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Intimate apparel & swimwear industry articles (updated)

UPDATED 2017-05-26 – changes highlighted in red text…

While searching for a replacement for the defunct (Stretch) Pattern School today, I came across an intimate apparel industry publication website that offers some interesting intimate apparel & swimwear technical articles at US$19.90 a pop. The site is based in Hong Kong, but with international contributors.

The article that lead me to this site initially is “Introduction to Swimwear Pattern Cutting Principles” by British Intimate Apparel Technical Designer David Morris, who seems to have worked for well-known companies & taught at university level. He also offers a remote learning course on “Swimwear Pattern Cutting & Grading” at £250 a pop.

For bras there are obviously a few other home sewing resources available already – eg Bevely Johnson’s books & Craftsy classes. Nonetheless some of the other technical articles still look interesting & unique, like…

  • Introduction to Swimwear Pattern Cutting Principles: Not so fast! Learn the basic rules of stretch pattern cutting before you venture into drafting or adapting basic swimwear blocks. Being able to understand and apply these rules should…18pgs, a handful of insights, but not in-depth enough for me
  • Grading Swimwear: Do you grade stretch fabric garments differently than rigid garments? The simple answer is no … with a few exceptions. David Morris take us through another insightful design course from the world of swimwear.
  • Long Fit Swimwear: Read how, due to the increase in the average women’s height over the years, customers are complaining about being “cut in half” and how brands are scrambling to create variation in sizes to counter the problem. Enter the long fit.
  • Prima Donna Swim: Check out IAJ’s technical piece on drafting and grading two versions of the Prima Donna bikini.
  • M&S Sport Bra Draft & Grade: Wired sports bras still account for a large share of the market. David Morris walks us through the drafting of the cup and the cradle and shows the option of replacing the steel wire with a polymer version.
  • Triumph Shape Sensation Bra Draft: Follow along as David Morris drafts the Triumph Shape Sensation bra style with Comfort wire, which was developed with innovative cushioned ends that adjust to the body’s every move.
  • Playtex Soft Cup Retro Bra: Who hasn’t heard of Playtex? IAJ brings you a detailed profile on the famous “cross your heart” bra, a retro design that never seems to go out of style.
  • Bra Wire Technology: To the untrained eye, it’s just a piece of wire, but to the experienced designer this wire is the make or break component to any successful wire bra design. Find out what makes this simple piece of metal so important to the fashion world…6pgs, interesting insights, but may be covered by specialist books on bra pattern-drafting / sewing books (See Bra-Making Blog’s book & pattern reviews).
  • Fit Evaluation- How Your Model’s Breast Size Changes: Finding a model is hard enough and it doesn’t help when her measurements change. Check out this article that explores the reasons behind the difficulty in achieving that perfect fit. Hormones play a major role…3pgs, 1 superficial insight, not really worth the price.
  • The Perfect Pants: What constitutes the right fit when it comes to pants? David Morris investigates and reveals his findings relating to ethnicity, pelvic shape, size and age. There’s much to learn from this informative article…9pgs, interesting insights, but no drafting solutions to the problems identified.
  • How Hip & Pelvic Shape Affects Knicker Shape: IAJ sets out to investigate, based on online feedback, the many ways different ethnicities and body shapes affect proper fitting. Major lingerie brands are in search of an answer. Did we find it?
  • Men’s Underwear: For those designers out there, IAJ has another technical article on drafting. The subject this time? Men’s underwear. The article’s author Kimberly Hamiliton includes a brief history of this fascinating garment.
  • Leggings: This technical article takes us through the pattern drafting of “bifurcated” garments, garments with “legs,” i.e., Sports Running Tights or leggings.
  • Bodycon: The word Bodycon is slang in the fashion world for the “Body Confidence” trick. This article looks at shapewear garments, in particular focusing on pattern drafting using Negative Ease, testing fabrics, styling, construction and pattern ideas from foundation garments…25pgs, a bit more in depth with good tips on principles, but drafting instruction is a bit generic & light on details
  • Developing the Control Slip: The brands, the trends, the designs, the technical requirements. It’s all here in our fully-loaded and insightful article on shapewear.

So I bought 5 of the articles. I still need to read them more carefully, but here’s my first impression… In general I’d say these are more updates & top-up learning than foundation education for those going into the swimwear & intimate wear industry. They are not very in-depth, but do offer some unique & more recent research & trends. Also keep in mind that because they are geared towards RTW professionals, the information may not be so useful for those of us creating custom patterns or targeting niche sizing. Number of pages varies, but the pricing is uniform. So not all articles are good value for money.

I’ve ordered a couple more pattern drafting books for stretch fabric/ knitwear:

I will review these when I get a chance.

In general I’d say the info on the defunct Pattern School site is probably quite unique – covering principles & catering for both custom & RTW pattern drafting. Real shame that the author has run out of generosity – it’s not like we fans don’t want to pay for his insights or expect professional level book production. I think most of us would have been happy to pay for a PDF of exactly the content he had on that defunct website. I’m going to put it down to giving fatigue & general fashion industry cattiness!

I’m sure there are other experts out there who can provide the equivalent education – in courses if not in book form or free online info. The problem is of course distinguishing the worthy courses from the rubbish one without having to fork out big bucks to try out every course!

And we need more people like Bevely Johnson who when faced with the bra industry’s reluctance to share knowledge went about doing her own research & experimentations, wrote a couple of books on custom bra patternmaking & sewing, and now share her knowledge through Craftsy classes as well. A woman for the modern knowledge sharing economy!

BTW, for those of you making proper sports swimwear,Debbie Iles of Lily Sage & Co has an interesting blog post swimwear technology. She sews for herself & her family, and she was an Australian competitive swimmer in the 90s, so has some interesting insights on swimwear for proper swimming!

