What are pattern cutting blocks?
Pattern cutting blocks, also known as slopers in the US, are the stencils used to create 99% of sewing patterns.
The blocks act as a sized stencil which can be drawn around as the basis of a sewing pattern design. They tend to come in generic sizes but can be adapted to your size and shape too. They can then be traced around and altered to the design required. This means that the size of the garment is preset before designing so the focus isn't on sizing but on the design.
What's the difference between pattern cutting blocks and pattern cutting pieces?
Pattern cutting blocks are the stencils to 99% of designs, they must never be cut into, cut up or altered (unless you want to change the fit of the blocks for all of your future designs). Blocks are normally made out of card to make them easy to trace around and to make them last longer.
Pattern cutting blocks never have any seam or hem allowances added onto them. This is so that they don't get in the way of your designs when you're pattern cutting.
Pattern cutting pieces are the sewing pattern pieces that you create from your pattern cutting blocks. They are the pieces that you use to know what to cut out of fabric. Pattern cutting pieces are just made from paper, a fairly lightweight paper too so it can be pinned though.
What's the difference between woven blocks and stretch blocks?
Woven blocks, aka pattern cutting blocks for woven fabrics such as cottons, silks, linens etc, need to allow for the shape of the body as they don't naturally stretch and form to the bodies shape. This means that the blocks need to have darts in them to shape to the body unless the garment is a baggy fit. Below shows some examples of woven blocks:
Stretch blocks, aka pattern cutting blocks for stretch fabrics such as jersey, lycra and elastane, naturally stretch around the bodies shape due to the stretch in the fabric so they naturally form to the shape of the body. This means the blocks don't need to have any darts in them. Below shows some examples of stretch blocks:
If you'd like to learn more about the basics of pattern cutting I've created a FREE eBook, An Introduction to Pattern Cutting for your reference and you can find it here.
Why are there full-scale, half-scale and quarter-scale blocks?
First of all, I think it's important to know what scaled blocks are. They are pattern cutting blocks that have been scaled down by a certain percentage. This means that they have the exact same proportions as the full-sized blocks but they're just half the size or a quarter of the size (or whatever size is chosen).
So, your full-sized blocks are 100% scale - so what you see is what you get. The half-sized blocks are 50% of the size so everything is divided by two. Lastly, your quarter-sized blocks are 25% of the size of the full-sized blocks (50% of the half-sized blocks). This means that all measurements are divided by 4 from the real amount you'd like. For example, a 2cm wide pleat on a full-sized block would be 2cm, on a half-sized pattern would be 1cm and on a quarter-sized pattern would be 0.5cm.
Now, you may be asking 'Why on earth do I need to have scaled-down blocks when I have full-sized ones?' That's a very good question and this is why:
So that you can practice pattern cutting techniques without needing a lot of space & wasting a lot of paper
So that you can try out design ideas in a smaller size before using large amounts of paper using your full-sized blocks. It's also quicker to draw around the scaled blocks whilst you're working things out so they save you time, paper and therefore money.
So that you can go through the motions of creating the pattern and working out what order to pattern cut something in without wasting lots of paper with your full-sized blocks.
So, you now know why you want to use the scaled blocks, but why do you need half-sized and quarter-scale blocks?
What should I use quarter-scale blocks for?
Quarter sized blocks are great for practising pattern cutting and principles and methods. They are also great for trying out your designs and to get a feel for the order you need to pattern cut something as well as quickly see how the design may turn out.
However, if you want to create a toile out of them, and believe me I've tried this, then they can be very fiddly to sew and just get a little frustrating. Now, if you have the patients and you have the accuracy of a space ship trying to land on earth then be my guest, but if you're like me and you just want to quickly toile a design then half-sized blocks are a lot better for this...
What should I use half-sized blocks for?
Half-sized blocks are ideal for testing our your designs. They're not so small that they're a nightmare to sew up and they're not too big that you need lots of space to create the patterns. Basically, they're just right!
This is the size I use to create mini toiles of designs I have before drawing them up using my full sized-pattern cutting blocks. I add 1cm seam allowances so they're nice and easy to sew (this is the same size as I use (mostly) on my full-sized patterns) and I don't add any hem allowances so I don't waste my time, paper and money to resources. Seam allowances are the only dimension that doesn't need to be scaled down when you're using your scaled blocks.
You can also use half-sized blocks for testing out pattern cutting methods but the smaller the blocks, the less time and paper you'll need.
What should I use full-sized blocks for?
Full-sized blocks (the real size) should only be used once you're happy with your design, the order it needs to be created in and the overall look of the garment.
Here's an idea of how I work when I'm creating a garment:
Step 1: Draw up my design idea
Step 2: Using my quarter-sized blocks, I create a little tiny version of my idea to test out what I need to pattern cut first. At this point, I don't add any seam or hem allowances. I purely test out what the pattern will look like and see what I think of the design so far.
Step 3: Using my half-sized blocks, I create a half-sized sewing pattern with seam allowances but no hem allowances. I then sew up a toile and check the proportions and look of the design.
Step 4: If I'm happy with the design then I'll create a full-sized pattern with my full-scale blocks. I won't add any hem allowance, or if I do I just fold them under to hide them. That way I save fabric and time sewing the hems.
Step 5: I will then make up the toile, trying it on as I go along to check the fit and look of each section. That way I can see if the bodice doesn't fit or look right before wasting time adding sleeves or a collar.
Step 6: Once I've checked I'm happy with the design and altered the fit properly then I make sure to amend any pattern pieces that need altering and then I'm ready to make the final garment. I just have to make sure not to forget to add the hem allowances if they weren't on there before.
Honestly, it took me years to see the merit in taking time over the preparation stages. It is worth all of the testing and trying because you'll have clothes that you'll absolutely love. They literally get worn to bits and they won't be another failed sewing attempt. There's no point making garments that get shoved to the back of the wardrobe with the hope of fixing them one day. It'll never happen and it's a waste of your time, money and your enjoyment.
Plus, wouldn't it feel like a dream to get a compliment on an item of clothing you're wearing? And, not just any old item, an item you've made!
How do you get these magical blocks?
Now, you can draw them yourself and there are tutorials out there but it can feel a bit like a maths equation. So, I've done the hard work for you and I've drawn them in the most common sizes ready to be downloaded and printed at home.
I've drawn the front and back bodice blocks as well as the sleeve blocks for you in sizes 6-16UK (34-44EU or 2-12US) so all you have to do it print them out and stick them together. I've even provided a handy video to show you how to print them together. You can find them here and I've also included the quarter-sized blocks with them for FREE.
Now, before you download your blocks let me just tell you how to choose the right size for you. The best way to get the size which will work best for you is to choose the size that best fits your bust. All other adjustments are easier to make. You'll find I've added the measurements of the blocks on of the images when you click through the blocks on each size.
The full-sized blocks:
The half-scale blocks:
The quarter-scale blocks:
Now, I hear you ask, 'How do I alter them to my exact size and shape? Well, very soon I will be launching a course to show you exactly how to do that. You'll also gain a really good understanding of how to alter other sewing patterns.
Honesty, no one is a generic size or shape. I know I'm not and I know you're not becuase even the generic sizes aren't the same in every shop you go into. A size 12 in M&S is a lot bigger than size 12 in Chloe so this is why having blocks that fit your perfect size will be just that... you're exact size!
If you'd like to know more about the course as well as learn more sewing tips and tricks follow me on Instagram at @thesewingretreat