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How-to

Learn all about Sloper Solutions for a Perfect Fit

Why you need a custom fitting template and how to get one
Threads #194, Dec. 2017/Jan. 2018

A sloper is a pattern with minimal wearing ease, so it fits like a second skin. A full sloper consists of a darted bodice, set-in sleeves, a straight skirt, and, in some cases, a pant. It is used without seam allowances as a guide for drafting or fitting patterns. Seam allowances are added to the finished pattern.

Different names are used to describe similar patterns, such as moulage, basic pattern, master pattern, fit pattern, foundation pattern, or block. For the purist, there are subtle differences among them. The distinctions have to do with the amount of ease built into the pattern. I see little value in drafting a fitting pattern without wearing ease.

Most commercial pattern companies start with a “block” in a midrange size to design their new silhouettes, and grade the pattern up and down to draft their full range of sizes. Like clothing manufacturers, pattern companies use their blocks to establish a signature fit. This means that the same size from different pattern companies may fit you differently.

A sloper, the term I’ll use here, is your personal pattern, made to your measurements, plus slight wearing ease; it’s fitted to your body until it’s perfect. Expert teachers and designers I’ve worked with over the years, and who are quoted in this story, use slopers to achieve great fitting results. You can use your sloper either to design your own patterns or to fit commercial patterns.  Note that each of these processes requires additional skills.

Why patterns don’t fit
A commercial pattern’s dimensions are based on an average set of measurements. For example, the standard height range is 5 feet, 4 inches to 5 feet, 6 inches. If you are taller or shorter than that range, no pattern will fit you right out of the envelope. Even if the pattern says it’s adjustable for petite or tall sizes, you still must do the fitting work. That’s just to alter the length. If your measurements vary from the average anywhere else—and they probably do—you’ll have additional adjustments to make. It’s also possible that the length and circumference measurements are a good match, but you are simply a different shape from the pattern.

Benefits of a template
As a fitting tool, the sloper acts like a template that you can compare to a new pattern and accomplish much of the fitting before the muslin is made. I taught myself to sew from a book when I was 9 years old. Everything I made was too loose around the neck, front, and back. I put darts in the neckline, which made the neck too tight. For a while, I only made garments with scoop necklines, to avoid the problem. Then I read about fitting problems with square shoulder slopes. I made a template of my shoulder slope and compared it to every pattern I used, made the adjustment, and never had that problem again. Before I had even heard of a sloper, I was using a mini version to simplify my fitting process.

Later, as my figure started changing, I discovered that a sloper can be used to check bust point and waistline levels, armhole shapes, and overall circumferences on a commercial pattern, without even measuring. It enables you to pull a pattern into shape in no time.

Sloper Sources
Many of us are too impatient to try drafting a sloper from scratch because it involves learning new skills. Fortunately, there are many sources to walk you through the process. You don’t have to memorize the steps, just follow them carefully and then enjoy the benefits. Alternatively, you can have a sloper made for you, which you’ll then need to fine-tune for a perfect fit. How you get a sloper is up to you.

Over a lifetime, the body changes, so you will occasionally find you need a new sloper. But once you have one, it’s much more efficient to produce new garments.

I’m listing a variety of sloper sources but writing a disclaimer. When you decide a sloper is your fitting solution, you will embark on a learning experience: how to customize your sloper, then how to use it to fit patterns. I have tried each method of creating a well-fitted sloper, and I am sharing my impressions. Yours may be different.


Commercial fitting patterns

Burda, Butterick, McCall’s, and Vogue offer basic fitting patterns. They recommend making a muslin from 1⁄4-inch checked fabric so you can follow the grid and make sure everything is perfectly on grain and level as you follow their recommended fitting order.

Pros: If you know how to use a pattern and have success with a certain company’s basic fit, this is a good starting place.
Cons: This method may call for a frustrating amount of work to refine the sloper, if you fall into the category that can’t find a reasonable fit in a commercial pattern.

Pattern packages

SOURCES
EBay.com: basic bodice blocks available in a more extensive size range than standard commercial patterns.
BurdaStyle.com/blog/basic-sloper-sewing-patterns: downloadable dress sloper
Butterick 5627: dress
McCall’s 2718: dress
Vogue 1003: pant
Vogue 1004: dress

Pattern-drafting software

Purchase a software package, enter your body measurements, and the software generates a sloper pattern in a printable format. It can also make patterns for a variety of garments drafted to your measurements. Several years ago, I compared software companies and found they do not produce the same fit. This taught me that adequate fit isn’t always the whole solution for fitting issues. Satisfying personal preferences is paramount. Sometimes you want to shift seams to create more flattering effects. To do this, you will still have to fit what the computer drafts.

