17. Dear Gabby: Making a Bodice Sloper — Help!

Dear Gabby,

How do I make a bodice block? Do I even need to? What’s a sloper? Do I need that?!

Sincerely, Slopeless in Seattle

Dear Slopeless,

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:

  1. My personalized hints and tips, and…
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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:

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!

How to submit:

Email gabby@starislandxo.com.

Send an explanation of your problem with a short video or set of photos, and your contact information. Your submission will be edited into a blog post, so please note that by sending an email, you are granting permission for your video/photos and sewing problem to be shared online. You are helping the community see all-bodied individuals! There is no shame or judgment — the end goal is to help you *make* clothing that feels great and that helps you *feel* the same way while wearing it.

See more here.

xo gabby

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.