Posted in Fashion Design, sewing

A knit sloper that fits to perfection! And my advice on learning to make slopers

img_1412When I finished my bodice sloper designed for woven fabrics (A bodice sloper at last!) I looked at it closely, examined my current lifestyle and considered the kinds of fabrics I love to wear. I concluded that a bodice sloper/block that will be the basis for my design ambitions (designing my own capsule wardrobe – oh, yes, that’s the plan!) has serious limitations if it’s only to be used for woven fabrics and looks like the bodice of a dress with a waist seam.

I mean, I cannot remember the last time I willingly wore a dress made from a woven fabric (with absolutely no lycra) that was designed with a sewn-in waistline and darts of one sort or another. First, I wear dresses only to weddings and funerals (and even then I’ve been known to choose a beautifully cut jacket with equally well-cut pants and pumps), on cruises (and then they have to be the kind that can withstand packing – so no wovens), and on hot summer days (linen please, with no waistline). With all of this in mind, I began to wonder what precisely I might do with the sloper.

Well, I do like what is called “stable knit” fabric. Some sewers ridicule the very idea of a stable knit, believing that a knit by definition isn’t stable. But I do recognize that some knits are more stable than others and I like the stable kind. So, I suppose I might be able to use the block to fit stable knits that might have princess seams or French darts. And I think I know how to get rid of that waist seam. God, I hope so, because I can’t see when I’m going to need it. Peplums are out of the question in my wardrobe! If I can master that, then it’s likely that I can design myself some tops and tunics – once I learn how to draft necklines and sleeves, though. So, it will have that usefulness. However, it’s best use seems to me to be as the basis for making a knit sloper, which is what I did this past week.

The Suzy Furrer Craftsy course I’ve been using to learn to fit moulages and slopers concludes with a piece on design options for slopers, and a section on using my sloper to create a knit sloper by getting rid of darts and waist shaping. It focuses on adding negative ease to the sloper meaning that the body would fill out the knit and then some. I decided that since I don’t really like my knits skin tight I would err on the side of less negative ease than she suggests. Big mistake.

A well-fitting knit sloper? I think not!


The first attempt at the sloper resulted in a sloppy mess. I had bought some cheap (and it has to be said supremely ugly) knit fabric at the moving sale at Fabricland in Toronto. It’s not my favourite store in which to buy fabrics since they tend to stock so many less expensive synthetics and I like natural fabrics or at least blends. But they do have a terrific selection of notions and threads all of which are currently on sale, and very cheap remnants. But I digress.

My husband often tells me that I tend to buy my clothes too large, seeming to have an inflated notion of how big I am. He was entirely correct in the case of fitting my knit sloper. Since I had only this piece of fabric in which to make up the proto-type before putting the final sloper on poster board, I went back to the drawing board and re-drafted the sloper from the beginning using the instructor’s directions this time, and tweaking a bit based on my own observation of shoulder slope issues (yet again). Then I unpicked the first sloper and hoped I could re-cut the same fabric smaller. It seemed to work.

Seam ripper at the ready! (It is a hideous colour, n’est ce pas?)


When I whipped up the second sloper I was delighted with the fit. All that was left was to put the sloper on poster board. As I hung the it in the closet with the woven one, I realized just how much I had learned about the process of fitting and pattern-making. After so many years of slavish devotion to commercial patterns and continual moaning about fit issues, I believe that I have the basis to move forward to better fitted garments – both from commercial patterns and ones I plan to create!


My six best pieces of advice for learning to make slopers/blocks:

  1. If you’re taking an online course, using a textbook, or following someone’s online tutorial, watch, listen to or read the entire process before starting anything. Get an idea of the overall process.
  2. Assemble the equipment you’ll need: a flexible ruler, a curve, tape, fabric shears and scissors to cut fabric, a good pencil (and eraser), a roll of pattern paper (lots of it), a bolt of muslin or other cheap, plain fabric. I noticed that many of the students taking my course used left-over quilting material etc. with patterns on it. It’s difficult to see details of problems/issues and how to fix.
  3. Prepare yourself mentally for doing it again and again until you get it right.
  4. Keep your eraser and seam-ripper handy and use them often.
  5. Focus on the process rather than the outcome. If you can’t do this, the process will soon drive you crazy. The process can be very meditative.
  6. When you’re finished, take stock of all of the elements of fit and pattern-making that you now know that you didn’t before you started. You’ve come a long way, baby!



