Tools & Equipment
Click on the links to get details and examples.
The awl is used to mark points on the inside of the block or pattern, by piercing a hole through the cardboard or paper. The resulting hole is referred to as a “drill hole”. These drill holes indicate the placement of the dart point, pocket placements, buttons and buttonholes, and other interior features that need to be marked onto the fabric from the pattern.
The example below illustrates where the awl is used to mark the Bodice Front block. The Bust Point and Dart Point are inside the pattern and the Awl is punched through all three points. The patternmaker can then put a pencil tip through those holes and mark these points on the paper or cardboard underneath.
The awl is pushed through the Bust Point and the two Dart Points to create holes.
When creating patterns with this block, a pencil can be placed in the holes to mark the points on the paper underneath.
Note: Related Tool
For the tool that is used to mark the the edges of the block – see the Pattern Notcher.
Although most of the calculations that are needed to create your own blocks are fairly basic arithmetic, you may need to use a calculator, especially if you need to convert inches to cm, or visa versa.
Note: Blocks sold on this website
The instructions and information on this website are given in inches rather than centimeters (even though I am Australian). The blocks sold on this website have also been created in inches. To convert to cm, multiply by 2.54.
For home sewers, wanting to make their own patterns for themselves, computer equipment isn’t essential. A computer and printer are useful for viewing, downloading and printing patternmaking information, or some basic patterns or blocks (i.e. from this or other websites), but all of the patterns on this website can be created manually without the use of a computer or software.
Learning to use computer software programs for patternmaking is only necessary for those wanting to do more than patternmaking for home sewing purposes. You may want to learn to create croquis or flats on the computer (figure 1 below); you may want to learn to create repeating patterns for printing onto fabric (figures 2 & 3 below), or you may want to learn to create patterns in professional software for going into business.
Croquis & Flats
Examples of a Croquis and some Flats – Back & Front. (Note that Croquis used in the Fashion Industry don’t usually have detailed faces).
Repeating Pattern 1
Example of a repeating pattern made in Illustrator.
Repeating Pattern 2
Example of a repeating pattern made in Illustrator.
Software Used for Fashion Design
Below find some information on programs related to Patternmaking for Fashion Design purposes, and what they are used for.
|Type of Program||Uses||(Some) Software Programs|
|Vector Graphic creation Programs||create flats, croquis, repeating patterns||Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, Inkscape, SketchUp, ZPaint|
|Raster (pixel) based Graphic Programs||create croquis, repeating patterns||Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Paint, Artweaver, GIMP, Corel PaintShop|
|Fashion CAD Software||fashion patterns, blocks, layout of pattern onto fabric||Wild Ginger, Patternmaker USA, xx, xx, xx|
For those wanting to learn how to use Illustrator and/or Photoshop for creating flats, croquis and repeating-patterns, I can highly recommend LinkedIn Learning (which was actually lynda.com when I was learning) and www.tutsplus.com.
Blocks and patterns are made on paper or cardboard with a hard pencil; you will make mistakes now and then and you will need to erase lines and redraw them.
A softer quality eraser, such as a Gum Eraser is preferable to a hard rubber eraser so that the mistaken marks are minimised. When working with thinner paper, a softer eraser is less likely to tear.
Felt Tipped Pens
Felt tipped pens can be used on your blocks for color coding to identify pattern lines, changes on the patterns or corrections.
You can create new blocks for some of these (e.g. an Empire Line Block, or a Sleeveless Contour Block) if you wish, or just reuse this block, transferring the markings onto the pattern in the creation process.
In the image, my (personalized) block has four different markings on it using felt-tipped pens:
- Empire Line – green
- Gape Dart marking for low cut necklines – pink
- Lower neckline marking – blue
- Bust Mound – purple
A flexible ruler makes it easy to measure curves like armholes and necklines.
A flexible ruler is useful when making the Sleeve Block as you need to measure the armhole curves and use this measurement to construct the sleeve.
Measuring the armhole curves with a straight ruler or even a tape measure can give less accurate measurements.
A French curve is used to draw curves at the armhole, neckline, curved darts, sleeve cap curves, and hip-line curve, etc. They are transparent and some come with a straight edge including a Seam Allowance Guide and Grading Rules.
