Ease in Patterns and Blocks

This article will give you a guide to adding ease when you want to add ease to create jackets, coats, shirts, etc.  Note that these are not step-by-step instructions for creating these garments; this article is only an overview on adding ease.  The measurements given are standards, they are not set in concrete.  Consider them a starting point.   I am limiting this article to garments created with the Bodice Block, not Skirts or Pants.

This article also refers to the standard block to use with woven fabrics, not with stretch blocks/garments.

We will start with the basics and work through the following:

  • What is Ease?
  • How does ease differ from Added Fullness?
  • How much ease is in the standard block, and why?
  • What if you want more or less ease than is in the standard block?
  • Where do you add the ease (i.e. down the length of the block, or only at certain points?
  • How do you add ease when drafting patterns such as jackets, coats, etc.
  • How do you reduce ease on the Bodice Block?

What is Ease and how does it differ from Added Fullness?

In real terms Ease and Added Fullness are really the same thing:  they are the difference between the body measurements and the measurements of the garment.  You generally use the term Easewhen you refer to adding enough to make the garment comfortable and wearable, you use the term Added Fullness when it the amount is above and beyond what is needed for comfort, and has been added for style.

Sometimes the two are hard to separate. For example,  you could add 2-4 inches of ease for a jacket.  You might need only 2 inches if you are only going to wear one layer underneath, you might need 4 inches if you want to wear many layers underneath.  What if you add 4 inches but only plan on wearing one layer underneath; does that mean that 2 inches are wearing ease, and the other 2 inches are added fullness?  My point is that it is a case of semantics and it doesn’t really matter.  What you need to understand is when and how to add ease for the purpose at hand, and it doesn’t really matter what you call it.

Ease in the Standard Bodice Block

The standard Bodice Block usually has about 6 inches of ease around upper bust area (approx where the armhole is), and 4 inches ease in the bust.  Remember that the standard Bodice Block is for garments with sleeves.  If you make a sleeveless garment, you reduce that ease so that you have 3.5 or 4 inches ease in the upper bust, and 1.5 to 2 inches ease in the bust.   How to make the adjustment to the standard Bodice Block for a sleeveless garment (or to make a Sleeveless Bodice Block for convenience’ sake) is covered elsewhere in this website: see Making the Sleeveless Block .

Figure 1:

An example of my standard Bodice Block (in beige) and my Sleeveless Torso Block (in orange).  You can see that the Sleeveless Block is narrower; i.e. it has less ease.

The sleeveless block is orange

You absolutely need some ease in your block to make garments that are wearable. If you make a garment to your exact body measurements, you will not be able to move and/or the garment will rip.  Note that in some schools of patternmaking there is a practice of making a Moulage, which is a block without any ease.  The purpose of creating a Moulage is to make certain of your measurements; before making any kind of garment, you add ease to the Moulage and create a working Block.

Some people might like more of less ease that is contained in the block. In terms of reducing the ease, it is hard to reduce the upper bust ease too much or you won’t be able to move your arms forward or up in a garment with sleeves.  You could reduce the ease in the bust area to 1 inch with some types of garments depending on the closure; e.g. a dress that zips up the back could be tight in the bust, but if you put buttons down the front, you might get gaping.

Adding Ease: Jackets, Coats, Shirts & Oversize Garments

Adding ease means increasing the width of the block.  When you add ease to a block to draft jackets, coats, shirts & oversize garments, you also lower the armhole.   However, before you lower the armhole and widen the block, you first open up or relax the front armhole a little.  This is done by dart manipulation; you move some of the side seam dart into the armhole.  This means the side seam dart will end up a little smaller, the armhole gets a little bigger and the side seam stays the same length (no adjustment is necessary at this stage to the Back Block).

The reason for relaxing the armhole for jackets and coats should be obvious; you need to be able to wear layers underneath.  In the case of shirts and oversized garments; that is in the nature of the garment. (Blouses are well fitting, shirts are relaxed. Oversized garments are obviously oversized).

So the first step you need to do when creating jackets, coats, shirts or oversized garments is to open up the armhole about 0.5 inches (1.25cm).   For all the images that follow up to Figure 6, the following adjustment has been done and any further work is in addition to this.

Note that this is the opposite of moving a gape dart from the armhole into the side seam dart (see Contouring).

Figure 2

0.5-inch (1.25cm0 is transferred from the side seam dart into the armhole.

The brown block underneath is the original block, the pattern is in white showing the dart manipulation by the cut and spread method.

Fitted Jackets

By the nature of the description of the garment, this jacket follows the contours of the body, so the ease is added evenly down both front and back. Making sure that you have opened up the armhole as per Figure 1, you need to further widen the block and lower the armhole.

