Contouring

The information on this page was previously contained on a number of different pages.  The information is now all on this page.   Click on the links to be taken directly to the relevant section:

Part 1: The Need For Contouring

The basic Bodice Block Set is for creating garments with sleeves and a fairly high neckline.  If you use this block and try to create a garment with a low neckline, and/or a garment with cutaway arms, it will not work so well.  Depending on your body (bust-cup size and other considerations), the resulting garment may be unwearable.  For those with a standard figure and a small bust-cup, it may not be too bad, but chances are it will not be ideal.

The reason that the basic Bodice Block does not work well for garments with low necklines and cutaway arms, is that it does not follow the contours of the body; it falls in a straight line from the neck, over the bust and down to the waist.  There is usually some space between the garment and the chest underneath, and often underneath the bust.

The basic Bodice Block is also created to be used with Sleeves, therefore it has more ease at the underarm level than is needed for a sleeveless garment.  This results in gaping in the armhole.

The result of using the basic Bodice Block to create garments with low necklines or cutaway armholes, will be gaping in those areas.

There are four parts to this issue:

  1. Understanding the need for Contouring (that gaping will occur).
  2. Knowing (determining) where the gaping will occur so that the problem can be fixed during the patternmaking process.
  3. Placing this information on the block (in the form of gape darts).
  4. Solving the problem (fix the gaping, or closing the gape darts).

This is not just limited to necklines and armholes; if you want to create an Empire Line dress, you usually need to reduce the amount of fabric at the under-bust level.  This Empire Line contouring is also marked on the block with other contouring information.

You can put all this information onto the Bodice Block, or you may also want to create a Sleeveless Block. In a Sleeveless Block, two of the contouring items – the block ease and the armhole ease are incorporated into the block and therefore do not have to be redone with each pattern.

Bust Mound Radius

In order to place contouring marks on your Bodice Front, you need to draw the Bust Circle . You will need a compass to draw a perfect circle.

The radius of the circle is the Bust Mound; from the Bust Apex (the nipple), down under the bust where it ends at the ribs.  See Figure 2, which shows the Bust Mound Radius on the body and on the block.  The circle is drawn on the Bodice Front; the center point is the Bust Point.

For Standard Blocks (used to make garments for the fashion industry), this Bust Mound and the Contour Markings are set amounts. The Bust Mound Radius increases with size, but the other markings are set amounts that are the same for all sizes.  The specifics are covered in detail in later pages on Contouring.

Note for Figure 2: The block shown is the standard block with standard markings, not my block with my contour markings.

Part 2: Contour Markings (Gape Darts)

Contour markings are necessary for both the Bodice Front and the Bodice Back. The purpose of these lines is to show if and/or where gape darts are required, and the size of the gape darts.  In the images below, these contour markings are shown on the standard Bodice (Sleeves) Block.

The circle shown on the block indicates the Bust Mound; the circle is drawn with the Bust Radius measurement.

This page just shows the contour markings on the Bodice Front and the Bodice Back.   Details such as the amount of contouring will be found on one of the following pages.

Bodice Front: Six Contour Markings

Figure 1 shows the Bodice Block (Sleeves) with seven contour markings.

  1. Reduction in block ease
  2. Reduction in Armhole ease
  3. Cutaway armhole gape dart
  4. Mid-shoulder dip adjustment
  5. Low neckline gape dart
  6. Between-bust gape dart
  7. Empire line gape dart for waist dart (plus additional Empire Line markings)

Bodice Back: Three Contour Markings

Figure 2 shows the Bodice Block (Sleeves) with four contour markings.

  1. Reduction in block ease
  2. Change in shape of the shoulder line. (Mid-shoulder-dip adjustment)
  3. Increase in length of waist dart.
  4. Increase in width of waist dart for Empire Line (plus other Empire Line markings)

Part 3: Sleeveless Block

The Sleeveless Bodice Block is a derivative block; it is created from the Bodice (Sleeves) Block, with a few changes made.   Like all derivative blocks, it is not essential; you could just use the Bodice (Sleeves) Block and make the changes each time you make a sleeveless garment.

