Draped to Fit

What happens when you average out all the different variations in the female form to develop a standard for commercial patterns?  You end up with a pattern that fits almost nobody. This is actually good news. As frustrating as it is to have to adjust every single pattern we buy, it’s reassuring to know we have plenty of company.

Okay, so knowing millions of our sisters-in-stitches face the same challenges doesn’t tell us what we need to know to meet that challenge. That’s where Jean Haas comes to our rescue. Jean has developed a method for applying draping techniques to fit, using her Dress Form Double and employing the design lines as landmarks.  At the July meeting of Sew Chicago, we took a look at some of the basic principles of draping using Mimi, the Dress Form Double I made at our June Clone Yourself Dress Form workshop, to tissue-fit a pattern.

I’m not an expert on this by any means and I haven’t had a chance to attend one of Jean’s draping workshops yet, but the basic concepts provided me with one of those light bulb moments that I want to share, so here goes.

The vertical landmark for draping is the center, whether it is center front or center back. For the bodice, the horizontal landmark, known as the Horizontal Balance Line, is the bust line. For a skirt, it’s the hip line. Both of these lines were constructed parallel to the floor in our Dress Form Workshop. The waistline isn’t used, because it often is not parallel to the floor.

When draping, we start with a rectangle of fabric that has the vertical center line and the horizontal balance line marked. Make sure those lines are placed in a way that allows the fabric to reach the entire area to be covered. (Ask me how I know).

For the bodice, smooth out the fabric and establish the shoulder seam, armscye and side seam. Add seam allowances, plus the amount of ease needed. (Unlike Mimi, we need to breathe and move.)

Once the fabric is cut, it will tell you where darts are needed.

Hm. In looking at this skirt muslin, I think I need to move that side dart toward the center a bit.

The first step for using draping principles for making pattern adjustments is to establish the horizontal balance lines.

The bust line can be established by drawing a horizontal line across the apex symbol on the pattern that is perpendicular to the center front and grain lines. To extend the line to the back, use the match points (notches) on the side seams. Because pattern sizes are graded both vertically and horizontally, but weight gain only occurs in one of those directions, I often find that the shoulder seam on a pattern in the size I need is much too high.

When I use traditional pattern adjustment methods on a pattern that has this issue, I find myself making endless adjustments, all of which throw off some other aspect of the pattern. Identifying where the shoulder seam should be in relation to the bust point saves a tremendous amount of trial and error, which leads to frustration, the leading cause of UFOs!

Some pattern companies do not give us an apex mark. (Grrr!) I’m working on a project now using a pattern with this deficiency, and the design makes it difficult for me to figure out exactly where the apex is intended to be. I’ve had to resort to traditional tissue fitting and muslin construction to make the pattern work, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

For a skirt or the skirt piece of a two-piece dress, I draw a horizontal balance line 7 inches below the line the pattern designates for the waist, which is how far the widest part of me (and Mimi’s hip line) is from my waist at center front. Doing this will show how the waist seam needs to be redrawn.

That’s pretty much everything I’ve learned about draping so far. I’m making a skirt from a muslin I draped on Mimi and applying these principles to pattern adjustments I’m making for garments I will model in the upcoming ASG Chicago Fashion Show. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

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