Friday, January 31, 2014

SSDA 2: Hip Circumference and Fit

Before I start with the post, I wanted to tell you that in this updated draft-along there will be only one post about drafting as such. Most of the posts will cover measurements and their effect on the fit. I am doing it because I believe that it is possible to eliminate most of the fitting problems before they even arise. I want to explain the relation between measurements, simple drafting concepts and the fit, so you can apply them in your projects.

Many home sewers, including me, consider fitting as the most challenging part of the sewing adventure. Understanding the logic of each drafting step is key to understanding fitting as well. Critical thinking is not particularly addressed in pattern-drafting education. I want to change it.

To achieve this I divided the measurement steps into several posts, and for today's draft-along post I will focus on one essential measurement, hip circumference. Why? Because we create first fitting problems by relying on measuring instructions designed for ready-to-wear. However, they don't measure for our bodies, right? Take the classic 'Patternmaking for Fashion Design', for example: "Measure widest area with tape parallel with floor," it says.

Now, let's look at Liz and Kate.

For both, their buttocks are their most protruding, i.e. widest, body parts. However, in the front, they also got a protruding tummy. And on the sides, they got protruding hips. And to make it even more complicated all these parts protrude on different levels. And how about protruding thighs?..

Why does it all matter? Let's imagine a straight skirt as a cylinder, before it is shaped at the waist. And, let's agree that we are not working with stretch fabrics. To fit correctly, the cylinder has to fall straight from all protruding parts of the lower body.

I highlighted them in red on pictures. If we make the cylinder as wide as Liz's or Kate's true circumference around buttocks, we won't be able to fit their tummies correctly.

Since for both of them tummy (or mid-hip) circumference is less than hip circumference, the cylinder is wide enough to accommodate tummy area. However, the problem is that the tummy is protruding in the front, while the buttocks are protruding in the back. For this reason, following any known physical laws, the cylinder must distort. Below, you see what happens to the side seam. And the purple lines indicate possible drag lines that are usually visible when there is a fit issue I described.

The idea is that fabric will always be pulled toward protruding parts on your body if there is not enough width. Side seam serves as a great indicator of a fit issue, if hip circumference is too small: the seam will be pulled toward the front at the top,  and toward the back in the middle. Because of the overall distortion, the hem won't hang parallel to the floor as well.

Now, you may ask,  a standard dress form also has a slightly protruding tummy. How do the standard pattern-drafting methods go around it? The answer is simple: ease. They add ease to hip circumference, which compensates for this little extra volume in the front of a 'standard' body. If your shape is different, forget the ease altogether, you need to figure out how to measure your hips/buttocks taking into account your tummy and, possibly, hips and thighs.

Yes, hips. To make the matter even more complicated, let's talk about your hips. Look at your body and observe whether the widest hip portion is on the same level as the most protruding part of your buttocks. Mine are on different levels.  Hips are getting wider lower than my buttocks, Liz has a similar issue. It does affect the fit as well, but can be addressed by proper shaping of the side seam, and measuring hip circumference using a custom made hip measuring band.


Prepare a strip of poster paper long enough to allow you to wrap it around your hips (take appr. 1,5 of your hip circumference), and wide enough to go from your waist to 10cm (4") lower than your hip line (not buttocks).

Now, from one end of your strip measure the value of your true hip circumference, and make a vertical line. From there on, add up to thirty (30) parallel lines every centimetre, and mark the values.

Your band is ready.


Now, grab two paper clips and wrap the 'band' around your hips in front of a mirror.  Secure the top and the lower edges with paper clips as soon as the cylinder feels snug  and falls straight, perpendicular to the floor. The open vertical edge of the cylinder should be aligned with one of the parallel lines that you drew on the band. Unfortunately, I don't have an image of me measuring, as I wasn't able to control the cylinder in the mirror and take pictures of myself at the same time. Hope it helps to show it just like this for now.

Adjustments: Now, you need to observe yourself in the mirror, the cylinder edges should be perfectly perpendicular to the floor, both from the side view, as well as from the front, like the shaded area on the picture below. Adjust the clips if necessary and only then note the value you got on the paper.

That's it, readers. The value that you noted will be the width of our skirt, with all the necessary ease already included! Please do ask questions...


