Having a dressform that duplicates the figure you’re sewing for makes the process SO much easier! Your model stands perfectly still for hours and doesn’t mind being stuck over and over with pins. She also eliminates the need for multiple in-person fittings, which was a life-saver during the worst days of COVID.
Here’s my process to create this gown which made it’s debut at the recent opening of Carnegie Hall in NYC. The design was inspired by this exquisite pleated tulle from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics.
I start by draping the fabric on the mannequin and experimenting with how it will drape and best positioning of the design. This fabric was meant to have a full skirt with one seam at center back. Additional seaming would have interrupted the flow of fabric. I also secured a full tulle underskirt to the form to get a clear vision of how much fabric was needed for the skirt.
The bodice looked best using the denser side of the lame portion at the neck and semi sheer section along the waist. I tried two versions, one using the sheer tulle for the back, a second option with the gold. I decided on the first option as the sheer back seemed more interesting; the gold back was too much gold. With the skirt basted into a grosgrain ribbon waistband, the design was complete.
Pattern work for front bodice: left photo is 1/2 of front which will be cut with fold at center front. In order to cut it with the neck gathered fuller, I drew 6 evenly spaced lines from neck to waist, left the pattern attached at the waist and spread out along the neck edge until the side seam was parallel to center front. The altered pattern was traced onto a new sheet of paper.
Left photo shows altered pattern on the tulle. Neck is at the top, waist at bottom with center fold at the right edge. Placed on the form, checked for accuracy and waistline thread traced. The back was cut from sheer portion of the tulle with pleating running vertically.
Basted everything together for a final fit check. I opted to finish the neckline with a stand collar of gathered tulle cut from the gold portion. A zipper in both underskirt and tulle allows the outer layer of tulle to hang freely; attaching it to the inner layers resulted in unattractive pulling. An inner waistband of grosgrain ribbon holds everything in place and supports the weight of the skirt.
Final try-on in the studio; fit was perfect on the first go thanks to a custom form and worn for gala night out.
What is your interpretation of “beach chic” attire? This was for a very casual beach front wedding. If you google the term “beach chic” the attire most often suggested for women is a long sundress.
I had fabric purchased at Mood last summer in the stash. It was a silk crepe de chine panel print. Very interesting but would definitely require some creative cutting to make the most of the design. I had two panels and planned to use one for a long wrap skirt and the second for the bodice and trim.
Skirt draping started first. I have a professional style dress form which has been padded to my size. I find the effort spent constructing this saves so much time that I can’t imagine working without it now. The process I used is detailed in my post on April 25, 2014. How time consuming to drape and fit a design only to need to make alterations because the dress form is shaped differently than your body.
I basted a lightweight silk/cotton batiste to the silk and thread traced a reference line for the hip. Start at the left side which will be the skirt underlap and work around to the right side seam. At this point, just get the hip aligned; don’t worry about the waist shaping.
When you reach the right side seam, smooth the fabric downwards from the waist, which will drop the reference line. My post on November 3, 2015 also gives an explanation of how to drape this style of pleated skirt.
Form the first pleat. Second and third pleats are formed.
Shape the back darts, pin in place and thread trace. Thread trace the waistline. I’ve also placed a thread mark at the center back line
Next you want to accurately mark the front waist and the pleat shaping. I pin a narrow ribbon around the waistline. Remove the skirt from the form, being careful to keep everything pinned in place.
Now I cut the waistline seam leaving a 1 inch seam allowance.
I wanted the front overlap to gently curve from the hem to waist. An easy way to experiment with possible shapes is to use a length of leaded drapery weight. It is easily shaped yet is heavy enough to stay in place while you cut.
I had considered a lapped closure but as the bodice and skirt were attached the easiest solution was to insert a zip at the center back. How to do this with no back seam? I found inspiration from Valentino. Here is a center back invisible zip with a contrast satin welt.
Why not turn this into a design detail? Construct it like a narrow welt pocket.
The bodice was a simple scoop neck with tiny piping at the neck and armholes. It was cut on the bias so the design is shifted 45 degrees from the skirt. I left the center back seam open to the waist so ties at the back neck were in order. I used thin drapery pull cord; measured the amount needed for the neck edge and added about 15 inches to each end for the ties. The ends were done first, cording removed from inside and then a bias strip covered the center portion. The bodice was lined to the edge with the same lightweight silk/cotton and fell stitched to the piping seam line.
I must also mention that in addition to his medical practice, my husband decided to become a licensed U.S. Coast Guard captain, which gives him the authority to officiate at weddings. We are close friends with the bride and groom and they were thrilled to have him conduct the ceremony.
