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Wednesday, January 23, 2013


After this past week, it's easy to see why I disappear from the blog world. The projects I've been working on have had serious glitches and I've been dithering about what to do with them. Let me give you a recent example.

Last Friday was my birthday. As Birthday Queen, I claimed the right to sew for me on my day. As I was knee deep in other things (like pattern drafting), I wanted a short, simple project. 

Silhouette Patterns #600, the basic blouse, has been in my queue for awhile. Peggy Sagers has several podcasts featuring this blouse. Have you seen her podcasts? They're great. I've learned so much from them. I'm a big fan of Peggy's.

Alas, the first basic blouse podcast, the one where Peggy demonstrates how to fit this pattern, is currently unavailable. Their broadcast technology has changed and this old one must be giving them problems. I hope it comes back, or they redo it, because it was great.

In a more recent podcast, Peggy constructs this blouse, including cutting it out, in an hour. And she isn't even rushed. When the session ended, all she had left to do were the hems and buttonholes/buttons. 

I really, really wanted to love this blouse. I knew that once I tweaked the fit, the whole series of shirt/blouse patterns would open up to me as Peggy uses the same basic block for them all. 

But this pattern is so homely on me. The neck does not come anywhere close to my neckline, it goes halfway up my throat. The garment doesn't skim my body - it hangs from me in a way that waist darts could never cure. The armscye is too low, and the sleeves seriously restrict my arm movement. 

I could adjust this pattern but would be more than tweaking. And the style of the basic blouse isn't appealing enough for me to want to put in the time. As a zippity-quick top, it was fine. For extended fitting work, not so much. 

Other patterns fit me better, with less work. As much as I admire the Silhouette philosophy, I don't seem to fit their body type. I wanted to love it. Dang.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Internet Angel

An internet angel visited me, via email. Lori A. Knowles, author of The Practical Guide to Patternmaking for Fashion Designers: Menswear (known on this blog as Patternmaking: Menswear) sent me a long email with encouragement and some numbers to help me with my draft. The armscye is now in a wearable position. Thanks, Lori!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Charting Frustration

Measurement chart = Frustration
Two measurements charts = (Frustration)2

In case you haven't guessed, I've run into a snag in drafting the first pattern block. It was coming together swimmingly (very clear instructions), until I had to form the armscye. On my draft, the location for armscye is wrong. I've double-checked my work, and it's not the drafting. Therefore it's mostly likely the measurements.

Getting accurate measurements is essential. But finding the body's landmarks is challenging, and locating imaginary locations (ie side-seams) is an exercise in self-doubt. When taking the measurements, I tried to be uber precise but it was tricky with my fingers crossed.

As I worked my way through the required measurements in The Practical Guide to Patternmaking for Fashion Designers: Menswear (aka Patternmaking: Menswear), I took comfort knowing  the book included a detailed Standard Measurement Chart in precisely the size I needed in case I messed up. 

With typical can-do! enthusiasm, my brain glossed over the fact that the Standard Measurement Chart has only 27 measurements, while the drafting chart requires 53. Alas, no one demanded a reality check and I was too full of optimism to do one.

As you've probably already guessed, I couldn't check the measurement I had taken against its counterpart in the Standard Measurement Chart because the Standard Measurement Chart didn't include it.

Annoyed with myself for not doing this sooner, I cross-checked the two charts to find out which measurements were missing. From the math, I expected they would have 27 measurements in common. By my count, they have 22 measurements in common. 

In other words, by my reckoning, the Standard Measurement Chart has 4 measurements that were not included in the drafting measuring chart. The drafting measurement chart has 31 measurements not recorded on the Standard Measurement Chart. Darn!

This made me curious. Could I draft the pattern block using the Standard Measurement Chart? 

After pondering it for awhile, I came to the sad conclusion that at this moment in time, I could not. While I can divide the full circumference measurements listed in the Standard Measurement Chart into the quarter circumference measurements required for the draft, I don't know how to extrapolate some of the others. A patternmaker with more experience most likely could, especially if they knew alternate methods of locating a body point on the paper. But I cannot. 

