Choli Blouse Block Odyssey part 3

Firstly, thank you for your kind comments & understanding in response to my post about dialing down my self-imposed blogging perfectionism.

… now continuing from part 2 of my choli block quest months later …

Hypothesis Half-Popped

It started with such good intention…but I didn’t have the stamina – nor time – to test my hypothesis thoroughly. To recap, I thought that to secure low open neckline & increase sleeve mobility, I simply have to:

  • not have back neckline edge on shoulder blade peak; and
  • make the shoulder slope more square than my actual shoulder slope.

I was going to test this out in two ways…

1. Authentic choli pattern instruction found online

I used the Sari Blouse pattern instruction from Vani’s Blog. The pattern came out looking a bit large – especially the back (dotted line in the pattern photo above is my KK Top Block with wearing ease already added). This made me nervous about testing it out with one of my pre-embroidered Nakkashi choli fabrics. As I was in a rush to get one of my Nakkashi outfits sewn up for a trip, I didn’t bother making a muslin of this. Checking instructions on a few other blogs, this instruction seems fairly standard. Maybe this is the everyday fit rather than the Bollywood glam fit. And given that the instruction doesn’t call for a low open back, maybe it won’t work so well when you lower the back.

There is one YouTube video I found in English that offers a theory of what changes you need to make to lower the neckline. The narrower shoulder lines you see above is my attempt to apply that theory. But I was still too chicken to test on my pre-embroidered fabric.


2. Body warp with tilt-to-square shoulder alteration

I ended up retreating to my comfort zone of tinkering with my own moulage. This time I did use the body warp instead of the Kenneth King Moulage I drafted a while ago. I was hoping the more precise body wrap would yield a better fit. Well, more isn’t always better. It was a nightmare trying to figure out what to do with my lopsidedness. You can see in first two photos above how my left & right sides differ. I wouldn’t have minded the extra work if the result was better. It wasn’t. Once you add ease back in, much of the minor lopsidedness wasn’t visible anyway. I guess if your lopsidedness was more extreme, then the precision may help. So the conclusion? Either Moulage Drafting or Body Wrap will work. Pick whichever method is easier for you: Moulage Drafting requires lots of measurements & calculations, Body Wrapping may be uncomfortable while you’re being wrapped & you’ll need to decide how much lopsidedness you’ll bother to incorporate into your Blocks. If you go with Body Wrap, you’re probably fine to gloss over minor differences between your left & right sides if you’ll mostly make stuff with wearing ease. Don’t drive yourself crazy like I did!

Now back to my choli pattern & drafting for arms up position, you can see in photos 3 & 4 how I tilted the shoulder seam by adding a wedge radiating from the princess seam / back waist dart to the side seams. This lengthen the side seams, make the shoulder more square and the neckline more U-shaped. The difference in side seam & shoulder seam lengths with arms up vs arms down was about 1.5″ for me. I ended up adding at the side seam about half that difference – because it seems like a sensible compromise & also it makes the necklines conform better to the pre-embroidered necklines. I positioned the pivot points of the tilt / wedge at the base of the necklines where they start angling up because I think this is where the tension will be and body movement will make the neck opening spread out, causing the sleeves to fall off the shoulder.

The last two photos are the final bodice patterns. The sleeve pattern was drafted to Sari Blouse instruction found on Style2Designer blog.

So how did it turn out?

Hurrah I can raise my arms. Boohoo no luck on stay-put low / open neckline. I ended up having to add the dori back ties to prevent wardrobe malfunction.

So what went wrong?

I now think stay-put low / open neckline is impossible once you add wearing ease to the bodice. What I noticed is that when I move, the ease at the waistline allow the whole bodice & neckline to shift up, and this make the neckline too big for the new higher position. So the sleeves fall off the shoulder.

I checked the House of Blouse top with the stay-put neckline again, and indeed the bodice was quite tight. Too tight for my new spreading middle in fact! As soon as I let out the side seams, et voilà – same off the shoulder problem as my own make!

So there you have it (I think, for now anyway), if you want open neckline to stay on the shoulders, go with stretch Choli Blouse with 0 or even negative ease. If you insist on lovely pre-embroidered woven choli fabric with low open necklines, then stop being stubborn & keep that dori back neck-tie. That’s me told off then! 🙂

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Choli Blouse Block Odyssey part 2

continuing from part 1 back in July 2017…

Going Native-ish

I began to wonder if my requirements are even possible. But surely billions of women from the Indian subcontinent over the centuries wouldn’t have put up with immobile sleeves that keep falling off the shoulder & bodice that offers no bust support! Time to go back to the sources & try to discern the underlying principles even if the surface instructions make little sense to me.

