The clearest description available of the work process of traditional draping or ‘moulage’ (French for ‘moulding’) is arguably the one by Duburg et al (2008). By showing the process systematically, in clear and instructive photos, it provides a technical and hands-on illustration of how to proceed in order to create various types of garments on the dress-stand.
In order for the fabric to stay in position and not fall down while working, the fabric is pinned to the dress-stand, and the pins attaching the garment to the dress-stand are gradually removed as the garment comes together and stays in position by itself. When making symmetrical garments, one works only on one side of the dress-stand, and when that side is completed, the toile is taken apart, duplicated, and pinned or stitched together again as a whole garment. In traditional draping, the method for making, say, a blouse or a jacket normally begins from the front of the dress-stand – traditionally on the right-hand side for women’s wear and on the left-hand side for men’s wear, depending on which side overlaps when a garment is buttoned at the front. The piece or pieces of fabric are gradually shaped by pinning darts, pleats, etc. and working from the front towards the centre back of the dress-stand; gradually, new pieces are attached, and the shoulder seams are joined once the centre back is reached. This step is then followed by shaping a collar and adding sleeves.
Though moulage is a well-used working method that has been used in haute couture for more than a hundred years, it has, as Yamamoto observes, methodological connections to ancient wrapping techniques: “People associate draping with haute couture, but in truth the concept has implications that extend much further. It originates with the practice of wrapping the body in cloth, as was done in ancient Greece and Rome. The very foundations of draping can be found in the way they wrapped fabric around the body such that it flowed naturally” (Yamamoto, 2010:96). As a method, draping shares foundations with the ancient techniques of wrapping, as it uses the fabric directly to create shapes around the body. Contemporary draping methods as an alternative for two-dimensional/flat garment construction, however, are distinctively different from ancient wrapping techniques in several ways.
One obvious difference is that, in most cases, the living body has been replaced by a static dress-stand. The second apparent difference is that the fabric is normally cut into pieces, which are pinned on the dress-stand. However, neither of these two conditions should be considered general conditions, and the principal difference is instead in the theoretical frameworks.
The contemporary method, as described by Duburg et al (2008) is based on the same theoretical framework for understanding the body as the drafting systems for flat construction are, whereas ancient drapes are not. While introducing the general principles of draping in most literature, a dress-stand, for example, is decorated with tapes that mark a circle around the neck and one circle around each armhole. The centre front and the centre back of the stand are also marked with tape. Furthermore, lines are attached horizontally along the seat, the waist, and the chest, and with a line going across from the centre front to the armhole. These lines are the ones where the body is normally measured when drafting a flat pattern based on measurements of a body. There are also lines simulating a shoulder seam from the neck out to the armhole and lines marking the sides of the stand as a side seam. These lines are frequently traced and marked on the fabric pieces for reference purposes before the toile is taken apart.
Additional methodological phenomena that are in line with this common theoretical framework that is shared by flat pattern-cutting and draping on the dress-stand include the approach of starting out from a flat surface (paper or fabric pinned to the stand) and working from the outside in towards the shaped body while gradually removing space by inserting darts or seams. Arguably, the working direction is from the outside in and then upward to shape the shoulder seams (or darts and seams for garments resting on the waist) in order for the garment to not fall off of the body. Thus, for both working methods, the aspect of gravity enters the process relatively late – in draping, while the pins attaching the fabric to the stand are removed, and in flat construction, while the garment is fitted after being assembled.
This theoretical connection between the two diverse methods may be challenged by, for example, pointing out that the lines are often not marked on dress-stands prior to draping, and without these lines, the dress-stand is merely an abstraction of a body, and no specific theoretical framework is utilised. However, it is also the case that the guidelines from the tailoring matrix are not marked on block patterns that are used as the foundation for flat constructions, despite the fact that the blocks do relate to these construction lines.
Notably, modelling on the dress-stand allows for breaking the rules of the outlined theoretical framework more easily than while constructing garments flat, and what is described here primarily relates to the construction of garment types that may also be constructed flatly, to varying extents. Many designers elaborate on their designs with diverse draping techniques that mix influences from ancient approaches to draping with geometrical shapes, and therefore, they create garments and patterns that – if being analysed from a making perspective – are precisely that: founded in a conglomeration of various theoretical frameworks. The construction and posture of dress-stands, however, are tightly connected to the theoretical framework of the tailoring matrix, and garments constructed on them are therefore related to and affected by it, intentionally or otherwise (cf. Simoes, 2012).
Draping (moulage) partly reintroduces the body into the practice of garment construction. However, it involves working primarily on a fixed dress-stand, and it uses the same theoretical framework for understanding the body that has been defined by tailors who are developing drafting systems based on measurements of the body (i.e., the tailoring matrix); thus, it arguably has the tendency to lead to rigidness, just as cutting from block patterns does. Furthermore, the absence of arms, head, and lower body is quite evident in many garments that are designed on dress-stands
In the preface to Draping, it is stated that “a mastery of the basic principle of pattern drawing and workmanship is necessary before commencing with draping” (Duburg, 2008:5); similarly, Mee and Purdy (1987:1) argue that “working on the flat in two dimensions is a far simpler concept to master, and once mastered will give the students the insight which allows them to visualize the same pattern in three dimensions.” This statement is debatable, since the reverse may also be true. Due to the fact that the same theoretical framework is the basis for both methodologies, learning draping may be a natural way of understanding the basic principles behind what a pattern is and why pattern pieces are drawn the way they usually are. While working on a mannequin or, possibly, directly on a moving body, the rules taught in pattern cutting classes begin to make sense, and many are unnecessary, since with three-dimensional modelling – for example, how wide a dart needs to be, or the amount of ease to put into a shoulder seam – will come naturally.