From Block to Pattern: Moderne Dress Alterations



Amendment:  I have had a few e-mails about my sloper.  I made a full set of dress, sleeve and pants slopers in a day-long class with Maria Martin.  Details found here.  It changed the way I make clothes and was not difficult.

Wearing History’s Moderne, View 1, to be made with cotton pique and silk accents dyed with lilac iDye.  I want to use the lighter silk for bound buttonholes, covered buttons, and inverted pleats.

This dress has already provided quite a ride- excitement over earning a free pattern as a tester, then fear as I contemplated fitting a high-necked, asymmetrical bodice.  This dress shouts “Art Deco,” which is the point, though aggressively vintage styles can be hard to “pull off” without looking costumey.  After working with the pattern I think it will be flattering and fun to wear as clothing, not a costume.

I started with a 34″ high bust, as my measurements dictate and used my basic dress block (or sloper, whatever you like to call it) as a shortcut to alterations.  I traced the original pattern in green marker, then placed my block underneath and traced it with the black lines.  I started with an easy one, the back:

I knew that the CB would the be same for both pieces, and decided to line up the neckline at the CB.  From there, I made my adjustments.  I’m usually shorter through the waist in most patterns, and have found 1930′s shoulders/sleeves problematic in the past.

I think the waistline curve downwards to the side seam is meant to provide a blouse-y effect along with the gathering.  Experience tells me I don’t care for the 30′s/early 40′s blouse effect on my dresses and I edit it out when I can.  I read (perhaps in Paris Frocks At Home) that women who can’t afford proper fitting are helped out by the blouse-y effect, as they can wear a belt.   I like a smooth line at my waist.

Not yet keen to tackle the front bodice, I worked on the back skirt.  This dress has a raised neckline, 19″ (48cm) from the top of the neck to my waist.  I used a Golden Section calculation to find the optimal skirt length by solving for A:  48(1.618)= 78cm.  I made the skirt 78cm after hemming, which I adjusted on the paper pattern before tracing.

The top is a little different but not alarmingly so.  I have a high round side hip (also called muffin tops).  It’s better to fit it than fight it.

I traced the right front bodice off in green and did some funny stuff to find out the angles of the darts which proved pointless in the end because I kept the original darts.

I laid the RF bodice on top of my sloper, matching CF lines and the bottom of the neckline.  I had to be careful because the sloper has no seam allowances and the pattern does.  Once I had it aligned, I re-drew part of the neckline, shoulder, armscythe.  I (eventually) left the darts and the side seam as intended by the original.   Rather than gathering under the bust (unflattering), I divided the dart and made tucks.

I adjusted the left front bodice similarly.  Funny, I always used to assume my bust caused all the headaches when fitting a 1930′s blouse or dress, but I think it’s actually my back and the shape of my shoulder as those are the areas I most had to alter.

The front skirt pieces and facings needed no adjustment.  I did change the sleeve cap a little bit, but I find it very interesting that I only needed to adjust the cap, which smoothly flowed into the underarm seam.  I may need to change the collar, when I tried to attach it to the muslin it was several inchest too short.

I don’t like the pouf around the bust, which I think might be part of the original design but doesn’t work with my body shape.  I plan to tweak in the two side darts slightly for a smooth but not tight fit.

Back is ok, I think it has a little residual blousiness, side is well-shaped.  I feel confident enough with this muslin to crack into the real thing.  I’d appreciate any constructive criticism, I know there’s some smart cookies reading this!

Also working on myWW2 Jacket pattern as per Sherry’s instructions, nothing to show you yet.

How to Alter a New Pattern Using an Old Favorite

The sun here hurts my skin.  After suffering through three summers, I decided to make a sun jacket from hemp silk.  I like to gamble, in this case I married an unknown garment with an unknown fabric.  I could have lost.  Like a good gambler, I hedged my bets by using a simple pattern.

 (Simplicity 4044, no fiddly bits)

I won big- I barely take it off.  The fabric wears well, the satin side slips deliciously over my skin and the outside wears tough with a pretty texture.  The hemp allows the slightest breeze to penetrate.   I suspect part of the jacket love comes from the fit, especially over my difficult lower back:

I thought to make another exactly like it, with a few tweaks to the front fit but that’s boring- especially with so many gorgeous jacket patterns available.  Besides, I want more details.

Instead, I’m working on Advance 2690, View A.  I knew I needed to alter the pattern and decided to use my 4044 as a reference.

This will be a dry technical post for pattern geeks. 

(left- 4044; right- 2690)

The Advance pattern has more pieces with a hip-length peplum and waist seam.  I started alterations on the back.   The back shoulder and armscythes were similar enough to allow me to focus solely on the lower back.

