Let’s Talk Pattern Drafting (Part 1)

The first time I made my own piece of clothing without a pattern and without modifying another existing piece of clothing, it worked out better than I expected, truth be told. It still felt awful to wear and tugged in all the wrong places, but it was something I could put on. It was this shirt right here.

Ah, 2003. It was a simpler time for cosplay!

Looking at this shirt, it’s probably not readily apparent where the flaws are. I know that they’re in the fit of the shoulders and arms, primarily. The sleeves are a little too snug on the bicep, the top of the shoulders is weirdly flat and it’s hard for me to actually put my arm over my head like in that photo. It looked okay and felt terrible, but hey, I made it myself!

So how did Baby Jay at the ripe ol’ age of 14 manage a semi-functional garment? The pattern looked something like this:

Note: This is not a real pattern, it’ll look awful if you try to use it as such!

Now, how do I know that’s what it looked like over 15 years later?

Easy, it’s the same exact pattern I used when making Anders in 2012:

And again with Nathaniel in 2013:

And all of our Attack On Titan jackets in 2014? You guessed it!

What about Kenny Crow in 2017?

And… Leo?!

Okay, but surely in 2018 I did Leo differe–

Nope! Every single one of these costumes started with that same rough shape, even if some pieces got changed around slightly. At this point in my cosplay career, I’m not afraid of making really bizarre patterns or things that are super tightly tailored, but that’s because I have the foundation necessary to tackle weirdness and alterations.

How does one build a foundation?

With BLOCKS of course!

Let’s Talk About Blocks

You thought I was being clever. The joke’s on you! The correct name for that mess I sketched out earlier is actually a block! You see similar patterns out there called slopers, and while there is a difference, for your purposes, we’ll try to keep it simple.

(For those who care, a sloper is the beginning pieces tailored to perfectly encase a person’s body and are not interchangeable from person to person. A block is derived from a sloper and includes ease and allowances to make an actual garment vs a skin-shell. Blocks are also specific to types of garments, but we’ll get to all that later!)

Generally, blocks are specific to the person they are created for but at their simplest, they all have the same basic shapes. For a basic shirt pattern, this is what you can expect to have:

There are technical terms for some of these (such as, say ‘armscye’) but there’s no reason to overwhelm yourself with industry vocabulary, especially at the beginning when everything you’re learning is likely to be overwhelming as it is. For now, we’ll stick to plain speech!

Having a basic block like this is necessary to start drafting your own patterns. It won’t make very fitted tops unless you are are really uniformly cylindrical, but especially for jackets, basic t-shirts and breastplates, you really can’t beat it! The best part is that you can make a more tailored block once you have a boxy one like this, so you can consider this your first step toward impeccably fit cosplay!

Let’s Make A Basic Block

Like I mentioned in my earlier aside, the industry standard way of creating a block is to first use a carefully measured skin-shaped pattern and expand it to create a looser, more comfortable clothing pattern. Doing all of that is unnecessary for a beginner, so we’ll focus on just making a you-shaped boxy t-shirt pattern instead and skip the body double!

There are a couple of ways to go about this. If you can find a basic t-shirt that fits you loosely (as in without stretching anywhere!) that you don’t mind cutting up, you can rip the seams and trace the pieces onto stiff paper or manila to make your reusable pattern. This will yield a rough approximation of you that you can later refine, so it’s totally okay to start this way!

If you want to actually draft your block to your measurements, here is how you can do it:

These are the seams we’ll be measuring and approximately where they should fall!

Measuring for a block like this doesn’t matter much when it comes to body shape, but being able to take measurements with respect to the same reference points is key to consistency! When in doubt, check that image!

Since people are fairly symmetrical and this isn’t a well-fitted pattern, we’ll just be focusing on making one side of the pattern and then folding it over to create a full front. You can also use the front split down the middle to create a jacket or shirt that has a front closure.