French curves come in a variety of sizes and shapes.
In this first image a French Curve is used to make the curve at the armhole of the Bodice Block:
The French Curve is used to join points A, B & C. Note that you may have to move the Curve and blend the lines.
For the Sleeve Block, the French Curve is used to make each one of the four curves.
The two back curves of the sleeve are shown, for the front you do the same reflected on the other side.
Some French Curves have a seam allowance guide which makes makes adding a seam allowance on straight lines easier.
If you are going to go beyond making the pattern to making toiles and garments, an iron and ironing board are essential, but there is also other ironing equipment that can make your life easier.
A tailor’s ham is useful for ironing curved surfaces, a point presser helps press open hard to reach seams, a clapper flattens bulky facings and edges, etc., and a sleeve board is, of course, useful for ironing sleeves.
A Sleeve Board
A Point Presser and Tailor’s Clapper in one
A Tailor’s Ham
A good tape measure will not stretch and has measurements on both sides – often centimeters (cms) on one wide and inches on the other.
Better quality tape measures are softer and more flexible; one brand of top-quality tape measures is Hoechstmass.
Note soft and flexible tape-measures made from cloth-like fabric is not good; this kind of tape measure will stretch over time.
Cheaper tape measures are very stiff plastic; they more difficult to work with as they don’t ‘drape’ well. (I find these stiff ones will not stay draped around my neck, they invariably fall off). Given that even the most expensive are still fairly cheap, it is better to get a good quality one.
A Model Stand makes fitting garments much easier, especially if you are patternmaking and making garments for yourself. However, a Model Stand won’t solve all your fitting issues if you have a non-standard figure, unless you get one custom made.
If you buy a standard or expandable body form, even if they are the same measurements as your figure (or your model’s figure), this doesn’t necessarily mean that it will have the same shape. At a minimum, for a model with large busts, some wadding/wrapping will need to be done around the breasts.
See the article on Body Forms for more information and details of where to order personalized Body Forms.
Pattern Hooks are used for storing (cardboard) patterns or blocks hanging up. One pattern hook can be used for a whole set of blocks or pattern.
The metal end of the pattern hook is pushed through a hole made in the cardboard with a Pattern Punch.
A pattern library. A number of pieces of cardboard – a set of blocks, a pattern, etc – can be hung up on one hook.
Patternmaking Paper can refer to both the heavy-duty cardboard* (around 225gsm) used to make blocks, and thinner paper used to make the patterns which are pinned onto the fabric.
Patternmaking suppliers sell a variety of papers including special Dot/Cross Marking Paper which is a high quality option; it is partially see-through, and the marks on it help you to keep your lines and angles correct. It is also quite expensive.
* (We call this heavy paper cardboard in Australia, but it is called Oak Tag, Tag Board or other names in the US).
Blocks | Slopers
For Blocks and Slopers, you need the heavier cardboard (in American known as paperboard or cardstock?) . Buying the heavier paper in large enough sheets to make your Pants and Extended Line Dresses Blocks can be a challenge for the home sewer. If you live in a city near a TAFE that offers Patternmaking subjects, you are in luck. It is also very easy to buy online from places such as EM Greenfields, but the postage will mean that it won’t end up cheap. The Patternmaking cardboard comes in sheets of 120 x 74 cm, so if you buy 10 or more sheets it may be worth the postage. You can buy the Dot/Cross paper from these suppliers also.
Paper for the Pattern
For the pattern that will be pinned onto the fabric, you can use a variety of different papers.
This second image shows the dot/cross patternmaking paper that is one option used by dressmakers. It is sold in rolls of 100m+ by wholesalers such as M Recht.
You can also buy pattern tracing paper from your local sewing shop, but this is also very expensive. I find brown kraft paper works perfectly alright for heavier fabrics, including most cottons.
For finer fabric, the kraft paper is too thick and you need to look at other options such as tissue paper (if you can get the right thickness and in big enough sheets) and another alternative is using non-woven non-fusible interfacing (vilene).
I buy Patternmaking Cardboard online from EM Greenfields in Sydney and have it shipped (it’s actually called Pattern Paper). I us brown Kraft paper for patterns when making garments out of thicker fabric, and for finer fabrics I use vilene. (I do not receive any commission or payment from EM Greenfields).
