The House of Tatterdemalion

Unfashionable, unskilled, inexpensive--but still sewing.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Patterns and Fit: Theory

I know, I know, there are still two other books that I ought to hurry up and write about before I forget. I am still intending to write them, but this has seized my attention, and I must write about it.

Poor fit of garments is terrible plague that nearly all of us are suffering from. This is what has kept me from sewing; and this is what drives me to learn how to draft my own patterns. Nearly every fitting book I have seen has lead me to believe that they are a cure that is even worse than the disease. To use a fitting book for a cure for poor fit means that you spend thousands of hours working by trial and error, and largely guessing at which problems you have, what they are called, and how much needs to be changed. This procedure often requires the abilities of an innocent (or not so innocent) teenager who happened to walk through a toxic waste dump: three hands, eyes in the back of your head, an ability to hear inanimate objects speaking, and an ability to slow time in order to get the work done quicker so that you can actually have something that fits before you are 93.

And, should you, by some outlandish, freakish chance, actually get one garment to fit, it doesn't mean your fitting woes are over. Much to the contrary; you must go through this process for every garment you ever want to fit. Some mutant fitters claim that this gets easier and faster every time you do it. Presumably this means that, by the time you are 93, it will only take you a few months.

I am very innocent, and I have not yet ever walked through a toxic waste dump. But, in my innocence, I thought I had when my first garment didn't fit. I had taken my measurements. They had even matched what was on the back of the envelope. But the garment clearly did not fit. Among other things, the back seems threatened to pop out as though I was the Incredible Hulk. Surely I must be a freak of nature. The pattern must be right. It was drafted by professionals, who know far more than I ever know. Surely the fault is mine.

Gradually, disillusionment set in. Maybe this pattern is screwy. I'll try another. Several muslins later, it is clear that it was a universal problem with patterns, or else singularly my fault. Still presuming the pattern drafters were omnipotent, I decide yet again it must be me. I must be a freak. Seeking help online, I then discover it is not just me. Everyone has fit problems! I felt terribly betrayed and lied to. The pattern envelope never said anything about this! The closest thing they came to it was saying you could "trace between the lines" to "customize" the fit, all the while acting as though they were doing you a great favor. I was furious.

The queerest thing is that most other people aren't. They accept this as normal.

You know all those stupid adventure books where the heroine pretends to be a boy, and no one discovers? She starts out claiming to be a boy when she is young, so she just looks like a girly boy. Even as she turns into a women, no one notices, because they have come to believe she is a boy. Years later, everyone is terribly shocked by this deception, which of course is always made obvious by someone who hasn't been around the heroine as she grows up. To the outside observer, she looks like a women. To those who believe her to be man, they make any mental excuse to continue believing it. (Unbelievable, maybe. But it sounds a bit like a version of "The Emperor's New Clothes." Oddly, these stories are always written by feminists, even though to me it sounds like a great mockery of feminism.)

To me, this is a good way to explain how most "normal" sewers feel about patterns and fit. This is all they know, and they believe it to be good. They believe that the pattern companies are doing all that is humanely possible.

Ever the observant one (or overly-critical dissenter with no sympathy and outrageous expectations), I observe otherwise. At the very least the pattern companies ought to make it clear that you will have fit issues, and refer you to a good fitting book. But the true fuel to the fire was when I discovered several interesting patterns in the collection I inherited from my Great-Grandmother (who, incidentally, was 98). Two of them came with very complete fitting instructions--very clear, very concise, and to the point. Another one had alteration lines printed right on it, for the most clear instructions I have ever seen for doing a Full Bust Adjustment, as well as for narrow shoulders.

A-ha! So, once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, the pattern companies did care. They had to, I'm sure, as there was more competition. You snooze, you looze. Afterwards, things became conglomerated, and the competition done away with. What resulted is what normally happens; things were "streamlined", "simplified", and ultimately (without competition), stagnated. Quality went down the tubes, because the customer had no choice, and it was easier for the monopoly.

Determined to open the eyes of the townspeople, I brought these patterns to their attention.

I was met with scoffs and jeers, and thrown out the back gate.

Ok, so I'm being dramatic. But no one did agree with me. Some defended the 4 major pattern companies, saying that all that fit information was in the back of the pattern catalogues. Most insisted that it wasn't the pattern companies fault, problem, responsibility or worry. The pattern companies, they say, are responsible only for giving well drafted patterns; this does not include fit. Or teaching one how to sew. That was very quaint and sweet of the pattern companies to including fitting, but really, the expense is too great. There's a lot of fitting books, try them.

But, said I, hypothetically, if we pretended they cared, and it wasn't too expensive, how would you like pattern companies to deal with fit issues? Why, they said, to fit perfectly out of the envelope with no alterations at all, of course! And laughed at the idea.

As one who has serious professional interest in this matter (read: pipe-dream to start my own pattern company some day. Like when I'm 93), it is no laughing matter.


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