An alternative method of creating garments to using patterns constructed in standard sizes, is to construct a pattern using custom measurements - this results in a garment with a near-perfect fit. The disadvantage is that all the pattern manipulation must be done by the home sewer. However, a great deal of creative variation is possible from such a custom-made pattern using even minor changes. Here I present a step-by-step method to construct the close-fitting basic bodice block. The term "block" is used to describe a pre-pattern template - additional manipulation is required at the end to generate a pattern (e.g. changing the bust dart, adding seam allowances, etc.). This version of the basic bodice block is used to support the development of the bra pattern posted previously, but can also be used for a variety of other garments. You may also want to look at the companion "sleeve how-to" (http://www.burdastyle.com/howtos/show/1714). The close-fitting variation has less ease introduced than other blocks.

The process involved is called "drafting", but the term should not cause worry. Each of the steps shall be described in detail so that the beginner can follow the method without previous drafting experience. To follow the steps, you will need a ruler, preferably a transparent ruler about a meter (yard) long, perhaps a smaller ruler, a sharp pencil, and a French curve (although a dinner plate can do in a pinch!). You will also need a calculator, and a set of body measurements.

A word about the body measurements needed. The construction method requires the bust measurement, the waist measurement, the shoulder length, the nape to waist length, and the neck size. In addition, the back width is used along with the armscye depth, the chest width and the bust dart width. However, these latter four measurments may be estimated from the former set of measurements. In fact, using only the bust measurement, the nape to waist length and the neck size, the remainder of the measurements can be estimated. However, the more measurement estimation goes on, the less perfect the resulting bodice block will fit. It is better to use more measurements than less, but the construction process can proceed with less measurements.

Finally, the construction process described will work for standard body types, but may need additional adapting for higher bust sizes (above 45" (115 cm) and large bra cup sizes (D and above).

This block construction method has been adapted from the following reference : Winifred Aldrich, Metric Pattern Cutting for Women's Wear, 5th ed., Blackwell Publishing: Oxford, 2008, 215 pp.

Technique Materials

paper or cardboard, ruler, pencil, calculator, French curve (or dinner plate), set of body measurements, compass (optional)

55 Comments Sign in to add a post

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    Apr 4, 2014, 06.31 AMby ginaminton

    I tried this and it turned out fine.

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    Jun 4, 2013, 05.04 PMby kirschtorte

    Hi there! First, I’d like to say thanks for the detailed instructions. For those of us newbies who don’t have a whole lot of experience with techniques and lingo, this was a refreshing project to embark upon.

    I am running into some trouble with my shoulder measurements though, and I’m hoping you’re still answering questions and can help me out. How are you actually taking the shoulder measurements for the lines in step 11 and 25? When I measured from the end of my left shoulder bone to the end of my right shoulder bone I came up with 40 cm at the smallest, and my two shoulder lines are overlapping in the middle of my block even after halving the measurement… Either I have monster football shoulders, or I’m missing something. :/ If it helps, my bust measurement is 97 cm, to give some perspective on the overall width.

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      Nov 26, 2013, 03.43 AMby CelticWaterfall

      What helped me learn how to work with basic bodice shapes was to buy a pain cotton long-sleeved t-shirt and re-create it. Try hard not to buy the stretchy, jersey knit. If you buy it in your size, then alter it to fit you nice and snug, you will have a nice shape for this project. The only differences are where the seams are to cut when it comes to this basic block pattern. Starting with very basic tailoring makes it all much easier to understand patterning later on.

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    Apr 23, 2013, 05.49 PMby Charlotte Blakey

    This is great, I have a book about making a block from fabric but have not had the time to do it as it is a lengthy process and takes two people and I just can’t find the time. With this though I can draft the block pattern and then the book is a great reference for how to manipulate it into something wearable. A Perfect Fit: Create Personalized Patterns for a Limitless Wardrobe by Lynne Garner. A great little starter book.