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Pants/Trousers Wrap – Flattening & Tweaks

So now that you have your cling film + clear tape pants wrap, let’s talk about flattening the wrap, converting it into pattern, & tweaking the muslin(s). While everyone’s body is slightly different & not all my learnings may apply to you, hopefully my notes will help you figure out how to turn your wrap into usable tight pants pattern.

As mentioned before, if you wrapped both legs, to keep things manageable you may want to start with just one side (left or right) – maybe the bigger side. If this one side works well for both legs in your muslin, then you’ve saved yourself unnecessary extra work. If it doesn’t fit as well on the other side, then convert that side into pattern as well & make up your asymmetrical muslin to see if that fits better. If it does, you will have to decide how much effort you’re willing to put into making your pants and what minor fitting flaws you’re willing to live with: If perfection is non-negotiable, you’ll have to make asymmetrical pants. If minor fitting flaws are acceptable, go with the better side or try an average (line in between the lines of your two sides) to see if that fits even better.

Now the flattening process itself, let’s start with my biggest lesson:

Darts better than Princess Lines for flattening

For normal pants at least. Unless you plan on making all your pants with princess seams, don’t cut your wrap apart on the princess lines like you might with a bodice wrap. Because if you do, when you put the pieces back together to form your front & back pattern pieces you’ll inevitably add ease along the curved princess lines like this…

See the big gap / fisheye dart at the back thigh? If you don’t sew it up, it will cause saggy back thighs. This ease allows the pants leg to hang away from your back thigh, making the length along the back princess line slightly too long. You can see the excess length in my Wrap 1 Pattern 1 Muslin 1 below. When I sew the princess seams up (remove the ease), then the back looked fairly good. But as I don’t always want princess seams in my pants, I tried to pivot some of the ease into a bigger waist dart & remove a bit more from the side seams & crotch/inseams. The result looked and felt awful.

Which is why I had to pester MR to wrap me again. For Pattern 2 I tried a different approach and refined it a bit further in Pattern 3. Both of these were based on Wrap 2.

  1. Preserve the princess line lengths by slashing a whole bunch of darts along the side seams & inseams/crotch instead.
  2. To flatten the wrap, let these darts spread or overlap as needed.
    • Pattern 2: I initially tried to keep the marked princess line on the straight grain. This resulted in different spreads/overlaps on the side seam vs the inseam. It might have skewed the angle of the legs, which may in turn be partly responsible for extra wrinkles on the back thigh that I just couldn’t get rid of. So not recommended.
    • Pattern 3: This time I kept the spreads/overlaps the same on both side seam & inseam -ie balancing on the mid-point between the two seam lines which may be slightly off to one side of the marked princess line. This approach seemed to work out better with less back thigh wrinkles.
  3. Next tally up the spreads & overlaps along the side seam & inseam to see if they have become too long (excess) or too short (shortfall).
  4. Correct the excess/shortfall to restore the original side seam & inseam lengths while making sure no extra length is added to the princess lines – especially on the back:
    • Overlap excess/spread shortfall as necessary. This can be above, below, and/or at the leg-bum crease depending on if the excess/shortfall is in the torso or leg portion or both.
    • Above the legs, excess/shortfall can also be pivoted to/from the waist dart.
      Remove excess length by pivoting the side seam/crotch dart into the closest waist dart. This removes the dart in the side seam/crotch & make the waist dart wider.
      Add shortfall length by pivoting the closest waist dart into the side seam/crotch overlap. This removes the overlap in the side seam/crotch & make the waist dart narrower or close it completely.
    • If necessary to preserve the back princess length, you can overlap back inseam up to an extra 1/2″.  A slightly shorter back inseam is one method some tailors used to improve the fit of closing fitting trousers (see Cutter & Tailor’s thread on German slim cut trousers ironwork , another debating where ease & shaping should be, & Canadian tailor Jeffery Diduch’s explanation for why he does these ironwork shaping.)
    • In my Pattern 3 front, I only needed to pivot a crotch overlap into a waist dart. The leg portion had no excess or shortfall. The back was more guess-work: The leg was 3/8″ too long & the torso side seam & crotch also have small darts at the hip level which I didn’t want to pivot into even wider & deeper waist darts. I experimented a bit to see what would preserve my back princess length the best. The result was overlapping at the thigh line the leg excess (3/8″) + extra 1/2″ on the inseam. This leave a 1/2″ fisheye gap at the bum crease which is compensated by a 5/8″ fisheye overlap when I close the hip line darts. So princess line 1/8″ shorter. I can live with that. Interestingly even with the extra 1/2″ overlap on the inseam, my back inseam ended up only 1/4″ shorter than the front.
  5. If the crotch sticks out too much over the leg inseam, slash the lower crotch curve from the bum crease end, leave hinges on the crotch line, & spread/reshape the crotch curve so that the end point of the crotch curve doesn’t stick out too much & you’re able to smooth the inseam line without adding too much ease to the thigh.
    • I didn’t have to do this on the front thanks to the less faithful 2nd layer of wrap I did for the front crotch. But my back had this problem, and I ended up with a weird back crotch curve & shaved 1/4″ off the back crotch length at the thigh. I tried to make sure this new back crotch curve is close to but doesn’t dip below the back thigh/bum crease line. For such tight trousers I didn’t want there to be too much nor too little fabric in that back crotch area.
  6. Add ease below the calf so that the hem is wide enough for your feet to pass through (measure the circumference around your heel to front of ankle then back to heel).
    • Mine was only added to the back to de-emphasize my big calves.
  7. Establish the grain line: I’m not entirely sure the correct method that will work for everyone. Standard advice for slim pants is to fold the pattern pieces in half lengthwise from knee to ankle. The straight line that continues up from this foldline is the straight grain line. But one source I found claims that this may not work if you have knock-knees or bow legs.
    • Note that your hip line for this tight-fitting pants will probably not be on the cross grain, especially in the back. It will slant up on the crotch end, & more so in the back than the front. Front may be close to or even on the cross grain. I’m guessing this prevents the front & back legs from being on drastically different grain which may cause twisting in the leg due to the different behaviour of the fabric at different grain?
    • Pattern 2: This was before I researched the “correct method” – me bad. I used the thigh line as my cross grain & a line perpendicular to this cross grain that run through the centre of the knee as my straight grain. It was at a slightly different angle to my marked princess line as well as to the mid-line between the side & inseam. Maybe this incorrect grain is partly responsible for the back thigh wrinkles that I couldn’t get rid of?
    • Pattern 3: I tried the “correct method” and it worked out better for my legs, which are relatively straight though my knees do rotate slightly inward.
  8. Establish match point notches: If your back inseam is shorter, the stretching should be in the thigh length & not from the hem up. This help the tight pants mimic the actual shape of the legs along the princess lines – back thigh generally shorter than front thigh, whereas below the knee the back is actually longer than the front because of the calves. In fact, this is true of the side seam as well. And the tailoring references mentioned above do stretch & shrink both the side seam & the inseam in different places. Mr Diduch even says that in their factory “to control the amount of stretching and shrinking, we shift the knee notch up by 1/4 to 3/8 inches on the back panel- this has the effect of introducing fullness into the calf area and shortness in the back of the thigh. When we press the seams open and crease the trouser we then stretch the back thigh and front calf, eliminating any ripples of fullness in the seam and doing the same shaping.” So establish your match points for the legs:
    • Top: thigh/bum crease line at the side seam, crotch line at the inseam.
    • Bottom: hem line for both seams.
    • Middle: either use the front knee line making sure both seams below this line is the same length on front & back (ie shorter back inseam is only above the knee), or move the back knee match points 1/4-3/8″ up on both seams as Mr Diduch suggests.
    • Pattern 3: This was before I found the tailoring references. I moved my back knee match points up 1/2″ on both seams. I saw that my back knee guide lines was actually 1″ higher than the front & was worried without some manipulation there would be too much lengths in the back thigh causing fabric pooling there, while there won’t be enough length for the back calf causing dragline there & raised back hem. So the 1/2″ was a compromise because I wasn’t sure I could stretch the relatively straight grain of the side seam & inseam too much. Also, I moved the knee match points to below the knee rather than kept them at mid-knee, again trying to cox the fabric to mimic my curves.

