How do I make a bodice block? Do I even need to? What’s a sloper? Do I need that?!
Sincerely, Slopeless in Seattle
First off, let’s talk about the difference between a sloper and a block. A sloper is a basic pattern that matches your body measurements and shaping exactly, with no ease, made in woven muslin. Whereas, a block is a pattern that has been created from the sloper, with basic style elements and ease built in for fabrication. For example, I would use my bodice sloper to create a basic knit tee shirt block, or basic woven button down block. (You can then use your blocks as actual building blocks — if they fit you, you can interchange details and styling as you choose!)
So why create a sloper in the first place? Slopers are massively helpful if you create your own patterns often. They’re also a great learning exercise to get familiar with taking your measurements, transferring shapes to paper, and understanding pattern-making concepts like trueing, walking seam lines, and rotating darts. It can also be a great tool to get to know your own shapes (armholes, shoulder slopes, darts) and how to maximize that knowledge for other sewing projects. You may also want to create slopers for others if you sew for the same person often — partner, kids, relatives or friends.
Then, why create blocks? Maybe you’ve made the perfect pattern hack to a Wiksten shift, and everything about it fits you perfectly — minimal draglines, length is great, sleeve length and opening proportion is on point! You’d want to take your hacked pattern, memorialize it in block form, and then you can use that to create endless shift iterations with no drama. You’ve already perfected the big money items, so you can trust that your creations will all come from an excellent starting point.
So now — you definitely want to make a sloper? You’re sure? I ask because…
Making a sloper from measurements can be very time-consuming and complicated, depending on your patternmaking background. I repeat: please don’t go into this process thinking it’s a delightful 5 minute walk in the park. Assess your need for this exercise before you begin. Additionally, you may wish to take an in-person class. Your local fabric store will be able to provide resources for classes, or you can reach out to local colleges with fashion design programs — they may offer non-credit classes, or you may find a kindly professor willing to do a 1-on-1. See also: Bluprint, Threads Magazine, Workroom Social, Burda, etc. These magazines and sites have some awesome resources.
Still want to?! Ok cool! I’ve put together two things for you:
- My personalized hints and tips, and…
- A list of online resources and patternmaking books you can take a look at, if you do want to try it out at home.
Dear Gabby’s Hints and Tips:
- There will be unexplained measurements (ex., ‘draw a line 3/8″ below the first line, and mark the end “Point A” ‘). I don’t know about you, but unexplained measurements and alphabetized marking points take me a hot second to process in my head. Whenever you can, you may want to mark those points additionally with what they are: armhole depth, bust point, center front waist, etc. This will help you later on when you’re looking at the whole thing, in case you have to step away, or if you just need more coffee and are getting a bit turned around.
- Take accurate measurements, and re-check them as you work, if you’re working over a long time period. Don’t know how to measure yourself? Don’t worry, I gotcha covered. Remember, slopers should have no ease — you’ll want to fit a woven muslin sloper around the end of the day, when you’re at your largest (water weight, lunches, snacks, etc.) This will ensure that blocks or patterns you make for yourself based on the sloper will definitely fit, and you can always take it in if needed. If you’re making a knit sloper, do the opposite! Fit it in the morning, when you’re at your smallest, and then you’ll always be able to depend on the stretch of the goods to fit. (Obviously this depends on your fabric, so use your best judgement. A ponte won’t have the same stretch as a 4-way jersey, so you may want to handle a ponte more like a woven.)
- Most sloper guides are written for sample size women. Do not be scared away! It’s better to follow your instincts, and your measurements, and make something that really fits you well, than to try to do exactly as the book says, and come out with something that doesn’t work. If you need bigger darts, so be it! If you need narrow shoulders and a round back, build it in! Is your front bodice piece bigger in width than your back? No problem — don’t bother just dividing your total bust circumference in half, you might as well split it correctly in the first place, from your imagined side seam to imagined side seam. “Non-standard” is verbiage that has no place in custom sewing. You do you, boo 😘
Dear Gabby’s Recommended Resources:
Your local fabric store or colleges with fashion design programs — classes are my number one recommendation for sloper making! In-person coaching is SO valuable.
I’ve gone through a bunch of free online resources, and these are a few I think are clear and easy to understand:
- Christopher Sartorial Drafting a Fitted Bodice Sloper
- In the Folds How to Draft a Bodice Block
- Opensourcestitches Men’s Shirt Block (this one is similar to/based on these Burda tutorials — they are very good, but very dense)
I really like the Christopher Sartorial videos. He’s a fellow ready-to-wear industry professional, understands bodies and shapes, and has a gift for making things easy to understand. Slopers can be needlessly complicated — once you understand the way a body is shaped and its reference points, it’s easy to build whatever base pattern you need. The trick is taking the time to learn your body, and how to translate that onto to paper.
