Posted in Computer-assisted pattern design, Pattern-drafting, Style

Computer-assisted pattern design: Dipping my toe in!

The expert in anything was a beginner once.There’s always more than one way to do something, I always say. And there is nothing more satisfying than learning something new. So, put those two elements together, and I’m looking at a new tool for designing patterns.

When I begin a new design, I always begin with a sketch. New tool or not, that isn’t likely to change. That sketched idea can be inspired by any number of elements like a 1960’s sewing pattern I love, an outfit I saw in a film, a piece of fabric that I just can’t get out of my head. Regardless of its provenance, that sketch is the start. However, up until now, I have only had one approach to getting that sketch off the paper and onto Gloria junior (my fitting mannequin, in case you haven’t met her yet.)

That tool has been flat pattern making. I have a longing to learn draping, and I’ll get to that eventually, but I love the geometry of creating that flat pattern on paper from a variety of numbers and lines (I was that nerd who loved analytical trigonometry in high school and topped the class). Back in January of this year when I shared with you some of the design and sewing-related presents I’d been lucky enough to find under the Christmas tree, I was excited to tell you that I had received Cochenille’s Garment Designer, and this would be my first foray into using computer-assisted design software. Well, I have now finished my first project with this software. Let me begin by saying that understanding flat pattern making makes this particular software far more accessible, and provides you with far more design options. You’ll see why.

One of the things I liked about this program (and the reason I suggested it to my husband as a terrific Christmas present for me), is that the designer’s web site has some very good videos to help me along with getting to know what it can do. I’m not ready for Adobe Illustrator – nor am I prepared to pay the price for it at this point. I just wanted to dip my toe into the water, and this program is a good way to do that. But it does have its limitations. Stay with me here.

This is what I wanted to create a pattern for:

Garment deisgner twin set sketch

 

So, after inserting the USB key which is necessary to actually open the program on every occasion that you use it (keep it in a safe and handy place), I began with inputting my own measurements for a personalized sloper.

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The key inserted into one of my USB ports. YOu cannot open the program without it. 

The program comes with standard sizes programmed in, but what’s the point in a custom design if it isn’t a custom size? I found that creating the simple sloper was just that, simple. I took my basic measurements and plugged them into the program. The more accurate one, which has far more specific body measurements, I have not yet been able to master. However, since my first design is for a knit twin set, the simple, personal sloper would do.

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How it looks on the screen. I have the grid and sloper lines turned on. 

I started with the simple tank that pops under the cropped cowl neck. That was fairly easy to produce a pattern for after I got the hang of their terminology and figured out how to move lines and points for a more custom fit. You can see on the pattern below that I kept the sloper lines visible at all times so I could get to know the amount of ease they have included for various fits: fitted, versus semi-fitted, versus very fitted, for example. The manual does provide this information, but I’m a visual learner and prefer to see it. That way I can tweak it as I like. You can turn that off so you don’t see the sloper (or the grid lines for that matter) but for me, they are very helpful.

Once I had the simple pattern created, I added seam allowances (you can make them any width you like), rendered it as a final pattern (it automatically adds notches etc. at this point) then set it up as a full-size document and printed it like you would a regular pdf pattern – tiled and in need of being taped together.

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Ready to print.

I had a lot less luck with using this program for my cowl neck. I was able to create a pattern for the cropped main body, with all of the correct measurements, and the raglan sleeves, but I could not find a way to use the program to create the cowl. I could have used their funnel neck, but I wanted the cowl to be a separate piece. If there’s a way to do this with the program I don’t know what it is yet. More to learn, I guess. Anyway, here’s where my flat pattern-making skills came into play. I created the cowl the old-fashioned way.

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Here are the things I learned about this program on this first go around:

  1. Their definition of “very fitted” is quite different from my definition of “very fitted.” When I chose this silhouette, I found that they had 4 ½ inches of ease at the waist and 5 ½ inches of ease at the underarm. This is far too much for my conception of “very fitted.” Duly noted.
  2. Their definition of a “wide” neckline is very different from mine. It’s not nearly as wide as I would like so this needs alteration. Obviously, this is all within my control (as is the amount off ease – see #1).
  3. The hems of narrow sleeves are not trued. If I didn’t know anything about pattern making, I would have had sleeves that were too narrow at the bottom to turn up. I simply trued them up and added little bits of paper where needed.
  4. When you create the final pattern here, the sleeve notches are the same on the front and the back. And they are not in the standard location (3’ and 3 ¼’). I had to add them.
  5. Although I also received two plug-in design packages that are extra with the software, I still don’t have access to a large enough variety of necklines. Okay, I can create them, but I did hope that separate turtles and cowls would be inclusions. If they’re there, I can’t find them. Yet.

