Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Whoa - It's Only Mid-January and I've Already Learned Something

A couple of things I've never attempted before (neither sober nor otherwise):  pattern drafting, and pattern grading.  For a very good reason.  Classes in flat pattern making are getting harder and harder to find at the local colleges - there used to be two nearby Community Colleges that had the class, then it went to every Spring when they downsized, and now I can't seem to ever find it listed.  Sigh.  Taking a computer-aided drafting class is all well and good if you can afford the software on your own - and that can run anywhere from $500 to over a grand, depending on what you want to do with it.

I don't know about you, but I don't currently have that kind of money floating around, just waiting to be frittered away on more software.

So over the years I've collected pattern-drafting books, both new and used (and the really technical ones?  You can pay around $200 for them sometimes.).  One came with a test version of the software, but it doesn't allow you to change the pattern styling, it only allows you to use the four or five patterns and type in your size to make that garment for yourself.  You can't save anything.  And the garments are ugly.  Most of the other books teach you how to alter a pattern to your liking - not quite what I'm after, but it's a start.  Unfortunately, some of these are so lightweight when it comes to explaining exactly what you're supposed to do that they are all but useless.

I keep hoping that I'll eventually have enough time to study all of these books, test out their advice, and see if I can figure out for myself exactly how one goes about drafting a pattern for a garment one would like to make, as well as grading it (for my non-sewing peeps, that means drafting multiples of the garment in different sizes).  But it's a daunting task.

Enter my pregnant client.  She is miserable right now, and since this is her second child, of course her body remembered EXACTLY how to expand at light speed.  So nothing fits.  She emailed me in desperation, hoping that I could whip out some roomy garments for her to wear before she had to start raiding her husband's closet (and we all remember how trendy that looks, right?).  Only her favorite pattern that she gave me was for her pre-pregnancy size and wouldn't fit her anymore.  And is no longer available.  ANYWHERE.

Sigh.  I got to work on some of the other garments we talked about, but that one dress kept coming back up to haunt me, along with another one that she really, really likes (The Soiree Dress from the Hatch Collection).  I so wanted to give her something other than just plain, boxy, oversized t-shirts to wear.  But these two dresses scared me half to death.  I didn't want to botch the process and waste the fabric she'd already bought.  But it kept me up at night - I just couldn't stand it and decided that I had nothing to lose.  I went to the local fabric store and bought inexpensive knit material to attempt the Soiree style (figuring that if I botched it, I was only out about $12).  I spent days and days and days (and sleepless nights) working things out in my head.  I cut out a couple of test swatches to see if I could figure out how to do that fabulous draping, or something similar.  I blew up the photos from the web site to see if I could figure out the construction.  No luck there, since they were too low resolution to be of any help.
Here is their version, in silks.
Now you can understand my freaking-outedness.

I was about to give up when a sewing friend happened to come over to pick something up (completely non-sewing related) and I snagged her for a quick look-see.  She ruminated about it, took a look at the pattern I'd drafted, looked at the sample, and picked up the fabric panel I'd cut out and started draping it on me.  She looked at the one on the internet (even though we couldn't do an extreme closeup, darn it) and agreed that I was on the right track.  That gave me what I needed to get over my fear of failure.  So after sewing it up and trimming off the excess at the bottom, here's what I came up with:

Here is my version, waiting for hems.
And for someone with legs.
Not bad for my very first drafting effort from scratch.
Don't bug me right now about the lack of finesse.

And I just happened to catch the First Sewing
Assistant, Retired, there in the background.

About five seconds before the Current Sewing Assistant
went diving through the skirt.

I'll let you know how that one goes over (thankfully, not literally) - I'm just glad I was able to get that shaping & draping without jumping off a bridge somewhere. (My eternal thanks, Laura!)

As for the other dress, I was crushed when I got home from my client's house to find that the pattern was never going to fit her in her current state - we both looked, online and in stores, and no one has that pattern anymore. In ANY size.  (Curse you, Butterick - it's a cute pattern, too....)  I kept taking it out of the envelope and staring at it in a mild panic, and then setting it aside.

The Sewing Assistant decided to go to work on grading it himself, using his own particular method:

Yeah.  It's a real easy pattern, until you try grading it yourself.
Look at all those lovely, interlocking, self-lining pieces.
Along with more of that side draping.
That needs to be expanded to accommodate pregnancy.
(Cue mad screaming and running for the hills here.)

After letting the Sewing Assistant take a stab at it (literally), I kept thinking, and thinking, and thinking.....I'd read articles on how patterns are graded commercially and what parts of the pattern can be expanded, while others areas need to be increased only infinitesemally infinitismally MICROSCOPICALLY.  Threads published a really good article on it not too long ago.  I sure wish I could find that particular magazine.  (Want a matching headache?  Here's part of the article: http://www.threadsmagazine.com/item/4368/making-sense-of-pattern-grading/page/all)



And finally, I just DID.  This was after I talked her into letting me draft a very simple caftan, similar to the styles you can find in any department store right now.  I just couldn't admit defeat.  So I took out my rulers & my drafting pencils and got to it.  I looked very carefully at the pattern pieces and where the existing sizes were drawn out bigger (and how much bigger), where they stayed the same or moved very little, found some points of reference (like corners and pattern markers), and drew a straight line out along the existing points to where I thought the next size would be and marked a new point on the pattern paper I'd taped onto the old one.  I followed each pattern piece around and continued drawing out new points, connecting them by following the contours of the existing pattern piece.  In some places I just eyeballed it - I couldn't tell by how much it should be increased (there was no continuity between sizes in those places).  I cut out the new pattern pieces and then the fabric (shudder, shudder, shudder....that she brought home from NYC).  

And just about died when it all came together and fit perfectly.  Well, almost.  And that wasn't from the inexpert grading, it was actually a sewing bobble I can't believe I did.  

You can't see me now, but I'm doing The Happy Dance.  Alternating with the Duck and Cover Dance, since I imagine someone else is going to ask me to repeat this miracle performance, and I'm not quite sure I'll be able to.  But crisis averted for this client, for the time being.  

I just hope she doesn't get too much bigger in the next couple of months.....

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