Precision Draping Basic Toile: Putting it together

The construction of the three parts of my fitting toile–fitted sleeve, bodice and straight skirt–is completed.  Now I have to hem the skirt and sleeve an then assemble the three pieces.

During this process of fitting myself I came up with an expedient solution to the old problem of not having someone available to pin the toile up the center back.  I thought, I’d just reverse the opening and pin from center front.  That is why you see the opening from neck to below the hip line in the photo below.

Today I tried on the bodice.  It fits comfortably.  My dress form has an additional one inch added to the measurements so that my fitting toile will not be tight.  The next skill to learn is adding style ease to each draped garment.

I am using the techniques described in the 1947 book Precision Draping by Nellie Weymouth Link.  I supplement what she doesn’t cover with what I learned from Draping for Fashion Design by Hilda Jaffe and Nurie Relis.

Illustration of the basic straight skirt from Precision Draping by Nellie Weymouth Link.

I have pinned the skirt and sleeve onto the bodice to give you an idea of how it is coming together.  Can you see the differences from a modern fitting toile?  Here is a hint for a topic we will cover later on:  the skirt is not a pencil skirt.  It is a straight skirt with one dart each side of center front and one dart each side of center back.  In this toile I tried to use two darts at each side of the back but they are too small.  Initially I thought the back skirt dart was much too big but next practice I do I will follow the Precision Draping method instead of forcing a modern approach to the skirt darts.  One thing you will find if you use this method is that the skirt darts are very long, about 6-7″ or so.  It takes some time to get used to the sight of them.  In the end if the fit is just right that is what really matters.

So far I’m doing ok!

Basic fitting toile made using a majority of techniques from Precision Draping by Nellie Weymouth Link.  Trueing, marking and adding ease to bodice came from Draping for Fashion Design by Jaffe and Relis.  The sleeve was drafted using the French Fashion Academy system.

The front bodice looks a little loose.  That is because the sleeve has not been put in yet.  The bust dart apex has to be lowered a little but other than that I’m confident for the next phase once the toile is complete.

Dress form lines marked with glass head pins and lace tape.

When I no longer use pencil to mark the seam lines and style lines.  Instead I mark with straight pins.  To better discern where the apex and the key lines are I used a combination of lace seam tapes and glass head pins.  Once the muslin or tissue paper is used I can better feel where the lines are.


Draping breakthrough…Photos and progress report to come soon

Hi everyone!  I have had an amazing development.  I wasn’t completely satisfied with the fit from the pattern shown in the previous posting.  I needed more muslin and had to wait for my order to arrive.

This got me to thinking of a vintage draping book written in 1947 that has occupied my bookshelf for several years.  I considered it more of a curiosity and reference book.  But two weeks ago, while waiting for the muslin to arrive, I began to seriously experiment with the technique presented in that book.  In “Precision Draping” by Nellie Weymouth Link, tissue paper instead of muslin is used for draping the first pattern.  During the WWII years cotton muslin was very hard to come by so many professional drapers and schools used tissue paper with good results.

I decided to give it a try.  I can get 10 sheets of tissue paper for 99 cents so I figured it would be fun to see if it worked.  Surprise, surprise!  I had to slow down and be very careful but I was able to create a genuine 1947 fitting toile from the entire process.

I am still having some issues with the skirt darts due to the changes the surgery made to my abdominal area but I am confident I now have a way to get around this.  I am working on a half-muslin toile right now.  When it’s finished I will put up the photographs.  If I can master this technique I will be saving money on muslin and working more authentically with a vintage system.

It will take a few more months of practice before I can make slopers based on my drapes but if all goes well I will be embarking on a completely new adventure.  The Precision Draping Technique uses a combination of draping, flat patternmaking and slopers.  I think this will be a good way to economize my time.

The only modern technique I have used is to draft the sleeve pattern from a modern draping book by Nurie Relis and Hilda Jaffee entitled “Draping for Fashion Design.”