So here are my muslins for Pattern 2 & 3 before the fitting tweaks, plus Pattern 1 muslin for comparison.

While not perfect, I think both are better than Pattern 1 muslin without the princess seam sewn up. So I think the darts flattening approach definitely worked better for me than the princess seam flattening approach.

Muslin Tweaks

Both patterns based on Wrap 2 had similar problems in the crotch area. I managed to fix the crotch area with Pattern 2 tweaks, but it resulted in slightly different left & right – a pain for further pattern designs. Pattern 2 muslin also had a bit more problem in the legs which I just couldn’t get rid of. I made 3 muslins in total for Patter 2 & each had mini tweak experiments – 10 photographed tweaks in total, some of which made no difference & were ditched. Here’s the last of the Pattern 2 muslins:

Pattern 3 was started after I gave up on Pattern 2 muslin tweaks. Thankfully there was less problem in the legs. So I focused on the problem in the crotch area that appeared in both patterns, copying & comparing Pattern 3 to my fixes to Pattern 2 as shortcuts, but tried to avoid asymmetrical left & right. Please note that although I’m summarizing the tweaks by symptoms, the fixes were in done different order & some may have only worked in conjunction with other tweaks (see photo sequence below the tweaks summary). In other words, it’s not a straightforward process. So have patience when you tweak your own muslin!

  • Front crotch wrinkles & pool of fabric (camel toe?):
    • I did try Fashion Incubator’s fix for camel toe by scooping out the front crotch – ie moving some width from CF to the side seam. But it didn’t fix my problem (sorry didn’t take photos).
    • From Pattern 2 muslin, I knew that taking a horizontal wedge out at front hip level tapering to nothing at side seam did the trick for me, so that’s what I did again. Perhaps my wrap had wrapped in a pre-Xmas feast – my front hip line was slanted up at the CF in the trace. Or maybe it’s just that the undulating landscape in my front leg crease created more surface area in the wrap than the fabric can handle. Anyway, the wedge removed basically brought the hip line down so that it’s on the cross grain.
    • Also comparing to Pattern 2, Pattern 3’s front dart was not as deep, hip width a smidge too narrow, & inseam a smidge too long. So a smidge width was added to CF (which now falls right in between my Pattern 2 left & right CF crotch lines), the dart deepened, & crotch point lowered a smidge to match Pattern 2.
    • The resulting fix looks a bit like the opposite of Fashion Incubator’s fix for camel toe. So maybe my unsightly front crotch problem wasn’t a real camel toe even though it looked like one.
  • Minor excess fabric in back crotch area:
    • From Pattern 2 muslin, again it seems like for the best tight-pants fit my hip level should angle up about 1″ at CB crotch. Pattern 2 muslin had a bit more excess fabric below the bum, which is why I tried taking a wedge out (like with the front) & discovered this fix. But note that the fix didn’t properly worked until the front wedge was also removed.
    • Also pinched out CB a bit which resulted in a deeper scoop at back crotch. This lifted my aging droopy bum a bit, minimizing that coach-potato-bum-spread look, & seemed to improve that pooling of fabric under the bum a tinsy bit as well.
  • Legs too short:
    • Maybe the wrap was a bit short to begin with as it’s difficult to cover the ankle bone which goes below where the feet jut out of the legs. The tight fit + knees bent as you walk + my big calves also probably push up the hems a bit (& deposit the extra wrinkles at the knees). The legs were lengthened by 2″. Not sure the extra length will be needed if the legs were widened.

