A question of thoracic shaping pt.2

Sally lent me a book called Women’s and Children’s Garment Designing written by “The Master Designer”. The odd thing about it is that nowhere in the text does the -presumably- man’s name appear. This version is copyright 1992. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the “master designer” series (there were several books); self publishing has a very long history in apparel manufacturing. This book is interesting for a couple of reasons. The first is his grading process which I’ll write about later. The second item of interest is how he drafts the center front lines of tailored garments. Before I get to that, I need to explain something about pattern making that’s bugged me for a long time. These concepts apply to everyone but those of you interested in drafting to fit the aforementioned egg-shaped thoracic chest should pay the closest attention.

But first, a bit of background to one of my drafting pet peeves. By way of example, when we draft the front princess line, the pattern shaping follows the lines of the silhouette of the body. I don’t think many would quarrel with this. This is a convention that is observed when drafting for various parts of the body but totally ignored when it comes to other areas. Why?

For example, why is it that when we get to the center back line, we don’t follow the same convention? The center back line of the body is not straight, yet most of the time, we draft as though it were. Usually, one makes measure of the entire center back length of the figure which is -for the sake of example- 16″ from nape to waist. We are then instructed to draw a perfectly vertical line of 16″. Now, those of you who’ve drafted lots of suits or have worked in leather apparel will know better. Your drafts of the center back line are closer in resemblance to (crude) sketch B below:

So, those of you who have worked in tailored apparel and know that the center back line is not straight, why is it that we draft the center front line as though it were straight? The latter is what’s bugged me for years. If we’re not drafting the center back line perfectly vertical, then why is there a resistance to also shaping the center front line? The difference in the center front slope is much greater than that of the back so if one were drafting for shape, why do we ignore the front center line when it has the greatest degree of slope? Consequently, were we to follow the convention as applied to the princess and center back lines, the center front lines should resemble sketch B below:

As someone who’s played with the center front line quite a bit, there’s a myriad of reasons for why we do it this “modern” way but it didn’t used to be like this. If you look through drafting books from the late 1800’s and before, you’ll see the center fronts were rarely drafted along perfectly vertical lines. I realize that most of the books of that era only covered men’s attire so one may think that this is a peculiarity unique to men’s bodies but I’d disagree. Rather it is women with the greatest degree of disparity between the neckline and full chest measure. If there is to be shaping of the center front line it should be more pronounced in women’s attire than in men’s. There is a robust history of drafting for men because men were more likely to have garments professionally made and since the authors of drafting books were tailors writing of which they knew, it only stands to reason that these concepts were reflected in men’s apparel. However, an absence of the details for drafting women’s clothes doesn’t mean the same concepts did not apply to women’s bodies, only that the author-tailors didn’t make women’s clothes or write about them.

Returning to “The Master Designer”, I found this book interesting because adjusting for the center front slope is a very common feature of his drafts. His blocks are drafted in consideration of the center front slope. Consider:

By the way, I don’t think his proposed solution for the center front line will work unless you drafted your block to include that CF dart from the get go. But then, I haven’t tried it. I can definitely tell you his solution won’t work if your chest is egg-shaped. There is another solution for that. What is usually done is that the center front line is straightened as shown below. This has the effect of making the neckline too big.

The problem of a too-large neckline is more pronounced in women with egg shaped chests. You know you have this problem if when wearing a high necked garment with a mandarin collar, you’ve got gobs of extra fabric in your front neckline. Actually, you can notice the effect in lower necklines too; it’s why your front necklines gape. Some people have taken to easing the front neckline, in effect pulling in a dart.

Below are four sketches: A, B, C and D. A illustrates how patterns are usually cut for the center front line. The real shape and neckline is superimposed.

Consider B. If you want to correct the neckline, you’ll need this dart. This subtracts the fabric from the neckline that was added to the center front line in order to straighten it. This dart also applies if you aren’t using a princess line pattern. Now, if you don’t want that dart as shown in B, you can pivot the thing out which is shown in sketch C. Sketch D shows an approximation of what your piece might look like if you were egg-shaped and/or had a larger than average bust.

I realize that this shaping reflects a radical departure from what you’re been taught to think looks right but if it’s not fitting you right then maybe the pieces are wrong. Maybe the people who have the typical oval shaped chest can get away without a neckline dart but unfortunately, I don’t think egg-shaped people can (in tailored garments). One way or another, you’ll either need a neckline dart or a princess line in which to pivot the dart out. I realize this represents yet another layer of complexity in drafting but I’ve been unable to find any other way around it. Hence my hesitation and reluctance in discussing the topic.

