Friday, May 21, 2010

Draping vs. Flat-Pattern: A Meditation

Last night, I attended part of an introductory seminar on draping.  (Unfortunately, I ended up having to leave early.)  At this point, I've done a fair bit of flat-pattern drafting, but no draping, so here are my admittedly uninformed thoughts on the two methods.

Clearly, draping is sexier.  I mean, come on, it's just cool.  Draping a garment on a dress-form totally makes you look like a slick fashion designer.  Beyond the coolness factor, it also seems that draping gives you more control over your design than flat-pattern drafting.  Because you're manipulating the fabric on the form, you can evaluate things like balance and dart placement as you go, rather than waiting till you prove your pattern in muslin to see whether you like the results.  That seems like a real advantage to me, especially with more complicated designs.

That said, draping seems just as inefficient as flat-pattern drafting: in both cases, you have to create a design, copy or transfer your finished pattern pieces to paper, then prove the pattern in muslin and make adjustments from there.

And it also seems to me that draping has some real disadvantages for the home sewer.  First of all, the dress-form seems like a real limiting factor.  A good one is expensive, not to mention difficult to store.  And, unless you have a custom form created to match your specific body, the fit of your garment is always going to be an approximation.  Depending on how wonky your own personal shape is, you might or might not be able to find a form that matched your dimensions well.  And, having bought that form, god help you if you change size or shape appreciably any time in the next ten years or so!

So, I could be way of base here, but this is the impression I got: Draping is cool, but it's much more useful if you're doing Fashion Design, rather than sewing for yourself.  If you're a Designer, you'll want the added control and flexibility that draping on a form will give you in creating your designs.  And you'll probably also be creating prototypes, rather than garments designed to be worn by a particular person with his or her own unique shape (to my mind, runway models don't count).  But if you're sewing for yourself, you'll probably be needing more pencil skirts than pleated evening gowns, and you'll want them to fit you impeccably.  You also might find yourself unwilling to integrate an expensive, person-sized inanimate object into your already cramped apartment.

So at this point I'd say that, if you want to become a Fashion Designer, buy yourself a form and get draping!  But if your goals are modest and your resources are limited, like mine are, flat-pattern drafting is way to go.

What do you think?


  1. I agree, though I have little experience in both methods. Having met you and witnessed the creations you made from your sloper, I have become even more interested in flat-pattern design. By happenstance, I picked up Margolis' "Make Your Own Dress Patterns" from the library. While reading some of the book, I couldn't help but think the title and author seemed familiar. Then it dawned on me. This is the book you recommended! I am excited to learn more about this method and hopefully get some impeccably fitting garments as well.

    Question: Suppose you are working on a woven top and the FP measurements are 2 inches less than your full bust measurement. When you make the FBA, do you add only 2 inches or 2 inches plus ease?


  2. That's actually not a book I'm familiar with, and I'd love to check it out!

    I would add ease when making that alteration (although probably not 2 full inches, since I tend to prefer a slightly closer fit). Think about it this way: there is ease in the original pattern, but when you measure the pattern, you're including that ease, and adding 2 inches, just to get it up to your measurement. If you want ease in you're finished garment, you'll need to add it back in.

  3. Re: the Margolis book

    Really?? I could have sworn I learned the title from you!