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Jul 11, 2013

Can You Teach Yourself Fashion Draping?

Readers, I know I was a little vague about French dress forms yesterday -- apologies.

The one pictured above was -- and I believe still is -- for sale on my local Craigslist.  The seller is nearby so I went to see it last night: very lovely (Buste Girard is the manufacturer) and the asking price -- $125 -- is not exorbitant.  (View listing here.)

The base is sturdy and the form in excellent shape for its age (I don't know how old it is but it's old).  However it felt a little wobbly on the (wooden) pole that supports it, and seemed more like a display piece than a functional Size 8 dress form.   I passed.

Now perhaps you're wondering why all this recent interest in dress forms.  I want to learn draping.  I already own a number of draping books (which is odd since I never owned a real dress form before I picked up "Roy" last week).

The books I have lay out the process quite clearly and cover the same topics in pretty much the same way.

I also checked out YouTube, where I found some good videos that explain the basics, including one that links to a series of online classes you can purchase.  Anyone familiar with "Tutor Couture"?

There's also this Craftsy class that looks promising.

I'm determined to learn all I can on my own and then decide when and if I need to work with a teacher.

I know some of you are very pro taking classes and have taken many of them.  I'm not against classes per se, it's just not how I learn best.  Also, I'd rather pay for a private lesson and know that a) I'll get the teacher's full attention; b) we'll be working at a pace set by me and the teacher; c) all my money will be going to him/her.

Is it more expensive to study privately?  I think it depends on who you're studying with and for how long.

Now why do I want to learn to drape?, you might be wondering.

I have successfully drafted a few flat patterns, and for (most) menswear this works well.  But I like the idea of working in three dimensions; it seems more flexible and potentially more creative.  Let's say I wanted to design a dress that would become a commercial pattern: I could draft it using a standard Size 8 dress form, right?

So that's what I've been thinking about and why I've been busy searching for the dress form(s) of my dreams.

In closing, readers, what do you think about the concept of teaching yourself to drape, perhaps with the aid of an online classes and/or books?

If you have taken classes, what do like most about the live class experience, and what (if anything) doesn't work for you?  Anything you couldn't replicate on your own, or in a private lesson?

Finally, any draping resources you've used yourself and recommend?

Thanks for the help!


  1. I have drafted almost every pattern I sew for the past two years of sewing. Flat patternmaking has been very successful for me. I do have a dress form and drape some things on it. In my case I am very short and have tiny measurements so I cannot realistically expect draped patterns to fit. For me draping give me an idea of how to draft odd patterns which I would otherwise not even be able to decipher the shape of the pieces.

  2. Very excited to see how you get on. This is something I would like to try at some point. With regs self teaching v classes, I much prefer to work things out at my own pace before resigning myself to 'schooling'. I retain the info much more, I find and also I'm at a point where I would defo need a tailored private course. And that would be hugely expensive. Good luck. I think, as with anything, all you need is a real desire to do it and a huge dose of confidence! x

  3. Hi Peter,
    I only started sewing over a year ago and clothes about 9 months ago. All of this via a private teacher, books and craftsy classes (although I have not tried the one you mentioned). It works well for me although now I recently started learning basic blocks, I really need my teacher's help to design these properly and see how to adjust everything when draping/fitting. It's starting to make sense now I must say although still lots to learn.I tried one general class on shirt making via a college where we were 12-15 people and I regret having spent so much money for something I could have learnt myself via a brilliant craftsy class on shirt making at one tenth of the cost...that's my experience anyway!

  4. Oh I love draping! Some of my best designs have come from me playing with some fabric on the dress form.

  5. I started sewing with me own pattern from the first time I touched a sewing machine, three years ago, then I was lucky because I found free flat pattern making lessons in my area, and even tho I own quite a few patterns I never use them , flat pattern making isn' t hard ( I do women's' wear for me and my mum)the trick is to find good instructions everyone has a different way to draft block pattern but it is life savior to have that skill. I would defiantly recommend you to try and learn it. About group instructors most of the times if you show interest they will always help you no matter what, in my case I started my lessons two years ago when I was 15 and all my classmates where over 30 and because I showed interest( I made every single pattern the instructor taught us), the teacher always helped me and showed me short cuts and cool tips! Book also but the trick as I said are the basic blocks and practice!

