Fitting toile in progress via a fusion of draping techniques

Update on development of my basic fitting toile through draping

Since publishing the last posting, I have practiced everyday using tissue paper on the dress form.  An attempt at creating a fitting toile from a tissue paper drape was not satisfactory.  The technique presented in Precision Draping by Nellie Weymouth Link has some good points and some areas that are weak.  I have learned this through repeated draping in tissue, pattern creation and one fitting toile in muslin.

Precision Draping does not require any marking for grain or guidelines since tissue paper is used for the medium.  This can be a drawback since there is no easy reference for knowing whether a dart or seam is correctly on grain.  Furthermore, the tissue paper is fragile and easily tears if handled too firmly.

The benefits to this system, though, offer an opportunity to get practice in eye and hand coordination, as well as real knowledge of how moving the tissue paper over the form creates darts, tucks, and seams.  I have also learned some of the original 1947 techniques that helped me realize that a 1940s Pencil Skirt was very different from a 1950s Pencil Skirt.  I will blog more about that in the future.

What I have done is combined the good parts of Precision Draping with the technique developed by Hilda Jaffe and Nurie Relis in their book Draping for Fashion Design.

The breakthrough came this week when in just 1 1/2 hours I draped what is the best fitting toile so far.  This required thinking outside the box and accepting my body’s own needs.  These are:

*No need for a shoulder dart on the back bodice.
*No need for a second dart at the side or above the bust.  One dart below the bust is adequate.
*The skirt front only needs one small dart.
*Because of the shape of my backside and a hipline lower than the standard 7″ below the waist, the dart intake is over 2 1/2″.  I need two darts that are longer than average.  For a fitting toile and pencil skirt the back darts are usually 5 1/2″ and 4 3/4″.  Mine are almost 7″ each.

Because there is a surgical mesh in my abdomen to correct an incisional hernia, I have a little puff in that area that will never go away and must be de-emphasized.  In Precision Draping, author Nellie Weymouth Link encourages the student to learn to use the dress form lines in ways to enhance a positive feature and detract from an unflattering one.  For me it is important to  find ways to make a pencil skirt without those darts.

One solution will be creating a six panel skirt with the basic pencil skirt pattern.  In the photos below you see the fitting toile with the darts.  In the third and fourth photos lace seam tape was pinned along what will be the panel lines.  The darts will be absorbed into the cutting line for the panels.  This leaves only one dart at the back that I will have to deal with.  I’ve read that the dart intake can be divided in half and removed from each seam on the back panel.  When the time comes to try this I will share it here.

I have tried using the sleeve pattern from Nurie and Relis’ book but the cap ease was over 1 1/4″.  It proved very tricky to ease into the entire armhole as the book recommends.  I plan to draft a fitted sleeve using the French Fashion Academy method followed by the alteration I have used in the past since it provides good results.

Once the fitting toile is finished I will have a record of what my basic dart lengths are, the dart intake, the level of the bust apex and more.  The next series of lessons will concern how I add ease.  For this I will revisit the ease tuck from the 1930s draping technique I blogged about last year.  For that I plan to use tissue paper draping until I have it down right.

More to come…

Fitting toile in progress


Front.  Notice the very short skirt dart in front.


Back of the fitting toile.  When viewed from the side the back darts draw much attention to their length and the short dart on the skirt front.


One way to create a slimmer look and remove the focus created by the dart lies in absorbing the dart into a style line.  In this case the pencil skirt will have 6 panels.


The first dart will be absorbed into the panel line shown by the lace seam tape.  The remaining dart will have the intake divided in half.  Then 1/2 the intake will be take off each seam of the side panel.



Draping breakthrough…Photos and progress report to come soon

Hi everyone!  I have had an amazing development.  I wasn’t completely satisfied with the fit from the pattern shown in the previous posting.  I needed more muslin and had to wait for my order to arrive.

This got me to thinking of a vintage draping book written in 1947 that has occupied my bookshelf for several years.  I considered it more of a curiosity and reference book.  But two weeks ago, while waiting for the muslin to arrive, I began to seriously experiment with the technique presented in that book.  In “Precision Draping” by Nellie Weymouth Link, tissue paper instead of muslin is used for draping the first pattern.  During the WWII years cotton muslin was very hard to come by so many professional drapers and schools used tissue paper with good results.

I decided to give it a try.  I can get 10 sheets of tissue paper for 99 cents so I figured it would be fun to see if it worked.  Surprise, surprise!  I had to slow down and be very careful but I was able to create a genuine 1947 fitting toile from the entire process.

