[Module 4] Create the Base Template | 3. Introduction

"Luxury is the ease of a t-shirt in a very expensive dress."

Karl Lagerfeld

This module is probably the most complex one to go through, so I do recommend that you book onto one of my courses to walk you through the process and to get assistance with the fittings especially if this is the first time that you have been through the process or if you are going through this process in order to make garments for yourself.

Extra to this I do offer a service where I could create the draft for you from your supplied measurements however if you are going to continue with creating your own garments I don’t recommend this as you really need to start to get familiar with the system and having me do it for you is not going to help you with this. However some people like the Base Template and or a Working template and Flexible Patterns created for them so that they can take them to their local dressmaker. If you are a dressmaker and are swamped with time this is obviously a service I can provide for you.

Having said all of this I don’t want to scare you. It is not harder than previous modules it is building on the knowledge that you already have and you simply need to move through the process methodically step by step.

If you have made the decision to make your own garments and are committed to doing this and want to try to do this with a modicum of quality and also to enjoy the process through thoughtful sewing then read on. Now comes the hard work.

There are three main ways to make a garment at home in my view:-

  1. Use a manufactured pattern.

  2. Draft your own pattern.

  3. Drape a garment.

Option A. – Using a manufactured pattern;

The main issue with option A. is that the chances are whatever pattern or size you choose, a manufactured pattern will not fit you out of the packet, especially if like me you have body parts that are not a standard size (whatever standard size means). If you choose to continually make clothing using option A. then you will be forever altering patterns to fit regardless of your size and shape, which is fine if you are only every going to make clothing from one or two patterns. But I will guess that on the whole most people will want to try out different and new things. Also consider that if you are making these garments for yourself then unless you have a body form or mannequin that is exactly the same size and shape as your body then you will have no other option than to be fitting directly onto your own body which is easier if you have a sewing friend to help every time you make something.

Refer to Project – Creating a Body Form for your body shape for further information.

Manufactured patterns also tend not to have sewing lines marked on them and have a pre-determined seam allowance which changes by manufacturer and pattern piece so if you require a different seam allowance then you will need to start marking out on the pattern. There is a vast sea of very generous bloggers out there who have given up their precious time for free to try to get to grips with the whole world of fit and pattern alteration and my searches have helped me with some tricky fit issues so I am grateful for their time and help. If you already sew garments no doubt you will have YouTubed your fair share of them and visited their wonderful pages.

Having spent many years trying to make clothes from manufactured patterns, constantly changing them and copying them off so that I don’t damage the original (copying out on various papers and even interfacing so that it moulds a little more around the body, the things we do to look after our patterns), and constantly getting frustrated at my inevitable fitting sessions, even though I know that my sewing is exquisite and construction skills are second to none and that I have taken my time and done the best I can possibly do. What wasted time and money. If you are new to sewing I don’t want you to waste your time going down this path, many a sewer has thrown in the towel doing this and I think it is a real shame. This is actually one of the main reasons I set up this knowledgebase website – I just don’t want others to make the same costly mistakes that I did, why change a multitude of patterns, why not just make your own and then you can use it as the basis for everything that you make. Of course you are at liberty to disagree with this opinion and I don’t mean to undermine the work that other designers have put into creating their own manufactured patterns. I am simply stating some food for thought that I feel the best patterns are designed for the body they are meant to fit and in real life we are all different. If after all of that you still like to use manufactured patterns then please don’t let me stop you!

Option B - Drafting your own pattern;

After the explanation of A. above I really truly do believe that this is the way to go because you are going to be so much closer to a good fit from the very beginning and also for every single garment that you create thereafter and are therefore more likely to want to wear what you have made. If your weight goes up or down then you are more likely to be able to deal with that, by either altering or grading the clothes you have because you are so familiar with the patterns as you made them or starting again to create a whole new set of patterns of a different size. Your own patterns have your own thoughts blended in, you have made intelligent decisions about how you are going to use them, you know what the lines mean and you don’t have a multitude of lines delineating different sizes on one pattern.

However by drafting your own patterns you are putting in more time up front in the process and for some people who want to see anything created in a short amount of time this can be more challenging. But this time invested up front in the end works out to be less time in the end than going down the manufactured pattern route so you will reap it back. As you know the patterns that you draft you are more likely to spend the time to get them to fit than the manufactured patterns because you already have invested time into it.

