The House of Tatterdemalion

Unfashionable, unskilled, inexpensive--but still sewing.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

European Cut, part II: My experiences

"Taking accurate measurements is by far the most difficult and challenging part of sloper drafting. You must deal with a 3-dimensional body to be translated onto 2-dimensional paper."

This is how Elizabeth Allemong begins the first chapter, to which I respond, "No kidding!" Not only is the body 3-dimensional, it also moves, shifts, stretches, compresses, wiggles, and generally doesn't stay put. The ironic thing is that as far as I can tell, getting accurate measurements is typically considered fairly easy, and drafting is considered something scary and complicated. Hah! Not so at all.

Since the book is written as though it were speaking to a professional dressmaker, it assumes the one taking the measurements will also be the one drafting and sewing. However, it's impossible to take accurate measurements of yourself, so for this part I pressed my sister into service. Actually, she was quite willing, thankfully. Although she found it dreadfully ironic to read and follow directions geared toward professional seamstresses (she loathes sewing, and doesn't even want to get near the machine), she understood what it meant to me. (If you don't have a willing volunteer, I suggest bribery in the form of baked goods. In particular, I have a recipe for a low-fat chocolate cheesecake that one of my brothers describes as "so mocha it's a form of humane execution in some states". It's also a good thing to keep on hand in case the measurement session doesn't go too well. The one caution is that if you eat too much of it, your measurements would change, and you'd have to start all over again, and that would feel like a catastrophe. If anyone is in need of the recipe, let me know.)

My first disagreement is when she says "Don't ask her to turn around. You will walk around her to take front and back measurements. Don't take any chances that she might change her stance, or you will have to start measuring all over again." Well, my sister and I tried to follow this exactly in the first measurement session. But, we're not very quick; it was hours long (I think at least three). Standing absolutely still for three hours is not good for you; your muscles start cramping up, and near the end I started feeling a bit faint and light headed. By our last measurement session, we were down to two hours, but I still don't recommend you stand utterly still. Maybe if you are much faster than we are--maybe if you only had to stand still for an hour--but if your experiences are similar to mine, I suggest you move around a bit.

I especially think you should move around while your body is being marked up for measurements. Stay comfortable and relaxed. Then, when you are being measured, try to stay more still. However, I still suggest you move around enough to stay relaxed. I suggest you do turn around, instead of being walked around. I think it is more important that you stay relaxed and comfortable, because that will lead to you standing the most naturally. The longer you have to stay in the "same" position, the more you tense up, and start standing in ways that are un-natural to you. And trust me, it is quite difficult enough to stay relaxed while someone scrutinizes you from all directions, without being told to stay still on top of everything else.

Some of the marks are hard to make, especially where they require a straight line. The human body is curved, and to get a straight line on it is difficult. My sister found that using my small quilter's ruler as a guide helped considerably in getting a straight line.

The measurement chapter was one place where I sometimes wished there were photographs. For one measurement, I remember my sister saying,

"Hmm, now, how do I take this measurement?. . ." A pause while she reads the book. "Well, according to this, for this measurement your arm should be chopped off."

Apparently, the illustration had removed the arm for clarity of instruction, but my sister had a bit of difficulty figuring out how to take the measurement. As in it would have in the illustration, my arm got in the way of taking the measurement. She managed it in the end, but a photograph showing how to cope with the reality of limbs-that-get-in-the-way might have been helpful.

For the most part, though, she found the measuring part to be very easy; the marking of all the reference lines was the most difficult. Where, exactly, do you mark the shoulder line? Where is the right point for the shoulder point? This required much pressing and feeling, trying to find the joint. Everyone makes it sound so easy to find, so I'm assuming that since I had more-than-average muscle development in that area made it harder to find (the tissue was firmer, and harder to feel the joint through). If you have a more average muscle development, I would assume it would be easier to find the joint--or at least, I hope so, because otherwise it's quite a bother.

