I have decided that I want to master patterning. This is not a small, short-term goal that I’ll accomplish this fall. I took a class with the School of Historical Dress in London last month on “The Art of Cutting Out c. 1600-2000,” taught by Melanie Braun, who probably knows more about this topic than anyone on the planet. It’s hard to summarize what I learned, but it made my head explode a couple of times. It also made me aware of many things that I didn’t know I didn’t know. Her class – two days long – was just a taste, but it was incredible, and I want to learn it all.

We were playing with half-scale patterns, and I immediately understood the appeal of half-scale models. I’ve seen many people see one of these dress forms and say something like, “That looks smaller than half-scale.” *All* of the measurements are halved, so when you multiply to get the area, you end up with a model that is a quarter of the original model’s size. For example, if you were doing a half-scale model of a 4×4″ square, you’d cut each of the measurements in half and get a 2×2″ square. That’s going from 16 square inches to 4 square inches – 1/4 the size of the original.

Full-scale vs. half-scale dress forms

I found with my most recent project – a 1560s Flanders gown  (aka “English fitted gown”) and kirtle – that I was learning a lot of new skills and information, but wasn’t getting a big learning-to-time-spent bang for my buck. I’m much more interested right now in learning than in accumulating clothing to wear to events or entering competitions, and the projects were taking more time than my flea-sized attention span could handle. That resulted in my setting the project aside for weeks or months, and then it takes forever as a result. I get bored with the current project that I’ve been working on forever, but feel guilty about starting a new project before the current one is done, and it’s just a big mess and not a good use of my time. I’ll be able to learn new skills much faster with the half-scale patterns. I’m sacrificing practice time, of course. That’s a real loss because the only thing that improves your sewing is practicing your sewing, but I can always choose to use a new skill for another project in the future if I want more practice with it, and you do reach a point of diminishing returns after a certain length of construction seams, hemming, or braiding.

One section of the SHD class was working with basic body blocks – moving darts and such. I was vaguely aware of this stuff, but had never actually tried it because I haven’t made modern clothes, and (most) historical clothing from the eras I like doesn’t use darts. It’s pretty nifty.

I’ve started with modern body blocks because they are modeling not a pattern for a particular garment (e.g., a doublet or bodice pattern), but the shape of the body that’s going to wear the clothes you make. I need to learn how fabric works in three dimensions around a body. Melanie Braun made several heads in the room explode when she said, “and we take away here to make room for the bust.” WHAT??? You’re taking *away* fabric to make room for something? That can’t be right. Except that it is. Those of you who have been working with fabric for thirty years or who excel in 3D spatial relationships are wondering what the big deal is here, but to people who have made a limited number of types of garments, have drafted only a handful of patterns, and do not count 3D thinking as a personal strength, our world just turned upside down and the sky just turned green.

I’ve decided that I want to go through several drafting systems and understand how each one works. They’re “modern” in that they were developed later than the latest period I recreate – early 17th century, but some of them have been around for a while. I’m also interested in learning to draft historical patterns. I’m interested in modern clothes, but my passion really is for the 16th century – sliding into the beginning of the 17th because many of the relevant extant garments are from those years. I’ve done a tiny bit with Gnagy’s doublet drafting system, and I’d like to explore more of that type of thing.

That leads me to the original inspiration (even before I took the SHD class) for this project. This guy made 1/3-scale toiles (aka “mock-ups” made of muslin) of patterns from Alcega’s 1580s tailor’s manual. Mathew Gnagy has also done some cool stuff like this with full-sized clothing.

I’m planning to blog my drafting efforts to make sure that I am capable of explaining it all to others (i.e., I fully understand it myself), and I’m hoping that it might be useful to someone. Please feel free to work the blocks/patterns with me – either in full size or in half or quarter scale – and share your experiences with them. Also feel free to chime in if you have experience with this stuff and have tips or tricks to share. I’m making this up as I go, so I welcome anything you care to contribute.

One thought on “Patterning

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