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Block vs. Style Patterns - What's the difference?

Photo by Michael Burrows:
Patternmaking photo by Michael Burrows

Block patterns and Style Patterns - I often hear my clients using these two terms interchangeably when referring to the pattern that has created their garment. I’ve also heard it referred to as “my block style pattern”. This can be confusing when working with patterns. I'd like to help clarify as these are two very different things.

A block pattern is the most basic shell of a garment and it is meant to be used to cut & sew in the actual final fabric quality. There are typically no buttons, zippers, pockets, flare, bells, or whistles. It is the basic silhouette from which individual styles are created. In corporate offices where I’ve previously worked, blocks are a huge, important project as they are the fit foundation to everything else a designer comes up with. Blocks enable the fit of a garment to be consistent within a fabric quality and thereby create a happy customer in the end. Blocks are helpful because people can review the drape of the fabric and the fit of the garment on a form or body, without getting distracted by the details, like ruffles or pleating for example. They ultimately make everyone’s life much easier throughout the creative fashion process. They are the base from which all other style patterns are made. (Twenty something years ago I'd also hear these called the ‘basic sloper’.)

The style pattern is the actual pattern used to cut & sew a garment specific to one style (sku) only, with all design details included. It is possible to have only a couple of block fits in a seasonal collection, but there needs to be a style pattern for every individual style. The core body measurements are maintained to keep the fit consistent, but if the neckline is changed to a boat neck and style lines are added to create stitched-in diagonal stripes then that requires a new style pattern . The block can then be used again and again to create new designs within a same fabric quality while maintaining a signature fit for a brand or collection. If a new or different fabric quality is desired, then we go back to block making and perfect the fit in that new material quality because it might hang differently on body. If the same block is used to trace, cut, and sew five totally different fabric qualities without being adjusted to accommodate the stretch, weight, and drape of those fabrics, then that will affect the fit. New fabric = new block pattern, then new style pattern.

If you have any further specific questions, please send me an email using the link at the bottom of the page or the contact form. I hope this was helpful. Thanks!

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