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Jun 11, 2015

Sewing for Susan: Self-drafted vs. Commercial Patterns



Meet my client, effervescent New Yorker Susan D!

I'm going to be making some summer clothes for Susan -- a sleeveless dress, an A-line skirt, perhaps a blouse -- in the coming weeks and, having received Susan's permission, have decided to share the experience with you. 

Susan is a professional woman who loves the outdoors and is an avid golf player.   Because she's petite (5'2"), with a short waist and a wide back, Susan often has a hard time finding clothes that fit her well.

Susan's full bust is 39", (true) waist is 32 1/2, and her hips at their fullest are 38 1/2.  She wears a 38B bra.  Below (and above) Susan is wearing a princess-seamed cotton pique sheath dress from Talbot's in a 10 Petite.



There's considerable pooling just below Susan's waist: the back torso is too long.

I'm excited about creating clothes for Susan and I've decided to work from a self-drafted sloper based on Susan's measurements rather than from a commercial pattern.  (The garments I'll be making will be basic, classic shapes.)

I'll be using Dorothy Moore's excellent Pattern Drafting and Dressmaking, a vintage (1971) book I experimented with a few years ago.  I find it extremely clear.







Susan and I have talked about fabrics and she's especially fond of a cotton Ascher floral print, a vintage reproduction, from my stash.  I think the yellow flatters her (I suspect she's a summer) but I'm wondering if the scale of the print might be too large -- thoughts?



You may recall that Gertie (who's about 5'7") used the same fabric to make a dress in 2012 using McCalls 6503.



Over the next few days I'll be working on slopers, which I hope to try on Susan next Monday.  Then we'll take it from there.

What I'd love to achieve is a less rectangular look for Susan.  I think a soft print in a more flowing fabric with a slightly looser fit would look lovely on her.  Since she works in a professional environment and is over 40, girly (or excessively vintage-y) looks aren't quite right.

I'd love to hear your ideas, if you have any.  If you have a similar build to Susan's, what works for you?

Do you agree that it makes more sense to start with a well-fitting self-drafted sloper (which I can use for future garments for Susan) than to work from a commercial pattern needing a lot of adjustments? 

Have a great day, everybody!

44 comments:

  1. I think you'll do an excellent job, and she's got a great base figure to work with. Maybe colour-blocking could narrow the back a little while keeping a formal office look? And the yellow would work in a tea dress if she has occasion for that - anything less shaped might be a bit muumuu?

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  2. My name is Susan Too. All of us Susans are about the same age! And my measurements are exactly the same as your Susan, though I'm a few inches taller and have a narrow back and wear a D cup bra. I've found that with slim hips and a not-so-slim-anymore waist, I look best in A-line dresses and skirts. I can and do wear tight and slim pants (especially with tops/jackets that flare at the high hip, or tunics), but in skirts/dresses, I need a smooth fitting waist and a flare skirt. This balances my figure overall, making me look less square/bulky and gives me soft-looking curves.I do think the print you show is a bit too large for your Susan. I don't think it matters whether you draft from scratch or work with a commercial sloper. You just need to come up with a sloper. I've done both and neither was perfect, but both were successful in giving me a starting point for pattern making and fitting. Good luck and have fun!

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  3. Hi Peter,

    I am just about her size. At 5' and slightly smaller all around, I am a smaller version with the same wide shoulders and back. I would suggest always making sure there is a defined waist for a dress or that her bottom half be fitted if the top is loose or you wind up looking very square and boxy. Wider skirts are OK if the top is fitted. Avoid puffed or oversized sleeves, it contributes to the linebacker look! Wrap dresses, sheaths with a defined waist, separates that balance proportions all look good. Cap sleeves are tricky because they can read as part of the shoulder and make her back look huge!

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  4. First off, kudos to Susan D for allowing both her couture adventure and her measurements to be shared online. With her figure, I think she'd look best in solid colors, or (smaller) prints that are more in scale with her size. Well-tailored structured garments will flatter her as will fitted but feminine outfits that give the illusion of a longer waist area. Looking forward to seeing what you both come up with!

