[Module 7] Draping | 4. Draping Basics - Positioning Approach

For all the draping Units you will need your customised Body Form. This will get you as close as you can during this stage to a near perfect fit, creating a Test Garment before making it out of the fashion fabric will get you closer to the desired fit and this really is essential so don’t be tempted to skip the Test Garment step. You know this really makes you focus on the clothes that you really need and are going to make time and time again, you are not going to go to this trouble often for patterns you are only going to use once unless they are for a special occasion.

Of course if you prefer to simply practice you can use any Body Form or even a mini scaled down version.

Fabric Positioning Approach

As mentioned previously I call this approach ‘Positioning’. It is simply where you are placing fabric into shapes defined on the bodyform to get a good fit or for style lines in the design.

Remember that you already have some key lines defined on your Body Form if you made it in the same way as the Project shown in the ThreadBox.

The process is to define your design and determine where all Seamlines (functional or otherwise) are on the design. These Seam/Stylelines are then marked on the Body Form using draping tape or some other method of marking. The fabric is then cut down to manageable sizes pieces, marked with the Grainline and a starting anchor pin point and then positioned over one of the pattern shapes and draped and smoothed and pinned in place. The outline of the pattern shape is then marked onto the fabric and any excess fabric is cut away so that the next pattern shape can be positioned and pinned in place in the same way. This process of positioning and pinning the fabric continues until all pattern pieces have fabric positioned in place. Sometimes pieces can be very small such as in the case in some corsets, as more seams gives more opportunity for a more perfect fit.

Once all the fabric pieces are positioned and outlines have been marked and all other design features are marked such as necessary darts then the pieces will are trued which can either be done directly on the fabric or the pattern is traced off the fabric onto paper. Some more couture processes of dressmaking never see a paper pattern and the muslin is used as the pattern, fabric after all does have more longevity than a paper pattern. If set seam allowances are being used then these are marked, the pattern is finalised and a Test Garment is made and fitted to the actual body as usual.

This unit will look at the following examples to demonstrate this idea of a Positioning Approach to fabric draping;

  • A Basic Bodice - designed for a fitted top/dress/gown, with a Round Neckline and style line for a Sheer Yoke Panel.

  • A Corset Bodice – more complex draping with more pieces to create a Stylised Corset top.

  • A Strapless Dress – looking at extending shapes down from the bodice to create a skirt section.

Basic Bodice

This simple example with larger pattern pieces will enable you to practice this process to grasp the concept of Positioning quite quickly.

This design is based on the Illusion designed bodice taken from the Auxiliary Reference Downloadable Style Sheet. In Front it has been drawn with a French Dart from the lower side and a Style Seamline across the Bust to allow for a sheer fabric to be used as a design or contrast feature fabric up to the Neckline as a Yoke. Although not shown in the drawing we are going to use this same Yoke in the Back. We will also add a Centre Back Seam to allow for a fastening option to be added such as a Zip, due to the high neckline we need to do this to allow access into the garment. There will be waist darts to create the tailored fitting required. We will use a straight Grainline for the garment.

Of course then this design will need to be extended down into a skirt by either draping and patterning the skirt in the same way or 2D pattern drafting once the pattern is made. A skirt is not demonstrated in this sample as its just meant to be a simple exercise in learning a technique.

The final pattern will consist of the following pieces;

  • The Front Upper, pattern marked as ‘Cut x 1 on the Fold’

  • The Front Lower, pattern marked as ‘Cut x 1 on the Fold’

  • The Back Lower, pattern marked as ‘Cut x 2’

  • The Back Upper, pattern marked as ‘Cut x 2’

A decision would need to be made outside of this exercise about finishing the neckline with either Binding, Facing or Lining and these pieces would be drafted more accurately using 2D pattern drafting once the Bodice Pattern is completed and trued.

We are going to focus on the 4 main pattern pieces to demonstrate the approach of Positioning.

To do this we are only going to work on half of the Body Form, half of the Front and half of the Back as we would with pattern drafting.

Before you start any draping print out a blank Pattern Record Card, you may wish to jot down things as you go and it will help you remember to check things for the Test Garment and to keep track of your pattern pieces. You could plan out the pieces before you even start to give you a tick list.

Marking the Body Form

You will need your Body Form and your draping tape and scissors.

It does not really matter which side of your Body Form you work on but if you prefer all of your patterns to be the same side as the Base Template then work on the left side of your Body Form. Just to show it does not matter the following draping has been done on the right side.

