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Pattern Sizing Experiment: Part 2 – Testing Three Mockups

So I left all you readers with math swirling around in your heads. I hope Part 1 wasn’t too technical or too much of a cliffhanger!

Now I bet you’re eager to see how my experiment worked when I applied the math. =)

First, I copied my pattern in the bust 34 size at 91% on my printer and taped the pieces together. (As always, photos enlarge when clicked.)

I just cut through some of the easy-to-match parts of a page in order to line it up and tape it to the corresponding part on the next page.
No need for straight lines.

I used some of my favorite pattern tracing paper to trace the other two copies of my pattern at the same size they came in – one bust 34 and one bust 31 size.

Because my traced patterns were on such sheer paper, I could do a good comparison of the shrunken 34 under the actual 31 to see the minor differences.

I lined the two patterns up along the center front neck edge.

The differences were subtle but interesting. Here are a few closeups:

Pencil-marked pattern on top is the true 31 bust size.

To me, the most fascinating part of the pattern comparison was the keyhole detail at the neck. When patterns are graded by the manufacturer, many of the details are not proportionally scaled, meaning that some details remain the same size no matter what size a pattern is drafted to be.

All three keyhole cutouts compared within the actual bust 34 sized neck-facing piece.

This means that on a smaller version of the dress, the keyholes are relatively larger. Likewise they are smaller on the larger versions. This does not always make for the most aesthetically pleasing details on the far ends of the grade.

After all, a pattern designer designs a pattern to have the correct detail proportions for that prototype size. I think it is somewhat lazy for the pattern companies to then grade without changing all the proportions accordingly.

My shrinking/enlarging method using a ratio solves this grading proportion problem.

Okay, so are you ready to see how the mockup experiment works on a real person?

Here they are on me:

Side-by-side mockup comparison – actual 31, shrunken 34, and actual 34.

Obviously, the actual bust 34 size is too big for me:

Definitely too big.

When you zoom in to look at dart placement and where the armhole hits at the shoulder joint, you can really see which fits best.

31 (left) – dart too high, shoulder good.
Shrunken 34 (middle) – dart in the proper spot, shoulder good.
34 (right) – dart too low, shoulder too long (overhanging body).

All three had necklines that were a little too high for comfort. And both the 31 and the shrunken 34 had armholes that were a bit small (typical on vintage patterns). In the above photo, I have cut directly on the stitchline for all the armholes, but I have reshaped and cut on the corrected underarm curve for the shrunken 34.

Obviously, you can see that I have chosen to fit the shrunken 34 because of all the safety pins and drawn lines on the mockup. It had the least amount of alterations needed.

Shrunken size 34 pinned to fit.

I took in the side seams slightly, and pinned a test hem. I decided it needed a little more flare for the A-line skirt, which I added to the paper pattern when I transferred my pin markings to the pattern.

(Here’s an example of how I transferred fitting marks from another mockup to the paper pattern.)

Pattern altered based on mockup fitting. Probably too much flare added, but that is easier to remove than add in the end.

So what are your thoughts and ideas about my pattern scaling method? I would love to know if this works for others too! Please comment or send me photos or links if you try your own version of my experiment!

And in case you’re curious, here’s the geeky fabric I plan to use to make the real version of my dress.

Look! Batgirl! Oh, and Wonder Woman and Supergirl. But I’m mostly excited about Batgirl! =)

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Inset Point Sewing Tutorial

Sewing inset geometric shapes like rectangles & triangles (aka godets) can be intimidating and confusing at first glance, but they are nothing to be afraid of!

You can see examples of point sewing in some of the dresses I made for my sister’s ‘30s style wedding (my dress specifically, which is also pictured here, along with a copper skirt involving some crazy points set into gathering); in the envelope art on many of my favorite vintage ‘50s patterns in my collection; on the front skirt of my navy ‘40s dress; and most noticably (because of the contrasting fabrics) in my Stars & Stripes skirt. (Is it obvious that point sewing is one of my personal favorite sewing challenges?)

You need to completely disregard pattern instructions when it comes to point sewing, because they just make it more complicated than necessary. I’ll demonstrate the simplest way to sew inset points with a short picture guide, and you might even find yourself drawn to the challenge of point sewing!

I recently took some photos of the process of point sewing while demonstrating it to a friend, who was making herself a dress using retro Butterick 5708, which has a V-shaped seam pointing down under the bust in both front and back.

Technical line drawing of Butterick 5708.

In most situations, it’s best to first stitch together any straight seams that join to a pointed piece. I find it easiest and the most likely to produce a precise point in the end.

Straight seams stitched on the mockup first.
Red thread used for better visual.

Press seam open and mark match points. (Once you start practicing and have begun to master point sewing, you may not need to mark the match points every time.)

And this is the key to point sewing: Do not try to sew the point as one continuous seam! Treat each point as two separate seams and always start from in the middle at the point.

Just knowing that will save you hours of frustration. =)

Match points marked with dots.
(I used a dark marker for illustration purposes.)

Pin through the dots to match the points.

Pinning through the match points.

Then pin out from the point for the rest of one edge.

Pinned and ready to stitch.

Start sewing right on the dot at the point.

Hand-crank the needle down right on the dot and then remove pin to start sewing the seam.

First half of point stitched.

