Free Downloadable Sloper Patterns and a Website for Free Resources (!!!)

woven-bodice-sloper-cup-size-variations

I’m super excited to say that I have FINALLY designed and fleshed out a website that I feel good about. And on this website, you will find the *free downloadable sloper patterns* that I have been working on for approximately a year and a half. Why so long? Let’s just say that there are a lot of opportunities for screwing up some seemingly minor thing in the process of choosing sizing, developing grade rules, drafting, applying said grade rules, and modifying for cup sizes, not realizing it for a very long time, and then having to go back and start completely over because one thing affects 37 other things! 🙂 Which is not to say that I can guarantee these are perfect, but I’ve learned so much in the process of creating them that it has been time well spent, and I hope they can be useful.

These are the starting point for my pattern line, and I’m making them available as a potential fitting aid for my future patterns for anyone that chooses to use them, but mostly as my way of trying to contribute something that I hope can be useful to the online sewing community. The online crafting/sewing crowd is so inspiring and generous with encouragement and help and tips and tricks that it’s been a huge part of making this craft what it has become for me. So thank you, friends!

I’ve put every single size in my range up on my website as separate pdf files, and there are B, C, and D cup size variations for each one. They can be used for determining sizes and fit for my (upcoming) patterns, or they can be used as a sort of two dimensional dress form for working out exactly the fit you need for any pattern, or they can be used as a base for your own pattern drafting. I have some resources like a finished measurement sheet, a body measurement worksheet printable, and a tutorial on measuring yourself and adapting the sloper to your measurements on my website here. Feel free to share them with anyone that might find them helpful!

A nested version of the pattern that includes all sizes is available on my Etsy shop here, if you’d prefer it for grading between sizes or your own drafting purposes.
WHAT IS A SLOPER?
A sloper is the basic starting point for pattern design. Also known as a fitting shell, it is a baseline with enough wearing ease to allow for movement and breathing, but no design ease and no details. (It isn’t quite the same as a moulage, which fits even tighter, like a second skin, and it isn’t the same thing as a block, which is a basic pattern for a specified style, with design ease included, that can then be elaborated with details.) Slopers don’t include seam allowances.

WHAT IS A SLOPER USED FOR?
Patterns almost never fit right out of the envelope. This isn’t a failure of the pattern. All patterns (except bespoke ones) are drafted to an average set of measurements that falls somewhere in the middle of the vast spectrum of human shapes and sizes and body types. Unless your body dimensions happen to be very close to that average set of measurements used in drafting, your pattern will need adjusting to better fit your body. A sloper or fitting shell can help you to work out and keep a physical record of those adjustments.

A sloper is like a two dimensional dress form. You can use a sloper as a basis for designing your own patterns, or you can use it as a fitting aid to adjust patterns to your body measurements and preferred fit. In adapting a sloper to your own measurements, you establish a known minimum requirement for garments to fit, and you can establish the fit adjustments that you know you need to apply to every garment, instead of figuring them out anew for each pattern. The sloper provides a baseline for fit, where the pattern uses additional design ease, design lines, and detailing to give style, structure and movement to garments.

I wanted to draft my own set of slopers as a starting point for a few reasons. First, I wanted to start from a more realistic shape than the body model commercial companies usually assume. The industry standard body model is usually hourglass shaped, though statistically, most women do not have this shape. I wanted to use as a starting point a somewhat fuller waist and hip measurement than the Big 4 for a more rectangular body type, which statistically is more common, at least in certain European population samples. In developing grade rules, I tried to incorporate statistical measures of actual bodies rather than dress form increments or standard grades for tricky areas like shoulder length. My hope is that this will yield a better, more realistic fit, but the downside is that finding the right one for you will probably require taking your measurements and may not translate directly from what you’re used to using in a pattern from one of the Big 4 companies.

I also wanted to draft my own slopers to start with a very fitted baseline, and going forward, I want to offer patterns that are very clear about the amount of ease they include. Mostly this is because one of my recurring struggles in sewing from commercial patterns, especially trying to sew a historical range from late 19th century to 30s and 50s patterns to contemporary ones, is that the amounts of ease change so much over time and between manufacturers that it’s hard to know how something will fit without making a muslin of everything. And making muslins isn’t the best use of fabric and to me is the. most. boring. thing. ever. Personally, I prefer patterns that don’t include a ton of ease, and patterns from the Big 4 almost always have too much for my liking. So in my future drafts, I expect to use ease standards closer to the lower end of the industry standard range, and I intend to be super clear about that ease so that sewers know what to expect without having to try it and see quite so much.

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In other news, I added my first underwired and nursing bras to my etsy shop, because holy manic nesting impulses channeled into my creative pursuits instead of my godforsaken hoarder house, Batman! Pregnancy makes me feel like a crazy woman, but throwing myself into work is extremely therapeutic right now.