Posted in Couture Sewing, Fashion Design, sewing

A bodice sloper at last! Could fashion design be next?

IMG_1439.JPGIt’s been months in the making. I’ve spent hours measuring and drawing, cutting and pinning, sewing and seam-ripping. But I’ve finally finished the sloper – and it fits me!

When last I recorded my progress, I had redrafted the sloper incorporating changes to solve problems that seemed to have emerged sometime between moulage and sloper. I then whipped it up on muslin and ta-da! It fit me! I was anxious to move forward in drafting the final sloper on poster board for posterity (and future pattern drafting), but held myself back until I received feedback from my online instructor, Suzy Furrer. When I got the go ahead from her, I ambled down to Staples and picked up some poster board – and a set of erasable coloured pencils, an item I’d been wishing for throughout the drafting process. Then I set to work creating that clean, poster-board copy to hang in a closet!

The process of creating the final sloper is really easy once the thing actually fits. All I had to do was trace the outline onto poster board, then use a tracing wheel and tracing paper to get the various lines (waist, bust, high and low hip etc.) and the darts onto the poster. The instructor refers to “tag” as the kind of heavy paper that the fashion industry uses for these pattern blocks, but tag seems a difficult item to find.

I had been concerned that poster board might actually be too light for this final product, but it seems that when you search for definitions of tag, that this tag is thinner than poster board. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the accurate word is tagboard and they define it as “…strong cardboard used especially for making shipping tags.”[1] When I think about shipping tags, I think of quite flimsy cardboard, and when I went into a craft supply store, they didn’t have any such material. Anyway, poster board seems to be a reasonably good medium for the sloper so that’s what I chose.


Once I had the sloper traced out, I firmed up all my lines, and as instructed, I cut it out in preparation for “notching” and “awl punching.” The notching is done along the edges at every point where I will need to add a line to a future pattern. For example, I need notches at both ends of the waist line so that I’ll be able to join them up on a pattern traced from this block. As for the darts, well, I’ll need those awl punches at the dart points (or any important point on the interior of the pattern) so that I can join up the ends of the darts with the points.

My pattern notcher and awl.


I ordered my notcher from Ebay months ago. It had to come from China (the only way to get one at such a cheap price!), and the awl from Amazon. When I look at my awl and compare it with those used by sewers and designers, although it was advertised as for this purpose, I really think it’s more for punching leather and using n a wood-working shop, but it does the trick!

A pattern hook – I’d never heard of them before!

Storing these slopers seems to require some kind of special equipment as well. The instructor – as well as everyone else who teaches this or writes about slopers & blocks – punches a large hole in them and hangs them on a “pattern hook.” When I looked at trying to order a pattern hook or two or three, they seemed inordinately expensive. (In this photo I found online, it is actually upside down.) Several sewing bloggers have posted pieces on how to make them, and then there’s my husband who likes to browse Canadian Tire. (If you aren’t a Canadian and have no idea what Canadian Tire is, you might enjoy an online browse. Don’t be fooled by their name: they are not just a tire store although they used to be in years gone by. They’re our everything store!). Anyway, he found a pack of boot hooks by a company called Neatfreak (readily available online as well) for $12.99 CDN. They were ideal!


I did not have to get a large hole punch for a pattern hook; rather I was able to clip the front and back of the sloper together and hang them in the empty closet in the den. They will be joined next week by a knit sloper (my next project) and future slopers for pants!

And here it is! The finished product at last!


Yay! I’m on to the course on dart manipulation in my first step toward designing something!


Posted in Couture Sewing, sewing

My quest for the perfectly fitting bodice sloper (block) continues!