Once the fitting toile is finished I will be able to confirm that I have correctly marked the apex, bust, chest, waist and hip levels on the form.  After this I need to revisit the ease tuck as a way to add needed style ease.  For this I will rely on the 1930s system I experimented with during the 1930s Sew-along with Norma last year.

I am very excited and optimistic about this development.  Photos and progress updates will soon be forthcoming on a regular basis now that summer is over.

Update on my fitting toile: Going with draping all the way


I am working my way through many fitting issues now that I have a custom made dress form.  The French Fashion Academy drafting system is not working out for me as it did in the past.  I have decided to try draping instead.  I think I am making progress with creating a basic toile.  I am using the updated edition of  “Draping for Fashion Design” by Hilda Jaffe and Nurie Relis as my guide.    I provided a brief review of this book in 2013 but will post about the updated version once the toile is fitted and finalized.

The difficulty I was having with the French Fashion Academy method is that the intricate series of steps and measurements needed so many tweakings to accommodate the changes surgery made to my body.  As in altering a commercial pattern, all it takes is one adjustment in an area to set off a series of adjustments needed to other pattern pieces.

Even the draped toile has been a challenge.  At least the results look flattering and for this reason I shall persevere.  The fit of this toile will be more relaxed since this is a system created in America where our concepts of fit are different.

The major challenges lie in positioning the darts.  For the basic I follow the instructions in Jaffe and Relis’ updated book.  The bodice front and back vertical darts are positioned at the princess lines.  The first darts near center back of front and back skirts are also positioned near the princess lines.  This may be technically correct but visually I think they look too close and unflattering.  After resolving all fitting matters I will try moving the first skirt darts and the vertical bust dart slightly to the left of the princess seam.  I think 3/8 to 1/2″ will be sufficient.  Or else right in the middle of the waistline of each piece.

The sleeve you see here is a combination of drafting and a little bit of draping that involves smoothing and easing the cap into place.  This is the unfitted sleeve.  I want to focus on the ease first.  Once that is worked out I will try a fitted sleeve with elbow dart.  Following this system I have 1 1/4″ of ease in the cap.  That is a lot.  But the instructions are to ease stitch the entire cap and work out shrinking the ease after the cap is fitted to the armhole.  This means removing the sleeve after all that pinning and easing to steam out the excess ease.  I have to see how this will work.

Stay tuned.  Slow but steady progress is underway…

Photos of the toile so far along with how the paper pattern will look after the drape is copied to pattern paper









The Dressmaker’s Library: Vintage books on-line

I’ve just discovered two on-line vintage books  you’re sure to enjoy browsing through.  They are complete and available for viewing.  You’re able to print one page at a time but not download the entire book.

“The Mary Brooks Picken Method of Modern Dressmaking” by Mary Brooks Pickens was published in 1925.  Many of the new techniques Mary promotes are now very familiar to the home sewist.  What I found interesting were the chapters dealing with figure types and standard measurements.  The average measurements give some indication that women did have curves and were not at all the wispy, tubular shaped girls we  imagine when we think of the 1920s.  There are many photos of garments, seam finishes and Mary at her sewing machine.

Use this link to get to the on-line book:;cc=hearth;idno=4116088;node=4116088%3A4;view=toc;frm=frameset

“Pattern Drafting, Pattern Grading, Garment Making, Garment Fitting” was written by a professional tailor named Edmund Gurney.  He teaches a method of pattern drafting using standard measurements.  This is done to keep the drafting, as he says, simple.  A method for adjusting the resulting pattern to your own measurements is provided.

Mr. Gurney must have had what I’d consider a sparkling personality.  He intersperses pages of poetry and witty quotes between the technical chapters.  He does draw the reader in.  I especially liked his family history and how one of the earliest ancestors became a tailor.

This book was published in 1939.  The basic shell has the beginnings of what we see as the fitting shell used today.  The main difference I see is that the 1939 fitting shell had an A-line type of skirt.  Today ours is closer to a pencil skirt.

