Friday, February 27, 2009

Pattern Alterations and Sewing Decisions--by Intuition

About 5 years ago, I began my quest to vastly improve my fitting and alterations skills. I started sewing in 8th grade, and while I was a quick learner making a lot of mistakes along the way, I never learned how to fit other than using lengthen and shorten and a few other common sense fixes. This was really a shame. I made a lot of beautiful things over the years with fit being hit or miss. So it was a pleasure to discover more sewing/fitting resources via the Internet as well as the opportunity to take several fitting classes online. I've written about this before, but my fave fitting gurus are Shannon Gifford and Jean Haas. I've learned so much from them. They are both knowledgeable and gifted instructors that have taught me so much.

I have to admit, the process of learning how to fit wasn't easy. I couldn't see things the way they saw it and asked a ton of questions all the time. Over time, however, so many light bulbs went off, and everything became much more clear. Not only did I take the their classes (sometimes twice because they were so good), but I read a ton of fitting/pattern alterations books and did a lot of fit research. Kathleen Fasanella's Fashion Incubator is a wealth of information, and her Saran Wrap Block info on her blog was instrumental in helping me develop an upper body sloper pattern. Once I created that sloper, so much information just fell into place for me on an intellectual fitting level.

I know some people can use a commercial fitting shell to determine their pattern alterations that are needed for their body. Instead of trying to fit a shell to my body (and a lot of head scratching along the way), I decided Kathleen's Saran Wrap block would be easier, just wrap it on, mark it, and peel it off. Using duct tape was an option, too, but saran wrap was quicker. No calculations, virtually no math. Utilizing methods learned in Jean's class, I turned that Saran Wrap block into a sloper pattern.

These days I can trace off a pattern and know intuitively some of the pattern alterations I will have to make, just by looking. In fact, I don't even have to take out my sloper pattern to make the comparison. There are two things I look for right off the bat--I'll discuss that in my next post in a day or so. Stay tuned on that thought.

Which brings me to Pat, one of my friends who is also a sewing student. As I teach her how to sew, I also am teaching her basic fitting principles. IMO, a good teacher teaches both at the same time, but only fitting principles in a very basic format so as to not to overwhelm the student. For example, she's making the tunic from the S.E.W. Everything Workshop Book. That's why I made it and posted about it yesterday. I like to make things up before my students do. I read the instructions in the book, add to/modify/clarify the instructions as I see fit (no pun intended). From a beginner's viewpoint, there are sewing areas in which I "hold their hand" so they maintain their confidence.

The first garment fitting principle (after the simple lengthen/shorten line) we covered was the bust dart pointing to the apex. We lowered the bust dart as I explained this is a very common alteration many women must make. She is finishing up her top on her own as her homework--just tweaking the side seams to her liking and hemming it as per my instructions. It really looks nice! Her second garment project is the Cape Mod from the same book. We picked out a lovely fabric at our local fabric store as well as matching lining. We're using a cotton flannel fabric for the interlining. I'm making the same cape up this weekend to preview the instructions and methods. Today we also worked on making buttonholes on her machine. She has a Sears Kenmore from the '70's, probably a Janome. It says "Made in Japan" on the body interior. Isn't Janome a Japanese company? I think so. She has never made buttonholes before, so we went through it step by step. Her homework is to make 6-8 more on her sample fabric and a few more on her interfaced fashion fabric for her cape. I like repetition for confidence. It does the sewing skills good.

Another thing I was thinking about today were sewing errors. There's a thread about it at Patternreview, "When to Let Your Errors Go." When Pat was sewing the armhole facing to the armhole of the bodice, she was being very careful. But still, there was a very tiny pucker. She was going to rip it out, but then said, "When I turn the facing to the inside, the pucker will actually disappear right on the edge. It won't be noticeable." She was absolutely right on that. I told her a good steam might take it out, but when turned, no one would see that tiny pucker even if the steaming wasn't successful.

A good sewer knows when to seam rip and when to let tiny errors go. I'm so glad she made this assessment and decision on her own. No one will notice. No one. Of course, purists might say, "Fix it!" But that's the beauty of it--a beginning sewer making a definitive decision. Not obsessing over something that won't be seen. Obsessing can easily lead to frustration. Frustration can mean walking away and never sewing a stitch again. I don't want that to happen. We all have to determine our own level of "allowable" errors. Some of us are perfectionists, some are not. My own allowable error level is, "Is it noticeable?" I use the 2-foot rule on that one. "Will the error affect fit?" That's always a question I have to answer as well.

This weekend I have to call three more eager, potential students. It will be exciting to share the love :) ! I'm SO looking forward to it.


Rhoto said...

"Very helpful blog"!! Looking forward to your continued comments. ;)
Soft hug,
Rhonda in Montreal (PR)

~ Kimberlee B ~ said...

That is so wonderful. Must be fun teaching!

Anonymous said...

Would you be interested in contributing to Sew News magazine? Drop me a line if so: emarch(at)creativecraftsgroup(dot)com