standard pattern-making tells you to aim for right angles (90°) at corners like side-seam & hem junction. But when you’re working with non-standard bodies, this can sometimes be hard to stick to. So I’d say just do this wherever possible & where it’s not, test with a muslin/toile before cutting into your good fabric!
- Stick to simple finishing for seams, hems, neckline, & armholes so you don’t have to worry about patterns for these.
- For lining you can try using the same pattern pieces as your main one, but the result may not be perfect. Or simply omit linings.
- Use instruction of similar commercial patterns as guide for extra pattern pieces you may need & for construction order.
And for the really fearless novice, Moldes e Dicas Moda, a website in Portuguese, has lots of inspiration & instruction for using Basic Blocks to create fashionable garment patterns. I have not tried any myself, so can’t say whether the instructions & results are any good. They get pinned a lot on Pinterest, great for browsing through designs that they provide instructions for. Use Chrome to view their site so the pages will automatically be translated by Google Translate.
Now those of you wanting to do it properly…
I do recommend getting at least one Flat Pattern-making/design book to help you learn the basic principles & increase your creative freedom.Which you choose will depend on how you learn & what you hope to achieve. Different books have different teaching styles (eg principles explained vs step-by-step instructions) & varies in the number of design details they cover.
So it’s best to flip through a few & see which speaks to you – especially as these specialised books are not cheap. This is of course easier when you live close to a big fashion capital like New York, Los Angeles, London, etc. where there are specialised bookshops and/or big bookshops with fashion design section. Unfortunately Amazon doesn’t offer the “Look Inside” feature for most of the flat pattern design books they carry. If you’re lucky your local library may also have one or two.
FYI, these are the books I currently have that cover designs for non-stretch woven fabrics. They were chosen to cover a range of approaches. So they are not necessarily the best books. And no, I still haven’t patiently studied them close enough. Shame on me.
- Pattern Cutting (by Lo): This covers principles & is by far the most fashion forward of the bunch, with illustrations that aren’t dated yet & explanations shedding light on why a designer garment might fit differently than a similar high street garment. While it does cover some design details, it’s not comprehensive since Lo is trying to teach you principles & expects you to be able to figure out other variations yourself. The book does also cover drafting slopers from scratch, but of course these won’t be as personalised as your spanking new Moulage & Basic Blocks!
- Fundamentals of Garment Design (by Bunka Fashion College): This is part of a series of textbooks for the leading Japanese fashion college. I only got this first one which covers basic principles. The rest of the series cover specific types of garments like skirts & pants, blouses & dresses, jackets & vests, coats & capes. I didn’t get the rest because (a) I’ve moved on from the looser fitting Japanese styles, (b) they may cover duplicate info, & (c) they are expensive! This one I got only because it covers info not available elsewhere, like how anatomy affects fit, how us East Asian bodies differ from the Western garment design standards. I got mine at Kinokuniya, a chain of Japanese bookstores that have branches outside Japan.
- How Patterns Work (by Assembil Books): This also covers principles, but the style is very abstract – eg “increase volume around a point”, “Volume increase with darts”, frequently illustrated with close up drawings of a detail rather than a whole pattern piece, so can be hard to understand. While it probably pays to study closely, it’s a bit too much mental effort for me.
- Pattermaking Made Easy (by Crawford): I got this based on Fashion Incubator’s review. This covers both principles & step-by-step instructions. It takes the industry approach of creating blocks for different silhouettes, then deriving variations from these blocks with design details. The styles it cover aren’t comprehensive, but enough to get you started & hopefully confident enough to experiment on your own.
- Designing Apparel Through The Flat Pattern (by Kopp/Rolfo/Zelin/Gross): This is like a big recipe book. While there are a few pages covering basic principles, they’re not in-depth. But there are like gazillion step-by-step design detail instructions, all derived from Basic Blocks. Granted a lot of the styles & illustrations seem a bit dated, but this may be perfect for vintage fashion lovers.
- Kenneth King CD books (Moulage, Necklines & Draping, Basic Sleeve, Trouser Draft, Skirts, there are others that I didn’t get): I have these because it’s how I created my current Moulage & Basic Blocks. So the instructions work with the Blocks I have. It’s mostly step-by-step with some principles explained along the way.