This book is available at:;view=1up;seq=1

1930s Sew-along with Norma: Checklist for proofing the drape

Here is the checklist I’ll use when proofing the drape for the dress I’m making as part of the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.  Once the drape is fully corrected I’ll then transfer it to patternmaking paper.  If anyone is interested in how I will work with the sleeve drape, I’ll focus the next posting on that.  I think it will be an interesting exercise in sleeve alterations and adjusting the amount of ease in the sleeve cap.  Please let me know via the comments to this posting.

Proofing the drape before transferring to pattern paper


  • Close neckline dark on back bodice.
  • Make sure the back neckline starts right at the point of the base of the neck or slightly lower.
  • Pin front and back bodice at shoulder line
  • Use curved ruler to true neckline curve.
  • The neckline must be a continuous curved line from center back to center front for this dress.

Shoulder Line

  • Make sure back shoulder is slightly longer (1/4-1/2”) than front. The excess will be eased in.
  • Measure and mark the middle of the front shoulder line and then the middle of the back shoulder line. This becomes the match point and the ease gets distributed to each side.
  • Fold back shoulder line under and pin over front shoulder.

Sleeve Cap

  • Check armhole curve between screw plate markings at front and back. The markings become the match points for the sleeve cap.
  • Make sure the curve between the markings is smooth.
  • Use curved ruler if needed to even out the curve below the markings.

Front & Back Bodice joining seam and armhole

  • Check front dart leg lengths and make sure the dart ends about 1/2” before the apex point. Shorten if needed.
  • Pin dart closed on front bodice at side seam.
  • Measure length of front and back side seams. They should be equal. If not, correct.
  • Next, fold back seam allowance under and pin back bodice side seam to front bodice.
  • Since this is a chemise with dropped waistline at below hip level, the joining seam to the skirt must be straight. Even out any irregular markings with the straight edge ruler.
  • Look over the curve of the armhole below the screw plate markings on front and back. It should be a smooth continuous curve. Even out or adjust if needed.
  • On armhole curve mark the position of the screw plate level.
  • On bodice joining seam, mark the match points for the flared skirt.
  • Note the width of lower bodice, at joining seam, from CB to side seam and from CF to side seam.

Skirt Front and Skirt Back

  • Measure side seams on front and back of skirt. They should be equal. Adjust if necessary.
  • Measure the curve of the skirt at the joining seam. It should be only slightly larger, about 1/2” or so, than the bodice joining seam. If it is greater, decrease the width by either pinching the amount out or taking off from side seams.
  • The skirt length will be total of length plus hem after the drape has hung for 48-72 hrs. and the hemline marked up from the floor.
  • Measure down from skirt joining seam to mark the finished skirt length.
  • The hem allowance should not be greater than 2”. It will be trimmed once the dress in fashion fabric is finished. 2” extra allows for any irregularities that arise when the skirt hem falls on the bias.

Sleeve Cap-Preparations for alterations

  • Measure the armhole of front and back bodice. Do not include seam allowances.
  • Add 3/8” to the measurement for front.
  • Add 3/8” to measurement for back.
  • This is what the front and back sleeve cap should each measure with ease allowed.


  • Measure the lengthwise grain line at center of sleeve. It should be the same as over arm length. If not add the length where needed when the paper pattern is created. Usually this is done by cutting across halfway between elbow and wrist and opening the needed amount.
  • From top of sleeve measure down to elbow dart on the drape. The center of the dart should fall on the line equal to the distance from top of shoulder to elbow when the elbow is bent. If adjustment needed make note and correct on paper pattern.
  • On front and back of sleeve, starting from the side seam, measure up the armhole measurement plus 3/8” for front and back. Mark this point.
  • From this point to center of sleeve will be excess. There are a number of ways to alter the sleeve and remove the excess. It all depends on how much excess there is.
  • Sometimes there is very little excess but a change in the position for the center of the sleeve. For example the armhole measurement plus 3/8” may take you past the existing center line. If so, mark it. When you measure up the armhole + 3/8” measurement from the front side seam of the sleeve you may find yourself going past the new center line. If so this means you have to open the sleeve to create more space to complete the amount needed for the front armhole.
  • Note all this down and then trace the existing drape to the pattern paper.
  • Make all corrections on the paper pattern and proof the seams, dart and sleeve cap again.
  • The manner in which you adjust the sleeve cap is up to you. I refer to Reader’s Digest Encyclopedia of Sewing and The Vogue Sewing Book.