One piece at a time cut the draping tape and place the tape on the Body Form in the correct position for the Outline and the Seamlines and Style Lines. If the tape is not sticky enough you can anchor it further with pins.

This is when you realise the benefits of taking the time to stitch seams for your Guidelines on your Base Template cover for your Body Form as you can simply tape along these lines.


Although not used in the design a piece of tape is added to the Centre Front, this is going to ensure an accurate Grainline is kept and shows the On Fold line for the Centre Front. You do have a Guideline in Centre front so this is not necessary, I just wanted to start by pointing out the obvious!

Start it at the desired Neckline Depth at Centre Front and end it at the Waist.

A piece of tape is cut to the length of the required Shoulder Seam and positioned in place.

These two pieces of tape can then be joined with another piece to delineate the Neckline shape.

Position the Side Seam and Armhole ensuring that the tape overlaps previously positioned tape so you are clear on the join. The Side Seam going to the Waist.

Then tape the Waistline.

The last piece of tape will show the position of the Style Line for the fabric change across the Chest/Bust.

In this example a decision was made to start at the join in the Base Armhole going across to Centre Front Parallel to the Bust Line.

Incidentally the position of the Cross Chest Line is incorrect on this Body Form cover! The Seamline should be halfway between the Centre Shoulder point and the Bust line a mistake was made and this was cut too high. In the case of mistakes on your Body Form cover you could simple just redraw it in a permenant pen in the correct place and rectify the Master Pattern, no sweat!


The whole process is repeated for the Back.

Mark the Centre Back, the Waistline.

Now in this example the Base Template fits the client but on the Body Form the Waist seems to dip downwards on the Princess Line, and this is because the client has a very pronounced sway back that is difficult to mould and replicate on the Body Form. For now I marked out the Waistline straighter on the Body Form and did not follow the sewn Guideline, however I need to be mindful that I may need more fabric for the client in this position so I should cut larger seam allowances when making a Test Garment say 2” just to ensure I can get a better fit in the back here. These kinds of notes can be added to your pattern record card initially as a reminder.

Tape is also added for the Neckline and the Armhole linking to the Neckline and Shoulder already marked up for the Front. Also the Style Line is added to show where the seam is for the change of fabric.

Positioning the Fabric

As mentioned previously it is better to work with smaller pieces of fabric to reduce waste and for ease of use, however each piece must be large enough to cover the area it is intended for. It is difficult to advise sizes as everyone’s body is a different size so it is recommended to roughly measure the width and length of each area and add around 4” in both width and length to ensure coverage and seam allowance space. If you find out that you have cut short then either use this later for a smaller area or just cut another piece the size you are short trim it to an approximate shape and pin it to baste it to the positioned fabric to fill the space (ensure that when removed that the pins don’t drop of though!).

A quick word about seam allowances before we start. Allowing seam allowances is good while draping because it gives you something to pin to, however it can get in the way of assessment of silhouette and proportion so sometimes it is better to cut them off and not use them especially when dealing with garment outlines and curved seams. As we go through the units you will see how this works, there really is no right or wrong way and with a little practice you will be able to assess whether you want to allow for them, to fold them back or cut them off.

Now you can if you prefer to be creative just cut pieces any size if you think they are large enough. But if you prefer not to waste too much and want to control the fabric a little more here is a way to do this.

So the first job is to measure the widest point and longest point for each piece of fabric required, this is where your Pattern Record Card will come in handy for jotting down notes such as this. In this example it will look something like this - 4” on each measurement has been added for a little extra;

Iron your Muslin and 2” in from the fabric selvage edge mark a line to show the Grainline.

Measure in the amount from the fabric selvage edge for the width of Pattern Piece 1 and mark a line to show the end of this piece, and number the piece.

Mark 2” in from this line to show the Grainline for Pattern Piece 2.

Mark the end of Pattern Piece 2.

Mark the length of both pieces and ensure the Grainlines are marked down the full length of the Pattern Pieces.

Carry on in this way until all pattern pieces are marked out and then cut them out (or you can tear whatever you prefer).

Check that each piece is squared and pressed.

Now we are ready to begin positioning the fabric on the Body Form.

Before we start doing this I would like to take a moment to set a mindset and emphasize the creativity of this process, I personally find draping a very meditative activity. It is worth stopping here for a moment to get into the right mindset, turn off the phone, finish your coffee, and close the door! Feel focused ready to control the fabric but also think light of hand, we are working together with the fabric watching carefully what it is showing us where it needs to go, where it needs help to be eased into place.