Creating a Sleeveless Block saves having to reduce the block and armhole ease each and every time you make a sleeveless pattern.  While it might not sound much, if you make a lot of Sleeveless garments, it is worth the effort.

Below find a few images that show you the difference between the two blocks.

Bodice Front with Contour Markings: Sleeves & Sleeveless

Figure 1 shows the Bodice Front with Contour Markings: the contour markings No.1 & No.2. (reducing the ease at the underarm level of the garment, and the armhole ease) that are shown on the Bodice Front (sleeves) do not appear on the Sleeveless Block because those changes have been incorporated into the block.  These two changes are necessary for all sleeveless garments.  The other possible changes (indicated by the contour markings) may or may not be required depending on the design.

Bodice Back with Contour Markings: Sleeves & Sleeveless

Figure 2 shows the Bodice Back (sleeves) compared to the Sleeveless Bodice Back: the contour mark reducing the underarm ease (indicated by No.1) in the Bodice (Sleeves) has been incorporated into the Sleeveless Block

Comparison Bodice (Sleeves) and Sleeveless Bodice

Figure 3: The Bodice (Sleeves) and Sleeveless Bodice have been superimposed for comparison.

Part 4: Standard Contouring Amounts

The standard contouring amounts (i.e. for the Standard Figure) are as shown in the images below, for the front and the back.

Bodice Front

Front Figure 1:  Reduction in block width

The reduction is 0.5-inch.

When creating the Bodice Block, the amount of ease added to the body measurement, at the underarm level, was 5 inches.  This is ideal for garments with sleeves.  This reduction of  0.5-inch on the half-blocks front and back will reduce the total amount of ease to 3 inches for the fitted sleeveless garment.  (Half inch x 2 front, half inch x 2 back = 2 inches).

Front Figure 2:  Reduction in armhole ease

The reduction is 0.25-inch.

The curve of the armhole is closer to the body without a sleeve.  When this excess amount is removed it reduces the armhole measurement and also raises the armhole.

Front Figure 3:  Cutaway armhole

Reduction of 0.5-inch at bust circle, tapering to zero at both the shoulder and the Bust Point.

A cutaway arm will cause gaping between the shoulder and the bust mound.  As this line will be on the bias stretch, the gape dart amount is more than the actual gape.

Front Figure 4: Shoulder line shaping

Reduction of 0.13-inch at mid-shoulder.

The shoulder usually dips a little in the middle. (See the Examples for an application of using this guideline).

Front Figure 5:  Low neckline guide

Reduction of 0.25-inch at the bust circle, tapering to zero at both the neckline and the Bust Point.

The lower the neckline, the more the gape.  Note that when the neckline dips to near or below the Bust Point, contouring line No.6. applies in addition to this one.

Front Figure 6:  Low neckline

Very near and below the Bust Point; 0.75 inch total at Centre Front.

Necklines that dip to the Bust Poin and below need even more contouring.

Front Figure 7: Empire Line Guides

The dart width increases 0.75-inch at the bust circle.

The Empire Line style ends beneath the bust, therefore the dart ends at the bust circle rather than extending to the waist. The dart needs to be wider for the garment to return to the body under the bust.   See Figure 7b if you do not understand this.

Front Figure 7b: The Empire Line return

The Empire Line returns to the body under the bust, rather than falling from the bust to the waist.

Bodice Back

Back Figure 1: Reduction in block width

The reduction is 0.5-inch.

When creating the Bodice Block, the amount of ease added to the body measurement, at the underarm level, was 6 inches.  This is ideal for garments with sleeves.  This reduction of 0.5-inch on the half-blocks front and back will the total amount of ease to 4 inches for the fitted sleeveless garment.

Back Figure 2: Shoulder line shaping

Reduction of 0.13-inch at mid-shoulder.

The shoulder usually dips a little in the middle. (See the Examples for an application of using this guideline).

Back Figure 3:  Increase height of waist dart

Increase the height of the waist dart by extending the dart point up to the Across Back line.

The placement of the Across-Back line is 1/4 of the CB measurement – down from the CB neck point.  This line is drawn at right angles to the CB line.