  • Looking at RTW & designer choli photos, some seem to show a bit of looseness / excess fabric near the underarm area.
  • Most of the Indian drafting instruction I found online has shoulder slope of 1/2″ to 1″ at most. According to Fit For Real People standard western patterns (Big 4 presumably) assume a slope of 1-5/8″ – 2″. And the Indian illustrations seem to indicate a more T-shape finished garment shape than sloping sleeves.
  • I decided to try a couple of  custom-made choli blouses from House of Blouse to see how an “authentic” fit may look like on me. Because it’s made to measure, you can actually pick & mix your design details. I pushed the envelope and went for very low back neckline with no dori back ties. One big caveat before we talk about fit: the measurements instruction was rather imprecise, so that may have affected the fit…

House of Blouse Choli 1

Regular length princess cut with Wide U Neck front & Classic U Neck back (no dori ties), back opening, bust pads, & elbow length sleeves.

  • Bust:
    • I was surprised that the bust pads actually created a more lifted look. I’m now tempted to try this in my own makes now.
    • Interestingly even with the princess seam, they added a centre front fisheye bust dart. It creates a nice shaping & probably holds the bust pads in place for better bust support.
  • Neckline:
    • Yeah! It stays on despite the wide open back, even when I tug at the sleeves.
  • Sleeve:
    • Cross-front feels a bit too narrow while cross-back a bit too wide. Can feel the back armscyes cutting into the arm joints. This may be a problem with incorrect measurement or my posture / posterior arm joint “feature”.
    • Total mobility. No problem with arms forward or up.
    • You can definite see the fold of excess fabric underarm & armholes feel quite high up against the armpits. In the soft fabrics that I choose this probably won’t be a problem. But I wonder if this would feel a bit uncomfortable in more heavily embroidered fabric like my Muslin 2 above.

House of Blouse Choli 2

Regular length 3-dart cut with Armband Sweetheart Neck front & Armband Sweetheart Neck back (no dori ties), front opening, bust pads, & 3/4 length sleeves.

  • Bust & sleeve: same as above
  • Neckline:
    • Problem here. It easily slips off the shoulders
    • I would assume they drafted this with the same measurements.
    • Not sure if they derive additional styles from a block like western pattern maker or each design is drafted from scratch using a different formula.
    • Not sure if the problem here is the Sweetheart neckline or the Armband design.
    • This problem + the excess fabric foldat underarm for sleeve mobility rather defeat the armband design.
    • As there’s not much excess seam allowance in shoulder & armscye seams the only fx I can do is to add dori ties to the back neckline to keep the sleeves on.

My current hypothesis

  • To secure low open neckline + increase sleeve mobility:
    • Don’t have back neckline on shoulder blade peak.
    • Pattern’s shoulder slope need to be more square than actual slope of the body. A bit of fold under arm is the price to pay for sleeve mobility without excess width. Try pivoting on princess line to shorten neckline & lengthen side seam at the same time. Draft for arms up (shorter shoulder length, longer side length).
  • To test this hypothesis I plan on trying 2 more pattern drafting approaches:
    1. Custom draft based on authentic choli pattern instruction found online
    2. Custom draft base on my moulage with the above shoulder slope modification

Flattened plastic wrap bodice front

Speaking of moulage… This time I will be basing my pattern on flattened plastic wrap. I’m not sure if my K. King moulage is 100% accurate as it’s drafted to a formula. Even though the muslin fitted like a second skin maybe it glosses over subtle concave areas like a slight hollow chest. This becomes more of a problem when you lower necklines or move the garment edges into these gentle valleys, thus exposing gaps. I’m hoping the plastic wrap would be more accurate. I have flattened & traced it, but haven’t rationalised the block yet. So you’ll have to wait a while for part 3!


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Choli Blouse Block Odyssey part 1

Back in July 2017 before I gave in to the middle age slump…

With so many beautiful choli blouse fabric in the Stash I really need to get some pattern block for choli blouse sorted. And I have in fact been working on it for ages. So much so that I now have way too many pattern pieces, muslins (wearable & not), & mug shots to confuse me never mind you…argh! Long story short, no cigar yet. But I have a hypothesis with 2 more pattern drafting approaches to test. On to the nitty gritty…

My 3 requirements for Choli Block:

  1. Bust support lift & shaping: Depending on the back neckline design, I may not be able to wear a regular bra with my choli. So built-in bust shaping / support would be nice. But it needs to work for woven fabric & not constrict breathing.
  2. Stay-put neckline: Allow low / open front & back neckline without the top falling off the shoulders
  3. Fitted sleeve mobility: Allow arms up & forward without excessive sleeve width & winged effect on short sleeves

Experiments based on
K. King moulage > top block

Since I already had a top block that seems to fit alright I thought I’d get better results using that as the basis for my draft rather than follow the relatively less personalised authentic Indian instructions. (Typical Westerner!)

