The Fussy Bits

I know much of my sewing is fussy, but what I think of as the fussy bits are those fine details that can make the difference between a garment I am proud to wear and one that falls under the Five Foot Rule – they look okay but only from at least five feet away. And nobody, but nobody, gets to look inside. Here are some ways I’ve found to avoid the dreaded Five Foot Rule.

Hooks and Eyes

One of the most valuable resources I’ve stumbled upon in my online research for sewing techniques is a series of papers published by the Cooperative Extension of the University of Kentucky. These well-illustrated guides often answer the nagging questions I have that nobody addresses in classes or books and that makes me feel dumb for not knowing the answer. For example, there are plenty of resources that tell us how to sew on a hook and eye but nobody really gets into exactly where they should be placed or when you should use the round eyes, as opposed to the straight eyes that come in the packages. And when you have pieces that meet instead of overlap, which way do the hook prongs point, out or in? In “Hooks, Eyes, Snaps, and Tape Fasteners,” Professor Nadine Hacker answers these and other questions about the nitty gritty details of closures.  So, now I know that the straight eye is used when the garment pieces overlap, as they do on waistbands and at the top of lapped zippers, and the round eye is used when the pieces meet, as they do in this bias collar.

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This is still a work in progress. It needs a good pressing, but you get the idea. 

Following the instructions, I set the round eye so that it just barely extends beyond the edge of the collar. 

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I have a lot of trouble getting the hook to line up with the eye, so I engage the two pieces to and sew the hook on while it is attached to the eye. Oh, and the prongs point away from the fabric on which the hook is sewn. 

To get the hook to stay put while I’m sewing the first few stitches, I use a Clover fork pin.  More about these handy little tools in a moment. 

Here are two of the hooks and eyes sewn in. Perfection is still an elusive goal, but these are a lot better than what I was doing before.  

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Strategic Snap Placement

Another fussy bit that was tripping me up was snap placement. In this asymmetrical jacket, I had to put in a pin to keep the underlapped front from hanging below the overlap at the hem.

Blue Asymmetric Jacket

I tried adding extra snaps at the neckline, but it didn’t fix the problem. Finally, I asked Sarah Veblen what to do. Her solution was ridiculously easy: add just one more snap, but place it where the problem was occurring. 

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Sarah demonstrated this in a workshop by adding the plastic snap just above the hem at the edge of the underlap side. It works like a charm. I’ve also come around to preferring plastic snaps to metal ones.

Aligning Intersecting Seams

For intersecting seams, I rely on the Clover Fork Pins I mentioned earlier. Susan Khaljie recommends these clever quilting tools for matching stripes and plaids in fabrics that have a lot of play in them and are resistant to staying put with ordinary pins. They hold the fabric exactly where you need it and they work wonders when matching intersecting seams. I use them to align the seam of my two-piece sleeve to my shoulder seam and to align the princess seams on the bodice and skirt of an Empire waist dress.

The connected end slants upward and the prongs lay flat so you sew right over it.

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Mitered Corners

Corners are another area that can get really messy. Turning sewn corners will be the subject of a tutorial down the road, but for now I’d like to go over mitered corners. Specifically, using a miter for the corner formed by the hem and vent of a pencil skirt. This is a fussy bit that’s actually fun to do and the results are nice and tidy. 

The first step is to mark or press the corner, in this case the hem and the vent extension. I’ve marked where the creases intersect with pins. Next, you make a diagonal fold where the two creases meet and press lightly, taking care not to stretch anything out. The pins are lying directly on top of the creases.

You then bring those two pins together, and create an odd-looking point. I always have to remind myself that I’m now working with right sides together, whereas the creases were made working from the wrong side.

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The diagonal fold line is where you need to stitch. 

At this point, I test out what I have by turning the corner. This test run is important because the next step is to trim, which cannot be corrected easily. Ask me how I know.

The rough turn test shows that the miters are in the right place and the only thing keeping these puppies from looking good is all that extra fabric inside. So I turn them back and trim off the ends to get rid of the little dolphin noses.

IMG_0185Now they are ready to press, turn and impress.

 

Sarah Veblen’s You Choose Your Focus Workshop

Last weekend I took another quantum leap in developing my sewing and personal design skills. As always, Sarah Veblen was at the heart of this experience.

Sarah was here in Chicago to teach a workshop she calls “Choose Your Focus.” Instead of having a predetermined topic such as fitting or jacket fit and construction, this workshop provides an opportunity for each participant to work one-on-one with Sarah with whatever project or projects are at the top of that person’s wish list. It is basically private instruction in a group setting. This is the second Choose Your Focus Workshop I’ve attended and it definitely won’t be my last.