Back Figure 4:  Increase of dart

The dart, which was previously at the waist level, is now under the bust. The width increases 0.75-inch at Empire Line level.

The placement of the Empire Line is another matter – it is based on the Bodice Front Empire Line.  See the page  Empire Line Styling in the Elements Menu.

Part 5: Individual Contouring Amounts

Working out your individual contouring amounts does take some time and effort, but it is worth spending the time up front to get it right.

Some instructions suggest using a ruler against the body at the relevant points, as the example shown in Figure 1, and measuring the depth of the gaps, but I could not get accurate contouring with this method.  As I had to make a toile to test and cut down the neckline and cut away the armholes, I think that one may as well go directly to the toile to work out the contouring.

In order to be accurate, I think it’s necessary to make at least two toiles; one for the neckline and one for the armhole.  Once you have determined those amounts, you can then use those same two toiles again to cut out the other (e.g. with the one you used for the neckline, you then also cut away the armholes and visa versa).   If you want to make extremely low necklines or strapless garments, you will probably need to make further toiles.

I use the Sleeveless Block to make the toile to work out the contouring.  The sleeveless block has some of the block ease removed, and the armhole it raised up.  In the following example, a Sleeveless Block is used.

These examples give you an idea of what you need to do, you will need to apply these ideas to contouring for which I have not supplied examples.  The information I am giving is a general guide, in some cases you will need to apply some logical thinking to solve some issues.

Note that the Empire Line contouring is not covered here; see the Empire Line page under the Elements Menu.

Preparation

On your Sleeveless blocks, draw the following guides:

Bodice Front:

  • Your Bust Circle, shown by the purple dashed line.  See the contouring page – Contouring Overview – if  you are unsure of this measurement.
  • A straight line from the Bust Point to the shoulder tip. This is the cutaway arm line, and is shown in orange.
  • A straight line from the Bust Point to the mid-neck. This is the low neckline line, and is shown in green.
  • A straight line from the Bust Point to the Center Front. This is for very low necklines that go below the Bust Point, and is shown in red.
  • The contouring line for the shoulder.  This is for the dip that is usual for the shoulder, and is shown in blue. Use the standard measurement to begin with – see the Standard Contouring page for details.

Bodice Back:

  • Extend the height of the waist dart up to the Across Back line.  This placement of this line is 1/4 of the CB measurement, measuring down from the CB neck point.  The line is drawn at right angles to the CB line.
  • The contouring line for the shoulder.  This is the same measurement you used for the Bodice Front shoulder line.

Important Note: Shoulder line

The shoulder line may confuse some people, and suggest that a curve line is required.  That is not the case. (Note that there is nothing wrong with a curve, but this is not what the guideline is about).

See below find four examples of how the shoulder line is used.  Examples given are the Bodice Front, but they apply in the same manner to the Bodice Back.  The colored shapes are the garment; look closely at the shoulder lines – in all these cases the shoulder line is straight.

In these cases, the shapes that are shown have not had the contouring done for the cutaway arm or necklines; these shapes are just to clarify how the shoulder line guide is used.

Toile 1:  Low Necklines

Mark the neckline design lines

On your Bodice Front block, draw four necklines, going progressively lower.  Line up your Bodice Back at the shoulder line and continue the curve to draw the Bodice Back neckline.  Don’t cut dow the back neckline very far.

Note: Having a very low cut back as well as a low cut front will create further problems (e.g. the garment falling off the shoulder), so to begin with it’s better to cut the back down just a small amount (as per the image above) to concentrate on the front. Once you determined the contouring for the front, you can then take on the task of working out how far you can cut the back down before the garment starts falling off the shoulder. Low back necklines will not be covered here, you can apply the steps below to a low cut Bodice Back at a later stage if making garments with a low cut back is something you want.

