Drafting Patterns

Custom Pattern Drafting and My Version of the Six Napoleon Dress

Mariana of Sew2Pro challenged her fellow bloggers to draft this dress:


I learned about this project from Kate of fabrickated.  Several other sewers from all parts of the world are giving it a go. I don’t have a better pic of the dress but check out Marianna’s blog for better views. Some sewers saw asymmetrical lines in the bodice seaming; others didn’t. A few have drafted the skirt and everyone has a slightly different interpretation.

I’m doing just the bodice of the dress as I don’t wear big poufy skirts but Kate suggested in one of her posts that the bodice might do very well as a top. I’ll be showing you how I used my custom drafted sloper/block to arrive at a workable pattern.

Having a custom block saves hours and hours of fitting time and I think makes drafting a custom design so much easier and more accurate. I’m using the method explained by Suzy Furrer in her pattern drafting course available on Craftsy. I have no affiliation with Craftsy but you might want to investigate Suzy’s method as I’ve found it very accurate. It’s not a one day project. It might take several tries to perfect the fit but once you’ve done the work, you be able to use the master pattern for everything. I also used the moulage draft to create a custom dress form and find that invaluable when creating custom styles.

First trace your master block onto pattern paper. Never, ever cut up your master unless you want to duplicate hours and hours of work! This is my master bodice block. It’s drafted after you create the moulage pattern by lowering the neckline, underarm and adding minimum wearing ease. Other drafting systems put all the bust/waist shaping into a single dart but I find many advantages to splitting it into multiple darts. Princess lines are better defined and waist shaping is easier to manipulate.  Mine has been copied onto heavy card stock for durability.



Here is the block traced onto plain pattern paper. I’ve redrawn the armhole 1.5 cm in from the edge and redrawn the armseye. I wanted the princess line to pass the bust point 1 cm towards the side seam; shifted the bust point and waist dart 1 cm. Rather than one dart for the waist shaping I drew two darts, each half the width of the original, and positioned them where I wanted the bodice seaming. Changes are shown in red.

new armhole

The new princess seam line ends in the armhole halfway between the cross front line and the underarm line. Another style line is added close to center front. Split the pattern along the new seam lines and remove the dart bulk in the waistline darts.

seam lines

Close the waist shaping; close the bust darts; smooth the neckline, armholes and bustline. The excess fabric at the bust point, a result of moving the princess line, will be converted to ease. The final lines are shown in green.

adjusted seams

I chose to fit the pattern before deciding on the shaped hem. Muslin fabric cut and seam lines traced. My working patterns are always net, meaning no seam allowances added. I find it easier to visualize the finished shape without seam allowances. I check the fit on my custom dress form and there are usually very few alterations needed because the pattern is drafted to my shape from the start.

front toile
back toilefitting

A couple of small changes were needed at the princess seam and shoulder. I left the toile unsewn in the hip area as I wanted to tweak that area for ease of movement.

bust adjust

shoulder adjust

A small amount of ease was added over the back hip and ease removed from the front.

front adjustback flare







Notice I have lapped the seams from the right side rather than placing right sides together and stitching from the wrong side. I find this gives me more control and is easier to perfect the final result. Couture workrooms also construct toiles in the same way. Here is a photo from the latest exhibit at the Metropolitan Art exhibit: Manus x Machina where several working toiles were on display.

bust seamlapped toile seams







Finally I used style tape to test possible hemlines. Since no back photo of this design was available, you are on your own to decide what looks best. Several other bloggers have experimented with echoing the asymmetrical point in the back. I also tried this but found no way to obtain a smooth transition from front to back and ultimately opted to omit the point from the back. What looks good from the front and/or back might not work when viewed from the side.

Alexander McQueen said: “I design from the side. That way I get the worst angle of the body. You’ve got all the the lumps and bumps, the S-bend of the back, the bum. That way I get a cut and proportion and silhouette that works all the way round the body.”

So true on this design. Look at the hemline from every angle and get a smooth transition the entire way round the body.

hem view 1hem view 2
Once I’ve decided on a hemline it is marked with a water soluble pen and thread traced for a final try-on. No reason to cut and mess up hours of work before the final decision.





hem trial

Final draft ready for cutting. Front draft and back draft. This will close with an invisible zip in the center back. The first version will be made in a white cotton pique.

front patternback pattern

It will be interesting to see what my fellow bloggers create. I’m sure there will be many interpretations.

My Donna Karan jacket, described in blog post March 14, 2015, is featured in the current issue of Threads Magazine. Check it out if you want more details about Vogue 1440 and the jacket construction.

Way to go Portugal! Last weekend we spent in Bristol, RI with our Portuguese family. Bristol hosts the oldest July 4 parade and my grandson is a full fledged fan in his soccer shirt. We celebrated with a wonderful family gathering under the grape vine covered pergola at uncle Tony’s.


16 thoughts on “Custom Pattern Drafting and My Version of the Six Napoleon Dress”

  1. Thank-you so much for sharing this technique…although I do wish I had seen it yesterday before I took apart a muslin that wasn’t fitting properly to convert darts to princess seams! I’ll put together a new one and if it doesn’t work I’m coming back to your method! Cheers!

  2. I’m aiming from the other direction: I have a top that will work, and am concentrating on mimicking the skirt. I have a younger friend who is mad for this dress, it will be a fine surprise.

  3. A master class in pattern cutting Mary. Many thanks for the detailed notes and photographs. I think you nailed it. It will be pretty as a top – are you going to use a luxurious fabric? I did think of using lace with mine – just one panel on the front actually. But then I thought it would be too wedding-y. Instead I think I shall paint it.

    1. Thank you Kate and for the suggestion to make this as a separate top. I’m thinking of the options and one would be to use lace and highlight the seams with satin tape. This design would lend itself very well to hand painted panels. You always come up with such interesting variations.

  4. Thank you for lots of useful information, not just for the challenge but in general. And how pristine your muslin looks.

    As I start on my skirt, I’ll pay close attention to how it appears from the side.

  5. I agree with Kate. An absolute masterclass. Thank you for that. I’m not joining in this exercise but find it fascinating and am following along. Your tips and techniques do have relevance of course to my sewing in general and to my next up project.

    1. My drafting is not specific to this design. Once you have a master block that fits you perfectly you can create anything. I hope my methods are of some use to your future projects.

    1. Do set aside a day or two to watch the class and follow along carefully. It does take time but once you’ve gotten the master pattern done it will solve many fitting issues. I’ve used it on multiple people with vastly different shapes and it works. I needed to fit a client with full bust, round back, prominent tummy, and this method worked like a charm. Altering a commercial pattern for her would have been a nightmare!

      1. Yes, I do intend on spending some time with the course. I listened to her once through and she sounded so educated on the subject. A change in a store bought pattern, maybe once or twice is fine, but it becomes useless if there are too many changes! I’m glad you enjoyed the course too.

  6. Lovely work, Mary, as usual. Thank you so much for the McQueen quote. I’ll certainly keep that in mind. As I started reading this, I thought about Suzy’s course and how I won’t need it. I already have a master pattern block and a custom dress form. But you use both! I like that you keep your master on card stock — that’s a great tip. Keep up the wonderful posts and have fun with all your projects!

  7. Mary, could you please explain the following comment you made:
    My working patterns are always net, meaning no seam allowances added.



    1. I like to work with patterns which have no seam allowance. It is easier for me to visualize the finished shape of each piece and also easier to make alterations. I add seam allowances when I cut from fabric. The term “net” means finished size without seam allowances. Hope that makes things clear.

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