I'm at a roadblock. How do I proceed? Do I do my best guess? I have an idea of how to fudge it so my block draft will look more like the example (no way would the armscye work where it is presently located on my draft). I could probably correct it in the muslin/trial garment stage. Once I have the block finished and fitting properly, I won't need the measurements anymore; further patterns are developed from the block draft.

Or do I use a different drafting system to develop the block?

This is one of the flaws of self-learning. If I were in a class, with a knowledgeable teacher, the teacher would probably know how to correct my draft and deduce whether the mistake came from an erroneous measurement, a misinterpretation of the instructions, or a typo in the printed text. 

Working solo, I just have to figure it out myself. In the end, that's the best way, but man, these roadblocks are painful.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

UFO Escapes

Stud Muffin's New Shirt
Today, two garments managed to escape from my UFO (UnFinished Objects) sewing pile. A-ma-zing! Two completed garments in a single day! The fact that both were nearly finished in no way negates this miraculous occurrence. They've been "resting" in that UFO pile so long, it's a wonder they didn't disintegrate.

First to escape was the black and white striped shirt I made for Stud Muffin. The project stalled when I couldn't get my buttonholer to work reliably. (I think the problem was the lump in the chair.) After all the work I'd put in to the shirt, I wasn't going to finish it with shoddy buttonholes. No sirree!  Better to submerge the dang shirt in the UFO pile where it could be forgotten/ignored. (Punishment for being difficult?)

Under collar with its collar stay pocket
I hauled both the shirt and the buttonholer out and tried again. Success! The project almost stalled at sewing on the buttons but guilt kept me going and voila - finished shirt! 

I like the pattern play of sleeve, placket
and cuff
Stud Muffin is rather conservative and the stripe of the fabric is quite bold. I knew I had to limit the shirt's design elements or else it would not be worn. Alas, I think I restricted myself a little too much. For a striped shirt, it's rather plain. I love the sleeve placket and cuff play of patterns and wish I'd added one tiny detail on the front. Next time....

Finishing the first project felt so good, I moved on to another - pj pants that were Stud Muffin's Christmas present. Everything was done but the elastic. Can you imagine - that's where I stopped! My excuse was I wanted to cut the elastic to size, as the last pair I sewed for him are in danger of sliding off whenever he sneezes. Oops! I corralled the man, the elastic and the pj bottoms and came away with another success.
Bay City Roller pants? (I'm dating myself
with that reference.)

If all that excitement isn't enough, I started pattern drafting today. I finished the front upper torso block. I'll tackle it again tomorrow.

            - Lady T

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Measure of a Man

Taking the measure of a man has long intrigued society. 

"The measure of a man is what he does with power." Plato

"The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good." Ann Landers

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." Martin Luther King

Today I took the measure of a man - 53 of them to be precise. From marking key torso locations to rechecking the calculations, it took the better part of an hour. During that time, I was given the opportunity to take, as well, the philosophical measure of the man, my son. I'm proud to say, he's no whiner or complainer. Not once did he indicate he was uncomfortable, bored or self-conscious and I know he was all three. How could he not be? 

This bodes well for the project. A patient, pleasant client  is so much easier to work with. Especially if it's your son.

Back to the numerical measurements, which is what this blog post is really about....

The Practical Guide to Patternmaking: Menswear by Lori A. Knowles asks for 53 measurements. Ugh. So many. 

My kinder side thinks the system is very thorough. The grumpier side wonders how many of them are going to be a waste of time. In her fabulously detailed size charts, Lori Knowles lists a mere 27 measurement. When I'm drafting the patterns, I'm going to put a dot beside every new measurement I use and see if all 53 I took are used by the end of the book. 