I drew a line straight out from the bottom of the armscythe across both pieces, then measured down from that to find the correct CB length.   Next, I compared the length of the side seams.  Finally, I measured the newly marked seam line on 2690 and compared it to the back waist measurement (shown by an orange line on 4044).

Sudden realization: 4044 was a modernized re-print with ease built in to the design.  2690 is pure WW2 with zero ease.  While the pattern sizing indicates a 28″ waist and I usually take a 28″, this jacket would not fit me without the help of a girdle.  I will wear them with pretty dresses, but I balk at daily wear.

I eliminated one of the back tucks to make both waist measurements match.  I found it handy to have a pattern on hand with the perfect amount of ease already, no guesswork.

Despite the differences in cut, once I pinned the peplum to 2960 and performed my alterations, the two patterns looked remarkably similar.  I added ease to the peplum piece, using the 4044 measurements as a guide.

The front worried me less.  I made a standard 1.5″ FBA.  FBA’s larger than an inch or so tend to distort the armscythe, I often find they bite ever so slightly into my front armpit.  I tried smoothing the armscythe slightly, I’ll use the pen line as my cutting line and hope for the best.

When I perform a FBA, I usually make a new side dart by simply bringing together the cut edges of the pattern.  On my 4044 jacket, I noticed the dart hung too low and seemed to distort the side seam.  This time I made sure to re-mark my bust apex and the side dart points right to it.

To decide the width of the dart, I folded it out until the front side seam matched the back side seam.  I compared the front waist width on 2960 with the front waist width on 4044 and added slightly to the side seam while reducing the width of the front tuck.  Likewise, I added width to the front peplum piece.

Pinning or taping tissue paper gives me hives (if I badly alter a tissue pattern, I can’t start over) but sewing together my polytrace patterns before I cut my fabric acts as a happy medium between a muslin or no muslin.

My halfie:

The pull in the back comes from the tuck, and will work fine in the finished jacket.  I’m happy with the fit but not the photography.  My usual photographer has gone away for 9 days on vacation on an ecological field assignment.  He spent the morning snorkeling here:

I must make do the best I can for photography until he returns.

Besides refining the FBA, I wanted to allow my arms freer range of movement in my new jacket.  4044 slightly restricts forward and downward reaching, occasionally annoying.   As the intrepid wife of a tropical explorer, I must be able to swing from vines, ride camels, climb pyramids and brandish my whip without shucking my outerwear.

(From John Peacock’s Men’s Fashion, The Complete Sourcebook)
(From an Ebay Cache, 1930′s wool)
A back yoke and pleat will add a dash of complexity to the pattern and allow easier whip brandishing.  I’d like to make a pointed yoke to echo the pocket shape on the front, but I may settle for a simple straight yoke.  Notice the left jacket in the top photo- I see this double pleat over and over in WW2 military jackets and rather like it.  When I make the militarized version of this jacket I may incorporate the double pleats.  
I plan to make a back belt feature for this jacket as I’ve always admired back belts on 30′s active wear.  I’ll bind most of the seams and top stitch the darts and pocket tops, it works very well on my other jacket to keep the lines smooth. 
In a sticky impetuous moment I chopped off my ponytail.   Bad idea- I could pin it up and forget it before.   Now I have to wash my hair more frequently and the heat turns my hair stringy.  Lesson learned, at least I can still make a victory roll.  No makeup either, the weather is completely unglamorous.

FBAs, Weird Bodice Pieces, and Conquering the "Lotus"

About a year ago, when I first started seriously altering commercial patterns to fit my body, I tried Amy Butler’s Lotus Cami.  No muslin, no alterations, just cut into some Liberty cotton I received a gift, using my waist, hips, and high bust to determine the size.

What a nightmare experience- a main factor in convincing me to systematically alter patterns and muslin.  I piped, then tried it on.  It wouldn’t meet in my CB.  I ripped out the piping, tried to alter the pattern front, re-cut and re-sewed the front, let out the back darts, made the back placket smaller then sewed it shut and put in a side zip; in short,  I did everything I could to salvage the top.  I don’t wear it.

I like the pattern, it seems like it should suit a curvaceous figure very well- you know, princess seams and all.  Then why does it only seem to work on very slim, or “H-shaped” builds?

At least I had the wherewithal to trace the pattern before I altered it, so I had an untouched master pattern to work from. 

LizaJane made a cute version of this top a little while ago; she had many of the same issues I found.  Her post made me itch to revisit the pattern I formerly considered lighting on fire.