Here are a few tried-n-true resources for paid online classes:
You can’t go wrong with these. They can get a bit spendy, but if you’re willing to put in the investment and time, are worth it.
Here are a few books, if you’re library/purchasing inclined:
- Metric Pattern Cutting for Women’s Wear by Winnifred Aldrich (there are also versions for men’s and kids as well)
- Pattern Design: Fundamentals: Construction and Pattern Making for Fashion Design (Volume 1) by Jennifer Lynne Matthew-Fairbanks
- Draping: Techniques for Beginners by Francesca Sterlacci
These obviously cover more topics than just slopers, but once you start getting the hang of flat patterning, you can branch out in lots of different directions, and these books are great reference sources.
AND! I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that it is also possible to drape your own sloper. This is called creating a moulage. The word moulage means casting or molding in French, and in this case, it refers to draping on a body or fit form. If you want to do this (frankly, it’s my favorite method!) make sure that the dress form you are using matches your measurements. I have a custom form that matches my body, but you can also use a form that has been padded out to match your measurements, or a form that’s relatively close to you, as long as you are aware of the major differences between your body and the form. Zoe Hong has a great video on how to do this here!
For more on blocks and block libraries: see me here!
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Gabby is a technical fashion designer, fit specialist, and prolific googler. She lives in Denver, raises tiny littles, reads, embroiders, makes, experiments, fails, learns, tries again. See her on instagram @ladygrift.
YES!!! Ok, so I knew this post was coming being I work here and all, but I’m so excited this is up! And I totally forgot about Zoe Hong. Draping isn’t my natural state, but I do love watching her videos. That’s such a good add.
Another reason to maybe at least take a basic sloper class or maybe some pattern making 101 which I thought about after we talked about this post: Remember when we had that Sewing Dilemma post about the wishlist of things/marks that were on patterns for sewists? Many people have read some basic alteration books, and have seen things like, “add in height at the bust line” – then they’re left wondering where the “bust line” is – or worse, bust measurements in patterns are often Bust Line (looking at you in particular big 4) but they don’t state where that is…. It’s not High Bust. 99% of the time, it’s at the bottom of the armscye, at the seamline – but how would anyone know that without a mark or a basic knowledge of pattern making?
Little things like that add up when adjusting fit, which is partially why we all sew, right? RTW has failed us and we want to get a customized fit.
So, yeah, totally a very, very time consuming thing to add to one’s repertoire… but maybe the knowledge is worth it, even if one doesn’t intend to always apply it to pattern making.
Totally agreed, it does make it much easier to understand patterns and adjustments even if you weren’t going to use the block beyond that.
I took a two-week class last year (I had a lot of vacation to use up) and ended up with bodice and pants/skirt slopers (fitted through iterations) as well as a bit of drafting technique and a few patterns developed from my slopers. It was really good, with excellent and experienced teachers there to talk me through things I would have agonised or procrastinated over at home, even if the theory would have been as easy to follow from a book or video. They had a knack for seeing a toile and knowing there was a reasonable chance the tiny drag lines on the thighs there, or the arm, or whatever, would disappear in the garment fabric, and it just made me want to go back in time and keep studying fashion. It also made me slightly wary of sewing community overfitting, and the value of learning from centuries and decades of professionals doing these things before me.
Since then, mostly due to being busy, the most useful thing has been putting my slopers on top of patterns before cutting them to spot any huge issues in fit or uneven ease. I really need to do the whole thing of adjusting them to my current size though – we were advised to keep our sloper toiles so that we could check fit before drafting in future.
Hi Gabby – I’ve made a couple of slopers (using the Aldrich book, which I love) but I really struggle with the next part – using them to adapt commercial patterns to fit me. I’d love some advice on how to do this better.
So, the money parts of your slopers will be your shoulder slope, necklines, and rises. What I would do, as mentioned above, is place the slopers on top of (printed pdf) patterns, or underneath (tissue paper), so you can see the biggest differences between the shapes. You’ll also be able to choose sizes better, because you’ll be able to see the wearing ease on the pattern compared to your sloper. It’s going to be mainly those three areas that you’ll be able to quickly analyze using your slopers. You’ll get more use with your slopers through the body portion if you’re comparing to knits, simply due to the lesser amount of ease/negative ease needed (for widths).
You can also use the slopers to see where your vertical reference points are – your bust, waist, and hip levels, and then you can adjust the commercial pattern as needed based on any differences. It’s helpful to think of the sloper as a body blueprint- you can then build a garment around that, but the sloper is the basic bones of the thing.
Hope this helps, and thanks for reading 🙂
Thanks Gabby. I’ll give this a go 🙂
[…] will definitely be worth making your own bodice and bottom slopers, so you can easily adjust existing patterns, and experiment with your muslins to get them to fit […]