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  5. So nice of you to make Susan some summer clothes! I don't have any additional suggestions to those mentioned but I'll keep watching for updates here.

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  6. Peter, how lovely you're helping Susan D with well-fitting clothing! Regarding yellow, not a "summer" color at all - rather good for Springs and Autumns, though. Summer and Winter coloring need a pale iced yellow color. To tell if she really is a summer, drape her in Fuchsia! If she glows in that, she's a summer. If she's an Autumn, she will look really good in yellow and Olive green! Warm vs Cool! It's hard to tell from you photo how she looks in the yellow print. If it works at all, it's because of the fuchsia in the print!

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  7. I bet she'd look gorgeous in red, emerald and white, she has such a beautiful tanned complexion x

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    1. agreed on the emerald, also could see something slightly nautical in navy red and white.
      maybe a fitted v-neck top or jacket with a short peblum ?

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  8. I have a similar built too (5'2", 40-33-40 but 34D bust with wide back too) I think for myself that an "as deep as my bra allow" V or soft draped back neckline is the more flattering with a midriff that helps define my waist... But I love wide skirt as much as pencil ones. :D I can wait to see what you will come up with...

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  9. Amazing Peter!! I see you as a fashion designer soon!!! Cant wait to see you in MPB day!!!

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  10. Really looking forward to this! Thanks to you and Susan for sharing. I'm especially glad you showed a page of the book. I'm going to search for a copy... I think it will help me a lot with understanding a pattern.

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  11. I do think this print works! What is interesting to me is the proportional size of the negative space (the yellow) to that of the positive space (the printed images). It's about 50/50. By leaving this much negative space, the overall print becomes less commanding. It is more open and flowy while maintaining the overall medium to large scale. The color chord, yellow to magenta/blue works in a similar manner, so the colors and the shapes function similarly and make the overall effect feels harmonized. Additionally, the darker branch shapes in the print mirror the client's darker hair. The proportion of dark to light in the print, also match that of the client - i.e darker hair to lighter skin. But, the main thing is, the client likes the fabric! The dress made from this fabric was also beautifully "fussy" cut to place the images so pleasingly on the dress. Nice work! Lauren

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  12. I don't have any advice to offer, but I'm positively giddy that you're using that book. I bought that book a couple years ago and haven't really had a chance to delve into it.

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  13. Following this journey of yours (and Susan's) is going to be so much fun!

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  14. Definitely go for the sloper. Even though I'm pretty close to a standard size 6 in commercial patterns, I've found that having a sloper drastically cuts down on the amount of time I spend fitting patterns. Plus, I've never run into a fitting problem with my sloper that I wasn't able to resolve, unlike commercial patterns.

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  15. Peter, I think it is great that you are going to start doing work for clients. To help you develop slopers quickly for anyone that comes across your door, you should look at sure fit designs by glenda. She has put together everything you need to develop slopers for each individual client not matter what their size.

    www.surefitdesigns.com

    She also provides style instructions for takin the sloper to make what ever you want .. but i think you already know how to do that.

    I think it is impressive that you are taking some brave steps.

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  16. I'd like to suggest a 'fit and flare' silhouette for Susan.

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  17. I think that scale of print is great on her! It's just big enough to look deliberate and customized. IMHO, anyway :)

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  18. I think a sloper is a great way to go for someone who often has fitting issues with "standard" sizes/cuts. It should make things much easier for you in the long run. As for the print, while it may be on the large size for someone so petite (if you like to follow fashion rules) I say if she's in love with it, wear it. At 5'4" I'm still a touch on the short side and frequently wear oversized prints just because they make me happy. Yes, they may be a little overwhelming in certain styles, but I'd rather go bold.

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  19. I have a similar figure, and waist definition is a must. You want to create some volume below the waist (I know too too vintage/girly is out - perhaps a sewn-down pleat?) to balance her shoulders. Fit & flare, yes. Her legs are probably quite nice, a hem 2" above the knee will help keep her in proportion.

    The yellow decidedly does not work. I'd try blues/greens/purples for her, rather than yellow + red. Tone on tone. Scale is okay, but that's as large as she should wear her prints.

