Monday, 18 August 2014

Tissue Fitting, Toile Making and Pattern Cutting

As a treat to myself, I went on a weekend pattern cutting course in Stratford upon Avon with Jules from Sew Me Something.  As per my previous course near Chesterfield, I had to pay for accommodation and travel in addition to the course fee. This time I chose to travel by train as having just turned 60, I am now eligible for discounted train travel. I bought a senior rail card and got 30% off - and it's so much nicer than driving all that way - and faster too. The cost was a little higher than petrol would have been, but well worth it. Two of us would drive.
In advance of the course, I was advised that materials would be available for me but to bring a Pattern Master (see above) and notcher (see right) if I had them. I already had the notcher but bought a Pattern Master. I was also able to carry another few bits and pieces which I felt might be useful. I also took a couple of patterns I'd had problems with - a skirt, made in a Saturday workshop , which I didn't feel like finishing because I knew it didn't fit, and trousers which I was making in my monthly class, which I was starting to construct. More of them later.

I wanted to achieve a bodice block/sloper - plus the rest if there was time!  Most people also wanted this (there were only 6 people in the class, one of whom already had a woven bodice block and so wanted to make a stretch block instead)

I was pleased that the class involved taking measurements and using these to construct the block from scratch, rather than altering a commercial pattern.  A lot of the construction was based on Winifred Aldrich's work, (Metric Pattern Cutting). I own the 4th edition but the current edition is the 5th, covering stretch fabrics in more detail.

All our measurements were in metric, which Jules feels simplifies the process. Before going, I had watched the Craftsy class by Suzy Furrer who felt that the use of 1/8ths was much better. In the UK, metric is more prevalent - I suppose it's what you're used to. I can work in inches as that is what was around as I was growing up - so I suppose that means I'm measurement bilingual! I must say I also really liked Suzy Furrer's class and have bought a couple of her other ones. It will be interesting to see if the results are comparable.
We paired up to take the measurements, which was far easier. We then began to transfer these measurements to dot and cross paper (to help keep things square) as per the instructions and calculations given. I was delighted that Jules was careful about squaring etc - I have a dislike of slapdash work. We were constructing a bodice block and then a sleeve block to fit. I took rather longer than most to construct my bodice block as I had quite a few adjustments to make after making up in muslin and trying on. The main ones were adjustment for sway back (taking up a 1cm tuck and adding the 2cm taken up back at the hem again) and widening the shoulder dart (our draft had 3 darts - shoulder, bust and waist). Finally, I was finished and the muslin deemed to be a good fit. We didn't actually transfer to card as a block at that stage - that was homework. I haven't shown pictures of the pattern working or of the toile - I could do but wasn't sure they'd of themselves be of interest to people.

After achieving a good fit, all the changes were transferred to the pattern. The new measurements were used to construct a sleeve pattern. The sleeve was then made up in muslin and inserted into the armscye. Amazingly, mine was a great fit! I have rather large biceps (weight and golf) and this is a particular problem I have with commercial patterns.
Some people had finished all of this on the first day, but I had to continue into the second. As a result, I didn't feel that I had time to construct a trouser block, as others were doing. I therefore decided to ask Jules to fit my skirt and trousers.

The trousers were being made from a commercial pattern - one by Palmer Pletsch. McCall's 6901.

They recommend tissue fitting and in my monthly dressmaking class (where many of us decided we'd like to make well fitting trousers...) we followed PP instructions to tissue fit. I was surprised when I had to add a lot to even the largest size of the commercial pattern, but I know I do have a very marked pear shaped body. I had taken calico to the class but as others voted to go ahead with fashion fabric, I did too, and cut out and began to construct the trousers as per pattern guidelines.
This was what I took to Jules. I quickly stitched up the trousers (I had been in the middle of doing the fly front and zip) to test fit. They were absolutely disastrous!! At least 2 if not 3 sizes too large - 3" pinched out of each leg - and the crotch was nearly down to my knees. This is very unusual as at 179cm (5'11") I usually find the crotch to be too short. 
I'll try to recreate a picture!! On second thoughts - you're just going to have to imagine this , including a crotch down to my knees!  Needless to say, my result was not the fairly close fitting and slim pant worn by the model.
Jules started to pin fit but then said I'd actually be quicker starting again - that is, unpicking and re-cutting from the same fabric using 2 sizes smaller as a starting point. I agreed that I would do this at home. I also took away instructions on how to make a flat fronted trouser block. At this stage, I'm not sure whether to re-cut from the commercial pattern or go through a muslin stage with the flat fronted trouser block I hope to create. I need to decide soon as the monthly class restarts on 3rd September. I'm afraid that I haven't had much chance to sew at home due to various family issues but should be able to restart this coming week.
I then went onto the skirt (version C). McCall's 3830.
I hadn't been very happy with the material as I found it took me ages to match the patterns at the seams. I liked the design but hadn't realised the problems it would cause me. You can see that although the fabric is true, the rows of circles are offset, giving almost a diagonal pattern.

