Saturday, January 15, 2011

balance measurements

I've been out of town the past couple of weeks mentoring and teaching, with another week to go so I haven't had much time to post.
I have had time though, to think a lot about some things that crop up again and again in teaching:
a lack of clear and up-front discussion about how the drafts need to be changed for balance, figure irregularities and just plain old bigger sizes.
I thought I'd talk a bit about balance first.
Balance is the way a garment hangs on the body. An example of bad balance is if your coat tips up in the front, hitting your seat behind you and causing drag lines from the hip up on the diagonal toward the chest. It means that your front balance is short.

Now I know that if you read some of the old texts very thoroughly, you will find some information but rarely is it in plain, easy to understand language. The measurements required in some of those books also require the use of specialized measuring tape equipment that sadly has disappeared.
I know too, that many more modern texts are dealing with learning to draft primarily for the RTW market and that is a different situation from what I need to do and what I need to teach.

One of the basic balance measurements can be a measurement from nape to CF waist- it can tell you a great deal about the front length required on a pattern. It does not tell you a great deal about the person's back, but you would still be taking a nape to waist back measurement and between the two can make pattern adjustments.
This page from a German text, pictured above, gives instructions for taking two important "help measures" for balance. Similar measurements are also mentioned very briefly at the very end of "The Art of Fitting Gentlemen's Garments".
The difference is that in the German text, they don't just leave you hanging, wondering how to apply these helpful measurements, they do show the average, the long back/short front person, and the short back/long front person as well as the changes required in the patterns to achieve a well balanced garment.

This is essential knowledge in making individualized patterns- I cannot tell you how many people are drafting up the basic formula for varying sizes and shapes but not using some kind of measurement for balance. They are frustrated in their process because the garment doesn't fit right or sometimes at all, and they don't realize what needs to be changed at the pattern stage.

So, why is that? Balance applies to women's wear too, and most of the measurement sheets for women have a number of balance measurements taken but not for the men, so I encourage people to take the extra measures, apply them and it will make a huge difference in both the fitting stage, and in your end result.


  1. Balances are vitally important. When applying the measures (as shown above) to the patterns you must take into account the allowances, if any, on the shoulder seam and the neck.

    So before drawing on your measures, first mark in the allowances and start from there.

    If you take a measure from the centre-back seam at the neck - the protruding vertebra - and extend this over the shoulder to the waist in the centre of the front you will be going over both shoulder allowances. This means your measure could be 1.5cm short, assuming your allowances are 0.75. Similarly the back will be 0.75cm short. Therefore a total of 2.25cm+ of discrepancy makes all of the effort worthless.

    Once this is taken into account balance measures can save a lot of frustration.

    Thank you for the wonderful work Terri, keep it up. All the best, NSW.

  2. Yes, that is a good point. I tend to draft without seam allowances, but most drafting systems have seam allowances of some dimension included. Sometimes it is tricky to determine where they are included and where they are not, but it all must be accounted for.
    I was recently asked if there was some kind of formula for determining individual balance by a combination of height and chest and observation only, but I have not found one if indeed it does exist.

  3. I'm currently trying to learn pattern drafting and this looks like the most helpful book. Would you mind giving me the title, the publisher and the publication date?
    I'm using "The Practical Guide to Patternmaking For Fashion Designers - Menswear" right now and am looking for something that is less geared towards rtw and more towards bespoken as a supplement.

  4. I believe this bbok is out of print. It is called Zuschnitt der Herrenkleidung and was issued by Schneidermeister. I believe it is from the late 1940's or early 1950's.
    If you join the Cutter and Tailor forum, they have a list of cutting books that you might find useful.
    The library of Congress in the USA has digitized many books including many on tailoring, and I have had luck searching the National archives of Canada and library for books that you can sometimes get through interlibrary loans. Most of these books will be OOP (out of print), but they are a good source of historical information.
    If I can find some more information, I will post it.