Pattern Piece 1

Starting with Pattern Piece 1, mark a line perpendicular to the Grainline 2” from the bottom edge.

Position the fabric on the Body Form so that this intersection point is at Centre Front Neckline and place a pin here to anchor the fabric at this point.

A quick word about pinning. When you pin angle the pin facing away from the bulk of the fabric to help anchor the fabric down. When you make your first anchor point or at key anchor points where there is a lot of weight of fabric consider double pinning or even going in a tighter angel and pinning back out to the surface again to really anchor things down.

Be mindful of the placement of pins, you will be trimming fabric so try to pin them so they are not going to get in the way of your sissors.

I also pin on the inside of the tape so that if I want to trim down I have access to the fabric. Pinning just inside also keeps your pins clean from the glue off the tape which is a drag to clean off and if left on a pin can even damage some more delicate fabrics.

Smooth the fabric upwards lining up the Grainline with the tape on the Centre Front and pin in place. Initially place pins 2” apart, but the number of pins you use will depend on experience, size of pattern piece, weight of fabric and intricacy its personal choice, you need enough to anchor the fabric so it does not move when you work on the other side of it.

Keeping the fabric level smooth the fabric out to the side towards the Armhole. Use your hand to lightly smooth the fabric, don’t tug it tight, just let it be where it needs to go and then pin.

Look how smooth it sits lying flat across the chest there are no tight drag lines.

Smooth the fabric up towards the Shoulder and pin at the Centre of the Shoulder Seam.

Now you can see tension happening around the Neckline as things tighten up in that area, there is also too much fabric there sitting up on the neck. We need to remove some excess and release this tension with a little trimming and snipping. Don’t worry about cutting off too much as you can see the tape underneath. Trim the excess down to about an inch in this area following the outline of the Neckline. Don’t be fussy about trimming a straight line just trim away. Anyone with OCD please look away now!

You can immediately see that the fabric has settled down into position. With this excess removed you have better access to the Outline as well. If there is still a little tension snip close to the tape as you would with any Seam Allowance in the neckline, but don’t cut too close stay around 1/8” to ¼” away if you can. Snip the minimum necessary to relax everything down into place, as you do more of this trimming and snipping with draping it will start to become an intuitive process, you need to watch what the fabric is doing and help it become what you need it to. Anytime you can’t pin as the fabric is put under tension consider trimming and clipping. It does not have to be pretty at this stage.

See how with a little snipping how the neckline starts to relax further on the body. You can see how the snips have opened up as the fabric has relaxed further into position and the pins have not been touched.

Continue smoothing and pinning around the Neckline and the Shoulder seam until the fabric is smoothly positioned. You may need to move pins when smoothing but never move your pins in Centre Front or any other position defining seams. You are always smoothing away from these defining guidelines.

Next we can start to pin down the armhole. As there is a little tension here trim off some fabric first, be careful not to cut any from the bottom half of your fabric piece as you will need this to wrap under the armhole area. So trim and snip if needed to get the fabric to relax and lie smoothly. You may need to re-pin the earlier pin if the fabric has resettled position, to smooth everything out perfectly.

Just go a little at a time.

Smooth and pin from the Centre Front across the Style Line at the base. Now you may not be able to get all the way across the bust and into the armpit before you start to see tension happening from the armpit to the style line, this photo shows how far I got before seeing tension building up. I know it is a little hard to see in photos, but you start to see tension or folds or drag lines. All the time we are thinking light touch…..don’t try to pull the tension out.

So a little trimming and snipping is in order.

Finally this section can then be smoothed and pinned into place.

Now the positioning of fabric onto this pattern piece is completed we now need to mark key points such as the Outline.

With a pen (that will not bleed through the fabric onto your Body Form, and use a permanent marker not an erasable one as marks can be ironed off and you will lose them) mark the outline onto the fabric. You will either be able to see the tape through the fabric or you will have to peak under to find the tape position before marking. Draping tape is usually 1/8” in width, when marking I try to mark along the centre of the tape so that I am getting an exact pattern size, sometimes I forget. Whether you prefer to mark above in the middle or under the tape make sure you consider your other pattern pieces too. Using the centre takes away a little guess work. Remember though that these lines will all be trued up so it will all match up in the end.

Mark all the way around the pattern piece.

Ensure you label your pattern piece.