All levels of skill are welcome in these workshops and Sarah is more than capable of meeting each participant’s particular needs. Everyone’s experience in these workshops is unique. Steph has shared her perspective on her blog, 10 Sewing Machines & A Serger, and she also generously allowed me to use her workshop pictures in this post. I always start out with the intention to document with pictures, but often don’t follow through.

The first morning, the group gathers and each participant discusses what she hopes to accomplish in the workshop. Often we’ve emailed Sarah in advance to give her an idea of what we will be bringing, but this is everyone’s opportunity to crystallize their thinking and Sarah’s opportunity to formulate an idea of workflow and how she can most effectively help the participants reach their goals. Some topics come up that will best be handled with a demo, which the entire group will benefit from watching. This exchange also allows other participants to learn from the other projects that are being worked on.

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I arrived with a list of projects in order of priority that I placed into two categories: “required” (a/k/a “gottas”) and “extra credit.” The workshop was three days long, but I only had 2½ days because of a volunteer commitment. Factor into that my lack of speed in all things sewing and patternmaking and I knew that I needed wiggle room in my list of goals.

At the top of my “gotta” list was finalizing the design, pattern, fabric, embellishment and construction methods for a Little Black Dress to wear to a wedding in June and, I hope, model in the Haute Couture Club of Chicago fashion show that I’m co-chairing in April. I had chosen a lovely matlesse that I bought at A Fabric Place outside Baltimore (known as Michael’s Fabrics online) when I had worked with Sarah at her home studio a while back. I had questions about whether I should make the collar out of a different fabric and whether I should go with my original plan to add a few black faceted beads or use the fabulous embellishment piece made of beads and covered buttons that I bought at Soutache quite some time ago with no idea what I would do with it.

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The verdict was to use it on this dress and Sarah demonstrated to the group how I should handle it. The collar will be made of the same fabric as the rest of the dress. I also asked about underlining—yes, with silk organza—and confirmed that I will be using China silk lining.

I also had questions about fabric choice, closure placement and design details for the dress I’m making to wear to the luncheon portion of the upcoming fashion show and to a bridal shower I’m co-hosting the following week. (It’s going to be a ridiculously busy spring). Those questions were answered and I was able to check that item off my list.

To finalize the design of the LBD, I assembled the muslin pieces that I had cut last fall before the workshop began. The body of the dress is derived from my sheath pattern, which has armscye princess seams. I wanted a curved Empire waist seam that dips lower in the back, but not so low that it reaches waist height and accentuates my most prominent feature. (My derrière draws quite enough attention without any help.) I wanted to use the 60’s-esque collar that I’ve worked with before, only I wanted it to sit higher in the front and extend a little farther out on my shoulders and then follow a dip in the neckline in back and trail off in points. In preparing the muslin, I made the front of the neckline what I thought it would end up being, cut the collar longer than I would need and only attached it from the front to the shoulders so that Sarah could drape it.

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After some testing, we decided to make the front neckline a bit wider and Sarah worked her magic on the back.

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This is exactly as I had envisioned it!

The next step was to transfer the adjustments to the pattern. This is an area where I still am prone to doubts and confusion. As the workshop progressed, I got more confident about drawing new lines with the Fashion Ruler that don’t pick up every single pin placement mark. (It’s only pencil! I have a lifetime supply of erasers!) I’m just so worried about making a mistake that will throw off the entire garment when I sew it. I got better at this as the workshop progressed and was able to draw lines where I thought they should go. This confidence came from knowing I could ask Sarah to check my work right away. Call it a crutch if you must. I prefer security blanket. In any event, the whole point of participating in these workshops is that we don’t have to guess and compound our errors until we end up with a mess.

Anyway, Sarah ended up doing much of the pattern work on the LBD and I did more on my own on the next project.

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The final step was to test out the collar on a quick mock-up of the neckline on Day 2 of the workshop. It worked perfectly. I’m now ready to cut the fashion fabric!

My next project was to address yet another issue that has cropped up with my two-piece sleeve pattern. When I attended Sarah’s workshop last November, I corrected my basic two-piece sleeve pattern so that it fit well and had a total of ¾” ease evenly divided between the front and back when it is set into my basic jacket pattern. However, I’ve been using this as my all-purpose sleeve pattern and when I walked my pattern pieces to make a two-piece dress last month I noticed that the sleeve pattern had too much ease and it was not evenly distributed front to back. Both garment patterns were derived from my basic fitting bodice pattern but there have been some adjustments along the way and now there are differences. When I made this discovery, I prepared muslin pieces for my fitted blouse pattern and my topper pattern and brought the lining pieces for my two-piece dress bodice, along with all three patterns. I also started the project of making a full set of pattern pieces for each of my garments, instead of reusing side panel pieces and sleeves for multiple garment patterns.

