Drafting with Jo

gardenI woke today to a mini-flood in the garden. It had rained all night and then it rained on and off all day with the heaviest deluge saved for the early evening which is the time of week when I do racewalk training at the local athletics track.  As my coach worried if lightning was going to strike us, I did only 2km, splashing through the submerged innermost lane, mostly to give my young training partner Izzy (now, she is very talented) someone to chase on her 5 laps in preparation for an upcoming county championships.

1 inThe whole day felt subdued. Humidity, awful traffic and an ironic sense of an impending doom as the nation headed out to vote in the referendum. If I wasn’t such a stickler for driving smoothly (I have a hybrid car…),  I’d have driven into a man who, walking with his family, stepped out to cross the road without looking, ballot papers in hand, heading for a school being used as polling station.  ‘In or out?’, I felt like shouting after him – to find out if I should have driven faster!  😈

I’d voted days before by post, to remain. When the referendum was announced I was slightly more than half in favour that we should remain but as I listened to the arguments of both sides over the past months, my feelings strengthened to an almost certainty. This was after listening to the economic arguments and opinion from family and friends as well as due to a sense of gratitude to the EU I feel for nudging us to clean our environment. (On the other, the UK leads in driving improved standards of animal welfare which is where I wish it to influence other EU countries).

It’s been an interesting time with many people raising their political voice in a debate they feel they can understand, like voting used to be!  1t elisalex and charlotte

Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing (1985 ed.)Despite the subdued mood, I had fun today as I worked with my friend Jo on drafting the Six Napoleon bodice for her.  The plan was to graft together the Elisalex and Charlotte Skirt Patterns – a process which results in what I understand is called a “Frankenpattern”. Jo and I started sewing at the same time – by coincidence – about ten years ago, starting with simple projects negotiated around raising small children (we met at a weekly mummy-run playgroup at the local community centre which we in turn organised).  I remember how surprised I was to discover I had a fellow sewist in my circle – it wasn’t so trendy then!  Not only that, but Jo told me her parents had given her the old Readers Digest Complete Guide to Sewing, the very book I’d borrowed from Greenwich Library to teach myself with.

Toile no. 1

Toile no. 1

Jo, who’s quite a bit busier than me, has no experience of drafting but she is big a fan of By Hand London because the patterns fit her straight from the envelope. Even so, we had our work cut out for us.  The Elisalex bodice is a bit short of the natural waist and the Charlotte skirt (which has more darts than I’d have asked for!) sits low.  We had to fill in the grey area in between.  We used lots of brown greaseproof paper for tracing and Sellotape for sticking it together. The messy, parchment-like paperwork indeed looked like skin of a monster!

I love visiting Jo. Every corner of her home arouses my curiosity so that I feel compelled to go around asking ‘who made this!?’ and ‘where did you get that?’ and ‘how does this work?.  Your typical nosy foreigner basically…  Not that Jo’s home is cluttered!  🙂  Just indicative of a happy, busy, creative family life.

When Jo quickly made up the first toile on her Bernina and put it on, she shouted: ‘it fits!’  But of course, it wasn’t to be. The front looked good enough but when she turned, the back told a different story.  Masses of gaping at the neck and not enough width below the waist (the bit I’d filled in!).  The hem was a big ragged too!

IMG_3330

As we sat in the basement kitchen for draft 2, a mystery guest, in a tuxedo, watched us nonchalantly from the garden. Jo thinks he was looking for mice among the ferns.

1 mystery guest

Toile 2 fitted better but this time there was horizontal excess at the back so we pinched out a massive 4cm swayback (Jo has a cracking figure, very shaped, with long and slender limbs).  With this sewn up in a dart, we pinned the bodice onto the dummy and carved it up using the Six Napoleon sketch as a guide as to where to place the seams.

1 bodice 21 bodice 2 back

Toile Number 2.  Cotton fabric, vintage Laura Ashley

Using pins to mark new style lines for the Six Napoleon Bodice

Using pins to mark new style lines for the Six Napoleon Bodice

bodice drawing

We cut along these lines and when I left Jo, she was pinning the pieces to paper and drawing 1cm seam allowances all around.

1 pinning the pattern piece

We’re not aiming for a close, corset-like fit for Jo.  She would like to wear this as a top only, over a skirt or with jeans.  This threw up some interesting dilemmas:

  • As a stand-alone garment, will the bodice be too short or will it provide adequate coverage over the stomach and hips?

 

  • The zip is to be fitted onto the longer side of the bodice.  Even so, will this opening be wide enough to squeeze into the garment?

 

  • Maybe the zipper should be top to bottom, like an open-ended jacket zipper?

 

  • In which case, can one buy a concealed zipper in this format?

 

  • I’ve been making my own bodice too.  After making a mistake when cutting the first pieces of the lining, I gave Jo strict instructions: cut fashion fabric right side up; cut lining fabric wrong side up.  So that they fit each other.