For the next post, I would like to ask you to take picture of yourself in leggings/tights and figure hugging t-shirt.  You need to take image from all four sides, left, right, front and back. Place the camera approximately at the waist level. Watch the posture, do not tilt forward or backward if it is not your natural posture - camera makes us take very unexpected poses, so be aware of it.  Trace the outline of your body from one side, front, and back to a letter-, or A4 size paper and make a few copies of it. In the next post we will start discussing shaping.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

On-My-Sewing-Table and Other updates

I realized that I haven't posted images of finished garments for a while, readers. It was mostly tutorials and step-by-step accomplishment of my embroidery course lately. The major project was the Gucci-inspired dress, the images will follow once I am finished with all the related tutorials - there are two more to come.

Another recent project was the Blue Crayon dress for my daughter, which was based on a Burdastyle pattern. It turned out quite cute, so that's another to-do post. Taking images is not my strength...

Finally, as everything is falling into place, I got to make a few announcements related to my Year-of-a-Skirt Resolution. The first news will come beginning of February, and it is an exciting one for me, and, hopefully, for you too.  (I am not planning to release a pattern, if you are wondering :)

Tomorrow, I will continue the Straight Skirt Draft-Along, so stay tuned. Today, I wanted to introduce my January Skirt project, an A-Line skirt in black Alençon Lace.

I bought it at my favorite Komolka (fabric store) in Vienna, and it was worth a fortune. I was lucky that it has scallops on both edges, and is wide enough to cut the skirt across. I took a yard, just enough to fit the width and a belt. But, after all, talking about the price, it is just slightly more expensive than an average Zara skirt. I like Zara design a lot (even though it is a post-runway rip-off more or less), and used to be a Zara customer, but it seems their quality worsened over time (or maybe I developed a better eye). In addition, for some reason, most of the skirt styles are way too short. There is a similar skirt for sale on Net-a-Porter, exactly what I want, but for a whopping USD 1,195

Source: Net-a-Porter

I am drafting the pattern myself, but if you want to sew a similar skirt I can recommend this Burdastyle pattern as an option. If you do choose it, I'd suggest eliminating the center back seam and moving the zipper to a side seam: it's better to have less seams for lace. As I move along, I will post work-in-progress tutorials: there will be three for this skirt, covering side seams, hem and lining. Hope you'll find them helpful.

Have you sewn with (Alençon) lace, readers? What was the most challenging part of it for you?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

TUTORIAL: Balancing a dart

Balanced dart is another couture technique I used in my Gucci-inspired dress. It is not difficult and results in a perfectly flat seam with the bulk distributed equally on both sides of it.

This technique is required only when you work with fabrics that create noticeable bulk in darts. It was described in a few sources, such as Threads magazine, Claire Schaeffer’s books, as well as in a few vintage sewing books. I think, however, that the best method for a balanced dart is demonstrated in Thomas von Nordheim’s Vintage Couture Tailoring.

To do a balanced dart you will need only a bias strip of self-fabric, long enough to extend beyond dart tips by approximately 2.5 cm (1").

Why bias? A strip cut on bias is more (a) flexible and (b) doesn’t ravel as easily

Now, before I demonstrate a step-by-step technique, let’s talk how the dart should be prepared for a flawless result. You can mark the dart using tailor tacks or basting stitch (called tacking in tailoring). I thread-traced the dart because it stabilizes both layers: fashion fabric and underlining.You should also mark both dart ends by thread tracing. This is called balance mark.  


Baste the dart using preferably different color basting thread and using shorter stitches. At this point you can remove thread tracing (it will be easier if it was done in a contrasting color), but leave balance marks.


Place a bias strip of self-fabric under the dart fold, with the dart width points aligned with the strip center.

Machine stitch the dart  through the strip, starting on the strip, and, then, hitting the dart at the balance mark and following the basting dart. Finish the stitching the same way, stitching through the dart point and finishing on the strip of self-fabric. This method will not only allow you to avoid backstitching, but also makes it easier to get accurate dart points.  


From the wrong side, softly press the fullness of the dart to one side, and the two layers of the self-fabric strip to the other. Now, the dart bulk is distributed equally and there is no bulge on either side of the seam. Don’t press from the right side yet, because the dart needs to be finished


At each dart end, clip into one layer of the bias strip, creating a half-arrow shape ending at the dart end. Fold over the clipped portion over the dart. Trim excess fabric, so the widths of the dart and the strip approximately match, grading the seam allowance of the bias strip, so the width difference of the two edges is about 3mm.


Give the dart final press from both sides of the fabric. On the right side, press through a self-fabric press cloth to avoid marks. 