Designing your patterns also gives you some time to reflect on what clothing actually suits your body shape, how you can work with what body particularities you have and enhance all the wonderful parts of it that you would like to in the most flattering way, what style of clothing would you like to make rather than picking the available best of the bunch.

Also dare I add, you are more likely to finish of the garment properly and not just tuck the hem in your trousers as you leave the house because you could not be bothered to finish it as one of my friends embarrassingly declared to me recently! (you know who you are!).

Look I am not saying that you will get the design right first time every time but with some practice you will get better. If all else fails go down the high street and try on what you think might suit to get a few ideas. You will get better at the design process, trust me…….those famous words!

The clothes you make will be unique and your own design and something to be proud of. It also forces you to be accountable for what you have made, you can’t blame the pattern if things go wrong, well you can but you made the pattern. However if you study the problem and fix it you can be proud of a job well done. Unless like me you are continually trying to improve every pattern you make (but more about that later).

Option C. - Draping;

Some garment shapes are quite difficult to work with more time consuming if you tried to start on paper. Draping can offer a fluidity that a two dimensional drawing can’t. The focus is always on the 3 dimensional body to get the best fit. With the best intentions to have the most accurate measurements in the world you can’t beat working on the body shape and if that is not possible the upgraded body form is the next best thing. This process if not easily done on the actual body as pinching and pining is a large part of the process and draping can take time as it is a more creative process so you would not really expect anyone to stand still for very long while you pin for a couple of hours. It is usually done on a body form or mannequin. This body form will need to be a replica of the client’s body though in order for the completed draped garment to have any chance of fitting the body. However if you have gone through the full process for Option B then you will have the foundation to upgrade a body form to the actual client size.

Refer to Project – Creating a Body Form for your body shape for further information.

Once you have a true 3 D version of your body in a body form upgrade then option C – Draping can then be done with gusto.

Having said all of this we will be starting by looking at option B, drafting your own patterns starting with making a Base Template.

If we simplify the types of people in the world of sewing we have the sewing industry that make the majority of clothing in the high street using a full manufacturing and product delivery process and I would include couture and design houses in this category, then there are home sewers who are beginners to progressed in experience who sew for friends and family and love to sew either for a hobby or a lifestyle choice and then I think there is a group that sits in the middle who I would class as advanced sewers or extreme sewers who will never live without sewing but are aiming to make a serious living out of what they do and either will teach or design and provide ideas/patterns or garments for sale to the general public. My reason for explaining my thoughts on this for what it is worth is to show that there are lots of sewing terms used by all three groups and depending on how you have learned or where you have learned you will be expecting to hear certain terminology. As my professional training is in the IT Business world and not Fashion I perhaps bring a different viewpoint to the table. So in that case I am giving myself free scope to rename some sewing terms to fit in with my observations and insight and vision which I know may be the subject of some debate but for me it simplifies how I think about sewing.

So although I am not reinventing the wheel, lots of people essentially use similar ideas I am giving you a Threadelicious view of how to look at it and I will use these terms throughout all of the processes.

BASE TEMPLATE to WORKING TEMPLATE to FLEXIBLE PATTERNS All three of the above steps lead to the creation of a pattern to make a garment and will require pattern drafting and are done in the above order. So let me explain…

Base Templates

Otherwise known as a Moulage in sewing circles (which translates as a mould of the body). This will help you create a snug fitting test garment for the torso to be used as a baseline for all future garments that require bodice pattern pieces. It generally consists of a Back and a Front draft and we usually only need to make one per person (unless there is a substantial change in weight). It is initially drafted without seam allowances but more about this later. When completed it will be in eight pieces, four for the front (2 upper bodice pieces and 2 lower bodice pieces) and four for the back (for upper and lower).

If you can bare it I will explain a personal metaphor for you that might help you understand my thinking here. If you are not IT literate then it might be best to skip over this bit because I don’t want to confuse you any more than I need to! Having spent a number of years teaching IT in Business I am very familiar with something called a Normal.dot template, this is used by Microsoft in Word for businesses to determine a top level company look and feel for its documents it defines the corporate style and initiates this image for all documents created. All further templates are created from Normal.dot and inherit all of the Normal.dot features as a starting point and all subsequent documents get built up from there. So in the Threadelicious world Normal.dot is called the Base Template – it is the mother of all patterns. (yes I am a spinner too!).

Working Templates are created from the Base Template, and subsequently Flexible Patterns are created from the Working Templates. I hope you are following me with this.