I am still having some issues with the skirt darts due to the changes the surgery made to my abdominal area but I am confident I now have a way to get around this.  I am working on a half-muslin toile right now.  When it’s finished I will put up the photographs.  If I can master this technique I will be saving money on muslin and working more authentically with a vintage system.

It will take a few more months of practice before I can make slopers based on my drapes but if all goes well I will be embarking on a completely new adventure.  The Precision Draping Technique uses a combination of draping, flat patternmaking and slopers.  I think this will be a good way to economize my time.

The only modern technique I have used is to draft the sleeve pattern from a modern draping book by Nurie Relis and Hilda Jaffee entitled “Draping for Fashion Design.”

Once the fitting toile is finished I will be able to confirm that I have correctly marked the apex, bust, chest, waist and hip levels on the form.  After this I need to revisit the ease tuck as a way to add needed style ease.  For this I will rely on the 1930s system I experimented with during the 1930s Sew-along with Norma last year.

I am very excited and optimistic about this development.  Photos and progress updates will soon be forthcoming on a regular basis now that summer is over.

Flat Pattern from Draped Fitting Toile

Update on draped fitting toile

As things would go I no longer have muslin with which to sew up the fitting toile.  I thought it would be good to share photos of the flat paper pattern created from the draped toile.  I have two orders for muslin coming in so I should be able to start after Labor Day.

I am amazed how much the resulting pattern reflects my imperfections.  Which is a good thing, because it means the results will be accurate.  I think you can see the little upward curve my abdomen takes on the front skirt.  This is where the surgical packing was placed to repair an incisional hernia.

I always find it so interesting to see how an individual’s resulting pattern or drape varies from the examples given in a book.  For example, I have sloping shoulders which results in a need to lower the armhole so I can move my arms freely.  A standard set in sleeve is usually a bit too high up under the arm to be comfortable when you have sloping shoulders.

Here are the photos for your review.  Please feel free to ask me about the process of transferring the muslin to the paper pattern.  Since I’m such a geek who loves every part of this process I’m happy to provide additional information.

Photos of the paper pattern


This figure comes from the book by Nurie Relis and Hilda Jaffe that I am using for creating a draped basic toile.

The front of my basic skirt only has one dart instead of two.  I noticed with this system there isn’t such a curvy fit over the hip.  This might work out better for me since there is a 1940s skirt I’d like to make that doesn’t have any darts in the front.  It is not quite a pencil skirt but is definitely not flared or A-line.  It is a style I’d definitely like to try.  I think a skirt like that would be good for weekends and busy days.

The back of my toile has two darts as in the example given.  I am looking forward to seeing how this fits and looks.

Notice how the shoulder dart is very small and the amount by which I had to lower the armhole.  There was an additional 1/2″ needed.  When I followed the standard instructions it was too tight.  Still I think a full toile is needed because a 1/2 toile is only good for spot checking a few details.

That small dart from the shoulder surprised me.  I thought it would have at least 1/2 to 3/4″ intake.  As it is I find it annoying to work with but since this is the basic I will go with the instructions.  When I actually start sewing, that little dart will be transferred into the vertical bust dart below or worked into other darts, tucks, or details.

I haven’t made the fitted sleeve with elbow dart yet since this is new territory for me.  I think the unfitted sleeve is a better start.  I need to see how this cap turns out when sewn into the armhole.  1 1/4″ of ease is quite a bit.  Even the shape of the cap is different from the one that resulted when I used the French Fashion Academy system to draft flat patterns.



First skirt toile: Fitting issues


I decided to do the fitting toile in separate parts before assembling the bodice to the skirt.  This makes it easier for me to focus on the specific areas in each that present fitting problems.  As I am learning today, the surgical mesh that was put in place in the late 1990s to repair an incisional hernia has affected the fit of the skirt around the waist and abdomen.

Here are a few photos on the problems as well as what I think the toile is telling me the solutions should be.

First Skirt Toile-Fitting problems and possible solutions


My abdomen is a bit puffy where the mesh was placed.  This affected the waistline and abdomen lines.  The front skirt length is 1″ more while the side and back skirt length are the same.  I eliminated 1/4″ from the center front length and it now rests in a better position.

There was only 3/4″ for dart intake.  The drafting instructions called for dividing that intake evenly between two darts.  I do not like the way the darts look.  Also, during the fitting the waistline gaped between the darts.  I will use this extra amount to increase the intake.  The extra amount was pinned into place.


This custom made dress form includes a derriere which I think makes a big difference when aiming for an accurate fit and enough ease around a pencil skirt or any skirt for that matter.  At the back, I also found more gaping between the darts, so that excess will be used for the next skirt’s back darts.  Here, too, I am thinking one dart may be better than two.


