The key to success in making your own clothes is to make the right styles, that fit you well, in the right fabric.
I never, ever, just pick up a pattern, pull it out and start making it up “straight out of the envelope”. The time you put into these ten steps before you even start to layout the pattern will reward you at the end.
If you want the clothes that you make to satisfy you it makes sense to put the time and trouble in before you reach for your scissors.
- Choose a pattern to consider
- I am thinking of making the dress (having already made the jacket). The dress is described as “Slightly fitted dress has short sleeves, continuing from yoke.”
- Will this style suit your figure? Have a good look at the technical drawing. If not can you alter it to ensure that it does?
- Strictly speaking no. There are no darts in the back of this dress, and there is minimal shaping into the waist. It is basically a shift dress. I could adapt it by putting in darts, shaping the waist more or flaring out a little at the hips. However by choosing a dress that slides over the curves rather than emphasising them I believe this dress will flatter me. The loosely arranged chain belt will show the waist in a subtle way.
- At this stage I am think that I will need to measure the hips carefully as this pattern is drafted for a 36″ hip (and my hips are bigger than that).
- A “slightly fitted” style will ideally suits a straight, or semi-straight figure.
- Because I am fairly slim I can wear these shift styles with some modifications (see for example this one).
- Does it suit your taste and wardrobe personality?
- Absolutely. I am a classic dresser, with a twist. The twist comes from using a vintage pattern. It has a neat silhouette, and a tailored look which is right up my street, style-wise. I like the simple look with clever details – the kimono sleeve. And the topstitching. Elegant.
- Choose the right size
- This is a vintage pattern, not a modern multi-sized pattern. With second-hand, out of print patterns, you have to buy what is available. I generally look for bust 32 or 34 because they tend to fit better at the shoulder, and alter it to fit. You can alter any pattern to fit but there is more work if it is more than 2″ too big or small at the bust.
- A lot of people buy a pattern based on their RTW size preference eg I am size 10, therefore I will buy a size 10 pattern. This is a risky strategy as most RTW has “vanity sizing”. You could buy RTW size 10 and have a 36″ bust. So go on your real bust and hip measurements. Don’t flatter yourself that you are smaller than you are. Big mistake. However many modern Big4 patterns have loads of ease in them – a version of vanity sizing – so you maybe OK. Tip 6 covers this point in more detail.
- Read the instructions to understand how it is constructed. Is this what you want?
- With this pattern – Vogue 7133 – the dress is underlined, and that it is top stitched. It is not lined. In other words a “couture dress” construction. This means that is will look like a tailored dress with some body. It is not meant to be soft and drapey. Is that what you want? Having asked myself this question I can say Yes, I am looking for a smart, tailored dress that I can wear with a jacket, including the one that comes with the pattern, for work or slightly formal occasions.
- Measure the pattern pieces to ensure correct fit and appropriate ease
- You don’t have to make up every pattern first with a toile. Sometimes this is necessary to get the fit right. But generally if you measure the pattern carefully at all the important points and check it against your own measurements that will be good enough, most of the time. You work out the fullest part of the bust, for example, and measure the pattern (back and front), not including any seam allowances or darts. Then so long as this measurement is the same as yours plus an inch or so you are in business. There may be other fine tuning that requires a toile, but nine times out of ten, the three main measurements will suffice to get enough girth into your garments. Most other alterations are about shortening or lengthening which is a much easier dimension to work in.
- With this pattern I think the bust will be fine (as I have already made the jacket). I will check the hip measurement and may add a little width.
- In terms of the length I will probably keep the length suggested – just on the knee – as this was the fashion at the time. I can wear a shorter skirt, but only with tights. If I cover the thighs then I could, if it’s really hot, wear this dress with bare legs.
- Make the alterations
- Of course it is much easier to make alterations to paper before you start than trying to make them in the fabric as you go along. As well as making the pattern bigger, smaller, longer or shorter at the correct points you may have a few things that you always have to do – eg FBA. Use paper strips and paper tape to adjust or use a fine red felt tip to change the shape of darts etc.
- Consult pattern envelope on fabric type
- The first fabric mentioned on the envelope – in this case Gabardine – is the one used by the pattern company or designer to make up the test garment. This is the “ideal” fabric. The others mentioned are on a list of “equivalent” types the company has taking into account relative stiffness/softness, drape, weight and suitability. This pattern also suggests Flannel, Wool Crepe, Wool Jersey, Linen, and Pique. It is useful if you know what all these fabrics are, so you can extemporise. Basically we have a list of stable, midweight fabrics, made from natural fibres – wool, linen, and cotton. Wool jersey is an interesting one as it does stretch, but not that much. Good quality wool jersey (one of Chanel’s favourites, and I remember Jean Muir talking about how she designed in it when she worked for Jaeger) will generally work well for tailored dresses and jackets and is comfortable. I use quite a lot of double wool crepe as my favourite supplier has it in a wide range of colours. I have linen in mind for my dress or a soft wool. You can always try something else but you will get better results if you stick to the sort of fabric proposed.
- Choose appropriate fabric type (and buy the correct amount – which is invariably less than they state on the envelope)
- I have chosen a heavyish linen for this project.
- Ensure the colour and scale of pattern are appropriate for you and the style of garment
- I don’t think this style would look particularly good in a pattern, so I am sticking with a plain colour. However the lovely seam line across the upper chest allows the use of two colours. I have two shades of pink that I think would work well together. This also allows me to have the lighter shade close to the face (more flattering on me) and the deeper shade on the body helping to create a slim effect, despite the strong colour.
What do you always do before you commit to making a garment?