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.





At long last–Secretary Blouse & Sheath Skirt completed!

Lessons Learned From This Project

It’s been 18 months since I started this project.  Along the way I think I’ve gotten my groove back in terms of patternmaking, sewing, working with synthetics and selecting suitable fabrics.  One of the biggest achievements has been making buttonholes with my sewing machine’s 4-step buttonhole attachment.  Through trial and error I have devised a method that satisfies my needs:  after the buttonhole is made and opened, I then hand sew buttonhole stitches around the completed buttonhole.  The result is very neat with no shredding.

Another sensibility I got back is recognizing when a print fabric is suitable and when it isn’t.  For this blouse the details are better appreciated by the selection of a solid color fabric.

The blouse has a total of six dart tucks that control fullness from the waist to the hipline.  This creates a very neat look when tucked into the blouse as shown in the photos which follow.  There is still, however, quite a bit of blouse to tuck in and I’m not so sure if in future projects I will make a blouse this way again if the intention is for it to be tucked in.  As an over blouse it is very flattering to use the dart tucks.  The provide some shaping but not so much as for the blouse to restrict movement.  I have to say, though, that after making the Donna Blouse with the waist yoke I prefer to design this kind of blouse when the blouse is to be tucked into a skirt or pair of slacks.

The finished zipper is barely noticeable from a distance.  This is the fourth time I’ve sewn a zipper using a running stitch as described in Claire Schaeffer’s “Couture Sewing Techniques.”  It is less noticeable than a pick stitch and also very flexible.

What was most difficult in this project was using synthetic fibers.  The blouse, skirt and lining fabric are all some form of polyester.  The skirt is a poly gabardine, the lining and blouse a poly crepe by the name of “Whipped Cream.”  With natural fibers quite out of my budget I look at this exposure to synthetics as a valuable experience.  If I were given a choice of designing high fashion clothing in luxury fabrics for a very few wealthy women I most likely wouldn’t accept the opportunity.  My heart is with the working women who commute each day to work in offices and are contributing to their family’s upkeep.  These women need practical, simple, adaptable clothing that will not force them to choose between good food on the table or a few very expensive silk and wool dresses in the closet.  By being limited to synthetics I have some insights into what must go on when designers and patternmakers have to design for budget priced line.

Photos and Details


Original 1950s pattern illustration that inspired the outfit (View #1).


The touch of glam is added by using these earrings to complete the outfit.  They are shown against the blouse fabric.  I did not consciously go out seeking them.  They came my way when I went to the variety store to buy paper towels!


3/4 view of the blouse tucked into the sheath skirt.  To accommodate the bulk the blouse I had to include extra ease to the waist band measurement.


Another thing to consider when making a blouse that will be tucked in is to check if the buttons will bulge and create an unattractive outline below the skirt.  I was fortunate that did not happen.


The Donna Blouse with waistline yoke.  The buttons stop slightly above the point where the waistband of the skirt is.  From that point down, the blouse is closed by a hook and eye at the waist and snaps below the waist.  The waistline yoke does not create any bunchiness beneath the skirt.


The dart tucks on the Secretary Blouse create a soft curve from waistline to hip that make it very attractive as an over blouse.  If I were to make this blouse again as a tuck in blouse it would have a waistline yoke. 


Back view of skirt with kickpleat.  The four dart tucks in the back control fullness below the waist and create a nice blousy effect when the blouse is tucked in.


The zipper installed with a running stitch is durable, flexible and strong when sewing it as described in Claire Schaeffer’s “Couture Sewing Techniques.’  It also is barely noticeable.


A smaller hook and eye are used at the end of the waistband.  The larger ones are used at the point where the waistband closes because that is the area of most stress.


Here you can see the placement of the hooks.


One of my favorite parts of completing a project is sewing in the label.


Lining the sheath skirt with modesty kickpleat

The pattern for the lining is drafted the same as the skirt pattern except that the lining at the back left side of the skirt is cut 2″ – 2 1/4″ in from Center Back. The pattern is drafted without seam allowances. All seams are 1/2″ wide.

In most of these photos you are looking at the inside (wrong side) of the skirt and the right side of the lining. Where you see an “R” it means the this will be the right side of the skirt when it’s worn. “L” means the left side of the skirt when worn.

All turned in edges of skirt and lining kickpleat panels are steam pressed before pinning and basting together.


Step 1

1. Turn the skirt inside out. Pink the edges of the right side of the lining if your fabric shreds. A row of straight stitches or zig-zag stitches is good, too.

Using tailor’s chalk and a clear plastic ruler, mark 1/2″ on the wrong side of skirt back right.


Step 2

2. Turn the edge along the chalk marked line so that it folds in the direction of the Center Back line. Here you can see it chalk marked and basted in green thread. I advise doing this for purposes of matching the kickpleat panels with the lining panels. Continue reading

Sheath Skirt with Modesty Kickpleat and Zipper Hidden in Seam Pt. 3 of 3

Sewing the zipper (continued from Sheath Skirt with Modesty Kickpleat and Zipper Hidden in Seam Pt.2 of 3).


7.  Sorry about the blurry photo.  I did not realize it until after I’d uploaded to the computer.  It was too late to take another since the zipper installation was completed.  Anyway, with your hand sewing needle and a single strand of conditioned thread, sew tiny running stitches along the zipper tape.

Note:  Unlike Claire Shaeffer’s diagram, the top of the zipper is not folded under since it will be sewn into the waistline once the waistband is applied.