I came across this Donna Karan Vogue pattern. The jacket looked like a fun, easy to wear, garment. I also loved the interesting style lines and curved seaming.
First a word about size selection. I’ve found that it works much better to select your pattern size by your high bust measurement, NOT the full bust. I measure 32″ high bust and 34″ full bust. That would mean I should cut a size 12. Size 12’s are ridiculously huge on me. The neckline gaps open and the shoulders are HUGE. I go down two sizes and cut a size 8, which is 31.5 bust. That fits me much better in the neck, armholes, and shoulders, areas which are much more difficult to alter than side seams. I’ve found that the high bust is a truer measure of your bone structure and will give a better fit. You may need to alter for a full bust and/or fat tissue, but those changes are easier than the neck/shoulder areas.
Here is my first muslin, cut exactly according to the pattern. It’s shown on my form which is an exact duplicate of my shape.
Here’s the back view.
There is a huge amount of ease at the underarm along the side seam. In order for the side seams to match up the front piece needs to flare out away from the body. Not the look I’m after.
The side seam also flares out at the hem much more than I would like. The pattern line drawing looks to me like a fairly slim fitting jacket. I have a long torso and the waist also needs to be lengthened by 1 and 3/8 inches.
Here’s a view of the original on the left side and the altered version on the right side.
Changes to the pattern. The red lines are the new seam lines. I’ve raised the underarm and reshaped the armseye. I’ve also removed fabric from the collar at both the neck and front edge.
Style tape makes it easier to redraw this seam line. The triangle shaped section has excess pinned out which will be removed in the redraft. I’ve repositioned the bust dart for a smoother fit.
The altered flat pattern.
Most of the alterations are along the side seam and armhole. One major change is to reposition the grain line on the triangular shaped piece. I wanted more waist shaping but didn’t want to add additional seam lines to already busy lines. I placed the bottom and back edges of the triangular piece on an almost true bias and the front edge was slightly off grain. Stretch the bottom and back edges while steam ironing.
How it now conforms to the body curves and shapes the waist better.
The curved edge along the jacket front will also be steam stretched to hug the body.
The collar and front piece is basically a curved ruffle. Take a tip from Roberta Carr (her book: Couture:The Art of Fine Sewing) and do not clip this seam until after it’s sewn and then clip at precise intervals to control the ruffles.
If you try this pattern pay attention to the fabric choice. A softly draping tweed or loose weave will work best. Anyone else tried this design?
The last step in finishing was to add pockets. I played around with different sizes and debated two versus four. A great way to visualize size and placement is to cut pockets from shop towels (they are heavier than paper towels) and play around until you get the right look.
I had four larger buttons and decided to add them at the center front. They are sewn at the right front edge and don’t actually fasten.
I find it easiest to get pockets exactly the same size and shape by pressing the pocket around a cardboard template. I interfaced the pocket with bias cut interfacing which is cut just a tad smaller than the finished pocket. The bias gives the pocket a softer shape. I cut a slightly smaller template for the lining.
Slip stitch the lining to the pocket, attach trim and slip stitch to the jacket. Don’t catch the lining when doing this.
I had a chance to get a closeup look at some geniune Chanel jackets at an upscale resale shop on Madison Ave. and noted some distinctive details. Trims are applied after construction and are made to be removed if necessary for cleaning. More about my findings in the next post.
I was sidetracked by an request from my daughter-in-law. She was invited to join the hunt staff of our local equestrian team. Hunt staff wear red jackets and bespoke versions are a small fortune. Since I had made her wedding gown, she figured a jacket would be an easy task.
Just make a tailored jacket from a commercial pattern, right? Wrong. Riding clothing is another animal. We combined my research and her knowledge and came up with a punch list of what this garment needed.
*Roomy armholes with significant ease in the back to allow the rider forward arm movement
*Sleeves pitched much more forward than conventional clothing as the arm is held almost horizontal
*Abrasion resistant lining in the jacket skirt to resist wear
*Flared skirt with most of the flare at the back to cover the seat while in the saddle
*Warm lining as hunt season runs through the winter
*Slippery sleeve lining to allow the jacket arms to slide freely over shirts/sweaters
Mood Fabrics had a beautiful heavy wool/cashmere/nylon fabric. They also had abrasion resistant lining and wool flannel for the upper jacket lining. I drafted a fitting muslin from cotton canvas which mimicked the weight and drape of the wool better than lightweight muslin. Note the exaggerated curve of the sleeve.
The roomy armhole. I would never have guessed this much ease would be required.
The jacket fabric was thick and required loads of steam and heavy use of a tailors clapper to get things flattened into shape. I found it helpful to flatten the inside of especially bulky seams with a clamp from the hardware store. Get loads of steam into the fabric, clamp it down hard, and leave until it’s cold.