Marking the neckline was also tricky. She tells you to mark it in the back "just above the prominent vertebra." I think this is much too high. I was never happy with the way it fit with the neck up this high. Although I could get it to hug my neck, there was loose fabric for about an inch before it smoothly fit my back. I tried the recommended darts, but they actually exasperated the problem. In the end, I lowered the back neck to just below the prominent vertebra, and that worked much better. I did use the recommended darts, then, and it fit much better. I also don't think it's optional to leave the darts by the neck instead of moving them to the middle of the shoulder. I actually liked how it looked to have the darts by the neck, and it was one less step to not move them. However, I think I achieved a better fit when I moved them to the shoulders, so that's what I recommend.

She describes the waist as "the narrowest part of the waist", but as I mentioned in a previous post, my sewing mentor suggested I put them where my back curved inward the most; the most important part being that the waist be completely straight--not tipped up in either the front or back. This worked well for me for the bodice and skirt sloper, but in my final set of measurements, I took two measurements, one where my waist was narrowest, and one where my lower back dipped in the most. I intend to use these measurements when working on the torso sloper. (By the way, bluecatahoula, if you're still around, I got The Costume Technician's Handbook for my birthday, and although I've been enjoying it, I can't find the reference to where to put the waistline. Mine is the 1992 edition; I confess I haven't read it thoroughly yet. Do you think it was one of the "edition" changes, or ought I just sit down and read it cover to cover?)

Another measurement I had trouble with is the chest measurement. This is the only "whole circumference" measurement she has you take, and for every set of measurements I took, the sloper was consistently tight in this area. For my final draft, I added 5/8ths of an inch, and then I still wound up adding another half inch to it. For this measurement, the tape measure is level in the back, but dips up in the front, above the bust. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why. The line is drawn straight on the paper; why do you measure a curved line? If this works well for other people, I guess I'll just have to come up with another conspiracy theory about why my body is non-standard. At any rate, if I ever have to go through all of this again, I'm going to take the measurement totally parallel the whole way around.

Ironically, the skirt gave me a lot more problems than the bodice. (By the way, you should most definitely take all the measurements the same day. Do not try to take the bodice measurements one day and the skirt measurements a different day. Ask me how I know. Actually, don't ask me how I know; I'd rather not talk about it. Trust me on this, it won't save time, either for you or your designated measurer. Thank goodness for patient sisters.) The bodice back had 26 marked points. The bodice front had 23 marked points. The skirt front has only 15 points, and the back only 18. The skirt was even more simple than the bodice, if you can imagine that, but I still had more trouble with it.

The first problem was, yes, trying to take the measurements in two different days. The first time we tried taking the measurements, it took about 3 hours--without taking any of the lower torso measurements. We couldn't take anymore at that point. Needless to say, this caused problems later on. Once we had taken another set of measurements--this time, all of them--I tried again.

The back wasn't too bad. She accounted for my figure type in the back; a big rear. (One of my brother's thought I was being overly self-conscious when I described myself as have a big butt, but the only way to get the skirt to fit was to use the instructions she included for those "with very protruding buttocks".) Don't worry, she also includes instructions for average, and flat, and a few shapes in between.

However, getting the right hip curve was a nightmare; I finally resorted to pin-fitting, and then copying the curve. Part of this was caused by the fact that at that time I didn't have a hip-curve ruler. Part of it was complications with my protruding thighs.

Getting the skirt front to fit was even worse. This was due to the fact that my body type wasn't taken into account here. She did have instructions for those with a flat abdomen--but not protruding thighs. And I didn't start out this whole project with the knowledge that I had protruding thighs--this I learned the hard way. Secondly, this threw off two dimensions--vertically and horizontally. It was obvious it would throw of the width measurement, but I didn't realize at first that it would throw off the height measurement as well.

This is why: when she has you measure your center front skirt length, the tape measure goes straight down the center--not over your thighs! I thought that perhaps the situation could be solved by using thigh bridges, as she had instructed to use bust bridges earlier. However, the bust has a definite apex and dropping off. The thighs were a different story. You couldn't tell exactly when they became "protruding" or when they stopped "protruding". Perhaps if I had used several bridges, I could have obtained an accurate measurement. As it was, several attempts didn't get me an accurate measurement. In the end, I left myself with well over an inch of seam allowance in the center front, and manually adjusted it during the muslin fitting stage.

