Adventures in pattern drafting: bodice sloper

Jack Handford patternmaking book - binding

Over the past week, I’ve been diving head first into the glorious and puzzling world of pattern drafting.  YOU GUYS.  This is seriously the most fascinating, most fun, and most confusing sewing I’ve ever done.  I LOVE IT.  Sorry for the caps, but come on people!  This is really exciting stuff.  : )  There is a ton to say about this type of work, but I’ll try to keep this post as brief as possible.  Let’s dive in!

The book pictured above is my Christmas present from John (which I totally asked for): Professional Patternmaking for Designers of Women’s Wear by Jack Handford, published in 1974.  I had checked it out of the library earlier in December and decided that I needed a copy of my very own – it was that awesome.  The book walks you thorough drafting slopers (also knowns as blocks, fitting shells, etc.) and how to then alter them to make any garment your little mind can conceive.  Let’s just say my mind was blown.  The possibilities are endless.

Jack Handford patternmaking book - cover page

What I really liked about this book was that it’s very different from modern sewing books in a way that works really well for me personally.  The book is all black and white with no photos, only illustrations.  It’s very technical and gets right to the point, no fluff.  While many modern sewing books are beautifully photographed and styled, I often feel like I’d rather have more detailed technical info than all the pretty pictures.  This book is all about the technical details.  As an engineer, I love it.

Jack Handford patternmaking book - how to take measurements

I decided to start with a bodice sloper.  The book walks you through taking all your measurements, and it includes helpful hints like keeping your arm slightly bent or locating specific “hollows” or bones on your body as landmarks.  I took out a ballpoint pen and marked my waist, shoulder points, neck points, etc. right on my body.  It was quite a sight!

Jack Handford patternmaking book - measurement chart

The next step was to plug all your measurements into this numbered chart, for reference in drawing the sloper pattern pieces later.  You can see I wrote in my measurements in pencil, just in case I need to re-do everything later… or, you know, if my shape changes over time (ahem).  : )

Jack Handford patternmaking book - bodice sloper diagram

Then you use the measurements chart to draw this funky-looking shape: the front and back pattern pieces of the bodice sloper.  This is where my mind was truly blown.  How awesome is it to draft a custom bodice, made specifically to your exact measurements?  If you’re like me and have a body shape that differs significantly from the standard cut, this is pretty much a dream come true.

Fair warning: this involved a fair bit of math.  It’s all simple calculations and is fairly straightforward, but just be prepared.  Again, as an engineer, I was in heaven here.  : )

Bodice sloper - my diagram

And voila, I did it!  This was by far the most fun sewing-related work I’ve ever done.  I was so excited!!  The only major issue I ran into when drafting the pattern was that I essentially needed the opposite of a shoulder dart on the back bodice piece, due to my broad upper back.  Instead of making a dart as per the instructions, I extended the shoulder line to match my shoulder measurement.  I think this caused some fitting issues later, but I think I fixed them, mostly.

Bodice sloper - 3 muslins

Bodice sloper - my pattern pieces

After 3 muslins and several rounds of alterations, here are my nearly finished pattern pieces.  Holy crap this was so much work!  I keep telling myself to be methodical about it and soldier on, hoping that by going slowly and being careful I’ll send up with a sloper than I can rely on for endless self-drafted, self-designed garments.  (What a dream to aspire to!)  

I won’t go into all the alterations I made because that would take forever, but I did learn a particularly useful technique in the process.  I had a lot of gaping at the front neckline on my first muslin, and some at the back as well.  Apparently I have a “hollow chest” and a round upper back, meaning that more of my high bust measurement is coming from my back than my front.  I used this tutorial to eliminate the gaping, and it worked like a charm.  I also learned a lot about how darts work and how to manipulate patterns in the process.

Ok, onto the nearly finished sloper!  In the interest of science, these are raw, pretty unglamorous shots of me.  Please be kind.  : )

Bodice sloper - front Bodice sloper - back

I’ve included 2 side views below: the first in my natural standing posture, and the second with my arm up so you can see the side seam.

Bodice sloper - side 1 Bodice sloper - side 2

Wowza, look at my stomach in these low-hanging cargo pants!  Told ya these images are pretty raw.  : )

I have my opinions on the current state of the sloper, but I’m not going to share them with you because I don’t want to bias you!  So, what do YOU think?  The worlds of pattern drafting and fitting a sloper are all very new to me, so I’d welcome any and all comments you have about where and how to improve the fit.  Is there anything glaring that you notice immediately?

Jack Handford patternmaking book - example of pattern designAs I mentioned above, my ultimate goal is to use the sloper to draft my own garments, and the book is pretty thorough about showing you exactly how to create various silhouettes, design features, etc.  For example, check out this crop top!  How cool is it that you can get this sexy top from a frumpy-looking sloper?  I’m amazed.  Amazed, I tell you.

