Sunday, 14 February 2021

Lockdown shopping

I've come across a few articles recently about people increasingly buying things online just to alleviate the boredom of lockdown. Popular items appear to include clothes, and fitness equipment. Obviously I don't need to buy clothes, and I have no intention of acquiring fitness equipment, but that hasn't stopped me from doing some lockdown shopping of my own.

Mystery parcel - it's about 92cm/36" long

A bit more of a clue

Here it is!

This is 'dot and cross' paper, used for drafting patterns. The dots and crosses enable you to keep the horizontal and vertical lines exactly at right angles, which is vital when you are drafting the basic pattern shapes known as blocks.

Basic bodice block, from 'Metric Pattern Cutting'

I made a basic bodice block on a course years ago, but really need to redraft it as I have changed shape since then. Metric Pattern Cutting by Winifred Aldrich was the book recommended on the course. Once you have your basic bodice, sleeve and skirt blocks, you can manipulate them to create patterns for different styles.

From 1975, but still in print today

The dots and crosses on the paper are spaced one inch apart, so not ideal for drafting a pattern to metric measurements. However, this isn't really a problem for me. Given both my dress sense and my love of second-hand bookshops, it should surprise precisely no-one to know that most of my pattern-drafting books pre-date the move from inches to centimetres!

This is one of the oldest ones. It has a very basic bodice block, with only a single dart.

Edited by Catherine Franks

Back and front pieces are separate

There is no date in it, but the styles are very much from the period of the 1930s before hemlines started to rise - I'm guessing 1936-7.

Very 1930s dress

Very, very 1930s cape-sleeve detail

The next book doesn't have a date either, but I have seen it listed online as 1948, which seems about right.

Written by Lynn Hillson

There are no darts at all in the basic bodice block, but plenty of options for how to add them.

Back and front drawn almost as one

Different dart options

My collection then skips a decade, the next book I have was published in 1961.

A second volume was published in 1964

The bodice block is more complex than its predecessors.

More darts and shaping

In keeping with the book's title, there are lots of different options given for altering the basic block.

A few of the variations available

I have long wanted to draft the bodice block from each of these books, using the same measurements for each one, and see how they compare. Sadly, having the proper drafting paper won't magically give me more hours in which to do this, but it should make the job easier when I do finally find the time to try it.


  1. Found your blog via American Duchess; I think I'd like to try a bodice block myself and the books cited, if I can find them, look to be helpful. I've been sewing since Home Ec classes in grade school and advice from Mom, but have only ever used commercial patterns. Now that I'm a super senior and historical clothing has been a long time interest, figuring out how to do a pattern has been a challenge. One day perhaps a trip to a Burnley & Trowbridge class...

    1. Thanks for commenting! The thing I would say about pattern drafting is that it looks scary, but if you just follow the steps logically, it's quite straightforward. If you've been sewing for some time you're at an advantage already, because you know what shapes basic pattern pieces should be.

      My older books are all from UK publishers, so might not be widely available, but I have seen copies for sale online. Patternmaking for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph-Armstrong might be easier to get in the US. It's a textbook for college courses, and is very much geared towards modern clothing styles, but has a lot of detail.

      From what I've read about them, Burnley and Trowbridge classes sound wonderful!

  2. These are my favourite books, especially The Pictorial Guide .. I love the curious photographs and straightforward diagrams - and the thorough and creative narrative! Basically all you need to know about dressmaking, nearly a century on. Great post as ever!

    1. Thank you! They are great books, aren't they - the Google of their time for dressmaking!