Manipulating and shaping fabric using heat and moisture is frequently used in tailoring. Rather than using seams to create shape the fabric is molded to shape with an iron, referred to as “ironwork” in the tailoring world. I’ve experimented with this technique for quite a few years. Here’s a link to my first post describing the process.
I incorporate this in my French jacket classes to eliminate the pattern mismatch along the princess seam lines. Vogue 7975 is frequently used as a starting point when constructing a French jacket. It has minimal ease and princess seams which extend from shoulder to hem, allowing plenty of opportunity for fit adjustments.
Many of the boucle fabrics used in making these jackets have a definite horizontal pattern. When the fabric is cut according to standard procedure, a mismatch of the horizontal lines is obvious along the princess line, especially the upper portion of the front from bust apex to shoulder.
I wanted to see how far I could push the ability to shape fabric and eliminate this mismatch. Many fitting demos are done on a standard dressform which is shaped more like a runway model than that of the average body. The difficulty increases as you fit more curvy figures and the fabric is required to mold to that curvy shape. Why not increase the bust curve of a mannequin and see what happens? Here’s a standard dressform wearing a fuller size bra which has been filled out with bust pads. Let’s see if I can get the fabric to mold to this very curvy shape.
I started with Vogue 7975 in a size 10 which was the best fit for this figure’s shoulders but much too tight in the bust. Using a larger size which fit the bust would have been massively too large in the shoulders, and a much more difficult alteration. Also, standard patterns are drafted for a B cup size so while the bust circumference increases, so do the shoulders and upper body. Compare the two patterns: Vogue 7975 on the left and the corrected pattern on the right.
The shoulder width on both patterns is the same but notice the much larger bust apex to shoulder dart is wider for more shaping. Increasing the dart width while maintaining shoulder length pushes the dart (shown in red) closer to the armseye. I don’t like the look of the princess seam placed that close to the armhole, so rotated the dart (shown in black) closer to the neck edge. Now let’s see what happens with the horizontal pattern found in many fabrics.
Photo on the left shows my pattern with horizontal lines drawn as the fabric would be cut in a standard layout. Middle photo demonstrates how those lines intersect along the seam line when the dart ending mid-shoulder is sewn. The lines don’t match and start to slope upwards. Try the seam placed closer to the neck. It’s a little better but still not a great look.
What would happen if I manipulated the princess seam on the side panel into a curve and forced the straight grainline to follow the curve? Start by moving the upper portion of the side front panel to curve towards the armhole. The fabric will start to bubble up where it wants to form a bust dart. Working carefully so you don’t press creases into the fabric, steam and compress the fibers into a curve. Keep the shaping along the lower armhole and where a horizontal bust dart would be placed. Most boucles are loosely woven and will tolerate an impressive amount of manipulation. In the right photo see how much I’ve been able to curve the fabric. Work slowly. The most common mistake students make is to try and compress too much at one time. You can always curve more but it’s very, very difficult to remove an unwanted crease.
Comparison between the left side which has been shaped and the right side which has been cut and sewn according to the original pattern. Horizontal balance lines thread traced in black are helpful when fitting.
Side views of both methods. The fabric is distorted in the underarm area but much of that will be hidden once the sleeve is in. I think it’s more important to have a clean, uninterrupted look across the upper chest.
I’ve also experimented with decreasing the dart width and incorporating the needed shaping in an armhole dart but prefer the look obtained by shaping the garment sections.
Another modification that larger busted shapes find flattering is a V neck. The vertical lines created by the V tend to visually slim the figure. It’s easy to change the neckline. I have students start with the jewel neck and place a ribbon/drafting tape along the front to determine where the V should end. It can be placed higher or (if you plan to wear a blouse or camisole under the jacket) lower for a more vertical line. The jacket often looks better with a small shoulder pad. Here’s one taken from a RTW Chanel jacket.
This extreme shaping does require judgement when choosing fabric. Boucles such as these are:
1. Loosely woven which gives space to compress the yarns closer together
2. Have subtle horizontal lines or relatively solid color
3. Not too much metallic or other yarns which don’t react will to heat and steam
If you will be incorporating a great deal of shaping, use caution with fabrics that have a large obvious check, sequins or large amount of metallic yarns. The fabric on the right is mostly cotton with a tight weave. A student brought this to class. It wasn’t behaving so we split the jacket front into 3 panels, so each panel required less shaping.
Join me in Palm Beach Gardens to learn more about this technique. I’m also offering a variation of the French jacket: The Couture Boucle Bomber. It’s a more casual look, looser fitting and requires about 3/4 yard of boucle; great stash buster! We’ll add contrast fabric or leather sleeves, ribbing and loads of fun embellishment. Details coming soon.