- Waisted Efforts (by Dolye): This specialise in historical corset patterns. It’s written for theatrical costume designers & uses the Moulage (“French Block”) as the starting point.
Keep in mind a lot of these books work with industry standard body shapes. So sometimes it will be hard to follow the instruction if your body shape differs from this standard. I don’t have a neat answer for how to deal with that. There’s just a lot of experimentation. Sometimes fit alteration books can be helpful.
One thing for sure, it’s not easy creating good quality patterns, especially when you start getting creative with the designs. There’s a lot of add-ons you have to think about, eg:
- facing, interfacing & lining patterns that you may need, how they differ from the main patterns, how they affect the amount of ease you may need – I always forget this bit & end up with garments that are slightly tighter than expected
- seam & hem options & how that affect seam/hem allowance & construction order
- how to construct the garment!
Trying to create my own patterns has certainly made me more appreciative of professional pattern-makers, & a bit more understanding when mistakes happen in commercial patterns. Very few people are perfect. As consumers of cheap fashion – even when you’re making the “cheap fashion” – we take a lot for granted.
Examples of patterns derived from my Blocks:
(Sorry, the older makes don’t have diagrams comparing the patterns to the Blocks.)
I’ll ‘fess up that I haven’t cracked this nut yet. The dilemma when you have personal Blocks is do you:
- Alter commercial patterns to match your personal Blocks OR
- Start with your own Blocks & copy their design lines, using their pattern sheets & instructions as a guide to what pieces you’d need to create with your personal Blocks & how to construct the garment.
So far I’ve done mostly B…if there is a simple enough design I want to sew. I’ve done A occasionally, but there’s a lot of guesswork. And as mentioned before, you will need to understand some basics of pattern-making to be able to do either, because the pattern’s design may have darts, shaping seams, pleats/gatherings, & design seams in places different from your Moulage & Basic Block. So you may need to pivot your Moulage/Basic Block darts into the same locations to be able to compare.
As we’re all in the same boats, here are some references I’ve found so far:
- The Merits of a Basic Fitting Pattern (by Howland): an article on Threads Magazine website that covers the basic of moving darts, then comparing your Blocks to the commercial pattern.
- De-mystifying Fit (by Maynard): a CD book on using the Moulage/Basic/Jacket Blocks (created using Kenneth King’s method) to adjust commercial patterns. There’s a chapter on the process & principles, then 9 case studies showing step-by-step examples of adjustments to specific patterns on ladies of various sizes & shapes.
- Fit for Real People (by Palmer & Alto) + Pattern Company Fitting Shells: Although this is a fitting book, Chapter 9 “Making A Body Map” (p74-88) suggests adjusting pattern companies’ fitting shell patterns to find out how your body differs from the standard & what adjustments you may need to consider when working with patterns from those same companies. So in our case, we’d buy one of these fitting shells, working off copies we’d adjust the fitting shell using standard alteration techniques to make the fitting shells look like our Basic Block. The steps we took to achieve this would be our list of potential adjustments we need to make to fashion patterns – eg full-bust adjustment, sloping shoulder, etc.
Unfortunately not all pattern companies offer fitting shell pattern any more (eg Simplicity, Burda, New Look). And even when they do, it’s not entirely clear if they actually use their fitting shells as their design Blocks. But the book mentions that the big pattern companies (Vogue, McCall, Butterick, Simplicity, Burda) all use fairly standarised sizing. So once you figure out how you differ from one company’s fitting shell pattern, the same changes will probably apply when using the other companies’ patterns. If you use independent pattern companies’ patterns, then good luck! Maybe see if they offer a very basic dress design that’s similar to the Basic Block & use that as the fitting shell pattern.
I have the Vogue Fitting Shell & McCall Fitting Shell. Vogue’s instruction include some basics on adjusting fashion patterns with simple design features. McCall’s is meant to work the FFRP way, so no specific instruction on adjusting fashion patterns. Butterick offers separate fitting shells for Misses sizing & Women sizing (larger, more fully-fashioned mature adult female figure), but I’d go with the sizing that your fashion patterns come in. Otherwise you may figure out how to alter a Women’s size 16W, but not know how to alter a pattern that doesn’t come in 16W. Someone mentioned on Pattern Review that Butterick one includes a semi-fitted shell as well, so you can compare the fitted shell (Basic Block) with the semi-fitted one to understand how Butterick add design ease for semi-fitted styles.
