A Body Block for Bess (part 2)

OK – we did the front of Bess’s body block yesterday, and we’ll do the back of the block today. The back is a bit easier because 1) it’s less complicated, 2) there’s only one (waist) dart, and 3) we figured out the hard bits while doing the front, so doing them again here will be easy.

So this is where we left our intrepid adventurers last night. Note that there should be a straight line drawn between V and Q to form the side seam of the front.


We’ll start the back of the block by drawing the back of the neckline. From point A, measure up 0.25″ and to the right 1.25″ (remember to double everything for a full-sized person/form – we’re working in half-scale here). Mark that as AA, and use your French curve to draw a curved line between A and AA. Your neckline is finished!

On to the back shoulder! We’re going to start with a couple of landmarks for the block. We need to indicate the width of the back, so we take half of our back width measurement, and mark that far to the right of G as BB.

Next we measure up 1.5″ from BB and mark it as CC – this is just a constant for the pattern – same for everyone.

We need to draw the shoulder line next. Running a line from AA through CC gives us the slope of that line, but we need to know how long to make it. For the front of the block, we simply used the shoulder measurement we took from Bess. For the back shoulder, though, we add 1/4″ (1/2″ for a full-sized person/form) to account for the roundness of the back at that point. When we put together the mock-up/toile, we’ll have to ease that extra 1/4″ (1/2″ full-sized) into the shorter front shoulder. To get the correct back shoulder line, we start our ruler at AA, run it through CC, and end it at the shoulder measurement plus our extra 1/4″ for ease. We mark this point as DD. Note that the line AA-DD can be longer or shorter than the AA-CC line, depending on your measurements.


Now we draw the back armhole. We’re going to connect DD to BB with a straight line, then connect BB to O (right in the middle of the two pieces of the block) with a slightly curved line.

I failed to take pictures at every step for the back of the block, so you’ll have to find everything on the final photo below.

To draw the side seam, we measure a quarter of the waist measurement plus the width of the waist dart (1/2″ for Bess) to the right of point B. Mark it as EE, then draw a vertical line straight up through EE from the B-D line to the I-J line.

This next bit is another wonky bit. We need the side seam for the back to be the same length as the side seam of the front of the block *after* the bust dart is sewn on the front. To do this, we first measure the V-Q line from the front of the block (that’s just part of the front’s side seam – the bit below the dart). Put the end of your ruler at the end of the top line of the bust dart (not marked with a letter on your block, but it’s the line *above* the one the ends at U. Angle the ruler so that the measurement you took of V-Q falls on the vertical line you just drew up from EE. Mark the place where it hits that line as FF – that’s the bottom of your block and indicates how wide your block needs to be for your waist measurement. Connect FF and O with a straight line. You can check that it worked by adding the distance between O and the top line of the bust dart to the length of V-Q. It should match the length of O-FF on the back.

To draw the back waist, draw a line out to the left of FF that is parallel to B-D. Mark the spot where the line meets A-B as GG. Connect FF and GG with a straight line – that’s the bottom of your block – the waistline.

Finally, we need to draw the back waist dart. Starting at FF, measure *to the left* half the distance between FF and GG, plus 3/8″ (3/4″for full-sized). Draw a straight line straight up from that point to the I-J line. That’s going to be the center line for your back waist dart.

On the GG-FF line, measure and mark half the width of the waist dart (1/2″ total for Bess, so half of that is 1/4″ – double it all for full-sized) on both sides of the vertical line you just drew. Connect those marks with the unlabeled point of the waist dart on line I-J.

OK – that’s it. We have a body block.

Body Block for Bess 11.jpg

We’re not quite done yet. Make sure everything makes sense (note that I finally have the V-Q line on the front of the block!) and that the straight lines are straight and the curved lines are smoothly curved.

Check that you have right angles in the following places. If you don’t do this, you’ll get wonky angles when you sew the pieces of your mock-up/toile together. You want everything to blend together and not create weirdness like a v-neck on your block, so these need to be right angles:

  • Center front at neck edge (at point M)
  • Center back at neck edge (at point A)
  • Shoulder at neck edge (at point K)
  • Shoulder at armhole edge (at points DD and N)
  • Side front and side back (at point O on both sides)

If these parts of the block aren’t right angles, futz them until they are (a quilting ruler and/or French curve can help with this).

Now we have a basic block that represents Bess’s body. In theory, I can use it to create any pattern of any style from any era. My next goal is to cut and sew the body block for Bess – remember that what we drafted doesn’t have any seam allowances yet, so I’ll have to add them before cutting the muslin. We’ll see how it fits her, then if it is satisfactory, I’ll work through the examples of moving the darts and using other methods (e.g., princess seams, gathers, and gathering into a yoke) to accommodate the bust. Bess doesn’t have arms, but I plan to work through the sleeve patterns too.

Bess’s buddy, Robin (a half-scale model of a size 38 male dress form), should arrive tomorrow, and I’ll be working through the basic male body block and alterations after I finish Bess’s. I’ll do everything in this book, which I highly recommend for anyone who sews historical clothing – although that’s not what it actually teaches you, then move on to other drafting systems. The plan is to learn basic pattern drafting, then work through patterns from extant tailor’s manuals and extant garments (or images if that’s all we have) for a bunch of different outfits. At this point, I’m thinking I’m going to do full outfits to learn the construction techniques, not just the (fabulous) mock-ups that this guy did for The Alcega Project, which was an inspiration for my project. He was working in 1/3 scale, which is tiny and would essentially be making doll clothes (seemingly a whole new skill set on top of patterning and sewing) if you tried to make real outfits in that scale, but 1/2 scale is big enough that I should be able to use all of the correct construction techniques without any problems.

Beyond the half-scale patterning project, I’m also working in full-scale to create a kirtle pattern for a friend. I’m attending a small class on cutwork lace this next weekend, and I’m hoping I can use the skills I learn to make something for Bess – maybe decoration for her smock. Hm. I wonder if Drea Leed’s fabulous smock pattern generator will work with half-scale measurements…. (ETA: The pattern generator will mostly work, but some of the formulas use constants that don’t scale with the measurements you enter, so I’ll have to compare to my pattern to see which ones need to be halved after it generates the pattern/instructions for me) I’m still working on the images database, but that’s a bit stalled right now. I’m hoping to get back to it seriously this winter. My reading project has shifted a bit. I’m in the middle of that translated book (2 volumes, actually) on Spanish clothing, and I’ll likely finish at least most of the papers in it, but I’m also reading about patterning. I do plan to make some full-sized clothing for us this winter, but I am holding off on even thinking about Adam’s new suit until 17th-Century Men’s Dress Patterns is in my hands.

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