I tried to make a mock-up of the sleeve before the workshop by putting in one adjustment to the sleeve pattern to even out distribution of ease, but I did what I almost always do—I added to the piece that was supposed to be made smaller and subtracted from the piece that was supposed to be made larger. I’m amazed at how often I defy the odds in that annoying way. Sarah straightened me out and I made a new test sleeve.

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I now have a two-piece sleeve pattern that works as it should for my fitted blouse pattern, my two-piece dress and my topper pattern. The topper pattern is going to be a building block for upcoming blouse projects.

That brought me to the end of my must-have list. Amazingly, I was able to make substantial progress on my extra credit.

I consulted with Sarah about my plans for developing a “flowy” blouse pattern from my topper pattern for a lovely teal hammered silk and a gray and cream striped rayon that have been aging in my collection for quite some time.

I can’t get the true color of the silk, but the picture is a close-up of its texture. I’ve been wanting to do that trick with the rayon that uses stitched-down tucks to hide the stripes at the shoulder, extending down just a bit. We decided I’d do that at the sleeve cap as well.

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The blouse will use the front pleat from Vogue 1412 that I used in my shirtdress and have a shirt-tail hem or a curved hem with side vents.

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The striped version will have a variation on the neckline from View B of Vogue 1412 and the teal silk will have the shirtdress neckline and collar. For both, I wanted sleeves similar to the one in Vogue 1367, a scaled-back poet’s sleeve. IMG_0673

Development of the sleeve required me to merge the two-piece sleeve pattern together and make the necessary design changes. Sarah worked closely with me to get this done. I then mocked it up and Sarah worked on getting it into the topper armhole.

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We decided on a series of tucks, which are going to be a lot of work but will achieve the effect I’m after. I now have a pattern for the sleeve and cuff and instructions for working with the tucks.

Sarah took this opportunity to give us a demo on her method for attaching a continuous sleeve placket using a bias strip of fabric.

With this checked off my list, I couldn’t believe there were still a couple of hours left in the workshop. I started on my second “extra credit” project, which is to draft a trumpet skirt. The shape will be similar to this picture, but without godets.

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I got a little bit of the way into it, but realized I was tired and that would make me prone to even more mistakes than usual. Still, I have a process plan and Sarah answered my dumb questions about the pattern work so I can pick this up after my “gotta” sewing projects are done.

As always, the workshop time flew by and all too soon it was time to say good-bye to Sarah and get back to the real world where sewing and design have to share time with earning a living and volunteer commitments. I’m really amazed at how much I accomplished and I have renewed energy around my projects. All that, plus I got to spend time with a group of talented, dedicated home sewers who always inspire me and never fail to offer encouragement. Who could possibly ask for more?

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

I could give you a list of reasons why it’s been three months (!) since my last blog post, but that would accomplish nothing. The real reason I’ve been hiding – yes, hiding – is that I made a series of avoidable mistakes in a jacket that made me lose confidence in my abilities. Simply put, I was too embarrassed to post anything.

This episode has taught me that it is absolutely essential to check all assumptions and reinforce the basics no matter how far I think my skills have progressed. With a lot of encouragement from Sarah Veblen, I overcame the urge to allow the jacket to become yet another UFO and then worked with Sarah to correct the pattern mistakes I had made for a new version of the jacket. We also revised the collar pattern because the design needed some fine-tuning. The final step in this learning process will be to make the 2.0 version of the jacket. Before going on to that step, I want to share the experience to reinforce the lessons learned so that I don’t make the same mistakes again and, I hope, you will be able to avoid making them in the first place.

Back to Basics

First and foremost, test all assumptions. I made two muslins, so all the adjacent seamlines on the pattern pieces had been walked, right? Then how did I end up with a back piece that had a much longer shoulder seam than the one on the front piece? Obviously, I made an adjustment somewhere and didn’t recheck to make sure the adjacent seams matched before cutting out the fashion fabric. The thing that really got me is that the mistake wasn’t buried in a princess seam or something that took some time to check. The difference in the shoulder seams is something that hits you in the face when you lap the pieces over one another at the shoulder.

