Monday, January 31, 2011

Couture Patterns: an (in)complete list

The last ten days passed without me noticing it. Work, sick kids, projects - leaving no time for sewing or blogging. In between, however, I did manage to acquire some great patterns by Claire Shaeffer from her Custom Couture Collection for Vogue Patterns.

It all started with the very popular and now out-of-print pattern for Chanel(-inspired) Jacket (V8295).

I tried to locate this pattern, in vain, on eBay, Etsy, vintage and discontinued pattern stores... I even wrote to McCalls... They suggested I look on eBay (how original), but at least they wrote back. At one forum, contributors mentioned that V8295 was sold for almost $100 on eBay.... There should be a reason!

Well, to cut the long story short, I discovered about 30 other Custom Couture patterns. I thought, this is better than any sewing resource - it is almost an encyclopedic record of couture sewing techniques project by project. So, I should try to collect all of them!

Do you think it is crazy, dear readers? If you are reading this, the chances are you know Claire Shaeffer and her patterns and are interested in Haute Couture, or? Do you possess any of her patterns?

So, the first thing I did I Googled "Claire Shaeffer Custom Couture" - I came across dozens of blogs describing how they made V8295 or how they are looking for the pattern. Others tried to make Custom Couture Pants, there were also other patterns. But I was not able to find a resource listing all her patterns she did for this collection. If you know of such a resource, please, let me know!

Meanwhile, I decided to create an additional page on this blog listing all Shaeffer patterns with notes. I won't be able to do it at once but I will try to do it one by one. So, check it out - Couture Patterns - I hope it will prove to be a useful resource for others.

The first entry has been added, V7803 (Skirt), an out-of-print pattern.

I purchased this pattern recently and as soon as it arrives I will add description of it. Does anyone know actually whether there other skirts from this line?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Draping circular/flared skirt (V): Draping Proper

Hooray, this is the final part of the circular / flared skirt saga: draping proper. The whole process won't take longer than one hour, so don't be turned off by the length of instructions.

1. CREATING THE FLARE: You may remember from the previous post, I made those 2" (5cm) long markings on the CF. Once you are ready to drape, cut 15 to 20 cm (6" to 8") into the toile along these line. The further you cut, the wider the flare will be. However, don't cut more than 20cm if you are aiming at a knee-length skirt for an adult. 60" (150 cm) -wide fabric cannot accommodate very wide flare for a one seam skirt.

Image 1

2. Place the toile on the dress form with a straight grain line aligned with the CF line on the dress form. Pin the CF to the stand from the waist down following the lengthwise grain.

The skirt is draped on one half only, the other half is copied. 

3. Turn away the top portion of the toile at a slant from the section that was cut in downwards and towards the CB (as on the right side of the skirt, Image 3). This will allow the fabric to lie smoothly at the waistline and create a flare. It is important to try to turn away the fabric at different slants to compare the effect. I realized that the fabric allows to turn away only limited amount of fabric, if you try to do more than that the toile will pull. So, the idea is to watch and feel how fabric behaves.

4. Next (see Image 2), following the book instructions, I cut off  a portion of the toile above the waistline and made snipped into the seam allowance as far as the waistband (the black twill/bolduc tape we placed on our dress form will show through the toile providing a guideline for draping). Pin the fabric to the waistline as you go. Continue cutting off excess toile fabric above waistline, snipping the seam allowance, pinning the waistline and molding the skirt into the waistline. 

How often do you snip? I snipped every time the fabric didn't want to lie smoothly at the waist. I enjoyed this part of draping so much - interaction with fabric. 

IMPORTANT: Make sure you you don't stretch the fabric when you drape. In my example, the side seam portions were quite stretchy, so I was extremely careful.

Image 2
Image 3
DESIGN INSPIRATION: Now, what you see on the next image is really an optional piece of work. As I said before, the instructions are for draping only one half of the skirt. The other half is copied. But for some unknown to me reason I decided to drape both halves. I followed grain lines as guides. This took me some 15 minutes, and just by looking at grain lines I could visualize possibilities for skirts made of print fabrics. Imagine stripes, or plaid for this particular style. I think there quite a few great print effects you could get with this style... I never get so far when looking at a flat pattern. What about you?