You know how there are times when someone says something and it sticks with you while everything else just seems to slip away? Well, the instructor I’m following on the Craftsy online platform’s “Patternmaking Basics: The Bodice Sloper” class said something that stuck with me – only now it seems that for me it’s not true.suzys class

After she had finished showing us how to draft our personal sloper from our perfectly fitting moulage, she said that she usually doesn’t even make mock-up muslin of the sloper since she knows that if the moulage fits perfectly, then the sloper will as well.

I hung onto that thought as I worked through her drafting instructions, and when I had finished the sloper pattern, I looked at it and thought, “You had better sew one up just to see.” So, that’s what I did. I was so certain that it would be right that I picked a blue sateen fabric rather than muslin then cut it out and made it up with front and back vents, an invisible zipper and bias-finished armholes and neckline. I had some silly notion that I might actually be able to wear it. Well, that didn’t go so well.

When I tried on the blue-sateen fit garment, it most certainly was not simply my moulage with wearing ease – a term I have now learned to differentiate from design ease.[1] And it was clearly not a garment that I would wear in public! It had ease galore in the high hip (an odd bit of excess curvature), but worse, it now had those upper body wrinkles again that I had worked so hard to get rid of (successfully) in the moulage. Good lord! What a mess.

OMG! Just look at those wrinkles! If I used a sloper like this, every single piece I design in future will look the same!


I figured that I knew how to fix the hip issue, but the cross front issue was tricky. So, I posted photos – as embarrassing as they were – in a question to Suzy Furrer the instructor, crossed my fingers that it might be an easy fix, and waited, hoping for the best.

Suzy’s very articulate and helpful response.

She did seem a bit perplexed herself, but suggested that I unpick the shoulders, try it on again and see if redoing them on a different angle might help. I sighed, looked at my overly optimistically applied bias binding (and finished seam allowances no less) and started clipping and unpicking. When I tried the thing on again, and asked my trusty assistant (my husband) to clip the shoulder seams together for me, it was clear that we had a problem. At the end of shoulder there was a one-half inch gape that when pinned in place showed the need for a significant change in the shoulder slope.


Now, I don’t know about you, but whenever I buy clothes, especially tailored tops and jackets my preferred style, I often find that they don’t fit as well as I’d like across the shoulders. I’ve noticed through my life that although I have very good posture (40 years of yoga will do that!), but my shoulders themselves are sloped. It made perfect sense that any bodice block I’d create would have to emulate that. What I couldn’t figure out is why the moulage seemed to fit so well. But it does occur to me now that as you move through the drafting process there are many opportunities for error even though you may try hard to be precise and accurate.

This is how much more sloped I had to make the shoulder!


Anyway, I set to work completely redrafting the sloper with the shoulder change, but I knew that this alone would give me another problem: If I lowered the shoulder without doing anything to the under arm, and thus the bust line which in the case of a sloper follows the underarm, I would have a serious armhole problem. So, I lowered the armhole and consequently the bust line a half-inch as well.

I now have a new sloper draft and have copied it and cut it into a new pattern. Later today I’ll cut it out and sew it together – in cheap muslin! Geesh, I hope it fits this time. I’m dying to get on with a bit of dart manipulation on the next leg of the journey to designing a few pieces from scratch.

Sloper #2 pattern ready to try out!



[1] Craftsy has a really good blog post on the different kinds of ease at

Posted in Fashion, Style

Wardrobe (& sewing) Inspiration: Canadian design for the rest of us


The lovely Victorian gardens in Halifax on our road trip

My husband and I have just returned from an almost-two-week road trip. We started here in Toronto, headed down through northern New York state, through New Hampshire, into New Brunswick and then relaxed for five days in Halifax, Nova Scotia with friends and family. We then turned around and headed back on a different route out of Nova Scotia, through New Brunswick (as one must), into Maine, onto New Hampshire (this time on the coast), then spent our last night in Lake Placid, New York. Along the way I found myself browsing in a plethora of quirky boutiques in a variety of small towns and cities where I encountered a few ideas. And two of the best ones were from Canadian designers.


I’ve long been a fan of veteran Canadian designs by Comrags, although I do have to scratch my head every year about some of their pieces. I mean – what were they thinking about this one? It looks like a burlap bag with embroidery – neither of which I find personally flattering on me.

