sewing workshop

Drafting Toolkit

Remember this post last month when I asked for your sewing-related questions? Well, I’m trying to (slowly—I apologize!) go through and glean some ideas for potential post-topics. One of the questions from Vicki Kate (yes, the same gal who won the buttonhole tool giveaway!) caught my eye:

I’d love to know what your basic drafting tool kit is!

For following along my kit currently consists of:
Tape measure
Yard stick
French Curve
Tracing Paper
Calculator (for doing the maths required when grading a pattern)

Anything else that would be helpful? I keep wondering about one of the gridded cardboard cutting mats.”

This seemed a particularly apropos question to address, since I’ll be doing a little pattern drafting instruction in the upcoming circle skirt sew-along. (Don’t worry though, you won’t need all these tools—I’ll give you a supply list when the time comes!)

My drafting toolkit isn’t that extensive; I’m sure there are those who have lots of the professional-type bits and bobs for pattern drafting. But as with a lot of my sewing equipment, I tend to keep it simple.

Pattern drafting paper: I keep several types on hand. For larger projects or those that will take a beating, I use inexpensive banner paper that you can get at an office/stationary supply store by the roll. It’s about 30” wide and lasts for several projects.

I also use a lot of my favorite paper (both for drafting and pattern tracing): medical table paper. You can get it on Amazon for about $30 for 12 rolls. I split an order with a friend last year and am down to my last roll already. (Guess I draft/trace a lot, huh?) It’s not as sturdy as banner paper, but is great for initial drafts that I end up tossing as I go. Comparable to this would be extra-large sheets of tracing paper (available at most art supply stores), although more expensive in the long run if you are serious about drafting.

Another option would be Swedish Interfacing. Though I don’t favor it because it’s pricy, and you go through a lot of paper when drafting!

Cardstock/light cardboard: I use this to draft my finished “master patterns” on (such as a sloper). I generally just cheat and use heavy cardstock sheets from the office supply store, but you can buy the stuff professionals use online. This is great because you can just trace around your pieces, either directly onto the fabric or paper. (Which is why it’s perfect for slopers!) The upside of tracing finalized patterns onto card is that you can clip and hang them so they won’t get crushed.

Rulers: This category encompasses several types. I always have at least a couple yardsticks on hand for longer measures (such as skirts), an 18” x 2” gridded ruler, a metric ruler (for using with some of my British drafting texts), a metal curved ruler (I have a Fairgate 24” curve), 90° triangle protractor/ruler (that also has a 45° side), and a tape measure. The combination of these four usually suffices. Sometimes I’ll also use a French curve for tight, fiddly curves, or a circle template, but neither of these are technically “rulers”.

Marking tools: I have a package of regular old #2 yellow pencils and some fine-tip Sharpies. I usually start out by drafting with the pencils (so I can erase any mistakes) and finalize the lines with the marker. Also handy to have: fine-tip markers or pencils of different colors. This is good when you’re adjusting a pattern so you can differentiate the alteration lines.

Cutting mat: I use one of those basic, fold-out, gridded mats for all my drafting (and fabric cutting). The grids are semi-helpful (check to make sure they’re accurate first!), and having that much surface to work on is a plus. You can find them inexpensively at most fabric stores. I go through about one of these a year, and then recycle the old one!

Drafting compass: Useful when I have circular curves to draft.

Paper scissors: A must! Along with a lot of marking, you’ll be doing a ton of cutting. Get a decent pair that won’t get nicked too easily and cuts well.

Tape: Needed for taping together sheets of paper for larger drafts, or accidental (oops!) cuts into your paper pieces you may make while drafting a pattern.

Tracing wheel: I have the sort (purchased on Ebay last year) that has pin-like tips all around the wheel. I like this because I can trace through a pattern I’m working with onto paper below and transfer important lines like grainlines or seam allowances. Very handy when not working with transparent paper.

Zip bags or manila envelopes: I use these to store all finished paper (non card) drafts in. I’ll usually include my initial sketch, the date it was drafted and such in there are well.

Reference books: I always keep these handy! On my shelf at the moment:

  • Aldrich, Winifred, Metric Pattern Cutting for Women’s Wear: My hands down, favorite drafting book. Shows how to draft a variety of slopers (fitted, jersey, etc.) and basic variations.
  • Bergh, Rene, Make Your Own Patterns: The first book I ever bought on pattern drafting. Fairly easy, though the instructions are sometimes a bit wonky (technical term).
  • Brockman, Helen, The Theory of Fashion Design: A great 1960s era drafting book. Few instructions on slopers, but great for period-appropriate silhouettes and details.
  • Ein, Claudia, How to Design Your Own Clothes and Make Your Own Patterns: This is a charming little 1975 how-to book. Only covers how to actually design the clothes from a base pattern, so does not include sloper-drafting information.
  • Kopp, Ernestine, Designing Apparel Through the Flat Pattern: I have two, older editions of this large textbook and refer to them often. Kind of a dictionary of styles for drafting!
  • Patch, Cal, Design-It-Yourself Clothes: One of my favorite to recommend to beginning drafters. Take note though that the base patterns she shows how to draft are not the traditionally fitted slopers.

There are of course plenty of other books that I don’t yet own in my personal library. If you’re interested in investing in one of the larger drafting textbooks, I’d highly recommend checking out reviews on Amazon.

I hope this answered some questions! If you draft patterns, please chime in with your favorite tools that I may not have mentioned. As I said: I tend to keep my toolkit pretty simple, so this doesn’t encompass everything.

August 12, 2011 · 31 lovely thoughts
posted in sewing · tags: ,

karen August 12, 2011 at 06:13

A compass?! You threw me at a compass, Casey! Does she go trekking in the wilds for inspiration, I wondered. Fabulous post and extremely useful.


Casey August 12, 2011 at 08:46

Oops! I meant a drafting compass! ;) It’s from my old interior design drafting kit that I’ve had forever, so I forget that I need to specify. rofl.

♥ Casey


Sherry August 12, 2011 at 06:57

I’m with you Casey on the minimalism front – I have few patternmaking tools even though it is my day job! Paper, pencil, pencil sharpener, paper scissors, metre rule, and set square and tape are all you need! But the tape has to be Scotch Magic Tape…!


Casey August 12, 2011 at 16:16

I only go with Scotch tape… Back in my early days, I’d try to skimp–but always ended up buying a roll of Scotch to replace the crummy (cheap) stuff. hehe! Learned my lesson!

♥ Casey


YarnUiPhoneAppv1.6 August 12, 2011 at 07:06

I think I have a compass somewhere in my rolling cart, but honestly the best tool is my can of Sullivan’s stabilizer spray, usually used by quilters. This spray has rescued me more than once…I also like wash-away Solvy too, it’s great for thin fabrics like stretch lace, things that might get sucked up while sewing. Little bits of Solvy are great too for buttonholes. If you botch the buttonhole, it makes seam-ripping easy peasy and saves wear on your fabric.


Casey August 12, 2011 at 16:20

I keep seeing stabilizer spray popping up all over the place this week–perhaps it’s a sign from the Sewing Gods I need to invest?! lol.

♥ Casey


Eva August 12, 2011 at 07:09

Hi Casey!
I really like your blog and read it continuesley! You are so clever with all your sewing projects and it´s very inspiring to read! Now to my little comment on tools when you´re drafting patterns – I find that I can´t be without a 90 degree angel-ruler, mine is 60 cm (about 3 ft) one end and 30 cm the other. The “angeled” side is gradually curved so it can be used for almost any curved line except the smallest.

Eva (from Sweden)

PS Lucky for me I read and speak english with no problem so I have a “whole world” of blogs to choose from, but my own blog is written in swedish and unfortunatley there isn´t a lot of people who can read that. In the future I might add som text in english…


Casey August 12, 2011 at 08:48

Ack!!! I can’t believe I left out my angle ruler! I knew there was something I forgot. lol. Thanks for the reminder–I couldn’t draft patterns without that thing!

Just want to say I really appreciate your comments, Eva–thank you so much! :)

♥ Casey


Vicki Kate August 12, 2011 at 07:56

Thank you for answering my question Casey! I sense a banner paper and examination table paper hunt being launched in the UK as I have to do FBAs on pretty much everything! I’ve always wondered about the tracing wheels, and how you use yours makes a lot of sense – I’m guessing you just ‘join the dots’ to get the traced pattern. Some of the books will be going on my wish list too…


Casey August 12, 2011 at 16:18

I’m so glad I finally was able to answer that question–such a good one! :) Yep, I just join the dots with a marker (or pencil if it’s in the preliminary stages of drafting). This is also a great tool to have when taking a pattern off of a finished garment as well.

♥ Casey


Gina August 12, 2011 at 08:16

Great post! There is not enough good information out there about drafting, at least not without a good search. I have taken out many books from the library over the years and bought a few that I continue to use often. I think video tutorials could be useful here. Sometimes watching someone do something brings “light bulb moments”. The process is more the focus here, than anything. Thanks Casey for sharing these tools and tips. I love that you draft, I started drafting because you introduce it to me and I am so thankful to be learning this craft.


Casey August 12, 2011 at 16:19

So glad you found this useful, Gina! :) Shall keep some video tutorials in mind for the future. ;) Keep an eye out for the circle skirt sew-along I’ll be announcing soon, since I’ll be showing some drafting techniques with that too!

♥ Casey


Super Bloomers August 12, 2011 at 09:03

Thank you so much for this! I especially appreciate the list of texts. I really want to learn how to draft patterns. Or at least know enough that I can alter commercial patterns to fit my fashion needs. There aren’t exactly many patterns for my style. When I get done with my degree I am so taking the drafting class at my local community college.

I look forward to your instruction for drafting circle skirts!


Robin Benson August 12, 2011 at 09:21

Hi Casey,
Could you define what a “sloper” is? I’m probably showing mega sewing ignorance here!


indigorchid August 12, 2011 at 09:45

Nice post!

My tools are pretty similar to yours; I *cannot* work without my 18×2″ gridded, clear ruler – hands down the most important tool of all in my mind! I’d also add an awl to my list – it makes pivoting a breeze (as an alternative to slash and spread), and I use it quite a lot when I’m walking my seams, marking dart-ends, or matching up corners to corners to get the seam allowance right. Both the awl and the tracing wheel will really take a toll on the surface you’re using, so a dedicated tabletop or a cutting mat is a must!

And Robin: Slopers are pattern pieces to make basic, fitted “shells”. They are then used as the starting point for whatever design you’re working with, and altered to achieve that look. If you’re designing cropped, wide-legged pants, you’d take your pant-sloper, add width in the legs, and take off some length. It’s a way of starting with something you know fits, so you can alter the pattern according to your design, and know your foundation is solid. Hope that makes sense!


Casey August 12, 2011 at 16:21

Thanks for answering the sloper question!!! :) An awl is a great tool to have on hand too. I often forget it can be part of a drafting kit (since it is so handy for pivoting!), since I use it a lot with my regular sewing too. hehe! That’s what I love about a lot of these pattern drafting tools–they’re multipurpose!

♥ Casey


Robin August 13, 2011 at 12:12

Ohhh! Wow thanks so much for answering my question, Indigorchid!


Brandy Layton August 12, 2011 at 10:10

I keep it very simple with my tools as well. I keep them all handy and minimal. However, now that you mention compass, sigh, I need to replace mine…love the reads there are a few that I need to find.


puppyloveprincess August 12, 2011 at 10:27

thanks so much for the list of reference books. it’s always tricky knowing which ones to get, for, well, prettymuchanything… so it’s great when someone who knows what they’re talking about can point you in the right direction.


Belinda August 12, 2011 at 10:41

It would be helpful to see a picture of the “angled ruler” mentioned in the comments above. Also, can you tell me the difference between a hip curve ruler and the 24″ curved ruler. I have the 24″ Fairgate curved ruler and am wondering if I should also have the hip curve ruler.


Casey August 12, 2011 at 16:25

This is the triangle protractor/ruler set that I have (well, similar–mine are blue!). I’ll add a link to the main post too. :)

I’ve owned both a hip curve and the Fairgate ruler, and much prefer the latter. Not only is it longer than most hip curves I’ve worked with, but the curve is a bit more gentle. My feeling is if you’ve got the Fairgate, you don’t need a hip curve. I lost my hip curve (mysteriously!) a bit ago, and never replaced it because the Fairgate works better in many ways.

♥ Casey


Eva August 13, 2011 at 01:53

Hi Belinda and Casey!

Check this web-site for a picture of the type of “angel ruler” I use, it´s quite long at one end which is very useful!

PS “Monster” means “patterns” :-)


Casey August 13, 2011 at 11:25

That’s really interesting how it has the curve on the inside; most of the similar angled rulers I’ve seen of that sort are a corner square. (Which I need to get to replace the one I had to give back to my dad that I had “borrowed”! lol.)

♥ Casey


Isis August 12, 2011 at 14:55

I never thought of using a compass- what an excellent idea!


Olivia August 12, 2011 at 15:58

This is wonderful! Thank you for posting this :)


Nicole August 13, 2011 at 01:35

You mentioned being able to buy patternmaking cardstock by the roll online, but I have not had any luck in my searches for it. Is there any particular place you know of that sells it?


Casey August 13, 2011 at 11:23

I found some of the heavy pattern card here. (Though I’ve never ordered from this site!) You can also do a Google search to find other sources as well. :)

♥ Casey


Shawnta August 14, 2011 at 02:01

I just got Rene Bergh, Adele Margolis Make your own Dress Patterns, and Cal Patch’s books today! Your post was right on time and helpful!


Casey August 15, 2011 at 14:46

Hope you enjoy using those!!! :) Cal Patch’s book is so cute–I just love her designs!

♥ Casey


Lucy August 15, 2011 at 17:58

For those who have trouble finding good paper for drafting/tracing patterns – especially if you aren’t in the US – I’ve found that imitation greaseproof paper is really good. You know, that paper you get from the supermarket for wrapping sandwiches but which you can’t bake on? Usually you have to stick a couple of lengths together but that’s not too big a deal. Certainly it’s good as an interim measure when you want to get started RIGHT NOW but have to wait for your banner paper/medical table paper to ship ;-)


Care to comment? Thank you ever so much for taking time to share your comment! Although I try to answer questions, I am not always able to respond to each comment individually. But please know that I appreciate from the bottom of my heart every comment I receive!

Previous post:

Next post: