The Holistic Seamstress: Part 2

In part 2 of The Holistic Seamstress, I return to the series —after a rejuvenating break and reality check on my original writing schedule — to consider the most fundamental element of wardrobe sewing, the body. Mine to be exact. I will reflect on the impact wearing ill-fitting clothes has had on my body perception, how I learned to use numbers to tell the truth about my body, and how that awareness is transforming the way I make clothes.

Wardrobe Sewing Element: Body

Body Beautiful

Through the years, I worked against the grain to accept and eventually love the realities of my brown skin, full lips, kinky hair, and short, thick, curvy frame that will never fit a standard height/weight chart. The world would have me believe my body is awkward, alien, and in need of improvement, but I boycott those lies like I did that California Denny’s restaurant that refused to serve my friends because they were black. I look in the mirror at all of the features that Maya Angelou tells us are “phenomenal” and I don’t doubt for a minute it’s true.

Even if I wanted to believe I was less than a goddess, when I moved to Washington DC in my twenties, the gentlemen of Chocolate City wouldn’t let me. From the moment, I stepped off the plane, you could almost hear Carl Carlton’s “She’s a Bad Mama Jama” playing as my personal soundtrack. Strangers whistled at me from across the street, cabs would show up without me hailing them, all manner of compliments from all manner of fellas who expressed an appreciation for parts of my physiology that my young, media-influenced brain tried to Photoshop away. Becoming date-able just by moving across the country gave me a chance to identify with the “eye of the beholder”, and recognize my own beauty as it is. Eating delicious, free meals at restaurants all over the city was a nostalgic bonus.

Personal Croquis All_Sides

However, there is one place on the planet that has the power to completely annihilate my body-positive attitude.

A dressing room.

It doesn’t matter which store. I have probably shed tears in all of their booths of shame.

You see, even though I am only five feet tall, in my mind, I’m an NBA point guard. I only started referring to myself as petite when I started to sew and learned about body measurements. Folks around me indulged my vertical delusions by sparing me too many short jokes, letting me boss them around, and every now and then looking over at me in an elevator, as if waking up from years under a spell, and saying “Damn, I didn’t realize you were so short”.

Under this delusion of grandeur, I shopped for clothes.

It went something like this….

I grab a size 12 for the bottom and a size 14 for the top and enter a dressing room with enough faith to fill a church. The one pair of jeans I own that fit decently hit the floor with abandon and I immediately start to imagine all of the hugging and skimming my chosen outfit will perform on my hips. The one of two well-worn tops I own that doesn’t make my boobs look like a buffet is yanked off in anticipation of its superior successor. I am standing in my underwear in a mirrored box filled with promise. I have even given myself a five-garment buffer from pessimism so I don’t give up on the process too quickly. If the clothes on the hanger knew the pressure they were under to please me, they would’ve animated like a Disney movie and slithered under the door to escape.

The clothes I picked out to try on would mostly fit my circumferences, but would neglect the depth of my curves and ignore the length of my proportions. I was doomed before the zipper zipped.

Clothes that almost fit, but didn’t in the worst way possible — sleeves that are not only too long, but hang off the shoulder like drunken loiterers, gaping necklines that expose my bra, waistlines that sit nowhere near mine, pools of fabric at the hips, bunching up at the crotch and knees and dragging on the floor — stared back at me and for the 120 seconds I could bear my reflection, I felt like I had the unluckiest body in the world.

How was I supposed to be the badass I was born to be if I looked like a frumpy, hot mess every time I got dressed?

Before I knew how to stitch a seam, crying on the floor of a department store dressing room was a regular thing for me.

While bumbling my way through sewing books and websites trying to learn the skills that would help me avoid dressing rooms for the rest of my life, I ultimately found a few petite-friendly places to shop with off the rack styles that respected my proportions and required no therapy sessions. There’s still a significant disregard for the unique needs of my curves in ready-to-wear clothes sized for petites, but those designers have never met me. Nor are they trying to. They are designing for someone else’s petite body. In fact, they are hoping their clothes will fit EVERY woman under 5 foot 4 inches. My expectation that they fit THIS woman is unreasonable.

No matter what number is printed on the tag or what section of a store I buy my clothes, none will ever be sized for Me. Making my own clothes with my body in mind would become my scenic route to badassdom.

Body Map

During the last two months of my life, I learned to speak another language.