  6. I took draping in college. It was a crowded class and my instructor spoke only broken english... this was not an ideal learning situation. However, I think that I did retain quite a bit of information from that class. I am a visual learner so I think watching a video class would be acceptable for me. There will come a time when you will want an instructor to comment on your own work so I think an in-person class would be a good idea.
    Books are good for references, but only in support of actual instruction.

  7. I totally believe that you can teach yourself draping. I should say, I believe that one can - and you, particularly, Peter, will do it very well - I'm sure! I'm not there yet, though fitting with my sewing friend engages in a very practical form of draping.

  8. This will be my 3rd year draping with my private teacher. I can't recommend Sharon enough! We use Helen Joseph Armstrong's book in tandem with my lessons. It may not be an issue for some but I discovered via Sharon that some of HJA's instructions are based on a dressform that may not be as accurate for a person not shaped like a dressform. I love private lessons because I can make what I want and take as little or as much time as I need. I love to copy vintage 50s designs such as Alfred Shaheen and I've never seen that in any book.

  9. I learned to drape patterns & fit from friends doing it on me more than on a dress form. Whenever I've tried to follow a book on the topic, it doesn't make sense -- I need to see it & do it. Like s'one else said, I'm a visual learner (I even have trouble reading pattern instructions; I have to pin things together to make sense of them). All comes down to how you learn best!

  10. Hopefully my response won't post three times but I'll try again. I've been draping now for 3 years and I've found that there are things you just won't learn from a book. Sharon and I have used Helen Joseph Armstrong's book in tandem with my lessons. I didn't realize this when I started but some of HJA's info won't work that well if you follow it to the letter if you're not the same size as a dress form.

    I love private lesson because I can make whatever I want. Plus, I can take as much or as little time as I need. Sharon has taught me how to take a design from a picture and make it into a reality. she has also taught me a lot about fitting which is much better in person.

    1. For some reason you ended up in my Spam folder, Cindy -- sorry, nothing personal! ;)

    2. Ha ha no worries. I'll see you on MPB day!

  11. Go for it, Peter... you can definitely teach yourself to drape. I saw Connie drape on a dressform during a recent class.. it seemed so simple that even I can do it.

    Try one, what do you have to lose? The only thing that you would need to buy would be draping tape..

  12. 100% yes. When I took draping at college as part of my (almost finished after 10 years) design degree it was mostly self paced along with the textbook. Not that the teacher was lazy or no good but its a personal process and she was there for if we got stuck. I loved it because I wasn't held back at all.

    I prefer Connie Crawford's draping book. The Armstrong drafting book is ok every school seems to use it.

    You have a book, a dress form and a blog. Just post a pic if you get stuck.

  13. I self taught myself a lot of what I know when it comes to sewing but draping is not one of them. I tried several times when still in France. I even bought the fanciest form (Stockman) and I had the books but it did not really click until I lived in NY and took the evening classes at FIT.
    Disclaimer: I always liked going to school. I think that following the course syllabus and forcing yourself to give the homework on time is a fast and effective way to improve your skills. It's also a great place to meet people with the same interest and level of expectations when it comes to sewing!!
    Unfortunately I had to move out of NY too soon so I only completed 3 out of the 4 semesters of the certificate...

  14. I've been dying to try draping. I've always wondered if you can learn on your own. Great tip about the Craftsy class - I've got two to finish right now here. I'm excited to see your new designs:)

  15. Hi Peter! As a professional pattern maker/designer, draping is my preferred method for creating a pattern. It allows for more flexibility in design and the bonus is that you can actually view your creation before you commit. Good luck!!

