Paper draping

Today I thought I’d show you how I created a fitting shell for the newest dress form I got. Sure, one could do a lot of measuring and finagling to come up with a fitting shell but it strikes me as too much work as compared to easier ways to do it. Mind you, I don’t have a problem doing it the long way if it produces a superior result but I don’t think it does.

I like to drape with paper, specifically marker paper. Now of course I could do it like everyone else on the planet and drape muslin over the form but muslin (or any fabric) gives too easily. When you pull the fabric off the form, lines are curved where they’re supposed to be straight so you’re never quite sure which line to follow when you make your pattern. Then you have to sew up a test draft of your drape, fiddle with it -it never looks like you want it to- make adjustments, then another pattern, then another test sew and so on. Like I said, too much work for a basic fitting shell.

Draping with paper doesn’t require any special rules, don’ts or any of that. Line up the grid on the center front and you’re fine. Just make sure the paper spans the center front so you’re not waylaid by the center bust dip.

Once I’ve marked off the lines using the broad side of tailor’s chalk, I digitize it.  Once it’s in my CAD program, I clean up the draft to make sure all the seam lines match, clean up any squiggly lines, mark dart ends and all of that. Below is a screen cap of the pattern. On the left is the digitized version. On the right is the pattern with seams, drills and darts evened up and shortened.

So all that’s left now is to prove the drape by sewing up a test muslin. Three views of my test drape appear below.

Perhaps this proof shows why I think a paper drape for a basic fitting shell is better. I went through one iteration cycle and voila, I was done. I hope that was helpful, class dismissed.

PS. I ran off a little sooner than I planned (had to go make dinner) but I realize this fitting shell isn’t perfect. However, it is close enough that I can make the pattern changes without needing to sew up another one. Specifically, I need to lower the back waist darts at least two inches and the front darts, maybe about one inch.

There is an additional tutorial on a related topic that will be posted in the forum tomorrow. Members can find that here.

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  1. Lillian Martin says:

    Fantastic! Do you recommend just for basic blocks or could it be used for more complicated designing? This would cut a lot of steps and helps us “visual” types who like to design by draping first rather flat patterning.

  2. Kathleen says:

    Lillian, I couldn’t speak to that but there are people who work in paper fashion as an art form. It’s been mentioned a few times on site, offhand here is one.

    I’ve been using marker paper to prove patterns for a very very long time, cutting them out, putting them on the form etc so I felt rather stupid that it only recently occurred to me to start draping with it. I got the idea during the process of playing with style #53 from Pattern Magic. I initially tried to create the pattern from a shell I had but it wasn’t working out. At all. The shell was fitted too close to the body.

    So, I started over by draping a shell with paper. I got that idea from the PM book itself; the muslin depicted in the photo looked very stiff (staged of course) so I thought, why not use paper? Worked like a charm. Just compare the results of my first effort and the second (link above).

  3. Sarra Bess says:

    Reason #5,982 why I need to find the $1000 to buy the Alva dress form. I can’t drape on myself, and the $150 “dress form” I have looks nothing like a human, other than being upright.

    Thank you for this post, Kathleen. It looks far more sensible than muslin.

  4. Carla Dawn says:

    Working up a rough in paper can be so helpful (and fun!) when experimenting – especially with graphic shapes – I’ll often work really tiny, (that may come from a fixation with paper dolls as a kid) from rough scale drafts on plain old white paper, to check out an idea that’s bumping around in my brain. I’ve done my initial drafting on buff tracing forever, and regularly check this on a form (or body) as I go. Draping is a natural follow through.
    In theater – 1/2 scale paper mock ups are used regularly to develop very large and sculptural pieces. It’s a great option to have in your pattern making arsenal!

  5. kay says:

    FWIW, Connie Crawford has been using a heavy non-woven interfacing instead of paper for draping for several years now. It’s easier to work with, imo, since it doesn’t want to buckle the way paper can.

  6. Ken Simmons says:

    Kathleen, I am amazed how often you validate things I have done that I thought others would think I was crazy for doing. I love paper draping. It does not lie as a fabric sometimes will.

  7. Whitni says:

    I’ve been working with paper draping for a little bit and I find it to have a better level of accuracy. Paper doesn’t give as fabric can ofttimes do therefore it will (for all intents and purposes) retain its shape. Truthfully speaking, the rigidity of the paper in trying to get around body curvature can be maddening but the end result is still worth it. I decided to work around this particular glitch by slashing and taping around the curve areas….not too bad overall!

  8. Kathleen says:

    I like Kay’s mention of Connie using heavy interfacing; it wouldn’t give but would be somewhat pliable altho more costly than paper.

  9. I find that it is great to use when checkingto see if the shoulder seam and neckline are where they should be. Once that is established, it’s also very helpful to then check the side seam. I’ve done this at various freelance jobs and have seen the other patternmakers looking at me like ‘WHAT is she doing???’ :)

  10. Quincunx says:

    Wherever I first saw the interfacing tip, it also had “and it’s a great way to use up that stiff, bubbling, interfacing that’s too awful to use and too expensive to toss” mentioned. It does lack the nifty little grid though.

    After squinting at the few pixels’ difference in the ‘before’ and ‘after’ curves (finally my bone-headed insistence upon drawing curves in a pixel editor instead of a vector drawing program pays off) I think I now see where that foldy bit was. . .dispersed? . . .diffused? It became those subtle and acceptable and nearly parallel ripples between bust and shoulder in the test muslin. Those ripples don’t point at an error in any dimension. They’re too shallow and wide to point.

  11. Penny says:

    I always use a clear see thru plastic that I purchase in bulk rolls from Joanns fabrics for almost all my draping except for styles being cut on the bias, (for that I use as similar to the fabric as I can find). The medium weight clear plastic is great because you can easily see the side seam and other seams from the form through it. I use a black sharpie to mark the bust point, seams, darts and other design lines. I also use the plastic to knock off existing styles for patterns. It’s fast, cheap, easy and flexible. Can’t get much better than that!

  12. Lin says:

    Thank you! Are there times where you would use pattern paper that didn’t have marks on them? I noticed in the Pattern Magic books, the author didn’t use marker paper, but I’m just assuming it’s for aesthetics and clear instructional purposes for the reader. I’ve always been taught to use marker paper, but was just curious on why I wouldn’t.

  13. Kathleen says:

    I don’t think you have to use marker paper. I would use whatever light weight paper you have lying around that is large enough. Plotter paper (if you have it) would be a good option too.

  14. Traci Akierman says:

    I was behind on my FI reading and just caught up last night. Thank you so much for this Kathleen. I am still trying to figure out all the changes I need to make to patterns to make them fit me properly. I had tried the tissue fitting method before but found it nearly impossible to do by myself – I kept ripping the tissue. I’m making a holiday party dress and today I cut the pieces for the bodice out of my marker paper, tried it on, made adjustments, and tried it on again. When I took the paper pieces apart, I have all the marks I need to transfer to the pattern pieces. I haven’t done up a test garment yet but so far the fitting with marker paper seems to have worked great. YAY!

  15. Theresa says:

    I’m always searching for more time, where I can squeeze out a few minutes in my process of life so I can accomplish all that I dream…this technique has opened more of that vital commodity. Thanks so much Kathleen!

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