The first measurement we need will be the hemline measurement. That should extend from the middle of your side to your navel and should be taken in as straight a line as possible where you would expect a shirt to end. It doesn’t have to be perfect, since we’ll be changing this block to suit our needs in the future, but it should be as accurate as possible.

This is a great illustration!

The next measurement we’ll take it the front center. It should go from the hemline level to the dip between your collarbones just below your neck. If you have a protruding stomach, don’t try to pull the tape too tight over it! You will need enough room and if you aren’t giving yourself that room, your clothes will end up being really tight and possibly unusable!

The next measurement will be along that center side line. You will measure from the hemline up to your armpit, then subtract 2″ or so to act as a movement allowance and seam area. The tighter and more carefully tailored the armhole is, the better your garment will sit when you move, BUT! You can very easily make it too tight and then start to restrict your motion and could even pop a seam. A 2″ allowance should be fine for a starting block and you can always refine it later!

Now, we get to some of the more tricky measurements.

To figure out how far in to bring your armhole inward, you’ll need to take a measurement from the center front to where your arm comes forward when you reach out in front of you. Lift your arm straight out to the side T-pose style, then move your arm to be directly in front of you at the same height. When it is in front of you, you’ll feel where it starts to deform your chest. That’s where your measurement should go to!

There are a few other guides that we will need to finish out the top. The next one will be from the center front to where the sleeve should connect to the armhole. For many garments, you’ll want your arm seam to bisect your shoulder at an angle, which gives you the length from your shoulder to neck to keep your sleeves from riding up as you move around.

One more guide, then we’ll be back to the final outlines!

The last line goes from the hemline to the top of your shoulder beside your neck. This will allow us to accurately capture the slope of your shoulder which can make or break the fit of a garment! There’s nothing too tricky about this one but you won’t know exactly where to place it until the next step. Pencil in the length and we’ll adjust the exact distance from the center line in a minute!

To get our shoulder seam squared away, we’ll need to measure in the center of the shoulder from the base of the neck down to the pit of the shoulder. The pit of the shoulder is only obvious by feel and only when you’re back in the T-pose position. With your arm straight out to the side, you should be able to feel around your shoulder for a dip beneath the skin. That is, essentially, the center of your shoulder, and should be where your measurement ends. Once you have that length, measure starting at the shoulder guide until you reach the right measurement, then adjust the angle until it matches the shoulder rise height. There’s some fancy geometry that can make this really exact, but I’m not a huge fan of geometry, so this is close enough for my purposes!

Speaking of things you could calculate meaningfully but that I do not have the time or passion for mathematics to work out for you, now it’s time to make the last two seams!

Ideally, you would use your measuring tape to get a length from the points we’ve already mentioned, but often times that is easier said than done. I take the measurements and attempt to fit them onto the guides, but it’s not an exact science. What matters most is having a clean, smooth curve that more-or-less matches your body. For the neckline, a quarter circle works well. For the armhole, your curve will be more shallow from the shoulder to the armhole guide and then more severe from the armhole guide to the side seam. When you make your first garment from this block, you can note how the shapes do and don’t work for your body and adjust them, but this is good enough for a starting base!

And there you have it! Your first front block pattern! At this point, you should be able to cut it out and hold it up to yourself to double-check that everything lines up as you expect. I suggest writing all of the measurements on the guide lines as well as marking this as the front piece, writing the date and also recording your weight. We all fluctuate somewhat weight-wise over the years, so knowing the age and weight you were when you made the block can help you identify the right one to base your new pattern on!

You can follow these same steps to make your back block. You can re-use the side seam and the shoulder seam measurements, but you’ll want to re-do the rest since the center back line and the armhole guide line will both be longer than they were on the front. The back hemline will also likely be very different unless you are particularly barrel-shaped. You’ll never regret measuring a second time, just to be sure!

For a boxy, basic block, the front and back will probably look very similar. The armhole curve will be a bit shallower, as will the neck hole, but the same is more or less the same until you start to tailor your blocks more precisely.

