The House of Tatterdemalion

Unfashionable, unskilled, inexpensive--but still sewing.

Monday, June 26, 2006

New Vogue patterns

I felt like posting some quick commentary on the recently released Vogue patterns. (I look, but rarely buy.)

Long tiered skirts and fitted jackets are now "in":

Example A

Example B

I like jackets, and always long skirts, but I don't think I care for the tiered look. Reminds me of a feather duster.

How Hedious.

It ain't quite the Elizabethian Ruff, but it is a sure-fire way to make sure you keep your chin up. (The smile on your face is, apparently, quite optional.)

Thing one I don't mind the grey/brown one, but the other two would make me choke.

Thing two

Look out, drunk designer on the loose! (Poor thing can't even draw a straight line any more; scroll down and look at the technical drawings.)

Sombody really ran out of fabric.

Military is "in". I like double rows of buttons, so I guess I actully like something that's in. My grandmother would be so proud.

A sneaky re-issue. (I saw this pattern about a year ago. Now it's new again. Go figure.)

Big collars are "in":

There's a dead thing for a collar,


another huge collar.

If you want to look like a dork, wear this.

This one has interesting shoulder tucks.

I think this skirt has double inverted box pleats in the front? I like the black and white ensemble, but how come people always pick puke-y shades of green? It looks like split-pea soup, or something.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

European Cut

European Cut, by Elizabeth Allemong (it's available here) is the book I used to draft my own sloper. I've decided to do two posts on it--one as a description of the book, and one a description of my experiences with it. I tried combining the two, but it made for a long and incomprehensible post.

The reason why such a thorough description of the book is necessary is because it's not available in most libraries. This makes it very hard to get an idea of what the book is like (unless you do like what I did--have a brother in college who uses his university privileges to interlibrary loan one of the two copies in a library, just for you). I would probably not have boughten the book if I hadn't been able to get it out of the library; at the very least, I would have ordered it with trepidation. However, in the end I found this to be a very helpful book. So I shall try to make this post as detailed as possible.

The book is business like. It is written with a custom dress-maker or home sewer in mind. It is not chit-chatty, but it provides all the necessary information--without leaving anything out! I once heard someone describe the writing style as "a bit dry", but I thought it was perfect. There are no extra words to distract me, but all (well, almost all) of my questions were answered. It is clear and easy to understand, and it does hold your hand step-by-step. It does not assume the reader has any previous knowledge with pattern drafting, truing, or moving darts.

The book is also obviously self-published; it is plastic spiral bound with laminated covers. However, the fact that it was self-published, for the most part, has no bearing on the quality of the material. There are no typos or unclear instructions, or missing steps. It is a well prepared manuscript, even if the binding isn't of the highest quality. However, the illustrations for measuring are not professional.

She begins with a list of suggested supplies. Some I used, some I didn't. Here's what I used:

measuring tape
eyeliner pencil
masking tape
1/8" ribbon
1/4" wide elastic
floral stem wires
scotch tape
regular 12" ruler
8"x4" quilters ruler
24"x6" quilters ruler
roll of tracing paper
mechanical pencil, pen
cheap french curve from A.C. Moore

Believe it or not, the only thing I had to buy for this, specifically, was the eyeliner pencil. I'm just not a make-up kind of girl.

Next follows a measurement chart, and several pages for doing calculations on. These all look very intimidating, but in reality, I didn't even wind up using most of the pages for calculations. The math is simple enough that I did a lot of it in my head. However, some are more difficult, and the pages help to keep you on track and walk you through the math. It winds up being very easy. She encourages you to photocopy these pages and use them as necessary (which I did). Having a separate sheet with all the measurements makes things a lot easier.

Next comes a whole chapter on how to take measurements. This was my first sign that I really wanted the book: she doesn't have you take complete circumference measurements. All the other material I've read on taking measurements has you take a total circumference, e.g., a bust measurement wraps totally around the body at the height of the bust; a waist measurement wraps around the whole body at the point of the waist, and so on. In Allemong's instructions, you are to take the front and back measurements separately, e.g. front waist, and back waist. This makes so much sense, I can't understand why anyone would do it any other way. (I should note that you are actually taking 1/4 circumference measurements. Since you only draft one half of the back, you only measure one half of the back. However, you have a very asymmetrical body, you will want to measure everything separately--left back, right back, left front and right front--and draft them all separately as well.)