A standard amount would be:

  • lower the armhole 1-inch (2.5cm) – Back & Front
  • widen at the armhole level 0.75-inch (2 cm) – Back & Front (Meaning there will be a total of 3 inches additional ease on top of the ease already included in the block)
  • continue the 2cm width increase all the way down the block, to the desired length of the jacket
  • extend the Front  shoulder line out 0.5-inch (1.25cm) before drawing in the new armhole (In this example the back dart is not being used/sewn, so the 1.25 increase to the front will make the shoulder lengths equal)

If you want a jacket that isn’t fitted, you could add more ease at the waist so it has more of a squarer or straight-up-and-down silhouette.  If you want it to have the fitted silhouette but have more ease, you could increase the 0.75-inch to 1-inch (4 inches additional ease for the whole garment). If you want more than 4 inches ease for the garment,  only add the 1-inch and see Figure 4 for how to increase that more.

Figure 3:

Ease is added evenly to the front and back at the side seam, after lowering the armhole.

Coats & Oversize

For coats and oversized garments where you want more than 4 inches additional ease, add 1 inch to the side seam as per Figure 3, then add more ease by cutting and spreading in the front.  You could add anywhere from 0.25-inch to 1-inch into the front and back (i.e. 1 inch to 4 inches for the whole garment).

Draw a vertical line down the block, in between the high neck point and the first dart. (Keep away from the neckline!). See Figure 4b if you need clarification.

Figure 4a:

Adding ease extra ease by cutting and spreading in the front.

Coats & Oversized Continued…

  • Put paper underneath where you have cut and spread, and tape it down
  • Cut and spread the back so that it matches at the shoulder line  (cutting line shown, cut and spread not shown)

In this case, the garment still has a fitted look, but of course the coat could have a straight look and the ease reduced at the waist. It could also have an A-line silhouette and have more ease added at the hem.

Figure 4B

Cutting & Spreading to add in additional ease in the center of the garment

Shirts

The steps to draft this shirt are similar to the ones above; the pattern in white shown underneath has already had the armhole adjustment done.

This shirt has been lowered 0.75-inch and widened 0.75 inch.  Like the jacket and coat shown above, the shoulder line has been extended.

Where the shirt differs from the examples shown above is that a line a drawn straight down from the new underarm/width point (with the appropriate adjustment for the bust dart), down to the hip-line, or where the shirt ends.  The ease is not added proportionally; there is a lot more ease in the waist.  Traditional shirts are very boxy and square. (Which does not always work that well for non standard figures).

This is just one example of a classic shirt silhouette, of course you could shape it a little more in the waist, shape the hemline, include or exclude the darts.  Remember though that a shirt is supposed to be loose; if you want fitting, then you would more likely draft a blouse and not lower the armhole or add the width ease.

Figure 5a:

This example of ease added to a shirt is using my personal block, which may look strange. Look at Figure 5b for the same Figure using a Standard Size 14 Block.

Figure 5B

The shirt silhouette showing ease, drafted with a standard block (size 14).

Added Fullness

I just wanted to touch on the difference between ease and added fullness again.

In reality the drafting of the shirt shown in Figure 5 can be classed as either ease or added fullness.   In the case of the top in Figure 6 – this is obviously added fullness – it’s ease added purely for the purpose of design and aesthetics.  (Front only shown, the Back would have similar fullness added).

Figure 6: Added Fullness in a top.

Increasing or Reducing Ease in the Block

There is nothing to stop increasing or reducing the ease on your block.

  • You can add it evenly as indicated on the right in Figure 7. (You would add same amount to the Front & Back, I am showing just the front).
  • You can reduce your ease at your Upper Bust/Bust reducing down to nothing (no addition) at the waist.

Which one you will do will depend on what you are trying to achieve.  If you just want the whole garment to be a bit looser (have a bit more ease), add it evenly.  Remember that a little goes a long way; if you add 0.25 inch to both front and back blocks, that’s 1 inch for the garment.

If you feel it is too loose in the underarm but you want to keep the waist as is, make the adjustment as per the example on the left; you may need to close the dart to draw the side seam line successfully.

If your block fits at the underarm and waist, but is tight in the bust, you need to do a large bust adjustment (which, if you have taken your measurements correctly and used my method to draft the block, you should not need to do!),

Figure 7:

Increasing or Decreasing Ease in your Block (Front only shown, most adjustments would be made to both F&B)

Figure 8:

Increasing or Decreasing Ease in your 1-Dart Bodice Block.

Figure 9:

Increasing or Decreasing Ease in your 2-Dart Bodice Block.