Finding the physical landmarks on the body is a challenge, and it's nerve-wracking to know the success of the pattern draft depends upon getting them right. Where the heck is the shoulder point? Lucky is the person with bony shoulders and a clearly visible bump. What about the side seam? God didn't sew us up, so there isn't one; the poor person measuring has to take their best guess. Same with the waist; some people may have a definitive indent but lots don't (me included!). Chest, knee, ankle, elbow - those I had better luck with.

I marked my son's skin and clothes with washable markers, elastic, and chalk-o-liner, and looped a chain around his neck. By the end of the session, he looked like a toddler who'd gotten into the craft drawer and played with all the supplies. Sorry, no photos - you'll have to use your imagination.

Originally I'd planned to take both the imperial and metric measurements to keep my options open. Last night I decided to work primarily with Lori Knowles' book so I dispensed with the metric measurements. If they prove necessary, I'll torture my son with another measuring session some other time.

Tomorrow I'll inch (bad pun!) my way into the torso pattern draft.

                     - Lady T

Friday, January 11, 2013

Pattern drafting: Menswear

Mail's in! The menswear pattern drafting books I ordered have arrived. 

I bought two: Metric Pattern Cutting for Menswear by Winifred Aldrich, and The Practical Guide to Patternmaking for Fashion Designers: Menswear by Lori A. Knowles. 

Both have fabulous reviews online. But I couldn't figure which one to purchase without holding them in my hands and flipping through them, so I ordered both. Overkill maybe, but I like options. I'm about to invest hundreds of hours learning a new skill <gulp!>, so I wanted to pick my teacher(s) carefully. The reviews did not lie; both books are excellent. 

Metric Pattern Cutting for Menswear (henceforth called Metric Pattern Cutting) is from the UK, and as the title suggests, the measurements are taken in metric. As I'm Canadian, I'm used to working in metric, so this doesn't faze me. The Practical Guide to Patternmaking for Fashion Designers: Menswear (abbreviated to Patternmaking: Menswear) hails from the USA and its measurements are imperial. I'm old enough to have been taught feet and inches in school before the big metric measurement conversion in Canada, so I'm happy working in either system.

Both books have handy standard sizing charts. In Metric Pattern Cutting, there are charts for sizes UK 87-112 (US 34-44), with separate charts for young athletic figures and for mature figures. There's also a collar size chart, another that combines pants and overgarments (coats) (which I thought was an odd combo), and yet another for standard small, medium, large and extra large sizing. Finally, there is an adjustment chart for short (163-170cm/5'4" - 5'7") or tall (183-190cm/6'-6'3") figures giving the amount you need to decrease or increase in key locations. Lots and lots of charts that are basically presenting the same measurement but using different defining criteria.

Patternmaking: Menswear also has excellent charts. They have separate standardized charts for men's Regular (5'10") in sizes 34R-54R, Short (5'6") in sizes 32S-52S, and Tall (6'2") in sizes 36T-56T. The last one made me do that happy dance because that's my Big Guy's chart, which I've never found before. As well, Patternmaking: Menswear has tables for crotch extensions, hem widths, knee widths, crotch curves and arm measurements for sizes 32-54/56. There is also a short section on how to proportion the design sketches to fit taller/shorter men. Personally, I found these charts more useful for my purposes because they include my son's measurements.

A big difference between the two books is the number of basic blocks that are drafted from measurements. Metric Pattern Cutting has lots, based on garment types. For the upper torso, these are the basic garment blocks: the "flat" shirt block, the "flat"" overgarment block, the tee shirt/knitwear block, jersey overgarment block, classic shirt block, tailored shirt block, casual shirt block, basic jacket block, easy fitting casual jacket block, easy fitting overgarment block. Each block is drafted from scratch using measurements. For some blocks, you should have separately drafted sub-blocks for fitted, semi-fitted, and loose fitting garments. No doubt once done these drafts would make it super easy to whip up new designs in their categories. I've read that professional pattern makers usually start with garment blocks (like those listed above) when designing. But that's a lot of blocks....