The image above shows you the darts pressed over a tailor's ham. That's it. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Hand Embroidery: the second sampler is complete

It is gray, chilly and damp here in Nicosia, and all I want is cuddle up on a sofa and do something that doesn't require too much energy... A perfect slow day for the Craftsy hand embroidery class.

This time I completed Lesson 3, Looped stitches, and finished the second sampler.
Stitches, from the top down: 
1. Chain stitch; 2. Zigzag chain stitch; 3. Open chain; 4. Detached chain & Lazy Daisy; 5. Fly stitch; 6. Feather stitch; 7. Buttonhole stitch; 8. Couching stitch.
The deeper I delve into this new craft, the more I am convinced that I want to use a lot of embroidery in my sewing. Once I am finished with this beginner course, I will try integrating some beading as well, and create the first more complex embellishments.

But until then, let me share a few more thoughts about the class. I could not resist checking a few  embroidery tutorials on the web, and realized that Jessica (the Craftsy instructor) has great tips on how to achieve more consistent stitches. In the 2nd lesson, for example, she showed her way of doing the threaded and the whip stitches, which makes it easier to move the needle in and out of the stitches. She also demonstrated an easier way of making the stem stitch. By the way, since my last embroidery post, there was no long waiting for the replies.

Thanks everyone for checking out my embroidery Pinterest board! I was so excited to see so many repins that I had to check out your pins as well and got literally sucked in - I had just four hours of sleep last night :).. Well, that's it for today, readers. I got to do my Greek homework - the class is in one hour and I still have to complete five exercises. Antios!

Friday, January 24, 2014

PIMP_MY_PENCIL_SKIRT Draft-Along Reanimation, Post No 1

As I have already shared in my 2014 New Year's resolutions, I wasn't happy with the Pimp-my-Pencil-Skirt Draft-Along (a monstrous name, I know). The main problem was that it remained a step-by-step description of the process that didn’t explain the logic behind those step. 

In the past year I spent a lot of time researching pattern-drafting methods and making trial garments. What I learned is that pattern-making for custom fit, rather than a standard figure, cannot be based on standard memorized steps.

Let’s look at the image below, both women have the same waist and hip measurements. According to many patternmaking books, they will require darts with the same intake, because the difference between their hip and waist circumference is the same. However, if you look careful  you will see, that their body shapes differ. 

Do you think, a simple straight skirt will fit those two bodies equally well if we use same dart intake for both? 
Kate, on the right, has larger hips and will need more shaping for her side seams, while Liz has stronger buttocks, and will need more shaping in the back. The length of the darts will differ too, but more about it later.

Why am I going into length about a simple straight skirt? I do it, because in the course of my research I realized that

A (BEGINNER) SEWER IS IGNORANT ABOUT THE FIT. We measure our hips, draft or pinch out the darts, and as long as the skirt, in this case, doesn’t fall off the waist we tend to think it fits. I used to think like that, I admit.

B. WE MEASURE INCORRECTLY. Standard measuring methods are good for standard bodies. Besides, we tend to measure smaller. I call it vanity measurements.


D. WHEN IT COMES TO FIT, YOU WANT TO TREAT THE CAUSE AND NOT THE SYMPTOMS. Once you understand the fitting of a simple straight skirt, you will understand most of the rest. The principles remain the same.


I am a nerd, and I love homework. Of course, you don’t have to do it, but I promise it is helpful. Ok, for the next week, observe people’s bodies, men, women, kids. We will be observing the lower part of the body for now. Look at their waist, their hips. How big is the tummy in relation to the buttocks? Does the person have prominent thighs? Mentally draw vertical lines touching most protruding parts of the body, as if the person was wearing a cylinder, try to assess how much do they protrude in relation to other parts of the body: tummy in relation to thighs etc.

In the following post, we will continue talking about body shapes and how a garment is shaped. I will see if I can make it more interactive. Hopefully I can figure it out in Blogger...

Do share your thoughts here! I would love to hear what’s your experience with fitting, or fitting a straight skirt, in particular.