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    Nov 15, 2012, 02.05 AMby Twik

    Ahoyhoy, drew this block up last night, and just did a mock up in some old fabric to see how I went. So great! I’m a complete novice, I estimated most of the measurements using your suggestions, and my cutting and sewing was a real rush job – yet still, it’s such an amazing fit! I’m so grateful you took the time to make this as a free resource, and doable for beginners. To be honest, the terminology of blocks – let alone darts – were completely foreign to me before going through your tutorial. I’m still a little fuzzy on what I’m going to do with my new block, but even still, it’s clear you’ve put a really valuable resource within my grasp. Thank you!

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    Apr 3, 2012, 10.15 PMby Alix Day

    Thanks so much for putting this up. The fit was near perfect first time. The only problem was a slightly gaping armhole at the front and the darts seemed to angle inwards too much from the bust apex to the waist. I finished my first self-drafted dress using this sloper as a base from which to draft the top half – the fit is ten times better than any commercial pattern.

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    Feb 19, 2012, 12.44 AMby niord marie antoinette

    I got the answer for my question on page 13. I didn’t realize that 7cm is the base dart measurement. I am a novice.

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      Jun 29, 2012, 11.07 AMby neki

      i’m having the same problem as you being a novice too.
      went back to p. 13 and still do not get it. could you please clarify?
      thank you

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    Feb 18, 2012, 11.01 PMby niord marie antoinette

    I’ve downloaded the PDF, But there is a line on page 13, step 20. Line 11. It starts with add or subtract 0.6 cm to 7 cms…. I am a little confused about this statement. Can I choose any number between this range of 0.6 -7cm? Please can you explain this a little more specifically.

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    Jan 7, 2012, 01.51 PMby saylavie

    Very clear instructions for the most part. However, everything appeared to be going swimmingly until I got to about step 27 and realized there’s no way an arm can fit through the armhole, as the opening is only 3.3cm wide! I cannot for the life of me figure out where I went wrong. It seems the front chest measurement would be the obvious answer, but it is correct as far as I can tell….Any clues as to what the problem might be? Thanks for the nice tutorial! I can’t wait to finish and use this!!

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    Dec 22, 2011, 06.00 AMby KimFoley

    What resources have you used to learn drafting. You say you have done a lot of research, which is the phase I’m in now. Book suggestions? Thanks!,

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    Oct 31, 2011, 02.38 AMby JeAnn Murray

    I love this! I like how detailed it is. Where I am learning, the bodice block doesn’t have shoulder darts, and I didn’t know the seam allowance wasn’t suppose to be on the block but on the pattern (I thought block and pattern was the same thing). Very educational and I really appreciate that you took the time to go through this. I will be making a block soon, hopefully on cardboard paper so it lasts longer.

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    Aug 6, 2011, 08.27 PMby neruda88

    I made this bodice block and it turned out perfect. Thanks

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    Jul 24, 2011, 03.50 AMby kelsrose22

    Thank you so much! I created my bodice block and it is amazing how easy it is to draft dress patterns now for my large bust and smaller rib cage that has made following patterns almost impossible. Thank you!

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      Jul 24, 2011, 04.19 PMby gedwoods

      It’s good to know the block is working for a wide range of body types! Thanks for the feedback!

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    Jun 16, 2011, 06.07 PMby Lady--t

    I tried this out and it turned out quite well. Thanks alot for this.

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    Jun 8, 2011, 06.30 PMby zrinka


    I used your method (combined with instruction from Aldrich Metric Pattern Cutting) and another method for creating close fitting slopers by Bunka FAshion College and compared the two. I compared the drawings and then I made the slopers and compared the fit on a dressform. If you are interested, see the project here: http://www.burdastyle.com/projects/comparing-close-fitting-slopers-bunka-vs-aldrich

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      Aug 13, 2011, 06.40 AMby cloff

      This is really interesting! I used Aldrich in school, and I finally got an adequate sloper from it. I had to do a lot of altering because I was a G cup size at that time, and it works great from the start for smaller women.

      I’d be really interested to know which method you liked better?

