Update on my fitting toile: Going with draping all the way


I am working my way through many fitting issues now that I have a custom made dress form.  The French Fashion Academy drafting system is not working out for me as it did in the past.  I have decided to try draping instead.  I think I am making progress with creating a basic toile.  I am using the updated edition of  “Draping for Fashion Design” by Hilda Jaffe and Nurie Relis as my guide.    I provided a brief review of this book in 2013 but will post about the updated version once the toile is fitted and finalized.

The difficulty I was having with the French Fashion Academy method is that the intricate series of steps and measurements needed so many tweakings to accommodate the changes surgery made to my body.  As in altering a commercial pattern, all it takes is one adjustment in an area to set off a series of adjustments needed to other pattern pieces.

Even the draped toile has been a challenge.  At least the results look flattering and for this reason I shall persevere.  The fit of this toile will be more relaxed since this is a system created in America where our concepts of fit are different.

The major challenges lie in positioning the darts.  For the basic I follow the instructions in Jaffe and Relis’ updated book.  The bodice front and back vertical darts are positioned at the princess lines.  The first darts near center back of front and back skirts are also positioned near the princess lines.  This may be technically correct but visually I think they look too close and unflattering.  After resolving all fitting matters I will try moving the first skirt darts and the vertical bust dart slightly to the left of the princess seam.  I think 3/8 to 1/2″ will be sufficient.  Or else right in the middle of the waistline of each piece.

The sleeve you see here is a combination of drafting and a little bit of draping that involves smoothing and easing the cap into place.  This is the unfitted sleeve.  I want to focus on the ease first.  Once that is worked out I will try a fitted sleeve with elbow dart.  Following this system I have 1 1/4″ of ease in the cap.  That is a lot.  But the instructions are to ease stitch the entire cap and work out shrinking the ease after the cap is fitted to the armhole.  This means removing the sleeve after all that pinning and easing to steam out the excess ease.  I have to see how this will work.

Stay tuned.  Slow but steady progress is underway…

Photos of the toile so far along with how the paper pattern will look after the drape is copied to pattern paper










Meet Josie, my new dressform


This is Josie, my custom made dress form.  She is very modest about her figure and wanted to be dressed up when I introduced her to the RetroGlam readers and subscribers.

Earlier in the Spring of 2017 Naomi and Norma encouraged me to begin sewing clothes for myself again.  I’ve spent the last three years or so getting my skills back by making clothes for a Misses Size 4 using my Wolf dress form.  With the completion of the 1930s Sew-along with Norma project, I was confident enough to do just that.

I had saved enough money to get a custom made professional dress form by Andy’s Forms in New York City.  Rohan of Andy’s Dress Forms made the form for me based on a series of measurements taken at the store.  When the form arrived last week I was so pleased and so amazed that it duplicated every aspect of my figure.  Rohan makes each form using the traditional hand made methods involving paper mache and fabric.

I decided to name the form Josie Jr. after my Grandmother Josie who taught me how to sew.  My late Mom used to help with all the fittings and critiques when she was alive and before the onset of Parkinsonism began a slow set-in of her life.  It is important for me to have this form since I cannot do a proper fitting without the help of another person to pin, review and assess how the outfit looks.  Even a three way mirror is no substitute for the ability to stand back and see how the toile looks from different angles.

My Basic Fitting Shell

I have been on vacation this past week so there were many happy, uninterrupted hours spent getting acquainted with Josie and her fitting needs.  By naming the form and looking at it as a bit removed from myself, I am better able to critique the fit and results.

One thing I had to admit was that the various surgeries I had in the 1990s altered the shape of my body.  The clothing I made prior to that time was more symmetrical and there were very definite differences between bust, hip and waist.  I have gained weight so that there is some cleavage at the bust and a nice curve at the hip.  But due to an ovarectomy in 1992, I was left with an incisional hernia that had to be repaired twice.  During the second operation a surgical mesh was put in that solved the problem.  Thank goodness I have no further problems.  The mesh, though, resulted n a little bulge at the abdomen that makes me look like I have a bit of a puff in that area.

This has resulted in the front skirt length being 27″ and the side and back skirt length being 26″.  The skirt pattern looks a little odd at this point and my waist is less indented than it was before the surgery.  Overall, though, the operation was a success and that is what counts.

Here are the photos of the basic fitting shell pattern.  The muslin is already cut and awaiting sewing.  Results will appear in the next posting.

The side dart was bigger than the vertical dart.  It was better to shift the dart intake to the vertical dart so now I have a shell with just one dart.  We’ll have to see how that looks.  I’m used to having a vertical and side dart since working with a standard Misses Size 4.  Since this is custom dressmaking now I’m sure more surprises are ahead as I get familiar with sewing for my new body shape.

I’ve always had sloping shoulders so the shoulder dart is about the same as it was when I drafted patterns for myself over 20 years ago.  What is different this time is the center back seam on the bodice has less shaping since my waistline is a little larger due to the surgical mesh.

Here you can see the way the skirt rises at the center front.  I had no idea when drafting the pattern that this would happen.  This needs testing through the fitting of the first toile.  I’m very curious to see the results and what further adjustments may be needed.  It is my hope that anyone else who has undergone surgery and gone through a period of adjustment will learn along with me how to develop styles that will make the least of any figure flaw and favor those parts that are more flattering.