The program is actually very fun to work with. I enjoyed noodling around with a few other designs and have found them to be a very good fit. The program’s designer mounts webinars every so often, and I think that this little program can do a great deal more than I have figured out yet. I plan to take a few of the courses (they are $25 each it seems and come up periodically – you need to be on their email list).

So, at this point, I will continue to play around with it (in fact I already have a mock-up of a princess-seamed, zipper-front jacket which I’ll show you at some point) to see how much more it can do than I have figured out yet. But I still love my flat pattern-making!

Oh…the final reveal…

twinset 1

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Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket, sewing

A muslin/toile for my new Little French Jacket: Marking for perfect fit

coco quoteCoco Chanel is often quoted as having said, “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.” And nothing says impeccable dressing to me more than perfect fit. Oh how I strive for perfect fit (as anyone who has read previous posts on this journey with me will know!). As I advance down the road toward Little French Jacket #3, I am faced squarely with fitting a new design rather than reusing an already fitted one. Of course this begins with the muslin.

When last we spoke I had done a preliminary pattern fitting, tweaked a few known problems, and then began cutting out the muslin to create my first test jacket – and with any luck and a few more tweaks, it will be the only one I’ll need.

In the Spring 2013 special fitting issue of Threads magazine Susan Khalje begins her article on creating a muslin by saying, “Muslin may be an inexpensive fabric, but a muslin test garment is worth its weight in gold.” And I wouldn’t even consider cutting into that expensive bouclé or that even more expensive silk charmeuse for the jacket lining before getting as close to a perfect fit for the pattern as I could possibly get. This is especially important in the case of these jackets because of the nature of the fabrics themselves. Both bouclé and silk charmeuse fray appallingly and the less they are manipulated the better. This means that there should be no seam ripping whatsoever. The only way to avoid redoing any seam in my view is to be absolutely certain that the pattern fits then baste everything before sewing. We’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, I now have my muslin fabric cut out and am ready to mark it. I am going to be marking and working with seam lines as I mentioned in my last post, rather than seam allowance edges, so the muslin pieces are pretty roughly cut out. Now I have to transfer all seam lines, grain lines and other markings onto the right side of the muslin pieces. The right side you ask? Well, this is what I asked after a lifetime of tailor’s tacks in good fabrics (I’ll get to those as well – wait and see) and piddly little pieces of carbon tracing paper sandwiched between two pieces of fabric to mark on the wrong side. I learned that approach in long-ago home ec. classes! With the couture approach to muslin creation, however, I need the markings on the right side so I can see them when I do the fitting in due course. Won’t I need some marks on the inside for sewing – well, yes, but I’ll get to that.

I’m using large sheets of dressmaker’s waxed marking paper that I bought online from Susan Khalje’s web site. When I started using it I thought, “Where have you been all my life?” I think each sheet (it comes in a tube of 4 sheets of different colours) measures about 26 inches X 39 inches.

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The sheets of the heavily waxed paper are enormous and wonderful to work with. But they do cause a bit of hand staining! (It comes off easily!)

I roll out the red sheet (I like red for my first pass on muslins) on my cutting board and hold it in place with random things on the four edges that will otherwise curl unmercifully. I have a tape dispenser on one, a pair of shears on another – well, you get the idea.

I place my first cut-out muslin piece on the tracing paper and just begin tracing all the marks with my tracing wheel. When I need to move the piece to be closer to me, I just move it. When I need to turn it, I just turn it. There is no rearranging of carbon paper etc. I’m in heaven. I mark everything in sight. Grain lines for sure, seam lines, darts, circles, notches, waistline, bicep line, high figure point etc. When I have all of this on one piece and I have carefully checked to ensure I haven’t missed any markings, I remove the tissue paper pattern, re-pin the two layers together and just turn it over. I use the markings on this side to mark the other side. Brilliant! I then take a red pen and label each piece: centre front, side front, upper sleeve etc. I repeat this process with every single piece. Because I’m a bit OCD about this process, I actually note which is the right side and which is the left for each piece and mark this as well.