I started this skirt in a weekend dressmaking class specifically to make a skirt from this pattern. The tutor would have preferred to go straight into construction but recognised that there's not much point sewing up something which doesn't fit! She therefore tissue fitted us all and we made pattern adjustments before cutting out the fashion fabric. There was no muslin stage. As I said, I had huge problems matching the pattern at the seams. I had got so far by the end of the day and hadn't felt like touching it after that.
I tried on the skirt for Jules to fit - and it was HUGE. (I should say that I have GAINED weight since the class so, unfortunately, weight loss was not the reason for the wrong size). There was a good 2" to take in at each side and 1" at the back. And obviously the contoured facing needs to be altered.

I was going to make the photo extra large so you could see clearly how much was taken in - but I couldn't bear it! This is inside out to try to show the seams.
As I was sitting contemplating where to go and what to do, Jules suggested that I make a skirt block as this was a quick project and faster than what I was trying to do. I managed to make up the skirt pattern from my measurements and then draw out again with seam allowances (1.5cm) but didn't have time during the course to go onto a muslin fitting stage. I'll get around to that, too. Jules suggested that due to the type of pattern on the fabric and its relatively small size, the degree of pattern matching I was trying to achieve (and had achieved, I must say) wasn't necessary. I should manage to finish the skirt reasonably quickly - it is a simple make, just the fitting causes the issues.
I started to sew for myself to get garments to fit, though - and that is by far and away the most important consideration for me. An ill-fitting garment can never look good, after all. I chose to go on a pattern cutting course to help me in my quest for decent fit and I think I have taken away a lot of useful tips, techniques etc. I also realise that it is not enough to transfer your measurements to paper and expect a good fit as we are 3 dimensional beings with circumference being made up by different distribution of flesh. Even within the class of 6, there were multiple variations.

I don't have my blocks yet but that will come in the next month - or so. I left the class with a large roll of pattern card (to trace the blocks onto for more permanent keeping) - I was worried about travelling by train and by foot from one station to another in Birmingham with this, especially as I was in rather a hurry, but it worked out well.
I found the class useful. I enjoyed the mathematical challenge of making the blocks and having someone patient and knowledgeable on hand was great. I should say that Jules also made wonderful lunches and delicious cakes for us.

Since the class, I have purchased a further recommended book, which I find fascinating It's expensive but worth it. It covers three methods of pattern alteration - seam method, pivot method and slash method. Some of the pictures in other pattern books made me feel I had made my pattern alterations incorrectly, but this book showed how pictures are manipulated and don't actually show the reality of a particular manoeuvre. For example, if you widen a sleeve in the biceps area by slashing and spreading, the sleeve cap will drop and the centre slashes will overlap - this is not always shown. Often, it looks as if you simply have to re-create a straight line but in fact there can be a very significant step in the line. I thought I was getting it wrong but it seems I wasn't.

Unfortunately, I can't remember the other main author Jules recommended but I have enough for now I think! One day I must do a review of all the pattern fitting books I have!

I've signed up for a pattern fitting course in a college in a nearby city. I don't know what to expect yet. It starts in mid September. The beginner module is 10 weeks long and then I could go on to more advanced modules, I think. They may have different prescribed texts and different methods - I'll just have to wait and see.

I also took away from the class the idea that tissue fitting is useless! I had tried to tissue fit at home but my husband refused saying he didn't think it was helpful as the tissue was so fragile - I now think he was right, though not perhaps because of fragility but because it doesn't bend to shape like fabric. I won't be tissue fitting in the future.

At times, I have found muslin/toile fitting tedious as I couldn't get beyond a certain point - and have cut muslin after muslin ...In my weekly class I was known as the 'Toile Queen'.  I won't resent any of the time spent on muslins in the future. I can't accept Palmer Pletsch's view that after tissue fitting go straight onto fabric fitting and miss out the toile stage. It certainly doesn't work for me.


  1. I have never bothered with tissue fitting - I think it is a waste of time. To adequately fit the tissue, surely it would tear. Tissue also doesn't hang like fabric. I know Palmer Pletsch rave about it, but in industry, and in the profession, you always make muslins - sometimes several, and then test garments - it takes a lot of time and fabric, but then, there is a lot at stake. I do hold up tissue patterns to see if they sort of look as though they are a starting point, but that is all. The book you have bought (which is expensive, I know, because I have it) - is at least demonstrating what happens when you alter a pattern - if you do something in one area, there is always going to be an equal and opposite move. Basic engineering principle! I quite like fitting, when I am in the mood and have time (which amounts to much the same thing with me). Otherwise, for it doesn't matter garments, or testing a pattern, I just do the basics. Or if I am really busy with other things, I make simple, unfitted garments that go with things I have. Sewing is like everything else, an art and a science :)

  2. I do enjoy the engineering challenge! I'm looking forward to having a TNT pattern that I can just make!


Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog. Please leave a comment. I welcome each and every one. I value criticism (constructive of course! ), love hints and tips and would appreciate suggestions for future direction.

Flip and Fold Cushion

I’m really quite excited! I finished the Flip and Fold cushion from Lesson #4 of the Sweet Pea ITH Course, and I love it. This rather surp...