I used to tell people that I am bilingual because I can communicate in both English and Ebonics. As true and entertaining at parties as that is, my dopest experience learning a new language involved NUMBERS not linguistics. Instead of a set of headphones and a date with Rosetta Stone, I used my measuring tape like a United Nations interpreter to understand the things my body has been trying to tell me about its architecture.

Starting with the southern hemisphere of my five foot landscape, I learned how to measure, draft, and fit a custom skirt block pattern from my new, Personal Wizard and Couture De-mystifier, Brooks Ann Camper. Her 5-week Skirt Skills course was the tallest, coolest, most refreshing drink of sewing education I have ever tasted. I have found my Jedi Master. Now that I have levitated through the Forest of Righteous Circumference, solved the Mystery of Back Dart Intake, and prevailed during the Battle of Waistline Positioning, the force within me is stronger than ever. I still carry my self-taught seamstress badge with pride, but I am now living with the epic level of satisfaction that comes from investing time (my most elusive commodity) and money (saved ferociously) to learn a skill that has systematically blown my mind into a million tiny pieces of creative possibility.

Personal Croquis All Sides with Annotated Measurements

When I saw a combination square with level on the supplies list for my couture skirtmaking course, I asked my husband what the hell it was and if he had one. I was a little intimidated by the tool’s sorcery and my general air-headedness about measuring things with regular tools (I learned how to read the 1/8″ tick marks on a standard ruler as recently as 3 years ago!), so Matt and his vintage combo square was recruited to assist me in yet another muslin-covered sewing adventure. Assigned to the task of accurately measuring his wife during the blessed two hours our toddler napped, my husband’s devoted contribution was the lynchpin to my pattern drafting success. With me standing in one place for more than five minutes, following his directions in my underwear, the measuring experience also gave two distracted parents an unexpected moment to flirt and be vulnerable together.

Armed with a solid set of bottom-half measurements, affectionately recorded by my better half, I followed Brooks Ann’s buttery smooth methods for drafting a 2-D map of my silhouette in the shape of a darted, waist-to-knee cylinder. The whole process gave me a crafty high I’ve never known before.

Using a blend of numbers and pencil strokes, my unique verticals, arcs, angles, and curves began to take on a voice I had been waiting to hear my whole life. It’s as if my body has been trying to introduce itself to me through all of my years of fiddling about trying to fit commercial patterns and I couldn’t hear it. It waited patiently for the time in my life I would finally choose a teacher, admit I prefer centimeters over inches, and dare to discover what it has to say. I like to imagine it singing to me in the voice of a young, John Mayer, seducing me to design for it with “Your body is a wonderland” lyrics on repeat.

Made to measure clothes give my body a voice to speak its true shape or reshape its truth. When I wear ill-fitting clothes, my body’s voice is drowned out with noise, going tragically unheard or at worst being mis-represented. Exhibit A: The collective DNA of my tears on the floors of dressing rooms across America.

After two days and two nail-biting muslin mock-ups later, I celebrated the completion of my custom skirt block pattern with some you-go-girls from my classmates, a Big Gulp-sized glass of wine, and an obscene amount of domestic high-fiving with my man. For the first time in weeks, our husband and wife couture-crime fighting team finally had something besides “Pee-Pee on the Potty!” to yell across the house to each other.

When my sisters flew in town to visit for Thanksgiving last week, the story of our collaborative accomplishment was retold with the same sentence-finishing enthusiasm as our honeymoon story. The afterglow from that trip to Amsterdam was just as bright. Forget couples yoga or cooking classes, pattern drafting is the new date night.

Custom Skirt Block on Wall

When I was pulling my hair out trying to get Vogue 1019 to fit my hips, I knew I’d eventually figure out how to fit the pattern — maybe after a seventh or eighth muslin. I could never have predicted that in less time than it took me to do that, I could learn how to draw a one-of-a-kind skirt that also gives me the capacity to create ANY skirt.

Body of Work

Given that I’d never worn a well-fitting skirt before, the promise of getting one at the end of class was the chocolate-covered carrot that teased me through each week of the Skirt Skills course. I practiced the basic drafting skills I needed to design flared and straight skirt styles with my custom block and obsessively began sketching ideas and gathering inspiration images. But, before inviting Tim Gunn over for tea and a design critique of my new one-woman collection, I wanted to make a simple straight skirt using my block — because, after all, I’d never had one that fit my body properly.  Based on the results of my couture-infused mockups, I knew this one did.

