Thursday, October 14, 2021

Collar structure and the importance of ease

     In some areas of a garment we may want substantial support and we need to figure out a way to create that structure with interfacing. We want that structure to not compress, squish down or lose its shape over time.   We don't want that interfacing in the seam allowances though because that will make them thick and bulky.  

The choice of structure in a collar for instance, could be something as heavy as buckram or multiple layers of collar canvas ( sized linen ) put together with or without a "glue" to hold the layers together. 

Here I have made a rough sample of one layer of linen collar canvas fused (with stitch wichery), to one layer of hair canvas. This may or may not be enough for your purposes,  you need to sample different materials to get the right combination.

If you use multiple layers laminated together with a fusible you should stitch through the layers to ensure they will not de-laminate over time.

Cut the laminate to the finished shape and size required - no seam allowances.

Laminate and cotton ready.

Stitch through the layers to hold the laminate together permanently.

Cut a piece of thin cotton larger than the laminate  

stitch the laminate to the cotton, stitching through all the layers again. 

Trim the cotton leaving a seam allowance beyond the edges of the laminate.

Cut your fashion fabric leaving ample seam allowances 

Baste the fashion fabric onto the laminate/cotton. *

* This is important- Baste the fashion fabric to the laminate/cotton over your hand, or a ham or tailor's egg to give it shape. A collar is going to go around the neck, so think of it as a partial circle. The outside of the circle is larger than the inside of the circle so the fashion fabric needs to be slightly bigger. If you just apply it flat on the table, it will resist being forced into a curve and will spend the rest of its days trying to lay flat again, and it will be trying to do that while attached to your jacket! 

The fabric thickness should be accounted for as well. Don't forget about turn of cloth! It takes a bit extra ease and seam allowance to wrap a thick fabric around the interfacing to the inside than a thin fabric. 

join the laminate to the fashion fabric by stitching about 1/8 inch away from the edge of the laminate through the layers.

Lay it flat on the table- see the slight ripples? You need this ease in the fabric to make a successful collar.

The same technique is used for the cuffs which are actually joined into a circle. Once you sew the cuff seam creating a cylinder you do not want to see any buckling of the structure.

Friday, October 8, 2021

18th century costume structure and support

Once I have fused all the fabric and it is cut out, the pieces need to be marked. The style lines need to be seen from the right side of the fabric and some areas need to be stayed to prevent stretching out. Since we are in the fashion fabric, that means most of the marking is done by hand. This coat will come apart after the fitting, so it is essential to have everything marked beforehand.

Here is a partial half scale pattern of the body of the coat I made for you. I made this pattern with a side body panel, not true to period but it gives a bit more shape through the torso and a bit more flare to the skirt at the sides of the body.

Next, I have to think about structure. Which areas need support and what materials are available to give the support needed.

I need a chest canvas- and for this I purchased an overcoat length canvas. Like this one but longer.  I need to make some modifications to it. I want the chest area to remain in its normal position, but I don't have a lapel, so I want to add in a piece of hymo so there is a double layer across the front. 

I cut the coat with the straight grain parallel to the front edge of the skirt as shown here.

I have found that this reduces the issue of excessive  bias stretch along the front edge. it also looks better in striped fabric, as the stripes don't run off the edge!

The chest canvas, from approximately the waist down, is modified by darting it out and slightly shifting the lower area in sections so the grain of the canvas is the same as the coat. The darts are cut out, then joined edge to edge with a strip of fusible interfacing and zigged to hold.  

I also need to give the skirt areas support so they don't collapse. We want the skirts to have some oomph to them. Support inside the skirts is also useful because we will be sewing trim on the skirts and the support will stabilize those areas.

I used a product called Sew Sure firm. This is a narrow sew in interfacing that I have used many times in the past. It used to be available in a number of weights/stiffness from soft to extra firm, but I think now is only available in firm and soft. I use this crosswise so it naturally resists folding flat in the folds/pleats of the skirt. 

I draw out my pattern on the sew sure, and it is then flat mounted to the skirts by hand, down the pleat lines as well as around the perimeter. The Sew Sure that we put in the skirts also benefits us when it is time to hem the coat- there is something to cross stitch the hem allowance to!

