Well my pattern cutting class just got exciting! I know! A life with diagrams, brown card, a set square and a compass sounds as fun as basic maths for adults. But the possibilities are endless.
Do you know what a “Contour Guide” is? I expect some of you do, but I had never heard of such a thing, but now I am a total fan.
Basically the bodice block is constructed so that it fits well at the shoulder, bust, side seam and waist (the touch points) but it ignores the indents of the body – the concave curves above and below the bust, the curve between the breasts, the indentations in the middle of the shoulder and so on. Even if your bodice block is fitted to your exact measurements if you try to make something like a halter top or a low-cut neckline you will get gaping. I have had this issue many times and I didn’t really understand why it happened. And now I do. This diagram of a pouty 80s model dressed in a graph-paper dress reveals all.
The fitting problems that we experience with gaping at the neckline and armhole when we create cut away looks (assuming the straightforward bodice pattern fits) are due to the fact that the body measures less in those areas that the garment does. As Helen Joseph Armstrong explains: “These differences are measurable and compensation can be made for them by the using the Contour Guide Patterns”.
When I was a student we created what we (being English, rather than American) called our “Lingerie blocks”. To do this we made more or less the same adjustments that are described here. As a result the lingerie block was much closer fitting and allowed us to make evening dresses, petticoats and, for those who wanted to, brassieres and camiknickers etc. But I like the idea of “contouring” although these days that seems to involve putting different colours of make up on your face to create an illusion.
OK! Let’s do it.
Start with your bodice blocks and draw a circle that represents a breast. The exact radius can be found by measuring from the bust point to the top of your underwire or similar. Once the circle is drawn (and a hole created so that you can trace this circle on to a pattern) you basically reduce it at various points,, reducing the darts to the waist, neckline, armhole etc. I measured the actual indents on my own figure to try to get the best possible fit. I was not very different from the average measurements, except in terms of “Empire styleline” (the indentation under the bust) and the “contour between the busts” as the book puts it (cleavage). As I wear a relatively large cup size this is what you would expect.
I have used green and red to distinguish some of the seven guidelines. There is also a back bodice Contour Guide pattern with additional ease taken at the shoulder, side, and a longer dart up to the high back line.
With my new guides I am ready to tackle all those looks above. Neither I nor my teacher knows exactly how to pronounce “surplice” but now I know how to make one. Below is a photograph of me in Butterick 3636, a charming 1970s style with a surplice. Can you see the gaping? Now I understand how to avoid this I will make a pattern for a surplice dress, or maybe a halter dress, or maybe a classic empire dress, or something with cutaway armholes, or perhaps a strapless dress (brain explodes). Stay tuned to see what happens next….