And the actual order I did these tweaks, or at least the ones I remembered to take photos…

Where next

Maybe a wearable muslin in heavier fabric? My muslins so far were made from old sheets, so have no stretch & are perhaps a bit too light-weight for tight pants. This could have caused some of the wrinkles you can still see at the front crotch, under the bum, and around the knee areas in both front & back. Then again maybe my lower body is just impossible to fit perfectly in non-stretch fabric. Or I’m just no good (yet) at pants fitting! Anyway, I’m calling this GOOD ENOUGH & hoping it’ll look better in heavier fabric.

Hopefully this 0-ease Pants/Trousers Block will work for jeans in 100% cotton denim or other mid- to heavy-weight stretch woven. But it probably won’t work so well for stretch denim with 2% or more of elastine – especially not the light-weight (<10oz) jegging variety: Most of the jeans patterns for stretch denim seems to have at least 1″ of negative ease.

BTW why do denim stretch out over time? A “denim expert” from Baldwin Denim said in an GQ article that “dry, 100% cotton denim expands anywhere between 1 to 1.5 inches over a 3 month period of daily wear.” Closet Case Files’ post on sourcing denim says that’s because the twill weave relaxes over time. Do other twill weave fabrics “relax” & stretch out as well? And if I plan on washing the jeans in luke warm water & hang dry, do I still need to pre-wash & dry the denim 3+ times? (Trying to do my bit for the environment!)

I will also need to modify this block to make looser Pants Blocks like…

  • Slim Pants Block that doesn’t hug the bottoms so tightly
  • Loose Pants Block that hang straight down from the hip at the back

For these I’m sort of applying the theory outlined in Catfork’s Work-In-Progress PDFs on “Drafting a slim-pant block (basic pattern) from a skirt block”.

So the self-flagellation quest for the perfect pants/trousers patterns marches on! 🙂

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Pants/Trousers Wrap – Wrapping

So for those of you who want to have a go at making tight-fitting pants/trousers block via a pants wrap, here are my notes. Keep in mind it’s still all trial & error. But hopefully this, along with notes from Fabrikated’s pants wrap & So-So Sewist’s pants wrap, will help you avoid mistakes & get even further!

Today I’ll cover the wrapping. These are in addition to my previous general tips on cling film tape moulage wrapping, which are still useful. Flattening & tweaking of the pattern will be in the next post. BTW, I’ve formatted my posts to make it easier print out for reference: Only the content & comments will be printed – all the useless on-screen navigation etc are hidden so that less paper are needed.

Guide lines

  • I had MR pre-marked me in khol eye-liner before we wrapped. Made it a lot easier to correct & direct while I was still mobile.
  • Guidelines we marked:
    • Waist, High Hip, Hip, Thighs, Knees, Calves, Ankles
    • Crotch (CF-CB), Side Seams, Inseams, F&B Princess Lines
    • Optional: Belly Button, Hip Bones (at front high hip), Bum Bottom & Front Leg Creases (like leg holes of a full bottom brief).
  • For the side seams & inseams I used lines perpendicular to the floor that pass through the visual centre of my thigh. For the princess lines I used the visual centre of my legs rather than lines perpendicular to the floor.

Avoid cheap flimsy tape

  • Not all clear packing tape are the same. I thought my previous heavy-duty one was from the Post Office. Turned out I was wrong. These were soft as gift-wrapping tapes. Too squashable & stretchable. Made flattening & tracing rather inaccurate. Luckily a lady gifted me her leftover heavy-duty Scotch 3M tapes from Ryman stationery store. So I was able to pester MR to do a 2nd leg wrap with this better tape. We end up with about 1-2 layer of cling film & 2-3 layers of tape. The stiffer tape is definitely easier to work with once the wrap is off – easier to see where slashes are needed to flatten the wrap & less prone to stretch out of shape.
  • I used clear tape to make it easy to trace the pre-marked guide lines. If you want to eyeball your guide lines you can use coloured tape to help you see where you have already taped. Also avoid tape that might stretch out too easily – eg electrical tape. You want your wrap to be dimensionally stable.

Wrapping comfort & order

  • We used full width of the kitchen wrap to quickly cover the legs & move on to taping. We patched the wrap protective layer as needed during taping – eg in the crotch & inner thigh area.
  • I read online that to prevent fainting it’s best not to lock the knees when standing for extended periods of time.
  • We wrapped from waist down to the hip
    > then crotch
    > taped the crotch
    > then wrapped & taped one leg (with weight on that leg & the other leg slightly back to facilitate access to the inseam area)
    > then the other leg (shifting weight to this leg)
    > then taped the hip area & patched any missed bits in the crotch-thigh-bum area.
  • If you’re shy about someone else getting too close to your private bits, you can tape the crotch yourself as long as you can reach your back without twisting your body.
  • Stand on a low table made it easier for the wrapper to do the lower legs. Just make sure it’s stable so you don’t fall down!

Don’t wrap too faithfully

  • I had both legs wrapped in case my bottom half is also asymmetrical. Still not sure if this is a good idea as you then have double the trouble if your two sides turned out quite different once traced. Tiny shift in the angle of a line – eg the inseam – could magnify over the length of the legs! You then have to figure out if you’ve made a mistake flattening & tracing out, or if your two halves are really that asymmetrical! If you only have one chance to get wrapped, then maybe do have both legs wrapped, then start with just one leg when flattening & converting into pattern. That way if the leg you choose – eg the larger side – works well then you finish faster; but if it doesn’t fit your other leg just as well, then you can go back and flatten & convert the other leg. If you decide to only wrap one leg, maybe wrap the larger leg & the whole waist to bum crease for both sides (to stablise the crotch wrap/tape). I ended up using my left side in the end because it seemed to fit both my right & left sides better (I tried on the initial asymmetrical muslin inside out to swap sides).
  • Another area where wrapping too faithfully caused me headache was the crotch. Specifically the bum cleavage & the front crotch area where I have varied landscape thanks to tummy + pubic bone shape + protruding front thighs + slight inward rotation of my knees (from bad posture?). These are details that seem to get glossed over in a typical pair of non-stretch pants. Too much details just made it difficult to turn the wrap tracing into usable pattern, or one that bear any resemblance to a pants patterns.
    • So for my 2nd wrap I told MR to not go into the valley of the bum – above the hip line at least.
    • For the front crotch, after the wrap was taken off I added a 2nd layer with masking tape that smooth over the valley at my leg crease (between the torso & the protruding front thigh). I ended up tracing this 2nd layer for the front crotch instead of the closer fitting base layer.
  • Something I didn’t do but maybe you want to try (if super tight pants isn’t your thing, or just to make converting into pattern easier) is to also wrap your legs less faithfully. So aim to have your wrap + tape fit like skimming slim pants rather than like a second-skin. Ie drape your plastic wrap more loosely, tape more tautly from small peaks to peaks in gentle curved lines, rather than let the tape sink too closely into the valleys in between. Eg, on the back from bum peak to 2-3″ below bum crease to calf peak to loose hem circle at the ankle; on the front from tummy peak to thigh peak to knee to loose hem circle at the ankle. You can also try this for looser pants that hang straight down from hip line, but the steeper valleys may make it more difficult to keep the tape from folding over & sticking to itself.

