Some notes on costume design thoughts/ pattern drafts from some old-emails


(Uncategorized initally as it didn’t fit the existing catergories, and the design notes here should probably be tidied up and put on a wiki somewhere.)

This is a “disorganised” set of notes in relation to some thoughts I had in a previous discussion with one of the maintainers/ developers of Valentina, regarding the blocks needed for designing adult female costumes. The ideas/thoughts are more towards the “fun” end, given that the people interested in period accurate costuming for re-enactment or pro costume design for perfromance/ film and television probably know more than I do.

Notes - first part- " Basic Blocks (for costume design work):

  • “Bodice Block”

  • “Sleeve Block”

  • “Pant Block” which can also be adapted into a leggings block.

  • Pencil Skirt

  • Circular skirt -Geometrically a circular skirt, is a ‘frustrum’ so it should be possible to find programmable formulae, Note if it’s not a true circular skirt, then be careful about the radius used, because the waist measure is an arc length not a circumference as it would be for a true circle. Also I’m not to sure how the skirt size at the base is defined ( IS the drop of a skirt the ‘slope of the skirt’ or a true vertical drop?). Also not all “circular” skirts are true circular skirts, as they’ve been adjusted for a greater length at the back for “balance” reasons.

  • Hooded cape ( There’s a work on that has a few designs for these from the early 1960’s, albiet not in metric measure.)

  • ‘Jump Suit’/‘Coveralls’: I found a work on that may have some basic coveralls design…

(“Dance/Activewear” Blocks:)

  • One Peice tight fitting (I.e a baisc block for swimwear design)
  • Leotard/Bodysuit rear zip, sleeved ( various neckline variants exist.)
  • Unitard/cautsit (Sleeved, rear zip, footed and stirruped variants exist)
  • Costume base hood (open faced)
  • Net Skirt/Petticoat.
  • Tutu
  • Hip Pants
  • Jazz Pants.
  • Skating One piece ( Which is a combined Leotard/with a skirt coming to just below the hips.)

Numerous apron designs exist, but these typically are either pinafore/bib types or simple “trimmed circle below waistband down designs” IIRC

Costume design thoughts:

Peasant Dress. - This is a generic description of a dress of high waisted bodice with a flowing skirt and a low over the shoulder line for the neck of the bodice IIRC.)

Various variants of the archetype “French” maid exist, examples are too numerous to mention, but most designs calling themselves “French” tend to be a ‘short’ circular skirt on a bodice with a very low neckline, the neck line extending over the sleeve cap, the bodice effectively being a modified raglan sleeve bodice, where the neck line has been lowered and the top of sleeve, sleeve cap removed, the top of sleeve forming part of the neck line.

I’ve seen the term “English” maid used for a costume that has the ‘French maid’ short circulsr skirt, which is typically a little longer or knee length. The Neck line on an “English maid” design is either conventional, or is raised into a high-collar. The “English” designs most prominent difference is that it’s fully sleeved (sometimes with cuffs.). The bodice portion is essentialy derived I think from a bodice design of the Mid 1900’s albiet let out considerably for a modern figure shape.

Maid(Swiss/Bavarian waitress style) - The ‘fun’ versions of these I’ve seen, consist of a skirt, blouse/bodice and a so termed “Swiss Belt”, A swiss belt is in design terms more like a waist cincher, but I’m not sure how you’d design these into a bodice/skirt design rather than wearing a cincher directly over a blouse. (NB In some designs I’ve seen there’s a degree of overlap with so termed Peasant dress designs.)

  • “Alice” dress
  • “Princess” dress . Your archetype Fairy tale Princess dress, NB I am aware that there is something called a Princess seam? That said I think that’s something rather different from the general dress type.

Historcial Deigns ( which need a different block)

These were ones I’d noted in ‘fun’ terms… For various historical periods you may be able to find a basic pattern to start from in Kohler’s History of Costume (but good luck finding a copy :frowning: )

*Cleopatra/ “Egyptian” dress. *Athenian Female.