1930s Sew-along with Norma: Draping a sleeve–an adventure into the unknown


Greetings to Norma of SheSewsYouKnow and all followers of the 1930s Sew-Along. This was a week of many developments and I’m happy to say the drape is completed. The next step will be trueing the seams and working on any adjustments the sleeve cap will need.

I actually completed draping a sleeve–my first ever. At French Fashion Academy, we never draped a set-in sleeve because we were told the process is too time consuming. Instead set-in sleeves were drafted. The only kinds of sleeves that were draped were mounted sleeves such as a raglan or dolman sleeve.

Illustration from “Draping & Designing With Scissors and Cloth 1930s” for draping basic set-in sleeve (Steps 15a-e).

The technique I’m using is from “Draping & Designing With Scissors and Cloth 1930s” edited by Sandra Ericson. The illustrations and instructions are detailed enough. The process is hard to explain, though. I found it required a lot of concentration and a length of uninterrupted time that spanned about 2 hours. It took that long because this was something I needed to take frequent breaks from. I ended up with something that is the strangest looking sleeve pattern I’ve ever seen but I need to proof the pattern, make adjustments and then sew the sleeve into a toile to see if it really worked out or not.

This is a very photo heavy post which I hope will give you an idea of how the process went.

Why I decided to drape the sleeve

I thought a capelet or cape collar would look good with a sleeveless dress. To get an idea of how the capelet would look I draped a scarf around the shoulders and neckline after pinning the arm to the form. Since the dress is flared on the bottom I thought the capelet would compete with that part of the dress. Also, I did not like the way the dress form was now divided into three parts. It was too much to look at.

Draping the Basic Set-in Sleeve with Elbow Dart

1. The muslin is cut by the measurement of the arm length by the width plus ease. An ease tuck is created which the book says should be folded in along the lengthwise grain line. But this would shift the ease all to the front or all to the back once the tuck is released. So I drew the orange line for the center length of the sleeve. Then I measured 3/8″ tuck to each side. The tucks were folded and pinned towards the center lengthwise grain line.

2. Close-up of the muslin. The center grain line is placed at the shoulder line above the point where extra length is allowed. Then it is pinned along the center grain line marked on the arm.

3. The muslin is pinned along the underarm seam. This was tricky because the arm is bulky and if not pinned securely can drop lower than it should or move around. After the underarm seam is partially pinned above the elbow the shaping up and around the sleeve cap begins. Excess fabric is evenly distributed (you hope!).

Continue reading

1930s Sew-Along with Norma: New drape


I am very happy to share a break through in my progress for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma. I’m finally “getting it” as far as developing a 1930s style is concerned. I credit that to watching the Pre-Code Hollywood films every chance I get. Seeing the clothing in motion has tuned me in on how fluid the lines were and how there wasn’t the heavy interfacings and shaping of the Post-WWII and 1950s era.

It’s been hard process these past 6 weeks but I finally let go of the need to sculpt the drape and add darts and cinching. I also had to do a very hard critique of the first toile.

Why I Changed the Silhouette

The first drape looked good on the dress form. But…

–When I tried it on reality set in.

–The dropped waist did not look becoming at all.

–When the style line or joining seam is placed right in the middle of the abdomen and crosses into the back right across the backside the effect is unflattering.

–The body looks wider and the line makes the naturally curvy part of the abdomen and backside look unattractive. Think about it. This is why the yoke on a pair of jeans is much higher up.

