Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Making skirts

Being able to make a skirt block has been a liberation for me because although I'm no Vivienne Westwood, or Jean Paul Gaultier, or even George of Asda, I am now able to make a wide range of quality individual skirt styles for myself quicker than it would take me to spend a day painfuly  battling through  high street, trying (and usually failing) to find something which a) fits nicely, b) suits me,  and c) is different enough to set me apart from the catergory "fashion victim".

A pattern 'block' or 'sloper' is a blueprint of your body, on paper.  When you have made a skirt block to your own measurements, virtually any style of skirt can be made and adapted from the basic block, and because you will have fitted it perfectly the first time, then subsequent fittings and adjustments will be minimal and easy to do.  A set of blocks consists of a skirt block, a bodice block, an arm block and sometimes a trouser block,  in the corresponding sizes.  Each block can be mixed and matched and manipulated to make virtually any garment you can think of!  Your imagination is the only limit!

Having your own skirt block will also save you a fortune in patterns.  You will see that designing and making skirts from scratch is completely addictive and much easier than it looks.  There is also no guesswork involved in how a printed pattern is made, and therefore, how to alter it to suit you!

My favourite skirt style of all time is ofcourse the Pencil skirt, - a style I have been wearing religiously since I was 12 or 13 years old.  There is a pencil skirt style for every occasion, it's a classic and as such the design possibilities for them are positively endless!  A great way to get inspired, and also a way  to figure out how to sew your creations together for best effect, is ofcourse to scrutinise the clothes which are already in your wardrobe, and which presumably, you like!  I also inspect details of clothes in shops ... even if it does draw suspicious stares from the staff!

The A-line skirt is another classic style which holds a further feast of possibilities.  When combined with fabric options, and other design details, you can see that one lifetime just isn't enough for all the ideas which can come flooding in, nevermind time enough to wear them all!

So what does one need to make a skirt block?

A tape measure
A ruler
A large piece of paper
A pencil
A rubber (!)
A set square if you have one

And your measurements - taken so that the tape measure is 'snug', not too tight and not loose. 'Ease' will be added afterwards:

Full hip
Waist to Hip - usually about 20cm unless you are very tall!.
Desired skirt length - usually about knee length for a block.

And here is a nice sheet for you to keep some notes - click the pic to download:

Friday, 5 February 2010

Making a vintage bra cup

Do you ever have a task in mind, which you have every intention of doing, until you sit down with a cup of tea midmorning, and something on the table, while you are drinking, catches your eye, and you think .. "ooooh ... I could try that" ...  "Right after i've done that other thing i've got to do" ...  And then after your cuppa, you can't quite focus on the original task because you're too busy thinking about the new thing, and so you just have to go with the flow or get nothing done at all .....

And so it was yesterday when I saw this picture of a vintage bra in one of my corsetry books and thought "that looks interesting" ....

Surely it's just a case of dartage, I thought to myself, ignoring the very complicated looking diagrams and even more non-sensical instructions ... no no no .. It must just be a case of closing those two regular darts, tracing the pattern off, and sewing together the resulting parts ...

Er .... no it seems not.  Mr M  came home from work just as I was holding the 'cup' to my bosom and sniggered "are you making dustcaps?" ... :/  It's good to make mistakes though, as the greatest lessons are learned here and navigating through mistakes, is the best way to gain a deeper understanding ...

So it was back to the drawing board, and this time a closer inspection of the dreadfully written instructions which took some improvisation to implement, not least because they seem to be written backwards!!

I got there in the end.  Basically, you have to move the shoulder dart down to the bottom, which doubles the width of the 'waist' dart  (making a 'french dart' infact) ... then you have to add to these darts again so that the resulting shape, cups the boob - the book does not explain how or why, or how much, so I improvised here and made the top darts at 45 degree angles - 0.5 cm each side and added .5cm to each side of the bottom dart.

After tracing off the parts of the pattern, and closing the darts, I ended up with this!  Now all of these pieces are ready to trace off again (there's a lorralorra tracing involved!!)  so that they form smooth pattern shapes ready to be cut from fabric.  The shape of the 'bra' needs tweaking as you can see, and so will the the fit - the book allows for these 'discrepancies' thank goodness - it's always better that they say so don't you think? Else one ends up thinking that there's are more problems than there might be!

The book also says of this style of bra - which is one of three styles given - that if you slant the bottom of the cup and move the straps so that they sit wider, you end up with a plunge bra which pushes up and together, giving a fantastic cleavage.

I think i'm becoming a dart geek!  I find dart manipulation SO intriguing - there are just so many possibilities - it's mind boggling!  My pattern teacher explained it like the segments of an orange.  You take one segment out - that is the dart, but the empty space doesn't have to remain where you put it first.  If you take another segment, and put it in the gap, then you have a gap elsewhere - do you see what I mean?

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

My first self drafted corset!

I lost the will to blog in December/January, but that doesn't mean I was sitting around  with idle hands!

Another project which I began last year was this corset.  It is actually my very first self drawn corset pattern which has WORKED!   It's taken a lorralorra experimentation to get to this stage, poring over old corset patterns in complicated books along with extensive interwebular research,  much headscratching, and a good deal of practical trial and error. 