How To Use Your Blocks

Okay, so I gave you a bunch of examples earlier on how I used the blocks. Some were pretty obvious, but I figured we could go over them and I could explain how the blocks did or didn’t change to suit the piece.

Ryuichi didn’t have much variation from the original pattern other than the addition of the small slit at the center of the neckhole. Otherwise, the pattern was essentially unchanged, hence why 14-year-old Jay was able to do it!

Anders was even more of a cut-and-dry case, even though it was made out of thick, veg-tan leather! The only real difference was the shortening of the pattern, since this part was a short jacket/bolero style. Though the seams were overlaid instead of sewn faces together, there was no real difference in the construction, as you can see on the unfinished side of the piece. Instead of using the center front as a fold line, the jacket was cut there, allowing for a discreet, inward-facing zipper to be installed. All of the rest of the visual interest was done with dye, lace, feathers and a few small pieces of hardware!

Nathaniel is a little more complicated to understand, but I hope I can explain well enough! With both the front and back, I started with the basic block and sketched the lines onto it that were present in the reference material. Each section became its own piece of leather with all layers that got stitched below others receiving a small seam allowance to account for the overlap (a little past all of the visible stitching lines). Because there was no side seam on the brown pieces, I chose to have them wrap around and removed that part from the front and added it onto the back. You can see in the first photo that one side of the brown pieces has been added to the front while the other has not. The back was finished the same as Anders with an inward-facing zipper.

The Attack On Titan jackets are all cropped like Anders but also feature a dropped neckline to allow full view of the collar below as well as a wide lapel on each side. While there’s a little more that goes into installing a lining and accounting for the curvature of fabric when folding a lapel, the new shape is fairly simple: you take the shape of the lapel and flip it horizontally, then add it to the center edge. When that extra fabric folds inward, it creates the lapel!

Kenny Crow was back to the basics, using a solid front and a split back with a zipper installed to get in and out. The major difference in Kenny was the lengthening of the armholes and the shallower curve as a result.

Like Nathaniel before, Leo followed the same pattern of defining the layers that went into the breastplate onto a basic block, then separating them all and adding overlap allowances before assembly. For more info on how I went about defining those shapes and layers, check out these articles:

Making leather and foam armor is not actually that different when it comes to patterning, and foam can actually be used as a stand-in during drafting to avoid costly mistakes in leather. The thickness and pliability of foam is comparable and provides a better understanding of how the leather will take shape when cut and stitched. The foam pieces can then be kept as a pattern for the future and will show the thickness of leather it was made for!

The back of the breastplate is actually really simple due to the lack of references and the understanding that most of it would be hidden by his capelet anyway. I would better detail it if I redid it now, but there’s no shame in skimping on parts that won’t show if you don’t intend to compete in it!

Finally, our most recent example, Dark Crusader Leo. Since I’ve only been consciously taking explanatory photos semi-recently, this is the only one where you can see the proof on the mannequin. I started this pattern with a basic half-block since it was symmetrical and started to draw the shapes of the layers onto it. This is my tried-and-true method for making a non-tailored costume and good enough for 2018 and beyond.

There’s nothing particularly special about this Leo vs the previous one, at least as far as the front is concerned. I sketched the layers, cut them apart, then transferred them with added overlap allowances and a little ease to allow for the thickness of the foam. The middle section wrapped around not unlike Nathaniel’s back panels, but that brings us to the disaster that was the back of this breastplate.

To try to eliminate the side-seams and better tailor the back, I made the actual ‘back’ piece a strip in the center where everything met and joined together with velcro. I honestly don’t regret it as an experiment but it was definitely something I did in a fit of madness that I cannot begin to retrace my steps through. It’s for the best, trust me!

But there you have it! I showed you how to make a basic block and how you can use them as the building blocks for even the most daunting of armor! I wrote this out to be as clear as possible, but feel free to ask questions if anything here didn’t make sense! This part has gone on way too long, so working with sleeves will be its own article (hopefully next week)!

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