Also, don’t sew across the layers of intersecting seams. You can get a much flatter press by folding the seam allowances to one side and end the stitching at the seamline. Fold the seam allowances the other direction and begin stitching at the seamline. The seam allowances will remain free and press much flatter.
Inside the jacket showing the various linings used.
The color of the upper collar is unique to the particular hunt club; her’s is purple. The fabrics were so heavy and it was applied with traditional tailoring techniques.
Here’s the finished work.
I couldn’t resist using the leftover fabric for a matching jacket for the one year old. Fittings were a bit of a challenge on a squirmy baby but we got it done!
Mommy and daughter out for a ride.
Now that my body double dress form and three piece sleeve research are complete it’s time to try them in action.
This is from my stash, probably purchased at B&J Fabrics several years ago. Now seems like a good time to get it made. Another hallmark of couture construction is the shaping of garment sections with steam before any sewing takes place. “Vintage Couture Tailoring” by Thomas von Nordheim has probably the best diagrams of how to shape jacket and sleeve sections. Claire Shaeffer’s videos also explain the process well.
If you haven’t seen it, the video “Secret World of Haute Couture” is a great watch. It’s about 45 minutes and interviews some of the purchasers of haute couture garments. Although these ladies don’t sew they do understand and appreciate what haute is and how it feels. About 10 minutes into the film, one of the ladies who worked in haute couture for years explains, “You don’t just cut the fabric and sew it; you work the fabric. It is shaped with special irons so that when you roll it up, pack it, etc it still looks perfect.” The importance of prefect fit is also stressed; “the clothing fits like a second skin; feels like you are wearing nothing at all.”
I used Vogue 8891 as a starting point. I reshaped the front princess seam so it would be easier to shape a rectangular piece of fabric into the proper shape.
Trace the grain line about one inch from the fabric edge. Place your muslin pattern (no seam allowances) on top.
Smooth the fabric so the grain line follows the pattern shape. You will notice ripples form; these need to be steamed out so the fabric is now shaped like the pattern.
The same process needs to be done on the back sections.
And all sleeve sections are steamed to further build in the shape.
Although Claire’s pattern instructions don’t specify this type of shaping, notice that what was a curved quilt line now tends to follow the grain of the shaped garment sections. I spaced my quilting lines about 1 and 1/4 inch apart and followed the lengthwise grain on each section. After quilting I like to roll the raw edges of my lining sections under; it just keeps things neater.
I cut the sleeves after completing and fitting the jacket body. Pins show match points. Most boucles do have a subtle pattern, so look carefully if you think yours doesn’t.
Almost completed. Here is the jacket front and back. Notice how the armhole has been eased and tightened before the sleeve is set.
I decided to shape the upper neck edge. An easy way to get a smooth shape that is symmetrical is cut a cardboard template. Press the neck edge under. Flip the template for the other side.
Needs sleeve buttonholes and a good final press before I’m ready for trim.
Pockets? Undecided yet. I’ll wait and see what the trim and buttons look like first.
After my last post I acquired a couple more dress forms and decided to do two things. First was to use Suzy Furrer’s method of drafting a moulage for different shapes. Second was to try using those moulages on non-professional forms and post a review. Although a professional form is a very nice addition to your sewing tools, it can be pricey and you may have an older form and not have the space or funds for another.
The good thing is that this is a one-time purchase. You need to select a dress form based on your bone structure, NOT your bust measurement. I have found the most accurate way to do this is to compare your cross-front width to the form. PGM publishes this on their website: pgmdressform.com. If buying a form from EBay or Craig’s list, ask the seller to give you this dimension. Also check the shoulder length and cross back width. Your form should fit you at the shoulders and neck. Anything else can be padded. If you start with form that’s too big in the shoulders, you’ll never be able to get an accurate fit. Compare your shoulder, cross front and cross back measurements with any form you are considering. Get as close as you can with these three dimensions and fix the rest with padding. The padding can always be redone if you lose or gain significant amounts of weight, but your bone structure won’t change. The most common mistake seems to be getting too large a form.
There are many companies who make professional dress forms and I’ll list some of them here.
Wolf has always been the gold standard of dress forms. They are made by hand and last more than a lifetime. They are also the most expensive. Pricing depends on the options you select and Wolf forms can be over $1000. Occasionally one shows up on EBay or Craig’s list but they usually aren’t any bargain.
