Drafting Tools for Dress Design

Written by deborah mitchum
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Drafting Tools for Dress Design
Sewing your own clothes is a rewarding and thrifty hobby. (sewing image by Yury Shirokov from Fotolia.com)

Tight economic times might send you to the sewing machine in hopes of slashing your clothing budget. Maybe watching clothing design competitions inspired you to try to make your own dresses. Either way, the thrill of executing a garment to your exact specifications can be yours if you’re patient and possess the right tools.

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Measuring Tools

Rulers are the most crucial tools for accurate pattern drafting. Purchase a high-quality heavy steel yardstick and a tape measure first. Obtain the most accurate body measurements with a measuring tape to ensure a tailored fit. Steel yardsticks transfer body measurements to flat surfaces. Bendable rulers are indispensable for shaping arm and neck holes.

Drafting tools, such as set squares or French curves, measure angles. French curves contain curves of varying angle and parabola; a square set is a triangle-shaped drafting device with a half circle compass set inside. Both aid in accurate measurement of angled design elements such as darts and necklines.

Drafting Tools for Dress Design
Drafting tools can be purchased at art supply stores or hobby shops. (rulers image by Petr Nagy from Fotolia.com)


Choose pattern paper according to your needs. Stretch jersey garments will be easier to cut accurately from tracing paper. If you plan to make multiple garments from a pattern, card stock or cardboard will be more durable. Use graph paper for precise or complex garments. Carbon paper is required if you use a tracing wheel to mark the pattern. Hobby shops sell paper that is specifically made for pattern drafting and tracing, but stationery shops also offer suitable substitutions.

Pencils, Pens and Chalk

Mechanical pencils, washable ink pens and tailor’s chalk are useful marking tools. Choose marking implements that won’t bleed or smudge on your finished design, or use a fixing spray to keep pencil marks from rubbing off. Tailor's chalk leaves removable pattern marks on fabric and may be purchased in pencil or wedge form. Tracing pinwheels rotate like a pizza cutter to distribute small marks from a sheet of carbon paper onto the paper or fabric. Notchers look similar, but leave a series of small cuts instead of carbon marks. Sewing shops carry speciality items like tailor’s chalk and notchers, but suitable pencils and pens can be found in stationery shops.

Drafting Tools for Dress Design
Tracing wheels leave small dashed lines from carbon paper under the fabric. (sewing image by Greg Pickens from Fotolia.com)


Use high quality scissors to cut out your completed pattern. Safety scissors, pinking shears, and scissors intended for other crafts will cut less accurately and possibly cause hand fatigue. Inaccuracies in the way your pattern is cut will only multiply once you cut fabric from it. Use smaller scissors for intricate patterns. Keep separate sets of shears for cutting paper and cloth. Paper blunts the blades and makes cutting cloth more difficult.

Drafting Tools for Dress Design
Reserve different shears for cutting paper and cloth. (scissors (shears) image by Paolo Frangiolli from Fotolia.com)

Dress Forms

A dress form is a mannequin used to fit clothing to a specific size. Often dress forms can be adjusted to a range of sizes with a series of dials that contract or expand the mannequin. Some adjust to a limited range of sizes and only depict the torso. More elaborate models include the lower body and adjust to the full range of manufactured sizes. Speciality dress forms can be used to fit plus sizes, maternity clothing and children’s wear.

Dress forms help seamstresses adjust a garment's fit in three dimensions.
Dress forms help seamstresses adjust a garment's fit in three dimensions. (maniquí image by Yolanda Santiago from Fotolia.com)

Pattern Drafting Software

Pattern drafting software eliminates the need for some of the tools listed above. These programs allow you to enter your own measurements, calibrate a preprogrammed pattern for your figure and print the pattern at home. Beginners’ models offer fewer pattern options at a more affordable price. Pattern drafting programs geared toward professionals boast customisable patterns and allow for more measurement inputs, making a flawless fit easy to achieve.

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