Making my own bodice top sewing block

This sewing block journey started almost 1 year ago at the start of lockdown. I had just gotten back into sewing clothes, and discovered indie pattern companies, and fabric stores. Joann fabrics was running a special deal with then Bluprint (now Craftsy) for annual memberships. Craftsy has loads of sewing, cooking, photography, and general crafting classes, most of which you can access free as part of a paid membership (I am not at all affiliated with Craftsy, but just think it’s a great resource for sewists looking to learn pattern making). I signed up and started taking Suzy Furrer’s bodice sloper class. Body measurements were taken, a front bodice moulage was drafted, and then I rolled it up and stuffed it in the corner of my craft room. Six months later I was having some fitting difficulties and dreaming of fitted tops and dresses. I returned to Suzy’s class and my original drafts. While the class is only about 5 hours broken into sections, I would say it took me about 20 hours total to complete the process (spread over several months). Here I share some of my process, modifications, and eventual self-drafted fitted tank top.

To start, I just want to define some terms. When I started this class I knew nothing about pattern making. It wasn’t until I was at least half way through with the course that I started to understand these terms and what pattern making is really all about. So to start, a moulage is a really tight fitting (think second skin) template that is created based on an individual’s many body measurements. You would never wear a garment created from an unaltered moulage, but it’s important to make sure all of the little seam lines and points are just right. From the moulage, you add ease in certain areas to create a sloper. The sloper is really the basic building block of your future patterns. In this case I made a bodice, or top, moulage and then a sloper. From the sloper you can play around with darts, necklines, closures, sleeves, etc. to create any garment you can imagine. There are some great resources on pattern making including Suzy Furrer’s book, which is very similar to her Craftsy classes, Winifred Aldrich’s pattern cutting book, and various online blogs and websites such as Mood Fabrics tutorial and a how-to from In the Folds. You don’t need to know much beyond very basic sewing skills before taking Suzy’s class, as she walks you through many of the steps in a series of ~30 minutes sessions.

Drafting moulage #1 with my essential ruler, scissors, marker, and tracing wheel

Drafting the moulage

So I started by taking all of my measurements. When creating a moulage the measurements required are pretty extensive to ensure a proper fit. From there, I started drafting the moulage based on those measurements and ‘industry standards’ while watching Suzy’s class. She walks you through how to create a block (essentially a paper template that becomes the sewing pattern) from all of the measurements. It took my two tries to get the front, with plenty of video rewinding, pausing, and erasing. I eventually got to moulage number 1:

I then traced and cut out the moulage from my brown craft paper. Using muslin, I cut out the fabric and sewed it up according to Suzy’s directions. There were 8 pieces to ensure that seam lines were visible to make fitting and adjustments easy. It is soo tight that you cannot sew this closed, and my partner had to safety pin me up in the back. It was really tricky to tell if the back was fitting correctly because I realize that the fabric was pulling in all sorts of ways but really I was more concerned with the front and sides. I took many pictures to capture all of the fitting adjustments that may be necessary.

As part of the course, Suzy walks you through common fitting issues and ways to fix it on the moulage. Right as I put the moulage on I realized the armholes needed to be adjusted. They were causing some wrinkles that were going to be problematic down the line. The following changes needed to be made included:

  • The bust apex needed to be moved down by 1/4″
  • The waist needed to be moved up by 1/2″
  • The front armhole needed to come in 1/8″
  • The waist and hips needed to come in by 1/8″ (on both sides)

As you can see, these were mostly minor adjustments, but taking in 1/8″ on the sides results in taking a 1/2″ around the waist (1/8″ x 4 for all pattern pieces). I retraced the moulage and started on these minor adjustments, then followed the same process of creating a 2nd sewn up moulage. The fit was MUCH improved.

The much improved front moulage

I decided I felt good about the moulage, though I knew there were still probably some minor tweaks that could have been made with the bust line and waist shaping – but they were so minor I was able to address them in the sloper without making a 3rd moulage. As you can tell in the images, the wrinkles around the armholes were much improved in the second muslin. The waist was also closer to my actual waist since it was moved up and taken in. The bust apex also hit closer to the actual apex as evidenced in the last image below.

