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Sewing that's Retro, Geek, and Chic
I’ve had a couple requests for a tutorial of sorts about how to transfer the fitting marks from a mockup (aka muslin or toile) to the paper sewing pattern. So since I’m in the process of making my Easter dress for this year and the pattern needed a lot of tweaking to be what I want, it was the perfect time to take some photo examples. =)
I’m currently working at The Dallas Opera (helping to build fun 19th century costumes!), so I was able to have my coworker Traci help me fit my mockup during part of a lunch break. Really convenient since the pattern needed more work than I could easily fit on myself alone! Thanks, Traci!
Behold, the truly flattering (*sarcasm*) before & after fitting photos:
Mockups aren’t meant to look pretty. They are meant to be drawn all over and pinched and pinned and then cut up. This is why my fabric choice was a cheapy bedsheet – nothing pretty because I knew I would be throwing it away in the end. I never plan to save or use a mockup once it has served its purpose. If the pieces are big enough, I might cut it up and use the fabric for another mockup later (this fabric was actually left over from Camille’s wedding dress mockup).
There was a pinch taken out of the neckline to eliminate a gap. Tucks were taken out of the side front pieces for a better fit at the bust. Some of the flare was removed from the skirt. The princess seams were moved inward a bit and the neckline was widened slightly at the edges for a more pleasing shape (these adjustments were mainly made to match a photo of the dress I’m copying).
And here’s how I transferred all those marks to my pattern:
First step was to cut right on the new line for the princess seams in the front, cut off the sleeve following drawn armseye, and rip the stitches out of the shoulder seam – all so the mockup could be opened up and traced onto the paper pattern.
The cut mockup was placed on the center front piece and aligned with the pattern’s top line of the bust dart, shoulder seam, and center front. The new lines were traced onto the paper following the mockup at the neck, armseye, and down to top of dart.
Then the mockup was shifted down to line up with the bottom line of the dart on the pattern and the rest of the new seam was traced.
To eliminate the gapping neck in the front, I measured from the top safety pin to the edge of dart.
I forgot to take one photo at this point (but finished alteration is seen in next couple of pictures). To remove that fabric from the pattern without changing the straight center front line (because it’s cut on a fold), I drew a line perpendicular to the neckline and down to a random point on the side seam.
Then the newly drawn line is cut almost all the way down to the side seam – only a tiny point is left attached. And the paper is overlapped the measured amount at the neck (in a V-shape) and taped.
To add the new seamlines on the side front pattern piece, I needed to extend the paper so scraps were taped down the length of pattern.
The mockup was lined up with the paper pattern and pinned down to the table (eventually, I plan to make my cutting table’s surface pinnable too!) and the front edge was traced.
I traced the new side seam (new because of the tuck taken out of the center of the piece) using a tracing wheel, but you can also use a pin to poke a line of holes through the seam and into the paper.
There were only a couple tiny tweaks to the back pattern pieces. I will adjust the center back seam in a final fitting and then insert my zipper accordingly. (It will probably be a bigger seam allowance.)
Altered patterns always look a little weird because they are no longer “standard”. Learn to trust your mockup markings and ignore the unusual look of the corrected pattern on paper and your real garment will fit properly in the end. (And you can always make a second mockup just to be sure!)
I hope this photo walk-through is helpful! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments of this post. =)
Now that my pattern is altered, my real Easter dress fabric (and underlining fabric) is cut and ready to assemble! (See the finished dress in this post.)
When I mention that I’m a professional costumer, people often get wide-eyed and respond with an awed “ooohhh…” While costuming has it’s moments of “wow, I love my job!”, in reality, most of what I do is simply just work – and by work, I mean the dirty physical-labor kind.
(Why I’m not a designer explained in this post.)
Being a costumer is more than sewing. There are those costumers who do spend a lot of their time in a costume shop (and I admit that is my favorite place to be!), but even working in a shop involves more than just putting together pretty period garments for film or theatre.
There are tasks like making repairs to old (sometimes stinky!) costumes, polishing shoes, and rigging a costume so that it can be put on or taken off quickly. There is also the distressing of clothing & shoes to make something look old or worn, and there is dyeing fabric – both of which are messy and require true artistic skills that I have not completely mastered.
If an article of clothing has a brand logo, I might get the assignment of “greeking it out” – film slang for blurring or obscuring an emblem so it’s not visible or recognizable on camera. Sharpies in various colors come in handy for that, and when I watch a TV show (especially Reality TV), I can often tell when something has been intentionally greeked out. (As a last minute on-set fix, there’s always creative use of gaff tape for greeking.)
Then there is basic stuff like laundry. It’s never-ending! I may be able to look inside a designer labeled outfit and touch amazing custom garments, but I also have to collect sweaty socks at the end of a day. Sometimes laundry has to come home with me and go back clean the next morning (and that’s after a 12+ hour workday!).
During the last few days, I was hired to do some stitching for a Nike commercial that was filming in Dallas. (You can view it in this post.) I hemmed some pants, took in some t-shirts, and tailored a few suits. But I also helped unpack shipments of clothes that arrived by mail. I did a lot of clothes hanging, and I folded & sorted something like 600 t-shirts!
During the actual shoot days, I spent most of one morning steaming a couple racks of clothes, a few hours heat-setting some logos on basketball uniforms (that was fun because I got to use an industrial press), dressed some extras, collected dirty clothes, and helped pack everything back on the truck. (Wardrobe always involves a lot of heavy-lifting of clothes and shoes.)
It was grueling, but the costume designer & wardrobe crew I was working with were really great people and I’m glad I was able to meet them. I’m sure I will cross paths with them again at some point – it always amazes me how small Hollywood is (instead of 6 degrees of separation, it’s more like 1 or 2)!
On some of the bigger shows where I’ve been hired on as part of wardrobe department, we have a full-sized semi-trailer for all the costumes.
On filming days, a crew shows up (usually before the sun rises) and finds Basecamp set up in some random parking lot near the shooting location. Half the time, it is easy to forget where you are because the trailers are usually set up in the same basic configuration.
Inside a wardrobe trailer, there is often a stacked washer/dryer, a small sink, and a few cabinets and counters in the nose. All the way down the sides are locking clothes racks, and a ramp on a lift at the back end.
Aside from lugging costumes and pushing racks of clothing all over the place, I’ve met and talked to countless interesting people, seen the other side of many “do not enter” doors (I often joke that I don’t know how to enter a building through the public front door), learned how “boring” action scenes & how “funny” horror scenes can be while filming them, worked some 19 hour days (the standard minimum day is 12 hours on most jobs), and been a part of some truly amazing teams.
My job as a costumer involves so much more than sewing (and I didn’t even mention the on-set work!) that it’s hard to summarize when someone asks what I do. Costuming (and any film or theatre job for that matter) is a calling – one that sounds glamorous and usually isn’t.
It can be miserable and completely exhausting at times, but despite all the hard work involved, I would never trade what I do for a normal desk job!
For a long time, I’ve told myself that I didn’t want to write a “learn how to sew” blog because I’ve always felt there are plenty of online resources for that type of thing, and I don’t want to bore my non-sewing readers. (I really love teaching someone to sew, but doing it in person is much more fun.)
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve found that I enjoy leaving helpful hints here & there, and when I do, I get a lot of positive feedback from others in this Land of Blogging. (I sometimes forget that not everything I know is common knowledge to other sewists, because a lot of little things are just how my coworkers and I have always done it at work, and I don’t always remember where I picked the information up.)
Since so many of you seem to like the tips I’ve mentioned in the past, I thought I would start to include some short “sewing tips” posts on my blog periodically.
So today’s tip is one of the very first things I learned when I started sewing professionally: use safety pins for fittings instead of straight pins.
(Every costume shop and wardrobe crew has a HUGE box or two of safety pins because they are essentially disposable.)
For fittings, I like to use a pincushion that contains only safety pins (I personally prefer the standard #2 size pins). They are all pre-opened & stabbed into the pincushion so they can be grabbed one at a time with one hand, which saves tons of time during a fitting.
Using safety pins for fitting a mock-up or marking a minor clothing alteration (like a hem) has the added benefit of the pins not moving or falling out when the model removes the garment after the fitting. And, of course, the wearer can’t be poked with pins while undressing either.
Keeping the safety pins in a pincushion also helps with cleanup after the pins have been removed from the garment to make alterations – just open the safety pin, remove it from the fabric, and stick it back into the pincushion. There’s no need to reclose it, and it’s ready for next time. =)
If you ever have a sewing dilemma, feel free to leave a comment or ask me by email – I’d love to help out if I can!
I have an irksome tendency when I make something – it has to match the picture I’m working from or I will spend forever and a day tweaking the pattern until it does.
Inner Perfectionist: It’s not quite right.
Lazy part of me: But it’s only off by an EIGHTH of an inch.
Perfectionist: Yes, but it’s off and it will drive me crazy!
Lazy: No one else will EVER notice.
Perfectionist: True, but now that I’ve seen it, I can’t un-see it.
Lazy: FINE. I’ll fix it.
I know this makes me better at what I do, but there are times when I wish I could tune the perfectionist out and happily fly through my projects. (When I seriously try to ignore the inner perfectionist, my husband will nicely remind me that “You’d better fix it or it’s gonna bug you!” *sigh* He knows me well.)
So, anyway, you might remember that I chose the Ladies Wrap #0291 for my next assignment for The 1912 Project (honoring the 100th anniversary of the Titanic) because it looked fairly straightforward. However, it turned out to be one of those deceptively complex patterns that poked at the perfectionist in me.
The wrap has four darts, and their purpose is beautifully understated. Two are the shoulder seams, and two meet at the center front creating an almost horizontal line from bust point to bust point (but will be hidden by a collar on the finished garment).
These darts have perfect placement and are the textbook size for the 32-inch bust that the pattern is labeled as being – and because bust point measurement and shoulder seam measurement vary so slightly from size to size, the simple wrap style (a lapped front & open sides) can easily fit bust sizes ranging from 30 to 42.
Using a left-over piece of a bed-sheet from another project, I cut out a mock-up without any seam allowances. That meant the edges were right where the hem would be and I could check the overall fit & silhouette.
I tried the mock-up on myself, my sister and my mom. (I am smaller than the pattern’s 32” bust and my mom & my sister are both larger.)
Let me show you why the pattern needed tweaking…
I know I’m small but I have long arms – and the sleeves were way long, so it looked like I was wearing someone else’s clothes! The drape of the sleeve couldn’t hang gracefully with the arm raised & bent and didn’t match the design sketch, so of course, it completely BUGGED me.
It’s not terrible when I don’t bend my arms (it kind of reminds me of church-pageant angel sleeves) but I would look silly walking around with my arms out all the time!
So I took a poll on upper arm length. (Thank you soooo much to all of you who took the time to answer my one-question-survey!)
The results were quite interesting and confirmed my suspicions: upper arm length is not all that different from size to size, and I was right there at the average middle – 11 inches from shoulder joint to inside elbow.
I used a marker to draw new hem lines on the mock-up while trying to more closely match the sketch. For demonstration purposes, I only cut off the left sleeve.
I transferred the alterations to my paper pattern, tweaked the sleeve points, and shortened the body front & back lengths a little. (In order for me to construct the wrap in the special way I have planned, all the alterations needed to be precise before I make the real thing.)
For those who want to know specifics, I cut 2 inches from the sleeve length and adjusted the curve slightly to make the points less square (matching the sketch). I trimmed 1-3/8” off the front hem and a scant quarter-inch off the back hem.
Now that the pattern is fixed (and my inner Perfectionist can find some other project to obsess about), I’m ready to cut the real fabric and have some fun with construction… exactly 100 years to the day that the Titanic sank.