Related Posts:

SSDA 9: Side Seam and the Front and Back Widths

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Embroidery Pintervention

Having started my embroidery class I could not resist but pin embroidery images on Pinterest. There are so many ideas, I can't wait to start with my own projects. A small embellishment for a skirt would be a good place to start. But until then, four more lessons to go. That is four more weeks :)






Wednesday, January 22, 2014

When a Blue Crayon gets in a way

You thought your week is on course, sewing and blogging as planned, when suddenly you get a note from you daughter's teacher:
" For the assembly on Thursday, I ask that students dress as follows:
     Crayons: Solid color, head to toe, layer shades of the color for a nice effect if possible.
That's the sixth costume request since September, readers (I got two girls in this school)! Are you kidding me? Anyway, I thought, while my daughter is practicing her Blue Crayon line I would check out couple of kid stores and get her a blue outfit. But in vain, friends, nothing blue! Ok, there was a T-shirt for 35 euro, ahem... and Thursday is tomorrow!

These are those precious moments when you can proudly say that you got stash, and it has some bright blue wool! Yay, and the rest of my french jacket trim! I can make a dress that she can wear beyond this one event. Isn't it great that we sew?

Well, here is my find. I got to hurry now, wish me luck! I really have to finish it by tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Hand embroidery: Yes I can! I mean, I will!

I just could not resist any longer. Creating beautiful embroidery is what I am dreaming of doing during those quiet evenings when children are in bed and I finally get time to listen to music or watch a movie. My husband is an avid collector of antique Chinese embroidery, and I feel I ought to finally sit down and learn how to create embellishments inspired by those extraordinary pieces.

At some point last year I even went to Purl Soho in New York and bought some embroidery floss, a pack of needles and a reference book. But as time passed, it was all packed in a small box and put on a top shelf sharing the fate with my leather sewing tools, knitting magazines, and a few rather obscure what-was-I-thinking-type-of objects and books.

Whole past year, every time I logged in to my account, I was hoping to find a hand embroidery class. In vain. All they offered was machine embroidery classes. And then, this January, it happened: Design It, Stitch It: Hand Embroidery by Jessica Marquez.

It is a perfect class for a beginner. The stitches are conveniently grouped in lessons, and after each lesson you finish a 4" (10cm) square with about a dozen of sample stitches. Here is the first sample I made after a lesson on flat stitches.

Stitches from the top down: 1. Running stitch; 2. Running stitch on a curve; 3. Back stitch; 4. Back stitch on a curve; 5. Threaded stitch; 6. Whip stitch; 7. Split stitch; 8. Split stitch on a curve; 9. Stem stitch; 10. Stem stitch on a curve; 11. Fern stitch


I enjoy Jessica's teaching style. She is very precise and concise, has all her tools and thoughts in place and, what's most helpful, she anticipates most of the beginner's needs.

The samples she prepared for the class are very neat and can be used as a reference, especially when assembled in a small quilt, as suggested by Jessica.

There are quite a few inspiration materials that Jessica shows to class participants demonstrating the use of the stitches covered in a lesson


The following remarks may sound negative, but they don't change the fact that I really like the class. My criticism is not about the contents, but rather about a few small glitches.

It was unclear at the beginning what transfer methods will be used during the class. Only one is introduced at the beginning, and another one is showed in one of a later lessons. I wish there was a brief intro at the beginning of the class on what is going to be covered besides the samples.

The same refers to the tools and materials. It would have been nice to have some options, or a suggestion for a most-essential tool kit. I'd prefer not to buy all the materials listed in the resources as I am only a beginner and easily succumb to the urge to buy all the existing tools, materials and resources for a new craft, which I may or may not pursue in the long run. For example, for practice purposes, I was at the end able to transfer the sample design to muslin with a simple pencil, rather than an iron transfer pen, which I may purchase later if needed.

Finally, maybe it was an exception, but it took Jessica almost two days, longer than in other classes, to answer my questions. I hope this will change as the class goes on - quick feedback is extremely important for a steady learning progress, especially in an online class.


Before beginning with stitching, I watched the entire class while cooking, or sewing. Three days later I was able to do my first stitches without buying any extra tools or materials. That's my first!

To stay motivated, I collected a few inspiration images or pieces and pinned them on a wall in my studio, and on my Pinterest board.


As you see above, I managed to get my stitches somewhat straight and somewhat consistent. I will continue posting about the class as I complete the lessons, and when I am finished I will try to stitch those cute fishes above. I want to use them to embellish a skirt, or something else. However, this week I got to practice looped stitches. One of them - the couching stitch - is used for the scales and the outline of the fishes. I'd better post the image in the class and ask Jessica. Will keep you posted.

Do you use embroidery, beading or other crafts to compliment your sewing? 