8.  Stitch a second line of tiny running stitches parallel to the first row of stitching.


9.   At the end of the seam knot your second row of running stitches.  Then fell stitch the outer edge of the zipper tape to the kick pleat extension.  This extra stitching secures the zipper to the fabric.


10. Place the left side of the skirt over the right along Center Back.  Use diagonal basting to hold the seams in place.  Pin and baste the left side of the zipper through both layers of fabric.  The amount to mark from the Center back to hand sewing line is the same amount as the mark on the zipper tape from Center back to the markings on zipper tape that act as a stitching guide.

Continue reading

Sheath Skirt with Modesty Kickpleat and Zipper Hidden in Seam Pt. 2 of 3

The zipper application is the basic lapped zipper type but the sewing method is based on instructions from “Couture Sewing Techniques” by Claire Shaeffer.  The zipper is sewn using tiny running stitches.  To secure the zipper further, fell stitches are hand sewn from the edge of the zipper tape to the inside seam.  Since the running stitch is more flexible than a pick or back stitch the sewing is barely noticeable under ordinary lighting.  This is why I call the zipper “hidden in the seam.”


Instructions on hand sewing a zipper from “Courture Sewing Techniques” by Claire Shaeffer.  This diagram shows a slot zipper application I have adapted to a lapped zipper application.

Getting your notions and equipment ready



Regular straight pins or pins with glass heads may be used for pinning the zipper in place.  I prefer longer pins with glass heads when pinning the zipper into place because they are easier to handle and also stronger.  Use the type that works best for you.


Press your zipper so it lies flat.  Then select your thread and needles for basting.  A seam ripper and small scissor are used to remove the basting stitches along the zipper seam.  To condition basting and sewing thread I use a new dryer strip.

Not shown is the thread for sewing the zipper.  I use Guttermans poly thread because it works well with all fibers.


For hand sewing the tiny running stitches I found #6 Betweens worked just right.  Of course with hand sewing there will be differences between which needle works best for the seamstress.  Experiment with different types until you find one that produces the tiniest stitches easily for you.

Sewing the Center Back Seam

The zipper is applied after sewing Center Back seam and before sewing front of skirt to back skirt at the side seams.

The extra fabric you see is the extension for the kick pleat.


Use basting stitches from waist to end of zipper.


Basting stitches are also used from beginning of kick pleat to hem.

1.   Machine sew using basting stitched from waistline to point that marks zipper’s end.  From that point stitch using a medium stitch length until reaching the marking for the beginning of the kick pleat.  From the kick pleat beginning to the hem, sew with machine basting stitches.

Continue reading

Sheath Skirt with Modesty Kickpleat and Zipper Hidden in Seam Pt. 1 of 3

As subscribers to this blog know 2015 did not produce much personal creativity at this blog.  I am happy to get back to a project that is coming to good expression even though other events in my personal life put it into the background for a while.  The project is a 1950s style sheath skirt.  What makes it different from other sheath skirts is the uncommon kick pleat at center back.  Since this type of kick pleat uses an extra 3-3 1/2 inches on each side from Center Back to edge of the pleat it results in extra fabric usage.  In manufacturing that would mean an added price for the customer.


This type of kickpleat stays securely in place because it is cut from waist to hem.  Here you can see what it looks like when the zipper is opened.


View of the kickpleat from opening to hem.  Since the kickpleat extension is about 3″ wide, there is minimal show of the leg when the wearer walks and the kick pleat opens.


View of back of the skirt after the zipper application is completed.

Many kick pleats start about 7-10″ up from the hemline.  They are held in place by machine stitching along the right side of the skirt.  This is effective but because these pleats are cut with less width they show more leg when the wearer is walking.  In the 1950s the emphasis was on being able to walk but most women would not want to flash too much of a show of leg.  The attitude of the time was that suggestion was a more powerful means of attracting the male attention than actually displaying all the charms of the female form.  I’ve had a few people who adhere to standards of modest dressing tell me this kick pleat is exactly what they are looking for on a longer sheath skirt.  For this reason I have created three postings to show how to sew the pleat and insert a hand sewn zipper  using couture techniques.

As preparation, please see the following posting with links to the series of instructions for drafting the skirt and kick pleat.  This skirt will be lined.  I will prepare a tutorial on how to line and finish the Sheath Skirt with Modesty Kick Pleat in the near future.  Posting #2 and #3 offer step by step instructions for the sewing of the kick pleat and zipper.


Retro Glam Secretary Blouse-Finished at last!


2015 has been such a busy year for me.  I never thought I would successfully finish Version 2 of the Secretary Blouse.  But it’s now completed and I’m happy to share the results along with a few details.  This vintage pattern envelope illustration served as the inspiration.   I provide complete instructions for the Retro Glam Secretary Blouse  through a series of step by step instructions.


The beautiful simplicity of this style works well with a solid color fashion fabric.  Version 1 was made with a silky poly print fabric.  The work on the tucks and the bow got lost in the busy print.  This time the lovely drape of the bias cut pussy cat bow is visible.  This fabric is a poly crepe called “Whipped Cream.”  It was very easy to work with and is very soft.


The dart tucks are also noticeable.  They serve to control the fullness below the waistline so that the fabric will not be so bunchy when tucked into a sheath skirt.  In some ways vintage blouses use darts or dart tucks to control fullness in a way similar to the use of a blouse yoke.

Continue reading