Other areas needing support are the cuffs. here I will use a piece of the sew sure, and a piece of fusible canvas/hymo to give me the required stiffness. Pictures and details later!

The collar also needs a support, and for this I use a laminated piece of hymo and collar linen. The collar is cut nett (no seam allowances). This is mounted onto a piece of thin cotton which will act as a seam allowance. Pictures and details to come!

Similarly to the coat, the waistcoat fronts are cut out, a piece of hymo is cut for the fronts and basted in for the fitting. The waistcoat back is just a piece of muslin for the fitting. A collar is cut and mounted to cotton, then basted in place.

Lining- I generally cut  the lining for the sleeves for a fitting- it helps slide them on and off, and I cut the back body lining, again so the garment slides a bit more easily over the waistcoat and sits on the body without friction.

I cut the rest of the linings as well as the waistcoat back after the first fitting.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

18th Century costume getting to the fitting stage

 Getting to the fitting stage.

I was going to get one fitting for this costume. 

Seven years ago I made mock ups for the first fitting because a lot of decisions get made at that stage, ones I could not anticipate, and it is much easier to correct for fit and allow for design decisions when you aren't cutting into expensive fabric. 

Mock ups save time- mostly in sewing time, because putting together a mock up in a cheap muslin means you can prepare it faster.  If you cut something in the real fabric for a first fitting, you need to mark everything carefully, allow inlays in areas where you may anticipate changes for fit, and sew it together so that you can take it apart after the fitting.  All of the interior structure needs to go into the garment right away as well. For instance, in a mock up I might just apply some fusible to the fronts of the coat, but for this coat, the chest canvas was basted in as well as all the interfacing to support the full skirts of the period. In the fitting, you also need to know where and how to adjust for fit, and mark changes with chalk and pins (rather than sharpie on muslin). In a mock up I might feel more free to clip into certain areas or keep seam allowances narrow, but in the real fabric, you have to be much more careful.

What mock ups don't do is allow the designer or director a chance to see the real fabric in action early on. With only one fitting, cutting into the fabric was going to give the director a better idea of what the final costume would look like.  

So, one other thing to consider in saving sewing prep time with a mock up - you can get to the fitting stage faster - but you do then have to allow time as the cutter to alter your patterns and cut everything in the fashion fabric after the fitting. 

With two weeks from fitting to delivery, I didn't feel there wasn't enough time to make that happen.  

So I cut right into the real fabric for all of the pieces. Shirt, waistcoat, coat and breeches/tights. I passed off the shirt to a colleague to prepare, I sewed the waistcoat shell and breeches/tights and another colleague put the coat together for the fitting. It did help that I had a handle on the design, and from what I could tell, the measurements didn't indicate any big challenges, but still, it felt a little daunting to go out on that limb. 

All that being said, the first thing I looked at was the fabric itself. The coat fabric was a pretty brocade lamé without much substance. The waistcoat fabric had a bit more heft but it was unstable, the shirting was a somewhat sheer poly chiffon type fabric. The fabric for the breeches was a stretch velvet.

The coat and waistcoat fabrics both needed support, and the best thing I could do was to block fuse both of them. The coat was block fused with a product I know as "wool fuse" which gave the fabric a bit more body, and the waistcoat fronts were fused with a product called "sewer's dream" which is a very light almost sheer fusible.

"Sewer's dream" on the left and "wool fuse" on the right just to give you an idea of the differences in the two interfacings

The iron and table set up I use. This is an older Sheldon steam boiler and iron. It will give me 30 psi of steam when it heats up fully. I should know what the temp of the iron head is at but I don't so I  will put that on my to do list!

The coat fabric had a paisley woven design and to block fuse this meant I had to set myself up at my iron with a metre stick and square so I could keep the fabric squared up while fusing. My iron table is 24 inches by 62 inches, minus space for the boiler so I could only fuse just over half the width of the fabric as I went. 

First, press the coat fabric - all 8.5 metres of it and test for shrinkage. Then assess how much you need to fuse; I fused 6.5 metres. Cut the fusible, making sure it is on grain.  Set up at the iron table, with the fabric at your feet, the fusible carefully folded and ready to be laid on top. Bring the fabric it up onto the table,  square up the pattern in the fabric up with the metre stick and square, lay the fusible in place and fuse a section. Shift the fabric forward, do it all again, aligning the grain as you go. I tried to be thorough, but I knew that I just needed to stabilize it as best as I could and if there were areas that needed a bit more attention with the iron I could do that after the pieces were cut out.