Please note these fitting shell pattern comes in one size per envelope. So it can be tricky figuring out which size to buy, especially if you’re not a B-cup. FFRP advise using the high-bust/chest measurement as if it were your full bust measurement when selecting a size, and if you’re between sizes, to go with the smaller size (unless the pattern is a “close-fitting” design). Base on these two advice I would be a size 8 for these “fitted” fitting shells (high-bust 32″ used as bust measurement is between size 8 bust of 31.5″ & size 10 bust of 32.5″). And indeed size 8 D-cup came closest to my Basic Block’s bust dart shaping. These fitting shell do come with different cup sizing, but you need to keep in mind that fashion patterns will generally be designed with B-cup. So when you alter fashion patterns you may need to do Full/Small Bust Adjustments if your Basic Block is closer to the other cup sizes in this fitting shell.
Now, when it comes to origami designs like those OOP Donna Karan Vogue Patterns, well, good luck! I don’t think our Blocks will be of much help, unless you can at least figure out where the bust, waist, & hip lines are on the fashion pattern!
Examples of Blocks used to adjust Commercial Patterns:
Although your cling film + clear tape wrap won’t be sturdy enough to use as a dress form, you can use your Moulage to make a cover you put over a smaller dress form & pad out to duplicate your shape. Supposedly this is how the haute couture houses create custom dress forms for their regular clients. Suzanne Stern, who worked in the Parisian haute couture houses, demonstrated the process in “Padding a Dress Form” in Threads magazine (subscription needed to read the article; it’s also on Threads Archive DVD, issues 44, 45, 48). I used my Kenneth King Moulage this way to create a cover for my padded & pinnable paper-tape dress form.
The main differences between this method & what you might normally do are:
- Sturdy non-stretch fabric used for the cover. You don’t want the padding/stuffing to stretch your cover out of shape. That would defeat the purpose.
- Smoother, tearable batting (eg upholstery padding) + fusible interfacing are used instead of just cushion/toy stuffing to pad the form. This avoid lumpiness that again distort your cover’s shape.
- Padding is not done haphazardly after you put the cover on. Instead you’d visually approximate the shape of your body with the padding, check key measurements as you go along, use the fusible interfacing to keep padding in place, and only use the cover to squash the thing into precisely the shape you are.
It’s more work, but might be less likely to distort your cover’s shape. If you’ve stuffed a Duct-Tape Double before you’d know that even with such a precise wrap, it’s possible to distort the shape during stuffing, eg by turning an oval circumference into a circlar one. The fabric cover simply won’t stop you doing this sort of distortion. While you’ll still get a better fitting form than uncustomised dress forms, it may cause some fitting problems & unintended “design features” later on!
However you do it – haphazardly or precisely – keep in mind that:
- The base dress form needs to be smaller than all of your widths & circumferences: eg neck, shoulders, high-bust, bust, under-bust, waist, high hip, hip, under bum.
- If your proportion lengthwise is significantly different from the dress form: You need to check the circumferences at the right height. Eg if your waist is lower than the dress form’s, you need to check the dress form at where your waist would be, not the dress form’s own waist.
- If you decide not to use a ready-made dress form as the base: Make sure you choose a stand that can support the weight of your stuffed form. My first stuffed Duct-Tape Double broke its leg because it was too heavy for its leg! You can try lightening the load by using hollow boxes – eg shoe boxes – around the stand & pad around these boxes. You’ll have less to pad & the resulting form would weigh less. This is what I sort of did with my current Paper-Tape Dress Form.
- Check the widths & depths at key circumferences if you can: This is to make sure you haven’t turned your ovals into circles! Do this visually at least – eg does the bust line look too deep front-to-back & too narrow side-to-side. Or if you want to be more precise you can try using a couple of L-shaped rulers to box you in at these key circumferences & find the depths & widths. Do the same with the you padded form & make sure the depths & widths match.
And that’s all folks! Hope this is helpful. Again, keep in mind I’m no expert & these are just my own observations & hypothesis.
Have fun using your Moulage & Basic Blocks, whatever you end up using them for!