You can now remove this piece from the Body Form. You could leave it but it will only get in the way as you pin your other pieces so it is best to remove it when working with small pattern pieces.

Looks a little rough doesn’t it with all the shaky lines, don’t worry about this at all!

While you are working on this piece and have the shape engraved in your brain I think it makes sense to firm up any lines with your ruler and French curve to tidy it up a little.

Here the Pattern outline has been firmed up in red pen to make it obvious for this exercise, and in some areas there is a difference of 1/8” between what was originally marked and the firmed up line. As long as you have tried to get the firmed up line as close as possible to the original mark these slight differences won’t affect things too much in fact it should improve the fit, after all you want to sew straight lines not squiggly ones.

When you create a Test Garment you can work out the fit further, after all the Body Form is not 100% accurate to the moving target of the actual body anyway.

Also a new Grainline has been drawn parallel to the original one on the fabric. A reminder of the Pattern name and how many to cut and your other usual pattern piece labels is also a good idea to mark on just in case you don’t work any further on this piece for a while. Also a couple of notches for better construction have been added to the longer seams for the pattern. All this information can be added to the Pattern Record Card.

Pattern Piece 2

Mark a line on the Guideline around 2” from the top and perpendicular to it, this will be your first pin anchor point.

The anchor pin will go in at Centre Front at the Style Line for this piece. If your excess fabric is flopping around at the side then just hold it back with a pin temporarily.

Now smooth down the Centre Front aligning the marked Grainline with the Centre Front Guideline and pin into place then know that the piece is vertical and hanging correctly. Notice a couple of pins have been added flat to give a little extra hold, in fact the bottom pin has been pinned flat back out to the surface for a better anchor in the base. Or you could use two pins.

Now take out the pin you added to hold everything back if you used one and smooth out the fabric across the top of the piece along the Style line. Pin as you go. As this is a larger bust the shape of the breast is causing a natural dart to form above the Style line. Can you see how the Dart is starting to form from the edge of the fabric to the Style line?

If you have a larger bust size you may find that there is a little extra fabric in this area.

We don’t want any darts in this area of the design and this is outside of the pattern piece anyway. In order to get the fabric to lay flat to help with smoothing cut the fabric from the edge at an angle just up to the Style Line. The fabric can then fold under to allow everything to lay flat and therefore not affect the draping of the pattern. This dart will not be included in this pattern piece as it sits outside of it so it will be ignored.

So smoothing and pinning can now continue across to the Armhole.

Next Smooth down the Bust and torso and Pin along the Base following the Waist Line and you should be able pin out up to around the Princess Line Guideline on the Body Form before you start to feel a little tension and see the French Dart starting to form.

Now comes the tricky part if there is a breast to mould around then this Dart will have a good amount of fabric in it.

Decide visually on where you would like the Dart to be, refer back to the design if you want to place it in a predetermined position.

If you were going to take this excess and use it as a Waist Dart you would start to pin down the side to keep the Grainline Straight in the side and then pin the excess into a Dart to the Waist, have a play and try this out, a good position would be to place it into the Princess Seam at the Waist if you were doing this ensuring that the first Dartleg is lined up to create the fold of the dart directly on the Princess Seam.

However in this example we want to shift the Dart excess into the side and make a French Dart which is a little trickier and there will be tension as the bottom section of the side is shifted a little onto the bias and requires a little concentrated effort during the smoothing and trying to get the fabric to find its place. So take some time now to experiment, smoothing and pinning, trimming and snipping excess in the Waist and Side until you get the Dart where you want it, pin down the Side and the rest of the Waist. Darts are pinned out as you would during a fitting going to the Bust Point or Low Bust Point, you can shape and back the dart off during pattern drafting or you can choose to do this now. French darts are usually going from below up to the Low Bust Point. In this example there is excess going all the way up to the Bust Point which may be backed off later. There is absolutely no ease in this pattern piece so it is going to be a very snug fit.

In this example the Waist is much smaller than the Bust size and due to these proportions the Dart excess is larger, the Dart has been positioned coming from low down to allow for more of the bulk to be accommodated, it is an intuitive process. Choose where you want your dart to end.

Next Mark the outline of the piece and mark either side of the Dart between the pins, just as you would with an alteration.

The muslin can now be removed from the Body Form.

The Outline is then firmed up, again shown in red here. The Dart legs have been drawn in straight initially and then bowed out matching the shape drawn on the Body Form which will create a curved dart to be sewn for the French Dart, this is a much kinder dart for a larger bust, limiting the pointy boob effect.

