Monday, April 25, 2011

Pattern Panic

It's April, and the wedding is in August.  There's plenty of time for me to  make 10 different dresses, if I like. I spent hours poring over online pattern catalogs, and believe me, going to the fabric store and thumbing through pattern books is much quicker. I'm no closer to a decision. Everything for weddings seems to be strapless. No way. I'm 60. I don't do strapless. 

If I start now, I can make something complex. Only thing is, I want to wear a dress, and I haven't sewn any  for years. I fear that I will end up in an A-line  dress with a droopy arty jacket. I like sewing arty.

The bride will be wearing  vintage Jessica McClintock. Do I want to nod to her style and wear a 70's boho dirndl close fitted vest and filmy top? Could I stand to wear pastels? Lavender and mint green are her accent colors. I dunno. I didn't go for ruffles and lace in the 70's.

I have a vast collection of vintage patterns, but I am short. There is no way that I want to wear a poufy skirted 50's dress. I am not a cupcake. My pattern stash turned up variations on the same pattern, from different publishers and different eras. I'm headed toward sheath/shift/A-line, despite my indecent lust for patterns that feature clever cut and drape techniques.

I have a collection of vintage linen tablecloths just waiting to be transformed into something.

I'm leaning toward an a-line sheath with cap sleeves, and a  jacket of some sort.  The bride gave me a lovely vintage dress and jacket pattern for Christmas, but a dress and jacket of precisely the same fabric seems somehow  business like, not really celebratory. Perhaps  cotton lace or eyelet. A suit? Somehow that seems too businesslike. If I'm going to wear a suit, I want it to be Mainbocher. I love high fashion of the 40s and 50s, but  most of the high fashion stuff looks good only on very tall people.

I haven't sewn clothing  for myself for years. I've mended, made do and forced manufactured clothing into submission. I've made hats and vests, and socks, but I  haven't cut a pattern for a dress for years. It ought to be special. It ought to be fun. Fun for me is color, strip quilting, embroidered ribbon, lace.  Mostly, it is color.

Broadcloth large scale print with kimono sleeves and obi belt? Boat neck? Somewhere I have some vintage rayon damask given to me by the bride's mother. Could I dye it? Bead it? 

Panic now. Avoid the wait.

Friday, April 22, 2011

One Size Fits Few

This just in: I am not a complete idiot, nor am I malformed. The problems that plague me when I try to sew pants from many commercial patterns (Simplicity, Butterick, McCall) are not unique. I am not completely inept. I learned this with a trip to Fashion Incubator, a site for those who design for manufacturers.* What a relief!

Kathleen Fasanella discusses common industry problems, researches why they occur, and tells designers what they can do to avoid them. She bought a pair of manufactured pants for her husband, showed that they did not fit, sewed a gusset to make them fit better, and told us why no real human could have worn those pants to begin with. As I understand it, the mistake that makes many pant patterns fit poorly creeps in during the grading, when they enlarge the pattern for different sizes. If the additions are made in the wrong place, a whole set of fit problems can occur. I sort of knew that.

I love knowing what makes clothing work and why. There is even an answer for why the waistbands of pants seem to get smaller at a different rate than the rest of the pants. It's in the cut. If you cut the waistband alongside the pant leg, it shrinks at a different rate than if you cut it across the width of the fabric. It gets smaller faster. It's not my imagination. Henceforth and forever more, I will cut my waistbands across the fabric, even if I have to piece them.

Fitting a pair of pants is indeed almost as complex as, say, rocket science. Weight gain is not evenly distributed. Allowing for weight gain  requires knowing where you store it. If, unlike Lyndon Johnson, you store fat above the waist, you've got it made. Folks who store fat in their thighs have one problem. Those who get big middles have another. Each fat storage zone has its own shape, and sometimes the best you can do is to disguise it.

In other words: everything I was ever taught about fitting pants is only partially true. The rules that worked when I was severely underweight don't work now that I am normal and then some. I have curves. They are pleasant, but they are still curves, and pants patterns are designed to fit a median. No, let me correct that. Pants patterns are designed to go on  a variety of shapes. They only actually fit one shape well, and the rest of us must learn to put up with what we get, or change brands. 

Off I go to fiddle with  my stalled pants project. I've also dug out former college level sewing instructor Terry Jones' instructions for making pants. She very kindly posted them years ago during one of my prior rants about pants patterns. Terry Jones can make just about anything seem simple. Her instructions are calm, matter of fact, step by step, and I should have followed them long long ago instead of getting distracted by moving 3 times in 3 years and having sewing machine and fabric out of reach for 18 months.

*Anyone can read Fashion Incubator, but only those who have bought her book may comment on the site. This ensures that she only has to deal with informed commenters. I am grateful and happy to be allowed access to all this inside information.

Friday, April 15, 2011

I fought the pants and the pants won

At least I am consistent.  My second attempt at making a pattern from finished clothing turned out just the same as the first: too small. I'm not sure what happened. The originals are denim, on their last legs and fraying badly; the copies are waffle weave without give.

I made the pattern  measuring point to point and adding a 5/8 seam. The originals only had a 3/8 seam. The pants made from the copied pattern fit as if they were painted on. I let out two seams and now they only look as if I were poured in. The shape is right, but yuck.
At this point I am tempted to stop beating a dead horse. I could, I suppose, add an inch width to the side seams. But we all know that this will just encourage another problem to appear. Still, the shape is right.... I give in. I'll add strips along the sides and see what happens.

I have 30 years of pants patterns, many untried, all bought in the hope that it  would be the magical pattern that trumps all others. I've bought patterns in classic and funky styles, the same measurement as my hip and two sizes smaller, as someone advised. I've used one size for the front and another for the back. I've measured, slit apart, added. When the pattern gets to the almost good enough stage, I am beat, done, unwilling to face the reality of tweaking  pants patterns for months or years.
I could try a pattern from another manufacturer. I have determined beyond argument that Simplicity will not work for me ever. McCall is marginally better. I have twice attempted a McCall pattern pants pattern. The pants fit, but only because I altered them substantially.  I like loose but not voluminous, and the pants I made from a knitwear pattern are right in the crotch length but wide enough elsewhere for me and a few of my closest friends.

I have a vintage Stretch N Sew pattern, but  I don't want knit pants. I have an old Vogue, but I think I want a complete change: Burda. It is rumored that Burda has a long back rise, so there's an alteration I wouldn't need, right off the  bat. Burda has a completely different sizing system.  Instead of 10-12-14, it has horrifyingly large numbers, 38, 42, 46.  

Maybe I should try again to copy pants. David Page Coffin makes it look so simple in his video.  His 2009 book, Making Trousers for Men & Women, addresses a raft of interior details that make all the difference.  Coffin uses photos lavishly to illustrate techniques, and is generous with his descriptions.  I agree with a good many of his preferences, the use of Petersham as a waistband liner, cut-on waistbands, extra fabric in the back for expansion. I may never attempt a curved pocket welt, but it's in there.
Thank you, Qbookshop and Craftside, for claiming that my answer to a silly question won, and for allowing me to choose a book. Making Trousers for Men & Women  arrived this week  and is a very satisfying read. I'm thrilled to have it, but with my track record with pants, I don't imagine I'll be a good advertisement for its merits.