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  1. colourgirlie says:

    This is a very interesting post. I am currently taking a pattern design class and this will definitely give me a different view of drafting CFs and CBs. These methods make very good sense for better fit.

    It’ll also get me brownie points with my instructor. ^_^.

    Thanks Ms. Kathleen. ^_^.

  2. La BellaDonna says:

    My primary feelings are ones of validation and relief. After years of making patterns for myself and other people that looked nothing* like the nice, tidy, blocky shapes offered by the Big Pattern Companies, here you are verifying my suspicions that the problem might have been with their patterns, and not with mine. I’ve also done a lot of research into historical cutting, and that horizontal bust dart at the front is exactly what was done to allow a man-tailored riding jacket to fit over a corseted woman in the 18th century. And throughout the 19th century, the fronts of women’s front-closing garments were cut with a curve down the center front – sometimes a really marked curve.

    The patterns put out by the ladies at trulyvictorian.com still maintain that markedly curved front, and the fit is, IMO, far superior to that of the patterns provided to home sewers by the major pattern companies. Their drafting system, not surprisingly, is also very different from what is ordinarily found. The instructions for finding one’s size call for measuring the front and the back of the body separately, and produce a garment that fits really well. I know some people have had a little difficulty, but I suspect the fault had to do with their measuring technique. I had no problem finding the right size for my bride, who was a DD with a small waist. I had to let out the shoulders about 1/4″ in length, but that was because I overfitted.

    *long, snaky backs, snaky fronts, and horizontally egg-shaped armscyes!

  3. Amitai says:

    Great post. Made me think…
    I presume the CF has become a straight line since the mass-production got in charge. It is easier to draft a pattern from a block with CF, and heck – after so many years without any complains from the people…Well, why fix something that is working?
    Regarding the princess line, I would guess it has to do with the need of the bust to look carefully shaped. A Jacket that doesn’t fit nicely in the bust area is much worse then a loose fitting on the CF line.

  4. Kathleen says:

    I am currently taking a pattern design class and this will definitely give me a different view of drafting CFs and CBs.

    It’ll also get me brownie points with my instructor.

    May I suggest an air of caution? Unfortunately, your instructor may not be happy to hear the news. At least, that’s what I’ve found to be the case. It’s cognitive dissonance. All of her teaching methods and drafting processes are built on the existing method so if you’re (we’re) right, she’d have to start over from zero. You’d be leaving her with nothing. People don’t typically like hearing that their investment of time and energy, all they’ve learned -and teach- is wrong. Especially from a new student. I wasn’t popular with my drafting teacher and yours may have the opposite reaction of what you anticipate.

  5. Janyce Engan says:

    Thanks so much for this insightful article!

    As one immersed in vintage and pre-1900s source material I’ve been teaching all of my students the advantage of drafting and cutting backs as two different pieces with an appropriate curve, rather than on the fold.

    In many, many of the women’s tailoring books and patterns (even as late as 1889) there is shaping to the center front as noted in your article. Some of this shaping naturally occurs due to the curved double waist darts at the bodice waist – but the larger part of it is simply due to correct designing.

    My humble opinion is that the front and back shaping vanished not so much for manufacturing reasons – but because we simply don’t wear our clothing as restrictively fitted as fashion dictated then. Corseting and the requirements of a smoothly fitting garment over several layers creates a need for a pattern to be drafted much closer to body shape in order to achieve that fit.

    Current drafting may not be “body correct” – but it is correct for the majority of lifestyles that want much looser fitting garments.

    Janyce Engan
    Vintage Pattern
    Lending Library

  6. Mimi says:

    I agree with Janyce Engan, with some points to add.

    This is just my personal opinion, although there may be others who may disagree. When I design garments, my aim is to create something that flatters the body and allows for movement. Most of my private clients do not want a garment that conforms to the body like a second-skin. The profile appearance of a nearly flat back, balanced by a gently rounded bustline is considered attractive by most, and the extra room that affords allows for easy movement, bending, stretching, etc. is a plus. “Back fat”, rounded shoulders and dowagers humps are very common among women these days, and they would rather not have those areas highlighted.

    Also, the great insecurities women have about rounded tummies, large or flat derrieres, etc. make them reluctant to fit anything too closely, unless they have invested in very strong undergarments!

