I am excited to finally launch my first patternmaking workshops of 2024. My flagship course covers a much requested topic in the sewing and fashion industries: slopers.
I taught four sections of the course this past fall, and am confident that it is a truly unique offering. Read on to learn why.
What is a sloper?
A sloper is a set of basic patterns that captures key measurements and proportions of the human figure. Slopers are also sometimes referred to as “basic blocks,” and typically consist of a bodice, sleeve, skirt, and pant shape. The bodice and skirt capture the upper and lower halves of the torso, and the sleeve and pants encapsulate the shapes of our appendages: arms and legs. These shapes are then used as foundations from which to draft infinite variations of garments: jackets, evening gowns, trousers, button-down shirts, pajamas, vests, overalls, you name it.
What is the benefit of having a sloper?
The beauty of having a personal sloper is that, if you wish to draft your own sewing patterns, you are starting from a foundational shape that already has your own unique proportions accounted for.
If you are a sewist, you may find yourself constantly modifying sewing patterns with bust adjustments, removing or adding length, or blending between sizes. It can be frustrating and add extra work to the process if you are not close enough to that “average” shape that most designers are designing for.
As a petite-plus person myself, I often find it easier to draft my own patterns from scratch off of my slopers rather than begin each project trying to figure out where I need to make adjustments.
A sloper can also be useful to double-check an existing pattern… by laying your sloper over top of the commercial pattern, you might more easily be able to identify where you will need an adjustment.
How do you make a sloper?
The most popular and widely used method is flat patternmaking. Flat patternmaking begins with taking dozens of body measurements and then following some long, mathy instructions to plot out a series of lines and dots on paper, which which you then connect in a particular way to form a first draft of a pattern shape.
This method is covered in two books I read and revered in high school, which are still used in the industry today: Patternmaking for Fashion Design, by Helen Joseph Armstrong, and How to Make Sewing Patterns by Donald H. McCunn. The results I got from these processes (as a high school student, when my body was much closer to what we consider standard proportions) were meh. It was somewhere in the ballpark, but still not great for how much work it was.
My current preferred method of patternmaking is called draping, and involves manipulating fabric on the dress form to capture the shape you want, then transferring the “drape” onto paper to create your pattern.
Draping is great for fanciful details like full skirts, cascades, cowls, and ruching on evening gown bodices. It can also be really helpful for capturing tighter, more fitted shapes.
So why drape a sloper (instead of drafting it flat according to the book)?
My most recent full-time industry job involved making costumes for puppets and mascots. Often these characters would have very unusual proportions, like thin arms and round waistlines, or wide necks that led directly into arms without shoulders. Pretty much the only way to create patterns for these costumes was to drape on the characters’ actual bodies.
In my opinion, and based on my experiences costuming various humanoid forms, draping is the fastest way to arrive at the most accurate result when it comes to those basic block shapes.
It also requires way fewer measurements, which makes it a much easier process for anyone who struggles with body dysmorphia or finds the numbers to be triggering.
Draping a sloper is interesting because you can see the shape come together on the actual body, and make adjustments in real time. While you still will probably need to sew up a first draft to check the fit, and make adjustments, you will get closer to your goal on the first try.
You will also not be limited by any assumptions the pattern drafting author made about standard proportions… which can be liberating for folks in larger bodies especially. It is not uncommon that suggestions for things like dart intake, crotch seam rise, and ease are made without thought given to bodies above a certain size.
If your way is so good, then why don’t more people do it?
The thing is, draping on a real live human body, at its core, is risky and uncomfortable. Interpersonal touch is a key component of the process. It requires you to have sharp objects like pins and scissors near vulnerable areas like the throat and armpits, and it means that someone has to be cool with standing still for at least 10-15 minutes. We might sweat, we might need to move, we might feel exposed in our tightly fitted clothing.
To do it safely requires boundary-setting, interpersonal communication, and a baseline of trust. It also forces the person in the “designer” role to recognize and honor the humanity of the person in front of them, rather than taking the typical approach of treating the body as a static object.
I honestly think that most fashion design programs and instructors just aren’t there yet! Even if they want to be, creating a culture of trust and consent is not something they feel equipped to do.
In 2017, I sought a career change from fashion to human sexuality education. My graduate school program inspired me to rethink everything I had been taught in fashion school. What would it look like to apply what I learned from the sexuality education field to my work in apparel design?
Draping slopers on our actual human bodies is my way of building a praxis that integrates concepts of body autonomy, consent, and human-centered design.
I realize that my method might not be for everyone. But if all of this sounds exciting and worth a shot to you, I invite you to join me for the sloper workshop.