Converting the moulage to a sloper

Suzy then walks you through adding ease in all the right places to create a sloper. I added 1/4″ to all sides, and took in the neck and armholes a bit. The sloper can also be a bit simpler than the moulage by eliminating the back shaping and altering the waist shaping as well (I could go on on about these things here, but to keep it short, you can create a sloper that has no seam in the back if desired).

Using my tracing wheel I made the sloper on tag board (essentially manilla envelope paper) for easy storage and durability. I transferred all the necessary markings for a proper sewing pattern and made my first mock-up.

While it as VERY difficult to get this thing on, I was able to sew it up the back which helps for back fitting. Again, I used natural muslin for the sloper and transferred some of the lines (e.g. apex, hips, etc.) from the pattern to the fabric. I was pretty happy with the sloper fit. One of my motivations for creating my own sewing block was my difficulty with woven tops in the bust. I don’t really want to have to do a full bust adjustment (FBA) every time I want a fitted top or have to play around with getting the armholes just right. Even if I continue to use sewing patterns (which I will), I can now compare my block to the sewing pattern when I suspect changes may needed to be made.

Playing with dart manipulation

This is by far my favorite thing about pattern making so far. My RTW clothes don’t really have fun darts, and I haven’t had too much experience with darts in sewing patterns beyond a basic side dart. Darts are used to create shaping they take out bulk from the pattern. There are several standard darts on the front of a bodice sloper: the shoulder dart, the armhole dart, the side dart, and the waist dart. The material taken out from these 4 darts is what creates the fit and shape of the garment. Dart manipulation is the process of moving the material taken away by a dart to another dart. In other words, you can move the shoulder dart, waist dart, and side dart all into the armhole dart to create one large dart that remove all of the fabric from the 4 darts in one go. There are plenty of resources on dart manipulation, such as this YouTube video by Made to Sew. I also really like the short videos from Pattern Making Deconstructed on Instagram.

Some of my quick notes from dart manipulation in my sketchbook

Dart manipulation can be used to create interested seam lines, as well as just to help with fitting. Suzy walks you through several kinds of dart manipulations in her course, Creative Darts and Seamlines. I am fascinated by this process and sit watching these sessions taking notes. Dart manipulation is really fun, and relatively easy compared with the rest of the process. After watching the many videos on different types of dart manipulations I made several mockups:

One of the mock-ups with a center front neckline

Suzy has other dart options including princess seams, gathers, a neck cowl, diamond dart, y-dart, etc. I sketched a couple of these out on MyBodyModel to think about what they might look like on my body:

After creating and trying on the mockups, I realized I did NOT like the side dart. Maybe in a print it would be o.k? I’m really not sure, but I did not like the way it accentuated certain features. Simply put, Suzy mentions that different body types/shapes/heights, etc. can result in darts looking different ways. In other words, it will require some playing around with angles to determine which darts and shapes I prefer. I decided to move forward with the center front dart and armhole dart for my tank tops. I also played around with different methods to do the bodice back. The back is not as complicated with only 2 darts to manipulate. I decided to consolidate the 2 darts into an armhole dart for the back as well.

Creating a simple self-drafted tank top

Once my armhole dart and center front dart were transferred to tag board and tested in a muslin, I took some scraps from my stash that I had been planning on using to make some scrappy tank tops.

I decided to ignore the waist dart for extra room in that area. I also cropped the pattern to halfway between my high hip and low hip based on the muslins. Additionally, I added more room for the neck. While these are still pretty difficult to get on (bust to waist ratio is important here) they do fit comfortably and am very happy with how they fit in the bust, waist, and around the armholes!

Some reflections

I am really happy I completed Suzy’s course. I realize it took a while and there was a break of several months in there, but it was totally worth it! For anyone that thinks they might be interested in pattern making I highly recommend by taking Suzy’c class (or any other pattern making class) to find out what it’s really all about. Leaving the class with a bodice pattern block that fits my body is a game changer – I can now compare it to other patterns and use it to draft infinite designs! I quite enjoyed the whole process – working with paper, doing the math out, drawing the lines and curves, sewing, fitting, etc. I plan to continue taking Suzy’s pattern making classes on Craftsy to learn more about sleeves and necklines, before moving on to pants!

As anyone else made their own sewing pattern block? What was your experience like? Feel free to comment below 🙂

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