    Even the custom swimsuits I am commissioned to make now require a strong powernet lining to make the client feel secure about wearing such a fitted garment.

    I think it is partially about body confidence, and satisfying the large numbers of body types and lifestyles ready-to-wear needs to satisfy.

    -Mimi Jackson
    Collaborative custom designer

  7. Regan says:

    “One way or another, you’ll either need a neckline dart or a princess line in which to pivot the dart out.”

    I often take a small dart in the neckline as you’ve illustrated to get a neckline to lie flat, but I generally pivot it out into the bust dart. Is there something I’m missing about why I shouldn’t do this, or another method would be better?

  8. jinjer says:


    there’s actually an official place to post “extended comments,”–the Discussion Forum, under the category “discuss blog topics”

    Kathleen has a link to it in the lefthand sidebar titled “Admin.”

  9. Beverly says:

    You are not alone in your desire to keep the CF off the true vertical. I just bought a book, called Turn of the Century Fashion Patterns and Tailoring Techniques by S.S Gordon, and all of the drafts look remarkably like yours. That was the first book I had seen with that “strange” draft. In school (I am talking about the late 60s), I think we all learned not to mess with that CF line, and woe to the student that got “creative” with it.

  10. J C Sprowls says:

    I second Beverly’s motion. In school, even when draping, we were taught to true the CF line to absolute vertical. There we many times I was busted for changing it. Never mind that the model (i.e. actor) who would be wearing this garment required these adjustments and they would be proven during the muslin fitting.

    Admittedly, during a class, one needs to learn the rules before breaking them. However, when an instructor has little real world exposure and is not equipped to take advantage when these scenarios crop up, they’re doing a huge disservice to the student.

    The ability to recognize how the client’s or model’s body differs from the drafting system you use, in advance, will save fitting time. I say this because if you develop the rock of eye to incorporate these “pattern anomolies” into your first pattern, it will more closely resemble the body and require less fittings. But, this requires using a consistent patterning system until it becomes second nature, first – you need to understand the bodies from the inside of the garment.

    I suspect that classes teach up to drafting for RTW and avoid being too specific simply as a matter of expediency. However, I estimate that the majority of the students in a design program go on to do custom work for many years. Regardless the career path after training, these technicians are doomed to unlearn a tremendous amount of misinformation before they can settle into an effective career.

  11. Todd Hudson says:

    Does anyone know where to get books in the Master Designer series? I can’t find any available for sale on the internet. I want the one on men’s tailoring and the one on drafting sports shirts. If they’re crap then I don’t care. Let me know if they are useful or not. Thanks.

  12. J C Sprowls says:


    I have both of the Master Designer men’s series. They’re fine references; but, difficult to find. It’s only my opinion, but, I feel the “Modern Tailor, Outfitter and Clothier” to be the best and well-rounded reference. This is easier to find; but, very expensive. Well worth it, IMO.

  13. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    In draping class, we were taught to pin the fabric to the center front then spread it out over the form (yes, I know you hate forms) in the desired design. The CF was always straight and vertical. Wouldn’t this work on any chest or would it end up so distorted that you couldn’t keep the CF vertical?

    I have seen the historical patterns with curved CF and CB and I’m all for whatever works.

  14. jenny says:

    has the change to a vertical cf something to do with figure changes brought about in part by changes in foundation garments? A circa 1900 dress form I have, has a very different shaped front to modern forms – more of a snaky curve (seen from side) than a triangle with bumps.

  15. Quincunx says:

    I haven’t taken a draping class. I assume that starting with the CF would be best as there is the least argument about where the center is. (What -is- the center line? The hollow between the clavicles and the line from that point perpendicular to the floor? Body measurements taken parallel to the floor, place a dot at the center of each line, connect the dots? How do you find the center line if you’re doing this hands-on, in a math-free method?) If you were setting the vertical at the base of the neck on either side or over the bust point, there could be variation on each draper’s interpretation of that point, and then you’d still need to drop a plumb bob from that point so the grain’s perpendicular to the ground, or something. Drafting from the point which sticks out the most and won’t impede the plumb line, now that’s guaranteed to annoy your live model. . .

    This post did explain why the Dreadnought dress-cutting chart (1930ish?) produced a curved center front line. The center back produces a diagonal straight line, and now it’s implying that I need to pinch out a noticeable upper back dart instead of the back waistline dart I was considering. (Chart and basic bodice block directions I have. Booklet of instructions for design details including darts, I don’t.)

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