PGM sells online at pgmdressform.com. They offer three options: collapsible shoulder and shaped hip for $399, collapsible shoulder with flat hip for $299, non-collapsible shoulder and flat hip for $199. You can always create your own hip shaping with pads but the shaping is nice to have a place to start. Collapsible shoulders make it easier to get garments on and off the form. The main drawback I found is that the wire cage at the bottom isn’t as nicely finished as the Wolf form, and can snag delicate fabrics. You can cover the cage with muslin if this is a problem.
Roxy also sells online at roxydisplay.com. I have no experience with this company. One review I read rates them below PGM but better than the adjustable with dials. Foxy has forms with collapsible shoulders for $249.
Fabulous fit sells a molded foam version for $387 and a professional model which looks like the ones at PGM and Roxy. The professional model sells for $887. They also offer a kit of fitting pads for the bust, shoulders, hips, thigh, etc. You can purchase this separately. I found the molded foam version at a garage sale for $25. I wouldn’t suggest these. There are better forms for less money.
Least desirable in my opinion are the forms which feature dials that allow you to adjust the bust, waist and hip. The base is lightweight and they tip easily; very frustrating when you are trying to pin or adjust a garment. The dials leave spaces which can be annoying to work around. I did cover one just to try and make it somewhat usable.
Now for the moulage review. I made three moulages for totally different figures and each one fit almost perfectly on the first try. I found learning to take accurate body measurements the hardest part. My three drafts looked entirely different but each fit amazingly well.
Once you have your chosen form, draft and sew the moulage. I left the center front seam open when fitting myself and the center back open for fitting others. When you are happy with the fit, sew a final version in whatever fabric you choose for the cover. I would advise a medium weight cotton or linen. A natural fiber fabric will mold to the form easier than a synthetic. You want to be able to pull the cover tightly over the form so a knit is not suitable.
Here is my Fabulous Fit form ready to begin.
I used cardboard to add 5 inches to the length. She also needed minor surgery at the back armhole and a slight breast reduction. This was accomplished with a kitchen bread knife. Bra cups were stuffed and positioned on the form with pins. Since the neck was rough I draped a pattern to cover the neck and sewed it to the moulage before starting to pad.
Notice the side seams are 3/4 inch wide and have been stay stitched. This makes it easier to turn and sew the sides evenly. The moulage is sewn together at the shoulders and armhole facings attached to neatly finish the armseyes. The side seams are left open. Also note the position of the armhole on the form and on the moulage. The form positions the arm angled backwards. The moulage reflects a more normal arm position.
Start fitting the cover and padding at the top. Notice how the shoulders fit well but padding is needed to fill out the remainder of the cover. After the shoulders are fitted, position and pad the bust. You can use bra cups or a bra that fits well and you are willing to sacrifice it. Fabulous Fit also offers a kit of fitting pads but I did just as well using bra cups and shoulder pads.
Continue to work your way down the form. I used a combination of shoulder pads, fusible fleece, heavy felt; just about anything you have on hand will work. Do frequent checks to be sure you are getting the desired shape. Pin in place and remove the pins as you add subsequent layers. I also used a steam iron to compress the padding as I worked.
I used two large shoulder pads to establish the bumm shape and refined it with upholstery batting. I also added a layer of upholstery batting as the final layer. Upholstery batting feathers easily and covers the irregularities. Take your time. It can take a few redos to get the shaping right but you will do this once and have your double for years.
Once she is stuffed pin the sides together and do a final check that you are happy with the fit. Leave one side pinned while you sew the other side seam; otherwise the cover will shift. Fold the side seam allowances in and mark every inch to help keep the front and back aligned as you hand sew. I started at the waist seam and marked up and down from there. If you don’t put these guide points in and just start sewing you will wind up way off when you reach the end of the seam. Guess how I found that out?
I find it easiest to start at the bottom and sew up. Use a 36 to 40 inch length of upholstery thread. You want enough to finish the seam but not so much the thread knots and is too long to work with. Why not just use a center back seam? First I found the padding shifted around too much when I tried to get a back seamed cover on and off. Also you need the side seams raised so they can be felt when you use this form for fitting and draping. Look at the professional forms. They are all finished like this.
Insert the needle about 1/8 inch from the folded edges keeping the needle parallel to the floor. Pull the thread tight (you want this seam raised) and place the next stitch about 3/8 inch away. I sew with my right hand and hold the thread taut with my left. You may need a clip or two at the waistline.
Finished! All she needs now is a heavy steaming to shrink the cover slightly.
This custom cover was done on an adjustable form with dials. The figure was petite with a small bust. The moulage draft fit on the first try with one minor adjustment to shorten the front waist.
Another draft for a fuller figure with large bust and abdomen. Once again the moulage instructions produced a perfectly fitting mold.
If you want to make fitting much easier, invest some time to create your own double. I’ve done a few now and it still takes time but what a difference when I’m fitting garments!