First of all, a corset should fit so that you don't get any 'bagging' of skin over the top edge - ie: "4 boob syndrome"!  The centre back edges - where the laces are - should be parallell, not bowed in or out at any place,  or v-shaped in any direction - all or any of these things are signs of  a badly fitting corset.   Therefore, the corset pattern must be made with all of these things in consideration.  

This here is the smoothest 'finish' I have ever achieved in my corsetry!

A corset can reduce the waist immediately anywhere between 2-4 inches in one go depending on one's 'squidge' factor and obviously, this affects how the body behaves at either edge of the corset - the squidged waist has to go somewhere - usually upwards - which will exaggerate the 4 boob syndrome. If the hips are more than 10" bigger than the natural waist measurement, then you are very lucky the corset has to be made with hip gussets in order to avoid a ruched and stretched appearance over the hips - this is a good thing as it gives a tremendous hourglass shape.  I, unfortunately, do not need gussets :(


The front of this corset doesn't quite pull in flat enough over the tummy for my liking - I am not sure how to remedy this - more boning or different lines?  This is next on the drawing board!   For more shape the corset needs many more bones - I am not really very pleased with the curve factor here, although it has pulled my waist in very comfortably, by 4 inches - I feel there should be a little more definition! 

Fabricwise, I used a medium weight gingham fabric, flatlined* to some stiff canvass, and then lined with polycotton.  The boning channels over each seam, and at the centre of the front and back panels, run between the outer fabric, and the lining.   The gingham was a little too fine to use without further stiffening, despite the canvas backing that I reinforced it with - it moved about alot when I was sewing the busk fastener which annoyed me terribly but I managed somehow to avoid puckering.  

I am however,  really pleased with the finished item, not only because of the perfect fit, but because of the casual look (looks lovely with jeans!).  Therefore, if I used this type of fabric again, I would have to bond it to canvas or coutil with bondaweb before sewing the peices together and lining.

*flatlining:  sewing each pattern piece of outer fabric to a stiffer fabric pattern piece, and then treating the two as one piece.

Edit from the future:  NEVER steam your corset peices during construction.... this corset suffered from having smaller lining pieces than the fashion pieces because I steamed everything but the lining fabric shrunk.  Grr!

Monday, 1 February 2010

A little black dress

I have been trying to finish off a number of projects which I started last year, in order to be able to get on with this year's 'stuff' on a fresh footing - I'm not doing very well!

This little black number was the first on my list of pressing things to do - although I originally planned for it to be finished for an evening event I had to attend at the beginning of December!

It is inspired by this pattern from 1963:
Just the kind of style I like. Very Audrey Hepburn don't you think? Elegant, timeless, classic and 'multi purpose'. One of those 'office to party' type of dresses.

As you can see, the pattern is a size '14', but inside the envelope there is no measurement chart so I have absolutely no idea how big or small that is in today's money. However, as it is a very simple design it was easy to 're-make' with a twist or two.

I've turned it into a 'panel' dress, which basically means, that instead of putting darts into either side of the dress, on my new pattern, I drew lines extending from the bottom of the darts to the bottom of the dress. ( I will do a separate post in the future, dedicated to darts as this is quite hard to explain if you haven't done it before.) I then cut the pattern out following these lines, which gave me 6 panels (3 front + 3 back) instead of the original 3 (1 front + 2 back).

I personally like the look of paneled garments but I also think that they are quite 'easy' as effectively what happens when a panel is cut, is that darts are removed which means that it's easier - for a beginner at least - to get a close fit without bulk.

I put the zip at the side of the dress - I simply can't understand why one want to clutter up the back of a dress with a zip when you could have a perfectly smooth finish there, with a concealed zip at the side, finishing under the arm, so that's what I do for most of my projects where the fastening isn't a decorative design detail.

Top stitching finishes off all of the seams and gives a professional look - and oh, how I love to topstitch! There are 2 side splits instead of one back slit to make walking easier!

Because I am impatient, this dress is unlined and unfaced! (I know, don't faint!). The fabric is a sturdy sretch sateen cotton, and so isn't desperate for a lining. I overlocked all of the seams (which were then stitched down by the top stitching - making this a useful detail as well as decorative) and then on the spur of the moment - just as I was about to contemplate the facing, which I had cut, I decided to bind the neck and armholes with a duchess satin binding. This complemented the satin covered buttons at the waist.

The bindings are finished on the inside by hand, one of the details I love to do - it's so satisfying to look at those perfect hand stitches. The belt has bound button holes - a detail which I forgot to photograph (another thing which will have it's own dedicated post soon).

All in all, I'm very pleased with this dress, and all the more so, because when Mr Marmalade took the picture above, he asked why . "It's for the blog" I said. He looked confused, I had to explain "I MADE IT" .. he nearly fell over in shock and I had to confirm several times before he understood!

What's your measure of a good job? The other day someone said to me of a skirt I was wearing "ooh it looks just like what you'd buy in a shop". I reckon that's a pretty good compliment, don't you?