Transfer markings to your toile, make and fit

  • draw the bust mound, the three gape dart guides and the necklines onto your toile.
  • create the toile at the first neckline (the Bodice Back is made with the contouring adjustments)
  • try the toile on on and use pins to fit the garment: creating a dart at the green line (with the green line at the center), on both sides of the boy
  • remove the toile and transfer the information, the pinned amount, to the Block
  • remove pins
  • cut at the second line
  • pin, measure, transfer information to block
  • One you have pinned No.3,  leave that dart pinned in place when fitting dart No.4.  (You may have to sew it in place to get an accurate fit).
  • Note that this is a good time to mark the block with your preferred neckline depths.

Markings on Bodice Block

Of the first three necklines, No.3. should have the largest dart.  You should be able to draw the dart information like this:

Toile 1: Cutaway Armholes

Repeat the process with a toile for determining the cutaway arm gape darts.

Note that you will need to remove the shoulder dart in the Bodice Back.  However the shoulder line should still dip in the middle.

Part 6: Strapless

For strapless garments, the armhole gape dart, the neckline gape dart and the Center Front gape dart are all rolled into one big gape dart.  Note that this is using the Sleeveless Block.  If you are using the Sleeve Block, you will also have to include the armhole gape dart.

If you are unsure how to merge these three darts (or any number of darts) into one, see the Manipulating Darts section of the Principals Menu.

See the image below for an example of the three gape darts merged into one.

Part 7: In Action: Example

This follows on from Strapless.

In the previous pages we marked contouring information on the Bodice block, but what do we do with this information, how do we use it?

Contouring marks indicate where gaping will occur.   Gaping means that a dart is required, so the solution is to put in a dart.

In the example in Figure 1, the design line crosses one of the gape dart lines, so a dart is required.  This does not mean putting a dart in the neckline** – the gape dart needs to be incorporated into the design.   In this case, it will be moved into the side seam dart.

Moving darts to difference places in the Bodice Block is covered in detail in the Manipulating Darts section of the Principles pages, and is a skill you need to learn before attempting to make your own patterns.  Below in an example of how this gape dart information is applied; in this example you can see the difference in the shape of the pattern piece when the gape dart is moved to the side seam dart.

** Note:  You can put a dart in the neckline if the design calls for it, but in this case it doesn’t.

The Gape Dart Moved

In Figures 2 & 3 below, the gape dart has been moved into the side seam dart.

13 Responses

  1. This is an extraordinarily clear explanation, well illustrated. Thank you so much. The website as a whole is brilliant and must be a labour of love

  2. “For Standard Blocks (used to make garments for the fashion industry), this Bust Mound and the Contour Markings are set amounts. The Bust Mound Radius increases with size, but the other markings are set amounts that are the same for all sizes. The specifics are covered in detail in later pages on Contouring.”
    I cannot find where you discuss this later.

    1. I’m having troubles accessing the “Standard Contouring Amounts” page. I have tried using various links but they keep bringing me back to this page.

  3. Maria, yesterday I asked about the bust mound radius and today I’m reading all of the contouring pages!! My answer to the question of individualized markings may be in these pages and if not I’ll send a message at a later date.

  4. Hi Beth

    The bust mound is from the nipple down to where the breast tissue meets the chest wall.

    HOWEVER, what I have found is that if you have a bra underwire, take the measurement to above the wire not below the wire if you want a well-fitting bodice. For me that makes a difference between 1 and 1.5cm (3/8 to 5/8 inch).

  5. Hi!

    Thank you for your detailed explanations.

    If I understand correctly, the bust mound radius increases with size but the contour amounts and locations remain the same for each size?

    What is the standard bust mound radius?

    Thank you for your help!

  6. Hello Emily

    The standard Bust Radius is 3 inches for all Standard Sizes – according to the textbook and information I have.

    The reason for this I assume is that all Standard Sizes have a B Cup.

    Larger Bust cups will of course have larger bust mounds.

    Cheers
    Maria

  7. I am so happy to Just visit the page.many of the doubts have been cleared.
    Thank you so much for your detailed explanation.
    Have a blessed day forever.
    Regards Vanita

  8. Hi, thanks for this guide. Its really helpful.

    One thing I’ve noticed since doing the neck line dart shift ( mine was a little wide at the neck) – it doesnt look like right at the shoulder. Its sitting too far in. I guess I need to redraw?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *