The House of Tatterdemalion

Unfashionable, unskilled, inexpensive--but still sewing.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


When you say you are building a house, people have at least an idea of what goes into it, and at least a vague idea about foundations and basements. When you say you are making a cake, people think you mean "from a mix", but know what you mean when you say you are making it from scratch. When you say you are making a sloper, you get a blank look, and they say "What's that?". Sometimes they're even interested in hanging around long enough to listen to the answer.

What is a sloper? First I'll give a general answer, and if your eyes haven't glazed over and you haven't come up with a polite comment with which to shift the conversation to something more interesting to you, I'll try to give a more indepth answer.

When I'm trying to describe what a sloper is to my younger WarCraft-modding brothers, I explain it as a skin; reducing the body to polygons, or planes. To other people, I describe it as a body-map, that accurately shows the space a body will take up. Sometimes I say it's the basic building block of making a pattern. Usually, the conversations goes something like this:

"What's a sloper?" Blank look.

"Well, a sloper is a skin tight dress, drafted to your own personal measurements. Once you have this, you can add ease and manipulate the sloper to create styles that fit you perfectly."

"But skin tight? Wouldn't you want to have more room than that? I'd think it would be awfully uncomfortable!"

"No! The finished garment isn't skin tight; it's just to make sure that you know the shape of your body--then you add extra room."

"Oh. Um. . .gee, doesn't that cloud look interesting? Sort of frog shaped, or something?"


Like I said, a properly made sloper is drafted to your exact measurements, and fits sort of like a second skin. Among other things, if you take the paper form of your sloper and lay it over a pattern, you can see exactly how your body differs from the pattern. You can see where the pattern is too small--it's lines lay inside the lines of your sloper. You can also see how much room you have--maybe too much room--by the lines that lay outside the sloper lines. Or, just as often, you could be a different shape than the pattern. The sloper shows the body.

The best thing to do with a sloper (in my very un-humble opinion) is to learn pattern drafting, and use your sloper for the base. By adding ease--extra room, especially at the sides, so that the garment is not skin tight--and manipulating the pattern by adding seams and shifting fullness, you can create almost anything you can think of.

Now, if watching paint dry doesn't seem particularly interesting at the moment, I'll continue to the slightly more picky stuff. There are a lot of words that people use interchangeably, which really aren't. Some people are very fussy about getting the meaning "just so"; for now, I'm only worried about telling you how I use the words so you don't get even more confused by my mumbldy-jumble. My mother used to tell me that if I didn't know how to spell a word, I ought to pick a spelling and stick with it. If I couldn't be right, I ought to at least be consistent. Well, I give no guarantees that this list is accurate, but it, as far as I can manage it, will be consistent throughout my site:

Sloper: as defined above, this is a skin tight garment, drafted to individual measurements, for the purpose of created customized sewing patterns.

Block: The industry's version of a sloper; this is a garment that is drafted to be skin tight on the company appointed "size", and used in the production of commercial patterns.

Moulage: The French word for sloper. As near as I can tell, the biggest difference is that "moulage" is harder to say than "sloper".

Fitting Shell: A garment that has a small amount of ease built in, and must be adjusted to fit the individual.

All pattern companies use a block in the production of their patterns. If your measurements don't match those of the company block, it's advised that you buy their fitting shell, adjust it to match your shape, and make all those same adjustments of every pattern of theirs you buy. If you don't like that choice, you can draft your own sloper or moulage, and make your own patterns. A sloper is customized; a block is standardized. You don't draft a block for personal use, and the companies don't use a sloper. A fitting shell has to be adjusted; a sloper (if it's drafted properly) is made to fit, and needs no adjustment. (Let's please not talk about what happens if you screw up on the drafting.) Both a sloper and a block are used to the same purpose (manipulated to create patterns). If your sloper is the same as a company block, you wouldn't need to make any adjustments at all. If your sloper differed, then any pattern would have to be adjusted.

So when you make a sloper, you are doing the sewing equivalent of building a house from the ground up. Altering every pattern you buy is like re-modeling.


Anonymous Kathleen Fasanella said...

Sloper: as defined above, this is a skin tight garment, drafted to individual measurements, for the purpose of created customized sewing patterns.

In the apparel industry -not the text book or home sewing version of the apparel industry- a "sloper" is any pattern without seam allowance. This meaning has become diluted a great deal over the past 20 years. Therefore a pattern for anything from a car seat to a teddy bear would be a sloper provided it didn't have seam allowance. The distinction is very important in manufacturing for several reasons I can't begin to explain here.

Block: The industry's version of a sloper; this is a garment that is drafted to be skin tight on the company appointed "size", and used in the production of commercial patterns.

Actually, a block is *any* pattern that is used as the basis of a new pattern. In all my nearly 30 years of making patterns in the business, I have never seen a basic fitting shell in any company I've ever worked at or visited. I have never made a basic fitting shell at any company either. We don't use them. If a company makes coats and only coats, why would they start with a basic fitting shell to cut the next coat? That's a big waste of time. Rather, we use a coat block (a previously run style that was popular and fit well) to generate the subsequent style.

It's no different in blouses, dresses or what have you. In real life, blocks are actual styles that proved their utility with sales and customer satisfaction. The block is a style that was previously popular and most similar to the new style we want to generate. It is not a basic fitting shell tho. It's too much work and time to get it from zero to finished product. Blocks are existing styles that are already similar to styles we want to develop next.

This distinction is often blurred by many pattern texts. The reason is, it's much simpler to demonstrate a given design process from a basic fitting shell (as you defined sloper/block) than it is to explain that the template upon which one renders the changes varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and from situation to situation.

4:24 PM  
Blogger Tatterdemalion said...

Kathleen, thanks for taking the time to post, I appreciate it.

As one self taught (no experience in the industry) I'm afraid I do rely on textbooks and home sewing resources for my information. I have, however, found that to be extremely unsatisfactory, as no one seems to agree with each other from book to book or resource to resource.

In fact, as you pointed out, many words are used differently depending on who their intended audience is--e.g. a "sloper" is one thing in the industry, and another thing in the home-sewer terminology.

This is why I felt compelled to write this post--not because I felt like I had accurate information, but just to explain how I was using the terminology, as I felt this was the only sure way to avoid confusion. If I had used industry terminology (which, I confess, I didn't, and still don't, really know), I would have confused those who used home sewing terminology. And within home sewing, everyone still uses their terminology differently. Hence, I felt like best way to avoid confusion was to state how I used the terminology, so that people could understand what it was I was trying to say (even if I was using the "wrong" words to say it).

That said, I was very interested to read your comments. A sloper is considered any pattern with a seam allowance? So that means that European companies (such as Burda) that sell patterns without seam allowances could be said, in industry terms, to be selling slopers? Very interesting. I learn something new every day.

8:15 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home