Image 4
5.  MARKING OFF: Now, take a black fineliner (disregard my red lines, they must be black; red is recommended for grain lines) and mark off the following lines:

- Center Front (CF)
- Center Back (CB)
- Waistline
- Side Seam (this skirt has no side seams, so make marks by following your dress form side seam lines)
- Hip Height (HH)

It is always recommended to provide some control points or notches to be able to match seams. 

I also marked the skirt length using a hem marker (in the book it is done at a later stage, when the toile is marked flat on a table)
Image 5
Image 6
Image 7
6.  FINISHING THE TOILE: Remove the toile from the dress form and touch all the lines using a ruler and a french curve. I measured side seams with a ruler and made sure they have same length. (the hem is already marked on this image, I just made sure that the length is consistent)

Image 8
7. Fold the toile along the CF lengthwise grain and copy all the markings to the other half of the skirt. It works really fast, because you all the markings will show through. 

Image 9
8. Mark seam allowances (1 cm, or just over 3/8 of an inch) by adding the amount to the marked off seam lines. The book recommends marking the length at this stage but I have done it earlier, when the toile was on the dress form. 

Image 9
9. Baste the side seam together, or pin it flat leaving appr. 8" to 10" (20 to 25 cm) open to put it on the form or to try it on. 

10. Try the skirt on and check that everything is correct. 

Hooray! The first draping project is complete. What next? Iron the toile, starch it (optional) and use it as a pattern.  

I have two skirts line up for this style. One using a relatively stiff abstractly striped grey fabric, and another one - a plaid.  For the plaid skirt I am planning to do a petticoat. Both will be a part of my Mad Men Project - creating a 60s wardrobe inspired by the series.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Draping circular (/flared) skirt (IV): Preparing-the-toile saga

This post comes late as it turned into my biggest geometrical challenge of the last several years. The instructions in the book I am using were simply wrong. Not a big deal if you have some knowledge of draping and sewing, but... 


To prepare the toile, the book suggests preparing the toile as shown on one of the illustrations (I have recreated it to show what didn't work out):

Suggested width of the fabric should be +/- 150 cm (60”), and the length about 1m (40”).

(Warning: Please read the entire post before you follow the instructions.) There are only two steps for preparing the toile:

1. “In the middle of the piece of fabric indicate in red the vertical grain line and the horizontal grain line.” – This step was clear to me.

2. “ Divide the two halves lengthwise and make diagonal lines between the two lines. This is the true bias”

This is where my problems started. According to the illustration in the book, fabric width is divided into four equal parts: 

150cm : 4 = 37.5cm
or in inches
60” : 4 = 15”

Similarly, the length is divided into two equal parts:

100cm : 2 = 50cm
in inches:
40” : 2 = 20”

Now, if you look at the illustration, after you have marked your lengthwise and crosswise grains, and the additional two lengthwise lines in the step 2, you will end up with eight equal rectangles. The problem is that the diagonals drawn this way are NOT on the true bias.

True bias runs on “an angle of 45º drawn on the selvage” (quoting the book). Diagonals we got on the muslin do not run on 45º, because, and it’s a simple geometry lesson, to divide a 90º angle of a ‘quadrilateral’ (sorry for the terminology) into two equal angles, it has to have two equal adjacent sides. In other words it needs to be a square.

However, if you followed the book instructions, you ended up with a 15” x 20” rectangle. The angles at which diagonals are marked are 36º and 54º, far from true bias.

What did I do wrong?

I made very stupid thing - I tried to turn rectangles into squares by increasing the width without realizing it. It started with the muslin fabric, which was only 44” wide. I cut two 40" (100 cm) long pieces and stitched them together along the selvage, ending up with appr. 86” wide fabric.