Marking guide lines & Cutting out

  • We found that Sharpie markers – especially the ones made for CD/DVD labelling – works well on the extra strong clear packing tape. It’s hard to mark them with normal pens & markers. We simply trace the pre-marked guide lines so I could get out of the wrap ASAP.
  • For cutting out, again, I recommend using a bandage scissor for safety. We cut on the two side seams this time.
  • Before you cut, maybe mark a series of short cross-lines down the cutting lines. This makes it easier to match the two sides of cut line in case you made a cutting mistake & need to tape the cut back together to try again. This applies to all the cuts when flattening out in the next step.

Next time, flattening the wrap, converting into pattern, & muslin tweaking.

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Pants/Trousers Wrap – Worth it?

Happy Holidays everyone who celebrates! Hope you’re finding time to enjoy sewing amongst the festivities.

Sorry for the radio silence. What a crazy year it has been for us American-Brits! Double whammy controversies. If only sewing can ferry me away somewhere peaceful. Sadly sewing has been a battle ground too.

First was my failed attempt at an open back Choli Blouse Block with sleeves one can dance in. Parked, now that the frost has set in. Still simmering is another attempt at Pants/Trousers Block. This time, inspired by other ambitious cling-film wrappers like Kate of Fabrikated & the ladies of the London Dressmakers Meetup Group, I also attempted to make my Block from leg wraps rather than drafting from measurements or fiddling with countless muslins of commercial patterns.

Well, 2 wraps, 3 attempts at converting to patterns, 5 muslins, & countless tweaks later, this is the best I could manage…

A walk in the park it sure ain’t. So before I go into the details about the process in a separate post, let’s just chat about whether it’s worth the effort or not. It’s definitely less satisfying than making bodice + skirt block with the same method.

Lack of references & guidance

I haven’t found any online evidence of this technique perfected for making Pants/Trousers Block. Apart from Fabrikated’s attempt, the only other mention I can find is this old So-So Sewist blog post. Sadly it only showed her process & not the result, so I don’t know how successful her attempt was. Other people have mentioned the idea in passing, but none that I can find have actually documented their experiments & confirmed that this is a method that works well.

Pants pattern conventions

  • Most pants are NOT skin tight. So trying to convert a skin-tight wrap into a looser fitting pants is difficult. You wrap in more surface areas (lengths & widths) than your pants needs – eg the length of the back princess line would be longer if you follow your bum & leg curve than if you drop straight down from the hip line.

    If you don’t account for this difference & figure out a way to make your pants hug your curves (eg by making it skin-tight), then you’ll end up with pools of fabrics like I did with my wrap 1 muslin 1.

    So unless you’re aiming for a skin-tight pants (eg for stretch woven or tight jeans), then this method might not give you the result you want. It may be possible to convert the skin-tight block into looser fitting blocks, but I have yet to figure out how to do that. If you don’t think you’ll ever want a skin-tight pants, then this technique may not be the most efficient way to achieve your goal. As for knit pants like legging, I think patterns for those are a different kettle of fish. Those unstable knits are meant to stretch to fit, so the patterns won’t have all the complicated curves that your wrap has. The wrap will give you more details than you’ll know what to do with! Again, it’s probably possible, but again, it seems like a lot more work than it’s worth.
  • Less seam & dart fitting options. Unlike the bodice (& even skirts), conventionally there’s a lot less seams, darts, & stylelines that can be used to give you a smoother fit over complicated curves. Eg, most pants don’t have princess seams. But look what a difference back princess seams make to the same warp 1 muslin 1 that you see above with pools of fabrics at the back thigh:

    There were a lot more places where non-conventional seaming & darting might have given me a second skin look! Just look at how weird my wrap 1 is when flattened:

    But I wasn’t brave enough to do down that route! :@) Without these options, I just had to accept wrinkles here & there, as you can see in my final best-I-can-manage muslin above.

Lack of references & guidance 2

This one is related to the fact that the wrap is firstly/mainly good for skin-tight pants. And the fact that…

It’s easy to make mistakes that magnifies. Tiny shift in the angle of a line – eg the inseam – could magnify over the length of the legs, making your pants legs too far off to the sides or centres at the ankles & causing wrinkles at the crotch as well as along the legs. I’ll show you my trials & errors in the next post, but even learning from my experience, this sort of mistakes may be unavoidable. Which leads us to…

Lack of fitting alteration guidance for skin-tight pants! None of my fitting books helped because they’re all aiming for looser fitting pants, and usually ones that hide your curves – even your booty. It’s a different ideal of pants fit. If I tried those same techniques on my skin-tight pants, they would cause other fitting problems – like that dreaded pool of fabric on the back thigh, because the alterations would make the legs looser & therefore the back too long.

The Holy Grail of the ‘Correct Crotch Curve’

You’d think that the wrap would at least help you find the correct crotch curve for your body right? Nope. My skin-tight muslin’s crotch curve ended up looking nothing like the crotch curve I got using a curvy ruler.