The second thing I liked was that she instructs you to mark all reference lines (waist, bust, shoulder, side seam, center back, center front, etc), right on the body with the eyeliner pencil. There's another stroke of genius! How else will you know if you are measuring to the same reference points? Most measuring directions assume clothes that already fit, e.g., measure along the shoulder seam, from neck to shoulder point. But, if one has fitting clothes, one doesn't need a sloper. And if one doesn't have clothes that fit, how is one to know where to mark the measurements? Others direct you to take multiple measurements from the same point--neck to shoulder point, and shoulder point to center front, and the like--but don't give instructions on how to make sure you measure from the same point. Although using an eyeliner pencil to mark reference points is a very small part of the book, I appreciated the book's attention to detail and accuracy.

Another detail for accurate measurements is the instructions for the use of "bridges". This is so that the tape measure doesn't fall into valleys, for more accurate measurements. For example, the bust bridge is put in place so that when the center front measurement is taken, the tape measure follows the same path the muslin will--over the bust height.

She takes into account for different body types, including those with dowagers humps, rounded shoulders, "spare tires", and different hip shapes. She also accounts for different abdomen shapes: flat, normal, average, and large.

She does not have you take the crotch depth measurement by having you sit on a chair and measuring over your hip curve. This was another measuring practice I never understood, and I find her method much more accurate.

Next comes the drafting of the actual bodice. This is easy. Her instructions are clear and simple. You need your measurement chart filled out and sitting right beside you, but if you can draw a straight line (with the aide of a ruler) you can draft the bodice. All points on the paper draft are numbered for easy reference, and the out-lines of the actual sloper are shown in bold. You can understand instantly why you are drawing the line you are a drawing, and watch the shape of the sloper quickly form right before your eyes. It makes a lot of sense, and so is easy to follow--since you understand what you are doing, it is a lot harder to get confused.

She rarely uses "standard" numbers (e.g. make a line so many inches long). It is either a measurement directly off of your body, or a guideline. If it is a guideline, she explains in which way it is likely to differ. At one point, she suggest you draw a guideline of 5/8ths of an inch, but explains that "for a client with very erect posture, this guideline may be 1/2" or less. The lower armhole curve will be cut a little deeper than the curve for a client with normal posture. For a client with very stooping posture this guideline may be 3/4" or more. The lower armhole curve will be cut shallower than the curve for a client with normal posture." Mine wound up being 3/16th of an inch! Understanding why a guideline of a certain length is given teaches you how you should differentiate from the guide, and it in what way. That way, you can truly have a custom draft, instead of a draft for the "normal".

Both the bodice front and bodice back work up pretty quickly and simply. It does take a little bit of time at first, but that is because there are many steps, not because it is difficult. I did have some difficulty with drawing the armholes, but I attributed that to either not having the proper French curves, or from simply needing non-curvy armholes. In any case, I was still able to get the proper armhole curves, I just was a bit more creative with my French curve.

Next comes the skirt. I did not have a hip curve ruler. I suggest that you do have a hip curve. The instructions for the skirt, are, if anything, even easier to understand than the instructions for the bodice. I'll speak more on my experiences with the skirt in my next post.

Next is the sleeve. The sleeve is the trickiest part to draft. It uses the most calculations and the most math, and the hardest time understanding what is going on and whether or not it will work. I basically took a deep breath and worked my way through it, trusting it would work in the end. If you take it in one small step at a time, it's not too bad, but it does make you feel a bit dizzy when you first look at it. The sleeve has the most marked points--39, plus a couple of letters. At some points toward the end, it starts to get a little confusing. I wish she had highlighted each new step as she showed you how to do it, just so that it would be easier to pick out your spot on the paper.

Again, though, if you can draw a straight line with the aide of a ruler, you can draft the sleeve. The instructions are clear, and break everything down into small steps. The resulting sleeve is quite obviously asymmetrical--which is good. The sleeve cap is based off of the armhole measurements on your sloper. The back armhole is longer than the front armhole (as it is on your body). Thus, the sleeve reflects the bodice. Instead of pretending that the sleeve is symmetrical and winding up with a lot more ease in the front than in the back, the sleeve draft takes into account the fact that the body is asymmetrical, and the sleeve ought to be as well. The sleeve is also darted at the elbow. It is a very, very, very close fit.

She also includes directions for making a two-piece sleeve. Another interesting thing she includes is instruction on how to draft a sleeve for a dress pattern--not a sloper. This interesting, because she includes no instructions how to change a sloper into a dress pattern. But, it is also very helpful. If you have, in the course of your alterations, gotten an armhole that fits, but now are stuck as to how to get the sleeve to fit the hole, here's your solution.