Being used to metric system, I didn’t think about how centimetres translate into my 60” wide fashion fabric, so I went on measuring one meter along the seam joining two pieces of muslin together (my lengthwise grain). I divided that one meter into twice 50cm and drew a line along the crosswise grain (folding fabric in half helps)

I have already figured out the problem with instructions and measured twice 50 cm to the left and twice to the right.  (How stupid, I didn’t add up, because then I would know that I am ending up with 2m width – 50cm wider than my fashion fabric)

So, I continued and marked the diagonals on the muslin, drawing them through the corners of squares I got. Perfectly true bias, at 45º

The last things I did, I made small 2” (5cm) markings along the first 12” (30 cm) on the top of fabric. Once you start draping, you will need to cut along this line for the first 15or 20 cm to create some flare. The deeper you cut, the bigger the flare be. 

Great, the toile is marked! And, you know what? I haven’t noticed the mistake until I was about to cut the fashion fabric, with all the draping behind me.  I will come back to it in my next post. 

So, what is the solution?

If you are working with 60” fabric, make marking as on the following illustration:

Note, how the diagonals cross the rectangle forming four equally sided (15" for each side) triangles. Now, they mark the true bias.  

Before you cut the fabric: Limitations and advantages of this design

I will write more on this, but first thing that comes to my mind and I would like to share before anyone else proceeds on this project, is that with this design you won’t achieve very wide flare unless you sacrifice the length (or you are making a skirt for a child).  But this design is great for prints –you have only one seam to match... 

please, stay tuned in for the continuation of the skirt saga

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Draping & the Grain (and Fabric Choices)

As I have already mentioned in the first post on draping, I decided to follow instructions from a great Dutch book Draping: Art and Craftsmanship in Fashion Design.  Yet, when I started preparing the toile, I realized that instructions for the one-piece circular skirt were misleading.  To understand what was wrong with these instructions I needed to know more about fabric grain and its role in garment construction. So, before I post the blog entry on muslin preparation, let me elaborate on some terminology most of you may already be acquainted with.

Grain is the direction of the yarns in a woven fabric

Selvage is the narrow woven border at both lengthwise sides of the fabric.

Lengthwise (straight) grain is formed by warp yarns, which run parallel to selvage. Warp yarns hold their shape best, that’s why most of the garments are cut on lengthwise grain.

Crossgrain is formed by weft yarns; these run perpendicular to selvage. Weft yarns have a greater stretch in comparison to warp yarns. This quality is useful for constructing figure-hugging garments.  Little stretch of weft yarns allows for comfort without obstructing the movement. However, if the crossgrain is perpendicular to the floor it will stretch and droop over time, especially on light- to medium-weight fabrics.

Bias is an imaginary line that falls at any diagonal angle to the selvage. Cutting on bias adds stretch and elasticity to the garment. If you want a flirtier or sexier garment and are not afraid of revealing your body curves, this is the construction method for you.

True bias always falls at 45-degree angle to the selvage.

This Draping on Grain Exercise helps understand different grains better:

You will see the most difference if you use less stable fabrics, such as silk chiffon or silk charmeuse. Medium-weight fabrics are also interesting to experiment with.

1. Drape fashion fabric over dress form with the lengthwise grain perpendicular to the floor.

2. Now repeat the same with the crossgrain.

3. Finally drape the fabric with the true bias perpendicular to the floor.

Do you see any difference? Observe how fabric folds fall. Where do the folds start to form? Does the drape conceal the body shape or reveal it?

I take pictures of draping steps from this stage on and until I am finished with draping. This ensures that all stages are documented well and I can easily recreate the garment without having to reinvent the wheel.

Finally, I started a journal with swatches of my fabrics where I attach the pictures of draping samples and make notes with ideas. I don’t do it for all fabrics, but only when I feel that I need to explore new ways of handling fabric. For example, I had a nice plaid for a skirt, and I didn’t want to have the stripes align horizontally or vertically – it looked so boring. So, I draped a pencil skirt on true bias, added a circular ruffle at the bottom and finished the hem with contrasting thread.