When I pulled out the old altered pattern, I had to laugh.  It looks like my heart wasn’t really in it:

No wonder it didn’t fit.

This time I attacked the pattern head-on.  I used my high bust, waist and hip measurements as before which yield a Small.  My full bust measurement is 3″ greater than the Small measurement, so I knew I should try a 1.5″ FBA.  Already the pattern is light years ahead of 1-year-ago-me.

I discovered the length of the waist is 17″.  My waist length is 15″.  I shortened the back first, because the front has a troublesome (but pretty) Upper Bodice piece.  Then I made the front side seam match the back side seam.

My bare hip measure matches the size Small (odd…) but I want to have the option to wear this over Kate Hepburn pants so I decided to grade out from a Small to a Medium at the hip, hoping that would create enough ease to go over the pants smoothly.

I want to have the back button placket (because it’s cute) instead of a zip, so I transferred the Cami button placket onto my Tunic pattern which is shockingly simple.  I’ll lap the placket from just below my waist and stitch it together.

Now, when I was actually making my FBA, I generally followed the technique outlined by SewMamaSew, who incidentally uses this same pattern to teach FBA.  I changed one thing: altering the Upper Bodice as well.

I think it is important to remember that a FBA accomplishes three things:

  1. Creates more width
  2. Creates more length
  3. Changes the shape of the armscythe

It’s easy to forget that last one, but I find that re-shaping to be absolutely vital to good fit in the bust area.  I lapped the Upper Bodice and Side Front pieces at the seam line, using tape, and then proceeded to do my 1.5″ FBA.  The resulting pieces:

I made the lining already and I’m thrilled to say it fits exactly the way I pictured.  There’s a little funny business at the Upper Bodice/Side Front seam area, but it was negligible enough for me to do a tiny bit of tweaking to fix it.  It could have been the wine I had while I was basting.  At any rate, not enough for me to worry about the pattern.

I hope I don’t offend any sensibilities with this picture, my own are slightly offended but it’s the lining after all.

Note- the notches won’t match up after that alteration.  I matched up the side seams and sewed it together.  Basically the “straps” end up a little longer, but not much.

So where’s my finished tunic?  Still in fabric form.  She’ll be shocking pink linen with pale yellow piping and covered buttons, probably also a self-fabric belt of yellow.  I do adore yellow; I’m still actively working to inject some color into my tastefully boring, monochromatic wardrobe.

Recently I read a quote from an equestrian sculptor, when asked how he brought so much life to his subject.  He replied “I just chip away everything that doesn’t look like a horse.”

I’m off to trim away everything that doesn’t look like a Tunic.

(Not currently working on the Model T, because the fabric needed a second dunk in black dye.  May need a third.  Pattern in great shape. Accesories have stalled due to vagaries of international shipping, and Lila’s wardrobe is filling out but hardly stays clean long enough for me to photograph the pieces…)

Tale of Two Sleeves

 It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the spring of Hope, it was the winter of Despair.

I felt rather deflated after the last (and as I thought) most brilliant attempt at a perfect sleeve for this coat turned out, well, mediocre.  I don’t want to slave away on a coat for 50 hours only to look at mediocre sleeves for the rest of its life.  I couldn’t decide which way to go towards making the sleeve work, so I left it alone for a few days and drank during my free time.

Funny, that.  Drink or sew, but mixing doesn’t seem to work well.

After a few evenings of zero productivity, I decided to rotate the sleeve.  For the sleeve above, I matched the underarm seam to the bottom seam on the sleeve.  This turned out to be incorrect, and a probable cause of sleeve-twisting.  On the track of a new development, I ripped and re-positioned the sleeve, though I had to fudge the positioning a little bit.  The front of the coat wanted to ease into the sleeve rather than vice-versa.  I discovered an ungodly amount of ease in the back.  Before I basted, I knew it wasn’t right.

Better, perhaps, than the previous attempt but by no means good enough.  Let me be clear: this is the same sleeve as above, but rotated on the bottom by about 3/4″.  I left the top of the sleeve as marked.

This time I took it personally.  The seam ripper came out, and I ripped the sleeve while Husband was still wearing it.  Then I pinned, admired, pinned, admired, and pinned.  Lila kept running around my legs and hopping on the computer.  She gets so excited about fittings.  She tries to stick pins into Daddy; when I take the pins away she protests indignantly.  She took some pictures this time:

Victory!  I still need to take in the side back seam a trifle, but I think we have a sleeve now.  I knew it could be fantastic.  Now I need to pull the pieces apart, transfer the alterations to the pattern and we’re in business.  Spring of hope!

Gentleman’s Greatcoat Muslin : Second Wave Offensive

Last night I used the sleeve alteration on Phat Chick Designs for a forward rotated shoulder.  Did I look at my FFRP ?  Did not.  I usually use that as a starting point.  I tend not to ascribe to Occam’s Razor, but rather to my detriment delight in positing plurality without necessity.  {wink}

That is to say, I should have looked at FFRP first.

Phat Chick Pattern after some alteration.  Weeeeird.  Long acquaintance with two-piece sleeves teaches me to first monkey with the upper sleeve, and then the under sleeve only if necessary.  This is the upper sleeve.  The left is the front of the sleeve.   My fingertip points to the shoulder seam marking.

Front, with Phat Chick altered sleeve.  Not so bad, not so good.  He had some mobility issues.  I spent a few years in theatrical costume.  During fittings we made actors reach their hands over their heads, touch their toes (as close as possible), reach across their bodies, jump, and twist.  If their character needed to perform any particular physical activities, we’d try that too.  If a garment doesn’t pass the mobility test, it’s no good.  This sleeve does not pass the mobility test.

Side.  Ick!  When I was altering the sleeve I realized Phat Chick tells you to alter out most of the sleeve ease.  Also, the sleeve in the illustrations was a simple one-piece sleeve with a flattish shirt-style sleeve cap.   I think I need to raise the sleeve cap and/or add in a little more east to both the front and back.  When I sewed in the sleeve, it wouldn’t ease.  In fact, the coat body tried to ease to the sleeve.  Terrible.  At lease the length is good.

Jumping Juniper, that’s a bad back.  I can’t discuss it. Sloppy.

I went back to good old FFRP over my breakfast.  They say not to change the sleeve at all, rather match the shoulder point on the sleeve to the new shoulder seam.  They further suggest not worrying if the underarm seam won’t match the side seam because no one looks.

Good solid advice.  However, the beauty of a two-piece sleeve lies in its elbow bend.  If I just plonked an unaltered sleeve onto the new shoulder seam placement, the back seam of the sleeve would sit too far up his arm. 

FFRP did suggest perfectionists should alter the sleeve seams the same way they altered the shoulder seam.  In my case, I sliced 1 1/8″ off the front shoulder seam and added it to the back shoulder seam.  I traced a new upper sleeve and did just that. 

You can see changing the placement of the seam alters the shape of the cap, but not dramatically.  Note the shoulder seam marking.  This looks better to me.

Front.  Oh dear.  This time we fit with the waistcoat and both shoulder pads in place.  The sleeve to your left is Phat Chick.  The sleeve to the right is the simpler FFRP.  It looks at first glance like the left one is better.  However, the collapse in the right one indicates to me that it has the right amount of ease and once it is made up in the proper fabric with a carefully fitted shoulder pad and sleeve head, all will be well.  Please correct me if you know otherwise.  He still had mobility issues.

Back.  Better but not great.  I realized I added extra width to the back armscythe on the waistcoat to allow for rounded shoulders.  I shall need to do this for the coat.  Once I do, the left (the FFRP arm) will look smoother.   I wanted to avoid making a second muslin of this coat, but I need to.  That’s ok, it tipped the balance in favor of deepening the back yoke curve to preserve the style. 

Left: Phat Chick sleeve.  Right: FFRP sleeve.

The left looks in desperate need of a higher sleeve cap.

The right looks like it needs a sleeve head for support (or an adjustment for smaller arms?) and the coat back needs a little more width.  I could either alter the Phat Chick sleeve or alter the back.  I believe altering the back (especially since I wanted to anyway) will fix the mobility issues and will smooth out the sleeve wrinkles.  I suspect it would also prove to be a shorter process due to my greater familiarity with the techniques used in back alterations.

Phat Chick would work well for a shirt sleeve with a smaller forward roatation, but for a coat sleeve (which has a higher sleeve head and greater ease) it is inappropriate. 

The next step involves pulling out the basting, remixing the back, and re-assembling the muslin.  It sounds like more work than it ought to be.  I might stick on the front skirt part while I’m at it.

Husband doesn’t like me to call it the skirt, but I’m stuck for any other word.  The kilt?

