Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Draping & Drafting

Millicent is my dressform. I can't remember if I bought "her" late in 2009 when I finished stitching my last textile art piece or early in 2010 when the corresponding exhibit closed. Either way, a dressform was my retirement gift to myself and symbolized a shift away from wall art toward creative wearables.

My waist can go in and out an inch or more in a day depending on what I have had to eat as does my abdomen. My bust swells and shrinks monthly and is the first thing to disappear with weight loss. My hips - on the other hand - continuously collect weight in a first on, last off, cycle. My thighs and biceps vary depending on weight gain, weight loss, and exercise which also affects how jiggly the rest of me is. And then there's posture. What I'm trying to illustrate is that while some dressforms will come closer than others, none will every truly duplicate your body especially if your body is like mine and keeps shifting.

And even so, I've found that having a dressform is advantageous to developing clothing. While I need to fit the garment to myself to get the level of fit that I want, having a dressform lets me see how the garment hangs and it allows me to stand back and evaluate the creative aspects of the design in a three dimensional format which is MUCH better than flat on the table or in a mirror.

For the past week, I've been looking at Millicent (and myself) differently. Instead of seeing curves, I've been seeing straight lines shaped by darts and that's an interesting perspective. It's made me wish that I knew more about draping and drafting. Draping is folding, pinning, and ultimately stitching a flat piece of fabric over a three dimensional form - the body. Pattern drafting is transferring the information from the draped garment to a two-dimensional paper format.

I've watched so many of Peggy Sager's webcasts over the last few days that you'd think my head might be spinning EXCEPT... she managed to convey what I needed to know in a way I could understand that makes the issue doable. This is good. But here's the really important thing...

... there is no "normal". There is the way that my body is shaped combined with the way that I prefer to wear my clothing and then there is the way that everyone else's body is shaped and the way that they prefer to wear their clothing (uniquely individual) and there's also the way that "the experts" are shaped and the way that they prefer to wear their clothing (which influences their teaching). We have similarities but we are not identical, which is why we each have to find the right answer for our body. SO...

... if I think if my armhole as two mirrored Ls than there are two things I need to know to draft it to the correct size - armhole depth and armhole width. On the illustration above, the depth is the distance from the shoulder point to the underarm and the back armhole width is the distance from the side seam out even to the back dot and the front armhole width is the distance from the side seam out even to the front dot. If I know my armhole depth and my front and back armhole widths (which may not be equal) then I can draft my underarm shape including the degree of ease that I prefer to wear which in my case is a shorter armhole because I find it gives me a greater range of movement and is more flattering.

The armhole starts at the shoulder point. The position of the shoulder point is determined by the front and back shoulder width and the shoulder length which together form the angle of the shoulder. To understand what I mean by that imagine that you're holding measuring tape tautly with your fingers at 1" and 15". To reduce the distance between the ends of the measuring tape, you would need to bend each end downward. That's where the slope comes from. In the illustration above, the distance from shoulder point to shoulder point across the chest is less than the distance along one shoulder through the neck and along the other shoulder.

I wanted to know three things - the slope of my shoulder, the depth of my armhole, and the back and front width of my armhole so I had my husband use a ruler to trace the slope of my shoulder and measure the distance from my neck to my shoulder point - which was 5".

Using a pair of scissors dangled at the end of a thread, I created a plumb line down from the neck point and then drew a parallel line to use as center back and then...

... I lined up center back on this pattern piece with the line I'd drawn and matched the neck points and as you can see, my shoulder is less sloped than the pattern. My friend Lorraine had emailed that she thought I should try this exact alteration and I've emailed back asking how she knew that based on the wrinkles behind the armhole because I would have thought more armhole length would equal more wrinkles. I'll be interested to read her reply meanwhile...

... I also wanted to figure out my armhole depth and width so I wrapped an elastic around my upper bust and had my husband measure from my shoulder point to my underarm depth in the front and in the back. In the picture above, the measuring tape is coming too far forward at the underarm. Getting this measurement took a bit of finessing because the elastic was so tight and because the curve of the bust prevented it from being level. The measurements I have seem to make sense but I want to do more research before saying anything. 