Straight Basic Skirt Sketch

With some African wax print cotton, hand-marked and hand-basted stitchlines, some double-fold bias binding, and an invisible zipper, I crafted the best-fitting skirt I have ever worn in my life.

African Straight Skirt Custom_Block - 1

When I wore the skirt, it didn’t shift on my hips, ride up, wrinkle up, or look anything but awesome on my body all day.

African Straight Skirt Custom Block , back view

I didn’t know how to behave! I kept smoothing my hips and checking my reflection expecting to see something wrong. All I saw was ME in a badass, well-fitting skirt!!!

African Straight Skirt Custom Block, side view

I have more in the works!

That denim pencil skirt I dreamed out loud about is underway, as well as a khaki skirt with a secret-weapon pleat. All patterns custom designed by me – for my body.

I am eternally grateful to Brooks Ann for her wizardly, thimble-wielding techniques. She has mountains of patience for cocky advanced beginners like me who try to hurry through lessons before settling into the steady rhythm of slow, deliberate making.

This is the sweet spot of handmade wardrobe building I have fantasized about. Knowing how to design and sew for my unique body means having the power to speak its beautiful, native language through mindfully-created garments that live to echo or enhance my silhouette.

I’m going to call this the sacred art of being a bad mama jama!

I’d love to hear your body-awareness story. How has your perception of your body’s shape or size evolved? Does your history with fitting or buying clothes include any tears or triumphs? If you’ve discovered the accessible magic of pattern drafting, do you feel as heroic as I do?

Thanks for hanging with the series. I’ll see you in the comments.

44 thoughts on “The Holistic Seamstress: Part 2

    • Growing Up in Sewing! Now that sounds like a reality show I’d actually tune in for! Thank you for reading this post so soon after it landed. Knowing that you’re inspired by my story is EVERYTHING to me.

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  1. In 1996 I moved from NJ to SC. In NJ I was a frisky popular gal and then I entered the land of perfect blonde sweater sets and sorority girls. My self esteem plummeted as I ended up divorced and bouncing back from never eating to please my first husband. Stores made/make me feel totally inadequate. When I sew I feel better and feel like I’m not trying to be what the local retail tells me I am not.

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    • Thanks for taking it way back and going deep. Sewing is the ultimate healer. I am humbled to be a part of a craft that makes a woman feel as beautiful as she is. And you are, by the way.

      And, what is it with the regional differences in body positivity? I grew up in California with Team Malibu Barbie and had to fight like Ali to hold on to the sliver of positive body image I had as a teenager. I get to the East Coast, and its paparazzi and wedding proposals!

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  2. This is a fabulous and inspiring post. I’ve begun to develop a similar awareness of how clothes fit me, and the experience has been a true eye opener since I began sewing: I can now identify most of the reasons RTW clothes don’t fit, but I’m still not at the point where I can accurately make the corrections in my sewing. Another issue I’ve encountered is dealing with the normal changes my body undergoes on a monthly basis… do you have any advice on fitting outfits that account for days when you might be a bit puffier than normal? (This is not to suggest you have puffy days, but I definitely do, and making the waistband of my skirt a bit larger has only resulted in a skirt that doesn’t fit when I’m not as puffy…)

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    • Thank you, Sheena. I know that place all too well! It’s the zone of confusion your brain gets stuck in trying to reverse-engineer a pattern drafted for a different body. A case of fitting a square peg into a round hole – the pattern is the square and our bodies are the hole. We find creative ways to shave off and fold back the edges of the square to get it to fit in the hole. What I’ve come to understand is that for some of us, it makes more sense to just measure the damn hole and make a custom peg.

      As for your “puffy days” dilemma…I can definitely relate. Though, that-time-of-the-month doesn’t cause as much belly expansion for me as too many carbs and red wine. Sewing with your pre-puffy waistline in mind is best. If you’re worried about the measurement being accurate enough, record your waist circumference everyday for a week to get a baseline. If your fabric “grows” with wear (kinda like stretch jeans do between washes), then focus on stabilizing the waistband with stay stitching and interfacing at the waist seamline (try silk organza, fabric selvedge, stay tape, or petersham). Mind you, the advice I gave you was also a note-to-self because I will be zero-ing in on waistline stabilization in my next skirt.