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    May 19, 2011, 06.54 AMby zrinka

    Hi, first of all thank you for the tutorial. I have one question: You mentioned that this tutorial is an adaptation from Winifred Aldrich, Metric Pattern Cutting for Women’s Wear, 5th ed. I was comparing the two and found one discrepancy. The D-R line in your tutorial is calculated as neck/5 + 0.7 cm. In the book, the corresponding line (points 4 to 20) are calculated as neck/5 – 0.7. When I use your formula, pointS R, W A and X are all moved to the left, and X falls almost directly above Z. It looks skewed. It also looks different from your sketch. Could that be a typo? Or do you simply use a different formula? Thanks!

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      May 22, 2011, 05.32 PMby gedwoods

      Hello, I thought I had changed this much earlier, but your comment clued me in to the fact that the correction was never made. It is made now!

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    May 12, 2011, 10.39 PMby isabellaria14

    Does this include seam allowance already, and if so how much? Thanks so much for posting this tutorial!

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      Jul 24, 2011, 04.08 PMby gedwoods

      Seam allowances are never, to my knowledge, included in “blocks”, as usually these must be manipulated in substantive ways before a final pattern is obtained (for example, you will almost certainly want to swivel the dart around to a different location). So, no seam allowances included!

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    Apr 19, 2011, 05.20 PMby woman

    gedwoods, thank you very much for posting this. it was a tough process for me because i generally kinda dislike maths, but i must say it was very rewarding because now i have my own custom basic bodice block. can’t wait to manipulate it into variations! THANK YOU SO MUCH!

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    Mar 30, 2011, 08.08 AMby anlusaro

    Hello, thanks for this post! I want to try this, but I am 1,51 m short, my bust measurement is 97 cm, and my waist is 76cm….will this work for me?

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      Jul 24, 2011, 04.10 PMby gedwoods

      I can’t tell just from your measurements whether this will work or not. It seems to work for most people, but there have been some reported problems in particular cases. You’ll just have to try to it out to see.

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    Mar 25, 2011, 11.50 AMby eriblox

    I’ve made a dress using your tutorial and it fits perfectly. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us!

    This is this dress I made: http://www.burdastyle.com/projects/pink-dress-with-buttons

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    Mar 7, 2011, 04.11 PMby urbanista

    Hello there! I want to say THANK YOU so much, I’ve been trying to make a bodice pattern since forever, but no matter what I do something comes out wrong. Using your pattern,the bodice fit almost perfectly! It was better then all the other directions I’ve had. I’m just having problems with two areas. The arm part and the neck part. Below are pictures of what I mean.


    there is an excess of fabric in the arm parts, how can I fix this without putting a dart in the arm? How can I utilize the other darts to make it more tighter in that area?

    http://i23.photobucket.com/albums/b382/Yankeegyrl4life/IMAG0213.jpg http://i23.photobucket.com/albums/b382/Yankeegyrl4life/IMAG0215.jpg

    There is also an excess of fabric in the neck for some reason, I think it will be fixed if I just make the upper darts wider? I’m not experienced at pattern making or pattern adjusting at all, I could use some pointers if that’s ok?

    Thank you so much again!

    One more question, it is possible to make a sweet heart neckline with this pattern? http://www.vampal.com/Products/41-purple-organza-sequin-sweetheart-neckline-cocktail-dress.aspx

    1 Reply
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      Mar 7, 2011, 05.41 PMby gedwoods

      Okay, I’ve looked at your images and have some comments… they are really more suggestions than, perhaps, final answers. What you have to remember is that this does not generate a pattern, but rather a “block”, which is a kind of “pattern template”. The block is meant to be further manipulated to get a pattern. So, for example, I’ve noticed that you’ve put in the vertical darts as they are in the block. You can certainly do this, but this is not the ideal place to locate the dart and this is not usually done this way. Typically, what is done is to cut from the bust point out to the seam in another area (e.g. under the arm) and then swivel the pattern piece between the dart shown in the block and the new cutline to fill in the dart shown in the block. This creates a new dart under the arm, which is where you have your excess fabric, so it may solve that problem (essentially, this rotation procedure preserves the bust shaping while moving the actual dart line to a place that is more aesthetically pleasing). Note that these manipulations apply to the pattern, not the fabric – that is, a cutline on the pattern need not be a seamline in the fabric!