Coming soon to the blog: how to adapt a sloper for maternity, in which yours truly shall snarkily narrate an exploration of the changes pregnancy has wrought upon this physical form and how I deal with them in the flat pattern format. It will also serve as an extreme example of how to adapt a sloper to your body measurements. 🙂

Have you used slopers in your sewing? Have very strong opinions on the amount of ease one way or the other included in commercial patterns? I’d love to hear your experiences! 🙂

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Vintage Sewing Library: W. D. F. Vincent on Shirtmaking; early 1900s shirt miscellany

 

I’m having a mini-obsession at the moment, trying to learn to make a proper shirt. The boyfriend is in dire need of some new ones, so, armed with a Craftsy course by David Page Coffin on shirtmaking details, this book from late 1890s-early 1900s? by the W. D. F. Vincent, prolific editor of Tailor and Cutter, and a heavy dose of Boardwalk Empire = weekend filled!

Parenthetically, I should say that really, really love the David Page Coffin Craftsy courses. He has an interesting way of approaching his areas of interest, which I find relatable with my usual pattern of get obsessively interested + read a bajillion things tangentially related to subject –> try to synthesize firehose of information in way that makes sense and breaks subject down into components. Of course, I think my process is complicated by attention deficit/distractability issues (which is why I sewed a pair of pants and a cut-on Mandarin collar kimono experiment blouse a whim this week, instead of, oh, say, a SHIRT). But I really enjoy his way of breaking down the problem of shirt or trouser making into a core pattern and interchangeable detail elements, rather than being another dressmaking sew along this is how you do it from start to finish kind of course. This course doesn’t really cover how to construct or draft the bare bones shirt pattern itself, but that’s where the W. D. F. Vincent comes in.

sacshirt

 

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Detachable collars are familiar enough to me from Peaky Blinders and the mini-obsession with them I had while binge-watching that show, but I wasn’t fully aware that the shirt fronts (or “detachable shirt bosoms”) were also detachable. Apparently these were made in detachable and even disposable form:

1912-fiberloid_shirt_dickey

Apparently they were made in cardboard, paper and other materials for kinds of work like waiting tables, where it was easier to just trash the false front rather than launder one.

Then I vaguely remembered seeing the Bugs Bunny opera skit and suddenly the world became comprehensible:

When the singer’s layers start to unfurl, you see his detachable collar come off, his shirt front roll up, his suspenders holding everything in place. Apparently these detachable shirt fronts were typically held in place with buttons to the trouser front. Thank you, google patents! Also, fun fact, apparently they didn’t incorporate this into the elaborate, very accurate costuming for Downton Abbey and you can sometimes see these formal fronts bunching up on the actors where they would not have if buttoned properly. (citing my source) Apparently shirts of the era would have had a button there, where loops like this could fasten:

trouser-button-detachable-front

 

Patents reveal a variety of fronts and fastening configurations (I have a patent fetish, not gonna lie):

 

And the cherry on top–did I mention detachable collars in the Vincent book? Because this is sewing porn right here.

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I think that’s about all the overcaffeinated tangents I’ve got. Happy weekend!

Vintage Sewing Library: 1930s-40s Draping

I’m not sure if I have shared this link before or not, but I returned to it recently and thought I should share. These books were linked to on The Vintage Pattern Files blog, which is itself an incredibly generous resource for knitting and vintage fashion too. But the books themselves are great resources on draping, and one of them happens to be a Woman’s Institute booklet produced in the mid 30s. Evie of La Couturiere Dimanche scanned it and made it available on her blog (here). I love all things Woman’s Institute, and their materials from the 30s are especially hard to find. Yay for the internet!

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There’s another by Mary Evans from 1935–Draping and Dress Design.

drapinganddressdesign1935

It goes into some depth on draping sleeves and shoulders and necklines, which are my current problem areas to get the fit just right. Also interesting historically, since there seems to be an erroneous contemporary idea that toiles or muslins weren’t really used, despite Mary Brooks Picken advocating them in notes in Fashion Service in the 20s and these draping guides. My suspicion is that wartime shortages made fabric more expensive during the 40s, or maybe people had less disposable income for muslin, or the make do and mend mentality changed sewing practices during that time, and maybe that stuck until our contemporary era. If anyone knows more about that, I’d love to hear it!

As far as my own projects go, I have two wearable muslins in progress at the moment–one is a blazer jacket that actually allows some movement and incorporates tailoring techniques (thank you Craftsy courses!) and another is my first decent self drafted corset.  Both started as flat pattern attempts, went wrong multiple times, and gradually morphed via draping and chalking and cutting and cussing into something more like a workable pattern. I think draping is more my style than flat patterning, despite all my attempts to do it the hard way. Sigh.

Rabbit Hole of the Day: WTF is a Fichu?