 

  • Finally… After making a mistake when sewing my own bodice and lining… In what order do we attach the bodice and lining?  Without ending up with the curse that is the infinity loop….!  Any pointers gratefully received.

 

To be continued…

The Mummy

1 mummy bodice drawingHere’s something you don’t see every day.  On a sewing blog.

I attempted to make a close-fitting model of myself, which to then carve up along the Six Napoleon seam lines into 9 pieces (five for bodice front and four for the back). The plan was to lay these long, narrow pieces flat on paper and trace around, also adding seam allowances and grainlines for an accurate bodice pattern.

1 back of the mummy

In a method similar to making a duct tape dummy, I had my ‘husband’ wrap multiple layers of cheap industrial clingfilm (shrinkwrap) firmly around me into a kind of semi-rigid carapace.  It’s the stuff used to wrap pallets.

At first I wanted just a kind of corset.  The shoulder straps were added as an afterthought, the idea being that I’d get an accurate angle of the shoulder.

Unfortunately we got rather carried away and wrapped way too tightly!

As you can see from all the flesh squeezed out into my armpits and general resemblance to sausages.

Before the mummification, I’d put on a bra to give my bust the volume and support that I’d want while wearing the dress.  I also wore one of those waist-trainers which I bought to wear under my wedding dress.  It reduces my waist by 1-2 cm.  The corseting took off another 3!

There’s something fascinating about feeling yourself becoming smaller and… plastic.  I enjoyed smoothing each new layer around me as I twirled around. 1 experiment in corsetry My husband drew a line down the side, roughly representative of a side seam, and the warp was then slowly and carefully cut along this mark whereupon my flesh spilled out of its casing like a hot haggis.

1 haggis

Haggis – tastier than you’d think

But the clingfilm form is too small to be of use. The inner layers are less rigid than the outer ones and after releasing they pull a little, shrinking.  But had my husband not then gone to France (screaming into the distance), I’d have given this another go as I believe it could work with more layers and aiming for snugness rather than tightness.

This is probably not something any right-thinking person would do, but for the rest of you who might here are some tips:

  • Be careful.  Don’t attempt to do this on yourself or you might have to offer an embarrassing explanation down the Accident & Emergency Ward.  Get a well-briefed friend to help you!
  • Don’t rush it or you might fall over.  The process took some twenty minutes starting with my husband walking around me, till he got dizzy.  He sat down and instead I slowly rotated on the spot in front of him till I got dizzy.  But I couldn’t sit down!
  • Wear a swimming costume or leotard with a side seam to give your friend an indication of where the cutting line should be.  For a balanced bodice, draw on both sides before cutting as it will be difficult to know where the opposite side seam is once the form is off.
  • Snip carefully.
  • When binding, don’t pull too tight above the midriff.
  • Post update Official: it’s not just nutters who do this. Fashion Incubator – who is a clothes-manufacturing industry professional and extremely experienced – did a similar experiment.  Check out the post here.  There’s good advice in the comments too.  Thanks to Pella for the tip!

1 corset

Prepping

1 drawing

Masayo Yasuki

Masayo Yasuki of dogstar (click for source interview)

I left a message on the dogstar Clothing Facebook page to promote our challenging task of recreating the Six Napoleon dress, and Masayo Yasuki, dogstar designer, very nicely got in touch saying:

The biggest hurdle I would have to say is the 8 meters of silk organza that makes up the skirt… not to mention the 6 meters of lining!

Fourteen metres in the skirt!  😯

Option 2-horzThis gave food for thought.  Firstly, if it took so much fabric to make the skirt, then that dress was a bargain.  Second: that amount in anything other than the lightest fabrics is going to be heavy (when in my ill-advised moment I bought  8 metres of polyester recently, I soon got tired dragging the bag about town with me.)  So either reduce the volume of folds in the skirt or pick something that won’t cause your back to collapse if you intend to wear the dress for dancing or standing about.

I wonder if gauze – available in widths of about 90cm/36″ –  could work?  My grandma used gauze for everything from straining mozzarella to making a camomile tea compress to put on my itchy eyes during hayfever but I have no experience of sewing it and I wonder if there’s a drawback to doing so.  It’s cheap to buy online – so long as you don’t opt for the sterilised strips used for bandages!  – and being cotton it should dye well though there’d be some shrinkage.

Despite a very busy schedule, Kate is also taking part in the challenge (yay! 🙂 ).  In a discussion on her Corseted Dress Challenge post,  the option of making the skirt as a separate was discussed.  1 pleated trimThe skirt could fit under the bodice like a petticoat or it could go on top: I’d prefer the latter.  I would attach it to the edge of the bodice with a trim on the top of the skirt hiding the basting stitches.  I like the idea of a narrow pleated ribbon, like a finer version of the trim made by one of the contestants in the current series of the Great British Sewing Bee (an interesting technique of tucking fabric into folds of card and pressing: see 46 minutes into Episode 1)?  In the picture below, you can see a similar trim separating the lowered bodice from the skirt on the dress worn by Peggy of Made Men, though this has a ruffled/ruched appearance whereas what I imagine is more like the surround on a rosette.