Really? who looks good in a burlap sack? [photo from Comrags web site]

I have also liked Simpli, a design firm out of Vancouver. They also seem to be able to source flattering fabrics – and again, I have been scratching my head this year about the designs. Why are they all so full of so much material? They say they flatter every body – but really, who looks good in this? (The jersey fabric is great, though. Again, I want some.)

Simpli – yecch. [photo from the Simpli web site]

Lucky for me I discovered two new Canadian designers to put on my list of fabulous fabric usage as well as wearable design.

img_1381In Halifax I stumbled into Lisa Draeder-Murphy’s shop in Historic Properties where she stocks her Turbine Designs. As luck would have it, the designer herself was in the shop that day although she tells me that this is a rare event.

I did not by any stretch of the imagination need a new dress, but again I was smitten by her fabrications and could not resist. For me it’s the feel of the fabric and god knows I’ve made enough mistakes in selecting fabrics for sewing projects. They often look fantastic, but the feel? Not so much. Damn, when will I learn?

st-andrews-boutiqueWhen I was in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, I strolled into Toose’s Bijoux and found myself touching and rubbing the fabric of a series of lovely T’s. Turns out that they are the designs of a firm called “Leave Nothing But Footprints” (LNBF), and yes, they are a group of “socially-conscious” millennials. This means that their fabrics are soft and natural, ethically-produced and organic. Most of their fabrics are viscose from bamboo which if you have never tried it, is one of the softest fabrics around. I bought a wonderful, long-sleeved, well-priced ($49 CDN) T with a banded V-neck – I can’t wait for the weather to be cool enough to wear it. However, I’m now on a mission to find some of this fabric to sew with. Wish me luck!

Posted in sewing

From moulage to custom dress form: I finally finished the project!

img_3860There’s nothing like a customized dress form that reflects your body precisely back to you to make you feel a bit like a real designer. I’d like to think that now that I have finally finished my customization project that everything I sew for myself from here on in will fit better. We’ll see. Anyway, I finally have Gloria Junior finished and what a work of art she is! When I wrote about my doppelgänger before as I began this project, I came to terms with looking objectively at my own figure and accepting that this is who I am. Now that she’s finished, I’m even happier with what I see.

I’m by no means the first sewer to do a project like this. And indeed there are more way to get to this point than I could have imagined when I began. On their web site, Threads magazine has a slide show of “9 ways to customize your dress form”[1] which was one of the first pieces of research I hit on when I started this. There’s the duct-tape approach where you wrap yourself with duct tape and then cut yourself out (presumably with a helper), ditto for the paper tape method; the paper maché approach which seems excessively messy. The rest all seem to be variations on these ones. None of them appealed to me, but they are certainly faster and probably cheaper than the method I chose.

As I wrote about previously when I started this project, I decided to use the moulage I created on the road to a custom bodice block (sloper) for designing my own patterns, as the basis for my custom dress form.

I started with Gloria Junior, my adjustable dress form whose adjustments never really did capture the nuances of the hollows and bumps of my body. If I dialed her out to fit one part, she was then too big in another, but I soldiered on. Then came the moulage.

I started by dialing her back down so that she reflected the smallest part of me (the under-bust area as it turns out), then proceeded to pad up the other places.

After installing a separating zipper down the back of the moulage (as I discussed in the first pot on this subject), with the help of my doctor-husband who has a stash of ace bandages, gauze tape and bandage tape, we secured three sets of shoulder pads in the bust area and filled in the hollows with quilt batting. I had originally placed one set of shoulder pads where shoulder pads are meant to be: on the shoulders. However, that raised the shoulders so much that the neck ws off – so I had to improvise. Once we had her stuffed, it was time to think about how she would be covered.

Several wonderful bloggers[2] have gone before me and created little patterns for what has been described as the “easy-peasy” way to cover your mannequin. Well, I am the queen of making the simplest sewing task difficult, and this was no exception.

