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Section 1: Fashion Illustration

Hi everyone, and welcome to my first post in this series in the Talks about Fashion Design!

This first post we will focus on the art of Fashion Illustration, since lots of fashion design starts with an idea in mind, right? Of course, different designers work differently so while this may not always be your exact starting point, I find sketching an idea helps you figure out how to design the garment.

In design school, fashion illustration is actually broken down as an 11-week class if you're on a quarter system like I was.

Let's get started!

Fashion illustrations by me in 2008/09.

There are some absolutely beautiful fashion sketches out there - ones that are a true work of art. But the basis of all fashion sketching is the croquis.

The what?! A fashion croquis! A croquis is basically a template of a figure. There are a few designers who draw freehand (no way is right or wrong) but I consistently pull out my 2 favorite that I have used all throughout my design career.

A fashion croquis is typically 9 heads tall - the equivalent if you took the head of the figure and placed it end to end 9 times. This elongates the figure and makes the clothes look more appealing. This is why models tend to be slender and tall - clothes just look better in those proportions to the eye.

I actually got in trouble in design school because I made my figures look a tad bit more realistic and fuller. What looked normal to me looked like a plus-sized figure to my teacher, but hey - whatever. 

One of my favorite books I have that helps me out with some croquis is New Fashion Figure Templates by Patrick John Ireland. It has a lot of templates you could trace right out of the book and use underneath your sketches. Another one that was really popular in my design-school days is 9 Heads.

Let's back up a bit though - in using your croquis, you want to keep the croquis as a template. I tend to like thicker lines on mine so I can see it through my paper easily that I'm drawing onto.

My personal method is that I place the figure underneath another piece of paper (usually you can see right through regular printer paper placed on top of the template) and just draw.

Other people will go straight to blocking out the figure and spec-ing out the proportions. I like this video for showing how that is done. You start out with blocky proportions and then go in and re-shape the figure as you go. I have a few books that talk about this method of fashion illustration.

Yet another method I use for developing figures is pulling out figures in magazines! This is super-easy and gives you updated poses easily.

These days, I actually do a lot of flat sketches.

What's a flat sketch?

A flat sketch is the garment you're designing with all correct darts, seamlines, front and back. I do this because my sketches are more of an idea and deciding how to go about the patternmaking process. How will I fit said garment? What silhouette am I going for? I play with seam lines, design details and figure out where the design is going. I also write notes to myself about it.

 Flat sketches from 2011, recently posted on Instagram.

Typically, I will throw my flat sketches into the computer and make a mini-collection board, but I am going to split computer design into another upcoming post.

For now, here is what an illustration of mine ends up looking like after some digital editing:

I'll be talking about how to do some of the digital techniques in an upcoming post. 

Some things to keep in mind while fashion sketching: 
  • Where is the center front of the garment? 
  • How am I going to shape this garment? ie.) with darts, seamlines, tucks, pleats?
  • How does the fabric fold? I recommend getting a yard or so of fabric and playing with the way it hangs and how it folds.
  • Take a look at garments online to see how to draw them - look at other illustrations, photos of garments, etc.
  • Play with color, shape, seams. This is the part where anything is possible!
  • Where is the zipper going? Buttons? How does the person get into this outfit? This will help you later on with patternmaking. 
  • Try out different mediums! I love watercolor pencils, personally. Some people love markers. You could also use charcoal, or even paint your drawings. 
I have uploaded a bunch of croquis to my Photobucket account to get you started! This will be the ongoing account for any of my personal resources I have on file in my studio. I have also included some menswear croquis just in case any of you out there would like to do some menswear design!

Have fun, practice, and know that there is no "wrong way". I felt like design school was really firm on techniques and ways of doing lots of things, but the right way is only the way you feel most comfortable with and feel inspired doing. 


  1. Great tips, especially when thinking about seamlines, darts and tucks, ect. It can be easy to pretend a garment is seamless when sketching.

    I recently purchased a 'Fashionary' journal that basically has faint croquis outlines on each page so you can use them as a guide. It makes running through an idea super fast, but they are faint enough you can draw overtop and you wouldn't notice either.

    I am looking forward to your post on digital techniques, Its always something I had trouble with.

    1. Thanks for joining us, bootscats! Glad you were able to take away some good information from this.

      The digital drawing/computer design post the will be up next Friday!

  2. I bought a book of croquis outlines too, but I find the fashion illustration proportions just too unrealistic to deal with! They drive me a bit crazy. I've taken to doing my own sketch of my actual client from a photo, then scanning it and printing out copies to sketch hat designs on!

    I've decided to teach myself dressmaking and after a couple of simple projects, I naturally think I am s**t hot and have grand plans for a future of designing and making amazing clothes for myself. We'll see how long this optimism last :P


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