Disclosure: I am a member of the Craftsy Affiliate Program and receive a commission for sales that are generated through links to Craftsy classes from my blog. However, the class I review here was purchased by me, and the review is not a commercial endorsement but my honest and unaffected opinion. I count on your understanding that the commission generated through affiliate links helps support this blog and share with you thorough information, tutorials, reviews and learning resources. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Reinforcing corners in a seam

The Gucci-inspired dress I was working on in December - images of the finished dress to follow later - had those pesky inward corners where the sleeve is attached to the bodice. You see them highlighted in pink below. Reinforcing those corners was critical, because they are located in an area that is under a lot of stress.

Technical drawing (source

There are couple of ways to reenforce inward corners, and if you have ever worked with gussets you may know some techniques. The simplest method is to stitch along the stitching line in the corner area. Here, I want to demonstrate another technique, which I used in my dress and which I haven't yet seen in any book. I've spotted it in an exquisite and possibly custom-made vintage dress and took pictures to recreate later.

Now, I have to warn you that this method may not be the most time-efficient one as it requires the use of the buttonhole stitch. However, it does offer more strength, control and, thus, precision. If you had some practice with hand-worked buttonholes, you may need about 10 min for each corner.

Whether you will use this technique or not, consider this post to be a research of custom or couture sewing techniques, rather than a suggestion that this is the only valid way to handle corners. I have to say this, because I occasionally get dismissive comments on how some techniques are waste of time. So, here we go.


Clip into the inward corner, as on the image below, stopping 2 mm before the corner. Measure the clipped edge, and note it down. Cut four isosceles right triangles,  that is triangles with two shorter equal sides adjacent to a right angle. The shorter sides should be cut on grain. The longer side (or hypotenuse) should be double the length of the cut.

Here, I cut the triangles in wool flannel, the same fabric as the dress, but after making the first sample decided to switch to silk organza to reduce bulk. This is one of those cases where making a sample keeps you out of trouble. 


Place the triangle on the wrong side of the fabric, aligning the hypotenuse (the longer side) with one of the cut edges of the clipped-in corner. The stitching line should be thread-traced, rather than just marked in chalk as on my sample (I improved with my following samples). When thread-tracing, it is important that the stitch length is shorter at the corner to provide an accurate guide for all the following steps.

STEP 3. 

Using a short buttonhole stitch, stitch the triangle along the clipped-in corner edges. The image below shows you the finished edge from the right side of the fabric

... and the finished edge from the wrong side.


Here, you can see how the corner looks from the wrong side after the seam allowance was pressed. In my dress, obviously, there is also a sleeve, but the principle is the same. I included this image without the sleeve, so you can see why I was placing the triangle on the wrong side of fabric for stitching. This way, the bulk of the buttonhole stitch is on the top of the seam allowance, rather than sandwiched between the layers. This considerably reduces possible imprint when pressing the garment.

The same corner from the right side. There is still a slight imprint on the sample - I should have put paper under the seam allowance when pressing. When underlining is used this is less of an issue.

That's it.

Have you worked with inward corners? What techniques do you use to reinforce them? 

It's 2014 and I pledge to...

I cannot believe it is already 2014! Holidays and travel made blogging virtually impossible, however I finished three complex projects and was 
diligently snapping work in progress, gathering some hopefully interesting material for you, readers. And as I was catching up on my internet fasting in the past few weeks I realized I got to join other bloggers in posting my New Year’s resolutions. 

Setting aside time proved to be challenging in the past year. I’ve been constantly distracted by the big move, holidays, new school, new house…. I felt too busy all this time, but now, as the house is set and kids are settled, I finally have a chance to review my priorities and get sewing on the top of the list. So, I pledge to sew for at least two hours a day, and to dedicate at least an hour a day to blogging.

It took me quite some (sewing) time to realize that I really mostly wear skirts. I like combining them with anything, sweaters and shirts, and, for me, nothing really beats a white or sky blue dress shirt. It goes with virtually any type of skirt…. So, I pledge to sew twelve different types of skirts this year and share the results here.

A year ago, when I was writing posts for the skirt draft-along, I was mostly following directions from various drafting books, as well as some instruction by Kenneth D. King. It bothered me because I really wanted to explain the logic of drafting, and most of the sources only offered step-by-step instruction. Last year I gained a lot of knowledge on pattern drafting, the why and how of every single step and its impact on the final fit. I would like to share this information with you, so I am going to relaunch the skirt draft-along from the scratch.

Last year was an achievement as I managed to reduce my stash by 10(!) fabrics. This year I want to reduce my stash by at least 25% and buy on demand mostly.



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