First, I wanted to ensure that the pin cushion at the top of the dress form was still available to me, so there had to be a hole at the top. Then I didn’t like how the neck wasn’t properly contoured which was the same problem at the waist. So I had to manipulate the lovely little pattern, tweaking the final product by hand.

Some people choose light colours for their forms, reflecting a belief that flesh-toned forms will better show the eventual garments. For me, however, black is just so slimming, n’est ce pas? And besides, I had a length of black jersey just the right size kicking around.

So there she sits in all her glory, waiting for me to begin another project – which I fully intend to do as soon as we return from our upcoming fall road trip to the east coast. See you on the other side.



Posted in Fashion, sewing

Sewing with knits: Moving into the 21st century

Sometimes I think I’m the only person on the planet who remembers wearing (and sewing with) crimplene. Yes, that’s how you spell crimplene. Trademarked in the 1950’s (long before I started wearing the stuff), this was a fabric that really came into its own in the late 1960’s, remained a mainstay of fashion and sewing for a few years, then disappeared into the mists of sewing history.

According to most online sources, crimplene was the trade name of both the yarn and the fabric made from it. Polyester in origin, this was a go-to fabric for all kinds of projects and will go down in my own fashion sewing history as the first knit I ever sewed with. It occasionally appeared as a woven fabric, but most of it was a textured double knit that we used for shift dresses, pant suits (yes, matching tunic tops and pants which, BTW might make a great come-back for the over-50 set with the right silhouette in my view), men’s leisure suits (please god no more leisure-suit come-backs), and even shirtwaists. I loved it.

purple crimplene
This great 60’s dress was for sale recently online – although I suspect that it was from the early 70’s. See that texture? Crimplene!


Crimplene had all the characteristics that we were looking for at the time:

  • It was forgiving (unlike many of the woven fabrics of the day).
  • It was totally unwrinkleable (likely not a real word, but you know what I mean).
  • It was machine washable, dryable and unshrinkable (which accounts for why I never learned to prepare fabric before sewing since crimplene needed no prep).
  • It came in every colour and texture you could imagine (and couldn’t fade even if you left it in the sun for years).
  • It was indestructible (and crimplene clothing is probably still stacked in our land-fills to this day).
  • And it never frayed (so those of us on the fast fashion sewing track which we have finally recovered from never had to finish a seam allowance *shudder*).

So, when I returned to sewing in the twenty-first century I wanted to learn the techniques for modern knits, of course. I decided to enroll in another Craftsy course (actually it was the first one I ever stumbled upon) on sewing with knits, took out the walking foot that came with my new digital sewing machine and figured out how to install it on the machine. I have to admit I had never seen such a contraption before – never even heard of it. But once I learned how to use that sucker, I cannot live without it.

As I made my way through the course, I found myself two lots of knit fabric whose weight I really liked and proceeded to make some modern knit tops. What I noticed, although it didn’t really strike me at the time I bought the fabric, was the extent to which it resembled – you guessed it – crimplene. Fashioned from cotton blends in this century, both lengths of fabric I chose were eerily like the crimplene I had known and loved in the last century.

See that texture? (Front on left; back on right) Not crimplene, but twenty-first century cotton knit!

Sometimes I wonder if our sewing DNA is a kind of blueprint for what we’ll evolve to as we age – but perhaps like a fine wine, we do get better with age. I’d like to think I’m a bit more discerning and that this discernment has evolved along with the increasing size of my pocket book that was thin, indeed, back in my undergrad years at university.

Anyway, as I examine closely the fabric of the cross-over top I made during that Craftsy course, I can see definite remnants of my former penchant for crimplene. Now I’m longing to have a length of that old stuff to see if it really is as terrible and unbreathable as I think it was.

This new century has taught me that knits should probably not be indestructible, nor should they be designed only for fast sewing. They should take beautiful seam finishes, and should feel divine when worn. Feeling and looking divine: that’s what I’m after!

