Drafting the Dress Block

Bodice Front Side Seam

The Extended Line Dress (ELD) block is created using the Bodice and Skirt Blocks. If you are using the 2-Dart Bodice Block creating with the instructions on this website, some of the waist shaping may have been put into the side seam.   (See the Steps relating to Image 12, Instructions Bodice Front.  You will have done this if you have a comparatively small waist. The result of putting some of the shaping into the waist means that when you close the side seam dart, the side seam from the underarm to the waist, will not be a straight line. See the introductory image for an example of this; you can click on the image to open a larger version. This is not an issue (the body is made of curves, not straight lines), but I just want to point this out for beginners who may not understand this and be confused when they don’t get a straight line when closing the side seam dart. If you really want a straight side seam, you can replace the amount taken from the side seam and increase the waist dart/s.  You can create another block with a straight side seam, using this block – see the instructions below.

Figure 1

Since you are creating a block, you will some patternmaking cardboard.  You will be using the 2-Dart block and tracing it and making the necessary adjustment onto the cardboard below. You will need your side seam measurement for this; either look that up from your measurements table (from creating your Bodice Block), or measure and add together the side seam lines either side of the dart (i.e. referring to the Intro Image: add together lines A~B and B~C).
  • Trace around your block up from the waist, point A, and around until you reach the first dart leg of the side seam dart, point B.
  • Extend the side seam darts legs onto the cardboard below your block; to points D and F.  (In order to make sure the lines are straight, draw from Point C, along each dart leg and extend it past the end of the block for a couple of inches).

Figure 2

  • Hold the block down on the Bust Point and pivot the underarm point down to close the dart; i.e. until the point B on the block touches point E. Keep the block in place for the next step.

Figure 3

  • Draw a line the length of the side seam starting from the underarm point.  This line follows the side of the block until the mid-dart point, then continues in a straight line.

Figure 4

  • Take the block off for the moment, and erase the top part of the line you have drawn; the part above point E.

Figure 5

  • Replace the block back so it matches the outlines you made initially.
  • Measure the distance between the new side seam line X and the old side seam line Y.  This amount needs to be incorporated into the dart.  Add this to the original dart width and redraw the dart. (You need to mark it on the cardboard underneath; I am drawing it on top of the original block for explanatory purposes only).

Figure 6

Lift up the original block and finish off the new block:
  • Draw the new waist-line (see Curving the waist if you are unsure of how to do so)
  • Finish off the side seam dart outline (see Finishing Darts if you are unsure of how to do so)
  • Label and mark the block: Block Name, Center Front, Bust Point, grainline, draw dart legs
  • Cut the block out, notch the darts and pierce holes through the Bust Points and Dart Point

3 Responses

  1. Hi Maria,

    I want to create a block to make easy-fitting dresses which have straight side seams.
    In dress-making terms I measure as a DD cup size.
    Can I use this method to create a straight-sided dress block and NOT incorporate any waist darts or will that result in too much distortion and a rather shapeless creation?

    This is a brilliant website with so much information which I could not find elsewhere. Thank you so much for all the effort you have put in.


  2. Hi there,

    OK, you are talking about two different things here; creating dresses with no waist darts, and creating an Easy Fitting Block. Let me address them both.

    Absolutely, you can create straight sided dresses and not incorporate any waist darts. That is basically a Shift Dress. I need to clarify here – you will need a side seam dart for shaping the bust, especially since you are a DD cup, but there is no need to shape the waist if you don’t want to. There are a number of different styles , such as the already mentioned Shift Dress, or the A-line tent dresses of the 60’s and the tent dresses of the 70’s that didn’t have waist shaping. (Note that a can have a dress with no waist shaping that is fairly fitting in the bust, so it wouldn’t be strictly an Easy Fitting style, which usually means extra ease throughout the garment).

    If however, you also meant to create a block/patterns with no side seam dart – that would not be possible with a DD cup. Women with very small/flat breasts can get away with easy fitting dartless blocks/patterns, but with a DD cup, you would end up with a enormous tent dress.

    The basic Bodice Block that I have written instructions for is for a close-fit. From that basic block you can then create other blocks such as Sleeveless, Knits/Stretch, Overgarment, Shirt, Jacket… and Easy Fitting Block. (Currently the only derivative block I have instructions for is the Sleeveless, but I will soon – this coming week – be adding instructions for the Knit/Stretch, and eventually the others). Compared to the standard Close Fitting Bodice Block, the Easy Fitting Block just has a lower armhole and more ease across the width of the block. Because it has more ease in the width, the dart/s can be smaller. The Easy Fitting Block is useful for creating raglan and kimono shapes, but note that the Easy Fitting Block will definitely still have a bust dart.

    I want to go back to your question on whether no dart shaping will result in a “shapeless creation”. Assuming you incorporate your side seam dart and you make either a Shift Dress or A-Line or Tent dress, whether or not this will end up ‘shapeless’ will depend on your body. If you have a large bust but slim hips and long legs, even though the style is, strictly speaking, can be a little ‘shapeless’, it will suit you and look good. However, if you have large hips and short legs (and especially if you have a small waist with that), it will really look shapeless and not suit you.

    Remember that if what you are after is comfort, you can always use styles that use Added Fullness in specific places, rather than just adding ease. Also, another option is sewing with stretch/knits. Of course you could also just add ease to create easy fitting styles.

    To summarise:
    If you create the block using my instructions, you will end up with a Close Fitting Bodice Block. You can use this Close Fitting Block and make dresses with no waist shaping, e.g. A Shift Dress. If you want the dress to have a lot more ease in the bust than is in the block, you can add this ease when drafting patterns; just remember that generally when you add a more ease you also lower the armhole. (The opposite also applies, when you reduce the ease, such as in Sleeveless Garments or use Stretch/Knits, you raise the armhole). If you are making a lot of these garments with extra ease and relaxed armholes, it makes sense to make an Easy Fitting Block to save you doing the same work over and over. However, at the moment I don’t have instructions for creating the Easy Fit Block.

  3. Thank you Maria that is very helpful. I have just finished making a toile from the bodice block and it is a great fit which is more than can be said for those I have made from other instructions!
    I can’t wait to try out some dart manipulation and look forward to seeing what you post on this site in the future.
    Once again thank you for all the effort you put into the website and making it freely available

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