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  3. Oh wow. I’m afraid my computer is going to short circuit as all these tears hit the keyboard…

    It is such an honor to work with you and be a part of your sewing story. I particularly love knowing that my course became “date night” and that your husband nerded out on the process too! I’m pretty much speechless right now, but I wanted to sincerely thank you for this wonderful post and for sharing your story with the world. You are a wonderful writer and a beautiful woman and I can’t wait to work with you again in the next class!

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  4. I read this post right through to the end. Three times. So inspiring on so many levels. I am where Sheena (earlier commenter) is…able to identify why a piece of clothing doesn’t fit…maybe even see what adjustments need to be made, but not yet skilled enough to make those adjustments myself…can’t visualize them on the pattern piece. I would love to take Brook’s course someday.

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    • Oh, Nita!!! You got my chocolate cheeks blushing red! With all of my post-publishing typo checks, I don’t think even I read it that many times. I am massively flattered and thrilled that my story touches you.

      Wrapping my mind around the wrinkles in fabric I see and where I’m supposed to correct them on a pattern was the most frustrating part of sewing in a self-taught bubble. I got better at pattern alterations the more I did, but the trial and error cycles were so long, I’d be burnt out by muslins before cutting into real fabric.

      I really do believe that for those us who require more than say, two or 3 significant pattern alterations (offhand, I can count 8 that I require), custom drafted patterns are the best, most-efficient method for sewing clothes that fit.

      Brooks Ann’s winter Skirt Skills course is coming up. Talk yourself into taking it. You already know how I feel about it. Hashtag “gamechanger”.

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  5. ” custom drafted patterns are the best, most-efficient method for sewing clothes that fit.” Yup! the time has come for me….I love patterns but, after the lovely Kristiann Boos of Victory Patterns lovingly made a sloper bodice for me – It. Makes. Sense. Thank you for your phenomenal post. This is why I follow your blog. xoxoxoxoxo

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    • Janet! Dude! If I’d known jedis like Kristiann were going around drafting bodices as a service, I would’ve told the full bust adjustment and narrow shoulder to talk to the hand years ago! I’ve heard that Kenneth King drafts for sewer’s bodies too, but it’s kind of refreshing to know indy pattern designers do too. Even if it was just a homie hook-up ;-).

      Thank you for your comment and for letting me know why you keep coming back.

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  6. I agree with everything written here. Thanks for this post–it really confirmed what I have already settled in my mind. After many wadders and countless hours spent in sewing wasteland, I surrendered to three facts: 1) RTW is not designed with me in mind–even if it claims to be ‘my size’; 2) Commercial patterns cannot assist you on your sewing journey if you don’t know where you’re going; and finally 3) Without personalized slopers, a good fit will continue to be your nemesis. Yes, it took quite a few muslins, but when I finally got that classic, textbook fit for my pant sloper I literally cried. Almost got the bodice sloper too–a few tweaks–but it’s coming. I finally realized, the thing I ran away from (sloper drafting), was the most crucial to my success as a sewist. I also want to add that you are a great writer–and I love your skirt.

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    • YEEEEEEEESSSSSSS! Damn it, Robbie, a billion yesses to that!

      Let’s pitch in to pay for a billboard that says those three things EXACTLY!

      Crying tears of joy over the success of a pants sloper….that right there is the moment SO MANY of us need to experience to move forward in our sewing journeys.

      Thank you for speaking the truth about this. And, thank you for you kind words. I am encouraged MORE THAN EVER to keep telling my story.

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  7. Najah, this is such an excellent article and it was so much fun having you in the Skirt Skills class too. When Bob, my husband, saw your skirt when you first posted it, his very first comment was “THAT is an awesome looking skirt and looks great on her!” Like you, I have odd proportions that make finding close that fit me very difficult. I love your descriptions….Booth of Shame (like the evil Cone of Shame in Up) and the Mystery of the Back Dart!

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    • Tell Bob I said, “THANKS, bro! Your wife is a KICKASS seamstress and classmate.”

      Don’t ask me why I haven’t see the movie, Up yet. Probably because I was trying to get some pattern to fit me back then ;-). Seeing the “evil Cone of Shame” will be my reason to finally Netflix it.

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  9. What a wonderful post, Najah! You look awesome in your skirt! I’m so done with fixing fit issues by trial and error. Pattern drafting is the way to go!