Well, it didn’t work out so well.

Wearable Muslin 1 >
Gajiwara 7384 Wannabe Choli with home embroidery

  • I tried to raise my ageing bustline unsuccessfully. It was only like 1/2″ higher on my pattern. But I think my custom embroidery shrunk the pieces despite being stretch taut on a frame frame. And because I was worried about metallic embroidery thread being scratchy I didn’t extend the embroidery far enough into the seam allowance to allow me to let out at the shoulder seams. I ended up with some draglines in the upper bust area for my big day. (Did let out what I could afterwards. But there wasn’t much seam allowance to fix it entirely.)
  • Lowered neckline (aka unintentional off-the-shoulder look) wasn’t an issue in this version as I used the cross-back ties that one finds in many authentic Indian choli.
  • But limited sleeve mobility was an issue despite a moderately shallow cap. The bit that feels most restrictive was mid arm joint height, as if the cap area wasn’t wide enough.

Wearable Muslin 2 >
Nakkashi 5036 gold embroidered Choli

  • I had to tweak my personalised pattern to fit the ready-made embroidery, which is presumably shaped to work with standard Indian pattern-drafting. Eg the allowance for back waist dart is smaller than my back waist dart, so some of mine had to be pivoted to the back cut-out area. In other areas I had to twist the fabric slightly to fit my pattern, or even patch a bald area with embroidered scraps.
  • Bust & neckline not an issue here as I didn’t attempt to lift the bust & this design has a back cut-out rather than lowered neckline.
  • Sleeve mobility wasn’t too bad, but comfort was my main issue here. I made the cap even more shallow & wider to increase mobility & tapered the sleeve width more sharply to minimise the winged look. The result was the heavily embroidered underarm areas getting too close for comfort. I felt like I was holding something with my armpits! Again had to suffer through it for a friend’s wedding, but redid the sleeve increasing the cap height (by shortening the sleeve seam length) & removed as much embroidery from the area as I could. Wearable. But now the sleeve’s more restrictive. So I wouldn’t reach for it naturally.

After armscye alteration…


More muslins & research…

  • Stay-put lowered neckline:
    • Tried the instruction for lowered F&B neckline from K King’s Moulage book. It was a method devised by his Indian teacher. Didn’t work for me. Actually made the shoulders slip off even more easily. Maybe I didn’t follow the instruction correctly?
    • My patterns had the back neckline at shoulder blade width, but the muslin necklines all spread out more widely. Perhaps it was too much to ask the neckline to stay put at the shoulder blade peaks?
  • Sleeve mobility:
    • Tried cutting sleeve on the bias. Sleeve looked marginally less wrinkly, but made no noticeable difference to mobility nor decrease the winged look.
    • Tried on a me-made choli based on older bodice block for comparison & was surprised to find that it actually had better sleeve mobility without excess sleeve width & winged effect. I had thought the shoulder slope & sleeve cap fit was off on that version, causing excess fabric folds pointing to armpits & draglines from centres of neckline as if the sleeves were pulling the neckline outward. Comparing the latest sleeve draft to that choli (don’t have the pattern anymore) that earlier sleeve shape was actually closer to my immobile fitted sleeve – cap taller & narrower than my latest drafts…WTF!?!?!

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Dartless Raglan Fitted Knit Top Block the end

Warning, more boring hair splitting / fit tweaking ahead. So let’s get the style shots out of the way first. Then you can tune out if you’re so incline!

Problems recapped

My complaints about my Dartless Raglan wearable muslin Test 1 were…

  1. position of the raglan seams looked off and unbalanced
  2. armholes felt a bit tight
  3. more sleeve drape at underarm than I would have liked

Tests 2 & 3

First, I started with my latest revised Dartless Fitted Knit Top Block and its re-drafted from scratch sleeves (turned into Camden Kids Wannabe top). I had hope the new sleeve draft would magically make my mis-matching bodice vs sleeve raglan seam lengths go away. No such luck. So the question is how to increase the bodice raglan seam length and/or reduce the sleeve raglan seam length. The problem is partly caused by the sleeve cap height.

  • In Test 1 I reduced the sleeve cap height by allowing it to overlap the bodice armscye.
  • For Test 2, I tried simply extending the bodice raglan seams at the side seams. But this caused unsightly bagginess on the bodice under the armpits.
  • So for Test 3 I tried lengthening the bodice raglan seam by lowering the underarm 1/2 the overlap amount from Test 1, and shortening the sleeve raglan seam by raising the bicep the remaining 1/2 of the Test 1 overlap amount. This has the added benefit moving the position of the raglan seams so that it’s more diagonal and to my taste.

