Draping: The art of patternmaking with fabric

Draping in action

As part of the 1930s Sew-along with Norma I’m going to use draping to create a pattern for a simple 1930 dress and shrug.  The outfit is based on a 1930 Butterick pattern featured in the book “Paris Frocks at Home.”  You can see scans of the outfit in this posting.

The draping technique is very different from what I learned at school.  This will also be the first time in over 15 years that I’m relying exclusively on draping to create the entire pattern.  Three years ago I renewed myself with basic draping techniques when I draped the bodice for the Dirndl Dress.  I’m so excited by the big challenge that lies ahead for recreating the Butterick pattern using an authentic technique from the 1930s.

Norma had wanted to know more about draping.  I also needed to see some YouTube tutorials just to get back into the flow.  So here are two different teachers sharing their techniques with us.  There are as many ways to drape as their are to draft so you will see many differences between bodices and dart placement, dart sizes and so forth.

The tutorial by Tutor Couture shows a technique that is very close to the one I learned in French Fashion Academy.  I think this video gives a good example except that the front bodice looks like it’s pulling a little bit at the side panel.  It should be absolutely smooth.  Since she’s working with a larger size dress form with very straight shoulders there is no neck or shoulder dart.  A smaller dress form with shoulders that slope a little will end up with excess fabric needing shaping into a dart.  Still, I like the simplicity and clarity this video offers as an introduction.

Sten Martin’s tutorials are more freehand in that he does not draw any grainlines or guidelines.  I do not recommend starting out like this unless you have many years of experience.  The value I find in his tutotials is that they motivate you to get started and give a good idea as to how the fabric is manipulated.

I hope this answers questions about what draping is all about.  It’s basically an exicting way to create patterns and experience the behaviors of different fabrics.  To get started, though, I highly recommend the Tutor Couture method first.  When you have more experience and awareness with grain lines then you can try Sten’s approach.

Tutor Couture

Tutor Couture: How to Drape on the Stand, Taster of Lesson 1

Draping tutorials by Sten Martin

1. How to drape a basic pattern, ladies’ front – by bespoke tailor Sten Martin

2. How to drape a basic pattern, ladies’ back – by bespoke tailor Sten Martin

RetroGlam Tutorial:  How to create a dirndl skirt in your size plus sample pattern in Misses Size 4

Using the technique in this tutorial will result in the correct amount of gathers for your own size and body shape.

Part 1: The Dirndl Skirt: Flat Patternmaking using the Basic Skirt Pattern

Part 2: Dirndl Skirt Pattern Diagram for Misses Size 4

Draping the Dirndl Dress


Back bodice drape for the dirndl dress.  Note the corrections needed  The shoulder dart didn’t look good for a sleeveless bodice so the fullness was shifted to a neckline dart.


Front drape of the Dirndl Dress bodice with French darts.  The corrections for the dart are marked in purple on the muslin.


Completed drape of the Dirndl Dress.  The skirt portion was created from a basic sheath flat pattern.  I provide a link to the tutorial plus a pattern for size 4.  You can use the technique for any size.





6 thoughts on “Draping: The art of patternmaking with fabric

  1. Interesting tutorials. I think the idea of leaving ease in the draped pattern in the 1920s/30s was a good one. Watching these videos made me more certain about that. Also, it’s a lot easier than I imagined.

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    • Yes, they are definitely too tight. We always had to add a “pinch” at the side panels of bodice and skirt at the waist and sometimes the hip. That was about 1/8 to 1/4″.

      Another thing they do not show correctly is that you do not mark the sleeve right where the armplate is. That would put the seam right under your arm! It has to be lowered one inch and then measured out 1/4″ so there is room for the arm to move.

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