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I’ve marked from one side, removed the tissue pattern, re-pinned and turned the piece over to use the initial markings to mark the other side. 

I need to say a few things about this pattern (Vogue 8804). It is Claire Shaeffer’s design for these LFJ’s and on the pattern pieces she has provided markings for the quilting lines. When made a LFJ before, I always made my own decisions regarding the location and spacing of the quilting lines based largely on the pattern woven into the fabric itself. However, I do note that since this one will have buttons and buttonholes, and the front will be underlined with silk organza which she specifically indicates should be quilted directly to the fashion fabric rather than doing this line through the lining, I do mark those quilting lines on the front pieces. I will leave out the back markings though, and make a decision and measure them when I get to the quilting part.Vogue 8804 pattern front

So I now have all the pieces marked on the right side, but I’ll be putting right sides together to sew up the toile, so how in the world do I get the marks I need on the wrong side? Thread tracing to the rescue.

I put all the tissue paper pattern pieces back in the envelope: I shouldn’t need those ever again as long as I live if I get this right. Then I take the muslin pieces to the machine. I thread it with red thread. (Remember, I like red for my first pass at a muslin then I know which marking I’m looking at.)

Using a 3.5 mm stitch length (it does go faster this way and there is less puckering), I sew along any line I will need to sew. This means I don’t thread-trace grain lines, waist markings etc. I don’t back-tack at all and I sew to the end of each line, stop, cut the thread, then sew the next one so that I have very clear transections of the seam lines. This should make it easier to match up the corners.

 

When this process is complete, I have a perfect set of wrong side sewing markings. I take all the pieces to the ironing board and give them a good steam press. I’m ready to sew the muslin together.

Using a 3.5 mm stitch length and dark grey thread to differentiate the stitching line from the thread tracing line, I whip it together. Well I whip it and carefully prepare and set in the sleeves to be honest. Once it’s complete, with great trepidation I put it on, approach the mirror, and hope that it comes close to fitting.

Posted in Style

Adventures in fitting the bust: Or why commercial patterns don’t fit (me)

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At least the back fits at the muslin stage!

It occurs to me that a bodice that fits like a glove across the bust is the holy grail of fitting (of course, I have yet to properly create a pant sloper, so I might stand to be corrected). As I make my slow and not-so-easy way through another so-called fast-and-easy pattern, I realize that I just have to suck it up: a perfect-fitting bodice takes time. It further occurs to me that bodice fitting has been important throughout the history of women’s fashions, even if the shape has changed often dramatically over the years. (I write historical fiction in another life so historical research is kind of my thing!)

Take for example bodice fitting in the time of Henry VIII. In those days, women were made to fit into the clothing rather than having clothing made to fit the woman. Just imagine having to get up in the morning and be laced into your corset so that your waist was tiny, your bust smashed flat and your back kept so ramrod erect that you could hardly move let alone breathe. Only then would you be able to fit into the dress you were required or wanted to wear. And never mind the health impacts of fitting into your clothing rather than the other way around. There’ a fascinating history of corsets on the web site Fashion in Time – which I love for its insights into how far we’ve come in fashion.

 

The truth is, though, that this fashion was a regression of sorts if you consider the functionality of the looser, more flowing clothing sported by both men and women in ancient Rome and Greece. It was during the medieval period that clothing began to have a lot more structure, but there is structure – that terrific fit we all seek – and there is prison.

Bust lines seem to have been important to women for centuries. I always thought that the bra was a nineteenth century pheonomenon, but it seems that we’ve been wearing them for much longer in one form or another. Early bra-like garments date back to ancient Greece when women tried various kinds of strapping to hold up the girls. But in an even more fascinating discovery, it seems archeologists have unearthed what appear to be 600-year old bras with cups and straps and the whole nine yards![1] So I know that I’m not the only one who cares about this fit issue!

