draft a basic bodice block

A basic bodice block is a great starting point for most patterns involving your top half – it can be used to make tops and dresses, and paired with a sleeve block can be used to make shirts, blazers, jackets and coats. Many patterns evolve from this block. So if you are ready to start making your own patterns, then a bodice block to your specific measurements is a great place to start.

This tutorial has been adapted from this great "how to" on BurdaStyle.com, which was taken from Winifred Aldrich's Metric Pattern Cutting for Women's Wear (5th ed. Blackwell Publishing: Oxford, 2008, pp 215). I changed the order in places and added more measurements, to hopefully create a better fitting bodice and an easier to follow tutorial.

So, even if you are an absolute beginner, with the right measurements, the right tools and a little patience, you will have a great fitting bodice block in no time!

The measurements you will need for this project are:

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9. Bust point to bust point

You will also need: 

A large sheet of paper (approximately 1m x 0.5m). 

tools for pattern cutting

A sharp pencil or pacer, a long ruler, and french curve or Patternmaster (or a plate if you don't have a french curve). An eraser will also come in handy!

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With a large piece of pattern paper mark a point A close to the top left corner (always leave some space around starting point). From this point, draw a vertical line down the left hand side of the paper that is the length of the nape of neck to waist measurement. Mark the end point as B. This line is the CENTRE BACK seam of the block and the grainline of your back pattern piece.

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Extend line AB by 1.5cm from A, and label new endpoint as C. This extra 1.5cm allows for back neck shaping. Label AB as CENTRE BACK (CB).

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Next, we will indicate our BUST LINE (the horizontal line that runs through both the front and back of the pattern at bust level). Take the shoulder to bust point measurement and add 2cm to this length. Then, measuring from point C, mark this length as point D on line AB. 

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Square out from D with a line half of your bust measurement + 2.5 cm (only half bust is required as we are making the pattern on the half – i.e. the front will be cut on the fold, and a pair of the back will be cut. 5cm ease is added to the bust area – if you would like more bust ease, just add it to this measurement). Label end point as E. Mark this line as BUST LINE.

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Square out from B the same length as your bust line. Mark endpoint as F. Label this line WAIST LINE.

bodice contructions

Square up from F (passing through E), the length of CB, and marking end point as G. Label FG as CENTRE FRONT (CF). This will be the grainline of your front pattern piece.

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Join G to C with a straight line. 

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Take armscye depth measurement and add 0.5cm. Mark this distance on CENTRE BACK (starting at point A and measuring towards B). Label this point as H. 

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Square out from H and extend line until it intersects CENTRE FRONT. Mark the intersection point as I.

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Take neck measurement, divide by 5 and subtract 0.2cm. Mark this distance from C on line CG as J. Join A to J with a shallow curve  – this curve is the back neckline.

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Take neck measurement, divide by 5 and subtract 0.7cm. Mark this measurement on line GC (measuring from G) as point K.

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On CENTRE FRONT (GF) mark a point the same length as CJ down from G. Mark the point as L.
Join KL to L with a deep curve – this is the front neckline.


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Take armscye depth and divide length by 5 and then subtract 0.5cm. Mark this distance down from A on Centre Back as N. Square out from N.

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Take shoulder length measurement and add 1.5cm (allowance for shoulder dart). With this length in mind (or written down if you have a bad memory like me), use a ruler to pivot from J until your measurement passes through the perpendicular line drawn from N. Mark intersection point as O.

Join J to O to create your back shoulder seam.

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Mark a point 15cm down from A, on the CENTRE BACK line, and square out from this point with a broken line.

Mark midpoint of back shoulder seam (JO) (i.e. distance halfway between J and O) as point P.

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From point P, draw a dotted line parallel to CENTRE BACK, extending until it passes through the perpendicular line that you drew in the previous step. From where these lines intersect, mark a point 3cm towards CENTRE BACK and label as Q. Q is the point of the shoulder dart.

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Join P to Q to create first dart arm. 

To create second dart arm, mark a point 1.5cm from P on shoulder seam (JO), towards O, as R. Join R to Q to complete the dart.


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Move to your BUST LINE (ED)

Take bust apex to apex measurement and divide by 2 (as we are working on the half) and add 0.5cm (allocated ease). Draw a parallel line this distance from CENTRE BACK (GF) so it runs the length of the bodice – intersecting  both WAISTLINE (BF) and CG. This is your VERTICAL BUST LINE. Where it intersects CG label as R and S where it intersects WAISTLINE (BF). 

Label your BUST POINT (BP) – that is where the VERTICAL BUST LINE (RS) intersects the BUST LINE (DE).


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Mark a point 0.5cm up from L on CENTRE FRONT (GF) and square out from this point.

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This is one of the equations taken from the BurdaStyle tutorial that is very handy (I am not sure if I would have been able to work this out without this guidance!)

