Sunday, November 2, 2014

NLS #5, Inside the pattern envelope

Jamie asked a very good question on the #4 post about patterns. I want to answer this straight up for all. "Are the Vogue designer patterns made with the Vogue sloper? I think they get the pattern from the designer and grade up/down, so does that mean that the sloper is whatever the designer uses?"

Vogue's answer from their blog:

"Some designers, like Ralph Rucci, will supply the patterns for us to use when we translate their designs for home sewers. If we don’t have a pattern from the designer to start with, our pattern making team will study the garment very closely so we can replicate it as exactly as possible."  Jamie, I think your first guess was the answer for when the designer does not supply the pattern. That would mean they use the Vogue sloper in those garments. 
Thanks so much for asking Jamie and thank you, Vogue for that answer. That was a great question. Now on to more about patterns. 

ETA: I decided to go to the source and just received back an email from Meg Carter at BMV. I will print what Meg sent and it really clears things up. So, Jamie and everyone, this is the official Vogue response today:

          "Hi Bunny!

          Well, you kinda got it right.

If the designer gives us his/her pattern used to make the garment, we work from that.

If we don’t get a pattern, we work from the garment itself, NOT from our own sloper, to create the pattern. So the consumer is sewing something as close as possible to the original designer garment."

Thanks, Meg, for taking time to answer our question. You can follow the BMVS blog here. 


Today I am using McCalls 6696 for an example. It is a classic shirtdress offered in various cup sizes, Yay!  It has also never been out of it's envelope so we are on this journey together!  Let's pull those goodies out and see what we have:

Many who are new to patterns shy away from the Big Five. I've often seen them dissed by some who admittedly never have used or rather learned to use them. They are not perfect but they set a standard that has been validated by decades and generations of use. Those generations learned to sew at school, from Mom, grandma, aunties and other family members. Therefore these patterns assume you have basic sewing knowledge. I hope your understanding of the way they are made becomes clearer today with this post. They need not be intimidating although for a newbie I can see how they could be. 

The first thing you see is a big fat stack of neatly folded pattern pieces on tissue paper. These may not ever get folded back like that again once you've opened up your prize. Don't fret. you can do a pretty good job of getting them back in the envelope nicely with this trick. You also have your instruction sheet. This is a great time to stop right there and give a glance through the instructions, just a quick one for now.  Lots of info? A bit intimidated? That's OK. We will get you comfortable in no time. 

These are called the factory folds and destined to disappear in handling. But they are important for those of us who collect vintage patterns. "Still in factory folds" adds additional value to the vintage pattern. If you are buying for posterity, like I do with my Issey Miyake patterns, keep them in the factory folds. If not, check out the tutorials page for a lesson on how to get them back into the envelope, the easy way. Let's look at some of the actual pieces.  Below is a closeup of the sleeve piece. It is loaded with information. 

We have the pattern number, directions telling us to cut two of these, the view letter,  all of the sizes on the piece and the grainline. But what is that circle and those numbers all about? Since this is the sleeve ( I will call it a cross/circle) the cross/circle designates the bicep, the fullest part of your arm. The numbers below are the finished width of the sleeve for each size at that cross/circle level. I have had patterns where these measurements were off so I recommend you measure across the sleeve piece at the level of the cross circle perpendicular to the grainline. It may not be even. That's OK. It's more important it be at right angles with the grainline marking. DO NOT include seam allowances. A plastic quilter's triangle is great for this. Just make sure it crosses through the cross/circle and at right angles to the grainline.  Measure your own bicep. It is the fullest part of your upper arm. Is it the same distance down from the shoulder as the pattern? Does the thickest part of your bicep line up with the cross circle? If not, you can move the sleeve up or down there. If you add one or two inches to your bicep measurement is it more or less than the measurement for your size bicep on the pattern? will have to make the bicep area wider if you don't have that ease. Those extra one or two inches are what keep the garment from being skin tight and are called ease. This is called Flat Pattern measuring.  You measure the piece and see how it compares to your own area. You can then decide how and how much you will need to add to get it to fit. The area needs to accomodate your body part and extra so you can move, breathe, etc, aka, Fitting Ease.  This post will concern itself with reading the pattern., not fit at this time. We're setting foundations here and will get to fitting later. Do you see how this measuring will let you know,  before you cut anything, if it will fit you? In my post meno years my biceps have really increased (despite exercise and watching weight) and I find I have to pay close attention to this area and watch for the fit so I flat pattern measure each new pattern. After a while you will know by heart what your measurement is but it's not a bad  idea to have a little chart of your own measurements handy for flat pattern measuring. ( Hint: once you find a beautifully fitting sleeve, use it for other garments as well. )

The pattern pieces also have markings and these are important. They affect fit if they are not matched up properly. When the instructions say "match large squares" you need to be ready. But you need to get all those markings on to the wrong side usually of your fabric. There are notches, those little arrow shaped markings. When I had seventh grade Home Ec classes with Mrs. Townsend we had to cut perfect little triangles on the outside of the seam line. Ugh. Today I agree with Nancy Zieman, notches get a tiny snip and no more. Personally I also ALWAYS snip the center front and center back, centers of cuffs, facings, pockets, waistbands, front and back, and anything that will need to be matched to something to be centered. You will be glad you got into this habit and it saves a lot of  time and aggravation. Start with just snipping center backs and fronts and see how much it helps you.  