I must admit that construction on bias is a whole new territory for me, so until now I have been using only stable fabrics for bias projects. Nevertheless, I am always trying to find out first if changing the grain line will help me come up with new styles. Part of the fun in sewing is overcoming challenges and constant learning.

Now, how this post helps me advance with the circular skirt project?

Well, first, it helps me choose the right fabric. As the skirt is draped in a circular manner, it affects its behaviour around your body in different manner. Only the center front is on lengthwise grain; the rest is will hang differently. So, I decided (luckily, it’s winter outside) to go with thicker, more stable fabric – I would rather avoid grain issues at this stage of exploring the basics of draping.

Finally, all three different types of grain are clearly marked on muslin (toile), which makes it invaluable learning experience: observing how fabric behaves while you are draping and knowing what affects any changes in fit or drape.

To conclude, I must say I started indicating grain lines clearly on all my muslins, even those that I create from patterns – it's very helpful for fitting!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Draping Circular Skirt (Part II): Measurements and Dress Form

I am as impatient as you are probably. But this part needs to be done: We need to take measurements and mark the dress form. Until recenty, the draping process I eagerly observed watching episodes of Project Runway, as well as my favorite Signé Chanel documentary was a complete mystery. Was there a system at how they applied that black tape to a dress form? Or, how did they know how to place the fabric on the form?

I tried to understand the logic but have never managed to do it myself,.. that is until now. So, what is the answer to successful draping project? Like in many other things, the key is preparation. And in draping the preparations are: taking measurements, marking permanent and style lines on the dress form and, finally, preparing the muslin.

Taking Measurements:

For the circular skirt project, you will need to take three measurements and make sure that the measurements of your dress form correspond to yours.

Reality Check:
You will most likely find out that the front and the back sections of your waistline (and hipline) differ in size. Correct measurement and marking preserve the balance of the garment and  allow your garment to hang properly from side to side. Before I took the measurements, I placed twill tape around my waistline and hipline, pinned both ends together and marked imaginary side seams on both tapes with pins.

Front and Back Waist Width – Hold one finger between your waist and the tape band and breathing out. Measure the front waistline from side to side. Measure the back waistline from side to side.
Front and Back Hiplines – measure around the fullest part of your hips, from side to side, for the front and for the back hipline. Keep the feet together.
Hip Height – measure the height from your hip line to your waistline. It would make it easier for your if you tie twill tape around your waist and your hips before you take this measurement.

Preparing the Dress Form

For draping, it is very hellpful to mark a dress form with so-called ‘permanent demarcation lines’. Use twill or bolduc tape fixing them with fine dressmakers pins. (I prefer shorter fine dressmaker pins, as they are hardly visible and do not disturb the drape of fines fabrics). Use as many pins as necessary to prevent the tape from shifting, appr. every 2” (or 4-5 cm.).

In this project, I made sure that my form was true to my measurements - I have already padded it around the waistline and hips using some fiberfill and woven fusible interfacing. Let me know if you want to know how I did it, I will be happy to provide you with some resources and tips I used.

I marked the following lines

Neck Width (NW)
Place the tape around the neck as low as possible in a nice curve. You will need this measurement to mark center front and center back.

Center Front (CF) and Center Back (CB)
are the next lines to mark. They should always be perpendicular to the floor, and the grainline of the garment should always align with these lines. Marking these lines is very helpful in the process of aligning the grain of the fabric - if this part is done accurately, your
garment won’t pull or twist.

Centre Front (CF) line starts at front centre neck and ends at the bottom of the form. I don’t cut the tape loose yet, but fix it with a pin on the roll (see picture above) and secure the loose end first, wherever it starts (in this case, centre neck). This helps align the tape perfectly horizontally, just make sure that the floor is even ( I leave in an older house, and so larger rooms have a slight slope).  

Centre Back (CB): repeat the same with the back starting at back centre neck.