The second problem was width. Getting an accurate front thigh circumference measurement was hard; again, I had to leave myself seam allowance and adjust later. It was also a problem because her book didn't explain what to do with that extra width. I originally started by adding the extra space at the side seam--that is, the side seam was further shaped to make allowances for my thigh; it curved out more below the hip point. The back skirt side seam was straight from the hip point down, and the front skirt side seam continued to curve out beneath the hip point. In the end, I did wind up putting in front darts--not for my abdomen, but for my thighs. The side seams hang straight down from the hip point. I added the extra width to the whole skirt front, and darted out the excess at the waist. These are looong darts, but they work to make the skirt fit without out pulling and straining.

The first thing everyone asks is "But wouldn't those look really weird?" I suppose; if you left them that way. A straight "pencil" skirt is never going to look right on me, no matter what. If you make an A-line skirt, the darts are closed at the waist and opened up at the hem--so no darts are sewn. When making pants, I intend to always use a waist band, and ease the darts instead of sewing them. So, although those long thigh darts are necessary for a pencil skirt to fit me, you probably won't ever wind up seeing them on my finished garments.

The third problem was my abdomen measurement. I finally wound up just leaving it out. There was no use in putting it in when my waist and thighs were both more protruding. However, this meant that I had no "high hip" measurement (as the high hip measurement is taken at the same level as the abdomen height, and the abdomen height is supposed to be where the abdomen protrudes the most), which meant I couldn't draft the skirt back according to her directions. Instead of adjusting the dart length to make sure the high hip measurement was accurately reflected on the paper, I left my darts at the guideline length and hoped that was good enough.

The sleeve head is based off of the armhole measurements from your finished bodice, so don't draft your sleeve until you are sure that your bodice fits right. Ask me how I know. Actually, don't ask. Let's just say I've drafted several sleeves. So far, not one of those sleeves is for my final sloper. Since I've drafted several sleeves, and the sleeve is based off of the sloper measurements directly, I'm pretty confident it will fit right in. Every sleeve I've drafted has been a very tight fit, so don't try for a really snug measurement on your arm or you won't even be able to get the sleeve on your arm.

On my first reading of the book, I was disappointed that she gave so little information one what to do if, perchance, the sloper didn't fit. She says "If the bodice does not fit well, mark the ill-fitting places with a black pen, directly on the muslin. No adjustments are made to the center front and center back seams." And that's all.

Upon further reflection (and many attempts later), I realized a very good rule of thumb: If you can't tell what is wrong, and quickly and easily fix it, you screwed up on the measurements. Don't bother try to alter it; take new measurements and try again. You will quite possibly be tempted to just experiment, and try this or that, thinking surely it would be quicker than taking all the measurements again. Well, if my experience is an accurate example, it wouldn't be. There's no point in altering; otherwise, you'd might as well not even bother with the sloper. All you will do is waste more time before you finally decide you really need a new set of measurements. Ask me how I know. Actually, don't.

As she points out, the fit of the sloper depends on three "ifs": If you drafted right, measured right, or stood naturally. So that means either I cheat when I get measured, or my sister had difficulty measuring, or possibly, I made drafting errors. But since the drafting part was the easiest, I'm inclined to blame the previous two. Neither my sister or I remembers doing anything different any of the times she measured me, yet each time, the measurements came out slightly differently. And each time I sewed up the sloper, there were miscellaneous wrinkles (many of them) that I couldn't figure out how to fix.

With the final set of measurements, the bodice had one glaring problem--not enough room in the bust (see above comments on the chest measurement). I let out the side seams a little, and then the bodice fit nearly perfectly. That's how it's supposed to be. If you have lots of miscellaneous wrinkles you don't know what mean, you're in trouble, and it's time to dig out the cheesecake. My only other practical advice would be to try to get the measurements over with as soon as possible. The longer you stand around, the more time you have for standing un-naturally and getting stiff. The biggest difference between the first and last set of measurements was that we were both familiar with what was going on in the last set; and consequently, she took less time and I was more comfortable and relaxed.

