Looking back over what I sewed in 2014, I counted 26 items for other family members and 2 for me. The 2 for me are actually just wearable muslins for my jeans that I sewed up in gray canvas (which I’m wearing in the pictures below), since I’m still not happy enough with the fit to make them in denim. I also spent a lot of time last year working on half-scale dress forms and patterns. Actually, when I started designing the paper half-scale dress form, it was because I was procrastinating on making jeans for myself, because I knew I’d have lots of trouble fitting them. I’ve decided 2015 is going to be the year I sew myself a new wardrobe.
I’ve been purposely not buying any clothes for myself, hoping that not having anything decent to wear will motivate me to do the hard work of designing some clothes that fit me. I actually have plenty of clothes; I just don’t wear most of them because they are uncomfortable due to poor fit. It wasn’t until my ready-to-wear jeans were completely disintegrating to the point of being indecent to wear in public that I was brave enough to try to sew some jeans, so I guess it’s working.
I have bodice and skirt slopers I made for myself, but I was too chicken to do anything with them for a long time. My fitting shell has just been collecting dust on my dress form. Designing half scale basic blocks and dresses finally gave me the confidence and knowledge to start designing my own clothes.
The first step I took toward designing my own clothes was to make a torso block from my bodice and skirt blocks. Making a torso block for a real person is not as easy as it is in the patternmaking books. Well, unless you happen to be shaped like a dress form. I used a combination of a couple of different methods (from Armstrong and Knowles) to make the torso block. I wasn’t able to get a close fitting torso block due to my extreme lower back curvature – I had to reduce the back waist dart so it hangs away from my body a bit at the back waist. Even with the looser fit there’s still a big dart back there. But I’m pretty happy with it. It’s not like I’ll usually want a blouse or dress to emphasize my sway back anyway.
Before I got too far into designing my own patterns I decided to do a reality check and sew up a commercial pattern. I wanted to make sure I hadn’t given up too easily on altering commercial patterns. I’ve never been able to alter a commercial pattern to get a good fit – I just have too many fitting issues, and not enough fitting skill and patience. (But somehow I’ve had the ability and patience to teach myself patternmaking. Go figure.)
I decided on the Colette Sorbetto tank top for a test, since it is about as simple as you can get, and Collette designs for a C cup, which is what I measure for. I printed out and traced my size from the Sorbetto pattern. Then I lined up my torso blocks over it, rotated the front upper bust dart, and traced my patterns for comparison.
The only significant changes I made to the back pattern were to increase the armhole depth* and increase the width a little at the waist and hip. On the front, the bust dart on my torso block was over twice as wide as the dart on the Sorbetto pattern. I still cannot explain that, since I thought Colette patterns were drafted for a C cup, so theoretically I shouldn’t need to do a full bust adjustment. My final front pattern has a wider waist, a much bigger dart, and a different curve at the armhole. The neckline and shoulder strap position fit well without changes – my bra strap sits right in the middle of the tank top straps. I removed the box pleat down the front, but that doesn’t affect the fit since the pleat is stitched down at center front.
There is no way I would have been able to figure out how to make even this simple tank top fit so well without comparing it to my torso block, so I’ve convinced myself I made the right choice when I decided to design my own patterns rather than alter them. I did like the approach of comparing my sloper to a commercial pattern, though. The fit was really good after the changes I made on paper – when I made a muslin, the only change I had to make was lowering the dart a little more. I’m not sure how well this approach would work for a more complex pattern, however. I may try looking at commercial patterns for neckline shapes, amount of ease, etc. and designing similar patterns from my slopers.
*If you do a Google image search for Colette Sorbetto, you will see lots of people with wrinkles pointing to their underarms, so I think most people will want to lower the armhole on this pattern.