Lesson learned: keep track of all steps. The simple solution is to use a checklist before cutting the fashion fabric. I’m not doing this just when I’ve made changes to the pattern, but also when I pull different pieces from different garments. I might have made tweaks in a garment that I’ve forgotten about, so I can’t assume that the side front piece from one blouse will fit together with the front piece from another project. In this project, I started out intending to make three-piece sleeves, using the pattern from my still unfinished French jacket, but changed my mind and used the two-piece sleeves I’ve used for other jackets. It was only after I found myself struggling to ease in the sleeves that I realized the armscye for my French jacket is smaller than the armscye for my jacket sloper.

My new routine is to make a checklist with all the garment pieces and all the adjacent seams that need to walk. It looks something like this:

  • Front to Side Front
  • Side Front to Side Back
  • Side Back to Back
  • Front to back at shoulder
  • Sleeve to armscye

When everything is checked off, I’m ready to cut.

Resist the Temptation to Combine Steps

When teaching patternmaking in her fit and design workshops, Sarah carefully lays out each step that her students should follow, which includes cutting the pattern on the cut line before walking adjacent pattern pieces. I thought this was a step I could skip and simply cut away excess paper when I used the pattern to cut fabric. I was wrong.

After I had kvetched to Sarah Veblen about all the mistakes I made with this jacket, I worked on fixing each of the problems in a workshop that she calls “You Choose Your Focus,” where each participant works on whatever she needs to accomplish with Sarah’s supervision. As Sarah watched me walk two pattern pieces, she noticed that I had veered off from the seamline on one piece and was walking one seamline onto a cut line. She assured me that this is not an uncommon mistake, especially when changes have been made to the pattern and there are extra lines and markings that have been crossed out. She then said in her gentle, patient and non-accusatory manner that the best way to avoid this mistake or at least minimize the number of times you make it is to trim away the excess pattern paper before walking the pattern pieces.

Lesson learned: If a step seems unnecessary, ask the instructor why she advises taking that step before skipping it.

Don’t Forget to Think Seamline

This is another place where the number of lines on a pattern piece can cause confusion. Some lined garments are lined to the edge, whereas others have linings that hang from a facing at the neckline and other really ambitious garments have both a neck facing and a faced hem with a lining in between. Here is what that looks like on this particular jacket:

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The facings are made of a beautiful black silk taffeta that has a tone-on-tone embossed rose pattern. Sigh. The silk lining is from A Fabric Place outside of Baltimore and I managed to buy more when I was there in November. Yea.

So, on my first attempt to make the lining pattern I marked the depth of the facings on the garment pattern pieces, plus cut lines above and below each of those seamlines, which meant I had three sets of lines at the top (seamline, then cut line for lining and another cut line for the facing), plus two at the bottom, since the lining and hem facing don’t get attached as a seam but have a jump hem instead. I also got mired in math trying to figure out the depth of the jump hem, which is why you see that seam at the bottom of the lining in the picture above. That’s where I attached a bias strip to add length.

Sarah’s advise is to only draw the seamlines, or if you must draw multiple lines, color code them. She draws her seamlines in blue pencil.

Here is a visual for the neck facing/lining segment of that convoluted explanation:

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The reduced scale pattern piece for the garment back is on white paper. I’ve marked only the seamline where the lining (purple tissue paper) attached to the facing (yellow tissue paper). As you can see, the lining’s seam allowance extends up like it’s supposed to and the facing seam allowance extends down. The process was to mark only the seamline, then draw the facing piece, add the seam allowance and cut, then draw the lining piece, add the seam allowance and cut.

Lesson learned: Pattern pieces that get too cluttered are confusing and it’s a mistake to think I will always be able to remember which piece goes up and which goes down.

The whole jump hem thing is a little more involved, so it gets its own section.

Map Out Jump Hems Visually

You don’t have to be math-challenged for math to trip you up, at least I don’t. And there’s something about jump hems that have had me confused for a long time. Sarah walked me through the process visually with strips of paper and I think I finally get it.

When a jacket is lined to the edge (no neck facing) and the hem is turned up (no hem facing), the lining pattern pieces are the same length as the fashion fabric pattern pieces. To get a nice jump hem that covers the hem stitches and ensures that the fashion fabric isn’t pulled up by a too-short lining, we build in a jump hem, which simply means that the fabric hangs down part way over the hem allowance, has a soft fold, comes back up to the hem stitching line and is hand stitched in place. Sarah advises to turn the raw edge of the lining under by ¼” and pin that fold to the hem stitching line and then stitch. Everything works out just fine.