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  20. I think you are on the right track with a sloper. Fit and flare (Aline skirt?) would be great. Personally I don't like the yellow on her but perhaps that is due to the lighting/photo if you think it looks good.

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    Replies
    1. Yes I don't think the yellow is good on her either, in that photo anyway. But I do love the fabric - I can't wear yellows :(

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  21. Cool client, great projects to look forward to, and you narrating the journey - why isn't this on television???

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  22. I'm looking forward to following this! I'm the same height with a very similar shape and age. I blog at http://thornberry.wordpress.com if you'd like to see what sorts of outfits I generally make and wear (and think that I look good in). Unlike some of the other commenters, I AVOID waist definition - why draw attention to something that I don't really have? So it all depends a bit on the preferences of the wearer. I am a big fan of people wearing what THEY feel good in (no matter what others may think about whether it "flatters" or not).

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  23. Being a short person myself, I really have to watch the scale of prints. Based on the photo, the yellow print becomes the focus, not Susan, which I don't think is the intent. :)
    If she is really smitten with the print, perhaps a kimono robe for wearing around the house?

    I love the Dorothy Moore book! I have also had good luck with "Finally It Fits", though if I had to pick one, it would be Dorothy's book.

    I am looking forward to seeing the beautiful garments you create for Susan! And she is indeed a very gracious lady to share her experience.

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  24. Hi Peter,

    I agree that a basic sloper is a good choice if you're going to be making multiple items of clothing for one person. The only thing I think that might be troublesome for you is that you know what pattern pieces are needed for a particular style. However, I think you have enough experience to know what pattern pieces are needed.

    As for a style, I think that a wrap dress, à la DVF, with some pleats in the front would be great looking! :)

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  25. I think it's a great idea to start with sloper! If you were sewing for Susan working from commercial patterns, you would have to figure out how alter them to fit her again and again (after all, different companies use different basic blocks and they may have other ideas about the appropriate amount of ease for a given style than you or your client).
    A sloper should allow you to get the fit right once and for all and then you develop some great looks for her. I suppose your drafting book also includes instructions on how to manipulate the sloper to create different styles? If not, there are many drafting books that do and I suppose you don't need much hand-holding with that anyway because you've been sewing for a while and you've seen quite a number of sewing patterns.
    And like many other commenters, I think it's important to consider what shapes and styles will suit her, both her shape and her personality and lifestyle.

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  26. I've learned so much about specific choices for figure flattery from Imogen's excellent blog 'Inside Out Style', particularly her 'Body Shape Bible' series. It helped me actually STOP sewing (and shopshopshop) until I understood what clothing choices I should be wearing, and so now I can invest my time in projects that I know will work well for me.

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  27. I'm the same height but with narrow shoulders and large bust, the opposite of Susan. My best friend who I sometimes sew for, has Susan's figure. The trick in either case is to balance the figure.

    For broad shoulders ( known as a V or Y body shape) Either use things like a raglan sleeve or a halter neck to minimize the shoulders or give the hips a little flare. A-line not pencil. A dropped yoke skirt with a pleated or gently gathered flare is nice too.

    I found this blog post very helpful actually, I generally find the advice on the blog helpful with my figure morphing from a pear to an H...but this isn't about me.

    I love the print, and with your great instincts you can cut and place the pattern in a way to really flatter Susan.

    I am looking forward to this series!

    regards,
    Theresa

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    1. Love that blog post. Thanks, Theresa!

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    2. Thanks for sharing my blog post Theresa! So glad you find my advice useful and applicable.

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  28. Launch! Houston, we have lift off.

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  29. Seamster? Tailor? I must know the correct Title... not really. My sister-in-law, and industrial designer has Susan's measurements, as well. She relies on coat dresses, short or long sleeve, to survive the business environment and professional life in New Orleans.

