Think back to when you were new to sewing. Perhaps it was last week. Or maybe 40 years ago. Remember how intimidating a new design was?
You thought, “I want to make THAT.” You bought a gorgeous blue fabric only to find yourself staring at the picture wondering how to even begin such a thing.
Your next step was to figure it all out…
Starting a new period design hasn’t been too difficult for me. I feel blessed. You start by breaking down the design into workable sections and estimating pattern shapes. Not hard, right?
But it amazes me how some sewers verbalize that they have no clue where to begin. Then they beat themselves for weeks and months to get the dress together only to have it be an enormous disappointment.
(Just so you know, I’ve experienced this same phenomenon where, even when knowing what to do, the project still flopped… yeah.)
If your foundation is not solid that gorgeous silhouette will crumble down. It’s all about developing the dress over the right silhouette (read: undergarments) and that starts with your pattern. No matter if you use a purchased one or drape your own.
So why is it that so many have a hard time with this?
If you can’t draft a pattern, buy one! If your brain does well with drafting and enlarging patterns from books – go for it that way. (And bless those who have that skill!)
I love patterns. They are one of my true collections (not the random dust bunny set or the masses of pens in the office). I’d much rather save and buy a good pattern than to figure out how wide my skirt panels should be at the hem so it fits over my hoop.
Granted, some 19th century skirts are cut to measure. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about not re-inventing the wheel when it comes to a new bodice or new sleeve design. The point is to build (and fit) what someone else has already given to us. (God bless these hard working pattern makers too!)
Take a respectable bodice pattern. Mock it up. Tweak. Fit. Alter the pattern and make a fresh copy. Then sew it up.
Next time use the 1st generation pattern – that nice fresh copy you made after all those pesky alterations – to mock up, tweak, and fit again. Copy it fresh into a 2nd generation pattern copy. Repeat….
See that? No new wheel invented here! Hooray!
This is not a hard thing. Don’t go out and buy *another* pattern and start the fit/tweak process all over (unless, of course, it’s a new time period, duh; then you are back at the 1st generation of a pattern).
So where do you find such a great pattern to begin with? You can always check out the Pattern Page, but here are my favorites.
Sense & Sensibility (tell Jennie I said Hi!)
Past Patterns – try the Full High Gown and Fan Front Bodice
Early Victorian/Civil War
Truly Victorian – TV446 1860s Darted Bodice
Truly Victorian – hands down the best for shapes to start with & tweak
(Although, Mantua Maker has some good skirt designs you can use too.)
Truly Victorian (yes, again)
Of course, I’m partial to Truly Victorian (as you can see) because I think Heather’s patterns make fantastic starting points. I’ve been using them since 1999 too.
As with all patterns start by taking your measurements – twice – over your period undergarments.
Select your size(s) carefully and following any special instructions included on the pattern sheet. This is very important. Then as mentioned, make a mockup, make pattern alterations, then reuse the new version for your next project.
If you sew multiple garments from one time period – Stop inventing the wheel and using a new pattern each time! Simply use what already fits you and avoid the migraines (although, I can’t guarantee you’ll not have headaches on future revisions, but at least the initial stress and hair-pulling will be over with after the first run out of the pattern envelope.)
Do you find yourself grabbing a new pattern each time you start a new costume? Why? Or do you constantly revise your existing fitted pattern stock?