Howard also measured from the underarm forward and from the underarm backward. The standard for this measurement is 3" which is what my front measurement was. My back was 3 3/4" which is exactly the amount that I've been adjusting my armhole and is the amount that made the wrinkles disappear. Isn't that interesting?

I'll be curious to see what Lorraine says but right now - based on the information I've gathered - it looks like I'll adjust my shoulder slope to be squarer and then adjust the back armhole and back sleeve by 3/4" and when necessary make a narrow shoulder adjustment. With that information, I should end up with a usable shoulder and armhole template that I can compare pattern to pattern. That's an exciting idea and what I'll be exploring today.

Speaking of Lorraine. She's about to head off on a holiday and about the time she gets back, I'll be off to hug my grandbaby but sometime mid May we're going to get together and she'll fit me in a Vogue fitting shell and work out a classic blouse and I'll get all the information I want for a moulage which in my mind equals a great template for the two dozen challenge. YEAH - how amazing is that.

Speaking of the two dozen challenge, she also sent this email yesterday - 24 patterns... you have got to be kidding! Maybe 2 would be a start. That made me laugh. I am definitely not known for packing light - however - just consider - a darted T, a princess T, a darted top, a princess top, a darted skirt, a princess skirt, an A-line skirt, a sheath dress, a princess dress, a bra, a nightgown, tights, jeans, trousers, princess trousers, a darted coat, and a princess coat - and that’s 17 already without even trying too hard. Twenty-four sounds like not enough but I know it is. The time frame that I’m thinking about is several years not just a few weeks. That's why I'm giving it so much thought.

Talk soon - Myrna

Grateful - perseverance pays off, Lorraine


  1. Myrna, Have you thought of trying a saran wrap sloper, there's information if you google, and on the site

    Maybe it will help you with your measurements.

    Cynthia in UK

    1. I've read about how to do that. It's really quite interesting. Have you made one?

      The set of measurements that I have from when I was using pattern software are quite accurate and I'll get Lorraine to double check them since this is what she does every day. With what I have I was getting excellent results and just need to figure out how to run the program with my upgrade. If you've never read Lynda Maynard's book DeMystifying Fit, it's a real eye opener. It's not glossy. You print it out from a CD and it's in black and white and not at all fancy but the information - gold.

    2. No I haven't made the full bodice, but I did wrap my arm and my waist to hip, and that worked for what I was checking. You have to use several layers of the wrap. Liana on this blog made one some while ago and she wrote about the process and about making her fabric block from it.


    3. Thanks for the link. I'll definitely check it.

  2. I had an AHA moment when I compared Burda and Big 4 shoulders. Big 4 shoulders are a straight line. Burda curves their shoulder line to hug the neck at the indentation by the clavicle and to slightly cup the outside shoulder point. The difference in the pattern pieces is subtle, but the fit is so much better.

    1. And now I'm going to pull out a Burda shoulder form my pattern collection and lay it over the pattern and the slope line illustrated in today's posting and see what happens. Thanks.

  3. Ah! Do you read Kathleen Fasanella at the Fashion Incubator web site? The post before the current one might be useful to you. Elle

    1. Thanks - I looked at the posting. It seems like I might enjoy having Kathlene's book. She's so knowledgeable.

    2. Yes, she seems to be both knowledgeable and generous. It's interesting that the folks with a lot of commercial pattern-drafting experience--Kathleen F,, Peggy S. and Connie Crawford--seem to be on the same wavelength, and consistent in their critique of Big 4 pattern drafting, e.g. armhole shapes. I went to a couple of fitting classes at the Sewing Expo and had a good experience at Connie's booth/dressing room. She had blouse blocks made up in sizes 8-18 and XXL-6X, in a variety of cup sizes. After getting each visitor in the closest size, she ripped and pinned on the spot, then noted and drew the changes on a sheet with a pre-drawn outline. I purchased her block and made the changes. We'll see what the muslin brings. . . . Elle

    3. Wow! What a fabulous experience. If she does that again next year, I'll definitely want to give it a try. Please let me know how it works out.

      Your block sounds like it would be the same as what I'm calling a moulage - your shape without ease?

