The House of Tatterdemalion

Unfashionable, unskilled, inexpensive--but still sewing.

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.


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