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I am a mother, a grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Cut her out flat and make 'er round

About a million years ago I lived in Melbourne and worked at RMIT. 

One term I taught a sort of after class in sewing to some interior design students who wanted to learn to sew. The class also attracted two brothers, welders, who I suspect were most attracted to the interior design students. 

The brothers each made a very competent pair of velvet pants as their first project.

These guys didn't say much. But after watching me lay out a pattern one turned to the other brother and said, 

"No worries. You cut her out flat and make 'er round."

Just like sheet metal work apparently.

This comment has stuck with me all these years as I believe it nails the secret to good pattern making, and to the signature characteristics of a good pattern.

You see fabric is flat but people are round. 

To make the flat fit the round and all the round aboutness requires seams and details that are not themselves straight or flat. It also requires larger areas to be broken up into sections, or by things like seams and darts so the flat fabric can shape around the terrain. This is why a two piece sleeve hangs better than a one piece one, and why you don't get so many wrinkles and pulls in the upper chest in tops with darts.

So after decades of sewing so many patterns (I am a pattern motivated sewer) I have to tell you that just looking for these two things helps me identify a pattern that is more likely to fit (or be fitted with a few adjustments) than another:

1. There is curve to the seam lines where appropriate
2. There has not been any skimping on pattern pieces

New sewers in particular are too afraid of multiple pattern pieces. Remember those 3 or 5 easy pieces patterns the big four used to sell? 

If it looks like a pillow case in the layout it is going to look like a pillow case on the body you've got. 

No amount of tweaking is going to change this.

Which brings me to Indie patterns.

I have a few on taxi-ing around the RV runway at the moment and I am not sure where to begin, based on the little I know and have observed above. Sewaholic and Stylearc I don't put in this category anymore - their patterns are too good and the drafting too fine.

But I was intending on making up the very famous Scout Tee from Grainline. I have the pattern and there have been a million versions made, about a million more hacks and countless blog posts written about how it has been tweaked to fit, often over multiple iterations.

I could use a decent pull over top in a woven for warmer weather.

But compare the Scout - front, back, sleeve and with Stylearc's Vicki top:

See what I mean? 

The Vicki has a front seam that would allow for gaposis adjustments, a small front dart so you would still get a fit in the shoulders and room in the bust and in the back sort of raglan seams that could very easily be used to function as back neck darts if you needed them. This would fit your modern computer working (forward shoulders etc.) , bust having, woman.

In other words you could work from the stitching lines already in the Vicki to get a great fit without much effort or knowledge. But in the Scout you would have to add these things which would require some pattern drafting skill, and in a pattern meant for beginners, not the point.

And fit matters.

Nearly every new sewer I have know who has thrown in the towel, or more often the sweated on garment thrown into the garbage, has done so because it just didn't fit or feel right.

All of this is an on ramp to the Bootstrap Boyfriend jeans pattern I am now in the process of assembling.

Here is a shot of the layout which should give you an idea of what already I think this pattern has potential:

We will see how this sews up.


LinB said...

Oh, ah! The only straight lines are the grainline arrows! This looks to be a real winner.

Robin said...

I agree-multiple pieces and fine drafting make a better fitting (and less homemade looking) garment. While I don't care for patterns with pieces numbering in the double digits, I don't mind sewing more than three or four seams. It's the tweaking and pattern upsizing that scares me off from multi-piece patterns.

Elle said...

Love the quote from the welders!

Angela said...

I loved this post! I had to laugh first - I've seen that picture of the Scout shirt in quite a few blogs. One, in fact, by a very experienced seamstress - used it as an example of poorly drafted sleeves. And, you are SO right - fit is so important - I've tossed more than one attempt because it didn't fit well.

Also, thank you for pointing out why the Vicki is a winner! I think I might go order it now.. I need some easy, cool tops for summer.

Looking forward to the review of the Bootstrap Boyfriend Jeans.

sewingkm said...

Every time I'm tempted and sew an easy-sew with just a couple pattern pieces I am very disappointed in the fit. Will I ever learn that these patterns don't fit a mature figure?


Janet said...

That is why I think knits can be more rewarding as a beginner project. The knit is more forgiving with fit. Oh the Scout Tee - yikes! I made one, big mistake. Yes, Sewaholic is terrific. I would recommend a Renfrew to a beginner. They don't even have to finish the seams. I am curious about how the Bootstrap pattern will go!

Ginger said...

That is one of the best quotes I've heard lately. Thanks for the early morning smile.
I never understood the Scout bandwagon. Not my style at all. To each their own. I did however make up the Grainline Lark a few weeks ago. First pattern I've ever made from them. I love it. It's one of the best fitting tshirts I've made straight out of the envelope with no alterations. Fits like some RTW shirts I have. With a few tweeks, I think I will have my perfect fitting tshirt.

Vicki said...

Didn't realise Stylearc had a pattern named Vicki. Better get it as it has my name written all over it! And what a small world we live in - my youngest daughter studied Interior Decorating and Design at RMIT. She now works as an interior decorator with a lovely lady in Armadale (posh suburb of Melbourne). Good luck with the jeans, they look like an interesting pattern.

SuzieB said...

May I be the contrarian here? I just don't like the Stylearc pattern with the front seam & darts in the armholes. The darts look like an "oops I fixed the problem the best way I could" solution - & my favorite thrift store has had loads of front seamed tops lately - so apparently someone has deemed them "dated". In fairness, the illustration of the back of the top looks fine. Not trying to be mean or snarky here.

Love the quote from the welder! and I love that you're blogging about Indie patterns!

Anonymous said...

I love the welder's quote -- it is very apt in relationship to sewing. Regarding the rest of your well-reasoned post, especially in connection to newer sewists, I'm reminded of the unusual quote (generally attributed to a former U.S. cabinet secretary) about the known and unknown and essentially, sometimes we don't know what we don't know. When the major pattern companies all decided on the way to attract new sewers to the fold back in the day, they settled on the number of pattern pieces as an intimidation factor. And new sewers went after the bait, because they did not know that many pieces can lead to a much better fit. They weren't necessarily intimidated by many pattern pieces at all, until the pattern companies essentially told them that by example. Fast-forward to today, and the relationship between seams and multiple pieces and fit is still a big unknown to many pattern drafters and newbie sewists, which leads to multiple disappointments when it comes to fit. It is up to us to lead by example. Thanks for doing that -- by pointing out how fit improves when there are darts and seams and small pieces to "make 'er round."

Erika said...

I made the scout tee a few times, and it didn't fit me well, but then I have a bigger bust than the designer. Looking carefully at her shirts on her, it looks like she is going for an uncomplicated shape that drapes - which is the current fashion - but works better with small breasts. I have made a bunch of tries at a loose, drapey tee, and I can make one that works, but I have to do some workarounds to handle the curves. It amounts to what you are saying - I still have curvy lines in the seams - plus a good drapey fabric and some weight at the bottom.

Anyway - I think her drafting is really nice - but more suited to a flatter bust. I really pick my indies by whether they have a body like mine or not.

Robyn said...

Those jeans looks promising. I'm looking forward to seeing the finish,

/anne... said...

I recently made the Salme Dip Hem T-Shirt, and I plan to make more.

OK, I straightened out the sides a bit, moved the slit down to where I could raise my arms without flashing everyone (I'm tall, so that might me a height issue), dropped the dart by a smidge, and whacked a smidge off the shoulder width - but if you want a woven tee shape with a dart that fits something bigger than an A cup, give it a go.

Next I'm going to play around with the neckline, maybe tucks in the front, different sleeve details, or ... because I now I have something that fits, the rest is relatively easy :-)