Test 3 Mug Shots

The Verdicts

Problem 1 (weird raglan seam positioning) I think I solved.

Problem 2 (tight armholes) is marginally better. I think my base block is probably just such close-fitting pattern that any derivatives will have the same claustrophobic armholes unless I lower the bodice underarm further and increase bicep width. My uneven shoulders also don’t help – I haven’t made any adjustment for this in these muslins…because I was lazy and hoped the stretch alone would be enough. Again, lowering UA would probably help if it continues to bother me.

Problem 3 (too much sleeve drapes at underarm) I tried to solve, but I don’t think it’s any better. Re-reading Stretch Pattern School’s instruction again, I think the problem is the fact that I removed the negative ease which keep the sleeve and bodice under balanced tension to prevent tension draglines. Once the negative ease was removed, the shallow cap / arms up horizontally sleeve draft inevitably shows the natural excess of fabric that bulk up under the arms when the arms are down.

Now this last observation about the effect of holding the garment under balanced tension is fascinating and mind boggling. I still don’t completely grasp the principles. But I have definitely seen in my recent test how frequently the muslins with more ease actually look worse (more draglines and seemingly random bagginess) than the tighter fitting muslins. Even breathing in vs out affects draglines from waist side seam to bust point. With breathe in (ie rib cage expanded & garment under more tension) the draglines disappear, but with breathe out (ie rib cage contracted & garment hangs looser) the draglines appear.

And as I mentioned before, the fiber content also seem to affect this, with rayon / cotton more accommodating and molding to the body, but then staying stretched and baggy under it’s steamed out. That’s even with decent amount of lycra content. The polyester-lycra I tried on the other hand recovers easily, but also shows the tension draglines more easily.

Mind twisting isn’t it? Hopefully with more experience I will eventually grasp the tension concept and know how to adjust patterns to create the fit I want for each garment and fabric. But for now I think that’s enough fitting tweaks for a while, don’t you?

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Breton Odyssey Adrift

My quest for Raglan & Semi-Fitted variations to my Fitted Breton T wasn’t quite the smooth sailing that I had hoped. While not Titanic disasters, they have not delivered me to safe design harbors yet. So I see more fussing with fit ahead.

The Raglan Experiment

Mug Shots & Style Shots

What went wrong

The muslin is wearable, but the position of the raglan seams just look wrong. Unbalanced as the GBSB judges might have said. And the armholes feel a bit tight. There’s also a bit more drape underarm than I would have liked.

I think the problem stems from trying to follow standard flat-pattern design drafting instruction using my non-standard Blocks. Sometimes the steps are just impossible to follow once you’ve altered your Basic Blocks to fit your figure quirks.

I first tried Stretch Pattern School’s instruction for Raglan Sleeve. But I failed at step 3. I couldn’t get the corresponding raglan seamlines to be the same lengths. So I gave up and tried the instruction in Designing and Patternmaking for Stretch Fabrics instead.

This instruction was just about possible to achieve with my wonky Blocks. But the result, as I said, wasn’t perfect. I’m wondering if its approach of disregarding any overlap of the sleeve head and bodice at the armscye-shoulder area might have contributed to the armscye tightness – ie the raglan seam ended up too short and drew the underarm closer to the body than the set-in sleeve original. Maybe it’s an approach that’d work better with looser fitting Blocks.

The Semi-Fitted Experiment

Mug Shots & Style Shots

What went wrong

Again the muslin is wearable, but I don’t like how the back is loose until it hits my hip. And it’s not that the hem is too tight for my hip. The hip actually has 2-1/2″ of ease. Releasing the side seams I discovered that it’s in fact the shaped waist that’s the culprit. Instead of letting the back fall straight from the shoulder blades to the hip, it pulls the back in slightly under the blades. The ease added gave the back a loose fit until it hits where the bum protrudes out more. Then it goes into skim the bum mode. A very weird look indeed.

If I shorten the top to above this point, then problem solved. But with the looser fit I kind of prefer a longer length so that the width doesn’t stand out more than the length. I reckon if I let out the waist about 1″ at each side seam then I’ll get the smoother loose fit I want in the back.

The other problem I discovered are slight draglines pointing to the neck-shoulder points, as if the shoulder slope is too shallow. I then check the Fitted Breton T muslin I just made, it too has the same draglines, but just not as noticeable. Urgh.

Where next…

If I weren’t planning to design from these Blocks I might let these minor imperfections slide. But because I do want to get more creative with them, I don’t want those imperfections to multiply and amplify. So I will have to go back and fix these.

But I think I will abandon my original plan to go immediately into production mode with the Breton Ts. I’m feeling a bit seaksick after three wearable muslins in the same stripy knit. Time to disembark and head ashore for a change of scenery me thinks…

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