What Are Patterns, Silhouettes, and Volumes in Fashion Design?

Understand these basic garment design concepts when starting out creating your own fashion projects

The world of fashion allows for as many possibilities as you can imagine. So assures fashion designer and creative director of her eponymous brand Natalia Londoño (@natalialondonov).

However, she also claims that to approach fashion design in a creative way, we must ensure to know all the rules.

To learn to create, we must know the basic rules.

The birth of fashion

Although humans have always needed to be in clothes, we believe that fashion as we know it today was born in 1846 thanks to the man considered the father of haute couture: Charles Frederick Worth.

The British tailor opened his haute couture house in Paris in 1846, offering a highly sophisticated style. Together with Worth, the Callot sisters, Jeanne Paquin, Jacques Doucet, and Jeanne Lanvin are among the first modern fashion designers.

Example of a garment with volume.
Example of a garment with volume.

Fashion design is in charge of conceiving and creating clothes and accessories according to sociocultural influences. Although fashion represents a huge industry, it is also a form of artistic expression and can even shape technological innovation.

Foundations of design

Fashion designers create garments recurring to shape, color, fabric, trimmings, and textures. It is usually the personal and original combination of existing resources that identifies a designer's brand. Designers start with the idea of how a garment should look, turn it into a sketch, and specify how the design will become a reality.

To modify shapes, volumes, and silhouettes originally, you must start from the basic notions all designers use. Patterns, shapes, and volumes are three basic concepts you must know.


A pattern is a paper template to copy on the fabric. Using one, we can make a garment by sewing and joining the different pieces. For a basic dress you must have front, back, and sleeve patterns.

Each of the patterns shows the distances to keep in mind when drawing the measures. When a pattern has three Xs in the center, it must be copied in a vertical position. When they are not there, you must copy it exactly as it is.

Natalia Londoño working on a pattern, a paper template to copy on the fabric.
Natalia Londoño working on a pattern, a paper template to copy on the fabric.

Patterns come in different types of papers:

- Craft paper
- Tissue paper
- Recycled paper

There are no rules for choosing paper. It depends on your preference.


Another basic concept in fashion design is the silhouette, which represents the exterior line of a figure. There are different types of silhouettes:

- Sheath: this is the form-fitting female silhouette

- Straight Column: it is a rectangular shape from the armhole level to the lower opening.

- Trapeze: this is a wide silhouette from the armhole to the hem, opening up slowly without defining the bust.

- A line: it defines the bust and waist, then continues opening a little until the hemline.

- Empire: it defines the bust with a raised waistline and opens up to the hemline.

- High-waist: it defines the bust and the waist. The cut opens down to the hemline.

- Low-waist: it can define the bust and starts below the waistline, opening towards the hemline.

Silhouette types.
Silhouette types.

Neckline types

These variations define the designs for the neck and shoulders.
Necklines usually have the following shapes:

- Crew neck
- Round neck
- U-neck
- V-neck
- Squareneck
- Sweetheart
- Halter strap
- Off-shoulder
- Boat/ Bateau
- Strapless
- Strapless rounded
- One-shoulder
- Wrap neck

Neckline types.
Neckline types.

Hem lenghts

There are two types of hemline: symmetrical and asymmetrical. In asymmetrical hemlines, the distances between the back and front and the sides can vary.
The most common hem lengths for a dress, for example, are as follow:

- Mini: this hem length is slightly above the short hem length and much higher than the knees.

- Short: just above the knees.

- Executive: slightly below the knees.

- Midi: mid-leg.

- Maxi: ankle level or a little lower.

Hemline types
Hemline types

Waistline types

The diffrent waistline types define the tightness and resulting volume in the upper and lower part of the garment. The fitting in the waistline and bust can be adjusted using darts, either in the center or only in the bust area. The use of darts can be combined with the volume of the lower part of the dress.

Our expert suggests a few common types of darts:

- Complete

- Upper and lower

- Upper

- Sided in the bust area and with pleats in the lower part

- Sided in the bust and the lower part

- Gathered in the center to add volume

- Gathered in the center to add volume in the upper and lower parts

- Sided in the center and gathered in the lower part

- Gathered in the center to add volume in the lower and upper parts.

Waistline types.
Waistline types.

Sleeve types

You can generally modify sleeves according to the silhouette or the volume. In terms of silhouette, the sleeves can be:

- String
- Thick strap
- Halter
- Tank
- Rounded
- Short
- Medium
- Three quarter length
- Long

In terms of volume, the sleeves are:

- Fitted
- Baggy
- Puffed
- Raglan
- Bat-wing
- Kimono

The above is only a small selection, as there are many other types with different construction from the pattern. Some can be modified from the original pattern, for others you'll need to develop a specific pattern.

Sleeve types.
Sleeve types.


Volume in fashion is the space occupied by a garment, and it is measured in terms of the three dimensions of height, width, and depth.

The idea of volume implies that certain parts of the body (and of the garment) can be made to look bigger than normal and therefore become the focus of a look or hide an area. Many designers use volume to widen a figure or create structural features that make a garment special.

If you want to learn more about the world of fashion and start designing your own creations, you can sign up to Natalia Londoño's course Create a Dress from Scratch.

English version by @acesarato

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