  16. Peter, There are some videos on draping that were done by Suzanne Pierrette Stern that you can watch on Vimeo. I watched this series using VHS but it looks like her family allowed the footage to be put on this site. She is an excellent teacher and I think you would enjoy watching this.

    I haven't really reviewed the following link, but at first glance it looks good.

    I took a few classes in draping and flat pattern design, but like you, I would rather learn on my own or in private lessons.

    Also, if you have a means to borrow from the FIT library you can probably find videos there.

    I hope some of this helps. Have fun! Sueann

    1. These are great resources, Sueann. Thank you!

  17. You live so close to FIT - check out their classes!

  18. I had a whole course in college of Fashion draping. All the teacher thought us was how to drape bodice block and skirt and a basic seeve, for the "fashion" part she just walked arround and made sure we were still draping clothes not window treatments LOL!
    Here in Estonia we also get a Russian mag called "Atelier". And it has a fashion draping section - it teaches you how to copy all the crazy-sauce-awesome things one can see lets say in McQueens fashion show.
    Since I have a pattern cutter training for custom made clothes, I like to make my patterns in flat. That works well for almost all menswear, because I honestly can't imagine draping a whole tailored suit first.
    But for all the fancy dresses I get to make from time to time I drape as well. And I use my beat up plastic dressform that one can set up many sizes for that.
    The "secret" is do be creative and I don't really think one really needs a class for being creative.

  19. I haven't taken a draping class, but I have taken some other Craftsy classes and I liked them a lot. I treat them as books with "moving pictures", i.e., I don't do any of the interactive stuff; I just watch the teacher and follow the steps. You work at your own pace, and you can re-watch the lessons anytime. I really like the format.

  20. I've done both - taken classes from respected designers/instructors and invested in dozens of quality books on draping/drafting. And, I also teach draping/drafting to a variety of students. This experience has confirmed the old adage that each person learns new concepts/ideas and retains that information in different ways.

    I tend to fall in the camp of doing a lot of research from a variety of sources and then diving in head-first without any help. This has served me well and I enjoy the process in everything from building a house from scratch to cooking, fine tailoring, and even rebuilding my grand piano. But it's not for everyone.

    I have students who prefer this method too - they don't want/take ANY direction. But they come every week for a half hour mentoring session to ask specific questions - they do this more to speed up the process than because they can't figure it out for themselves.

    With other students, I need to hold their hand, provide encouragement and help to instill confidence as we repeatedly review each minute step..... multiple times. There is no way these dear souls could learn draping, not to mention drafting a sleeve, by reading a book and/or watching a video by themselves.

    Peter, I think you definitely have the skills and perseverance to tackle this on your own. You've already demonstrated this ability with the progress you've made in learning sewing techniques and how you've solved problems - not to mention the ability to succinctly describe in detail how you did it in your most appreciated and entertaining posts.

    Just dive in..... and enjoy the journey.

    If you get in trouble, just let us know. You have a wealth of experience and knowledge in your readers who have demonstrated they will gladly offer assistance.

    Hint: Don't bother trying to drape a fitted sleeve. But know there are at least 47 different methods to draft one. Or maybe you SHOULD try it, just for the experience and frustration! ;-)

  21. I took draping in college. It was a lot of fun, however, I'm a firm believer in just "doing it." You'll learn and be more creative. Even if you make mistakes, no big deal. Just keep going. I'd love to have a dress form, too. Not sure if I have the room...

  22. Peter, I am a designer and drape everything. I am one who needs to see the fabric and move it as needed. Flat patterning just doesn't give me the same understanding that I get from draping. You can learn all you need from the books and practice. Go for it.

