Drapers Gonna Drape: How to Drape Fabric on a Dress Form

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Watch even one frantic episode of Project Runway and you'll probably see some drama about draping, a technique that involves wrapping and pinning fabric around a dress form to get the desired shape.

If you want to design clothing, you need to learn the basics of draping. Let me walk you through the seven basic steps.

1. Prep your dress form

First, make sure the measurements are accurate. If you haven’t already, mark the center line of the dress form with tape; this will help you keep your draping even across the body. If you already have some thoughts about the lines of your garment, like the shape of the neckline , add those with tape, too.

2. Work from a sketch or photograph

Of course, you could just play with the fabric and see how it inspires you, but unless you have a lot of experience, working off a sketch or photo may be more productive and less frustrating.

3. Start with muslin

You might want to start with a fitting muslin (a test garment) to avoid wasting good fabric. Keep in mind that different types and weights of fabric behave very differently when draped, so choose a muslin that mimics your main fabric.

4. Create your foundation piece and pin it to your dress form

Most fabrics require a foundation piece of some sort to support their weight. (You can skip this step if you’re working with a very sturdy fabric.) If your main fabric is sheer, you may want a foundation fabric that's close to your skin tone or that matches the main fabric.

The foundation piece should be fitted to the dress form. (If you've constructed a bodice sloper based on your measurements, that's an excellent place to start!) If you have a basic idea of the design details you want to include, such as a sweetheart neckline or off-the-shoulder sleeves, be sure the foundation piece reflects that.

5. Start pinning!

Make sure you have enough fabric; you can always cut some off later. You probably will want to work in sections: front bodice, back bodice, front skirt, back skirt. Choose a spot with the most folds and begin there. Your sketch or photograph will come in handy at this point.

Pinning is all about trial and error — and patience. Use chalk to mark any additional seam lines or darts. If you find yourself getting frustrated, take a step back and walk away for a bit.

6. Baste the fabric to the foundation piece

Once you’re satisfied with the draping, use a contrasting color thread to baste the fabric to the foundation piece (or to itself if you’re not using a foundation piece). Go slowly so you won’t miss any folds. Then remove the pins.

7. Trim any excess fabric and continue your design

The raw edges of your draping should be hidden in the seams. At this point, you can remove your basting stitches.

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Drapers Gonna Drape: How to Drape Fabric on a Dress Form