 [If you need more about crimplene, here is a great post on a Sixties Style Blog that you’ll just love – and lots of photos! A Brief History of Crimplene]

Posted in Fashion Journalism

#Fashion + #journalism? An oxymoron at times

words scrabbleThankfully for anyone reading my blog regularly or even only occasionally, I rarely rant. Today, however, I need a bit of rant space. Today I’m thinking about fashion (couture sewing is related to fashion, n’est ce pas?) with a particular emphasis on what passes as “fashion journalism.” In another life, I actually write other things – like books. Couple this with the fact that I’ve been a fashion magazine junkie for more years than most of you have been on the planet, I appreciate a well-written fashion-related article. There have always been those magazines that regularly demonstrate a high level of what can really be defined as fashion journalism (Vogue comes to mind), but there are so many others I have blindly stumbled upon lately that I have to vent a bit.

A lot of what passes for writing in some fashion magazines is now so riddled with jargon, secret in-talk, euphemism and oddly annoying abbreviations that we can’t help but be confused. The truth is that I’m not really a member of the demographic targeted by these magazines, but the demographic certainly is one I’d still like to understand! And I’m not dead yet, so fashion and style interest me. My question is how this demographic will be able to communicate their messages in the future. It’s no wonder that university freshmen can’t write a decent sentence.

Let’s start at the table of contents: we begin with ‘beauty inspo’, ‘fave picks’, ‘uber’ everything and of course a lot of ‘peeps’. I can let ‘favs’ and ‘fab’ go if these short-cuts are not overused. But three times on one page and we’re still only on contents!

How many times do I see ‘collab’? Really? Is it so difficult to spell out collaboration? Even with an online dictionary? And then we’re all ‘crushing on…’ something. The word ‘kicks’ for shoes has become so ubiquitous that if we really mean ‘kick’ as per the dictionary definition, we’d have a failure to communicate.

Moving on from the table of contents, I’m beginning to become very confused. I’m no longer sure of the difference between the hottest things and the coolest. Which is better? Then if we consider ‘cooler than cool’, I can’t even begin to contemplate what that might mean.

The verb ‘to rock’ (and they don’t seem to mean it in the sense of rock the boat or rock the baby) is so pervasive you can hardly go a page tap without falling over someone rocking flats, totally rocking boots, or rocking that awesome furry thing … and I’m so over being ‘all about’ anything especially if has to be hotly, coolly, uber awesome.

I guess the devil is in the ‘deets’ and the thing to do is to acquire ‘must-have prods’. I kid you not…prods, and not that kind they use on cattle.

This publication actually refers to its content creators as journalists – intrepid ones to be precise – and these are journalists who use words/spellings like ‘cuz’ for ‘because’. Yes, they did use it. This is not Twitter peeps! And ‘combo’ could be better applied to a fast food menu. Then I’m really confused when I read that ‘burgundy gets a colour kick’ with nary a shoe in sight in this instance. Is a kick now a kick or a jolt or a …? Of course it wouldn’t be a mag targeted toward young women without a ‘bestie’ or two.

And now sunglasses are ‘sunnies’ or so I inferred from the use of the term next to a photo of such. It’s starting to be a bit like learning a new language or at least the young women so entrenched will have to learn a new one for their writing classes at uni! Like that one? It’s a British-ism. Is that even a word?

Then I read about ‘sick kicks’. Are they hot? Cool? Totally anything? And ‘lippy’ means lipstick. I guess. I thought it meant mouthy, snippy, annoying.

Fave, fave, fave. I guess it would require too much typing to spell it out, or maybe they’re trying to avoid that cultural ‘or’ ‘our’ conundrum (favorite/favourite).

There is little doubt in my mind, peeps, that I’m totally uncool, and clearly unhot, cuz I crush on correct word choice and rock reasonably good spelling, and my fav authors provide me with terrific inspo. I’m also uber happy that the sun is out today and I’m totally rocking my sunnies so I’m going out for a walk. Bye-bye for now.

[Rant over. Sewing projects to continue momentarily.]


Posted in sewing, Style

Facing my doppelgänger: The dress form customization continues

wire mannequinsA few years ago I read an article reporting on a study whose results suggested that we are now experiencing a veritable epidemic of body image and consequent eating disorders among older women. The seriousness of it seemed a bit worrying, but the underlying message that it was shocking was a bit beyond the pale.