Right now I think that the skirt darts are too small.  Perhaps only one dart each side with the entire amount for intake will be better than two.  We won’t know until the skirt is finished.

First Project after Perfecting the Fit

At first I was thinking of making another 1930s inspired dress for my first custom made project.  But dealing with my little fitting issues has me thinking I should start simple before attempting anything with flounces and all the pretty, fluttery features of 1930s styles.  So I will go with the 1950s styles which flattered my Mom and Aunties and which I grew to love as a little girl.  They were women with a healthy body weight and well defined figures (helped by wearing girdles).  I do not plan to wear a heavy girdle but I favor  light-weight shape wear.  I think 1950s styles with their well defined waistlines are a good place for me to start.

I plan to start with this basic chemise from the 1952 edition of “Vogue’s New Book for Better Sewing.  There will be changes such as a back zipper instead of a front slit because I do not like pull-over dresses made of woven fabrics.  The collar will be turned back for further comfort because Mandarin collars are not one of my favorites since they are too close to the neck.

Knowing how the pattern pieces of the original style looked will also help me draft the style and figure out the kind of kimono sleeve used.  It could be a Short KImono Sleeve without Gusset.  Another possibility is that the pattern was based on a long  Kimono Sleeve cut to the desired length.  I will compare these illustrations with those in my patternmaking book.

The book also shows the pattern layout, which is another help since I don’t have to do much to  figure out the placement of the pieces.

Now, back to working on the toile.







Coming soon…a new dress form, shaped like me!

Naomi at SpareRoomStyle made a request this morning that got me to seriously thinking.  She asked to see a photo of my 1920s dress on a person.  Up until this request I was mainly using Mary Ann, my size 4 dress form, as the means to get my groove back in terms of sewing and patternmaking.  I have passed from a size 4 a while back and now am between a 4 and a 6.  I prefer my new body shape since it’s much healthier and curvier even though it puts me into that strange place where a woman is one size on top and another on the bottom.  Still it’s so much better than having my bust darts cave in or the skirt hang a bit below the butt.  Clothes look better when a person has a healthy body weight.

I started this blog back in 2013, about 18 months after my Mom passed on.  At that point I had been away from my sewing machine and full-scale pattern drafting for almost 20 years.  To give my Mom the attention she needed and bring in the money to keep the household going I had to let go of many personal hobbies.  So that I didn’t go completely off the deep  end by the loss of my full scale sewing, I took to drafting 1:6 scale patterns for 10 3/4″ dolls and hand sewing the dresses for them.  Since 2013 I’ve gradually gotten my touch and sensibility back.  I had planned to have photos of my size 4 outfits taken on an amateur model so I could have a portfolio.  Although I can fit into the size 4 outfits, my hips and waist measurements are larger than a size 4.  The results is that proportionally the fall of the garment is not so good below the waist.

After thinking about how much even an amateur model and photographer would cost I started looking into how much a custom made dress form would cost.  I have been saving for this next phase and have decided to get the form instead.  I will now be able to draft patterns and fit them on my sized form as well as the size 4.  I do not consider this redundant because it offers me more opportunities to compare the differences between standard and custom sizing in many areas.  Plus, I now get to take an occasional photo of myself when I have completed something I really want.

My next 1930s project will still go forward as planned for a Misses Size 4 since it takes some time for a custom form to be hand made.  Then there will be the making and fitting of a toile for myself.  When my Mom was alive she did all the little things like pinning the back, taking the photos that we later evaluated for fit, helping me with colors and giving me the benefit of her very discerning eye and sensibility.  Having a custom made dress form won’t take her place but what I learned from her can be applied since I can step back and look at my form from a distance.

Wish me luck.  I have an appointment at Andy’s Forms for this Saturday at 10 to get measured and discuss what else my form should have.  I think she should have a butt and an arm.  I seriously think it will help with fitting and draping for future projects.  The estimate for just the form is under $600 which is within what I’ve been saving for.  To me it’s worth the investment.  I don’t need to go away on a fancy vacation.  My happy time off will be sewing, draping and drafting for the new form.  When she arrives we can decide on a name for her.





The Fitting Model and Perfect Size to Work With

I think all beginners to sewing, draping and flat patternmaking feel somewhat distanced when faced with a dressform that does not reflect their own proportions, or the proportions of the woman they want to design for.

In design courses the usual fitting model is a Misses Size 8. The dress form is collapsible meaning you can squeeze the armplates on each side causing the form to contract. It is something like the way an accordion contracts. This facilitates easier dressing and undressing of the form. After the garment is slipped over the top of the form, the arm plates are squeezed again and in an amazing fashion the upper torso of the form is once more smooth and shapely. Size 8 is a good size to work with for beginners since it is neither too small nor too large. The proportions are very attractive and stimulate creative thoughts for designs ranging from the simple and classic to the complex and intriguing. Smaller and larger sized dress forms require special design considerations that are best approached after learning the basics on a size that is in the mid-way range. There is so much to learn about darts, seams, and style lines that a good foundation in these basics is necessary before moving on to the challenges of special fitting needs of petites or plus sizes, for example.
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