Next is the torso, and then the pants. I have not yet made either; but here is what I observed from reading it. The pants are based off of the skirt sloper, so the majority of the work is already done by the time you get there. The trickiest part appears to be adding the "sitting wedge" which is adjustable according to the size of your bum. Of course, it's a simple enough of a thing to change that if you get it wrong, you just re-draft. But it a judgment call. She gives guidelines of how much to add for a sitting wedge according to appearance--again, in terms of flat, normal, full, very full, etc. That can be a difficult call, but at least you know what to change and how to change it.

The torso is based off of the bodice, with a shorter hip-length extension. The torso is used in making shirts (from tunics to t-shirts) and dresses without a waistline. Ease as is added in at the waist. The darts match. If you drafted a skirt and bodice separately, the darts wouldn't match. Since you draft the hip portion as an extention of the bodice, the darts match. I say "match". In some cases, they would be described as double pointed darts, and in the back, that is what they are. However, in the front, they can take on various shapes depending on the shape of the wearer.

Finally, she goes into indepth, step-by-step instructions on how to true and blend your sloper patterns. Then you are to sew them up, and try them on. I am disappointed that she didn't include any photographs of how the finished sloper should fit. She describes that there should be no gaping, and that "The back, sides, and front of the bodice should be smooth, even though the fit is very close. If the bodice is too tight, strain will appear." I would have much more appreciated a picture of what a properly fitted sloper looked like.

She clearly states: "Your success in fitting will depend on three "ifs." If your client stood correctly during measuring (no cheating), if you took correct measurements, and if you did not make mistakes in drafting, the slopers should fit perfectly, or nearly perfectly." Well, thanks to her very good instructions, I don't think I've ever made drafting mistakes. Other mistakes? Well, I've got another post for that.

My summary of the book would be that it is very thorough, gives great attention to detail, and has the highest regard for accuracy and a job well-done. This isn't a "short-cut" job, or a "make it quick'n'easy". But just because the sloper is made without short-cuts doesn't mean the instructions are difficult to follow. She has done an excellent job of breaking the task down into small enough steps that it is easily and clearly understood, even by people with no previous drafting experience whatsoever.

I hope to have another post on my experiences shortly.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Sewing Cabinet

I've mentioned in the past that I've inherited sewing supplies from my great-grandmother. Well, this sewing cabinet is one of them. My great-grandfather made it for her; we speculate perhaps out of old packing crates. I asked my grandmother, and she said she didn't remember but it would be just like him. It has corks glued in for holding thimbles, a rack for thread, and lots of pockets. I'm considering re-doing the pockets at some time, because the elastic is all shot, and, I'm sorry to say, washed out pink, faded olive green, and a shade black just aren't my favorite colors. But it'll be awhile before I get to that.

The other cool thing is that it just so happens to almost perfectly match with the desk one of my older brothers made me! He found these huge old boards in the basement, sanded them down, and varnished them. Voila! Two desktops! I have them arranged in an "L" shape, and I'm putting the sewing cabinet in the corner to hold my various sewing things, in an effort to stay a little more organized.

Stupidity, squared

Stupid thing to the first power: Leaving the window open.

Yes, they predicted rain. They'd been predicting 70% chance of rain for the last several days, and we'd never get more than a sprinkle. Yes, I did wake up and hear the torrential down-pour. Yes, I did think to check to see if it was coming in the windows---of my bedroom. No, there was no damage to the sewing room. Why? Because of the nice pile of fabric right underneath the window, including a lot of yards of muslin, a lot of yards of a cherry/cranberry colored fabric, and my favorite cherry-and-vines-on-a-cream-background fabric, soaked it all up like a sponge.

Stupid thing to the second power (and exponentially much stupider): throwing them all in the wash together.

Yes, I do know that red fabric often bleeds. Yes, I do know you are supposed to sort by color. And yes, I did even happen to see that the red fabric was dripping kool-aid like puddles of dye whilst sitting rain-soaked under the window. Yes, I still did throw them all in the wash together. No, I have absolutely no excuse whatsoever. The closest thing I can scrounge up for an excuse would possibly be that it was the first thing I did that morning, and my brain was sleep-fogged. But that's a pretty lame excuse, even for me.

Stupid, stupid, stupid!!

So, after opening the washer and feeling of mild shock (and perhaps nausea), copious amounts of hot water and oxygen bleach, I have managed to reduce my cherry-kool-aid muslin to apple blossom pink, and a pale peach. That I don't care about. My print fabric appears to be about as good as it was going to get. The selvedge is uniform messy-child-drinking-cheap-beverage pink, but since the rest of the fabric had been dyed (cream), it seems to have fared pretty well. There are a few splotches here and there (I think from where the red fabric had been dripping onto it in the middle of the night) that I can't seem to get out, but I'm hoping--with a careful cutting--that I can still get my dress out of it.