Here is an attempt at a visual representation of how that works:

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The blue paper simulates a back lining for a jacket that is lined to the neck edge. It is the same length as the back jacket piece. The only difference is that it has a little extra width to allow for a pleat at center back and it is marked in approximately the places where the stitching ends to allow for arm movement. The white paper represents the fashion fabric pattern piece, which is turned up at the hem with cross-hatching to represent the right side of the fabric in the hem allowance.

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The picture above shows the fashion fabric piece with the hem turned up overlaying the lining piece, which has ¼” turned up at the hem edge.

The rest of the pictures show mock-ups of a jump hem with a lining, neck facing and faced hem. The principles are the same. The only difference with the faced hem is that you want a bit more of the facing to not be covered up by the lining.

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Here we have the lavender tissue paper as the lining (it worked much better than the stiff blue paper I used earlier), plus the yellow tracing paper showing the facings at the neck and hem. I’ve turned the lining under ¼” and pinned it to the top edge of the hem facing. Notice the fullness above the area that’s pinned.

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Here it is with the lining tissue smoothed down. Try to ignore that hemline that I drew in.  Obviously, I misjudged where this would end up, which is why this method is better than doing the math.

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Here is a view that tries to show everything that’s going on in the area under the jump hem that is hidden when you see a sewn sample.

Lesson learned: Visual mock-ups can avoid a whole bunch of stress and can sometimes clarify things that were once a mystery.

Resewing Has Its Limits

Not all of the problems I encountered were in the pattern. I made some plain, vanilla sewing mistakes that gave me quality time with my seam ripper. There was a snowball effect to this, which I encounter quite a bit. Once I make one dumb mistake I seem to make a whole slew of them. One example was that I set the collar with right sides together. Very dumb. Ordinarily, sewing mistakes are easy to fix, assuming you haven’t trimmed or clipped anything yet. But the lovely silk and wool blend fabric I used for the jacket raveled an unbelievable amount when handled. No matter how careful I was in removing stitches, I was left with very little seam allowance in many areas. It makes me worry about the jacket falling apart when I wear it.

Lesson learned: check the big picture before sewing a seam. Just because the pieces went together nicely when pinning doesn’t guarantee that they are oriented correctly.

There’s More, But It Can Wait

I also learned that my understanding of collars and undercollars had some gaps. We can walk through that in a later post once I’ve gotten comfortable employing my new knowledge on the subject. Besides, I’m more than ready to stop dwelling on my disappointment and move on to some successes.

Here is what the jacket looks like. I finished it in time for the Sew Chicago holiday brunch. Everyone was very supportive and had nice things to say about it and I know that if I hadn’t blabbed about all the mistakes I made most people would never have noticed. I’m looking forward to getting the 2.0 version of it done and feeling really good about the work.

Homage Jkt 1 Modeled

The No-Close Topper That Plays Well With Curves

Silk TopperYou may be wondering whether all of my sewing projects start out looking simple and end up being way more involved than I bargained for. A lot of them do, and those are the ones that teach me the most. My seemingly simple project to create a no-close topper to go over a knit tank or sleeveless shell is another example.

I started this project thinking I could take my basic bodice sloper, change the neckline, add seam allowances at center front, draft a front facing, set in my basic sloper sleeves and have a nice layering piece that isn’t a jacket. When I did that, I quickly discovered that, even though the garment would have fit just fine as a blouse with a closure, when left to its own devices the front automatically traveled outward. Not just a little, either. The two front pieces wanted to settle out near my arms. It hadn’t occurred to me that a pattern designed to accommodate my particular bust shape and size would resist staying put. So that’s why RTW makes these pieces so oversized, I said to myself. But if I want to wear oversized, shapeless clothes I don’t have to go to the trouble of sewing them.

At this point, I sewed my first attempt together at center front, called it a blouse and put this project on the list for my next video consultation with Sarah Veblen.

Silk Tulip Top

We discussed a number of solutions and I tried a few in a mock-up, but I still wasn’t getting the look I was after.

After more discussion, we came up with an approach that turned this into a redesign project. The idea was to convert my armscye princess bodice sloper pattern into a pattern that transferred the bust shaping to tucks at the shoulders. This involved dart rotation, a really educational patternmaking exercise.

Patternmaking books tell you that you have to rotate darts (or in this case, princess seams, which are dart equivalents) at the apex. Turns out that’s one of those rules that can be broken. In my case, I needed more fullness at the apex than the princess seams give me, because I wanted the fabric to hang straight over the bust on its own. That meant the dart rotation had to take place below the apex. Here is what that looked like.

Front Convert PrincessAs you can see, the Apex is off to the right and the pivot point is about 1.5 inches below it.

