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










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.




















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.







Secretary Blouse and Sheath Skirt: Skirt Toile Version 1

I am in the midst of preparing for a move to a new apartment on September 13, 2014. Since I will not be able to finish the altered skirt toile by then I thought it best to show how the first version is progressing. I have an opportunity with the current version to show the alteration I continually have to make everytime I draft a skirt using the Size 4 measurements. I never had to make this adjustment for myself or others. At times I am tempted to simply deduct the 3/8″ I must remove from the front measurement BEFORE drafting the pattern. However, experience has taught me that once the basics of the drafting technique are altered the rest of the process is effected and often the resulting pattern has fitting issues in more than one area. So, I follow the instructions as I’ve previously shared and then make the needed alteration.

The alteration for the Misses Size 4 Sheath Skirt Front is detailed in this posting.

Continue reading

Secretary Blouse with Pussycat Bow: My take on the 1950s Pattern

I completed drafting the pattern and making the toile for my take on the vintage pattern envelope illustration I found at Pinterest.

RetroGlam version of a secretary blouse based on a vintage pattern envelope illustration.

I started with a Basic Unfitted Bodice Front and Back to which 3″ of style ease was added for Chest, Bust and Hip Circumference. The Basic Unfitted Sleeve had 3″ style ease added to the Upper Arm Circumference. Then this sleeve was transformed into a shirt sleeve with gathers and a button cuff. A slit with placket was created at the back of the sleeve.

There are vertical tucks in the Front Bodice running from the hem up to 1″ above the waistline. There are four of these tucks, 2 on each side, of the Back Bodice. These tucks give some control at the waistline and will create a nice shape for the blouse when it is tucked into the skirt. I’ve noticed that the vintage blouses that do not have waistline yokes often have several vertical tucks or darts running from under the bust the hem in the front and back. I think this shaping was very important given how closely skirts were fitted, especially in the 1950s.

The vintage pattern has a lower neckline and larger bow. I would love to see a photo of how that pattern worked out because illustrations are the ideal while a photo can show the real. Since I take inspiration from a Misses Size 4 and consider what a woman who weighs about 120 lbs. and is 5′ 5″ to 5′ 6″ would look good in, I decided to raise the neckline slightly and make the Pussycat Bow smaller.

I plan to work on the shaping at the ends of the bow some more.

The bow is cut on the true bias. It works out very well since the roll at the neckline is very soft and the bow should have a nice drape in the fashion fabric.

I will post the pattern transformation instructions next week. To keep the posts manageable, there will be several so that each part of the pattern can be presented in detail. The pattern pieces consist of:

1. Basic Unfitted Bodice Front, with slight shaping at side seam and vertical tuck from hem to 1″ above Waistline. V-neckline is created which ends 1″ above the apex point.

1a. Front and Back Neckline Facing.

2. Basic Unfitted Bodice Fack, with slight shaping at side seams. Two vertical tucks on each side of Center Back provide additional shaping.

3. Basic Shirt Sleeve with cuff. The basis is the Basic Unfitted Sleeve.

4. Pussycat bow.

Basic Unfitted Bodice and Sleeve: Fitting the Toile

Basic Unfitted Bodice and Sleeve Toile.

The toile for my size 4 dress form needed a few alterations. The neckline had to be lowered 1/4″ all around. The Upper Arm Circumference of the sleeve needs about 3/4″ more added to it.

It is important to remember that the basic pattern, whether fitted or unfitted, is supposed to replicate the shape of the body for which the pattern is drafted. This is why it is called a fitting shell. It is supposed to fit as closely as possible.

The Unfitted Basic Bodice should hang straight below the bust and form a tubular shape around the body. The sleeve, likewise, will be tubular.

Now that the fitting of the basic toile is completed, I’ll show you how to add the extension for buttonholes at Center Front and an attached Facing.

Then we’re ready to perform a few simple pattern transformations and we’ll be off to make a retro inspirted Secretary’s Blouse.

Dirndl Dress Completed…Photos to Come…Closing thoughts on Quilting Cotton

The Dirndl Dress is completed. I’m going to wait before posting photos even though I want to share right now. However, without the right accessories to add that touch of Retro Glam the overall effect is lacking.

I’m going to have a belt made in the same fabric as the dress. Belts covered in the same fabric as the dress were popular in the 1950s. I’m also on the look out for some costume jewelry that will add a little more interest to the outfit. It will be a few weeks before the belt is finished since I’m ordering it from California. I already have ideas for my next project and want to devote time to sketching and researching blouse weight fabrics. Right now I just don’t feel ready to go through the process of making the belt myself.

The Dirndl Dress made from quilting cotton has turned out better than I expected. The positive aspects of my experience with using quilting cotton to make a dress include:

*It has a lot of body. The cotton will hold a boxy shaped bodice very well.
*The cotton becomes softer after pre-shrinking it.
*Stitches can be removed easily.
*It presses beautifully and responds well to steam for shaping.
*Quilting Cotton works best on the simplest of styles. I think they work well for fitted bodices and maybe a fitted skirt.

Some of the drawbacks I learned while using quilting cotton during this project:

*Although the fabric responds very well to hand stitching there is something about it that reminded me, over and over, that this fabric wants to puff, fluff and be stuffed. It is, after all, made to be a quilt.
*It is best not to use quilting cotton for gathered skirts. The fabric gathers well but the weight and fullness of the gathered piece can result in the skirt looking unflattering on a larger size.
*There is much body but little drape in the finished garment. By drape I mean the ability of the fabric to move as the body moves. This doesn’t change how much I like the overall look of the completed Dirndl Dress but it lacks the movement and appeal the dress would have in a suitable dress weight cotton.

Does this mean I would tell other sewists not to try quilting cotton? My advice about choice of fabrics is simple:

*Research what other sewists have to say about using it.
*Consider all the positive and negative things you read about it.
*Assess your own project and whether or not you are willing to experiment.
*Pick a style that will work best with the nature of the quilting cotton.
*Give it a try perhaps using the simplest style possible, one that will not require too much work or too much fabric
*Assess the results you get and use that as a guide for the future.

While other sewists might be able to tell if you used quilting cotton or not, other people you meet most likely won’t. They will consider how well the garment fits and whether or not the color, pattern and entire look is flattering to you.

When I was 16 I bought several Simplicity patterns designed by Betsey Johnson for Alley Cat. I was so in love with chintz, polished cotton and prints consisting of large, red roses that I bought chintz curtain fabric to make one of these Betsey Johnson maxi dresses. My Grandma Josie had a sense of humor about my selection but did not discourage me from making the dress. Instead she told me it would be important to make sure I matched up the roses at the center back seam and along the princess seams. I proceeded to make the dress and the roses matched up ok. Not perfect but not so far apart that it was too noticeable.

When I wore the dress to school I got many compliments. No one knew it was curtain fabric and nobody said I looked like I was wearing old curtains either. So my advice is that if you want to try a quilting cotton–and many of the patterns are irresistible so I understand the allure–I’d say give it a try and then make your own conclusions about whether or not you want to use it in the future.