Friday, April 10, 2009

Everyone's Favorite Claire McCardell: The Dolman Dilema

I am still working through Everyone's Favorite Claire McCardell dress, with some distinct improvements to the original awkwardly-fitting muslin. However I am not there yet.

First things first, my reflections on the good. I scaled back to a 46 inch bust size (rather than 50), which is more in line with my upper bust measurement. This size is the best shoulder/back/neck fit. Then I conducted a pretty massive full bust adjustment, adding a good three inches or so in full bustiness room, as picture above.

Next, I moved the dart. It originally angled semi-upward along the side of the chest. The pattern illustration would have you believe the dart angles from in the waist area upward toward the bust apex, but it does not. On the pattern, the dart placement is definitely coming from the side seem slightly upward. Well, my problem of excess fabric over the armpit required dart migration into an area where it could corral the fabric. So I moved it up into the sideseem under teh armpit, where it now helps pull the extra fabric down and into the dart. Basically I used a slash and spread method to close the old dart and shift the dart into the armpit area, angling down a bit to my apex. The shift has helped the fit quite a bit.

However, it is still not perfect, so allow me to reflect on the bad. The biggest issue is still an excess of fabric over the bust in the armpit area. You can see it in the above photo puckering in the area of my upper bust (and sorry for the awkward self portraits. I try not to post bad picture like this, but I did not have my tripod at sewing class). I recognize that the dress design is not intended to be a very fitted bodice, and this excess fabric may reflect this, but nonetheless I am not willing settle for the gaping at my chest.

It is theorized by my sewing instructor that the excess fabric is due to my shoulder slope. I have a more sharply angled downward slope on my shoulders than the pattern's slope, which as you can see in the above photos is an almost straight line parallel to the floor. However, when we changed the slope on the shoulder, it constricted the arm/shoulder fit too tightly. The pattern fits with enough room in the underarm, but with too much room in the upper shoulder/arm. Yet removing upper arm fabric creates tightness. What is a girl to do?

To try and figure this fitting situation out, I have been research the fit and function of the Dolman sleeve. Be prepared as you read on. You are about to discover more about Dolman sleeves than you ever wanted to know.

I have done some reading on the design, and the basic description of this sleeve design is that the Dolman sleeve incorporates the bodice and the sleeve into once piece, making it the easiest sleeve style of all to construct. Dolman sleeves should create a smooth line over the upper chest (unless you are me on a first draft). The consensus is that this is an excellent style for someone with any kind of shoulder problem. Often, the underarm area is almost bat-like or cape like. Also, the sleeve often angles downward from the shoulder. This means there is some sleeve shaping but still no armhole or sleeve cap.

The dolman style has a sleeve formed integrally with the body, with only two substantial seams at the underarms. A generous amount of space is provided under the arms for movement, so the garment is usually considered to be very loose-fitting, even if the sleeve forearms are tight. It is perhaps the simplest style to assemble, with only two underarm seams to sew.

Dolman designs are usually constructed with sleeves extending at right angles to the body, so there can be the problem of too much fabric bunching under the arm, leading to a top-heavy appearance. Also, the fact that that there is no shoulder seam to support the weight of the fabric hanging down from the shoulders may result in pulling and stretched stitches in the shoulder area.

The conclusion is that, in general, when you're concerned with a good fit that complements the wearer (as opposed to a "safe" fit that will accommodate a small range of body sizes), set-in sleeve styling rather than Dolman sleeves is almost uniformly an ideal solution to the problem of adding sleeves to a garment. The Dolman sleeve might not be suited for a close fitting bodice.

As you can see in the below photo, I am making progress at a close fitting bodice with a Dolman sleeve. But if you look you can see the excess fabric gathering over my bust toward the shoulder. Perhaps I need to tweak and tuck a bit more. Perhaps I need a much more fluid and draping fabric to soften the excess. Whatever it is, I am not giving up hope yet that the pattern will work for me.

I am encourage by this bit of advice from Fast Fit by Sandra Betzina "Dolman sleeves give a nice smooth line and are forgiving on anyone with shoulder problems. Try to avoid an especially low curve in the underarm area. The Dolman sleeve and underarm seam can always be raised to suit your tastes....If a Dolman sleeves seems too deep for you, don't skip it all together - simply raise the underarm curve as you cut out. The goal is to keep the bust and sleeve circumference the same, but lift the curve up into the sleeve. Start by continuing the side seam up one inch to two inches into the sleeve, then curve back out into the sleeve. Curved seems at the underarm must be clipped or served close to lie flat. If you need to get rid of more fabric, you can do it in the sewing; but a conservative approach is better to start with."

If you have any advice for me, send it my way. I am accepting suggestions from every angle.


Laura McFall said...

Hi Kate! You are doing so very well with your sewing lessons!

This blog caught my attention re:Shoulder slope. I just watched Sewing with Nancy's fitting shows and when you make an adjustment to the shoulder, you have to make the same adjustment to the underarm. IE if you lower the shoulder seam by 1/4", you have to lower the underarm as well, keeping the arm scye at the same size. That was on a traditional armhole/sleeve, but looking at your pattern, I'd say the theory applies to it also.

Nancy does it by the pivot method. Put a pin at the spot where the adjusted shoulder and sleeve seams intersect and then align the pattern piece with the underarm seam and re-draw the lowered armhole.

Also keep in mind that your 'muslin' fabric is probably much stiffer than your fashion fabric. Looking at the pattern sketches, there is tugging at the armhole on the model, too.

I recommend the Nancy Zieman method of altering patterns and choosing pattern size to fit your neck and shoulders, not necessarily your bust measurement. Often times the design ease is more than I am comfortable with - I prefer closer fit than most patterns allow and usually end up taking them in...

Even after years of sewing, I'm still learning about fit. There are as many theories as there are Masters and it is a matter of finding what works best for you. And then remembering what you did the last time to do it again! If you know you have shoulder slope, you will most likely always make that same adjustment. I have a high waist and almost always have to take 1" out of the length.

OH - and you can always add shoulder pads... sometimes that's the easiest way, and no one knows but YOU! :)

Keep up the good work, I love reading your blogs - you are such a great writer!

Laura McFall

Myra said...

I don't know, but dolmans never work on me and I have a thick stomach/waist area and broader shoulders and am short. In fact, alot of things are hard to fit on me for those reasons. Where do you take lessons in SA?

zilredloh said...

I'm working on a pattern right now, and I'm curious if you have finished this dress and the "dolman dilema". I seem to have the same issue, even though I'm small chested and don't have the horizontal sloping shoulders that you have.
Any thoughts you have would be great. But the first soltion I was going to try tonight was to raise the underarm seam up vertically like you read about.

I found you on an extensive google search for this problem and THEN saw you are doing the lady grey sew along too. :) How fun. Can't wait to start the crepe sew along.


Kate said...

Liz - I have a very bad habit of many uncompleted patterns. :) So no, I have not finished this pattern, although funnily enough I was thinking about breaking it back out over Thanksgiving, so your timing is divine. As I continue to work through fit, I have found that I am "short chested" above the bust. That, or my must is lower than the patterns are drafted for. Or both. So I have started taking a tuck out over the bust, at the center front, and then tapering it to nothing near the sleeve. You can reach more about it on my Sencha blouse here. Tell me what you think?

I also have a hunch that going down in size, to result in a smaller fit across the shoulders, might help this kind of issue.

I would love to see pictures and hear tales of your project. Keep me posted. Good luck!

p.s. Do you think this dress could be made up in a double knit? I have never worked with the stuff, but it sounds like miracle fabric and might be pretty in this design.