This picture also shows something that I found nerve wracking. I knew that moving away from princess seams was going to mean giving up the great curve-hugging fit I’d worked so hard to achieve with Sarah. I didn’t know whether I was going to like the final product, but this was a test and nothing ventured, nothing gained. The thing that set me back on my heels was the amount of distortion that took place in the shoulder seam. Seeing that dredged up all the missteps and wrong turns I’d taken when trying to make pattern adjustments. I had to remind myself that this was just an experiment and the worst thing that could happen would be I wouldn’t have this type of garment in my repertoire. So, I filled in all the gaps with paper, drew a line from the neck edge to the shoulder point and kept going.

Of course, the overlapping you see at the hem has to be added back in somewhere to provide the correct circumference. For my first muslin test, I put almost all of that into extra fabric at the shoulder that became pleat intake. The rest I added to the side seams.

Here is one of the bodice pieces cut and marked in muslin.

All rotated to shoulderI was pretty sure I wanted pleats, as opposed to just tucks, at least for the woven version. One thing I had to work out was how far down I wanted them stitched. As I worked on this it also occurred to me that a variation with a yoke might be nice, but first I had to get the concept to work.

Skewed pleats and splayedAs you can see, the first test did not turn out well. Although the pleats were marked on grain, they pointed outward on the body.

The next picture shows my experiments with tucks versus pleats stitched almost to the bust.

Muslin Test1_2After trying it out in rayon to mimic the drapiness of the fabric I was planning to use, I still wasn’t happy. I ended up splitting the bust shaping between shoulder pleats and an armscye dart. Here is what that looks like on the pattern.

Front FinalThe back was a more straightforward conversion. Here is what it looked like in development.

Back DevHere is the final pattern piece. All of the intake was rotated to pleats at center back. The center pleat is the deepest.

Back FinalAnd here is the final product on me. The fabric is silk crepe de chine. I love the fabric and I like the topper. It’s completely boxy and oversized, but it isn’t as flattering as the fitted pieces with princess seams. Still, I’m glad I added this to my repertoire.

Topper Modeled

Connecting the Dots

Blue SheathOkay, time to take the two-piece dress pattern and convert it to a pattern for a sheath dress. No big deal, right? Well, not a really big deal but there were issues.

The first hurdle was to decide where the bodice pattern leaves off and the skirt pattern begins. Why wasn’t it just a matter of extending the bodice piece? Isn’t that how we’re told we can convert commercial blouse or shirt patterns into dress patterns? Yes, that is what we’re told, but it doesn’t work on me.

First, let’s take a look at the two-piece dress sloper, or master pattern.

2pc front

See how the bodice is nipped in a bit, but not as much as the waistband on the skirt, then flares out? If you continue that flare the silhouette wouldn’t be anything close to a sheath.

There’s another problem lurking here. I’m one of those women with a tilted waist. And, because of my shape—lots of tush, less of me at the waist—the center back seam is not the same length as the center front seam. You can get a sense of that tilt from this picture, which also approximates the way the two pieces overlap as worn.

SideSeamOverlapHere’s where working with horizontal balance lines that Sarah Veblen teaches us to use comes to the rescue. When developing a pattern from one that has been fitted using Sarah’s method, there are two things you know for sure. The hem will be parallel to the floor, making hemming a breeze, and the horizontal balance line or lines (HBLs) used in the fitting process will also be parallel to the floor/perpendicular to center front and center back. HBLs are drawn somewhere below the bust on blouses and jackets and in the hip area on skirts and pants. That means I was able to use everything above the HBL in the bodice and everything below the HBL in the skirt for my sheath dress mock-up. The mystery was what the pattern needed to look like in between those HBLs.

You may be wondering why all the angst about something I’m going to mock up in muslin and can fine tune anyway. For one thing, I was still reeling from all the trial and error that had gone into getting a good fit before I started working with Sarah. A big chunk of that time was spent trying to make a sheath dress, and that includes a workshop in which everyone was close to finishing a dress at the end of the weekend and I was still getting a muslin repinned that never made it to a completed garment. In other words, this project had even more baggage than usual associated with it.

In consultation with Sarah, I chose a point on the bodice and a point on the skirt to attach the two pieces. I drew a line perpendicular to center front at that point and walked the adjoining seams (front princess, side seam, back princess) until the line was extended all the way through each of the two garment patterns.

Here is the connecting line on the skirt side front. This picture also gives you a clear view of how much tilt there is to my waist.

Skirt Join

Here is how I ended up connecting the bodice and skirt front pieces.