As you may have noticed, I had quite a lot of trouble with drafting my own sloper. Yes, I did. I must say (honestly) that I mostly didn't enjoy it--or at least, I didn't enjoy the "getting measurements taken" and the "sloper doesn't fit" parts, which were the great majority of the time spent working on this sloper. But the question is, was it worth it?

This is when I realize what people mean when they call their projects "their babies". People who don't have babies frequently ask "Is it really worth it?" I mean, the kid takes over your life! It wakes you up, screaming, every night. You're constantly sleep-deprived, you get hardly anything else done--could it really be worth it? And like a new mother, I defend my baby. Yes! It most certainly was worth it. Okay, it didn't wake me up screaming every night, but it was very time consuming. And, okay, it doesn't look like much (mostly it looks kind of sack-shaped. What can I say? I have a sack-shaped body). But what I have now is a foundation--and foundations rarely look like much. However, you can build many wonderful things off of a well made foundation--and without a good foundation, you can't build much.

And what is my end conclusion about the book? It's a good book, and I like it. Unfortunately, it wasn't omniscient, but luckily, I didn't expect it to be. It's a very good guide to show you in the right direction, but it will still take time and work on your part. If you're willing to work through to the end, you will have a good end product, but it might take you several tries. Learning new skills usually does, and, as with most skills, you get better with practice.

Since purchasing this book, I have also acquired a few other books on pattern drafting, but I haven't found anything I appreciated as much as this one. (I hope, of course, to write more later on other books I have, but as usual, my writing is getting squeezed out of my schedule by other things, so don't hold your breath.)


Anonymous bluecatahoula said...

Hey! I checked my copy of The Costume Technician's Handbook, and found the references to the waist location in chapter 4 (page 101, but I have the 2002 edition, so the pages may be different). It says the natural waist is midway between the bottom of the ribcage and the top of the hipbone; if it's not visible (as the narrowest part), the measuree can place their hands on their hipbones, and the waist is marked at the top of the hands. I tested this on myself and found that my narrowest point is about 1 1/2 inches above the point my hands come to, but I'm a bad subject--one of my family's genetic quirks is the occasional extra pair of ribs. Like your protruding thighs, it's not something I noticed until I went to make a garment and realized my torso is really, really long ;). Anyway, I hope that helps. And thanks for the detailed review. I may have to check out Allemong's book!

11:52 PM  
Blogger Tatterdemalion said...


Thank you for your wonderfully prompt response! And my great apologies for my dreadfully, utterly, completely un-prompt reply! I have been running around like a chicken with it's head cut off these past few weeks, and I'm terribly embarrased that I haven't even responded to a comment on my own blog in response to a question I specifically asked. How scatter-brained! How rude!

Anyway, I figured out why I was confused. I was conflating your two past comments in my mind; I could not find any refrence in the book to marking the waist as the narrowest part, and then lowering it later. After re-reading your past comments, I realized that comment was from your instructor, not the book.

I also find that putting putting my hands on my hips is a lower point than where my body is the narrowest. It is the place I wound up putting my "waist" line, but it is certainly not the narrowest part of my body.

One thing I did find helpful is their illustration of where to mark the shoulder point. They state it is "in the small space created by the acromioclavicular (!!! Don't ask me to pronounce that.) joint, and provide a very good illustration of that joint. Most other books say something like "feel for the bony protrusion" or something, but the picture clearly shows the joint--not of the shoulder and arm, but of the shoulder and collar bone. When my sister and I marked my shoulder point, it wound up being about half an inch further out than "looked" right, and I think we located the arm/shoulder joint, not the shoulder/collar bone joint, which looks as though it's about half in inch in further. An easier way to find your shoulder point, I think, then, would be to walk your fingers along your collar bone toward your shoulder, until you find the end (the joint). I can feel the space they are talking about, and it's certainly very easy to find by that description.

At any rate, it's a very fascinating book--The Costume Technician's Handbook, I mean--and hopefully some time I'll have time to do a detailed review of that as well.

4:25 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home