      For the neck, you may simply redraw the neck to ensure it fits right. If the excess material is across the chest, however, this won’t work. Widening the dart as you suggest should help, but the dart usually goes to the shoulder seam, not the neck line. You could widen the dart, make a new cutline from the bust point to the neck and swivel the new pattern piece to fill up part of the vertical dart (still leaving some room to move the rest of the dart to the armhole). If the extra material in the neck is small, another way to do this would be to cut the pattern down the CF line and trim off about 0.5 cm (on each side of the CF line), then retape the pattern together – this is a “cheat” because it will change all the body fit all the way down, but if it’s a small amount, you may be able to get away with it. Essentially, you are downsizing the pattern block slightly when you do tis.

      For the sweetheart dress, again, this “block” can be manipulated to get any pattern you want… but the manipulations aren’t always simple. You really need a good book on pattern manipulation to do this – look at the Pepin book online (at www.vintagesewing.com) for a good reference. This is absolutely free and there’s lots of people on the BurdaStyle site who use it as a reference, so you can get help if you get stuck!

      Rather longwinded reply… hope you get the gist of it!

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    Feb 3, 2011, 05.02 AMby himechan

    Thank you very much for this tutorial! It is very clear and easy to follow :) But would it be possible to put up a preface with all the measurements needed, and how they should be measured? I’m a bit of a strange size myself, so I am a little wary of using estimates for all the lines. Or could you point me to a site i could refer to? I have come across several sites with info on how to measure, for instance, the shoulder, but they all seem to differ :( Thank you!

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    Feb 2, 2011, 04.50 AMby Sallee

    wow, I am only beginning to learn to sew, and I came across this tutorial. It took awhile but I completed my bodice block, and the fit is amazing! Your instructions are fantastic, so precise and patient enough even for a beginner like me.

    Do you have any tutorials that you could possibly post on other custom blocks, like for a skirt that I can attach to the bodice?

    Sorry, it might be something that is really simple to experienced people but I am still trying to get my head around how the measurements all fit together, so any help would be much appreciated!

    Thank you. :)

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      Feb 2, 2011, 04.17 PMby gedwoods

      Look under my studio – you’ll see I’ve posted half a dozen tutorials – pants, a skirt, a bra, an overshirt, a dress… you should see something you’ll like. Reports are that these all work pretty well…

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    Jan 29, 2011, 01.16 AMby milkyway


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    Dec 12, 2010, 10.07 PMby mixtlii

    Hi, Thanks for this technique, it works pretty well! I’m so excited about making a pattern that really fits me…

    I have a problem though, with the armholes. With the pattern I drafted, they were way too high under my arm, so I cut it out and now it’s a little loose on the front. So I took a little up the shoulder seam. Is that the correct thing to do? Also, the front darts are too much on the sides. How can I put them more in the middle?

    I hope I don’t have to start all over again, because it took me like 3h !!!

    Thanks :)

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    Nov 7, 2010, 02.30 PMby astreet1

    Hello, I want to make a tutu, and was wondering if this would be appropriate for the bodice it? How would I make this pattern into a ten piece bodice, and do you have any idea where on the block the basque of the tutu would be?

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      Nov 7, 2010, 07.45 PMby gedwoods

      I’ve never made a tutu, so I’m guessing. But isn’t a tutu strapless? It seems to me the bodice is more corset like than this bodice block – that is, it requires a tighter fit to the body shape than this block provides. I think the bodice block has too much built-in ease for you. I would use a corset pattern as a basis. There are several (free) corset patterns around, such as those found on the elizabethan costumes site or on the costume manifesto site. There are others, but these provide a good place to start. You will probably need some boning, but I suspect you could work with plastic boning to give some support rather than going to the steel boning used in specialty corsets.

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    Oct 10, 2010, 04.49 PMby gedwoods

    Okay, while working on the block I encountered the same problem with the armscye as everyone else here! The reason I never encountered it before, is that I was using the CHEST estimate formula rather than my direct measurements. I suspect the problem with plus sizes is a consequence of this, since women with plus sizes are probably using their own measurements rather than the default ones! So anyone who used the formula estimates would have had no trouble with the block, but anyone who used their own values instead of the formulas would have encountered problems!