I’m beginning to think that pants fit is not just about the right crotch curve; that other things like the angle of your legs & prominence of thighs, or even how you stand also affect the fit including the fit of the crotch area. I’m also speculating that the bendy ruler crotch curve trick as explained in Fitting & Pattern Alterations book is really meant for looser fitting pants that hang fairly straight from your hip line down, and not ones that follow your booty & other curves. Maybe when I turn my skin-tight pants block into looser fitting pants block then this trick will come in handy. But I’m not holding my breath! Especially as there’s no before & after photos showing that this trick really works on real bodies.

In conclusion…

I think leg wrap as a way to create your personalized pants block is only worthwhile if you’re aiming for an initially skin-tight fit & none of the other methods (eg altering commercial patterns or drafting from measurements) worked for you. Patience will be mandatory. Definitely not a walk in the park!

Next time, learnings from my leg wrap Pants/Trousers Block experiments.

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Using a Cling Film (& Tape!) Moulage

So now that you have your 0-ease Moulage Block, let’s talk about what you can use it for.

Usage Overview

  1. Designing your own patterns: You will still need Flat Pattern Design books for instruction on how to turn your 2D body map into different styles of Blocks (TNT/tried & trued master patterns/templates) & individual derivative designs. If you’re not very ambitious, you might be able to get away with just basic pattern-making knowledge like pivoting darts & making sure your seam lines matches.
  2. Checking the fit of commercial patterns: You may still need some pattern-making knowledge to know how to compare your Blocks to the patterns.
  3. Help making a custom dress form: Unlike Duct-Tape or Paper-Tape Doubles, your cling film + clear tape wrap will not produce a warp that’s stable enough to use as a dress form. But you may be able to make a custom dress form with the help of your Moulage Blocks.

For 1 & 2, depending on the fabric you’re going to use or the type of garment you’re making, you may have to create derivative Blocks first before you can create your own designs or check the fit of commercial patterns:

  • For most garments in non-stretch woven fabrics, you will have to add at least some wearing ease to create your Basic Blocks, then design or check the fit using your Basic Blocks.
  • For corsets, or garments in stretch woven or stretch knits, you may be able to use the skin-tight 0-ease Moulage Blocks directly.
  • Note that your Moulage Block probably cannot be used to derive well-fitting Dartless Stretch Fabric Blocks. This is because the wrap flattening process adds darts. If you’re not perfectionist about fit (or you’re quite flat all over!), you can try taping the darts/seams close, squash the bumps like breasts, shoulder blades, hips, tummies, then trace the outlines. But because stretch fabrics have limits to their stretch & physics also dictates how they’ll naturally stretch, you may still get wrinkles & draglines. So proceed at your own risk!

Deriving a Basic Block

You will need to add breathing & wearing ease to get your standard Basic Block / Sloper for woven fabrics. There are different ways to add ease.

8_block_fitted-wrap

I used the method taught by  Simmin Sethna and her disciples Kenneth King (“Moulage” CD book – what I used) & Suzy Furrer (“Patternmaking Basics: The Bodice Sloper” Craftsy Class) … because that’s how I made my current Moulage Block. It’s a more involved method with different amounts added at strategic places, so may not be suitable for those looking for a quick/easy solution. If you’re interested, you can read about…

A different & simpler approach is to grade up one size as suggested by Kathleen of Fashion Incubator.

For those of you who’ve been “grading” commercial patterns by transitioning from one size to another – eg size 10 top to size 12 bottom, this obviously won’t work as you don’t have pre-printed sizes to work from. (I’m not even sure this is a correct usage of the word “grading” as all the professional books seem to refer grading as deriving new/different sizes from a base size – exact what we need to do here.)

I haven’t bothered to learn grading as I have no ambition of designing patterns for sale. But there seems to be one easy method that’s used in the home sewing industry: the Cut & Spread Method. If you have Fit for Real People (fitting book), Palmer & Alto explained it in Chapter 5, p28. If you don’t have that book, try this “Quick Reference for Cut-and-Spread Pattern Grading” article in Threads magazine.

I have not tested this method, so don’t know how well the result will work & whether there are any pitfalls. But another advantage I can see, apart from this being easier to understand, is that once you learn this slash & spread grading method, you can try it on commercial patterns as well, as suggested by Palmer & Alto. So you’ll have a solution to patterns that isn’t available in your size!

But for best fit, obviously you start with your new Moulage Block & grade up one size. Don’t forget to test your Basic Block to see if the ease you added is enough for you to breathe, move, & feel comfortable in. (You can use the same instruction as for testing the Mouage Block.)

Again, at this point, don’t start making design changes like lowering the neckline or moving the darts. Your Basic Block is another fundamental building block & not a final garment design. Once you have your TNT Basic Block, you can start deriving other styles of Block/TNT Patterns by introducing design elements – eg moving the darts, converting into different types of princess seam, grading up again for a Jacket Block & a Coat Block, adding extra ease for a loose-fitting garment like a tunic.

Designing Your Own Patterns

Let’s start with those of you too impatient to put in the effort to learn properly, shall we? 😉

If you’re not willing to put much effort in…

But you are willing to limit your design ambition & not be too fussy about a perfect fit, you can probably get away with just the basic pattern-making knowledge that you find free online. You may have to stick to a fitted bodice with simple variations in skirt silhouette – which still gives you a lot a of variations. Some examples of principles you need to learn:

Moldes e Dicas ModaAnd for the really fearless novice, Moldes e Dicas Moda, a website in Portuguese, has lots of inspiration & instruction for using Basic Blocks to create fashionable garment patterns. I have not tried any myself, so can’t say whether the instructions & results are any good. They get pinned a lot on Pinterest, great for browsing through designs that they provide instructions for. Use Chrome to view their site so the pages will automatically be translated by Google Translate.