I watch a LOT of period dramas. (Aptly named, quoth the partner. Har har.) And I read a lot of old timey sewing materials, so I know I’ve seen a fichu collar, and I have seen it referenced in pattern books, but ask me what it actually IS and/or how to make it and I don’t really know. So…wikipedia says:

A fichu is a large, square kerchief worn by women to fill in the low neckline of a bodice. It originated in the United Kingdom in the 18th century and remained popular there and in France through the 19th with many variations,[1] as well as in the United States.[2] The fichu was generally of linen fabric and was folded diagonally into a triangle and tied, pinned, or tucked into the bodice in front.

I’ve seen it in books from the 1800s, and especially like this example from Godey’s (source):

GodeysNov1862

Here are some gorgeous examples from 1780s era paintings by Adelaide Labille-Guiard, whose story is fascinating in its own right–I had never heard of her before researching fichus, but she was a talented painter who defied convention by learning painting at all in a mentoring system that typically denied access to women and went on to earn a living as a professional painter and teacher of her craft, painted royalty, and even divorced and remarried in the 17oos! (source for paintings; source of biographical info)

 

Some more pretty pictures of unknown origin:

 

And here are some examples from museum collections (all from The Met, I believe, via pinterest and here):

So how might one sew up one of these pieces of lacy frilly uber feminine indulgences? Like so (from Peterson’s Magazine, found on this treasure trove of historical pattern inspiration here):

fichu petersons magazine june 1877

Or like this, from an unknown source but originally viewed (here):

fichu1 dressdiariesdotlivejournaldotcom

Tea In a Teacup has a great, in depth post on different varieties of fichus and how one might construct and embroider the different shapes (here). She created the following diagram, which is a great starting place for sewing up a few of my own to slip under vests or into necklines that scoop a bit lower than I’d like (what can I say, I’m a prude about my decollete):

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Also cool to see was the ways this historical article comes back from time to time in fashion cycles, as does everything, it seems. (Except maybe the monokini.) For sewing inspiration and some styling and interpretation ideas, here are way too many images of fichus, fichu collars and fichu-esque drapery, mostly from Etsy, Pinterest, Ebay and the Vintage Pattern Wikia. The vast majority of actual fashion pieces are from Dior in the 50s/modern day:

Hour count for 10k hours project: 298

Vintage Sewing Library: Medieval Embroidery Inspirations

This is the rabbit hole I’ve been down today. Medieval blackwork embroidery:

All of the above examples are from medieval portraiture except for the photograph, which is from (here).  There is a gorgeous reproduction of the cuff above, which is from Holbein’s portrait of Jane Seymour during the Tudor era. This version was done by Alexandra Gray (more info here).

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I’ve found a few great sources for this on archive.org–one is a book from 1532 from Alessandro Peganino, because when I go vintage, I go VINTAGE. Here are some of the illustrations it includes:

The original book is available for free (here). I’m hoping to incorporate some of these designs as trimming details on some of my 1920s tunic attempts!

Woman’s Institute: Inspiration and Fashion Service Periodicals. And Mary Brooks Picken on the Muslin!

inspirationflagHappy Memorial Day! Ours was spent battling a broken air conditioner, dealing with a barfing young’un and the compulsory roasting of requisite meats but all in all, a pretty good day. Had some time to play in my ephemera collection, so it was Read-Up-on-Fashion-Service-All-Day Day at our house, too. Well, for the significant other I think it was more Read-Up-on-Vampire-Fiction-Day, but to each his own.

The Woman’s Institute had (to my knowledge) two publications that came out regularly to supplement their educational materials. While the educational books are more general, universal stuff, the supplementary publications are more era-specific, individual fashion content. I’ve been on the lookout for these little marvels lately, and it’s been like a fun, stupidly expensive treasure hunt trying to figure out the print history. (The curse of being incredibly obsessive is tempered by the Indiana Jones-esque thrill of discovery I get from trying to put this all together.)

Bears a striking resemblance to making a credit card payment, yes?
Bears a striking resemblance to making a credit card payment, yes?

One publication they put out is called “Inspiration,” pictured above, illustrations by Alice Seipp as usual, which seems to have been published from the beginning of the Women’s Institute, though it is extremely rare and barely even referenced on the Interwebz. Evidently at one point, Bramcost (who publishes a lot of reproductions) had a few of them available for purchase on Amazon (see here, here and here), and occasionally they must pop up on ebay, but never when I am looking for them, alas. I found a few at Garrison House Books, and Tess, one of the owners was kind enough to send me one as an extra special surprise when I bought another publication from them (<3). While I could probably fall down a hole trying to track down more, one must choose ones white whales carefully. I guess. Sigh.