Imagine the shock! Women in their 70’s and 80’s concerned about their bodies! Concerned about how they look! OMG of course they care! I’m not quite to that age yet, but age does creep up even faster the older we get – or so it seems anyway. The truth is that, of course, excessive concern about body image and self-esteem that combine to result in disordered anything, is a problem. The fact that women continue to want to look good is to be expected. Then we (I) face reality: my body staring back at me in the form of that mannequin I’m hell bent on customizing.

So Gloria junior now has a shape to be filled out – my shape to be exact – yet there is much to be done. Here’s where I am to date.

I’ve actually gotten the go ahead from my Craftsy instructor, the incredibly knowledgeable Suzy Furrer, on my moulage on the second go round. She is just still slightly concerned that the high figure point might be a smidge too high, but I can go ahead and draft the sloper – my bodice block (I’ve done this and lowered the HFP 1/8 inch so I’ll see how that goes when I sew it up in royal blue cotton sateen with vents in the off chance I can actually wear it – more on that at another time, though). Before I get to the block, though, I’m using my moulage as the blueprint for my customized dress form (inspired by Mary Funt’s wonderful blog post on custom pattern drafting : ).

IMG_0714So, the first thing I did when approval finally came was insert a separating zipper in the back. My husband, my measurement partner, wished I had done it earlier. This way as I move forward with the stuffing, I can open it more easily. Then I had to make Gloria junior smaller to match the smallest part of my own torso – my under-bust. That’s why she now needs to be stuffed up again with the bits in the right place.

Next, I went to good old Fabricland in the basement of Honest Ed’s on Bloor Street West here in Toronto (If you don’t know about Honest Ed’s you’ve really missed out – what a crazy place!). I bought some batting and a number of shoulder pads, as well as the aforementioned cotton sateen that was BTW on sale: marked down from $20.00+ a metre to $7.00 a metre!

The fattest shoulder pads are now ensconced on the shoulders that had to be raised up. I now have a neck problem, though, which I’ll fix with a small round of batting and probably some duct tape. I need to re-establish the high neck point.

The other shoulder pads are now under Junior’s boobs that need more batting and support. The back, however, is nice and tight and exactly as it should look. It’s the front that I’m now working on.

When I have her as stuffed as possible within the confines of the moulage, I’ll need to figure out how to make a nice cover that hides everything underneath and gives me a great surface to contemplate my design and sewing projects. But back to that thing about body image.

If I never wanted to consider what my over-50 body is up to these days, I now have no choice in the matter. It’s a really humbling experience to see your own figure staring back at you, and it isn’t even quite finished i.e. completely stuffed. There is no hiding from what has shifted – what doesn’t exactly look like it did in that bikini on my honeymoon when I was 33.

It’s good to know, however, that I can laugh and accept myself for who I am. Fortunately, I’m of normal weight. That I’d be able to do something about. All that shifting downward? Not so much.

Let’s all remember what Betty Friedan told us at the beginning of the feminist movement: “Aging is not lost youth, but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”wine.jpg

Or maybe I’ll use a line a saw on a cocktail napkin as my mantra: “Age gets better with wine.”

Posted in sewing, Style

The search for perfectly fitted clothing begins here: My dressmaker’s mannequin



wire mannequinsWhy, oh why does my dressmaker’s mannequin not resemble me? The short answer is that I’m too cheap to buy a custom dummy. So I’m left with Gloria Junior (her name) whose under-bust will never be as small as mine unless her waist becomes waspish, and her shoulders will never resemble mine unless they are raised at least an inch. And that’s just the beginning. So, why do I need her, anyway? I sewed my own clothes – and clothes for my sisters and my mother – for years without the aid of a mannequin. So, why now?

I was thinking about this when I was walking down the main drag in Stratford, Ontario about a month and a half ago with my husband, like you do when you’re there for the weekend to see two of their phenomenal plays or musicals that are part of the annual Stratford Festival every year (and, yes, it does sit on the banks of the Avon River with everything named after Stratford-upon-Avon in England, a Shakespeare park and all).

