Self-drafted retro top

retro check top

A couple of months ago, I signed up for a local adult education course to learn how to draft a bodice. The need for a go-to-template is great now. My need to save hours in a day is bigger than ever and so the idea is, that if I have a master block, I won’t have to keep reinventing the wheel, each and every time by having to make alterations to a preprinted bodice pattern. I would also very much like to realise some of these gazillion designs floating around my head and create them for other people too.

The course was cheap. Just Β£85 for four Saturdays, 10-3. And the teacher was lovely. There were 5 other students at first class and 3 at the last. So we pretty much had one to one teaching for the last session.Β pattern-drafting tools

To begin, we were instructed to pick a set of body measurements from a table of standardised sizes, that matched closest to our own body measurements. My first furrowing of brow. The whole point of me wanting a custom fit is that I don’t fit standard. Even my shoulders dropped an inch with that first instruction! As is usual for me I just kept shtum. But someone else in the class just couldn’t, and with gusto unabashed, questioned the task out loud! Hoorah for the confident ones!

The teacher assured us it was easier and quicker to go from a standard set of measurements whereby most of the calculations were done already and then make alterations to fit, afterwards.

And so I did as was asked. But the confident one did not! She used her own measurements and although, indeed I finished drafting first, she had a better fitting first toile. Funny, that!

But, with fear of the wind changing, I relaxed my jealous scowl and approached the teacher with questions on how to fit this bodice… that really didn’t fit at all!

She drew on me with red pen. The neckline needed to be made deeper. The side seams taken in; the bust point needed to be moved; the fullness taken out of the bust;Β the back bodice needed shortening; and the shoulders were too long. Mmmmm…..!

first bodice muslin

OK. Not a problem. In fact quite a few extra lessons in alterations were absorbed in the process so I didn’t feel too robbed.

I made the above adustments and sewed another toile. A better fit but it still needed changes. A third toile and although I knew it still wasn’t perfect. I was determined to draft my actual top and make it before the end of the course. I thought it would be useful to have the teacher hold my way throughout the process. And it was.

I ended up with a completely wearable top. She helped me to draft the collar and showed me how to create the facings. I based the design on a pattern I already owned. Did I just state a distain for reinventing wheels?! There is a method in my madness. I want to be able to create things that I see in pictures, everywhere, armed with a knowledge base of skills to custom fit, rather than have to have a standardised pattern that doesn’t ever fit. And of course this top is a great vintage design and I love it!

self-drafted retro-style top

But there are issues. The underbust is too big and it doesn’t feel perfect enough. In fact it’s true to say that it’s too big all over.

back view of top


The material was a cheap soft cotton with quite a loose weave so that probably didn’t help my fitting issues either.Β But it is comfy!

I added the zipper at the side, in true vintage stylee and owing to the bias cut funnel-like collar that rolls over the back. I also added a shaped extension to the waistline so that I can tuck it in without bulgy lumps round my middle. I usually wear it tucked in with a wide belt but I wanted to show it in full for the post. I’m quite happy with it hanging out too!

retro check top full length

self-drafted top side view

I made another one up last night, with some alterations. I took a little out of the side seam allowance and made the waist darts more concave at the point. There wasn’t much improvement to be honest. In effect I made the best of a bad job and went to bed in a huff!

I am irritated that with all of the alterations that were made in order that this bodice fits, the pattern pieces are really irregularly shaped now. And owing to the massive darts that were removed horizontally from the back pieces (to reduce the excess fabric), I won’t ever be able to pattern match across the back πŸ™

There is no way I am going to be beat though. With renewed vigour, I got up early this morning to draft another from scratch. I used my real body measurements along with some armhole standards, and low and behold it was a pretty close match. I just have to make a couple of small amendments. The armhole gapes at the front and there is a bit too much excess over the bust and so I have cut and closed a dart at the armhole on the pattern, to reduce the gape. The mid-armhole at the back gapes a little too, and I have smoothed the excess up to the shoulder, and remarked the shoulder seam to both front and back pieces.

And best of all, with this new draft I get to have a perfectly straight back seam so I can have a continued pattern across the back if I so please, yay!

Wow! this really is a learning curve.

Hope to share some more new Ooobop designs soon. Ones that actually fit! So come back soon and in the meantime, don’t forget to enter the Giveaway if you haven’t done already. Only 3 days to go!


PS. All credit to Mr O, of course, for the lovely photos and a lovely day out with the children on the Southbank


26 Replies to “Self-drafted retro top”

  1. That’s a great top, Janene! That’s really odd that you used a set of standard measurements! How is that different than just altering a pattern? I know when I made my block from my own measurements it just needed a bit of tweaking here and there but nothing major. I just did it with some sewing friends over a weekend. I did however have the same experience as you when I took a pattern drafting course. We just took standard blocks and fit them, a bit of a disappointment to say the least – I never really used that block. But, I use the one I drafted from my measurements all the time – the fit is just perfect (as it should be!)

    1. Thanks Kat. I think I’m getting there with it all now. Slowly. Hope to post my dress soon. Still a couple of issues but much improved!

  2. Your top is lovely, and I’m glad you’re getting on top of your bodice block, even if it is a slow process. I’ve been trying to make one for myself, but it’s just annoying me now – I’d be better off going to a class, but I’m stubborn!

    1. Thank you Laura. I’m sure it’s a case of practising over and over. But I don’t know many people who are that time rich. Certainly not me!

  3. How annoying about the class. I’m also surprised that the teacher didn’t get you to use your personal measurements. I took a pattern drafting class ages ago, and I think the only standard measurements we used were armscye depth and dart width – oh, and we used a standard bust size equivalent to our high bust measurement, then altered the front of the pattern for our actual bust. Looking forward to seeing the results from the custom draft.

  4. The top looks great, exactly the kind of thing I need to be making if I’m going to get through me made may! I’m booked in for a very similar sounding course at the end of next month, I’m hoping to get a nice base of a bodice to work from instead of weird looking pattern pieces I’ve altered the living daylight out of. Really interesting to see how you found yours

  5. Hurray for you! My drafting instructor gave us a copy of Janet Arnold’s pattern pieces for an 1860s dress bodice, then instructed us to do the maths to make our particular measurements fit the ratio for each pattern piece. By the time we’d finished, and realized that all we ended up with was a princess-seamed bodice that we could have easily drafted for ourselves, we had a huge boost of confidence. You’ll find it easier and easier as you go.

    1. Thank you LinB. All I ever need is time. There’s so much I want to do. And I realise I do actually like the maths involved too. I know… weirdo!

  6. There is so much to love about this top. Red and black check – rarity factor giving me a massive dose of fabric envy! Love your blog.

    1. I overheard someone talking at work how crazy people like to dress in black and red. I couldn’t really contest the theory!

  7. I feel your frustrations, I really do!!! I am constantly feeling held back from CREATING by the astoundingly stubborn giant brick wall of fitting issues. If one could even figure out what they were, one MIGHT be able to solve them but it’s like shooting in the dark most of the time.

    Well done on you drafting your own bodice – you will surely benefit greatly now that you have a better base to go on. I know I need to do that someday, but I’ll need a good solid weekend off to focus, and that just ain’t happenin right now! LOL!

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