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  30. Rules are made to be broken! I'm very 'V shaped' too- I call it [carrotesque] with a thiock waist [and fat belly, but let's not dwell on that ahem]. I hate A line shapes on me personally, I think they are a bit dodgy when you're short, and often look frumpy. I have all sorts of shapes and colours in my wardrobe, and find most of the rules about wearing 'your' colours to be a real pain in the proverbial. If she likes it, use it. If the yellow is too much, she can accessorise to bring out the other colours. As for scale of pattern...meh. Whatever. Go for it Peter, just don't make Cathy jealous!

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  31. Once you have your sloper I think you should knock up a fitted A line sheath hemmed above the knee and some open front drapey kimono tops to go over. I think she is an autumn since she actually looks good in black (unlike most of us) so make the sheath in black and the kimono tops in brighter prints with jewel tones like emerald and fuscia.

    I am tall and full busted with a narrow back so have no experience sewing for her shape but I think you are on the right track focusing on the fit through her waist. Dresses with princess seams or french darts will suit her figure. I created my blocks with basic New Look patterns. Most of their patterns are very clean lined so are essentially blocks. Once I had the blocks I just overlay them on to most any pattern and know the adjustments needed. You should also look at the Finnish magazine Ottobre Design. It is available in English and comes with the patterns. The women's patterns are all based on a more 'mature' body and modeled by older women as well. I've had great luck sewing their designs.

    Good Luck! Susan will really enjoy this process and I hope you do too.

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  32. How fun! Looking forward to what you end up doing. I am meh on the print. Rules are meant to be broken. I think a sheath with some ruching or a wrap dress/faux wrap,named clothing Inari dress would be very flattering on her, shirtdress. Height doesn't matter as long as you get the proportions right .

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  33. I agree with starting with a self drafted sloper, making a muslin for fit and using large seam allowances. It'll be such fun! I think a skirt out of the yellow floral with a solid top in a darkish shade would work for Susan's figure.

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  34. Yes, I agree that a custom drafted sloper is the way to go. Best of luck. I know you will do a fabulous job and I look forward to your posts about the process.

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  35. Happy Sewing Machine Day, everybody!!

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  36. This is such a fascinating project. Think you are right about the softer look, how about going for a v neck with may be some cap sleeves? That might help. Shall be tuning back in with interest to this one.

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  37. I just started drafting patterns based on a sloper. I am using the moulage method taught in craftsy classes (by Suzy Furrer) and it works extremely well for getting a great fit. The fitting shell has bust darts coming from the shoulder, armhole and side and a dart that comes up from the waist. You then rotate the darts for different styles and add ease to create wearable garments. I've had some that came out needing no further adjustment at all, and I love the fit. Right now I am working on a dressy fitted jacket and it needed quite a bit of adjustment - but I think that is due to the design. The ease needs to be exactly right because I am making it more fitted than a more casual jacket. I have made a moulage for my daughter and it fit perfectly on the first try (that was luck - it is common to need a couple of iterations to get it where you want it) I'll be making her a bustier from her moulage. It is more work up front to draft patterns from scratch, but the end result is worth it. If you want to go deeper, i highly recommend the craftsy classes. She provides a lot of details and industry standards that are nice to use while you are learning - it saves time from and the results look "professional" for lack of a better word. Go for it! I love working this way!!

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  38. oh I'm looking forward to following this ! Lucky Susan to have you do this for her.
    I'm exactly the same measurements but taller (5'9") with shorter than average torso and narrow back & shoulders. It's a block-y look on me. I like flowy but get the most compliments when I wear fitted. A skirt can be full as long as the waist to hips part is not gathered - A-line and pleated seem to work ok as does a wide yoke with fullness at and below the hips. Maybe this will give me some inspiration as well.

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  39. Thank Susan VERY MUCH for allowing us tho go along for the ride. It is so helpful to us sewistas out in sewing land to see how fitting goes on a non-standard figure. I'm pretty much her opposite, being tall and long-waisted, but I always learn more about the process. So thanks Susan!!

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  40. Thank you All for posting your suggestions/comments for Peter!! It's a pleasure & very exciting to have Peter sewing clothing for me!! Along with the added bonus of you all to come along on this sewing adventure!! He's a true artist and master tailor.

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