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    • Thanks, Marianne. When I count the hours of my life spent basically re-grading a pattern to fit me, I could’ve spent that time to build a time machine to start over! I am ecstatic to know you agree that drafting our own patterns is THE ANSWER.

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  10. Ever since, I read your first posts in the class group, I somehow feel like I am the giant version of you. It’s so strange to me that two people can be so different (visually) and still have a lot in common. I feel the same about so many things. I could have written the exact same but opposite about fighting with clothes inside dressing rooms. (For me it’s feeling like the Hulk when he’s bursting out of his t-shirt.) And me, too, in my head I used to be tiny, whenever I would walk by a glass window front I’d be like what, no that’s not what I look like. (I’m better at that now though, I walk a lot straighter, at times wear high heels and try to hold my head as high as I can.)
    And me too, while I am so grateful to have found long tall sally, they seem to picture the prototypical tall woman with totally different proportions then I have.
    Yeah and of course the “Have you always been this tall” comments from people I have known for a long time.
    You are an amazing writer, I loved reading your inspiring story! Can’t wait to see where your journey takes you next!

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    • Babs, it is AMAZING that our bodies are so similarly shaped and but proportional opposites! You are like my gorgeous, statuesque German cousin. If we’d grown up together, we would’ve played comedy dress-up games together in each other’s clothes! 😉

      Your story of feeling larger than life and my story of drowning in fabric….I love that we can tell those stories in PAST TENSE now that we know what we know.

      Thank you for being a part of my new couture tribe. Your encouragement, and personal story of challenge and success along the way was like fuel to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Najah, great post and I 100% agree with everything you said. We shared the Skirt Skills class….I joined because after countless trials and errors, books to refer to, websites to look at, evening classes to attend, Craftsy courses to subscribe to, hopelessly inadequate muslins and STILL no real understanding of how to make a skirt to fit my shape, I stumbled across Brooks Ann’s class and within 5 weeks of incredible teaching and interaction with the group of like-minded ladies on the class, I made a skirt that I was thrilled with. I loved the class so much I went back a second time (and am about half way through my fourth made-to-measure-designed-to-fit-me skirt!) and am now waiting to join the Pants (trousers ☺️) class next spring. Your blog is wonderful Najah. True, honest, no fluff and very witty….love it, love your style, and wish you many years of happy sewing! X

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    • Oh, hey, Deb!! I’d LOOOOVED having a return student in our class! At first I was confused why someone would take the course twice, but after the second week, I was like….uh, yeah, I get it. This is the bomb. THANK YOU SO MUCH for sharing your successes with us and for dropping by here with some love. I will see you in the spring Pants class with bells and basting on!

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    • Thanks, Allison! It is HUGELY helpful to me to have tall sewing buddies who understand the frustrations of having their length proportions largely ignored by RTW and commercial patterns.

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  12. YESSSSSSS!!!! I am slowly learning my body – I think I’m getting there. I took a pattern drafting course about a decade ago now – right before I lost a bunch of weight, then put it on again, then totally changed shape. So I never did end up using those slopers. I’ve just started drafting again, with Suzy Furrer’s class on craftsy, making classes being thin on the ground in my physical area. Last night I ‘drafted’ a 1/4 circle skirt. I put it in quotes because it was really just ‘calculate waist measurement, draw out a circle, cut a rectangle for the waistband. but you know… it IS drafting. And it felt amazing! It’s not sewn up yet but even the muslin I made to check proportion was just incredible.

    I’m a bit cautious about the skirt block though, I think I will need to do some fiddling. My front and back measurements are different- my waist is 2″ bigger at the front and my hips are 3″ bigger at the back. This is a thing I have learnt through regular sewing, and it’s not address in Suzy’s classes, so I think some trial and error will be in order – much less than for a regular pattern, and it will be a good use of those hard-one adjusting skills! I’ve also learnt about proportion and armscyes and how my shoulders sit and where my waist REALLY is and how fitted or not I like certain areas. All those frustrated muslins and not-quite-right sewn items are not going to waste!

    And even they were so much better than RTW options, which either fit on my body but hung like sacks, or fit my shape but were too small, really. I once tried on a size five times what I wore, and the button band STILL gaped because they were drafted for an A cup. Nothing accounted for my curves, and in the miraculous event it did it couldn’t know about my long waist and short legs! Proportionately, I mean. I haven’t worn a tailored shirt in years for this reason.

