Friday, 20 August 2010

The V&A free dress pattern

It's been very busy here at The House of Marmalade this summer.  Too much to do, and too little time as usual, but one of the things I have done, and enjoyed immensly, is visit the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to see the Grace Kelly Wardrobe Collection.  Have you been?  Are you in London?  It finishes on 12 September, and I thoroughly recommend a veiwing or two if you can.  Unfortunately, camera's were not allowed, and so I can't give you a complete run down of the display beyond the image of my pre-tour cup of tea and Programme.

However, as the Museum have decorated their shop in a vintage style with patterns from their very famous "free couture" pattern which is downloadable from their website, I thought that this would be a good opportunity to re-post my workings on that very pattern - even though I still don't actually have a finished dress to show you.  (The V&A have plenty though all made up,  ready to go and complete with petticoat, if you don't fancy making one yourself). 

You can download the pattern  HERE.  It is adapted for modern sizes 10-14, was created especially for the V&A Golden Age of Couture Exhibition Website, and is based on the dress pictured here, a 1953 ready to wear dress by Horrockses Fashion. It has a close fitting lined bodice with waist seam and flared skirt with pockets.

Ready to wear couture styles in the 50's were relatively expensive and favoured by members of the Royal Family, 'working women' would save up to buy them for special occassions, like going away on honeymoon (perhaps this explains the ridiculously high price tag in the shop!).

I found that the pattern I printed, didn't fit, and so I re-drew it to my measurements from scratch as an excercise to explore the techniques used when it was originally designed and cut.  So here is the lowdown according to The House of Marmalade:

First step is to print out the pattern onto A4 sheets of paper, align the special corresponding marks, and secure with tape.

I then cut out each pattern peice and pinned them to  Madge the Material Girl who was adjusted to my measurments as closely as possible.

Looks good doesn't it?
Now Madge, give us a twirl!

.... Houston, we have a problem! .... can you see?

Not only is the armhole far too big, but the back sections of the pattern are a) back to front, b) too big by a long way (I mean a very very long way, not just the usual discrepancy between dress form and body) and c) the instructions don't make much sense...

So.. back to the drawing board - I find it easier to start from scratch so that I know what's what.  You will need to create your own block if you do it this way.

First thing to work out after drawing a new block, is where exactly the darts are? The front bodice is made up of only 3 sections with only 2 miniscule bust darts in the top middle section, under the bust. The rest - and there must be more to acheive the perfectly contoured shape, are hidden. I knew that there must be closed darts involved, but in order for darts to be closed, other darts must be made - and then either closed again or hidden in seams. Think of shuffling orange segments when one is missing - another always takes it's place. Where are they?

I won't bore you with the details of the very circuitous cutting and pasting (think Blue Peter) route which led me to the conclusion that what we have here, is infact, a French Dart.

A French dart combines shoulder and waist darts and I could have avoided hours of snipping and sellotaping by following three simple steps

1) Close the shoulder dart of the block forming a wide dart under the bust
2) cut the sleeve, neck and waist portions along the chosen lines of the pattern
3) close the waist dart and trace each piece with the darts closed (except the two bust darts which must be left). The darts then become integrated within the cut, and all you will see in the finished dress, are beautiful smooth pieces of fabric.

Having taken the long route round, I understand the shortcuts much better than I would have done, but to finish off, these experimental pattern peices now have to be traced back onto paper, in order to be traced again as pattern peices.  The top arm is traced as is with the dart folded out (closed).  The bust section is traced with the dart intact, and the bottom middriff section is traced while the dart is folded out (closed).  You wont see the traced closed darts in the final cut.

Next step is then to trace those peices off, add seam allowances, transfer to fabric and sew together!

The only reason I haven't sewn this myself is because as yet, I haven't been able to find some suitable fabric, however, since my recent shopping trip to London, I may well use the lovely black polyester with white flower pattern for this dress.  I think it would suit.

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