    4. I think I'll have a close fitting sloper/block (bust dart, fisheye or castle dart front and back, shoulder dart at back), rather than a no-ease moulage. With the help of a friend, I think I can then make a moulage (and eventually a sewing form a la Bunny of La Sewista). I've been puzzled, though, over how to translate this initial fitting information to other pattern fitting. So your Linda Maynard recommendation is exactly what I need. Thank you! Elle

  4. This topic is very much at the top of my list. The fitting issues I have with all pattern companies are getting to me, so the paper tape dummy my husband helped me make will hopefully get me on the right track. So far, it has been a great help to fit on "her" than checking the fit by looking in the mirror!

    1. It is perhaps a sign of maturity that I have been doing all of my evaluating and thinking on paper the past few weeks as opposed to whipping off one muslin after another. I do like to think so. That said...

      ... paper is hitting me right smack between the eyes as in I used to have a paper moulage of my figure with beautiful fit that I compared to patterns and adjusted them accordingly. I've said it a few times in the last week because I can't believe I moved so far away from something that really truly worked but if I was going to enthusiastically support any one method I would support Lynda Maynard's DeMystifying Fit because of the way it can be endlessly applied to all pattern from all pattern companies. It's mission is to bring the pattern as it was drafted into a format that fits your body. If you haven't read her book, I'd highly recommend it.

      A dress form - even a taped dummy - is only as good as your weight and posture on the day that you made it. After that, it's a kind of hanger - an incredibly wonderful hanger - but still a hanger so I find it very helpful in getting toward good fit but I definitely need to do the final touches on me.

      I just sent off an email to Wild Ginger to ask how to make the version of Pattern Master Boutique that I own with the Windows upgrade to my computer. Hopefully, that won't be a long answer... or an expensive one... and once I have it I can make a more informed decision about where I'm going. Right now, I think investing my energy in that will have a higher payoff in both fit and creativity. Right now, I have a t-shirt and all its variations and a skirt and all its variations and - almost - a princess blouse (Butterick 5678) and my friend Lorraine is going to fit a classic blouse. That may be enough because my heart is panicking at the thought of giving up more funky designs. Just my Marcy list is quite long ! ! !

  5. Hi Myrna,

    Isn't fitting interesting? There are many ways to skin the perverbial cat, and the trick is finding the way that works best for each of us. I'm really enjoying your process.

    Interesting that the slope of the pattern is steeper than your shoulder!

    One observation, although you're already aware of it - when I look at the picture where you've laid the pattern over your shoulder slope, it appears you've got the neck edge end of your slope in the neck seam allowance and shoulder seam allowance of the pattern. Try moving the pattern so the neck edge end of your shoulder slope lines up with the intersection of the neck seam and shoulder seam, keeping the plumb line parallel to the CF (CB? not sure what piece you're overlaying).

    Make sense?

    1. Fit is very interesting and it's a good thing I like a challenge.

      If I'm reading what you're suggesting correctly, I shifted the pattern over 5/8" at CB keeping the lines on the pattern and the line I had drawn parallel. The shoulder point is then with the garment and not the seam allowance at the neck. It simply moves the point down the shoulder line 5/8 but how it impacts with the McCall's pattern does not change. It still evolves over the length of the shoulder seam from a size 14 up to a size 16 for a squarer shoulder.

      I followed up badmomgoodmom's suggestion to compare to a Burda pattern. I'll post that picture tomorrow. My genetic heritage is European and Burda often fits me better and yet I haven't really explored it much... since it's not part of the BMV sales - LOL.

  6. The way that I learned to evaluate your shoulder slope was to use a straight line that spanned across both shoulders and then trace your actual shoulder to compare the two.
    This tut on Burda style shows how to get your shoulder slope but uses the top of your head as the straight line. It also shows various shoulder slopes, square, sloped etc.

    This one uses the way that I was taught using a straight edge across the shoulder. She states that a 1 3/4 to 2" drop is standard.

    Just some thoughts for you to ponder. Something I know you enjoy!

    1. And the straight line is at a 90 degree angle to the CB and CF so the evaluation is somewhat similar BUT... I'll now go draw a straight line and look at that. Thanks for the links. Great information. I am enjoying pondering it and I've added inhousepatterns to my blog list. I'd never heard of them. There is so much information out there. It's both wonderful and amazing and I have to be careful that I don't just read. I actually want to sew too!


Thanks for commenting. I appreciate the feedback and the creative conversation.