Patternmaking Menswear drafts only 3 basic blocks from measurements: the upper body block, the fitted sleeve block, and the trouser block. Chapter 3 focuses on drafting and perfecting these three simple drafts. The rest of the book is devoted to how to use these basic blocks to design fashion garments including shirts (Chpt 4), vests (Chpt 5), pants (Chpt 6), jackets and coats (Chpt 7), and linings (Chpt 8). The basic blocks are altered to make the new patterns - sections are lowered, raised, widened, narrowed, etc and the finished pattern looks significantly different from the original basic block.

Both systems include basic wearing ease. Metric Pattern Cutting includes 1cm (3/8") seam allowances in its drafts, Patternmaking: Menswear does not include seam allowances. Both books are well written and easy to understand. Both include lots of garment drafts. An extra perk with Patternmaking: Menswear is the book's binding; inside the hard cover is a spiral coil, allowing the book to lie flat. 

I've been debating with myself about which book to use. I thought the best choice would be obvious, but it's not. 

I love the size charts in Patternmaking: Menswear and the speed of drafting just three basic patterns, then using them as the base for all other patterns. But is it too easy? Will it give good results?

Metric Pattern Cutting is more complex - numerous garment drafts, all done from measurements. I can see the value of doing it this way for a manufacturing company, but is it more work than is necessary when making patterns for one specific person? Part of me suspects the garment block system may end up with a superior product. I love high quality.

Sigh. Which one, which one?

My son comes in tomorrow to be measured. I'll take both sets of measurements, metric and imperial, as specified in each book. Then I'll make my final decision. Right now, I'm leaning towards the KISS (Keep It Simple, Sister) philosophy. 

Any thoughts? 

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Roadblocks, Detours, and Unexpected Directions

I'm not sure if this is true for everyone, but rarely do creative projects end up exactly as I envisioned them. Something unexpected happens between the start and the finish, something that stops the forward motion and makes me rethink/redo the project.

The baby blanket I'm knitting is a perfect example. Started just before Christmas, it's for a grandchild due to make an appearance any day now. Although I'm not very skilled as a knitter, I enjoy the task, and I wanted the baby to have something Nana made.

A few months ago, the ultrasound technician declared my daughter was having a girl. Since then, we've gotten in the habit of calling the unborn baby "she". Most likely the baby is female. But there's always the chance....

Knowing there could always be a surprise at the delivery, I decided to make the blanket in a unisex colour. I picked a simple pattern with a K2, P2 border that switches on every row for a decorative effect (instead of a ribbed one) and a mostly knit interior with with the occasional purl stitch vertical line to keep it from being too plain.

At the yarn store, I picked the beautiful Cascade Yarns Ultra Pima Cotton yarn in a bright shade of turquoise. Gorgeous even though it isn't a typical "baby" shade.

Decisions made, I started knitting. And something happened. 

I couldn't stay on track with the simple stitch pattern. I ripped out and tried again. Uh-huh. Within a few rows, I was off the stitch pattern again. (Roadblock!)

Something happens when I knit. I go into LaLa Land. There's something about the repetitive hand motion that makes most knitters' brains jump from the left (logic, orderly) hemisphere to the right (creative, free-thinking) side. My brain leaps to the right with such eagerness, I find it very difficult (almost impossible) to maintain the order of a stitch pattern. Even this ultra simple stitch pattern seemed to be too much structure.

Wanting to enjoy the baby blanket knitting process, I decided do make a blanket with plain knitting. (Detour!) Since I already had the beautiful turquoise yarn, I restarted with it.

Even with such a spectacular colour, the all-knit blanket seemed boring. Who wants to give their grandbaby an uninteresting blanket? 

So I decided stripes would liven things up. (Unexpected Direction!) Back to the yarn shop I went to exchange my unused hanks for other colours. Since I had already committed to the Cascade Ultra Pima yarn, I felt I should continue with the same brand to avoid further complications. 

Alas, the colour choices were not quite what I had in mind. The yellow was too mustard/gold. The coral was intense. My husband and I and the yarn store lady played around for a bit and came out with a pretty colour scheme: turquoise, white, coral, deep teal-turquoise.