Now those of you wanting to do it properly…

I do recommend getting at least one Flat Pattern-making/design book to help you learn the basic principles & increase your creative freedom.Which you choose will depend on how you learn & what you hope to achieve. Different books have different teaching styles (eg principles explained vs step-by-step instructions) & varies in the number of design details they cover.

So it’s best to flip through a few & see which speaks to you – especially as these specialised books are not cheap. This is of course easier when you live close to a big fashion capital like New York, Los Angeles, London, etc. where there are specialised bookshops and/or big bookshops with fashion design section. Unfortunately Amazon doesn’t offer the “Look Inside” feature for most of the flat pattern design books they carry. If you’re lucky your local library may also have one or two.

FYI, these are the books I currently have that cover designs for non-stretch woven fabrics. They were chosen to cover a range of approaches. So they are not necessarily the best books. And no, I still haven’t patiently studied them close enough. Shame on me.

  • Pattern Cutting (by Lo): This covers principles & is by far the most fashion forward of the bunch, with illustrations that aren’t dated yet & explanations shedding light on why a designer garment might fit differently than a similar high street garment. While it does cover some design details, it’s not comprehensive since Lo is trying to teach you principles & expects you to be able to figure out other variations yourself. The book does also cover drafting slopers from scratch, but of course these won’t be as personalised as your spanking new Moulage & Basic Blocks!
  • Fundamentals of Garment Design (by Bunka Fashion College): This is part of a series of textbooks for the leading Japanese fashion college. I only got this first one which covers basic principles. The rest of the series cover specific types of garments like skirts & pants, blouses & dresses, jackets & vests, coats & capes. I didn’t get the rest because (a) I’ve moved on from the looser fitting Japanese styles, (b) they may cover duplicate info, & (c) they are expensive! This one I got only because it covers info not available elsewhere, like how anatomy affects fit, how us East Asian bodies differ from the Western garment design standards. I got mine at Kinokuniya, a chain of Japanese bookstores that have branches outside Japan.
  • How Patterns Work (by Assembil Books): This also covers principles, but the style is very abstract – eg “increase volume around a point”, “Volume increase with darts”, frequently illustrated with close up drawings of a detail rather than a whole pattern piece, so can be hard to understand. While it probably pays to study closely, it’s a bit too much mental effort for me.
  • Pattermaking Made Easy (by Crawford): I got this based on Fashion Incubator’s review. This covers both principles & step-by-step instructions. It takes the industry approach of creating blocks for different silhouettes, then deriving variations from these blocks with design details. The styles it cover aren’t comprehensive, but enough to get you started & hopefully confident enough to experiment on your own.
  • Designing Apparel Through The Flat Pattern (by Kopp/Rolfo/Zelin/Gross): This is like a big recipe book. While there are a few pages covering basic principles, they’re not in-depth. But there are like gazillion step-by-step design detail instructions, all derived from Basic Blocks. Granted a lot of the styles & illustrations seem a bit dated, but this may be perfect for vintage fashion lovers.
  • Kenneth King CD books (MoulageNecklines & Draping, Basic Sleeve, Trouser Draft, Skirts, there are others that I didn’t get): I have these because it’s how I created my current Moulage & Basic Blocks. So the instructions work with the Blocks I have. It’s mostly step-by-step with some principles explained along the way.
  • Waisted Efforts (by Dolye): This specialise in historical corset patterns. It’s written for theatrical costume designers & uses the Moulage (“French Block”) as the starting point.

Keep in mind a lot of these books work with industry standard body shapes. So sometimes it will be hard to follow the instruction if your body shape differs from this standard. I don’t have a neat answer for how to deal with that. There’s just a lot of experimentation. Sometimes fit alteration books can be helpful.

One thing for sure, it’s not easy creating good quality patterns, especially when you start getting creative with the designs. There’s a lot of add-ons you have to think about, eg:

  • facing, interfacing & lining patterns that you may need, how they differ from the main patterns, how they affect the amount of ease you may need – I always forget this bit & end up with garments that are slightly tighter than expected
  • seam & hem options & how that affect seam/hem allowance & construction order
  • how to construct the garment!

Trying to create my own patterns has certainly made me more appreciative of professional pattern-makers, & a bit more understanding when mistakes happen in commercial patterns. Very few people are perfect. As consumers of cheap fashion – even when you’re making the “cheap fashion” –  we take a lot for granted.

Examples of patterns derived from my Blocks:

(Sorry, the older makes don’t have diagrams comparing the patterns to the Blocks.)

Checking the Fit of Commercial Patterns

I’ll ‘fess up that I haven’t cracked this nut yet. The dilemma when you have personal Blocks is do you:

  1. Alter commercial patterns to match your personal Blocks OR
  2. Start with your own Blocks & copy their design lines, using their pattern sheets & instructions as a guide to what pieces you’d need to create with your personal Blocks & how to construct the garment.

So far I’ve done mostly B…if there is a simple enough design I want to sew. I’ve done A occasionally, but there’s a lot of guesswork. And as mentioned before, you will need to understand some basics of pattern-making to be able to do either, because the pattern’s design may have darts, shaping seams, pleats/gatherings, & design seams in places different from your Moulage & Basic Block. So you may need to pivot your Moulage/Basic Block darts into the same locations to be able to compare.