It is just so immensely stupid. I get this pattern I like, buy fabric I like, find out the pattern doesn't fit me, wrestle fruitlessly with pattern alterations, learn how to draft a sloper, begin re-drafting the pattern design from scratch, and then leave long-awaited fabric under an opened window so that it gets rain soaked, and then toss it in the wash with an un-washed piece of red fabric!! I mean, really! What was I thinking? I did not get what I deserved; if I had, the fabric would have been totally unsalvedgeble. As it is, my ego may have suffered more than my fabric, which I do not regret.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


When you say you are building a house, people have at least an idea of what goes into it, and at least a vague idea about foundations and basements. When you say you are making a cake, people think you mean "from a mix", but know what you mean when you say you are making it from scratch. When you say you are making a sloper, you get a blank look, and they say "What's that?". Sometimes they're even interested in hanging around long enough to listen to the answer.

What is a sloper? First I'll give a general answer, and if your eyes haven't glazed over and you haven't come up with a polite comment with which to shift the conversation to something more interesting to you, I'll try to give a more indepth answer.

When I'm trying to describe what a sloper is to my younger WarCraft-modding brothers, I explain it as a skin; reducing the body to polygons, or planes. To other people, I describe it as a body-map, that accurately shows the space a body will take up. Sometimes I say it's the basic building block of making a pattern. Usually, the conversations goes something like this:

"What's a sloper?" Blank look.

"Well, a sloper is a skin tight dress, drafted to your own personal measurements. Once you have this, you can add ease and manipulate the sloper to create styles that fit you perfectly."

"But skin tight? Wouldn't you want to have more room than that? I'd think it would be awfully uncomfortable!"

"No! The finished garment isn't skin tight; it's just to make sure that you know the shape of your body--then you add extra room."

"Oh. Um. . .gee, doesn't that cloud look interesting? Sort of frog shaped, or something?"


Like I said, a properly made sloper is drafted to your exact measurements, and fits sort of like a second skin. Among other things, if you take the paper form of your sloper and lay it over a pattern, you can see exactly how your body differs from the pattern. You can see where the pattern is too small--it's lines lay inside the lines of your sloper. You can also see how much room you have--maybe too much room--by the lines that lay outside the sloper lines. Or, just as often, you could be a different shape than the pattern. The sloper shows the body.

The best thing to do with a sloper (in my very un-humble opinion) is to learn pattern drafting, and use your sloper for the base. By adding ease--extra room, especially at the sides, so that the garment is not skin tight--and manipulating the pattern by adding seams and shifting fullness, you can create almost anything you can think of.

Now, if watching paint dry doesn't seem particularly interesting at the moment, I'll continue to the slightly more picky stuff. There are a lot of words that people use interchangeably, which really aren't. Some people are very fussy about getting the meaning "just so"; for now, I'm only worried about telling you how I use the words so you don't get even more confused by my mumbldy-jumble. My mother used to tell me that if I didn't know how to spell a word, I ought to pick a spelling and stick with it. If I couldn't be right, I ought to at least be consistent. Well, I give no guarantees that this list is accurate, but it, as far as I can manage it, will be consistent throughout my site:

Sloper: as defined above, this is a skin tight garment, drafted to individual measurements, for the purpose of created customized sewing patterns.

Block: The industry's version of a sloper; this is a garment that is drafted to be skin tight on the company appointed "size", and used in the production of commercial patterns.

Moulage: The French word for sloper. As near as I can tell, the biggest difference is that "moulage" is harder to say than "sloper".

Fitting Shell: A garment that has a small amount of ease built in, and must be adjusted to fit the individual.

All pattern companies use a block in the production of their patterns. If your measurements don't match those of the company block, it's advised that you buy their fitting shell, adjust it to match your shape, and make all those same adjustments of every pattern of theirs you buy. If you don't like that choice, you can draft your own sloper or moulage, and make your own patterns. A sloper is customized; a block is standardized. You don't draft a block for personal use, and the companies don't use a sloper. A fitting shell has to be adjusted; a sloper (if it's drafted properly) is made to fit, and needs no adjustment. (Let's please not talk about what happens if you screw up on the drafting.) Both a sloper and a block are used to the same purpose (manipulated to create patterns). If your sloper is the same as a company block, you wouldn't need to make any adjustments at all. If your sloper differed, then any pattern would have to be adjusted.

So when you make a sloper, you are doing the sewing equivalent of building a house from the ground up. Altering every pattern you buy is like re-modeling.