November 29, 2007

Aldrich vs. Armstrong

The two most useful (IMO) books for children's pattern making are by Winifred Aldrichand Helen Armstrong. There are others, but I rarely consider them because they lack essential information, and/or are outdated. Some of you may ask about Childrenswear Design by Hilda Jaffe and Rosa Rosa. IMO, Childrenswear Design offers a decent overview of the biz but lacks a lot of detail in the pattern making chapter. Both Aldrich and Armstrong are good references, though I have a stronger preference for one over the other. Tiki has left some interesting comments on another blog entry about her comparison of Aldrich vs. Armstrong. I thought it might be useful to reprint them in a separate blog entry. I'll follow up with my own opinions about the strengths and weaknesses of each book.

From Tiki:
I've been doing the same, pouring over measuring charts and re-working patterns. My 4 y.o. is my fit model, though, so I do have the luxury (ha!) of dressing her up when I need a fit, but it's by no means easier than having a dress form that won't want to dance around the room while I'm trying to check the fit.

Thank you so much for your explanation below about the flat patterns. I meant to respond earlier, but then got caught up in the holiday madness. Anyway, after much pondering conceptually over the "right" pattern method, I was encouraged by your explanation, especially that it's the fit that matters, not so much the method for getting there. I know that probably sounds simple and obvious, but since I have no formal patternmaking training, everything is a learning experience and I sometimes get stymied because I want to do everything "right." So I finally put pencil to paper to draft Aldrich's and Armstrong's patterns and compare them to mine. My patterns are a more like Aldrich's classic, although my armhole shape isn't quite as cut out (so my armhole is somewhat in between her flat and classic). I think the shoulder width on her flat block is too wide, but I guess that's part of what creates a boxier fit versus the slimmer fit of her classic block.

I did notice that Aldrich seems to modify the front armhole and lowers the front shoulder slope even in her "flat" blocks for wovens (on the infant woven on p. 25 and on the body/shirt block on p. 39), although it's not as pronounced as in her classic block (on p. 89). And when I cut out my front and back patterns for the classic block and woven flat block, the shape and contrast between the front and back of each are not that different. In other words, the difference in the armhole shape between the front of the classic and the back of the classic is very similar to the difference in the armhole shape between the front woven flat block and the back woven flat block (I laid the fronts over the backs and compared). Of course, the armhole shaping between the front classic block and the front woven flat block are significantly different, as are the back classic and back woven flat. I'm not sure exactly what that means, really, except that she seems to apply the "true" flat (meaning identical front and back except for the neckline) as you suggested to casual knit boxy styles like t-shirts (which she drafts also for older children on p. 45).

One more thing about Aldrich's book that I find confusing. I do prefer her drafting method to Armstrong's (for children, I haven't done anything with either of their adult patterns)--it seems simpler because it uses fewer complicated measurements (I suppose because she makes certain educated assumtions about the slope of the shoulder, etc rather than using actual measurements).

However, her book seems a bit schizophrenic, like several people drafted different patterns and she compiled them into one book. For example, the points (0,1,2,3, etc) are not in the same places in her various patterns--sometimes point 0 is center front and sometimes it is a point just above center front that lines up with the inner shoulder. Then her patternmaking steps are not consistent throughout. Sometimes she measures the width from this point 0 and then squares down and sometimes she measures the width from the center chest and then squares from there. Her patterns all end up with the same basic shape and I found following her drafting instructions for each pattern very straightforward. But I think comparing one pattern to another is difficult because in one pattern point 3 is at center chest and on another pattern point 7 is at center chest and point 3 is somewhere else. Maybe it's just my inexperience, but I found it more difficult when trying to compare, say, the chest width ease from one pattern to another, than if she followed the same drafting steps for each bodice.

I do love both books as they are great at explaining how/where to modify patterns for different styles. And I like having two resources to compare--they are both a wealth of knowledge.
If you draft your own versions from each method, I would be interested in hearing your comments. I agree with a lot of what Tiki has said about the ease of drafting Aldrich over Armstrong. Though I prefer Armstrong for some things. I am fairly certain that Aldrich created all of the drafts in her book. I think the points of reference are unique to each draft and can't be used for comparison between drafts. It may make things simpler if they were consistent. Also some of the differences may come down to European vs. American fit and expectations. Europeans tend to fit closer to the body - Americans have a boxier fit.

Anyway, here is a brief run down of the highlights (positive & negative) of each book:

Aldrich (third edition)
  • Backs up measurement charts with her own measurement studies
  • Simpler drafting, though some instructions may be difficult to follow
  • Includes Infant sizing and basic infant drafts
  • Draft instructions for flat and classic blocks
  • The only book that comes close to how things are done in the industry
  • The only nitpick I had was the shaping of some of her basic blocks. I agree with Tiki on the shoulder slope, shoulder width and the neckline circumference. These are easy things to adjust once you have a draft to work with. I also did not like her cap sleeve shaping - another thing that was easy to fix.
Armstrong (second edition)
  • Design variations are laid out on separate pages and not squished together like Aldrich.
  • Step by step draft instructions
  • Easy to read measurement chart, though her chart starts at size 3
  • Chapter on knitwear
  • Ignores infants
  • Sleeve drafts have too much ease


  1. I just want to say how much I enjoy your blog, especially the patterning and grading. I have ended up drafting (and sometimes grading) patterns for historical costumes for children. mainly for my self but sometimes for friends. I like to use Aldrich's classic block for those garments as they do tend to be more fitted. Out of all the children's drafting books I have seen (over a half dozen) Aldrich is the one I like the best.

  2. Anonymous11:34 AM

    What a timely post,found your blog through FI. I have a copy of Aldrich(fouth edition) book in front of me. I was comparing the drafts. It seems that drafts from UK are drafted out from the armhole. Aldrich book drafts the same as P.Kunick which is from the UK. I have Armstrongs old book 1978 which is not beginner book,however I did learn about contouring principle.
    I do my drafts out of the book How To Design Beautiful Clothes by Ester Kaplan Pivnick. It's interesting because I was coming up short on my drafts and could not for the life of me figure it out, so last night I opened Aldrich book ,on pg 27 all waisted garments reguire waist dropped 1/2 too 3/4. I guess drafting is not draping. The writers had specific meas. technique's that need to relate to the drafts. If you would like to know how Esther Pivnick drafts I would be more then happy to tell.

  3. Laurra - I would love to know about Esther Pivnick. I don't know anything about her.