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How to Draft Ye Olde Ren Wench Bodice

Remember a while back, I posted directions for a Basic Conic Block draft? Everyone was sort of like, wow, missa, that’s great, it explains so much, but what do I do with it? Well, a basic block is used to develop other patterns in a big bad hurry, without all that annoying measuring and math. Today, we’re going to make an ultra-generic-wenchy-ren-faire-been-there-drank-the-ale-SEEN-IT type bodice pattern.  You know the the one I’m talking about…. It won’t win you points for originality or authenticity, but it’s a fun little piece to wear.

To start, you will need your completed Basic Conic Block. (For a more detailed explanation of the draft, you can read the first and second posts about its development. Pay attention to the second part, because it covers fitting the block to your body.)

The idea behind the block is that it already contains the information needed to make pattern that fits – it’s already drafted to the right size, the basic fit has been checked, and we should be able to develop a pattern without resorting back to our measurement charts. Block manipulations are a visual learner’s playground.

You will need:

  • Your fitted Basic Conic Block
  • Paper
  • Pen, Pencil, Marker, Crayon, or some such
  • Scissors (for paper)
  • Ruler/Straight edge
the Basic Block, on paper
Start with your Basic Block and a fresh sheet of paper.
tracing of block
Trace the Basic Block. Mark little ticks at the ends of the guidelines. Mark Center Front and Center Back.
guidelines drawn in
Connect the ticks to redraw the guidelines. We now have a copy of the basic block to play with.
concept sketch
Here's a concept sketch of a basic bodice. It tells us what we're going to do: make the back higher and make a roundsy-dropsy at the front waist.

Yes, “roundsy-dropsy” is a technical term… In Crazyland! I mean the front bit of the bodice that dips below the waistline in front.

grommets drawn
My sketch shows a front closing bodice. I always draw in a line of circles (like little grommets) along the closing edge so I don't forget where I want to put it. Don't worry about the spacing - this is more of a note than a plan.
measuring back top of block
Measure along the back top of the bodice.
marking the upper back
Mark this distance out from the strap. You can see how the angle of this line matches the angle of the strap.

If we just extended the back straight up on its current angle, we’d end up with a bodice that gaps away from the body between the shoulders. That wouldn’t be as pretty. Following the angle of the strap is a good way to keep the back of the bodice tight to the body.  This is not even a remotely period way to do this! Using a block isn’t particularly period either, although there’s some anecdotal evidence of existing fitted pieces being passed on to tailors to convey fitting information.

upper back completed
Connect the lines above and below the back top of the block in a smooth arc. Draw in a curved top line for the bodice. Mine starts at the inside corner of the strap and joins the back line round abouts half way up the strap.

Doing the back neckline like this, where it joins right up to the strap corner, will go a long way towards keeping your straps from slipping off your shoulders when you move around.  Don’t get too hung up on drawing the line exactly like I have, though. This is your pattern, and you can decide to make the back lower (pro: more ventilation, con: mosquitos) or V-shaped (pro: more period, con: only if that period is Tudor) or square (pro: more period, con: high potential for strap droop) or whatever. The only thing you really can’t do is go straight across. It will cut into the flesh at the top of your shoulders, as well as looking kind of bizarre.

work cut out
Cut around the outer edge of what you've done so far. Mark two little ticks along the side seam.
front and back separated
Separate the front from the back by cutting up the side line. The two ticks will help us later, when we need to sew the side seam up.
Altering for cleavage
If you're working with a nice, squishy human, you can change the silhouette by folding out some fullness along the bust guidelines.

What?! Yes, turning your basic block into one of those marvelously cleavage-enhancing wench bodices is about this simple. (Ditto for making corsets and the like with it.) If you look closely at the bottom of the draft, you’ll notice that folding out a triangle along the guideline has automatically corrected the bottom curve for us. (It’s gotten straighter, because the difference between the bust and waist is now less extreme.) Neat.

The obvious question now is: How much do I take out? I promise you, this is the only part of this draft that will require Maths With Numbers(tm). (What we just did, incidentally, was some pretty sweet Maths With Pictures, aka, The Fun Maths.)  I strongly, strongly recommend that reduce your Front Bust by a minimum of 3% for a basic touch of support, and never more than 15%. Multiply your Front Bust measurement by .03 to find the 3% minimum, and by .15 to find your 15% maximum. The smaller your chest is, the closer to that 3% minimum you should stay. This is because the only part of your chest that can really be squished is the boobal area. The rest of your chest measurement is your rib cage. Ribs are never negotiable. There’s more leeway for larger girls because we a) tend to have more boob in the boobal area, and b) often have a marvelously convenient layer of subcutaneous fat around our ribcage. That fat layer is great, because it’s delightfully squishy and perfectly happy to work with whatever container you give it. (This is why bra straps create those horrid lines – your fat has obligingly moved out of the way of the tight bits of the strap.)