Waist Width (WW):
Wrap the tape around the waist of your dress form

Hip Width (HW)
Wrap the twill tape around the widest area of the dress form.

Side Seams (SS):
Pin the tape along the sides eams on your form. Make sure that the front and back waistline and hipline are true to your measurements.

To mark the placement of the sidelines for the waist, measure half of your front waistline from the center front to your right and mark the place with a pin. Repeat the same for the left side seam.

Now, measure half of your front hipline from the center front to the left and to the right, mark the side seams with pins. 

This is my dress form after applying 'permanent demarcation lines'

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Getting ready to drape!

Dear readers, Happy New Year!

...and thank you for your patience. I made it! After snowstorm-caused flight delays and moderate jet lag in the past year. Surprisingly, it was not easy to get back into the habit of blogging after two-week absence. But today, still suffering from time difference between the Central Europe and New York, I woke up earlier than usual. That was enough to revive my slightly neglected Circular Skirt Draping project. The skirt is almost done, draped on the dress form, I just need to upload all those images.

On one of my favourite forums, Pattern Review, a fellow dressmaker asked me why draping, why not using flat pattern method? I am not an expert in draping (as I have mentioned in a previous post), but from what I know, draping helps develop more unique and elaborate designs. Take the circular skirt I want to start with: Yes, the pattern would be very easy to make, but how on earth would you foresee the amount of flare drafting the skirt shape on paper?

When sewing, I am a tactile person. I need to touch the fabric, feel it and move with it before it is made into a garment. I learnt basic patternmaking at a design school. I know how to draft a pencil skirt pattern with few different design elements. But it doesn’t compare to the actual three-dimensional experience of developing a design through wrapping, folding, straightening, snipping to give a way to the fabric. Nothing compares to the freedom of adding another decorative dart, or pocket, or fold without having to do cumbersome calculations and not being able to see the design.

Draping provides me with instant gratification – you see the garment in making, and it fits perfectly!

So, this year, I promised myself, I will learn draping, as much as I can, starting with the circular skirt ☺

But before I begin posting my progress with the skirt muslin, here are my top 10 tools for draping:

1. Dress form
Professional dress forms are the best for draping, but you can easily work with any other alternative, as long as the proportions and measurements are correct and you can pin the fabric to the form.

2. Muslin ( a.k.a. Toile)
This is essentially unbleached cotton, in thickness close to the desired fashion fabric. I will refer to it as muslin, as I am used to this name from my school.

3. Ironing board and steam iron

4. Dressmakers Scissors

Make sure your scissors have sharp points as you will snip the muslin a lot as you drape. I prefer medium size scissors. An example is on the left.

5. Black and red Sharpie pens (fineliners) –
Use red pen to mark the grain line and the bias, and the black one for marking the rest

6. Pencil
I use it to mark the lines (seams, waistline) when working on the form. Once the muslin has been taken off the form, and the lines were trued (=checked) and straightened I mark them with a black fineliner.

7. Tape measure

8. Transparent Ruler
I love this ruler. It is 2” wide and is long enough to work on larger pieces of fabric without being too bulky.

9. French curve (#17)

for drawing tidy curves on your pattern/muslin, such as necklines, armholes and any other curves. I also use it to adjust the shape of darts from straight to curvier whenever it makes sense.

10. Appr. ¼” wide twill tape, or Bolduc tape, preferably in two colours.
Black and red are usually used on flesh coloured dress form, sometimes sticky tape is used for draping as well. Choose whatever you feel comfortable with. If your dress form is not white, make sure that the colour of the tape provides enough contrast against the background colour on the form.

For the circular skirt project you will need only black twill tape to mark the waistline and the hipline on the dress form.

You can get the special Bolduc tape used for draping from Susan Khalje's website here. Check the store for other goodies as well. Recently she unearthed great quality tracing paper when she visited a flea market in Paris, so just bookmark her site.

Ok, that's it. With all these tools in place we can start draping. Here is some inspiration for the project:

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