As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been attempting to make my own clothes for a long time. Success has been varied. One of the reasons I decided to start this blog is that I want to improve my technique, the fit, and the final results of my effort. I thought one way to do that is to just put stuff out there, forcing myself to do everything better. I know I can make things that are as well executed as any of the fast fashion manufacturers, but I want to aim a little higher. Not necessarily couture, but higher than average. That means nicer finishing, better quality fabric and most importantly better fit without relying on elastic and stretch fabric. This blog requires that everything I am going to write about be photographed. After I finish a project and look in the mirror I often think it looks fine and then I see the pictures and I’m horrified! In pictures, the drag lines are so much more evident – like chaser lights, they point out all the places where things don’t fit. Too often, correcting the fit is no longer possible due to the cut, or the fabric left over in the seam allowance. Taking in or letting out a seam alters other seams and sometimes it’s just too much and the whole thing goes in the recycling bag. I could fill this page with visual examples of my fit fails, but anyone who reads this is just going to have to trust me – there are more than I care to think about and definitely more than I am going to publish!
In an effort to come up with a way to sort out some of my fitting problems ahead of the actual project construction, I thought I would finally make up the Vogue Fitting Shell that has been sitting in my pattern drawer for I don’t know how many years. Unfortunately when I bought that pattern, I was at least 3 sizes smaller than I am now. Plus when I read the instructions I was baffled by the terms used to describe the figure. After taking some key measurements and applying them to the pattern instructions for figure evaluation, I learned that I am a large boned, short person with a low bust and rectangular shape…suddenly I’m not so anxious to go much further. Plus, that information doesn’t really compute for me. The figure evaluation may be factual, but there is no connection to the fashion patterns describing how that information should be used to anticipate the pattern alterations to achieve a good fit in areas like the shoulders and armscye. Waistlines are fairly easy to measure but fitting shoulders and the bust area can be really tough. In project after project, my actual measurements seemed to have no relationship to how the final product will fit me. When I make the size determined by the pattern envelope measurements, the pattern will be far too big in all the areas that are difficult to alter. Cutting a smaller size and performing an FBA on every single pattern is a lot of work and the results are still not guaranteed. Of course a muslin is the best answer , but sometimes I just don’t feel like doing that, especially multiple times.
My solution was to hire the services a local designer of women’s evening wear to help me develop a bodice sloper. I took a private course from Chris Falcon, owner of Vancouver Sewing Classes – VSC. Chris is engaging and enthusiastic and he knows more about design and fit that I could ever hope to know. After completing my three hour session with Chris, I had a heavy card sloper pattern containing the locations of the important lumps and bumps that I could never find or measure for myself – perfect back waist length; perfect location of bust apex; perfect location of the high point of my neck line; perfect location of the sleeve seam and shoulder width; perfect armhole depth – and a muslin example of how the sloper pattern fits. The muslin has no ease and the sloper pattern has no seam allowances, but both are a near perfect representation of my measurements and can be used to evaluate flat paper patterns for potential alterations. There is an excellent online article published by Threads that can be viewed here . The article shows how to evaluate the fit of a flat pattern before cutting out the muslin and also talks about how to manipulate the basic fitted pattern. Once dart relocation is understood, it’s easy to come up with new styles like princess seams into the armscye or the shoulder seam, side darts, shoulder darts, french darts or no darts. My own imagination is my only limit.
This sloper pattern is an invaluable tool in achieving a great fit. The example below is Vogue 7796 (copyright 1990). I made this as a dress two or three times about 25 years ago. Its a well drafted pattern which fit me perfectly then, and I have always liked the style. Of course now, it is several sizes too small, but it presented a great opportunity to see if my new fitting tool was going to work. First I drafted a princess seam pattern from the sloper, then added seam allowances and finally overlaid the new pattern over the original Vogue pattern to cut the neckline and add below the waist extensions. The photo below is the result with one minor fitting alteration during construction: I took a small wedge out of the seam at the armscye. The fabric is a fairly heavy polished cotton with some lycra. Because the fabric has some shine, the photo highlights the areas where I should refine the fit still further, but I wanted to show the result achieved with only the sloper as a guide.
The back picture shows a lot of wrinkles but I think it’s my attempt at a “pose” that is causing much of it. I don’t really like zippers in the back so I used buttons but when I see the pictures now I don’t like the way they kind of gleam so I would use flatter looking ones next time or I might use an exposed zipper if I make a dress. There is a slight bubble in the fabric at the most curved part of the front princess seam. I have a suspicion that this requires a little more room rather than less, but overall, I’m pretty happy with the fit and I’m looking forward to starting the new improved version. This is a new tool that I will be using on everything I do.