12 Responses

  1. First off, let me just say that I LOVE this website….it has the answers to all my questions and then some! I cannot believe you give this information freely; it is amazing. I am trying to create my own patterns as I prefer my clothes to be more tight-fitting as I think this looks more flattering on me. I have a few questions, though. I have made a moulage which includes a shoulder dart, armhole dart, side dart, and waist dart and the top extends to the low hip. For the majority of my clothes, I will be adding sleeves bcuz I prefer them to sleeveless styles. In the directions for making a sloper out of the moulage, it says to keep the armhole dart open for sleeved styles; is this correct? My moulage is fairly comfortable, so I don’t think I need much ease, but it does cut into the front of my armpit, would extending the cross front out 1/8 inch be enough? I had previously also lowered the armhole .75″, but found it to be rather big, especially when adding a sleeve – I saw that you had mentioned I wouldn’t lower the armhole at all if creating a fitted shirt, correct? Even if I am making sleeves? In order to keep my top more fitted, I was planning on only adding .5 – 1″ ease. You mentioned that there may be fit problems depending on the type of closure. I was wondering if you could expand upon why there would be no gaping if using a zipper, but there may be some gaping if using buttons & how I would fix this issue?

    I have also been reading your posts about sleeves (Wonderful!) and dart manipulation which have been FASCINATING! I would love to try dart manipulation, and I saw most of your styles start with 1 or 2 darts with darts at the waist and side. Can I slash/pivot or fold out the shoulder dart and add it into the side and/or waist? And then from there, combine into one dart? I would LOVE to try the parallel waist dart style, but if I want to keep the length of the shirt to low hip, how do I match the lower half to the top?

    Sorry for the length of this, but I wanted to gather all of my questions into one post instead of multiple. Again, thank you SO MUCH for this website!! <3

  2. Hello Emily

    Firstly, thanks for the positive feedback.

    Secondly, I will answer all the questions above, but not today. Hopefully I’ll be able to do so on Sunday (today is Thursday).

    Maria

  3. Hello Emily

    You say your moulage is comfortable, but usually a moulage has no ease at all – it’s made to your body measurements. If it is truly a moulage I can’t image you will be able to move your arms forward or up if you made a top with sleeves using it. The amount of ease is a personal preference but you do need some wearing ease if you want to move in your clothes.

    Extending the cross front 1/8 is not the same as adding ease. Really you need to make a toile and see whether you have enough ease. If you want to get your fit right you will eventually have to make a number of toiles to perfect the fit.

    You really do need more ease in block with sleeves than you do for sleeveless garments. If you are making a garments with woven fabric, I can’t image that .5in will be sufficient, but you can always try it…..

    Regarding more gaping with buttons than with zippers… It’s the nature of the closing. Have you ever had a dress with a zipper that’s quite tight; you might actually find it difficult to do up but you squeeze yourself into it. (You might need someone else to help you do it up, and maybe you can barely breathe in it>) Well if a buttoned garment was as tight, it would pull and gape in between the buttons. The strain in a zip is spread out evenly across the whole closing, and every point along the closure is kept taut. It’s not the same with buttons. Only a number of points are held together along the closure, and so the garment strains and pulls in between.

    Absolutely you can move you move your darts wherever you want and even all your darts into one if you wish (not recommended if you have full bust though, unless you then turn it into a princess line.)

    With your question about parallel darts in the waist that continue through to the hip, do you mean something like this:
    https://www.dresspatternmaking.com/patterns/tops/top-001-series/description-top-001c/flat-and-details-top-001c

    Regarding lowering the armhole for a ‘fitted shirt’.. Usually the basic shirt or blouse has a slightly lowered armhole and the block is widened a bit. If you lower the armhole and widen the block you will have more ease and more room to move. But you can do what you want; you can have it more fitting if you want. It’s a matter of taste, what is comfortable and what works for you. But I will say that if you choose to keep the block narrow and the armhole high, you may need to put a yoke in the back and then a pleat in the centre back below the yoke to have more room to move. (This is just a different way to get some ease, and one I prefer, because with a higher armhole it’s easier to get a jacket to wear over it. If the shirt’s armhole is really low it’s hard to find something that looks good and is comfortable with the shirt).

    I have a theory, which is based on nothing but my opinion, but here it is for what it is worth. I think quite often what drives fashion isn’t actually the design, but rather convenience and money.

    By this I mean, I suspect rather than (B) was the start of the marketing of shirts, rather than (A).

    (A) Designer: “Look at this design. I’m calling this a shirt, it’s really wide with lowered armholes. I just love it because it’s so comfortable and stylish. Let’s advertise and sell this to everyone because it’s such a brilliant design! This design is so brilliant it’s going to revolutionize women’s fashion. We’re not going to be forced to wear tight clothing anymore.”