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A 600-year-old bra! [photo credit “Fashion in History” see footnote]

Fashion in the twentieth century waxed and waned between loose (the flapper dresses of the thirties) and the structured (Dior’s ‘New Look’). That Dior-esque silhouette influenced much of the mid-century clothing until Gabriel Chanel’s approach to design gave women back their comfort along with beautiful tailoring. The 1960’s brought a revolution in dressing: all those shift dresses that fit everyone. For me, though, the Chanel look is the holy grail of fit that I seek since it is based on individual proportion, coupled with ease of movement. It is tailored clothing with ease. So that’s where I begin.

At the end of last week’s sewing and fitting adventures I was the midst of creating a muslin/toile/calico fitting garment for Vogue 8886, a design I loved mainly because of the lovely boat neck band which turned out to be an enormous collar – but I digress. I’m focusing on bust line fitting here.vogue-8886-sleeve-variations

I was a bit irritated by the fact that this pattern is supposed to be a “perfect fit” pattern that includes separate pattern pieces for A-B-C-D cups. So, as I already mentioned, I cut for the D and found that it was HUGE! Of course, it had never occurred to me to put together a whole lot of sewing and fit intelligence to conclude that this wasn’t really what they meant. Let me go back.

Since returning to sewing, I had stumbled upon the FBA (AKA full bust adjustment) on more occasions than I can count. Evidently, it’s a general secret of the sewing intelligentsia that if the potential wearer of the garment is more than a B cup, then said wearer needs to have the pattern adjusted for that larger cup size. Indeed, the scoop is that commercial patterns are drawn for a B cup regardless of size. Okay, I thought. I need to learn to do this. Not so fast.

As I perused the online instructions (there are many very good ones) it began to dawn on me that I my over-bust measurement being only 2 inches smaller than my full bust one (not to mention that the under-bust measurement is way smaller) the FBA instructions didn’t seem to apply. It never occurred to me that this might also be the case with the pattern that offered several cup sizes. I simply recognized that I wear a D cup and cut that one. After doing many adjustments to approximate perfection, I went back to the pattern instructions which is when I found this:

perfect-fit-not

 

But even if I had read this before I started, I would likely have thought that it must be wrong. How in the world could a B-cup pattern fit me? It seems that if I’m 32-D and not 40-D, that’s different, but no one told me. I should have followed the FBA instruction advice from the outset and simply left the B-cup pattern as is. I don’t qualify for the FBA. You live and learn I guess.

Summary: just because you wear a bra cup size above a B does not necessarily mean you need to do a FBA. Nor do you need to cut the appropriate cup size in a sized pattern. What it means is that if you (I really mean I) want a well-fitting bodice, I’ll have to use my—a personalized sloper to fit the commercial pattern and do a mock-up – every time. Which brings me to my understanding of why commercial patterns don’t fit. Everyone’s body is different.

Taking measurements around a body does not in any way account for the differences of how those circumferences are distributed. It doesn’t account for the fact that someone with a narrow back and large bust can measure the same as someone with a wide back and not much in the way of breasts at all. Those two women could hardly be the same size. So, commercial pattern companies have their work cut out for them. And that’s why many of the designs are loose and unfitted. General results with those pieces will be better. At least if you like loose clothes all the time. I don’t so I continue to take the slow and methodical way forward!

[Getting closer to what I want – shoulder fitting fine; left side of the princess line coming – one more tweak and I can use this side to make the pattern. But those sleeves! Too long to really be 3/4,and I think I’ll add a turn-back cuff if the fabric can handle it…but all of that will have to wait. I’m off to LA & Phoenix next week to escape the Toronto weather for a bit. Hoping to make a pilgrimage to Mood Fabrics! PS Anyone know a terrific fabric store in Phoenix?]

FYI: I love this fascinating web site on fashion history: Fashion in Time.

http://www.fashionintime.org/fashion-history/

 

 

[1] Medieval “Lingerie” From 15th Century Castle Stuns Fashion Historians http://www.ecouterre.com/medieval-lingerie-from-15th-century-castle-stuns-fashion-historians/

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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

youve-come-a-long-way

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sloper #2 pattern ready to try out!

 

 

[1] Craftsy has a really good blog post on the different kinds of ease at https://www.craftsy.com/blog/2015/04/ease-in-sewing/