Anyway, please weigh in with any comments on the fit of my sloper!  Have you ever drafted your own sloper?  If so, do you have any lessons learned to share?  Did you create any finished garments from the sloper?  Did you have as much fun with it as I’m having??  : )

29 thoughts on “Adventures in pattern drafting: bodice sloper

  1. WOW – very well done – it’s like a perfect fit! You’re going to love your block, trust me 🙂 Congrats, well worth the effort – plus you learned stuff!


    • Thanks so much Kat! I remember being totally in awe when I saw you do this a while back, not to mention the fabulous dresses you made from your blocks. It was such a fun and challenging exercise, and I still have the skirt, sleeves, etc. to do!


  2. Wow! I’m so impressed! I’ve been wanting to make a sloper for ages – I’ve even bought a book already. The fit of yours is amazing! I’m bookmarking this for when I get around to doing mine because I have a feeling I have a round back and hollow chest too. The only thing I notice is that it seems just a tad long at the centre back, but maybe it’s supposed to be? I don’t know enough yet! As a math nerd too, I find this stuff way too much fun! Thanks for sharing!


    • Thanks Chantal! I would totally recommend giving it a try. I think the key for me was that I came to a point in my sewing where I couldn’t decide what to make next. Instead of mulling around, I just decided to devote some time to the sloper. I’m so glad I did and am excited to keep going. Good luck with yours! 🙂

      Thanks for your comment about the hem in the back. I totally agree – I don’t think it’s supposed to be like that. The waist seam is supposed to be straight across all the way around, right? I think the hem is a little off on the whole sloper. I’m having a hard time getting it straight because it’s actually not a straight line on the pattern pieces. Something to work on.


      • I’ve had the same problem with leggings at the back – trying to get it straight when it’s not a straight line – not easy! The front hem looks perfectly straight, though, and the rest looks perfect as far as I can tell!


  3. I have a little problem with sewing books. I collect them. Last October I embarked upon a pattern drafting project using the 6 or so pattern drafting books that I own with the intention of comparing the different methods and use the “best” sloper for fitting commercial patterns. Oh, and probably blog about it. The drawings have been done, but that’s it so far.

    The book you have as well as Handford’s grading book (which I bought over 20 years and probably paid $30 for each one at the time) are part of my collection. You are soooo lucky to have this book as it is highly sought and regarded. John must like you very much. He’s very smart, I can tell.

    Yes, drafting is a lot of work, but it is fun and rewarding. Already you can see the relationship to good fit! Looking forward to your progress- your muslin is looking good! Aaannnddd….there is Wild Ginger Software.


    • Haha, yes, John is a keeper. 🙂 I’ve read that Handford’s grading book is in high demand, and I’m so glad I scored a copy of this one! I don’t know where he found it or what he paid, and I suspect I don’t want to know. 🙂

      Good luck getting back to your drafting project! I’d be so curious to see how it comes out. Did you try using the method in this book?

      You just blew my mind (once again) with that software – I had never heard of it! Something to peruse during my lunch break today!


  4. I think you’re already pretty close but it does seem to me that the shoulder seam perhaps lies a bit too much towards the back, especially near the neck.
    I’ve just signed up for all Suzy Furrer’s Craftsy courses. The first two involve drafting a skirt and bodice sloper. I haven’t started the drafting process yet but after watching a couple of the skirt sloper lessons I’m already very excited and just know I will love it.


    • Oh great Emmely, have fun with it!! I’ll be curious to hear how it goes. This whole topic is so fascinating, and there is such a steep learning curve. It’s fun to challenge yourself with it!

      Thanks for your comment about the shoulder seam – I agree. What’s odd is that it was sitting in the proper position in the first 2 muslins, and then I must have done something inadvertently to shift it toward the back. But what? I don’t know enough about fit or alterations to identify what I did wrong or how to fix it.


      • I’m a bit late commenting again because I left for an internetfree holiday soon after I left my comment so perhaps you’ve already fixed it. What I usually do when the shoulderseam is too far back (or forward, but for me it’s usually back) is draw the line where I want it to lie on the muslin and then simply transfer that change to the front and back bodice (so remove from the front and add to the back). Make sure the neckline and armscye still have a smooth transtion across the new seamline (and if not adjust) and that’s it.


  5. This is just crazy talk. But I want it. I want it bad. And I also want math skills. There is a reason I truncated me Electrical Engineering BA track to Associates Degree. Craftsy course might be the solution for me. I’m so impressed you did this!


    • Oh man, you can do it!! If you got through 2 years of EE classes, I promise you can handle this, no problem. 🙂 There’s no algebra or anything, just simple addition, subtraction, etc. Good luck if you decide to dive in!