    (B) Business Person: “If we make close fitting garments, it will fit less women. If we make really close fitting tops and blouses, women with larger busts are not going to be able to buy them, and we won’t be able to sell enough to make a good profit. Let’s design a big baggy thing that will fit a broader range of women with different body shapes. Then let’s sell it as the best thing since sliced bread. Let’s talk women into it being comfortable. Let’s sell it as the most brilliant design that is going to revolutionize women’s fashion.”

    Basically I’m not a fan of shirt with lowered armholes, it’s so hard to find jackets that look good with them. The jackets need an even lower armhole……

  4. This article has been very helpful: I am making a soft, casual jacket based on my own tailoredshirt pattern. You really helped explain where I needed to add ease at the front bodice and armscye to accomodated layers beneath, and also to the sleeve. I am not needing ease down the bodice beneath the adjusted armscye since I already have enough ease there. Thank you.

  5. Hi Sue

    I’m glad you found it useful. I try to write articles that I would have found useful when I was learning. Good luck with your jacket.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  6. Hi Maria,

    Thank you for such a helpful, thorough and easy to understand resource!
    Thank you for all the years you persevered to figure it all out and all the years you have put into sharing the information with us!

    Could you advise as to a stylish way to place bust darts for a larger bust, please?

    I have a dress size, size D bust and as you pointed out in your instructions, a single bust dart can look pretty pointy when it is all placed in one dart.
    As I am also rather rotund ??? I don’t want to include it in a waist dart. I prefer loose fitting shirts that are extended to the upper thigh level with an extra full hem. (Yes, I’m hiding the bits I don’t like… my upper bust and waist measurements are the same…?)

    I have seen some interesting top designs with 3 darts placed down the side seam but haven’t attempted to replicate it as yet.
    Do you have any advice about where to place extra darts?

    Sending you lots of love,
    Nonbiri

  7. Hi Maria I have just discovered your site thankyou for sharing what seems like a mountain of information which I am looking forward to reading through. The question of ease brought me to your site. I currently have a sleeveless bodice block which has virtually no ease on the bust and has some on the waist. I have made a few dresses from the block which zip up at the back & I am happy with the fit. I now want to make a dress that buttons down the front & I know I will need to add more ease in order for it not to gape. How much ease should I add in order for it to not gape but to still be quite fitted.

  8. Hi Jane

    This is a difficult question to answer, it’s very hard to give precise measurements. I think it’s best to have a little too much, when buttons are involved, than too little. Different fabric makes a huge difference. Some people also ‘expect’ a close fit and think any amount of ease is too much.

    The bottom line is you would have to just test and see. I would say start with adding 1 inch across the whole block.

    I have recently made myself a number of dresses and tops with the exact same basic pattern, but some have buttons down the front, some not. The dresses are made from linen, viscose/rayon and cotton. There is an enormous amount of ease difference between the fabrics; even between the same types of fabric. i.e. You may expect that there is a difference [b]between different types of fabric[/b], but I have found a huge difference [b] WITHIN the same type of fabric[/b]. .e.g. I have made the same pattern with two different viscose fabrics; one ends up close fitting with next to no ease, the other is enormous.

    Ease is also needed for movement, so what seems sufficient when you’re standing still might not be enough when you are stretching your arms out and up, or in other circumstances.

    Often I find I try something on after it’s made and think it’s fine, but then when you wear it out and about you find out what the issues are.

    Some of the tops and dresses I’ve made recently with buttons down to the (Empire Line) ‘waist’ have very little ease, but the ease seemed fine – it seemed ‘enough’. I ran into trouble when I left the house and had a heavy handbag on my shoulder; the buttons kept popping all day.

    I also sometimes put my bag strap over the opposite shoulder and so the strap runs between my breasts; in the above mentioned tops, the buttons all pop in a matter of minutes…… I found out the problem when I looked down at some point and saw all of the buttons undone to the waist.

    So it depends on how much ease you prefer, the fabric and a number of other factors.

  9. Hello, Maria. First, a big Thank you for the information in this article. My question is about the amount of ease.
    You say “The standard Bodice Block usually has about 6 inches of ease around upper bust area (approx where the armhole is), and 4 inches ease in the bust. Remember that the standard Bodice Block is for garments with sleeves.”
    Does that amount of ease is the same for Plus size bodies?

    1. Generally block making instructions say something like : body measurement + (x) amount of ease. Therefore all blocks drafted using that method will have that amount of ease. The amounts of ease I have given is what I have found to be the case in a few different block making instructions I have tried. In my method, I show clearly how much and where the ease is included (by drafting the body measurements first, then adding the ease at the end).

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