I love it. I think it's gorgeous. But it's not very babyish.

If I were starting the project again, knowing it would be a striped, all-knit patterned blanket, I would not have picked this colorway because it is so far out of the realm of baby things. I'm not saying this colorway is wrong, I'm not saying I don't like it. I am saying I would not have picked it for this project.

My oh my how this blanket has evolved! It started with a slightly  bold and bright turquoise unisex yarn. The end will be far, far different....

Hope you like bright stripes, Baby!

             - Lady T

Monday, January 07, 2013

Attempting Something New

Tall Boy wearing muslin #2b
In December, Tall Boy asked me to make him a zippered fleecy. He wanted one to wear under his gear, so he wouldn't turn into a block of ice during his day-long games of Airsoft. 

Sounds like a simple project, doesn't it?

Problem is Tall Boy is so tall, he doesn't fit standard patterns. They don't even come close. To get an idea of his size, look at the nearest doorway. He would completely fill it. Mosquitoes would have a hard time squeezing through the tiny slivers of space between him and the frame. He's tall (hence his name), but pattern-wise he's even taller than he seems because all of his height is in his body, not his legs. His inseam is only 31" (same as mine!). All the rest is torso.

Knowing there wasn't a commercial pattern available, I tried to make one by cloning a sweatshirt he often wears. (Fortunately he can buy clothes in his size, even if I can't purchase patterns.) I traced, guessed, measured, and guessed some more, and finally came up with a pattern. Fortunately the local fabric store had a sale on fleece and I bought a whole bunch.

Muslin #1 went on his body. Yay! But it wasn't attractive, nor was it comfortable. It was full of grafted pieces. The armscye looked awkward. And the back was just plain wrong. My cloned pattern was a dismal failure.

So I thought. And thought. And thought. 

For Muslin #2, I took the largest sweatshirt pattern I could find and expanded it. The upper chest was much too short, so I lengthened it, front and back. Unfortunately, I couldn't just expand the sleeve head, so I redrafted the sleeve pattern completely. As I worked my way through, I tried to take what was right about Muslin #1 and morph it into the second rendition.

It turns out I added too much extra length in the upper chest and expanded the side side-seams too much width. After hemming and hawing, I recut the pieces then sewed it together one final time for Muslin 2b, which you see in the photo at the top. It's better... but not great.

I decided I need to get serious about learning pattern-making. I've dabbled in it before, enough to realize it's challenging work that takes oodles of time, patience and muslin. When sewing for myself, I found starting with a purchased pattern was so much easier, even with alterations. 

But Tall Boy does not even come close to fitting into commercial patterns. I need a better solution. It's time to take the plunge.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

In and Out

In and out. I seem to do that a lot - pop in to blogsville for awhile then pop out again. But that's not what I meant by In and Out.

The beginning of a new year is often a time of reflection. Looking back on my year of sewing and blogging, I'm shocked to see how far off I am from my goal of 52 Projects in 52 Weeks. Ouch!

This is especially weird considering how often I sew. Not quite every day, but most.

So where is the proof, aka finished projects?

You got me there....

Quite a few things go unblogged. The curtain hemming, the clothing alterations, the undies, the rejects, the unfinished.

I'm squirming a little thinking about how many projects get abandoned. Usually it's not conscious as in "I hate this, into the garbage it goes". It's more, "Oh dear, I better do x now." Or, "This project is so exciting, I'll start it now." Occasionally it's, "Oops, this is wrong. Let me think about it a bit more."

Looking back, I can see that I'm the queen of Good Intentions and an absolute lightweight at Follow-through.

Fortunately January brings the start of a new year. Yay! So out with the guilt of not doing better.

And in with the zeal of the creative spirit wanting to leap out and dance, er, sew! And perhaps a sewing plan....

Happy New Year, dear readers! I hope your creative spirit soars in 2013.

           Lady T