The Pattern Notcher is used to clip the edges of the block where something needs to occur in the construction of the garment; e.g. at the end of the dart legs, so the sewer knows how much of the fabric to fold together to construct the dart; balance points, so the sewer can match two garment pieces together, etc. The marks made by the notcher are transferred from the block to the pattern and fabric to ensure the garment is constructed correctly.
Notching the Bodice Block Front
In this image, the armhole and the dart legs are notched on the Front Bodice. The armhole has one notch to show that this is the front armhole (the back armhole will have two notches) and it is also a balance point to assist attaching the bodice to the sleeve; the notches on the dart legs are to show how much fabric is to be pinched together to form the armhole and waist darts.
Notching: Marking the Inside of the Pattern
The hole that is clipped in cardboard allows the mark(s) to be made in the inside of the pattern as it is being created, as in the example above.
If the marks are made on the outside it is possible that they won’t be transferred to the inside of the pattern , and when the pattern is cut this important construction information will be lost.
Note: Related Tool
For the tool used to mark points on the inside of the block or pattern, see the Awl.
The Pattern Punch is used to punch holes in your cardboard blocks/patterns so that you can store them hanging up.
The Pattern Punch is used with Pattern Hooks
This Pattern Punch makes a 1.25 cm diameter (3/4″) hole – through which you put a Pattern Hook.
Buying Pattern Punches in Australia
One stockist in Australia is EM Greenfields, Sydney. (I do not receive affiliate or any other payment from EM Greenfields).
Pattern Weights are used to hold patterns in place while you trace them.
They can also be used for holding patterns onto the fabric while you cut instead of pinning. They are especially useful for delicate fabric that would be damaged by pins or difficult knit fabrics. They are also useful for holding fabric on your workbench when you are pinning your pattern onto the fabric.
Sizes of Pattern Weights
Pattern Weights come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The one in the image to the left is 30cm long x 5cm wide with a handle. As they are aren’t usually available in fabric stores you will probably have to order online from a specialty store online and pay postage, which can be expensive for the heavy weights.
Purchasing Pattern Weights in Australia
These set of seven small round weights in different sizes can be purchased online from Judí’s Studios in NSW. The set costs $32.50 plus postage (2015). You can buy other useful things from Judi’s studio, such as Point Presser & Tailor’s Clapper, etc, to make the postage worthwhile. (I do not receive any commission or payment from Judi’s Studios).
Hard Pencils, for example 3H or 4H, are best for patternmaking. The harder the pencil, the finer the line.
Soft pencils make thicker lines and tend to smudge, which makes the lines less precise and leaves more margin for error.
Some patternmaking books recommend mechanical pencils, but I find them hard to work with and so I prefer to use normal pencils.
Pins and Pinholder
Pins are necessary for pinning the pattern to the fabric and holding the seam allowances together when sewing the garment. Pincushions are useful to storing and accessing the pins easily.
There are a variety of pin types, and Dressmaker #17 pins are generally recommended for patternmaking. However, it doesn’t really matter which you use, as long as you understand the pros and cons of each.
Dressmaker size #17 Pins have a flat head and the #17 is medium in length – 1 1/16 inches | 27mm long. The flat head means you can press over them with an iron. The flat head also means that thread won’t get caught around the head – e.g. if you are doing hand sewing or gathering. One problem with the flat head is that the pins are harder to see.
Glass-headed pins: are heat resistant and will not melt if ironed. As they have a ball-shaped head they are easier to see and remove.
Pearl headed pins: are longer and are usually used with finer fabrics. They are also easy to see and remove due to their round head.
Pins: Should you remove pins or machine sew over them?
To save time in sewing, some people place the pins at right angles to the seam line and sew over them with their sewing machine. While this does save time, there are two possible issues with doing this. You will break needles if/when the machine needle hits the pin. I used to sew over needles for a number of years and only broke three needles, so I used to think breaking needles was worth the time saved (since I didn’t break many). However, the other issue is the one that made me stop this practice; the third needle that broke hit me the forehead, which hurt a great deal and left a cut.
I’m lucky it didn’t hit me in the eye. I decided it’s not worth the risk of sewing over needles, better to take them out as you go along.