Fittings, Forcing It, and Manic Depressive Sewing

(Also a shameless vanity shot of my new hat with my customary victory roll.  I feel like I found my “look.”  That look is a little disheveled after all-day wear…)
Carol, thank you for your kind encouragement.  Yesterday I felt cranky and snappish all day, I dragged my feet, I hated sewing and the thought of anything to do with fabric or fibres made me ill.  That’s an enormous indicator that something is very out of balance in my universe.  You spurred me on to do at least a little bit and I’m glad I did.  I did alter, cut, and so forth on four tops but when it came to stitching I stopped.  I can’t force it, I just don’t have the willpower and I know the quality would suffer.
When I get really frustrated and a sewing project upsets me, I know I need to take a break from it.  I also know that the break often leads to a breakthrough.  This is why I allow myself to have many projects on the go at one time.  My big beautiful projects ebb and flow, but they get done.  
Perhaps I am something of a manic depressive sewist.  That term gets bandied about loosely; it does apply to me to a certain extent.   I can accept that about myself because I have figured out how to make that fierce manic energy work for me.  Generally I channel it into my design, drafting and sewing.   I wait through the uninspired times and allow them to happen because I know that fierce energy will return and I’ll pick up the abandoned piece of genius.  
 If I pretend to do the work anyway, the work suffers and I feel terribly depressed.   I think acting out this hot-and-cold aspect of my personality through my creative work helps me maintain a more or less even keel in the rest of my life.  I used to be all over the place, very irrational and difficult, unreliable and irresponsible.  Now I am just slightly irrational and difficult.   In this way, sewing acts as occupational therapy and helps me to live with who I am.  I project my imbalances onto my work; for me it helps more than I can express.  My doctor encourages this as a productive alternative to medication.
I am absolutely not a doctor.  If you find that you have symptoms of depression, please talk to your doctor and/or someone who loves you.  My years of off-and-on depression have taught me the importance of reaching out.  You hurt those around you so much when they can see you suffering and you don’t let them touch you.  If you’re depressed and you’re reading this, please know that I know how you feel.  Many people know how you feel; you must understand that.  Depression is not unique to the depressed person.  It is part of the human condition for many, many people.  Please talk to someone.  E-mail me if you want.  Only you, your doctor, and those around you can help you figure out how to understand and accept who you are.  It is a road worth taking because being depressed sucks the joy out of life.  If part of your treatment involves medicine, then take the medicine.   I don’t because other treatments work for me.
Mental illness is stigmatized and misunderstood in our society.  I see diseases of the mind as analagous to maladies of the body.  Some are slight and can be worked around until you recover, some are terminal and must be treated carefully.  Some are caused by accidents, some caused by insidious genetic predisposition.  Most fall into a range of categories and no one cure will automatically fix every disease.
I’m only starting to figure out how to live with the temperament I have and it is only through loving support of my family, friends and help from my doctor.  I will not stigmatize myself anymore.  I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
This morning I woke up in a foul mood, absolutely dreading teaching all day.  How could I possibly instill love of our craft into others when I felt so much rancor and frustration?  
  • Tip to brightening up a day that starts off bad for no reason: Wear something faaaaabulous. Black is my comfort go-to color; my Lady Tuxedo always makes me feel like a million bucks.  So on those bleak days allow yourself to dress up a little, wear some bright lipstick, make the day something of an event- even if you’re the only person who knows that today is special.  The key is to actively decide you’ll have a good day.  It can help.  It also helps to surround yourself with lovely people, on that front I know I am fortunate. –
 After a satisfying day of teaching, I came home to Husband and sweet Lila.  Husband gave me a great gift- the evening off to lock myself away and pretend to be alone.  He encouraged me to work on something for the joy of it rather than something I felt I should do.  He even brought me dinner.   He understands and supports me so well.
Perfect example of my mania: Gentleman’s Waistcoat.   We fitted, I fiddled, we fitted some more until I was ready to tear my hair out trying to fit his shoulders.  He was sick of standing still.  We absolutely had to stop.  I put it aside, feeling that I never wanted to look at it or hear the word “waistcoat” again.
Sometimes a break leads to a breakthrough. 

Tonight I played with the geometry of his waistcoat fitting because somewhere over the past week it has become a tantalizing mental puzzle.  Crazy thing is, it fits now.  It finally fits, with so little tweaking.  We gave up on the fittings just before we attained perfection.

I also compared the final fit pattern to the original and have a laundry list of preliminary alterations for the coat.  It is surprisingly simple to quantify.  (Shoulder rotation to front 1.3″, shorten above the waist 1″, shorten below the waist 3.5″)   I intended that to be the point of the waistcoat, to show me how to start altering the coat.
I’ll cut the shoulders with extra seam allowance because I’m a scaredy cat, but it fits!  I can cut it!  I can sew it!  It will exist soon!  I’ll ride this sweet fierce waistcoat energy until 
  1. I run into an unforeseen sewing mishap or 
  2. It’s finished!
And either way, it will be fine.
Calooh!  Callay!  She chortled in her joy.