Connected

Once I mocked up the dress in muslin, I used a fit appointment with Sarah for fine-tuning. We added more shaping to the princess and side seams and everything looked good to go. After transferring the markings to the pattern, I proceeded to make up the dress in a fabulous variegated silk from Emma One Sock. I even used nail polish to make the pull on a black invisible zipper to blend in with the fabric.

ZipperPullBefore attaching the lining, I tried on the dress and absolutely hated what I saw in the mirror. There was nothing wrong with the fit, but it was definitely not flattering.

Before tackling this project, I had asked a couple of teachers, including Sarah, whether a sheath was not the right silhouette for me. That’s why I had opted for the two-piece dress in the first place. Having the skirt hugging the waist underneath the bodice and the bodice skimming over the area between the bottom of the rib cage and high hip seems much more pleasing to me than what I think of as the sack-of-potatoes look when that area is covered by a continuous layer of fabric. But I was told not to give up on a sheath and so I had invested even more time and money and I was feeling as if it was all wasted.

I put the dress on my dress form and walked away from it. Later, I wondered whether adding a collar would help by diverting attention away from the problem area. I played around with some extra fabric, cutting it on the bias and draping it along the neckline on the dress form. It certainly gave the dress a different look, but I just didn’t know. I went on to work on other projects while the dress stared back at me from the dress form.

The next time I saw Sarah, I put the dress on to show her and while she would never in a million years use a term like “sack of potatoes,” she understood why I was unhappy with the dress. Her solution was to add a design element as an “interruption” in the area I was unhappy about. I was skeptical, but it actually worked.

ButtonTab TabBackIt’s just a self-fabric partial belt or tab that sits next to the front princess seam on each side with a decorative button from Soutache, my favorite ribbon and trim store which is right here in Chicago.  The belt crosses the side seam and disappears into the back princess seam on each side. It’s subtle, but I think it’s effective. At least it got me to finish the dress.

Sarah thought I should also add the collar, which surprised me. But that’s what I ended up doing. Here is the result.

Wendy Blue Sheath Sep 2014I’ve worn this dress several times and I feel great in it. I’m planning another one with a different neckline and collar.

Sarah Veblen, Fit Goddess

IMG_1082 I’m happy to take credit for introducing Chicago area sewists to Sarah Veblen, whom I like to call The Fit Goddess. I did that by organizing two back-to-back fit workshops that Sarah taught for the Chicago Chapter of ASG in April 2012.

Sarah began the workshop with a half-day session in which she lectured about her methods and gave us exercises to familiarize us with using a Design Ruler (some people call it a French curve, but that’s actually a different set of rulers). We need this skill to draw new seamlines with smooth curves once we transfer her pinned alterations to our paper patterns. After that first afternoon, there were two groups who had two full days of workshop each. A few of us were there for the entire time.

IMG_1069Before the workshop, Sarah sent all participants detailed instructions about how to prepare their muslins. Sarah had a list of suggested patterns to use and was happy to consult with participants about their pattern choices. I wanted to make a basic fitting pattern in two separate pieces. I had in my head an image of two-piece dresses from the Sixties that I thought might work well on me. But, I wanted it to have princess lines because I thought that would be more flattering. From an online skirt class with Sarah, I had learned that I need princess seams in both the bodice and the skirt so that there is plenty of three-dimensional space in all the critical areas.

IMG_1063There was time for everyone to get four fittings in the course of two days. Once Sarah pinned changes to the muslin, the participant marked where the pins were, took the muslin apart and transferred the changes to the paper pattern. The next step was to walk the adjoining seams to make sure that they were all the same length and adjust as needed. We also learned how to true our darts. These steps make a huge difference when sewing the final garment and they are essential to making the next muslin that is an accurate reflection of the new pattern.

Things were going very smoothly for everyone else. I got bogged down. Part of the problem was that I was the organizer of the workshop as well as a participant. There’s also my talkative nature that doesn’t serve me well when I should be concentrating on tasks that my brain isn’t naturally wired to perform.

As if that weren’t enough, inspiration struck mid-way through the process. I had prepared a shoulder princess muslin. It occurred to me that if an advantage of princess lines is that they divide the body visually, it stands to reason that a shoulder princess would emphasize the difference between my narrow shoulders and wide hips. I asked whether an armscye princess would be a better choice for me and Sarah agreed. That gave both of us additional work to do.

IMG_1071So, there I was, the world’s slowest sewist taking on additional work and trying to take care of other people at the same time. There were several times during the workshop when my brain refused to process the visual information in front of me. That’s when I learned just how patient and understanding Sarah is. It also was one of many times I was reminded that I’ve made some pretty fabulous friends in the sewing community here in Chicago.