When fitting a test muslin for a Base Template you are mostly fitting (checking up close) but also designing (from a distance to check position of seams etc.). It is the fit that is key because it is meant to be a snug fit all over, we need to get this right because any mistakes we make here will trickle down every design we make that incorporates bodice patterns, no pressure then!

If you are now going ‘huh what the hell is she talking about’ then just know we start with a Base Template!

Working Template

A Threadelicious Working Template is otherwise known as a Sloper or a block in sewing circles and it has different definitions and different complexities in drafting depending on who you are talking to.

In the Threadelicious world the Working Template for a bodice is the ‘child’ of the Base Template, in other words it is created from the Base Template. For me it has one difference and that is the amount of waring ease that is added and there are no other differences than that. However you may make more than one Working Template per person as there may be different waring ease requirements that coincide with the fabric you are going to use in the end garment and its construction features (for example some fabric stretches more than other fabric) and also for the practicalities of the type of clothing you are going to make and the wearing ease you would need for a certain type of garment, for example you may need more wearing ease in garments if you had a physical job where you moved your body a lot and needed space and protection as opposed to wearing swimwear for the beach. This will become clearer when we make Working Templates.

When altering a test garment for a Bodice Working Template you are mostly fitting (checking up close) but have the confidence of having already been through the Base Template fitting process so you should not have too much to do here as all you have done is make it a little bit bigger. You would have to decide if making a test garment is an essential for your Working template. If in any doubt you should make a test garment, especially if you are going to make a multitude of Flexible Patterns from it, it is better to be safe than sorry. When completed it will be in eight pieces, four for the front (2 upper bodice pieces and 2 lower bodice pieces) and four for the back (for upper and lower).

Flexible Patterns

A Threadelicious Flexible Pattern is on the whole derived from the Working Template which is in turn derived from the Base Template. A Flexible pattern therefore inherits the wearing ease of the Working template and has design ease added. It is more likely to have a defined seam allowance also as you will have fully tested everything up to this point and know what your seam allowance preferences are. You are likely to create any number of Flexible Patterns from any one Working Template to help build up your repertoire of clothing for your wardrobe.A Flexible Pattern is the end pattern that you will be cutting your fabric from to create your garment. Threadelicious calls it a Flexible Pattern because it will maximise the effort put into making the pattern in the first place by being flexible with the design, it will enable you to make multiple looks from the same pattern. It allows us to get more creative using the same pattern adding embellishments and design changes to create subsequent versions or pattern elements that we can swap in or out from other Flexible Pattern packs also.

There will be multiple pieces for a flexible pattern sometimes more than 60 pattern pieces so good organisation is a key part of this process.


As I have mentioned ease it is worth explaining this concept further at this point. There are 3 types of ease to understand here;

  • Waring ease - waring ease is the space that is added to a garment to allow for comfortable movement whilst dressed in it including sitting and walking and raising the arms etc.

  • Negative ease - which means that the garment that is created is smaller than the Base Template and therefore smaller than the body it was made for, this kind of ease allows for knit garments to stretch across the body so that they stretch to fit and don’t just hang there in a floppy manner.

  • Design ease – in the Threadelicious world only gets added to Flexible Patterns which makes a pattern bigger simply for aesthetic and design reasons.

Now waring ease is going to be different for everyone, we are all going to be comfortable with a different fit and across different parts of our body and that includes ease vertically and horizontally. So testing a Working Template is important especially in the beginning if you are not sure how much waring easy you are going to like for each body element, your armhole, your bust your waist the bodice length etc. Just like with Microsoft Word you will have multiple Templates (Working Templates), you would have a template that sets the stage for a letter or another one for a long document or another one for a newsletter. In much the same way you would have a Working Template for jackets or different top types or different skirt types or different trouser types. So for example you may have Working Templates for

  • a close fitting top with your minimum wearing ease added that you would then draft your flexible patterns from

  • a very loose fitting top with your maximum wearing ease added, because you know this is a favourite of yours so you would use this as a basis to draft your Flexible Patterns from

But also remember that you can create a blank document from Word using Normal.dot to start working on. In Threadelicious world this means that if you wanted to you could skip the Working Template and simply create a Flexible Pattern from the Base Template, this would end up being a very snug fitting garment say for example the bodice for a formal evening gown that is a very snug fit to the body.

Back to the Base Template

A good place to start out is to work with the torso after all the majority of our garments hang off it – except for hats and socks of course. Therefore if you have a good fitting Base Template of the torso then you can make any top, dress, jacket or coat from it.

