Tag Archives: custom patterns

A Black Tie Wedding: What to Wear

My last post detailed my pool party tunic for the wedding our family attended in Miami earlier this month. The wedding was black tie and of course I created a special dress (when friends and family know you sew, you can’t exactly show up at these affairs in a store bought garment).

Here is the inspiration design and spectacular fabric from B&J’s. I spotted this while shopping in the NYC garment district and knew this would be the fabric to work with.

inspiration

The black silk taffeta from Como, Italy is a border design composed of hand painted flowers and dimensional black flowers in what felt like vinyl paint. A closeup look shows the brush strokes. This design was definitely done by hand; there is somewhat of a repeat but there are irregularities characteristic of hand work.

flower-closeup

Now that I have the fabric, what to do with it? Sometimes the characteristics of fabric dictate the design. I wanted a slim fitting style with fullness at the hem. I did a toile using released box pleats, but it just wasn’t right.

box-pleating

Flaring the skirt using a border print poses problems. The hemline has a distinct curve which causes he border to appear off grain. Layout showing a conventional pattern shaping:

layout-1

The hem curve may not look pronounced in this scaled down illustration but it became quite noticeable when enlarged to full scale. Solution: break up the fullness into multiple smaller sections which allowed the hem to follow the horizontal line of the border. I had three yards of fabric and planned for the hem fullness to be distributed as 1 yard in the front and 2 yards in the back. Lower bodice sections fit nicely in between the skirt sections.

layout-2

My custom dress form also needed a little tweaking as this design would follow the back hip area closely. Most dress forms stop at the hip line but I wanted mine to extend down past the low hip. I constructed a new cover and also added two flexible arms. Details of how to modify a dress form in this way will come in a future post.

refined-dress-formdress-form-arm

The dress was designed using a combination of draping and flat pattern design. I applied style lines to the form to drape the bust and hip areas. The side seam was shifted towards the back; I felt the back seam lines worked better this way. The front had a single princess line; hem flare started 9 inches below the low hip and flared to 36 inches in the front, 12 inches in each of the 6 back sections for a total hem width of 108 inches.

style-lines-1style-lines-2

The silk taffeta was underlined with silk organza. A layer of black cotton muslin provided additional support and extended from the waist to 9 inches below the low hip line. It was catch-stitched just inside the seam lines. The interior corset was cut from two layers of cotton tulle, one layer on the cross grain and one on the lengthwise grain (a technique I picked up from studying the work of Barbara Matera, the renowned Broadway costume designer). Spiral steel boning is enclosed within the casings. I find the tape used to stabilize armholes in tailoring makes a wonderful thin and strong way to prevent the top edge from stretching out of shape. The white zip is basted in for fitting but will be removed when the corset is sewn into the final dress.

interior-corset

I felt a lining in the hip area would be prone to shifting and might cause wrinkles, so I opted to finish the seams in this area with lengths of grosgrain ribbon. The white boning which extends from the top to low hip is one length of horsehair braid stretched, steamed and zig-zig stitched into another length of un-stretched horsehair braid. I find this boning is flexible yet smooths the seams over the body in a slim fitting garment.

interior-boninginterior-hip

I found a wonderful  embroidered tulle with three dimensional flowers to form the upper bodice and sleeves. An underlayer of cotton tulle was fitted and thread traced for use as a pattern when cutting the heavily embroidered tulle. Having each section with seam lines thread traced made it much easier to place the design so it would be mirror-imaged from right to left sides.

final-tulle-fittulle-used-as-pattern

A section of the embroidered edge was shaped to follow the collar. The decorative edge fell stitched in place and excess cotton tulle trimmed away.

collar-detailcollar-completed

I don’t care for the look of just sewing a plain seam when an appliqued seam could make the transition from one fabric to another look better. I sewed the back upper bodice through the layer of cotton tulle only; then hand appliqued the decorative tulle edge.


The front seam got a few appliques to disguise the seam. Working with lace is so forgiving as you can hide almost anything. Here is a shoulder seam before and after a little applique work. I also find it easier to work in sections and complete as much as possible before joining one section to another. Finish the skirt, inner corset, lace section and bodice before attaching them together. It saves much wear and tear on the dress.

shoulder-seam-1shoulder-seam-2

front-view

side-view

back-view-skirt

Another small detail gleaned from Barbara Matera: raising your arms in a close-fitting dress can be difficult. Solution: add an underarm gusset. I cut a football-shaped piece of stretch mesh (about 5.5 inches long by 3 inches wide) and inserted it in the underarm seam centered between the front and back. Sewing by hand was much easier than manipulating the dress into the machine. It doesn’t show and makes moving so much easier.

underarm

Have you ever had a major clothing malfunction? For the back closure  I found a zip with sheer mesh tape while shopping in NYC. It was only available as a two-way zip. I figured no problem, I would just insert as usual and not use it as a two way. Put my dress on; all’s fine. We are leaving for the ceremony and my daughter-in-law notices the zipper is starting to open in the middle of my back. Within minutes the entire back is open. I tried to run the slider to the bottom and realign the coils but no go. My husband asks if I have anything else to wear. This is an out of town affair and I didn’t exactly bring a selection of evening gowns. There is only on solution: get sewn into the dress. Fortunately my husband is an OB/GYN and has a fair amount of experience sewing (humans that is). I did have a supply of needles and thread so, with Holly holding a cell phone light on the sewing (operative) field, I told him to just whipstitch (non-interrupted running stitch), the zipper tapes (incision) closed. I had a backup supply of needle and thread in my evening bag just in case but his stitching held firm throughout the night. I’m replacing the zip with my standard invisible version which has never once failed.

20170115_212318

65 Comments

Filed under Evening Wear

Vogue V1440: Tweaking the Fit

DSC_0046
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.
DSC_0047
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.
DSC_0033
Here’s the back view.
DSC_0032
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.
DSC_0029

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.
DSC_0034
DSC_0036

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.
DSC_0035
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.
DSC_0028
The altered flat pattern.
DSC_0039
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.
DSC_0044
How it now conforms to the body curves and shapes the waist better.
DSC_0045
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.
DSC_0042
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?

25 Comments

Filed under Tailoring

Jacket Finished, Plus Two More

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.

P1000203
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.
P1000172
Slip stitch the lining to the pocket, attach trim and slip stitch to the jacket. Don’t catch the lining when doing this.

P1000173
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.
P1000148
The roomy armhole. I would never have guessed this much ease would be required.
P1000151
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.
P1000149
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.
P1000150
Inside the jacket showing the various linings used.
P1000153
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.
P1000170
Here’s the finished work.
P1000175
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!
P1000177
Mommy and daughter out for a ride.
P1000196

27 Comments

Filed under French Jackets, Tailoring

Dress Forms Continued

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.

Fabulous Fit Form

Lower edge extended

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.
Neck cover

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.

Finished Moulage before padding

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.

Bust pinned in place
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.
Bumm shaping
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?
sewing side seams
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.
finished

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.
image

Another draft for a fuller figure with large bust and abdomen. Once again the moulage instructions produced a perfectly fitting mold.
image

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!

12 Comments

Filed under Drafting Patterns, Dress Forms