Moral: the only parts of your body that you can comfortably, or safely, reposition/squish/boost/hoik/reshape are the fatty bits. You cannot, and should not attempt to, apply any of these verbs to muscle, bone, or viscera. I know drag-queens and tight-lacers will argue this point, but they also tend to embrace the suffering part of the age old, “You have to suffer for beauty, dah-ling…”

Enough ranting from me. Calculate how much you can remove from the bustline. Now, divide those numbers in half, because our block is only half the body.  This is the real number you’re looking at folding out of the bustline. If this number is greater than 2″ still, you’re not going to be able to remove it all by folding triangles out along the top bust line. You’ll end up with a weirdly small bodice front. You’ll need to remove equal triangles along the side seams of the bodice.

You’ll also notice that I haven’t said word one about reducing your waist in this draft. That’s because we’re not going to. This block fits your waist exactly, with no ease (that is, extra fabric that allows a garment to float over the wearer’s body). Additionally, it’s going to be worn over your chemise, which adds bulk, and a skirt waist band or two. There’s already plenty going on at your waist, and you haven’t even eaten that scotch egg yet!

If you, like me, are working with a vinyl-bodied doll, do not attempt to reduce the bust. It won’t work.

tracing bodice front
Trace around the front piece with any bust reduction folds in place. Trace from the bottom of the front bust guideline, all around to the bottom of the front edge. This leaves a little bit of the waistline out.
line of bodice front below waist
We want to drop the bodice front a little in the center, but we can't just make the front line longer. It would pull into the body, and make a whole lot of ugly when worn.
correct angle for line
Instead, this line should flare slightly away from the body. I start this flare a little above the waist, because it makes a little room for the bulk of skirts.
bodice bottom, marked
A little below the normal bodice waist, mark a 1" line (1/4" for dolls) square to the flared line you just drew. Connect the end of this line to the end of the traced waistline. If these lines are particularly jagged, smooth them out. b

Generally speaking, for a human this would happen about 2″ below the waist. That’s a half inch, in quarter-scale dollyland.

finishing the front draft
If you feel that is too little, you can always redraw a more exaggerated curve. You will also need to raise the top line of the bodice.

Raising the front line of the bodice is a modesty issue. As you recall, our Basic Conic Block is drafted to roughly nipple height. As a minimum, you should raise it one inch (1/4″ for dolls). If you reduced your bust, you’ve effectively relocated your nipples along with the rest of your breast. (You can see this effect if you sort of squish your chest towards your ribs – check it while standing sideways to a mirror.) For every inch you reduced your bust by, you must add 1/2″ of height to the bodice neckline. This is based on the total reduction, not just the half you folded out. If, for example, I were to take my 45″ bust measurement and knock 4″ off (a scant 10%, and what I normally shoot for at my size), I’d need to raise my bodice top by 2″ above the original 1″ we added first. This is a total of three inches. Anything less is dangerous. Too much more looks silly. Enough fragmentary sentence…

bodice front, cut and ready to become a pattern
Cut out the bodice front you've been drafting. Place it on a fresh sheet of paper. (We're almost done, I promise!)
front traced
Trace around the front of the bodice draft. Do not forget to transfer the tick marks at the side seam.
added notes
Add notes about important things: who the bodice was drafted for and when, and cutting information. Also, I've drawn in my little lacing edge circles.
Seam allowances and grain lines
Draw a seam allowance around your piece (I use 1/2" for humans and 1/4" for doll-size). Also, I've added a double-ended arrow to indicate grain lines. I want as much of the center front on the straight of the grain as possible, so it won't distort when laced.
finished back
Repeat the final tracing and transfer of information with the back.

And there you have it: your finished pattern pieces. Yay! Go have a nice cup of tea – you’ve earned it!


  1. Renee
    Renee May 11, 2011

    I just wanted you to know that I have never had a bodice pattern fit me. I have a short upper chest and need shorter straps, a small chest, and I’m short-waisted. I’ve never really drafted my own patterns. I’ve tried to adapt commercial patterns without success. However, I followed your instructions and I just tried my mock up and, miracle of miracles, it fits. The only adjustment I have to make is to the curve in the back seam. Thank you so much! I’m so excited to have a pattern now.

  2. missa
    missa May 13, 2011

    Awww! Thank you, Renee! :) You just made my whole day! I LOVE it when the site helps someone with costume stuff in some real way, and this is really, really the best feeling ever seeing your note. :)

    (Sorry for the horribly slow response – I’m trying to get a teensy little show called 1776 costumed, and I’ve mostly been either at resale shops or at the sewing machine trying to mangle Goodwill’s finest into passable period-ish costumes. *laugh*)

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