Remove any stitches above the dot on the pressed open seam that was stitched first. If pattern does not have a seam lining up with the point, clip to dot to spread fabric for pinning to second half of inset point.

Clip to point, spread, and pin second half of pointed seam.

I find that most times at this stage, it’s easiest to flip the pieces over and sew from the other side – once again starting at the point. (However, I sometimes decide to end the second half at the point. It really just depends on the fabric and how it is behaving.)

Starting stitch at the point again.

Completely stitched point. Wrong sides both front and back.

Point sewn and seam allowance pressed down, following direction of point.

And there you have it – a nice sharp inset point!

The same method also works with more complex shapes like a T-shaped yoke (illustrated in views A & B of this vintage pattern). Just start at a point and stitch each edge in separate steps.

But remember: there are no real rules in sewing! There’s always more than one way to do something – some ways are just easier than others. =)

(By the way, my friend finished her dress and her inset points turned out beautifully! If I ever get a photo, I’ll update the post to include it.)

If you ever have a sewing dilemma, feel free to leave a comment, ask me by email or find me on Twitter – I’d love to help out if I can!

Transferring Fitting Marks from Mockup to Pattern

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:

Before: Ick. Just a bad fit all around.
After: Lots of pins and Sharpie markings!

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).

2Marked-Up-Muslin-Mockup

Marked and pinned mockup after fitting.

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.

3New-Seamline-Cut

Mockup cut on new seamlines. Notice that it was only necessary to mark one side with new lines because I am (for the most part) symmetrical.

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.

4Transferring-New-Seams-to-Pattern

Mockup lined up on pattern for tracing new lines.

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.

5Changing-Seams-on-Pattern

New seamline ready for tracing onto paper pattern.

To eliminate the gapping neck in the front, I measured from the top safety pin to the edge of dart.

6a-Measuring-Amount-Pinched-from-Neckline

Measuring pinched amount at neckline.

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.

7Neckline-Gap-Adjusted

Altered pattern piece with all mockup markings transferred.

8Adding-Seam-Allowance

Seam allowances are added following the new seam lines.

9Altered-Pattern-Piece

Final corrected pattern piece including seam allowances.

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.

10Extending-Pattern-Piece

Side front pattern piece with paper added to edge.

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.

12Dots-Punched-in-Pattern

Dotted line on pattern made from tracing the mockup’s side seam with the tracing wheel. Seam allowances were added out from dotted line.

13Matching-Side-Seams

New skirt seam line matched on side front piece using center front pattern piece (seam allowance already included).

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.)

14Altered-Paper-Pattern

Corrected pattern with alterations made. That is one strangely curving side front piece – but it hangs straight when it’s on my body!

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.)

Linen-Fabric-&Underlining-Cut

Self-dyed linen in a pale orange – sort of a melon color.

Sewing Tip: Simplify Fittings with Safety Pins

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.

My designated pincushion for safety pins.

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!

Mock-up Fitting of a Titanic Era Pattern

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…

Sketch & mock-up comparisons:
Ack! My arm completely disappears when I put my hand on my hip!

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!

Me wearing the mock-up without any adjustments.

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.

You can see my marks in green on the uncut right sleeve.

Mock-up with altered LEFT sleeve on both me (blue wall) and my sister (yellow wall)

I think the new sleeve length looks much better now
and my sister’s arms are a little shorter than mine!

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.)

Altered pattern piece with trimmed off scraps (marked with x).

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.

Now see the completed reversible wrap!

No Foolin’ – I Need Feedback!

No joke, it’s April Fool’s Day and I need your “humerus” – measurement that is.

I’m working on my mock-up of the vintage wrap pattern I wrote about Friday, and I need some feedback from my female readers to make sure I make the most universal adjustment to the pattern.

I would like to take a casual poll to gather data on upper arm length (since arms are never included in general sewing measurement charts).

So grab a ruler and help me out! =)

Measure your upper arm from the shoulder joint to your inner elbow where your arm bends, like in this photo:

Then leave me a comment on this post or on Custom Style’s Facebook page with your measurement.

Thanks!  I greatly appreciate your help!

Alterations – What’s the Big Deal?

Misconception: Altering a store-bought garment is easier for the seamstress than sewing one from “scratch.”

This is a common belief that is easy to accept because it seems so logical.  After all, it makes sense to think that since half the work is already done, lots of time will be saved by not having to cut and sew the garment.

In reality, however, alterations to a finished piece of clothing can actually be twice the work of starting at the beginning.  This is because the garment must first be taken apart before the alteration can be made (unless the alteration is simply shortening a hem).  Once the outfit has been taken apart, the alteration can be made and the outfit must then be re-assembled.  Any detail, like beadwork, must be redone.  This is why bridal alterations can double the price of a store-bought dress.

When clothing is made from “scratch,” a seamstress can control the number of alterations by making a mock-up first and doing the alterations during the stages of construction before the garment is completed.

Alterations are often an annoyance to a professional seamstress who enjoys building clothing from the beginning of the process.  A tailor shop usually employs a group of seamstresses that specializes in alterations and may be more experienced at building custom suits for men.  In most cases, those employed in a tailor shop are paid a flat rate per alteration, making it more profitable for them to be exceptionally fast with alterations and repairs.

See also Does a custom dress cost less than store-bought? and other FAQ.

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