Wendy Two Piece 60sWith a lot of help, I came out of the workshop with basic sloper patterns for a two-piece dress or blouse or jacket and skirt. More importantly, I emerged feeling confident I could make clothes that don’t look frumpy.

There was some fine-tuning that followed in online consultations and follow-up fitting sessions with Sarah. And I did more work with Sarah to get a dress pattern and – the ultimate challenge – pants. But that first workshop was the turning point for me. I had been through enough trial and error to know that other methods don’t work for me. This one does.

In the next post, we’ll start looking at garments I’ve made using the slopers as a starting point and how they are constructed.

 

Fit Odyssey

canstockphoto4015708At first, it sounded straightforward. Not difficult at all. All I had to do was measure my body at prescribed points, compare those measurements to a pattern for a basic sloper, do the math and adjust the pattern to reflect my own measurements. Simple, right? Hardly.

The first problem, of course, is where to measure. Where is the shoulder point, anyway? Is that exactly at the waist? Should the hip measurement be here, or a little lower? Is the tape measure straight?

Okay. So I got a set of measurements. Several sets of measurements. At different times. In different classes. Using different books.

Starting with vertical adjustments, I lowered the bust point (is anyone other than a 14 year-old as “perky” as a commercial pattern?), shortened the waist and raised the hemline. I followed the advice to use a pattern size based on high bust so the shoulder length would be right (more or less). But the shoulder length wasn’t correct. Later I found out that the shoulder angle wasn’t correct either.

Moving on to circumferences was when things got really dicey. Teachers and books instruct us to slash the pattern open and spread it to fit, then fill in the gap with paper. The problem with doing that when you are shaped like a pear is that the side seams become so distorted that the original shape of the design is lost. So I tried to create a curve that allowed the side seams to follow their original direction using the seam-only method and ended up with ugly “wings” or flaps of fabric.

What about making the transition at the armscye? Tried that, which meant spending hours trying to make corresponding changes in the sleeve. Just about every time I corrected a problem with a pattern adjustment, two or three other problems seemed to crop up. I was going in circles.

To make matters worse, this process brought all my body issues front and center. Comparing my measurements to the “ideal” I saw in the patterns made me berate myself for every pound I had gained since I was in my twenties. I even had an instructor point to me in a workshop as an example of an “irregular figure”.

At one point I thought draping might be the answer and I made a dress form that was supposed to be an exact duplicate of my body. It turned out that the dress form and I were not really twins. I still don’t know what went wrong there. What about tissue fitting, you might ask. Tried that, too.

There were many times that I asked myself why I was spending so much time and money on something that was making me so miserable, but I was too stubborn to admit defeat. So, I persevered and joked that I was an artist who worked exclusively in muslin. The only garments I finished were knits and the occasional loose-fitting woven. I even managed to make some pleated trousers that looked pretty good until you got up close and saw that the side seams weren’t straight. I was sure there was an answer out there. I just had to find it.

Yes, there is a happy ending to this story. In 2009, I signed up for a class on PatternReview.com called “All About Set-In Sleeves and Armholes” taught by Sarah Veblen. Once I started reading Sarah’s class materials, I knew I had found a teacher I wanted to work with. I went to her web site, read about her workshops, learned that she is an expert in fit and decided I had to not only take more of her classes but share her with my ASG group.

The first time we talked on the phone I learned that Sarah was working on her book, The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting. Using the words “complete” and “perfect” means this book makes some pretty big promises, but Sarah delivers on those promises.

The foundation of Sarah’s method is draping. She has her students make up a muslin with regular seam allowances. Like other teachers, Sarah will “read the wrinkles” in the muslin, but where she differs is that she also uses a grid to help identify areas that require changes and to indicate when the problems have been resolved. The grid is formed by marking the center front and center back as well as one or more perpendicular lines called horizontal balance lines, or HBLs.

After Sarah pins the changes, she has you transfer the markings back to the paper pattern, following the rules of flat patternmaking so that the pattern is accurate and reusable. There is a learning curve, which she patiently guides you through.

Not only does working with Sarah give me the result I had been striving to achieve, but Sarah’s approach frees me from comparing the contours of my body with the dimensions of a pattern. Once I’ve made all the changes, I make a fresh pattern and that becomes the standard, not some set of measurements that represent an average of some unknown number of women who look nothing like me.

IMG_1081

In the next post, I’ll tell you about my first workshop with Sarah and how working with her has transformed me from the disappointed would-be garment sewist stuck working exclusively in muslin to the happy camper who is cranking out garments that flatter my curves.