Further thoughts (i.e the second part): (These are more design hints/ ideas than actual technical designs at present.) " Stock Patterns: *Kimono ( These are the basis of a number of Traditional East Asian styles.)[1]

Robots : *Variant1 (Gynoid) The female robot is a silver catsuit, Ski sunglasses and a metallic style wig. *Variant2 - ‘English maid’ with dark tone tights, Flat or low heel shoes. (Head band and earphones.) *Variant3 - Leggings, Blouse. , ‘Remote control’.
*Variant4 - 50’s retro patterns.

Personifcations (Anime/OS Tan) related - Numerous deisgns/variants exist, possibly best reference is the source Anime or online material…

*Mermaids - Apart from the blonde wig, I’d design mermaids to be like Fairies or elves (see below). Designing a mermaid tail gets tricky, I’ve seen various design variants ranging from an effective hobble skirt, throguh to what’s effectively a rear ‘apron’ over tights… I am aware of so termed fish tail dresses but wasn;'t sure how these were made…

Flowers : *Variant 1 - Skating one piece, Hairpiece. *Variant 2- Blouse in suitable colour, representative petal/leaf skirt *Variant 3- Full length dress, Petals are wired construction about waist and sloping up back. ( This might be better suited for orchids.). Top portion of dress and hairpeice should mirror the stamens of the relevant plant…

NB. Sometimes flowers are represented as ‘flower Farie’ which means that in addition to the specifics above, a set of wings would need to be created.

Elves : Elven females are : *Variant 1: A rough approximation of a lesser noblewoman of the early medieval ( But typically with a shorter skirt) *Variant 2: Puck, (Principal Boy), Peter Pan style over shirt/tunic and leggings.

Faries: These are types I’ve encountered.

  • Variant 1: ‘Princess dress’
  • Variant 2: As elves…
  • Variant 3: Full length Evening gown. and tiara… (and wand.)

Fairies always have wings, but I’ve had someone else note that in designs they’ve seen “mature” fairies tend to have a lot smaller wings, than young active ones.

Vampires (Female)

  • Variant 1 : Victorian style dresses - long hair, bonnet…
  • Variant 2 : ‘Neo-Gothic’ merging into modern Street-style, with the obvious ‘cool’ sunglasses.
  • Variant 4: Eastern European lesser noblewoman.


  • Variant 1 :- Otherwise normal street fashion (possibly higher end) , but cat-ears and tail… (NB Anime is probably a better source for these.)
  • Variant 2: - Catsuit/ Fur-suit…

Dogs: *Poodle: Pink one piece/tights, fluffy wrist and ankle bands. Collar

*Horses: For horse/unicorn/pony designs, either a dress or unitard based design can be used. The horse/pony element would be the ears on a suitable hood/headdress piece… A unicorn horn could be added on a headpiece or separately by means of a cone on shirring elastic."

Quadruped Mammals generally… *Variant 1: Catsuit - tail and ears… *Variant 2: One piece, with tail as appropriate…

Birds, Generally : Typically birds would be to the preference of the designer/drafter and intended use… I’ve seen various ideas used, from full length dresses, to what are little more than tail-feathers mounted on a bikini thong, and a headpeice…

Insects: Depending on species… I would suggest a knee length dress in a dark shade, a suitable catsuit, or some kind of one peice. For “Royal” insects suitable crown/ headdress can be added the crown piece incorporating the relevant antennae if desired…

Bees - Front=black/yellow , Rear/ yellow… Antanne headband , Flight Googles (if desirable to taste)., stinger can be added as a short stiffened pole/cone from waist, but don’t take it below the upper thighs in length!..

Royal/Queen Bee : Long Dress, Yellow . Skirt is Yellow and black, black tights… Tiara or crown with attached anntane

Ants or bees can also have ‘social group’ markings…"

There are perhaps other things I’ve missed, and as there are people that have worked costume shop on this forum I won’t object to critiques and comment.

These probably would need a LOT of tidying up to be coherent design notes, in respect of how you’d draft patterns for the relevant costumes…


@alex.farlie that is great information. thank you for sharing it. I am one (of several) who are adding tutorial information to the wiki. They way the wiki is currently organized, we are entering this type of information categorized by patternmaking “system”. could you take a look at the wiki

and make some suggestions about where you believe the information on costume design would best fit?


Based on some scope concerns, I am not sure the information would be directly appropriate. However, I’ve put on another wiki site so the information is still online.