The Fitting Shell

You might wonder why I am so thrilled with the results of the Misses Size 4 fitting shell I completed this weekend. The reason is very simple: I thought that I’d lost my touch after not having sewn in full scale for over 15 years.

I used to draft my own patterns and stitch up dresses, blouses and skirts on a consistent basis after graduating the French Fashion Academy’s Two Year Custom Dressmaking and Fashion Design course in 1983. Then, about 1996 my Mom began to require extra attention as she experienced periods of great fatigue and emotional distress. These bouts of unease came and went but I found that I could not concentrate on full scale sewing because I wanted to pay attention to her needs. As a result I turned my own need to express creativity through sewing and channeled it into 1:6 scale patternmaking and dressmaking for fashion dolls.

When my Mom passed away in 2011 I gradually started turning my attention to full scale sewing again. Although intellectually I had all the information still on call, I had become very rusty. My sensibility for detecting where and how I could correct a fitting issue had gone into sleep mode. I worked diligently to wake it up.

I soon found that although I was very capable of creating dresses and skirts with ease, my eye for fit was still not very good. I began to rush through my projects eager to create a blog and post pictures of the finished results. Then I asked myself where did this urge to rush come from?

I decided to stop hanging out in forums and reading too many blogs for home sewists. Not that they weren’t helpful but I found myself falling into a kind of tension instead of approaching a project as a learning experience. It became all about the finished project and how fast I could get it posted into a blog.

This was not the way I was taught or how I learned from my teachers. The idea of a fitting shell or a toile of a style, was to test the fit and learn the construction techniques. The toile was marked, pinned, taken apart and restitched until the results were just right. There was never any expectation that the toile would be something to actually wear. It was a preparation and a testing ground. A few dollars spent on a toile that did not turn out so well was never considered a waste. it was a learning experience. Much better than rushing into the fashion fabric and losing that because of fitting issues or construction mistakes.

I decided to start at the very beginning, as if I was just learning to sew. This would be the best way to reorient myself rather than jump into more projects that turned out mediocre and were not worthy of posting to a blog.

It took me about a month to get the hang of taking measurements again. I made about three fitting shells until the results were just right. Now I have accurate measurements which will serve as the basis for creating the patterns from which different styles will emerge.

My advice to all home sewists is to de-stress and step back. Work at your own pace. And whenever a skill seems to be eluding you, spend some time revisting it and consider the toile the medium to help you pefect your ideas and fit.

It doesn’t matter how many sewing machines you have or how much of a stash you have on hand or how much time or little time was spent on the construction. The important part is to have a quality item for your effort and when extra time and thought are applied the results will be even better than expected.

Note: I used a very lightweight poly-cotton blend for this fitting shell. A firmer muslin would have pressed better.