Mad Men Challenge

Below are other ideas that have harangued me and which I’ve tried to sort in an attempt at organization before I begin to draft, as well as links to other posts which may help you in this or other projects.  It’s still not too late to join us brave muskateers who are going to give this a try: let me know if the timing of the deadline is putting you off.

1 measuring angles

Part One: Bodice

1 ribbon on bodiceI’ve been trying to pin ribbons to my dummy to replicate the dipped edge of the bodice.  I was underwhelmed with the results so to get more accurate angles, I made a tracing of the original photo of the dress by putting paper on my computer with the brightness up.  I measured the angles with a protractor using an imaginary horizontal hem as a baseline (see big picture above).  My measurements (approximate) are: left angle is 25°; the larger angle on the right is 55°.

1 measuring angle

Bodice back

Pella, an experienced pattern drafter who has already made a great start on this challenge, pointed out that we don’t know what is going on at the back.  It could be straight but I think not.  I’ll keep the bodice dips but make them slightly higher than at the front to avoid the skirt bulging out in the same place as does my pear-shaped bottom (ha!).

This weekend I am going to try a little experiment to hopefully help me with the close-fitting bodice design.  Below is a hint: can you guess what I’ll do!?  (um, I don’t know Marianna.  Dance around like weirdo?)

Princess seams

Before sewing princess seams, I like to staystitch all the curved areas to 1-2mm of the stitching line and then clip right up to the staystitch.  As for the rest, here’s one of my much visited posts on sewing princess seams.

Boning

I have found an endless number of posts relating to boning on Gertie’s website.  Interestingly, those folksy German dresses have boning on either side of the front-laced opening so that the bodice doesn’t crumple during dressing/undressing.  For the Six Nap dress, boning isn’t necessary but if like me you’re desperate to give it a try, this tip from Iconic Patterns should ensure the strips don’t dig into your leg: sit down in front of a mirror with a tape around your waist and measure the distance from the waist to the top of thigh: do not exceed this measurement.

Part Two: Draping

I’m sensing the limitations of Anne, my cheap display dummy.  How much easier it would be to wield yardage of fabric on a half-scale model such as Pella has.  Even just a heavy metal base would improve Anne: she wouldn’t threaten to topple as I turn her while winding lots of fabric around.

Improvisation

1 improvised draping

This image is from the Improvisational Draping chapter of Draping: the Complete Course Book, where the author picks a V Westwood dress as the inspiration and suggests you begin by drawing grainlines where they can be ascertained.  This sounds like good advice though I’m not sure I understand the bottom right arrow.  It will make sense when I give it a go.

Mille feuille  💡

You know those cream cakes made of many layers of thin pastry?  Certain other design on the dogstar FB page with similar multi-layered skirt effect reminds me of cakes so I’m wondering if instead of pleating large swathes of fabric to mimic 6 Nap, I could get squares of say 80cm x 80cm,  some folded along the straightgrain and pinned to the bodice and some on the bias creating a handkerchief hem.  I think that will be my first experiment.  Luckily, our laundry cupboard is full of worn duvets covers that I can sacrifice.

Lastly, if you’re new to drafting and don’t know how to add seam allowances to your design, here’s a post from before.

Enough!  I sleep now.  You sleep already!?

But…. Except…  During my last excursion to Goldhawk Road I spotted some black, tightly woven, shiny fabric I think might be ideal for the bodice.  I’m going back either on 17th or 18th June (Friday – Saturday) to buy it and check the prices of organza too.  If anyone would like to join me (and curb my spending enthusiasm ) email me with your preferred day.

Thanks for reading!  Hope it helps.

The Wedding

1 kisobran

1 rain

I wish these pictures could properly show you my dress, but Tuesday morning was the coldest, wettest day that you could imagine for May and the colourless sky stripped all the green out it so that in these photographs it’s decidedly blue.  The shade Lesley called ‘Windows default’!

1 dress 6So you’ll have to take my word for it: that I’d brought to  grey Woolwich, where the ceremony took place, some turquoise.  The colour of the Dalmatian sea near the shore where the pine trees and the summer sky reflect in the shallows.

Right now, the dress is hanging off the picture rail in the living room.  In the calm after the storm, I glance at it occasionally.  The colour is so intense and the crepe texture makes it look almost velvety. It was definitely the right idea to go back for the silk. … To think I was almost a polyester bride!

Yes reader, it was my wedding dress!

1 dress 31 getting away