  23. Peter, I have always draped, I didn't know it had a name, it just makes sense to me. I've never read a book or attended a lesson, either. And I am doing a series on my blog to encourage more sewists to do it too. You are SO right about it being more intuitive - I think working on a 3D form (or onto the actual person if you can!) teaches you a lot more about fitting and cause and effect. Fit, mark, remove, flatten and see what changes have occurred to the shape, not vice versa, is my advice..
    Perhaps you should bite the bullet and make that dress for your SIL, but drape it onto her? :)

  24. Im going to try my hand at draping this summer. I want to do some basics like t and polo shirts for men, but eliminate seams. I've got to get a male form to do it on though. I have one of those dress forms you pictured but female. I found the most amazing videos on draping at youtube by trpattern. This guy named Shingo Sato came up with a new concept in draping. I was amazed, spellbound and excited by what he's must take a look! Some of the greatest designers were expert at draping, but couldn't draft a pattern, my idol Halston being one of them. He had the best technicians at hand to execute his ideas, but we aren't so lucky! I'm going to keep a close eye on you and work along expect to hear from me!

  25. When I studied with my teacher (who was Paris couture trained), she insisted that learning flat pattern first was the way to go--then, you could learn draping, and know better how to reconcile a draped pattern back to the flat. This is especially important in regards to controlling necklines, and fitting sleeves (the whole bicep length-cap height as it affects mobility is best addressed in the flat pattern).

    Draping and flat pattern are two sides of the same coin--it's useful to know both. My particular affinity is flat pattern, but I can do draping.

    That said, private lessons from someone who has a course of study prepared, so your knowledge builds progressively upon itself (instead of scattershot lessons) is what I'd recommend for someone who wants to study but doesn't respond to a classroom situation.

    But I recommend study, after you've experimented with the books you've gotten. I got my start, and quite far, by books, but there's no substitute for learning from someone who does this professionally. You'll go further, faster.

  26. Kenneth you are right on point! The crucial part of draping is translating it into a flat pattern.

  27. hello Peter , I have been wanting to drape but havent yet got there . The only reason I want to do it is to make things with twists etc which are harder to fathom in flat pattern making . I learnt flat pattern making for a year every second Saturday for the full day and loved the forced concentration and the time I had to put aside for it but then I have a large house and older children who are forever asking me to do things for them and I work during the week. I think though that you must learn by doing and so go for it . Its great that you have worked out the best way for you to learn.

  28. I don't think I could teach myself draping. I'm neither visually oriented nor especially dexterous. I also lack confidence. I've needed every sewing class I've taken. Things don't look the same in real life as they do in a book or even in a video. It really helps for me to have someone watch me.

    I once had a day's exposure to draping, and just getting that muslin blocked and being able to score the piece its entire length with a sharp pencil took me longer than I expected. Even the way I pinned the pieces together was wrong (I need to use more of a weaving motion).

    Although I admire people with a knack for garment construction, I often think they would benefit from a class or private instruction. It's easy to learn bad habits that will only have to be unlearned.

    A few times, on sewing blogs by so-called sewing celebrities, I've seen debates on construction issues so basic it was pathetic.

    I've taken a number of classes at FIT. The fees are reasonable (I understand this is relative), the instruction is usually very good to excellent, and the vibe is completely different from that of a private home sewing class. Even in the evening classes, many students have professional aspirations (I don't.). The best tend to be quite driven and they produce excellent work.

    Over the years, I've made some friends among the evening and day students, and even a teacher or two. If I had a question about some service or arcane resource I could reach out to them.

    I've also been exposed to the standard expected for work done in a non-specialized, non-automated setting with an industrial machine. It's very high.

    I'm learning to sew for myself, not to enter the fashion or garment-making industry, so FIT can't fill all my needs. In recent years, I've worked with an experienced FIT alum who has helped me draft a pattern and fit patterns on me, in addition to giving me construction advice. If I had the money and the time, I'd probably continue taking classes at FIT to build skills and meet with my private teacher every couple of weeks to work on my clothes. I hope to buy a professional dress form at some point.

    Pattern making is not something I would try to teach myself either. I once took a crash course and there were many fine points that could never be conveyed by a book alone. Given a choice, I'd rather learn a complex skill the right way.

  29. Peter, Martin taught himself draping using books and he loves it.

  30. You might be interested in a whole series of YouTube films on the subject from Sten Martin Jonsson, a Danishman who teaches in English. He has uploaded lots of lessons of draping on the mannequin.


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