Hours pass......

But finally the fabric is ready to be cut!

Monday, October 4, 2021

18th century costume and wow how time flies!

Isn't it funny how when you are busy you can find more time to do things than when you are not busy?  

Four months flash by.....I was working, but boy things feel strange theses days. 

I need to get back to my posts about making my coat and my thoughts on pattern drafting for women. but I am ignoring that right now and talking about something new.

Anyway, onwards and upwards.

I received a call mid summer by the designer asking me if I could reproduce an 18th century costume I had cut way back in 2014. It was to be for a filmed version of a new Opera piece. The AD loved the costumes we had made and wanted a new version for another singer. 

Of course I could! (confident that I still had the patterns handy, because I keep a lot of my old patterns.)  In the cold light of the next day, I went looking for those patterns only to find out that during my covid cleanup at the studio, I had thrown out those seven year old patterns, because I figured I wasn't going to need them again.

Isn't that always the way?



I proceeded to redraft, to the new singer's measurements: luckily they provided me with the originals to look at so I could jog my memory, and meanwhile the designer went shopping.

It was like Christmas unpacking all the bags of lovely fabric and trim and buttons. He had made me a bit of a map as well, which was essential as we were not going to be able to work in person on this. 
I was in one place and he was going to be eight hours away working on another project. 

The other complicating factor was time, as rehearsals didn't start until September 7 and delivery needed to be by the 22nd. 
This only left a two week window after the fitting to get it all done. I know that sounds like a lot of time, but for an 18th century costume, it is not a lot of time. Luckily I had a couple people on board with me to help out. 

first step- drafting patterns
second step- prepping fabrics and getting everything cut out ( right into the real fabric!) 
third step - putting it all together for the first and only fitting.

More to come..... 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

benefits of a basic block

To continue with my coat adventure, I thought I would step back a little and look more closely into the pattern development.

I usually draft for men, and the process is direct as in I draft a shirt, or a waistcoat or a jacket from scratch. Tailoring doesn't start with a basic block, but women's wear does; a basic block is drafted and all the subsequent patterns are derived from the basic block. 

So, one needs a basic block to start with. 

I have seen many instances online of people developing a skin tight block, they take courses on how to do it, but I have noticed that many people struggle through that process only to find that they don't know what to do with it once it is done. I guess it is good if you want to create a judy for your particular shape, or create a very fitted shell to squeeze a foam judy into.  Having a judy of your size and shape can be a real asset especially if you are not a standard shape or size, but it seems a challenging starting point for most people.

I think the better choice is a block pattern that is fitted but still has wearing ease in it. 

I have a block that I drafted using on older (late1960's) version of the Muller et Sohn method. Technically, it was a draft for a jacket but I think it gives me a lot of flexibility to make a closer fit as well as a looser fit depending on what I want to make from it.

It has 4.5 cm of ease on the half pattern, so 9 cm total ease around the bust. To compare, the Natalie Bray block (circa 1950's) drafts with 5 cm of ease on the half bust (or hips if the hips are bigger).

I like the Muller version, it gives a lot of flexibility in that it divides the body up into sections back, armhole and front. The sections of the body have proportional formulas to which you add ease. I think it gave me a good idea as to whether my personal measurements fit within the proportional parameters to start with. 

The other aspect that I like is that as the bust circumference increases, the proportions change to reflect that. In other words there are size break proportional changes. 

Here is the basic chart. the english translation caption I believe should read: back width, scye width and chest width. 

As with any drafting process, just following the instructions as written is not going to produce a perfectly fitting model. Drafts need to be adjusted for the reality of the shape you are drafting for. This is something I don't think people are aware of.  Measurements are not shape. If your measurements are not exactly what the draft calls for and your shape differs, then you still need to account for that in the drafting and the fitting.  

In order to draft a personal block, I think you need a few specific measurements. 
Here is my basic list:

nape to waist back
across back
nape to bust point
nape to waist front (going over the bust point then straight down
bust point to bust point
throat to centre front waist 
across front (upper chest)
nape to shoulder, to elbow, to wrist
shoulder width from neck.