–When I made the first drape I had a hard time figuring out how to work with the ease tuck. This is a 3/8″ to 3/4″ tuck made from the waist up to about bustline level. I put too much ease in–about 3/4″–which accounted for those diagonal dropping areas in the back bodice. By the time I corrected that the toile was becoming too tight.

–I went through as many pattern envelope illustrations I could this week through Google Images. Nowhere did I find dresses from the late 1920s and 1930 with long vertical darts in front or back of the chemise dresses. To be true to the 1930s I had to redo the drape.

–I’ve learned that even though the illustrations show the flared portions of a dress starting at the abdomen or hip you have to think about your own shape as I’ve described here. If you’ve got curves this style has to be changed. This is what I had in mind when I made the new toile.

–I wanted a 1930s style that could look good on not just tall thin women but women of average height (5′ 4″ to 5′ 6″) and average weight (125-140 lbs.) could wear and look graceful in.

–With this in mind I decided to make the flared portion of the dress fall below the widest point on the form, about 3″ below that which places it on the upper thigh. When a woman is walking the motion will begin there and the eye will see that.

–To keep things attractive I decided to add a thin belt like the kind used for some illustrations in “Paris Frocks at Home”.

New Style Lines

I used the lace tape to mark off the location of the ease tuck and where the new level for the flared skirt will be.

I realized that since my dress form does not have a backside it was easy to think a dropped waistline ending in the middle between waist and hips would look ok.  Since the form is flat I had no way of seeing how unflattering it would look.

I feel I’ve come a long way since starting the project.  I’m more comfortable with this technique and can remember it even when I’m sleeping.  Talk about total immersion!  The new bodice was easier and faster to do.  I completed it between Thursday and Friday night.  You can see the ease tuck running parallel to the vertical grain line below the apex.

Another thing I did to get a better shape was forego using the French dart.  This dart has its center at the bustline level.  This helps maintain a better line for the chemise.

I also “got it” when it came time to use the curved ruler.  The side seam came out much better and the curve flows into the straight line below the bust.

Draping the Flared Skirt

The skirt on the previous toile was difficult for me to drape.  I just didn’t have the right touch the first time.  The fabric stretched so much on the front that it was impossible to ease into the bodice of the dress.  Also I did not add the extra fabric for the ease tuck.

The solution this time was to handle it more carefully and use more pins while draping.  Since this is a flared skirt I didn’t add an ease tuck all the way down.  I took a pinch of fabric that was 3/8″ at the upper part of the skirt and tapered it to nothing.  Then when I took the drape apart I measured the bottom of the bodice and the skirt to ensure there wasn’t a big difference in the width of each.

The belt makes the entire dress come together.  Also there is no pulling at the side seams.  When the ease tucks are released there will be more room.

The flares on this dress have less width than the previous one because I don’t want the skirt pattern to need 60″ wide fabric.  I want to be able to use 45″ if necessary and not worry about having to cut the skirt shorter.  It wouldn’t look very 1930s if the length from waist to hem was less than 27-28″.

Sleeveless with a Pretty Collar

I still want this dress to be sleeveless but would like a feminine collar for it.  This past week Naomi at Spare Room Style inspired me with her sweet little capelet that has a blue velvet bow at the collar.  I decided to go through my books for draping ideas for capelet collars.

This pattern is from “Dress Cutting” by Margaret C. Ralston.  I’m thinking of a collar that will look something like this.  Or I will make the capelet separate so that the dress can have more versatility.  I need to play around with the muslin and see what develops.

Next Step

None of my draping books mentioning using the arm with the dress form when draping a cape, capelet or capelet collar.  I think this might be necessary so that the shape of the curve and the amount of fabric needed for movement can be assessed correctly.

I hope to make some progress next week but may not be able to post since I have a family get-together next Saturday.  I’m also running low on muslin so I’ll definitely get an order in for that.

Here’s a big thank you for all the encouragement and sustained interest you’ve been providing.  It does make a difference and I hope you’re learning from me as much as I’m learning from this project.