Add or subtract 0.6 cm to 7 cm for each 4 cm bust increment above or below 88 cm. For bigger busts you will need a larger dart (add to 7cm), and for a smaller bust you will need a small dart (therefore subtract from 7cm) 

For example, my bust measurement is 84cm, which is 4cm below 88cm, therefore I need to subtract 0.6cm from 7cm, leaving a dart width of 6.4cm.

Take dart width measurement and mark this distance from K as point T.

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Move down to BUST POINT and mark a point 1cm above BUST POINT on line RS as U. This will be the point of your dart. The reason we lift the dart point a little above BUST POINT is that if the dart point was right at bust point we would be left with Madonna style pointed breasts.

Join K and T to U with straight lines to create your front shoulder dart.

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Take shoulder length measurement and, with this length in mind, focus on your measurement on your ruler and pivot  from T until your measurement passes through the perpendicular line drawn above L. Mark intersection point as V.

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On line HI mark a point that is the length of half of your back measurement plus 0.5cm (allocated ease), from H. Label point as W.

Square up from W until line intersects the perpendicular line drawn from N. Mark the intersection point as X.

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Find the midpoint of line XW. Mark as Z.

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Take the distance from CENTRE FRONT to BUST POINT (i.e length from E to BP or half bust apex to apex measurement plus 0.5cm) and mark this distance on line HI measuring from the dart arm closest to CENTRE back. Mark point as A1.

Square up from this point so that the line intersects the front shoulder seam (VT).

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Take armscye depth measurement and divide by five. Mark this measurement on the line just drawn from Y, as A2.

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Find the midpoint of the line between W and A1 and mark as A3. Square down from this point so that line intersects waistline (BF). Mark intersection point as A4. 

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Draw diagonal lines inwards from points W and A1. From W the line should be 2.5cm long (mark endpoint as B1), from A1 1.5cm long (mark endpoint as B2). These diagonal lines will help in the next step, when we are at the stage of drawing in the curve of our armhole.

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Join O to Z to B1 to A3 to B2 to A2 to T with broken straight lines.

Redraw lines as curves coming as close to each pass through point as possible (in some cases the curve will not pass comfortably through the point, allow a few millimetres give, as it is more important to have a nice shaped armhole than to pass through all points).


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At this point, the waist measurement is the same as our bust measurement. For most of us, our bust measurement is larger than our waist measurement. To remove this excess width from the waist and to create a well fitting block we will add waist darts (one in the back – remember this is on the half so when you make your block there will be two in the back, and one in the front, as well as slightly tapering the side seam, which we will also treat as a dart at this stage).

To work out how much width you will need to remove with your darts subtract waist measurement from bust measurement and divide answer by 2. Add 2cm ease (which adds a total ease of 4cm throughout waist) to this measurement. 

Divide this number by three, so that it can be distributed evenly throughout back dart , front dart and side seam.

To mark the placement of the back waist dart, find the midpoint of line HV and label as C1. Square down from this point so that line intersects WAIST LINE (BF). Mark point of intersection as C2. This is the centre of your dart.


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Distribute dart width evenly either side of C2 and join endpoints to C1 to create dart arms. 

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For simplicity, at this stage, treat the side seam (A3A4) as a dart at this point. Distribute one third of dart width to the back of the bodice and two-thirds to front of the bodice, either side of A2. Join endpoints to A3 to create side seam. 

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Distribute dart width evenly either side of S and join endpoints to a point 1cm down from BP to create dart arms. 

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At this point our waist line is straight. But as the front of our bodice must pass over the fullest part of our chest (our bust), we need to add a little extra length to our CENTRE FRONT, to prevent this part of the waistline from riding up when the bodice is made.  

Mark a point 0.5cm  to 1.5cm down from point F as C1.

(0.5cm for small bust / 1cm for medium bust / 1.5cm for large bust)

 Join B to C1.

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With a second piece of pattern paper, trace off front and back pattern pieces – leaving a gap between the pieces to allow for adding seam allowance.

Shape your darts at the seam lines (waist and shoulder darts) and then add seam allowance.

Seam allowance is what we add around the edge of our pattern so we can sew it together. If you do not plan to make up a toile of your bodice, then there is no need to add seam allowance (when you are using a block to create a pattern it is much easier to use it without seam allowance and then add seam allowance once changes and alterations are complete).

If you plan to make up your bodice then add seam allowance to your seams (if it just a sample to see how it fits you will not need seam allowance around your neckline, armholes or waistline).

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Add your pattern markings to the pattern – being sure to mark drill holes and notches and check that your seams fit together correctly.

And voila! There you have a basic bodice block to your very own measurements!

Sew it up (in calico or something similar you may have hiding in your sewing box), see how it fits and then you are ready to start getting creative making your own patterns!

There may be a few minor (hopefully only minor) fit problems, so in the very near future I will write a post detailing how to fix those.

What next?