Pros: Once you have the software and your measurements, this is probably the quickest way to the first sloper draft.
Cons: The drafting formula, required measurements, and user interface is different for each program. There are no guarantees you will achieve a perfect sloper fit. It would be best to try several programs before you purchase the software. Unfortunately, you can’t try before you buy.

Pattern making software images

SOURCES
Cochenille.com: Garment Designer v 2.5
PatternmakerUSA.com: Patternmaker software
WildGinger.com: PatternMaster Boutique v 6.0

Custom drafting services

Send your measurements to a company that drafts a sloper for you. They offer various options. Some have slopers that are drafted to a set of measurements that come close to matching yours, and then you fine-tune the fit with a muslin. Alternatively, some make a custom sloper using your exact measurements and, in one case, photographs.

Pros: This is an easy way to get started on making your final sloper. You place your order and wait to be sent your sloper.
Cons: The sloper is only as good as the measurements you take. Taking measurements is specific. In order for the pattern pieces to merge as they should, you need to mark the body so all adjacent measurements are taken from the same points. Ideally, the measurements should be taken by the person making the sloper. However, even if the sloper is slightly off and needs fitting, it will fit you more closely than a sloper made from a commercial pattern.

Pictures of custom drafting services items for sloper designs

SOURCES
Pattern.stringcodes.com: offers custom slopers and generic slopers in 50 sizes.
Sewfitography.com: generates custom slopers based on photographs and body measurements.

Draped slopers

In this procedure, you prepare fabric by marking center-front and center-back lines and then establish the shoulder slope directly on the body. From there you allow the fabric to drape naturally over the shoulders, bust, waist, and hips, and pin in darts as determined by the fabric drape. Finally, the side seams pull the shapes together.

Pros: This is the most straightforward way to fit an asymmetrical body, because you drape both sides. Once the drape is finished, you mark the dart and seam locations designated by pins, remove the pins, and have the pattern left on your fabric. You then transfer it to pattern paper for future use. You should make a test garment from your paper pattern to fine-tune your sloper.
Cons: The only way you can drape for yourself is to have a custom dress form. Otherwise you need someone who is as good at this skill as you are to drape on your figure.

Book covers of books with sloping techniques

SOURCES
Draping: Art and Craftsmanship in Fashion Design by Annette Duburg
and Rixt van der Tol (De Jonge Hond, 2008), Amazon.com
Draping: The Complete Course by Karolyn Kiisel (Laurence King, 2013), LaurenceKing.com
The Art of Fashion Draping, fourth edition, by Connie Amaden Crawford (Fairchild Books, 2012), FashionPatterns.com

Hand-drafted versions

Reminiscent of those geometry classes you were sure you’d never use, hand-drafting a sloper is as easy as following a formula. Armed with a list of your measurements, you draw a vertical line and then mark points at certain measurements along that line and then at prescribed distances from the line. Finally, you connect the dots. I like hand-drafting because it is like solving a puzzle. As your sloper develops on the paper you begin to see how your custom pattern varies from the commercial patterns you’ve used. It’s likely that you’ll see considerable differences in the shapes of shoulder and armhole sections in the pattern. I have never drafted a pattern that didn’t fit better than a commercial pattern at the first fitting.

Note that there are different formulas for drafting a sloper and they yield slightly different results. The point is to find a draft formula that works for you. Does it create a fit you can work with? Is it easy to follow? If the answers are yes, it is a good formula for you.

Hand-drafting usually produces a half pattern. From that, you cut your muslin on the fold or in double layers. You have to make allowances for asymmetrical bodies.

Picture of book cover of sloper techniques Picture of CD cover of sloper techniques
Picture of packaging for sloper techniques software

Picture of Inside pages of book with sloper techniques
Get a good start with a sloper you’ve drafted to your own measurements.
SOURCES
Patternmaking for Fashion Design, fifth edition, by Helen Joseph Armstrong (Pearson, 2009),
Amazon.com
Patternmaking Made Easy, third edition, by Connie Amaden Crawford (Amaden-Crawford Inc., 2013), FashionPatterns.com
The Moulage by Kenneth D. King (self-published on CD or flash/USB drive, 2002), KennethDKing.com

Judith Neukam is a Threads contributing editor with 60 years of fitting experience.

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  1. user-6894301 | | #1

    Still confused - Ive made my bodice block- where do I go from here to create my top ( different style from the block). Can you continue ? Cant find anything in search
    I dont want to buy software-I already subscribe to Threads! And Slopers were used way before computers.

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