  6. Your shoulder seam is off by 2-2.5cm towards the back,the back at the waist lvl is too long by 1cm at least(typically waist at the back is lower by ~2cm, but in dresses when it has a cut through the waist, it is advised to keep it even(for aesthetic purposes). from the pattern I’m concluding you didn’t add any seam allowance at the arm scythe, the back,especially on your right is bunching by 1cm, if you’re picky about such stuff – try to look further into this problem. It looks like you have differently angled/tilted shoulders(is your right shoulder longer?), the left shoulder is placed higher than you right(that’s why whole sloper tilts towards one side)
    Well that’s it.

    It’s a very nice sloper tho, it follows your back curve well and it does not bunch near the neck,
    I’m just a visitor passing through your blog,it’s very nice.
    Keep going~!


    • Maria, thanks for your very observant comments! My sloper is far from finished, and I plan to get back to working on it at some point, whenever the mood strikes and I have some free time. 🙂 You are exactly right that my shoulders are unbalanced, which I never noticed until I drafted the sloper and looked at the photos. I don’t have a car and routinely carry heavy bags (groceries, laptop, etc.) on my left shoulder while walking around the city. After many years of doing this, apparently I’m lopsided, LOL!

      Thanks for stopping by and for your expert advice. I always appreciate more experienced sewists sharing their knowledge!


  7. Dr. Jack Handford was my patternmaking teacher while at Otis-Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles in the 1980’s. Went on to be a successful patternmaker myself because of his mentoring. In my humble opinion, you did a great job on your bodice sloper. With the tips left here by others you probably now have a perfect sloper. Good job!


    • Wow, what an amazing experience that must have been! I enjoyed his book so much and can only imagine the wisdom and expertise you must have gleaned from him in person. I’m glad to hear you made a successful career out of it. I still have to finish tweaking my sloper and add sleeves… one day!


  8. Hi Carolyn, yep I say you did a really excellent job on this draft. There are always minor adjustments because our bodies will vary in ‘slope and slouch’. This is when a personal fitting makes perfect. Dr. Handford was my instructor/mentor at Otis/Parsons Art institute in the 80’s. Yes Heather Nic An Fhleisdeir (see previous comment) went there at same time. Jack Handford was an amazing mentor and draftsman. I learned so much from him about fit and precision. I have carried his teachings forward in my on twenty year commitment to educating designers here in Los Angeles and San Francisco. You have found a gem of a book and as you said modern drafting books just can not compete. Best of luck to you.


    • Wow, thanks for your comment, Dawn Marie! I’m amazed that students of Dr. Handford are finding their way to my blog post. But more importantly, I’m in awe of your in-person experience and mentoring relationship with the author of this book from which I’ve learned so much. It’s wonderful to hear about your and Heather’s experiences and really makes my dated book come to life. And yes, modern books are filled with way too much “fluff” for my taste – Dr. Handford really got down to business! 🙂 Thanks again for sharing your story with me.


  9. Oh yes! I feel the same way about photo’s v diagrams. Recently my mum pointed out that I always drew in diagrams, even as a kid. I think that’s just how my brain works.

    I’d agree with the comments on the shoulder seam. If I were looking at the waistline there, I’d bring the front down a touch too, so it’s horizontal with the floor when you’re standing normally.

    Great work though. I’d be pretty darn happy with that as a first run.


    • Thanks Zoe! This sloper is definitely a work in progress, and I suspect people wind up tweaking their slopers over and over again as their bodies change and they learn more about fitting. Thanks for the recommendations about the shoulder seam and front waistline – they’re on my list of things to tackle. 🙂


  10. Hey!

    Thanks for this post, Im currently working on my bodice slopers and its definitely a long work but so exciting!! I have the same issues as you do: shoulder seam is not correctly on my shoulder and the waistline is not even… so hard to find the perfect line! And so hard to know what is a good fit? How tight should it be? You know.. but ill try my best to make a dress once! 🙂


    • Best of luck working out the kinks! I suspect that your personal sloper will keep evolving over time as your body changes and you pick up more tips about how to tweak the fit. It’s definitely a lot of work, but worth the effort. You learn so much about your body by going through the process.


  11. As far as I can see I would be very happy with this sloper, apart from one thing that I would have to change. Maybe move your dart point away from your apex by about 1/2 an inch, or you will end up having Madonna Boobs…


  12. Hi! Sloper looks pretty decent! Been some years since you posted these images and I imagine you’ve developed your skills since. I’m writing hoping you could help me with some info. I’ve bought the book of Handford but am missing the chapter about measurements and lack information about how one decides what measure to use from center front of the sloper to the first dart leg. Just looking at the measurements used in the book my guess is that one applies 1/2 of the back neck measurement? Would highly appreciate your feedback on this one but totally understand if your m.i.a. 🙂


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