    I nodded along reading you changing room optimism and despair. So familiar! I recently urgently needed a pencil skirt for a job interview and didn’t have any appropriate fabric… I did eventually find something but oh my LORD. It was not a very nice skirt and the experience was terrible. And probably took as long as sewing one from scratch! I’m really excited to expand my skillset and the possibilities for my sewing. And to read along with you doing the same! (But much more hardcore than I am!)

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    • Kate, you are my GIRL!!!!

      You are the only other sewing blogger I know with the same die-hard perseverance for fit as me. Probably because our fit challenges are similar we work so hard. Congratulations on that circle skirt draft! I don’t have to imagine how incredible it felt to accomplish. Drafting one is on my list, too – gonna use my skirt block since it’s got my waistline and dart intake just right so I can add a contoured waistband to go with it (a feature I have underestimated until now).

      The whole experience of buying off the rack is WACK. All of that time to try on things just to come away feeling compromised and disappointed….I am FED UP with it on so many levels. When I must shop for clothes, I stick with stretchy styles like sweaters, stretch denim, knit pants, or loose-fitting wovens with elastic waists, shirring and such. I still have to make my own knit tops, though – RTW ones NEVER get the ease or necklines right for my body.

      I am glad you are learning a lot in the Craftsy pattern-drafting class. I took Susan Khallje’s couture dressmaking class and learned some cool methods, but wasn’t interested in making the Vogue dress that went with the course. I wanted to make what I wanted to make. And I wanted to know how to do it from scritchety-scratch. That’s why Brooks Ann Camper’s Skirt Skills ecourse was perfect for me. It was basically Couture Meets Pattern Drafting for Beginners. It was designed for someone who’s never used a sewing machine without being too beginner-ish, so the approach is very nurturing. Not to mention the class sizes are limited and you have direct access to Brooks Ann via Skype and direct email. If you haven’t already, check it out at http://www.skirtskills.com. It is worth EVERY cent to learn in 5 weeks what I couldn’t piece together on my own in ten years.

      Thanks for sharing your experience here.

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      • I am trying to be forgiving of fit in the moment while still trying to improve it. Because… I wear my shirtdresses every day and the fit still really bugs me. But it’s also MILES better than anything I could have possibly bought. But the collar and high neck sits all wrong and what is the point of making if you’re not going to do it as well as possible?? But if I hold myself to too high standards I’ll never do the work and get better. Baby steps.

        The circle skirt I’m making has a straight waistband, which Suzy assures the class is fine because it’s sitting at high waist. I am… let’s say I’m skeptical but I’m willing to try this once. I did taper the back in quite drastically because of my swayback so perhaps that is the core of the problem. Next up I want a pleated skirt but I have to draft the sloper first because I need a contoured waistband. Nothing else will do.

        I was looking at it and it does seem worth it. Is the difference between front and back measurements addressed? I almost never see that anywhere and it’s probably the biggest fit issue I have for my lower body. And are the sessions pre-filmed or through an instant classroom type thing? Because I’m in Australia so I’m not sure how time differences would work.

        I have a bunch of couture skills stuff in my craftsy wishlist but honestly I don’t really feel like it’s worth making a beautifully finished item if it fits poorly! So I’ll get to that next, once I’ve sorted fit… should be in fifty years or so! XD

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          • I have a much larger back dart intake than in front. Through accurate drafting per Brooks Ann’s methods and some mild adjusting after a muslin mockup, I dealt with it just fine. Whatever approach you take, I have no doubt you’ll get the fit you’re after. You are hella determined like me. That is always rewarded with success.

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  16. You wrote it down just perfect!
    learning how to draft your own patterns is incredebly rewarding. But I feel you need to be allready a bit used to patterns, reading patterns and sewing before you really understand the self drafted (and the drawing of) pattern blocks.
    Years ago I followed one year of sewing lessons and we did draft a skirt sloper. But I never used it for the skirts I made after that, don’t know why… Than 3 years ago I tryed to draw a pantssloper out of a book and it didn’t fit me as I wanted it. That was enough to stop me from trying again. But as I’m getting older and looking to change my working career into something, related to sewing, I started last september with a professional patterndrafting class and WOW, that was and is SO amazingly interesting. Every week I’m looking forward to class and every week I’m a bit frustrated that I can’t draw and sew more when at home.
    It is strange though that I still don’t know very well what kind of clothing fits my body. For example: I LOVE fifies style with a gathered full skirt but it seems (boyfriend and mother saying) that this kind of skirts doesn’t fit me. I just don’t see it myself! But I gave up on that, I know I will make a lot more of sewing (and now drawing) mistakes before I’ll understand it. At least patterndrawing make you understand how you body is put together, that’s a good start!