As we’re all in the same boats, here are some references I’ve found so far:

  1. The Merits of a Basic Fitting Pattern (by Howland): an article on Threads Magazine website that covers the basic of moving darts, then comparing your Blocks to the commercial pattern.
  2. De-mystifying Fit (by Maynard): a CD book on using the Moulage/Basic/Jacket Blocks (created using Kenneth King’s method) to adjust commercial patterns. There’s a chapter on the process & principles, then 9 case studies showing step-by-step examples of adjustments to specific patterns on ladies of various sizes & shapes.
  3. Fit for Real People (by Palmer & Alto) + Pattern Company Fitting Shells: Although this is a fitting book, Chapter 9 “Making A Body Map” (p74-88) suggests adjusting pattern companies’ fitting shell patterns to find out how your body differs from the standard & what adjustments you may need to consider when working with patterns from those same companies. So in our case, we’d buy one of these fitting shells, working off copies we’d adjust the fitting shell using standard alteration techniques to make the fitting shells look like our Basic Block. The steps we took to achieve this would be our list of potential adjustments we need to make to fashion patterns – eg full-bust adjustment, sloping shoulder, etc.
    Unfortunately not all pattern companies offer fitting shell pattern any more (eg Simplicity, Burda, New Look). And even when they do, it’s not entirely clear if they actually use their fitting shells as their design Blocks. But the book mentions that the big pattern companies (Vogue, McCall, Butterick, Simplicity, Burda) all use fairly standarised sizing. So once you figure out how you differ from one company’s fitting shell pattern, the same changes will probably apply when using the other companies’ patterns. If you use independent pattern companies’ patterns, then good luck! Maybe see if they offer a very basic dress design that’s similar to the Basic Block & use that as the fitting shell pattern.
    I have the Vogue Fitting Shell & McCall Fitting Shell. Vogue’s instruction include some basics on adjusting fashion patterns with simple design features. McCall’s is meant to work the FFRP way, so no specific instruction on adjusting fashion patterns. Butterick offers separate fitting shells for Misses sizing & Women sizing (larger, more fully-fashioned mature adult female figure), but I’d go with the sizing that your fashion patterns come in. Otherwise you may figure out how to alter a Women’s size 16W, but not know how to alter a pattern that doesn’t come in 16W. Someone mentioned on Pattern Review that Butterick one includes a semi-fitted shell as well, so you can compare the fitted shell (Basic Block) with the semi-fitted one to understand how Butterick add design ease for semi-fitted styles.
    Please note these fitting shell pattern comes in one size per envelope. So it can be tricky figuring out which size to buy, especially if you’re not a B-cup. FFRP advise using the high-bust/chest measurement as if it were your full bust measurement when selecting a size, and if you’re between sizes, to go with the smaller size (unless the pattern is a “close-fitting” design).  Base on these two advice I would be a size 8 for these “fitted” fitting shells (high-bust 32″ used as bust measurement is between size 8 bust of 31.5″ & size 10 bust of 32.5″). And indeed size 8 D-cup came closest to my Basic Block’s bust dart shaping. These fitting shell do come with different cup sizing, but you need to keep in mind that fashion patterns will generally be designed with B-cup. So when you alter fashion patterns you may need to do Full/Small Bust Adjustments if your Basic Block is closer to the other cup sizes in this fitting shell.

Now, when it comes to origami designs like those OOP Donna Karan Vogue Patterns, well, good luck! I don’t think our Blocks will be of much help, unless you can at least figure out where the bust, waist, & hip lines are on the fashion pattern!

Examples of Blocks used to adjust Commercial Patterns:

Making a Custom Dress Form

Although your cling film + clear tape wrap won’t be sturdy enough to use as a dress form, you can use your Moulage to make a  cover you put over a smaller dress form & pad out to duplicate your shape. Supposedly this is how the haute couture houses create custom dress forms for their regular clients. Suzanne Stern, who worked in the Parisian haute couture houses, demonstrated the process in “Padding a Dress Form” in Threads magazine (subscription needed to read the article; it’s also on Threads Archive DVD, issues 44, 45, 48). I used my Kenneth King Moulage this way to create a cover for my padded & pinnable paper-tape dress form.

The main differences between this method & what you might normally do are:

  • Sturdy non-stretch fabric used for the cover. You don’t want the padding/stuffing to stretch your cover out of shape. That would defeat the purpose.
  • Smoother, tearable batting (eg upholstery padding) + fusible interfacing are used instead of just cushion/toy stuffing to pad the form. This avoid lumpiness that again distort your cover’s shape.
  • Padding is not done haphazardly after you put the cover on. Instead you’d visually approximate the shape of your body with the padding, check key measurements as you go along, use the fusible interfacing to keep padding in place, and only use the cover to squash the thing into precisely the shape you are.

It’s more work, but might be less likely to distort your cover’s shape. If you’ve stuffed a Duct-Tape Double before you’d know that even with such a precise wrap, it’s possible to distort the shape during stuffing, eg by turning an oval circumference into a circlar one. The fabric cover simply won’t stop you doing this sort of distortion. While you’ll still get a better fitting form than uncustomised dress forms, it may cause some fitting problems & unintended “design features” later on!

However you do it – haphazardly or precisely – keep in mind that:

  • The base dress form needs to be smaller than all of your widths & circumferences: eg neck, shoulders, high-bust, bust, under-bust, waist, high hip, hip, under bum.
  • If your proportion lengthwise is significantly different from the dress form: You need to check the circumferences at the right height. Eg if your waist is lower than the dress form’s, you need to check the dress form at where your waist would be, not the dress form’s own waist.
  • If you decide not to use a ready-made dress form as the base: Make sure you choose a stand that can support the weight of your stuffed form. My first stuffed Duct-Tape Double broke its leg because it was too heavy for its leg! You can try lightening the load by using hollow boxes – eg shoe boxes – around the stand & pad around these boxes. You’ll have less to pad & the resulting form would weigh less. This is what I sort of did with my current Paper-Tape Dress Form.
  • 11_form-checkCheck the widths & depths at key circumferences if you can: This is to make sure you haven’t turned your ovals into circles! Do this visually at least – eg does the bust line look too deep front-to-back & too narrow side-to-side. Or if you want to be more precise you can try using a couple of L-shaped rulers to box you in at these key circumferences & find the depths & widths. Do the same with the you padded form & make sure the depths & widths match.

And that’s all folks! Hope this is helpful. Again, keep in mind I’m no expert & these are just my own observations & hypothesis.

Have fun using your Moulage & Basic Blocks, whatever you end up using them for!

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