There must be a waist tape on the body to provide a destination point for these measures and I recommend a set of photos with the waist tape on in order to double check when drafting.

I like measurements that have defined starting and ending points.  I don't like weird measures like side seam, honestly, where are you measuring? or front waist arc from side to side. Really too random for me.

Even measuring from the mid shoulder is suspect. Can you locate and apply the measurement  reliably on your pattern draft? Using your t-shirt seam as a starting point? not for me. 

That being said, I know that learning how to use a basic block for pattern development and to adjust your pattern is a steep learning curve but for some it may be a good thing. 

I think having a set of your measurements would also help the user of commercial patterns adjust them with a bit more confidence. 

If you are interested in discussions about tailoring and cutting women's wear, you might want to check out this site. click on the bespoke cutter and tailor forum link. 

Monday, May 17, 2021

perspective on home sewist issues

 Time seems so fluid these days, I can't believe a month has passed since I last posted.  

I was thinking the other day about how the pattern making process is a mystery to a lot of people.

I don't take the process for granted, yet I am at a different vantage point regarding pattern making than the average or even experienced home sewist.  I have almost 30 years of experience doing this, intensive years of learning how to draft, how to fit different bodies and how to adapt the information provided (measurements and design) into a paper pattern. 

There is always something to learn, problems to solve, and I enjoy that aspect of the work. In the absence of a lot of work (Covid issues),  I have tuned in more to the home sewist platforms and their particular challenges. 

Yesterday I read a post on Instagram (blog post here) about a sewing wiki. I found it interesting that these two women were considering this, but I think they have made a wise choice in not going forward.  I cannot imagine trying to curate the information! The thought makes me ill 😉. 

The internet has opened up a lot of information to so many people in such a positive manner, but unfortunately it also has let loose a lot of misinformation. I think it is mostly misguided, not malicious in any way. I think there has been a generational gap (or two) of knowledge and learning in the area of pattern making and sewing, and now that the art and craft of it is seeing a resurgence, the gap is showing.

 In the age of social media and the loyalties it engenders, I have noticed a certain interesting embracing of failure. It sometimes seems that people identify with the struggle and sharing the struggle, often to the point of dismissing or disregarding sound advice. I am all for figuring stuff out on your own, but why not accept good advice or pointers in favour of failure?  Eventually with time you may realize that you have been reinventing the wheel.

I guess I am just seeing it from a much different perspective than most.

Anyway, I could go on and on about it all, but I am sure that would be too much for both of us. 

I was going to post about my coat pattern here today, but this is already too long. That will be another post.

I would be interested in your opinions on this, 


Friday, April 2, 2021

lockdown project- a coat for myself

It seems that spring is here, and it is time to switch out the winter clothes for something slightly lighter. That makes me remember that I had another lockdown project I can tell you about. 

I made a coat for myself. 

I still have the first coat I ever made for myself, way back in the early 1980's. It was a Vogue pattern, I believe, I bought the fabric at Duthler's in London Ontario- they had nice fabric in the day! Sigh.

It was a classic cut, DB camel coloured tailored coat. I haven't worn it in decades, I did love it, but, it was time to make a new coat. 

First-design- I had to pick a style. Oh gosh, I had so many pins of women's overcoats on Pinterest that I liked but I couldn't decide on any of them. Then, I saw an online ad for a winter coat at the Bay, and I liked it enough that I thought I could use it as a jumping off point. 

I did a little drawing first. 

Then I got out my base/block pattern that I drafted and fit on myself last year.


I made a pattern, started a mock up and realized it had way too much ease allowance, so I started over,  made a new pattern and cut right into fabric. I figured I would baste it together and try it on as I went and make adjustments to the style and fit on the fly.

Maybe not the best decision, but in my defense, I had what I will call "Covid Brain",  very fuzzy thinking, and I had the time to spend. 

This project also provided something I had been lacking since the lockdowns, and that was a deadline! I planned to have it finished in time for my working gig in Montreal.

I muddled through. I am sure Lela thought I was crazy at times when we were working in the studio together but it all worked out in the end and I got a coat out of it.

I will show you some of the stages in the upcoming posts.