Our first step then is to make a Base Template.

The Base Template is solely made for the torso. I call it a Base Template as I come from the IT world this sits just fine with me, you call it what you will. It is basically the closest thing you are going to get to your skin, as I now live in Australia it is apt to view this as a shed snake skin, also apt as mine seem to be getting bigger and bigger as life goes on!. The aim is for this to be a tight/snug fit as it is made using the clients torso measurements, but not restrictive although fitting can be a little uncomfortable. It is not something you can really do on your own on your own body all by yourself, well I wouldn’t recommend it – find a sewing friend or someone who knows or can learn how to pin, warning it is probably not the best idea to ask a toddler or preteen for assistance.

We start with the Base Template because in the end it is showing you exactly what is going on with the body shape. It is going to allow you to make design considerations for a specific body type, if ease was added at this stage you may miss something important. It’s like a reset point – you know you can always come back to a successful Base Template and start again if all else fails. If you are going to make snug fitting garments like evening gowns or create tight fitting garments using negative ease in jersey fabric then it really is something that needs to be made anyway.

By creating a Base Template and testing the fit you also end up with a bonus prize of a test garment in a muslin that can then be used as a skin for your body form or mannequin with a little padding here and there to give you a working replica of your body, which will make any dressmaking easier for you whether you are working on a garment for yourself or someone else. So an all-round win win situation if you ask me.

Refer to Project – Creating a Body Form for your body shape for further information.

We are going to map out the body by taking measurements and then working through the Base Template process. As we know everybody is a different shape and generally not perfectly symmetrical. If a body is very unsymmetrical for example one shoulder obviously higher or one hip higher than the other or a very rounded back then it may be that more than one Base Template is made to allow for testing different options out, there may need to be an assessment of overall appearance of the silhouette to ensure that garments made from the process will be as flattering as they can be and to ensure that all future garments take this design concept on board. We draft the Base Template as one half of the front and one half of the back so that the finished piece is symmetrical. However if someone is asymmetrical to the extreme then this will not be possible they will require 2 Front and 2 Back Base Templates to be drafted.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to get this right – the success of all your patterns and your overall satisfaction with all you make will rely on how good your Base Template fits. Without spelling it out too much, take as much time as you need to get this right, don’t rush this process and keep going until you feel you have the best fit you can get within the situation – for example if your client continually loses or gains weight you will be fitting a moving target and sometimes you will have to agree on a final position! It may be then that multiple test garments will need to be made if lots of alterations are necessary to get a good fit, so it is even more important to ensure that measurements taken are accurate to ensure most efficient use of time and fabric.

With the best will in the world we are not going to get it perfect, I think that if you get an 80% fit from your first Base Template draft at a first fitting of a test garment then you have done very well (although I secretly like it to be over 95%). Remember that once the muslin is made you are going to use the body for a fitting and this is where you can get the best fit possible. A word of advice and something to keep at the back of your mind once a test garment is made and is being fitted it is easier to make it smaller on the body than it is to make it bigger, so if you have any choices to make then err on the side of a little excess although if you put in too much fabric your fitting will take more time to bring it back down in size.

The Base Template does take time to get right, remember measure, draw and sew as accurately as you can – it will save you time later. A Base Template may take 7hrs or longer to create but it will be worth it. I know for a fact that I have spent more than 7 hours in my lifetime trying to get an individual manufactured pattern to fit so it’s a drop in the ocean really. Even with the time taken getting measurements and drafting the Base Template most of the close fitting will be done on the body so don’t lose heart if you put it on and it needs work. That’s what we are expecting. It’s impossible to draw up a 2 dimensional pattern to fit a 3 dimensional body and for it to be completely perfect first time around.

We are going to create test garments for the Base Template, Working template and Flexible Patterns as we get to them. For the Base template this is ideally made from a balanced weave fabric such as a cotton or muslin, i.e. a fabric that does not have a stretch in it, this way we can control the size of each component it’s not going to stretch out of shape as we pull it across the body once it is constructed.

Also the way we will make the Base Template is to create the pattern without seam allowances and will add seam allowance at the point of cutting out the fabric but this will become clear as we move along and is described further when creating the muslin bodice tests.

It may be useful at this point to review the Auxiliary Reference information for Moulding Fabric Darts and Seams at this link. This is essential if you have never drafted patterns or sewn before or if this is the first time you have created a Base Template.

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