We stopped in front of a window display in one of the numerous boutiques that dot the street front. The mannequins made us laugh, and I started to think about how we rely on mannequins for a sense of the esthetics, and size, of the clothes that we think we’d like to have.

One of the Stratford mannequins

Of course, that also got me thinking about how mannequin use came to be – so I’ll share my history lesson! 

Referred to by many as “glorified coat hangers”  mannequins seem to me to have been, and continue to be, so much more than that. According to an article published by The Smithsonian, when archaeologist Howard Carter opened King Tut’s ancient Egyptian tomb in 1923 he discovered “an armless, legless, wooden torso, made exactly to the pharaoh’s measurements, standing next to the chest that held the ruler’s clothing…” Since King Tut’s demise dates from around 1350 B.C., it seems clear that mannequins have been around for a very long time – this might well have been the very first, or at least the earliest on that we know about.

Fast forward to eighteenth-century France and the court of Marie Antoinette who, it seems, sent fully-clothed mannequins regularly to her sisters in the way we might send a copy of vogue magazine to someone who didn’t have access to current fashion news. These mannequins had arms, legs, heads – the whole body, but it wasn’t long after that when they mannequins began to appear headless, armless, legless, fashioned wire, wicker and leather. As one writer put it, “with as much personality as a doorknob.”

mannequin by pierre imans 1911
French mannequin, 1911

It was in the late 1800’s during the Industrial Revolution when expanses of glass fronts on stores became a kind of runway for the mannequin – shop owners needed a way to display their wares. The mannequin had now regained her head, arms and legs.


In a fascinating history of mannequins, writer Leighann Morris sees the evolution of the mannequin in the twentieth century as a kind of history of fashion itself – the shapes have resembled Barbie dolls, Twiggy, androgyny, fetishism – whatever has been in fashion at a point in history. And then there is the whole visible nipple debate which isn’t over yet! (As a sewer, visible nipples at least provide a sense of where one should measure the figure breadth!).

But these have been the mannequins designed for displaying clothing – store fixtures for the retail trade. What about mannequins that we know and love as the dressmaker’s dummy? Well, they have evolved alongside.

What’s interesting is that in spite of the fact that women’s heights, weights and body types vary more today than ever before, commercial dress-maker’s dress forms all seem to be very similar. It is true, though, that you can have a custom-designed dress form made just for you – a clone of your body – as it is at this moment in time, it has to be said.

LBJ finished on gloria
Gloria junior wearing my Little French Jacket. Although making a not-too-fitted jacket doesn’t seem to need a precise form, it would be nice if the boobs were in the right place!

I did a lot of online research before I bought Gloria junior. In fact, I set a maximum budget of around $300.00 so I knew I was looking for an adjustable. She has those dials that get her bust, waist, hip and back length to my size, but there is just so much more that goes on in between.


First, there is the issue of that relatively small underbust that I have. Then there is the neck – hers is fixed in position. Then there is that fact that most women are concave under the collar bone, but sadly she is not.

Why do I need her anyway?

First, I do think that being able to fit and pin without having to be a contortionist makes life easier – and probably results in fewer unnecessary puckers. Second, I think being able to stand back and really look at how everything fits and drapes without just having the mirror to help improves fit.

Then, I really just like the idea of pinning my projects on a form as I go. It makes me feel just a bit more professional – a bit of a fashion fantasy, I’m afraid.

Anyway, my Craftsy course on drafting a moulage and bodice sloper is my first step to that custom-fitted mannequin.

I’ve drafted, cut and sewn my first one. Of course, as expected, there are a few issues that were not unexpected. I’m about to cut my second one this afternoon. I hope I have the stamina to do as many drafts as needed to get it right!


The madness of mannequins.

Leighann Morris. The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond.

How to Buy a Dress Form.

Photo credits:


Posted in Style

Random Friday Thought

As I prep for my weekend fashion/style/sewing activities, I was strolling down Yonge Street this morning (before the mercury hit 33C) and thought this might just be the thing to get me through my  next challenge.

Hope it makes you laugh!

friday 1