Pattern Drafting Books

Most of the books on my sewing room shelves are old editions.  It occurred to me that the market in second hand books is thriving, and many are reprinted with or without updates. So, I’m jumping in with some reviews anyway.

Can I get this out of the way first? Pattern drafting isn’t rocket science. Nor is it something you can pick up in an afternoon,  knocking off that Donna Karan by tea time. I mention this because of the number of times I’ve been approached with a request that goes, roughly,     ” How do I make a pattern for this dress?” whilst a photo  is wafted under my nose of a little something Karl’s team whiled away a week or two working up in the atelier at Chanel.

Some styles are just easier to work up with direct draping on a stand. Everything can be draped on a stand, but flat drafting is quicker for most garments. Draping is usually quicker for, no surprises, draped styles. There are plenty of books on drafting, not so much on draping.

Learning drafting basics probably takes almost as long as learning enough of a foreign language to  sustain a limping conversation with an unsympathetic public official without giving him too many excuses to shrug his shoulders and walk away. You can’t expect to find a book which will take all of the effort out of learning drafting if its a brand new skill.

With that preamble out of the way lets look at Aldrich.

IMG_1469This faded triptych I’ve had for nearly 30 years are reckoned  as some of the sacred texts of drafting, and reprinted many times.  They’re not to everyone’s taste – here are some of the criticisms I hear.

1. They’re metric. If you still work in old money, that could be a deal breaker.

2. The drawings are out of out of date fashions. So are virtually all drafting textbooks. It doesn’t matter. Fashion is far less innovative than it pretends to be. When people pay  $140 for a fifties pattern of a ‘wiggle dress’ on ebay or etsy, they’re buying the illusion in the illustration on the envelope. Any half decent drafting course or book will give you all the information you need to make something similar. No, not similar, identical.

3. The instructions are terse. Yes, they are. Its easy to lose your place when you get “Mark point 16, 4-16 is one third of the measurement 4-3” and so on for an entire page. There’s not much explanation that answers the question ‘why’. But, maybe you like the lack of waffle?

4. Linked to 3 above, my personal bete noire with these books is that the points are numbered, and that means that you have to stop and search the diagram for where the number you are measuring from is. Some other drafting books use letters which are abbreviations, and actual words. Its quicker to  look for say SP (shoulder point) than scan a page of numbers for point 8, especially if you just got called away to answer the phone or find someone’s wallet and keys.  You have a rough idea where the shoulder point is in your diagram, point 8 could be halfway to the moon.

5. There are fewer adaptations in this book than in some others. True. There’s a lot packed in to a small format, but its not Tardis.

6. There are no making up instructions. True. Its drafting, and you have to know how a given style will go together.

Here are some plus points.

You won’t end up with a pattern with ludicrous amounts of ease if you work from this book. There will be enough ease, but not a Vogue-ish swamp to sink in.

You can find something similar to most of the designs you want or need to make in this small format book. If the lapel shape is out of date, you can still use the instructions and just draw a different angle or curve. Its comprehensive, but not overblown.

There’s no waffle.

There are different block drafts for different situations, Close Fitting Block, Easy Fitting Block, Tailored Jacket Block, Overgarment Block, One Piece and Two piece Sleeve Blocks, Dress Blocks, Lingerie Blocks. This is a better idea than you might think when  ploughing through yet another set of instructions, testing the block, and transferring it to card. It beats finding that you have dashed into cutting a coat but forgotten the extra ease, squared shoulder or lowered armscye. If you adapt from the right block, no worries.

There’s a table of standard measurements from size 8 to size 30, and short and tall adjustment table.

There’s some basic information on grading and basic information on fitting. It is basic. Like I said, its not Tardis.

The information is presented in a logical, progressive format. Its a text book, not a book of crafty little projects for a rainy day.

If I were forced to abandon all my other drafting booksin a housefire I’d fight through the smoke with these. (Well, maybe not the menswear, but that’s because of lack of enthusiasm for making boring garments in large sizes.)*

More delving into the shelving next week.

*I wrote this before idly googling my way to Amazon to see what editions were still around. I fell on a page offering a menswear edition from different sellers from £243.53 to £329. For that, I’d throw in postage and tie it with a pink ribbon.


About jay

I design and draft patterns
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7 Responses to Pattern Drafting Books

  1. I use Aldrich for my drafting, along with my old course notes, which I think are probably based on Aldrich just with more words! I have the menswear one too – a friend got it for me so I would make him trousers! Nice review, and pretty spot on I would say!


  2. Kate says:

    I agree with everything you say. However these days I find myself using a bought pattern evry other time because I am so lazy and pattern cutting requires you to have your wits about you at all times. The joy and the downside of PC. And I do buy on eBay as you can get lovely 1970s patterns for 99p that cover all the bases with a few adaptations.


  3. Good review-I’ve got all three Aldrich books (womens, jackets, mens) but I’m finding the bunka texts more useful (possibly because their blocks are 0 ease and the ease is added to whatever you draft based off the block and also because of being short etc..). I tend to use textbooks only for alterations/mods rather than drafting though, as people have mentioned in the comments above using patterns=being able to zone out and just relax 😉
    I am working on a long term project where I’m putting together bunka blocks in idraw (like illustrator but cheap and unbloated) for computer-based patternmaking. I’m hoping to get a good block up and running and then break out me old Kamakura-Shobo pattern drafting books to mod the block into finished patterns. I reckon (long term) that it would be good to make a pattern a week and based on oldie books and then open source it online (the pattern not the instructions because the instructions are still copyright for all Kamakura-Shobo pattern drafting books) and let people have at it. No Vogues for me though. I have a fair few envelope patterns I’m never going to use and I shudder to think what I spent on those (and how little they’re prob. worth on evilbay or whatever..) =P
    I’d love to get my hands on Mueller and Sohn’s English drafting books although at approx $200 a pop and only one online source that’s a pipe dream at the moment..


    • Pella says:

      Interesting project! I don’t have the Bunka books, case of ‘do I really need any more pattern drafting books’, mixed with the fact that the Japanese drafts I have so far done are made for smaller, shorter people than me. I may yet weaken and buy them though.


  4. Diana Clark says:

    I’m new to drafting. I have a basic body block to my own measurements. I wish to make an easy fitting jacket/coat in boiled wool, made by me on knitting machine. Can I somehow use the basic block cards to create another set of block cards for the over garment? I have the Winifred Aldrich book, but my brain has gone into freeze.

    Thank you for any help you can give.

    Diana Clark


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