To create a more pleasing shape, I’m going to try tapering the skirt from the hip to hemline.  I’ll measure in about 1/8 to 3/16″ at the side seam and taper to zero at the hip.  This will give the skirt a bit more of a curvy shape.


To create some sense of shape at the front and make something of a visual distraction from the puffy abdomen I think darts that slant to the side seams might work.  What do you think?


It’s still too soon to tell how the next toile will come out but I think there will be some improvement.  If you look at the right side of the skirt (left in the photo) there already is a better shape resulting from some tapering at the side seam and taking in the excess fabric that had been gaping.




















1930s Sew-along with Norma: The NEC Technique for applying a bias binding to a V-neckline


At last the neckline is bound with a bias binding.  This technique evolved over postings and comments to which Norma and Carol contributed:  Details follow the photos of the neckline as completed on the latest toile.

I am still tweaking the sleeve pattern.  I went back and reviewed the very first basic toile I made for the dress form.  I also checked my patternmaking books.  Anytime a sleeve has an elbow dart, whether vertical or horizontal, the crosswise grain must balance.  Below the elbow the lengthwise grain will not align with the side seam.  The dart causes the fabric below the elbow to swing to the front.  So here is part of the answer I need for why the sleeve with a vertical elbow dart swings forward.  I just need  now to work on some more details to get the rest of the sleeve right.



I have to practice my slip stitching a little more to get this just right but I think this is a good start.


I will use a lapped zipper application.  The back of the neckline will have a hook and eye or snap closure.  For decorative purposes I may also use a glass button and silk button loop as well.

The NEC Technique for applying bias binding to a V-neckline

NEC stands for Norma, EmilyAnn and Carol.

1.Stitch shoulder seams.  Press open.

2.On wrong side of the fabric, pin and baste into place a length of Dritz 791 1/2″ wide nylon stay tape.  The tape will go from Center Back to Center Front on each side.  Do not overlap at the point of the V-neckline.  The tape is placed between the edge and above the 1/2″ sewing line.

3.Use medium length straight stitch to stay stitch and fix the stay tape into place.  Stitching should be above the 1/2″ sewing line.

4.Clip and finger press the neckline seam allowance to the right side of the fashion fabric.

5.Cut a length of the fashion fabric on the true bias that is 1 1/2″ wide.  This length should be equal to one side of the neckline plus 2″ for seam allowances and stretch factor.

6.Cut another bias strip in the same manner.

7.Turn under each side of the bias strip 1/2″ to the wrong side and steam press each side.  When both sides have been pressed like this, steam press again from the right side gently stretching and slightly shaping into a curve.

8.Baste the neckline of the bodice into place making sure the edges are trimmed.  Press the neckline.

9.It works best to pin the bias tape in place by having the bodice on a dress form.  Work from the Center Back at the beginning of the neckline by wrapping 1/2″ of the tape to the inside.  Then pin on an angle all along the neckline making sure the tape covers the fabric that has been turned to the right side.

10.At center front, angle the tape so that it forms a point at the end.  Allow 1/4″ to turn to the wrong side and pin in place.

11.Repeat for the other side.  Make sure that at Center Front the tape lines up vertically.

12.Slip stitch both edges of the tape to the neckline and bodice.

13.To join the tape at the center use the drawing stitch.

1930s Sew-along with Norma: Fabric ordered. Now to notions…

I’m still tweaking a few details on Toile Version 3.1 of my dress for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma. Here are the latest developments…

Fabric Ordered and Belt Buckles Under Consideration

The flares for Version 3 were just right. I ordered a rayon challis print that looks very good when flared. Since I ordered a 1/4 yard cut for the sample I had enough to play with on the dress form. When the print is flared the tiny flowers look ok. At first I had thought such a print would not match up at seams. But no worries with this pattern. It’s too small to require matching up.

The fabric is very soft and feels nice against my skin. I’ve decided to make the belt buckle the focal point of the dress. I have two belt buckles I bought at a trimmings shop in my neighborhood. I’ve photographed each against the fabric for the dress.

I like the look of the gold buckle. If I use it the dress can be accessorized with a gold chain necklace and earrings.

I’m leaning towards the green buckle because it is very attractive against the print. I also think it has a retro look to it.

Bias Binding Slip Stitched to Sleeve

I followed Norma’s advice and slip stitched the bias binding to the sleeve. This required slip stitching from the outside and then the inside. It worked out beautifully. Thank you, Norma for sharing this new found technique. Here I have found the solution to working with bias binding. It does not pucker when applied this way. It also does not stiffen up as it does when machine stitched.

Since it’s very hot I still haven’t put the sleeve in to test the fit and the hang of it. This next step will take place after I deal with the V-neckline of the dress.