The other publication the Woman’s Institute regularly offered was the Fashion Service magazine. It seems to have been intended initially as a supplement for students exclusively, but then later offered for subscription to anyone who subscribed. I had been unable to figure out when the Fashion Service began being published, but recently found a horribly water damaged copy of an issue from Winter 1920-1921 with an insert, torn and cockled. (Google tells me that “cockled” means rippling of paper usually caused by water exposure; of course from now on my inner pervert will work that into conversation any way possible.) The magazine is *almost* beyond hope but according to the insert, it’s the first issue. YAY. The insert (and the magazine) are credited to Mary Brooks Picken, who writes in her usual charming, encouraging way. And it also represents one of the only references I think I’ve ever seen in a vintage sewing text to sewing a muslin–most seem to suggest tissue fitting, basting a garment together, or measuring at least 37x to make sure that pattern is going to fit your actual body before you cut. (Burda and Gertie’s Blog discuss here and here, respectively.) So here, transcribed from its cockled wobbly almost-entirety, the insert from the first ever Fashion Service. (Which, for any fashion history junkies/freakish OCD completists like myself out there, I’m in the process of laboring over and cleaning up in order to offer pdf and paper reproductions on etsy. It will take me a bit, as the warping of the pages plays hell on scanned output, but I’ll get it!)

My dear Friend:

One early autumn afternoon, four years ago, just after I had returned from a very elaborate fashion fete, my mind ablaze with the possibilities of developing beautiful garments, I promised myself that the Woman’s Institute should some day have a semi-annual Fashion Service–a service so comprehensive and instructive that every member might know the joy of seeing the new things and have an opportunity to become intimately acquainted with the lines, colors, and fabrics in reign for the season.

At that time the war was on, our student body was small, and there seemed to be a thousand and one reasons why we could not have a Fashion Service immediately. My realization of this meant great disappointment to me. So I have waited, but I never gave up the idea nor allowed anyone at the Institute to forget that some day we should have a really truly Fashion Service–one that we could all be proud of and that our students could be happy about.

In my messages to you through “Inspiration,” I have many times voiced my belief that earnest desire is prayer and that prayers are answered. My prayer for this Fashion Service has been answered. And, now–here it is with this letter.

I believe you will find on every page information and inspiration that will help you make for yourself the prettiest, most becoming clothes you have ever owned. Our Fashion Service differs from fashion descriptions in magazines because we have searched the fashion market and selected styles that we think will please you personally and at the same time are definitely representative of the fashions for this fall and winter.

The Institute desires you to use this book in connection with your studies. In preparing the text we have mentioned the kinds of seams and finishes and the plans of construction. If you are not thoroughly familiar with these from previous study, you will find them distributed throughout your lessons.

If you have any doubt about any part of the construction or the development of any garment in the Fashion Service, refer to your lessons. You will find them ready guides and advantageous helpers, for they teach definite sewing and construction principles applicable to any time or mode.

Before you start to make up any of these beautiful garments, I must […remind?] you of the advantages of muslin models, for they are the […essence of economy?], even with muslin at its present price. If they were not so valuable, it is very certain that the best custom shops would not show them with so much prominence and assurance.

You may want to make one, two, three, or possibly four dresses similar to those illustrated in our Fashion Service. But even if you make only one, it is essential that it be right in every detail. So, before you cut your material, develop in muslin a model guide pattern that will give you lines exactly in the right position for your individual measurements.

Experiment with the muslin model; have it just right. Then when you cut your material you can be certain that the garment will carry lines in a correct position for you. In making a second dress, you can recut the model and by adding a yard or two more, have enough muslin from the first model to develop the second one satisfactorily.

I have found that there are two things which lend to home-made effects in clothes: First, the position of the lines, and second, the hesitancy of thought that the dress sometimes evidences. How often we hear a woman say, “I know now, for my build and this material, that this tunic should have been longer, or the shoulder line should have been shorter, or the waist line a little longer or looser.”

Find these things out first from the muslin model and thus avoid errors in cutting. See from this just how the garment goes together and where trimming will be desirable for your, giving very special attention to the shoulder line, the waist line, the collar and the skirt length. Then sit down and make a dress. Your progress will be more rapid and the finished garment will reward you many times, for it will show skill and ripened though–points always evident in the product of a master hand.

The prominent commercial pattern companies were very kind in cooperating with us in developing this book, allowing us to select from their advanced styles types of patterns that will be helpful to you in developing some of the garments illustrated. The name and number in such instances are given, so that you can purchase the patterns if you desire.

To send this book to you is just like sending a cherished handmade gift to a friend who I feel sure will appreciate it. It has been a great task to prepare so that it would be wholly helpful and entirely reliable, but the hours spent on it have been constantly filled with the belief that it would make you happy and help you–and it is sent with that thought, together with all the good wishes at my command.

Very sincerely yours,

Mary Brooks Picken
Director of Instruction

This makes me ridiculously happy.

Knowledge