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All About Pattern Drafting

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

Have you ever thought of drafting your own patterns, but didn’t know where to start? Or thought that you couldn’t do it because you’re not a math whiz? Or conversely, maybe you love sewing but commercial patterns stress you out, with all those confusing lines, and notations, not to mention things like full-bust adjustments! This article is for you!

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Drafting boning channels with my trusty Patternmaster

While commercial patterns can be a wonderful thing, there is nothing like the control and creativity that goes into creating your own custom patterns. Perhaps you are like I was a few years ago: you want to sew, and you love the idea of custom fit clothing, but having to make all those adjustments to commercial patterns stresses you out. Maybe you would rather make your own custom patterns from scratch, but you just have no idea where to begin. So let’s get into all of that!

Why Draft Your Own Patterns?

self drafted 1890's corset victorian corset mock up sewing
A self-drafted 1890's corset mock-up


Well fitting clothes is an amazing aspect of garment sewing, and what draws many people to this craft. Like I already said, if you loathe the idea of making all those adjustments to ready-made patterns, and it fits your personality more to make a pattern for your own body from scratch and go from there, pattern drafting is a wonderful solution! And it’s not as hard as you may think it is.

drafting corset making self drafted historical sewing eighteenth century outlander
A self drafted 18th century jacket

The most difficult part of pattern drafting is making your own bodice block. We’ll get into that a bit later. But once you have your bodice block, you save it, and that’s how you make all your own designs, by tracing that off and then making whatever style adjustments you want. And in one sense it can save time: rather than having to make myriad fit adjustments every time you are using a new commercial pattern, if you are using your own self-drafted pattern, you know that it’s going to fit you. If you are trying a new design, you will still have to make a mock-up, but the adjustments will usually be minor.

Saves Money

Drafting your own patterns can save you a lot of money. Rather than having to buy a new pattern for every garment you make, along with the fabric and notions, you can draft it out yourself, or use a pattern you’ve already drafted from your collection.

Endless Creativity

drafting corset making self drafted historical sewing eighteenth century
Self-drafted 18th century dressing gown

Sometimes you will want to make something that you thought up out of your own head, and maybe there are no patterns for it! If you can draw a sketch of it, chances are you can draft it out yourself. Once you have the tools, a good drafting book, and some basic know-how, your garment sewing possibilities are endless! More on that below.

drafting corset making self drafted historical sewing eighteenth century
Original concept sketch for the above dressing gown

Types of Pattern Drafting

“Bodice Block” System

This is a system where you take all your body measurements, draft out your own custom bodice block, and then going forward, you simply trace it off and make whatever style adjustments you want to make. The is really the base for all pattern drafting.

bodice block corset pattern self drafted stays and corsets mandy barrington
Drafting the above 1890's corset pattern using my bodice block

Pattern Book Grading

A second type of pattern “drafting” is one which many of you historical sewers may already be familiar with, and that is manually grading up preexisting historical patterns. I am using the word “Drafting” loosely here, but it is still a form of drafting, and especially when you consider all the adjustments one usually has to make to get these patterns to fit, a lot of drafting knowledge comes into play with these types of patterns.

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Manually grading up the pattern for my 18th century jacket

Personally, I prefer the first type of drafting to this, but when it comes to corset patterns or very specific historical styles, this type of drafting can be very helpful to get the exact shapes right. One can even use a hybrid of these first two methods- where you use your personal pattern block, but look at a historical pattern as a reference for what shapes you need to plot to your measurements.

Corset Drafting

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The self drafted pattern for my Victorian corset

The third type of pattern drafting is something I’ve just become introduced to, and it really is simply an extension of the bodice block method, and that is drafting corset patterns to your own measurements, with a book like this one called “Stays and Corsets” by Mandy Barrington. You begin with a bodice block in this method, which this book gives instructions on drafting, and then there is a chart for each corset style giving you the widths of each panel depending on your bust, waist, and hip measurements.

“Sure Fit Designs” System

Sure Fit Designs website

This is something I discovered a few years ago, when I was debating how to create my own patterns. I think it is a great system, which essentially creates the same end result as the bodice block system, but with much less leg work on your part. You pay for this system which comes with books and instructions and templates. You take your measurements, following their directions, and then use their template as a connect the dots to create your own bodice block. From there, they provide instructions for how to adapt this block to other styles, or you could use a drafting book for these instructions (more on good books in a moment).

If this sounds interesting to you, Sure Fit Designs has a huge collection of free videos on Youtube demonstrating this, as well as giving fit alteration instructions.

Tools and Supplies You Will Need

When embarking on your pattern drafting journey, there are some tools that will make everything go much more smoothly for you.

Drafting Paper

drafting corset making self drafted historical sewing
The drafting paper I use

The main thing you need is paper that is wide and long enough to fit your patterns on without needing to tape. I use medical exam paper, which is inexpensive, available on Amazon, and doubles as tracing paper. I also use a brown roll of craft paper, which is sturdier and helpful for patterns that you plan on using again and again.

Sharp Pencils

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Mechanical pencils are my favourite for drafting my patterns

You will also need sharp pencils. I love mechanical pencils because they don’t require sharpening and the line is always very precise.


drafting corset making self drafted historical sewing pattern master
The Pattern Master in action

The main two rulers I recommend are a “Pattern Master” (available on Amazon in metric or imperial), and a yard stick. The yard stick is self explanatory, you need it to draft out long measurements and keep them straight. The pattern master combines many functions in one: It is clear, and it has many lines on it so you can easily add seam allowances to a pattern. It also has a 90 and 45 degree angle, and even a french curve line on it. An optional ruler is a separate french curve ruler, or a hip curve ruler.

Good Drafting Books

Books have been invaluable to me on my pattern drafting journey.

Metric Pattern Cutting for Women’s Wear” by Winifred Aldrich

metric pattern cutting winifred aldrich
My favourite drafting book

This is the book that taught me how to draft. It is written in a dry textbook style, but when it comes to something so black and white as drafting, the textbook style is invaluable, taking the guesswork out. It instructs you how to take your own measurements, how to draft many different types of pattern blocks (close-fitting, loose-fitting, outer-garment, lingeries, jeans, etc). It is then filled with instructions on how to take these blocks and adapt them into any type of garment you want, even bras.

“Make Your Own Dress Patterns” by Adele Margolis.

Make your own dress patterns adele margolis
Another drafting book I use

This book is an entirely different format from “Metric Pattern Cutting”, so they complement each other well. It is written in a more casual format, and every page is loaded with drawings of different styles you can create and how to do so with a bodice block.

Get Out and Start Drafting!

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Me and my latest creation - a DIY dress form to my measurements

I hope this article has given you the necessary confidence to start your pattern drafting journey, or at least planted the seed that it is not as difficult as you thought it might be. Leave any questions and comments below!

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