Monday, June 30, 2008

I want to sew, not do yoga!

My new fabric, waiting patiently until I can redraft the back piece of the dress pattern.

I am feeling very frustrated. In fact, I just stomped my foot at my sewing supplies, and I am definitely furrowing my brow. You see, I am trying to sew a dress for myself, but instead of sitting at a sewing machine, happily making seams and turning floppy fabric into a beautifully structured garment, I keep finding myself performing yoga contortions in front of my mirror, while my dress remains ever misfitted. Hur-umph! I want to sew a dress, not become more limber!

I have a lovely Simplicity retro dress pattern. I have beautiful Liberty cotton fabric (see above!). I even managed to make VERY successful alterations to the front bodice, which is no small feat given that it meant grading a midriff piece and two bust "cups" to accommodate my DD bust shape. I even have the resolve right now to make a thorough muslin test garment, including making a muslin lining and finishing all of the the seams to double check everything. However, before I can move forward with any of this, I need to adjust the back of the dress, and I can't seem to manage it by myself.

Here is the situation... Imagine me with redrafted pattern pieces traced on gridded quilting material, trying in vain to drape them across my back where they are supposed to lay when the dress is finished. All I want to do is make sure everything overlaps with enough seam allowance to put in a zipper, and ensure that everything is straight. It sounds simple. Yet instead, I find myself contorting my body this way and that, trying to simultaneously pull the fabric into it's correct position while keeping my center back in view of the mirror. And when I extend my right arm over my shoulder to try and grope the top of the back piece, while I twist my left arm up toward my spine, I manage to contort my posture into a position that no dress could fit.

At this point in the process I have attempted to enlist the help of my poor husband, who never wanted to become a seamstress in the first place. "Hold this here" I say as I unbend my arms from the pretzel position and crane my neck around to see the back. "Things aren't matching up" he says, "Where!?!?!" I ask in panic, trying so hard to see my back in the mirror that I start to move in a circle like a dog chasing its tale. This of course moves the fabric out of its intended position and causes husband to stick me with a pin. We regroup and try again, but unfortunately my man is not a sewer, nor has he ever worn a dress, which I think might be a vital step in understanding how to fit one in tissue. So after a few minutes of becoming ever more frustrated with each other, we both give up.

How do solo sewers do it? I know other people make dresses, I am just not sure HOW. I have come up with two options. Either 1) they are perfectly sized and therefore never need to adjust anything that they can't easily reach, or 2) they belong to some magical guild of sewers - The Order of the Friendly and Knowledgeable Fitting Assistants - and they help each other fit garments with minimal contortionist effort. Either way, neighter of these options is available to me.

There is one other explanation for how other people fit their clothing perfectly to their proportions, and that is 3) they own a custom dress form. And I want one. But it turns out that purchasing one is expensive... we're talking hundreds of dollars expensive... and I can't afford that. Plus, standard dress forms, even adjustable ones, are unlikely to mimic my exact body proportions. What I really need to ease my frustration is a "me form".

I conducted a quick Google search on custom dress forms, and it produced several links to homemade, customized dress forms. Most notable, and my favorite, is this article with instructions and wonderful photographs. There is also this article sharing four options for homemade forms including two duct tape dress forms, and this article with step by step instructions. I have already planned my Wednesday night and you better believe you will find my in a plastic trash bag with arm holes, wrapping myself in tape. My poor husband doesn't know it yet, but Wednesday we are now committed to binding me in paper tape to create a body double. Isn't it great to share a hobby with your spouse? ;-)


Neefer said...

I used duct tape. Neefer's DTD

I do pretty good at fitting, but it has taken me a bit to get here. The first thing I'd like to know is

How did you choose your size?

Kate said...

I choose my size based on my upper bust and waist measurements. Both are disproportionately larger than the standard figure that the pattern companies are drafting for. Plus, I frequently need to add a few extra inches to the largest available size on the retro-inspired patterns I am choosing.

I still feel very new to sewing, and perhaps a bit ambitious because I want to sew fitted dresses rather than something simpler like an A-line skirt or draped blouse.

However, I am dedicated! I just purchased the book "Fit for Real People" and read it cover to cover, and I am trying to adapt some of the teachings into my current projects. I think fit is something that is definitely learned through trial and error, practice, and good old fashioned sweat and tears. :) Hopefully I won't cry about this dress though.

Anonymous said...

Sorry you're having a frustrating experience! I would take whatever advice Neefer gives you, because she's clearly a pro at re-drafting patterns. I have enjoyed her reviews on PR. (Plus she's a Decades of Style devotee!)

