Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Pattern Drafting: Backless Dress

My Fashion "Illustration"

There are two reasons I will never be a real designer. Well, many more than two, but two specific to this project:

1) I don't really have any of my own ideas. For this project, I saw a girl on the street wearing a dress that showed a triangle of skin in the back above an elasticated waist and loved the way it looked. So I took off from there.

and

2) I cannot draw. Man, I really cannot draw. And believe it or not I took art classes for a few years in the not too recent past. I liked the watercolor abstraction part, but the drawing part had me in tears every week. On Project Runway when it's a contest to see whose look(s) will be produced in a group challenge, they have 30 minutes to sketch and then do a presentation to whomever is doing the deciding (usually the celebrity judge of the moment). A few people have gone in without sketches. They haven't fared well. The ones who get chosen are generally not necessarily the best designers, but the best illustrators, who draw not only the clothes but fabulous stylized girls that everyone wants to be. Needless to say, my fabulous stylized stick figures would not get me very far. Nor would my beauteous drawings of clothing, as seen above.

Prep Notes From the glimpse of the girl on the street in her dress with back interest I moved on to my idea for a dress. I contemplated how to draft the back pattern piece, as you can see in the sketches, and then worked out the construction details, as you can see in the notes (you can see the largest version of that photo here if for some reason you have a desire to read it).

My plan was to start with an already drafted bodice and alter it from there. I thought that was another reason I'd never be a designer: no knowledge of how to draft from scratch, and no desire to create my own blocks. However, Kathleen Fasanella wrote that real pattern makers take existing patterns that fit well and alter them for the details they want. This is sort of the block or sloper concept, but if I understand her correctly it's even less formal than that. It is, in fact, exactly what I do when I "design." Of course, as Kathleen often points out, there is a different between designing and pattern-making, but they are somewhat blurred in the context of a home sewist creating patterns to fit her own vision.

I figured it would be easy enough to find a pattern that I already know fits me well, but, if you can believe it, I have apparently not made a dress with a plain darted bodice in the recorded past. I mean, I'm sure I've done it at some point, but I looked at all my 232 pattern reviews on PR and unless I accidentally missed one, there are no plain, darted bodices on the list. Wow. Back Bodice Draft So I had to start with an untested pattern. I thought of The Selfish Seamstress's Paris dress, Burda 08-2009-128. I looked it up and it was perfect.

I traced out the pattern and then got to work marking up the back bodice. I followed my original drawings, marking the line for the back tie piece starting right at the armscye for maximum bra coverage. The tie gave me some trouble, as real life didn't match my drawing. If I had stayed inside the armscye curve it would have ended up really skinny, so I extended into that curve. In the end this worked out fine and is not restrictive or weird.

Muslin Front The front was not so great. I mean, the general shape was fine, but the shoulders were way too wide, like falling off wide, and the bust dart was oddly long. I have finally purchased Fit for Real People, so I looked up how to narrow shoulders in there rather than making it up by taking the width out of CF as I have it pinned here. I'll talk about that alteration on a later project, but suffice it to say that I had to narrow the shoulders 3/4 of an inch. The boat neck on this pattern exaggerated the problem, because the shoulders are drafted as wide as possible for the neckline, but I should probably alter the shoulders on every pattern I make by at least 1/2 inch. It is so annoying to do a thousand alterations so I'm not committed to it.

Muslin Side From the side I could see that I needed to lengthen the back tie piece to run down the entire side seam. I had intended to have a gap there of about an inch, to keep the back as bare as possible. To check the fit of the muslin I pinned a piece of elastic in the back to signify the skirt. You can see that the front bodice buckles in that inch between the bottom of the tie piece and the elastic of the skirt. I had no reason to believe it wouldn't do that in the real thing, so I determined to extend the tie piece along the side seam all the way to the seam allowance for the skirt.

Muslin Back I had *no* idea how long to make the ties, so for the muslin I made them super long and then determined the proper length from there. Although I had folded out the back dart when drafting the tie piece, I saw that it needed a little more width pinched out like a vertical dart from the bottom. And the straps needed to be a little wider on the inside. I added about 1/2 inch of width to the upper straps, and really wish I had added more for the final product as it is still a little skimpy and therefore fussy with bra straps (yes, there is a bra under there!).

When I showed her the finished dress on Skype, Cidell felt that the back was obscenely low. However, that is truly an optical illusion. The bodice sits slightly above natural waist, and as you can see by the line of elastic marking the skirt placement it is a good six inches above any kind of plumber's crack situation, and 3 inches above these relatively high-waisted shorts.

Back "Bodice" Pattern Here is the final pattern, as cut. The drafting actually went quite smoothly and was much easier than expected. Although the sewing got a little complicated in terms of finishes, when I realized that for a person who lives alone and has to tie herself into this dress rather than have a helper do it, I had to be able to separate the straps at the shoulder. You can see the extensions on the shoulder for the button "placket" (there is an identical extension on the front bodice shoulder).

Stay tuned for the final result...

16 comments:

Amanda S. said...

Not to burst your pattern drafting bubble, but have you seen Simplicity 2180? It has the same back tie over an elasticized waist detail that you described and might save you some headaches.

caroline said...

I was going to suggest Vogue 1102, but the Simplicity is much closer.

That being said--I feel very tied to patterns. I'm an advanced sewist and can do complicated things, but the idea of making my own pattern is overwhelming. And maybe that's because of pressure that I feel that I should be MORE than just someone who uses other people's patterns? I don't know. I'm content to use patterns and occasionally alter those as needed and still end up with a unique wardrobe.

Clio said...

I'm really rooting for this to work out - I think a bare back is intensely sexy without being vulgar in any way.

Adelaide B said...

Did you have fun? This is why I moved into making my own patterns; I really enjoy the challenge.

Joy said...

I think it already looks cute, even in a gray muslin. Isn't drafting fun (aside from the hair-ripping, head-scratching and other arduous parts)?

Mrs. Micawber said...

Good for you for being persistent. I start out to draft things on a regular basis, then give up too easily when fitting difficulties arise. (Instant gratification - the destroyer of creativity.)

I think your dress is going to be smashing. I don't know if you ever visited VintageSewing.info, but it is (or was) an invaluable resource for pattern drafting. Try this link:

http://web.archive.org/web/20071011135232/http://vintagesewing.info/1940s/42-mpd/mpd-07.html

I particularly like "Garment Pattern Design" by Harriet Pepin, under the "Dressmaking" section.

Mrs. Micawber said...

Sorry, this is the link for the main page:

http://web.archive.org/web/20071030011719/http://vintagesewing.info/index.html

McVal said...

You're doing awesome! As long as the drawing means something to you for your notes, you're fine!
I've just drafted a pattern from a photo of a dress to fit my very hard to fit daughter. It'll be interesting to see if I can get our vision made...
Can't wait to see how it turns out!

Janice said...

That's an interesting point. I actually use that to draft my patterns too (I start with my slopers and then move and shift the lines). Can't wait to see your final result!

meli88a said...

Despite your insistence to the contrary, I see what you're trying to do... Very cute.

ELMO said...

Can't wait to see the rest of it, I like the idea of the shoulder button placket.

emadethis said...

I'm with McVal--the drawings should give you all the info you need to know how to translate your ideas into reality. If they lack cuteness but you can translate your idea better than "designers" with mad drawing skills, I say you win (and I think you do because your Frankenpatterns work out quite well).

Beth (SunnyGal Studio) said...

I can't wait to see this dress, I had one like this back in high school and wore it all the time - I though it was very daring. But for sewing speed I think I would opt for that Simplicity pattern mentioned above, although yours will probably be a better look. and I can't draw either, sometimes those pattern envelope drawings make me crazy, nobody looks like those stick figures, so misleading.

kbenco said...

This looks so nice and breezy. It is incredibly clever of you to have it fit so that you can wear it with a bra. I would bet that the commercial patterns do not do this, and even if they did, where is the satisfaction in that? I feel incredibly clever if I manage to draft something.Like Joy, I find it great fun other than the muttering, crying chair, head scratching bits.
I am looking forward to seeing the finished dress.

Sigrid said...

Reading backwards obviously, but nice to see how the dress developed.

Allison @ House of Hepworths said...

This is so cute!!!!!