The Dressmaker’s Library: Patternmaking, Sewing and Draping Books

I’ve successfully completed underlining and cutting the fashion fabric for The Dirndl Dress this past week. Yesterday, I completed pinning, basting and stiching all the darts. In my next posting I’ll detail how the French Darts were constructed and the consideration needed to successfully work with them since they are placed on the bias of the fabric.

Dressmaking that incorporates retro styling and sewing works out much better when you have a library of reference books that include older and even vintage editions of sewing guides. I will share in this posting some of my own resources.

“Perfect Fit Patternmaking”, the text used in the French Fashion Academy.

I use the text from the French Fashion Academy’s courses I took during the period 1979-1983. The system was developed during the 1950s when the Academy’s founder, Mr. Klamar, worked at such fashion houses as Dior. The text is a treasure trove of 1950s fashion elements such as short kimono sleeves with gussets, princess seamed kimono sleeves and others that you may not always find in modern patternmaking books because of their complex drafting and time consuming sewing requirements.

The system itself is very involved in that more complex patterns are created from more basic patterns. So to draft a certain style of sleeve or dress, one first has to draft the basic sleeve or bodice. When the pattern is drafted style ease has to be added into the basic measurements. This requires consideration and some level of experience with fitting.

Yet the resulting garments fit so well that they are worth the time spent in the drafting. This is not an easy or quick method and no slopers are used. Still after spending six months using Helen Joseph Armstrong’s technique I still prefer the precise fit obtained from using the French Fashion technique.

For example, in some kimono sleeves or blouse sleeves Joseph shifts the dart intake into the sleeve area. This can result in a bubble appearing near the armhole and bust when the garment is made up and worn. The French Fashion technique has a way to eliminate a side dart on the unfitted bodice that prevents such a bubble from appearing on an unfitted, kimono sleeved dress or bodice.

To be fair to both patternmaking systems I’ll say Armstrong’s approach is well suited to manufacturing while the French Fashion Academy’s patternmaking system is perfect for custom dressmakers creating outfits for individual clients.

“Draping for Fashion Design” by Hilde Jaffe and Nurie Relis. The newer edition contains more material and better illustrations.

For all draping I refer to “Draping for Fashion Design” by Hilde Jaffe and Nurie Relis. The text is very dry and not as detailed as that in “Draping for Fashion Design” by Helen Joseph Armstrong. Still, the technique is easy to follow and the illustrations in the newer edition are very clear. A plus is that the newer edition has some very nice examples of the styles that can be created from the draping process. They can be used to make smart, classic outfits for yourself. I do plan on using one for a blouse I want to make.

My all around go-to book on sewing, “The Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing”.

One book I highly recommend as a must-have book is the earlier, 1980 edition of “The Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing”. The diagrams and descriptions are very well laid out. Here you’ll find a wide variety of construction techniques for many types of collars, cuffs, waistbands and so on. there are even some late 1970s influenced home décor and crafts projects as well. The section on fitting and alterations also goes into great detail. This book was recommended to me when I studied at The French Fashion Academy. I’ve read that the layout of more recent editions is not that good so take the time to locate a used, older copy.

“Precision Draping”

“Precision Draping” is a very good guidebook to understanding how draping was done in the 1940s. I do not use this technique because of the difficulty I had working off the instructions. First, the draping is done in tissue paper because at the time the system was developed America was experiencing rationing during World War II. Also, the draping is done on the right hand side of the dress form. All pattern drafts resulting from the drape are also on the right side. What I found hard to do was work in confidence with tissue paper that has no grain lines or apex points marked off the way it is done in the technique developed by Jaffe and Relis.

This still does not diminish the value of the book for anyone wanting to make vintage influenced styles. There are plenty of ideas for bodices and skirts that can be used with whatever flat patternmaking system or draping technique you prefer. There are also some very nice pattern transformations given for princess line dresses and suits that can be adapted to provide a classic 1940s influenced style for yourself.

Note: 1. These books were all purchased by me for my personal use. None of the books in my library have been provided by a publisher in exchange for a review or mention at my blog.

2. The French Fashion Academy is no longer open.


4 thoughts on “The Dressmaker’s Library: Patternmaking, Sewing and Draping Books

  1. Hello,
    I studied under Simmin Sethna in San Francisco years ago who taught the French method. I’m very curious about your text “Perfect Fit Patternmaking”, and wonder if you have an idea about where I might find a copy?
    Thank you.


    • Hi Patrick. I have not been able to locate copies of this book online. I still have mine and am presenting the technique here at the blog. All the pattern diagrams I offer are based on the method I learned. There are also some diagrams right from the book I have which is quickly aging and becoming brittle. I hope you stick around, there will be more to come.


  2. I think this is the book I borrowed from our local library about 23 years ago. I have been looking for it everywhere. Is it possible for you to post the publication page at all?


  3. * The ‘Perfect Fit Patternmaking’ book – should have specified that! I’d be happy to pay for a scanned copy of this book – do you think that is possible? Is it out of copyright by now?


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