I empathize with your desire to have a fitted sun dress. However, speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that some styles just don't work on larger figures. I'm a 40 bust and I would not make the pattern you have chosen. I can tell from the way the material cups the breast on the model that it's just not going to work well on me on anybody with large breasts. (I mean, look at her, she looks like a boy.) I think for this much trouble, you might as well draft your own bodice pattern from scratch. For a large cup size, you really need to have at least 2 pattern pieces to cover each breast if the material you are working with is woven. (Think, if you had to cover for a beach ball with woven material, would you do it with just one piece of fabric?) Check out the technical drawing on Vogue 2958

If would also study the construction of RTW sun dress styles that fit you well. Go to an expensive store and try some on. Then check out how they're constructed and look for patterns that are similar. Hopefully that should cut back on the frustration factor.

As far as having hubby help you, have him pin things in back as best he can, then have him take a photo with a digital camera. Presto! Instant feedback. You can then explain to him what else you'd like him to do next.

Before you do the duct tape dress form, have him watch the demo video from this blogger (see top of page for free download)

Kate said...

Very helpful feedback. Thank you so much! It is good to take in the expertise that other's have learned through trial and error before i get too frusterated on a project. Keep in coming, I am like a little beginning sewer sponge, I want to soak in ALL of your knowledge!

Neefer said...

I totally disagree that that dress won't work for someone with large breasts.

Rats, I can't put in an image, well click the link.

While that is out of a knit, it's the same Full Bust Alteration whether it's knit or woven.

FFRP is great. It's the reference that I use. Start with the Bust chapter on page 141. The fba where you add a side dart is easy (tedious, but easy). I ALWAYS use this method, even on princess seam tops and empire tops. Then I rotate the dart to where I want.

More proof of what you can do with this FBA method.
Another picture of the results of an FBA

Carla said...

When you make your Duct Tape Double, do not start your taping very tightly. It gets tighter, much tighter, as you tape and you may have to do like we did and cut it off and start over. I could tell I was not going to be able to breathe at all.

Anonymous said...

Neefer your dress is a gorgeous example of your fine FBA skills and definitely figure flattering! It's the kind of dress those of us with large boobs look terrific in, and if you were to make one up in my size, I'd snap it up immediately. But I'm not sure how it supports your argument. ("I totally disagree that that [simplicity sun] dress won't work for someone with large breasts.")The dress you linked to is not a sun dress. It has full coverage. And it' a knit.

The Simplicity dress in question consists of a triangle of woven fabric covering each breast with gathers at the bottom acting as a dart. The dress is not even flattering on the model in the photo and frankly, as drafted, it's not flattering on anybody. (The breasts in the photo are squished down.)

You can certainly do a FBA, but since you are basically adjusting a triangle of fabric that is covering each breast, you might as well draft that triangle from scratch yourself (there is no other part of the dress left other than the area covering the boobs). As far as adjustments go, there's nothing one can do other than add more fabric to cover the breast and take it away with gathers (if one is to retain the same look as the original). This will not result in a figure flattering look on large breasts. I can't think of a better analogy than a beach ball. If you're going to cover a large sphere you need a lot of shaping (with darts or wedge shaped pattern pieces) or you need to reach for a knit. (The knit can hug the beach ball.)

Kate, one of my best friends is small-framed with DD breasts. She's shaped very similar to you, only she's short. She was dead set on having a wedding dress with a bodice like the one in Marilyn Monroe's famous subway grate dress. Plunging halter bodice basically made out of two triangles covering the breasts. She went to one of the best custom bridal shops in Boston and paid $$$ to have a dress made to her body measurements. She had many many fittings by experts who do FBAs all day long and have drafted patterns for years. Unfortunately the result was NOT flattering. She was unhappy with the way she looked that day and is still unhappy when she looks at her wedding photos. Ironically she switched to a $200 RTW dress for the reception that she looked like a million bucks in. That dress had full coverage and a sheer fabric overlay. While she exposed less flesh, she paradoxically looked a lot sexier because the dress flowed and moved as she did. (In the other dress, she was encased like a sausage and constantly in fear of popping out.)

I wish that I could have been able to accompany her when she chose her wedding dress because I would have advised against this style. (I also think it was unethical of the shop to have made it for her. They should have told her it wouldn't suit her shape.)

I stand by my original opinion: a style like this Simplicity dress, that's basically a triangle of woven fabric covering each breast, with gathers holding in the fullness, is not going to be flattering on large breasts, no matter how much more fullness you add with a FBA. If the professionals can't pull it off, nobody can.

Still that doesn't mean we busty women can't look good and show some skin. There's always knit fabric and lots of clever ways to do a shaped bodice with wovens. Strategically placed cut-outs can also be another way to go if you want to add sex appeal. For example, I love designs that cover arms but expose shoulders.

By all means, do FBAs. But don't drive yourself crazy with a pattern like this.