Stay Tape

On Version 3 of the toile I used a strip of muslin selvage stabilize the V-neckline. This worked out with mixed results. I found the neckline a little too heavy in feeling. It lacked the soft quality that I now see on the finished sleeve. I’ve read that the selvage of organza is the best to use as a stay tape. I’m still not sure it is the solution I need.

I ordered a roll of Dritz nylon stay tape to try on Version 3.1 of the toile. I will then test it on a scrap of the dress fabric to make sure the two work well together.

Eliminating the Ties
I have decided to eliminate the ties for several reasons. Among them are:

**The placement looks awkward on the dress form even though it has a small bustline (32″ inches).

**A set of ties right below the v-neckline takes away from the bias binding finish of the neckline.  The second set of ties would be located at bust level or below. It would look odd on a woman with a well defined figure.

**The ties at the sleeve would distract from someone seeing the belt buckle as the focal point of the dress.

**I considered sketches from “Paris Frocks at Home”, the 1930 book from which I took inspiration for my dress. Whether the dress with the ties is worn by a tall or short woman they will only look good if she is very slender and angular. I’m making this conclusion based on how I envision the dress with ties would look on the women around me. Most are curvy and it would not look that good.

**Instead of ties I’m considering buttons in a shade of green that matches the belt. There will be one at the neckline in the back and three buttons on the seam of the sleeve. These would close with a thread loop made in green silk thread.

**To accessorize the dress I’ll look for dangling earrings with crystal beads or stud earrings. A necklace 16-18″ long with crystal beads is also a possible accessory. I’d love to find beads or crystals in colors similar to the floral print of the dress fabric.

How the dress with ties would look on a tall vs. a short woman

These sketches are from “Paris Frocks at Home” published by Butterick Pattern Company in 1930. I have searched online but cannot find a photo of this dress to better judge how the ties would look.

Dress with ties on a tall, slender woman as imagined by the illustrator.

Here is how it is supposed to look on an average or petite size woman.

What’s up next

I will be looking for a very lightweight zipper. I plan to do a slot application using Claire Shaeffer’s couture method. I want to see if there is a zipper with a light tape. The kinds of zippers I usually use are, I think, a little too heavy for the dress fabric.

1930s Sew-along with Norma: Oh my poor little toile!

Just a quick post on the progress of my toile for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.  I’m enroute to Baltimore for a wedding.

I’ve reached a point in the evaluation of the toile where I feel so sorry for it.  The neckline has stretched more and the bias tape is rippling. The toile no longer looks good enough to keep working on.  I think it’s time to retire it and use the muslin for dolly dressmaking.

On the serious side I had a deep feeling that the sleeve alteration from Helen Joseph Armstrong’s patternmaking book was not going to work out.  It solved the problem of the excess ease and created several new problems:

*Lowering the cap cut into the extra width created by the ease tuck.  The sleeve is now too tight across the biceps level.

* The cap shape is stranger looking than before.  When the sleeve was basted into the toile it displayed  what I’d describe as baggy or pouchy areas around the curve.  It’s an excess of fabric.

*The sleeve does not hang absolutely straight.  It swings a little towards the back.  Helen Joseph-Armstrong recommends undoing the sleeve and rotating it until it hangs straight.  That will do nothing for the other problems.

So—this is where I made a decision—-

First, I’ll try one more time to alter the sleeve pattern using the recommendations from the 1930s draping book.  I also have an idea about the sleeve cap which I’ll try out, too.  Then if this last attempt does not work out I’ve decided to do the most expedient thing for a second course of action—-

I’m going to draft the sleeve. But not using the 1930s drafting pattern given in this posting.  The sleeve is based on a pattern block and not a draped garment so I don’t want to mix things up.  I’m just going to go back to the French Fashion method and draft a fitted sleeve with elbow dart.

This is the best compromise I can reach.  Namely because I so want to actualize the dress into real fabric.  I think I could, eventually, drape a sleeve.  That takes time and it could put me into an ongoing loop of doing it again and again.  This isn’t about draping per se but about using draping to create as much as possible a version of a 1930s dress.  I’m reminded when my draping teacher Susan Douglas told me that drafting the sleeve was a better use of time for set-in sleeves.

Here are three photos of the droopy, draped sleeve after the Joseph-Armstrong alteration.  When I’m back from the wedding I’ll start a new bodice and altered sleeve.  Better that all this happened on a toile than fashion fabric.



Side View.  On a fitted sleeve with elbow dart, the center of the sleeve should hang parallel to the side seam up to the elbow.  Then it swings slightly to the front because of the shaping in the seam from elbow to wrist.


Front View.  Can you see the pouchy, poufy curve?


Back view.  I think the sleeve cap looks like it has a bit of a muffin top.