Third Scale Ruler
If you are working with Third Scale Blocks to do patternmaking exercises, it is useful to have a Third Scale Ruler to use with them.
For the purposes of learning patternmaking principles, making patterns at a 1/3 scale saves paper and requires less desk space than making them full-scale. If you attend face-to-face classes in patternmaking, you generally make most patterns at one-third scale.
Click on this link to go to the Third Scale Blocks Page to download the Third Scale Blocks booklet which contains: Bodice Front and Back, Sleeve, Skirt Front & Back, Pants Front & Back.
You will need some cardboard to make the final blocks that you use to do the exercises.
Scissors: Fabric & Paper
Good quality fabric scissors are necessary to cut out your toiles and garments. Make sure you don’t use your fabric scissors to cut cardboard or paper, and try not to drop them.
Standard paper scissors can be used to cut out your blocks and patterns from cardboard, paper and tissue paper.
If you need to cut fabric and paper together, e.g. for finer and hard-to-handle fabric, it is best to have a pair of fabric scissors particularly for that purpose and keep your best fabric scissors for fabric only.
If you are making your own patterns, one option is to use vilene instead of paper. When cutting out the pattern pieces from the Vilene – don’t cut ot the edge; leave a border so that when you are cutting out the fabric, you are cutting through both the vilene and the fabric together.
Sellotape is used to stick cardboard or pattern pieces together when you are making alterations to pattern work such as cutting and spreading. You may find removable sellotape works better for you.
Note: You need sellotape to construct Blocks purchased on this website.
If you download the free third-scale blocks or buy any of the downloadable blocks I sell online, you will need sellotape to construct the blocks.
You will have to provide your own cardboard and: (1) stick the block pieces together, then (2) stick the outline of the block shape to a piece of cardboard. You then cut around the shape again, and (after transferring any markings such as notches and drill holes) you can easily separate the paper and cardboard leaving you with a cardboard block with no Sellotape on it.
Using Third Scale Blocks allows you to practice patternmaking without using excessive paper and without needing the large desk space required for full-scale work.
Go to the Third Scale Block page to download the booklet.
A square ruler, or an L-square ruler, is an essential for patternmaking.
When patternmaking you often need to form 90 degree angles when drafting blocks and patterns; having a ruler with two arms that form that 90 degree angle will ensure your right-angles are correct.
When creating your own blocks, you need to ensure certain lines are at right angles.
The square ruler assists in doing this correctly.
Tailor’s Chalk is used on fabric to mark darts and other markings before assembly, and also on the toile to mark alteration fitting and adjustment lines.
It can also be used on the actual garment to mark darts and other construction guides.
When making toiles for myself, I often use felt-tipped pens to mark these lines for a variety of reasons. Although this may be a no-no for professional patternmakers and sewers, for the home sewer just trying to make their own blocks and toiles, it can make life a lot easier.
Toile fabric is a cheaper fabric that is used to make a test garment for a pattern.
The preferred material to make toiles is calico or muslin. In Australia, calico seems the more commonly used, in America it is muslin.
Calico and muslin are used because they are cheap 100% cotton fabrics with an easy to see the weave. You can tear them along both the straight grain and crossgrain to make sure the grainline is correct.
Calico and muslin come in a variety of different weights. Although it is used a lot for test fabrics (which is what a “toile” means), it can’t be used for all garments – the toile should be made up in a similar fabric (in terms of weight and drape) to the final garment. if the final garment is a very soft delicate fabric, making a toile out of calico will not give a good indication of how the final garment will look and drape. In these cases, other fabrics should be used for the toile.
On this website, I give instructions for creating your own blocks and a necessary step in this is to make toiles to fit your blocks. For this purpose, calico and muslin are perfect. As they are plain woven fabrics (no pattern design on it), usually beige in color, and they are good for marking the toile to assist in the creation and fitting.
A Tracing Wheel (or Pattern Wheel) is used to transfer markings from a block onto patterns or from patterns onto fabric.
When using a Tracing Wheel on cardboard numerous times, it can weaken the cardboard at that spot and make it tear. You may need to remake or copy/retrace your Block on a regular basis if you use the Tracing Wheel a lot.