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    • Thanks for the insightful comment. I think you’re right about the experiences that have to come before you really understand. I feel like I took the extra scenic route (ten years) before pattern drafting made sense as a solution for me. I have been dabbling in it for quite a while, but it wasn’t until I took a class from a teacher trained as a costume designer (who’d never sewn a commercial sewing pattern before and found them confusing) that I realized that there are people who learn to design using custom measurements from the very beginning! And they’re learning curve doesn’t require years of sewing things that don’t fit.

      Each of our journeys is unique. I wasn’t lucky enough to learn what I know now from the very beginning. But, I’m definitely going to practice and play as much as I can to make up for the time I spent taking the long way around.

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  18. This post is everything I have been looking for in my pattern fitting adventures. I was having trouble figuring out how to use my sloper to make a commercial pattern fit me. Thank you so much for sharing your story and techniques!

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    • Hello, Kait!

      Pattern fitting is an adventure. And, I am happy you are on it with me. Using a sloper/block to fit standard-sized patterns was the fuzziest concept to me for so long. Only after having drafted to my measurements did the process start to make sense to me. Line up center fronts, slide up to shoulder – those two steps are so clear to me now, I think I’m even starting to understand how to adapt my sloper to fit the “hidden sloper” of a commercial pattern. Though, I’m still figuring out if all of the energy spent comparing and adjusting would be better spent my own designs. It’s probably not an either/or, but I am enjoying all the learning while I find the right balance.

      I appreciate your comment and happy my sewing tory is connecting with yours.

      Good luck with your move to France!

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      • While I don’t think I’ve ever tried to actually lay my block onto a commercial pattern and line it up/compare/adjust etc. (you know I hate alterations and adore making things from scratch!), I have used commercial patterns as the “Cliff Notes” to create patterns of my own. I simply evaluate how each pattern piece is shaped, and then use my block to draft a new custom sized pattern that has the same characteristics. I did this for my own wedding dress! I fell in love with a vintage pattern and bought it. I doubt I even unfolded the tissue paper. Just looking at the shapes of each pattern piece in the fabric layout diagram allowed me to recreate them. Not exactly, but instead to fit my own shape and adding in my own style preferences here and there. Looking at where the seams, darts, and edges of each pattern piece are on the model, finding those places on my own body/block, and drafting a pattern from scratch using the commercial pattern as a “cheat sheet” is a fun way to let someone else do some of the design/pattern work for you, without having to deal with adjusting from someone else’s size or ease preferences. You can also follow the construction directions as much (or as little) as you’d like too! Win-win!

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        • Yes! Yes! Yes, Brooks Ann! The design process you described when making your wedding dress (which I adore, by the way) is exactly why my commercial pattern collection is unnecessarily large. If I ever had plans to sew them all, I’d have to first get bitten by a vampire for the extra life years required.

          I haven’t bought a pattern since I registered for my first class with you, but part of my pre-Brooks Ann inspiration process involved buying Big 4 patterns that go on sale for $1 at the mega fabricraft stores, pouring over the diagrams and instructions and planning garments I could make one day — either from scratch (I have the skills for that now, thanks to you) or by hacking a pattern I’d already slaved to fit by stealing features from a purchased pattern in the cheat-sheet way you described.

          My commercial pattern collection is basically my paper Pinterest account! I love the challenge of seeing a shape in a line drawing and trying to recreate it with my ruler or fashion curve.

          Being of Hobbit size, there’s always a level of grading or alterations I have to consider when trying to sew from a commercial pattern (I am not a fan of alterations either, but for so long I assumed it was my lot in life to perform several….on every pattern….ultimately I kinda got desensitized to the torture). Now I know that the kind of alterations that accompany fitting custom drafted patterns are NOTHING LIKE what I have to go through to fit commercial ones. Which means, I can let my pattern collection be a source of inspiration instead of frustration.

          Thanks for sharing your experience. All of the insights and feedback accumulating in this thread of comments is rocking my world right now.

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