    The solution to the problem seems to be … FORGET ABOUT USING A DIRECT CHEST MEASUREMENT – instead use the estimation formula provided, that determines the CHEST value from the BUST size. If your BACK size differs from the back estimate determined by its formula, you may need to adjust the chest estimate slightly, pushing it down a little if the back measurement is larger than the estimate or extending it a little if you have a smaller than normal back (use the size of the difference between the default and your measurement of the back to estimate the size of the scaling applied to the chest – hence if you need to reduce the back by 5%, increase the chest estimate by 5% to compensate – note that this is a suggestion – I haven’t actually tried this out!) As always, do a muslin shell to make sure the thing fits!

    I’ve updated the text to make this clearer (I hope!).

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      Nov 11, 2010, 10.31 AMby lilly-anne

      I didn’t have the overlaping problem even when I used my measurments, but it was so close that I was afraid it may cause problems in the fit. I did something similar to what you suggest. I compared the estimated back to my back and added the difference to the estimated chest. Problem seems to be solved, at least for me.

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    Sep 11, 2010, 05.05 AMby kristybiscuit

    I have the same problem as others with the overlapping armscye – I re-checked my measurements and calculations a million times (I am very precise) and I also don’t think it is a “large bust” problem – I am a C cup with 89cm bust measurement, and of medium slimness (I am 5’7" 135 lbs). I think it may be a matter of proportions, perhaps? Such as the relative difference between bust and ribcage? (I think I may have a somewhat narrow ribcage, which is nearly the same measurement as my natural waistline). I’m going to try splitting the front and back pieces of the sloper, but I think I will get confused when it comes to the side waist darts…

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      Sep 19, 2010, 02.27 PMby gedwoods

      Here’s my suggestion. If you could send me your measurements (or the one’s you are using), I will try to reproduce your problem and see where that takes me!

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    Sep 7, 2010, 12.24 PMby lilly-anne

    This is a fantastic guide. I would have a question, however. I want to make a close-fitting blouse to wear over my underbust corset. It has 15cm waist reduction, so my measurments in it are104/62/108. I’d need some advice on this, please. Do I need any ease on the waist? I doubt it, the corset wont allow any shifting or breathing in, but what do I know…. Also, are there any other adjustments than just the waist darts I need to do? I’ve seen this formula for estimating the bust dart and I’d like to ask you what do you think about using it in my case instead of figuring it form the bust measurment: Dart Width = ((Bust – Waist) x (Dart Length)) / (4 x Waist To Bust Point). It takes the waist into account, so I think it may be better. (anything that takes the waist into account is better for me. Always, corseted or not. :-D)

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      Sep 8, 2010, 01.42 AMby gedwoods

      Regarding the ease at the waist, this is meant to be fairly close fitting – I would make the blouse using your measurements within the corset without adjusting the ease, unless you want the blouse really tight – won’t the corset structure show through, though, if you make it very tight? As for the dart formula, I’m not familiar with this variation, so I don’t think I can comment on it. As with all things sewing, what not try it out and see, for example, on a trial muslin?

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    Apr 21, 2010, 11.59 AMby sojo

    This may be an obvious question, but when you use your bodice block do you cut two pieces from it? Thanks for making this by the way, it must have taken a lot of work!

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      Apr 21, 2010, 02.08 PMby gedwoods

      How many pieces you make depends on the project. For example, for a princess line dress, you will typically cut three pieces from this (hence six pieces for the whole garment, since this is only half the garment). For many garments, however, you would cut two pieces from this, yes.

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    Apr 19, 2010, 05.33 PMby seemane

    Hi (again!) Gedwoods,

    I’ve posted 2 Q’s for your perusal please: Step 14 and Step 16.

    Many thanks, Seemane :)

    2 Replies
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      Apr 20, 2010, 02.07 AMby gedwoods

      I’ve changed the text in both places. Thanks for catching these errors!

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      Apr 20, 2010, 09.09 PMby seemane

      Ahhh, thank you loads! Glad to know I understood it correctly.

      Many thanks,

    • This is a question
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