The Grainline is marked and labels added. This piece can also be trued to the Upper piece. However as I usually transfer my pattern pieces to paper I leave truing to that stage. But if you are going to keep your pattern with the muslin then you will need to true all of your pieces.

The Back pieces are pinned and marked in the same way as the front, smoothing and pinning as you go.

Start by marking a line 2” perpendicular to the Guideline 2” from the bottom on the upper piece and pin this in place. Then smooth and pin the Guideline up the Centre Back Tape and smooth up the Neckline to the Shoulder pining as you go, you will need to trim and clip into the Neckline as you did for the Front.

Smooth across the back from Centre Back to the Armhole and pin the Style Line and lastly work on the Armhole trimming and snipping to release any tension as you go.

Here is the firmed up pattern piece.

Here is the Lower Back. Start by marking the perpendicular line on the Grainline 2” from the top and pin in place, then pin the Guideline down the Centre Back tape line and smooth and pin across the Style Line, trim and snip if you have to release any tension. Then start pinning a couple of inches down the Side seam.

You will need a Waist Dart, and you will see this starting to form on its own so that you can just tease it into being.

Start to work across the Waist to the Princess Line and down the Side, trimming and snipping. At the Princess line you will need to pinch the Dart before pinning out the complete Sideline. Play around a little with it until you get the result you like. The first leg of the dart will be on the Princess Seam, I find it easier to pin out the dart on the outside rather than folding it under, that way I have better control of pinching it all the way up the Princess Seam.

Here is the pattern piece marked up. Dart legs in the back have been bowed out for a tighter fit for the sway back. A notch has been added to the Style Line to show where the Upper section fits to in the Armhole. I decided in the back Upper not to take this section all the way into the Base Armhole as this would be a difficult sew with just a sliver of fabric. The asterisk in the Waist near Centre Back is to remind me to allow a little extra fabric here in the seam allowance for fitting the test garment as a little extra may be required. Later I may thread trace sewing lines onto the Test Garment to indicate where to sew rather than marking seam allowances

Here are all of the pieces.

Transfering pattern to paper

You can now either continue working on your muslin to finalise the pattern pieces or you can copy off the pattern from the fabric onto paper it is your choice.

Even though it sounds a little like extra torture to copy off, personally I like to copy the pattern off. Even though this takes more time, I feel that accuracy is improved a little as fabric can stretch and paper can’t and I think you can make finer lines on paper. There are lots of lines to firm up and true and other pattern markings, which I feel are easier to read and to mark onto paper.

You decide, if you prefer to continue with your fabric then don’t trace off on to the paper but make sure you press everything before you true it all up.

To copy the pattern place the fabric onto your paper and use weights to hold it down – I use some large metal discs from a hardware store to hold everything and then using the tracing wheel run it around each piece ensuring to mark off any other pattern markings like Grainlines and Darts etc.

Then true up the pattern as usual checking the Side Seam lengths the Shoulder Lengths, and ensuring that the Style Lines are trued on the Upper and Lower pieces, and true the Darts.

Consider construction when you are making your pattern markings, where are you going to match up pattern pieces on seams. Where do you need your notches?

Add Notches for the Darts and centrally on the Style Line to help line up the two pattern pieces and determine the pattern markings for the zip, add notches for the Side Seams and if using facing or lining add them to the Armholes and Necklines.

I started the zip at the Style Line and determined to keep the Upper Back open as a slit and fastening with a press stud or hook and eye in the Centre Back Neckline.

After all of this if you wanted to you could also add on seam allowances such as ½” and 1/4” on the Neckline and Armhole as this bodice will have them finished with binding because of the sheerness of the Upper sections. Until fitting and alteration is complete I am leaving seam allowances off, it is going to make it easier to change the pattern and I will consider if I need to add them when I come to using the pattern on the fashion fabric.

Here are the pattern pieces once they have been copied onto paper and markings finalised.

Pattern Piece 1

Pattern Piece 2.

Pattern Piece 3

Pattern Piece 4

A Quick tip if you are not using your Muslin pattern, cut away any excess fabric and quickly stitch the darts or the whole thing and pin it back onto the Body Form you can see what an uninterrupted pattern will look like and use this to assess features such as dart position etc.

Here is the Front with just the Darts stitched.

Yes it would have been clearer to use a different muslin colour for this demonstration!