Puns N Needles

Dispatches from my adventures: sewing, knitting, and otherwise.

Learning to design

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I live an hour or more from a decent fabric store, which may or may not be a big surprise. In recent years, many independent fabric stores have closed and in fact, Hancock Fabrics, a big chain, went bankrupt last year, closing all of their stores. In times of emergency, I can often find a zipper or thread at the Super WalMart and there are two small independent shops that have quilting fabric. But I do have two good stores somewhat close, Ragtime Fabrics in Harrisonburg, Va., and Les Fabriques in Charlottesville, Va.*, and visit one or the other every few months. Both are pretty well-rounded with a variety of materials for sale, notions, patterns, and helpful staff. They both offer classes, too, and I have always been on the lookout for an in-person class to expand my knowledge.

Finally in September I read an email description of a course at Les Fabriques that caught my eye: Drafting a Bodice Sloper. In this class, students would learn to take measurements and then draft a pattern piece for a plain sleeveless garment, and learn a little bit about how to turn it into a wearable blouse. The price seemed good, the teacher was recommended by the store as someone who knows her stuff. The schedule worked for me (Sunday afternoons, two weeks in a row, with an optional third session), and so I signed up.

The first class was on the day after my birthday, and the Machinist and I fit it into an action-packed day including sheepdog trials, fiber festival, barbecue lunch, pho supper. While I was in class, he went junk shopping (and found a very cool stool). It was three hours of taking measurements and learning the theory of drawing something that would create a 3-dimensional garment. I partnered with Ingrid, a petite and spunky woman a bit older than me who had completed the skirt drafting class over the previous two weeks. Because of all the curves, angles, and other geometry to a human body, it’s not that easy to accurately take measurements, but Ingrid and I did our best. We heard the other two women in the class expressing many of the same challenges that we did as they measured themselves.

I was eager to do my homework. There was a lot of excitement in taking a bunch of measurements (some which seemed arbitrary as we took them) and putting them down on paper with rulers and pencils. And the first time around, I ended up with something that vaguely resembled a blouse pattern. Just vaguely. The armhole curve didn’t look like any sewing pattern I had ever bought, and there was a sharp angle on the front that seemed weird. So I emailed our teacher, with my questions and pictures of my draft. She had a few suggestions and I created another draft (this time it went a little bit faster than the first).  Around this time, I began to see how the arbitrary measurements corresponded to my actual body and combined to make the front, or the back, pattern for a blouse. Nayana, the teacher, offered to meet me before class started but I felt that my third draft of the front and second draft of the back were sufficient.

Then I returned for the second session.  And before I could try on my garment, Nayana asked to look at my second draft (the main difference between it and the last draft was the length of the side seam, from under arm to waist). She checked my measurements and saw what I’d done (one calculation was way off), and eventually asked me to start from scratch, using two new mutually agreed-upon measurements. I cheerfully set to re-drawing my pattern piece, when I was nearly finished, Nayana checked my work and there was a point that had ended up in an impossible place. Yes, it was correct according to my measurements, but no, it was not possible to create a pattern with point S where it ended up. So, Nayana wanted me to complete the pattern UP TO the bust darts, at which point I would try it on and we would find the dart placement by “draping,” which means placing fabric on the body and fitting the fabric to the body.

Did I lose you here? It’s another method of garment design, less mathematical and more precise than drafting (what our class focused on). Once my pattern pieces were ready and traced on to the fabric with seam allowances, I cut them and Nayana quickly hand-stitched it together. I tried it on and we learned that there was not enough room in the front — but thankfully, I had allowed two inches for the front seam, so we were able to make it fit. The side seams were pinned together, the darts were pinned (then sewed) and we had a very well-fitting garment. Nayana showed us all how to transfer the pattern adjustments to the paper pattern, and I beamed. My mind was swimming thinking about what I can make now, and how to use this newfound knowledge to adapt some of my purchased patterns—and I have a cabinet full of them now.

This class was well worth my time, the expense, and the mileage to and from Charlottesville twice. I enjoyed our teacher and the other students. My sewing skills continue to improve, but it’s nice to have another tool in my garment-making kit.

*Les Fabriques has since closed. The owner wanted to retire. I originally wrote this post in the fall, so it’s “old news,” I suppose.


Author: Accacia

I'm a librarian at a college in Lexington, Virginia. I sew, I knit, and I cook.

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