There are also little dots, big dots, little and big squares, triangles, etc to be marked. There are lots of tools for marking available out there. Depending on the fabric, whether it's nubby or smooth, I will use either tailor tacks with that fuzzy basting thread, a "chalkoner" (also  called a chaco liner) or a tracing wheel and tracing paper. I'll do a post on marking upcoming. On wools I like to use tailors chalk. Don't use that on your silk lining for that wool. It will stain. Keep it just for the wool. That was a hard lesson learned. If I have a really complicated pattern where the marking is critical, like the recent Donna Karan dress I made, I will make myself a little "legend" on paper. Each type mark gets assigned a color, so small dots may be green, squares may be blue, etc. It can really help. When I mark with a legend, I use Crayola water erasable markers to get all the colors. I've never had a problem with these disappearing. Sometimes I will even use a sharp, "fine" mechanical pencil to mark. Bottom line, you need to mark all these markings to be able to put your pattern together properly. It's easy, doable, and one of those things you won't even think about after a while. Good sewing is good marking.

You can also see in this sleeve pattern above, two hemline options. This one is curved but on straight hems I just fold the longer hem under instead of cutting it off. You just never know when you may want to go back and make the longer version so don't cut it off. 

Next is the pattern piece that brings out my attitude, you know, when Ms. Bunbun takes no prisoners. IT'S THE BODICE. 

Why, you say? See our little cross circle once again? That puppy is sitting right where your nipple is, and is also known as the Apex of the Bust in the more polite regions of our land. Cut out this bodice pattern piece and place it on your body making sure the center front is where it needs to be. If you can do this in a mirror, even better! Is that little cross/circle on your, ahem, Apex? If not you will need to move the "dart box"  and get it right where your booby point is. This is even more important with princess seams which hug the bust fullness very specifically. Dart Box moving in the future, remember we are laying foundations. 

Look at that cross circle one more time. Look at the waistline dart. Look at the side bust dart.  DO ANY OF THEM TOUCH THE APEX? NO, they do not. Oh, you saw a pattern with the tip of the dart ending on the tip of the tit? (I'm around a lot of farms.) It's wrong, poorly designed/drafted wrong. "Well, so and so makes patterns like that" you say. I don't care. It is wrong, does not concur with good fit standards and looks embarrassingly uncomfortable. What you are reading right now is my opinion for sure, but if I had the time I could quote book and verse of respected sewing teachers who know much more than me and they will tell you the same. Listen to them. Darts do not go to the tip of your nipple. If they do, bad look, bad fit and sign of poor pattern making.  Here is what a dart does; it releases fabric so it can curve over your breast mound. All darts are meant to release fabric over a mound of flesh, smoothly and without notice. Darts are not made to point to your mammary peak. For the fabric to curve over your breast mound it must be released further back from the apex. If you find that dart meets your apex/ cross circle,  it needs to be cut back. Just shorten it and redraw the angle. Most experts recommend 1-2 inches  from the apex and it will depend on the fullness of your cup. The bigger the cup, the further back it is cut. 

These cross/circles are so important. You will find them at your hip point, bust apex, biceps and waistline. They are your clue to moving the pattern around to get a great fit. 

Let's look at the instruction sheet now. This is what I sneak out of the pattern envelope while pattern shopping in the store. These inside line drawings show you a lot of information that may get missed on the outside of the envelope. Look for the differences between views. 

There is lots of info inside as well before the instructions even start. Above you see a legend for the Pattern Markings. There are also instructions in how to read the pattern instructions. Wrong side, Right side, interfacings, linings, etc all have different shading. This is critical when making designs that are bit more complicated like the rayon top I posted this morning. Knowing those shades or at least cross referencing with the instructions will help a lot at times. 

Once you have done your flat pattern measuring to double check the size to be cut and possible alterations, look on the instruction sheets for the layouts. You want the layout that matches the view letter and width of fabric. It will also matter if the pattern has a nap. So to figure out which is the proper layout know your View letter, your fabric width and if your fabric has a nap. Pick the appropriate layout and circle it with a marker. It is easy to get layouts confused. It is also a waste of time to have to hunt to reference the proper layout so hilight it with a yellow marker or such. Fold the pattern paper so info other than your layout is not distracting you.  Know that sometimes one layout is given no matter the size used. That means a size six will  not use up as much fabric as a size 16 and you may have a bit left over for those smaller sizes.  Layouts and yardages are designed for the larges size in the range of the envelope. I'm short and small so there are always leftovers. I find these are often lifesavers so never order less than the pattern specs even though I know I will have leftover. 

All your pieces will  have grainlines marked which will run parallel to the selvedge of the fabric upon placement. Bias pieces will look odd. Just keep that grainline parallel to the selvedge. Pieces cut on the fold like a back bodice are the exception. They will not be marked with the grainline as the fold is the straight of grain unless the piece has an arrow telling you otherwise which could happen in a bias situation. When I cut the  pattern pieces apart I never cut the side with the fold.  I leave it with whatever scraggly wide edge it has been left with. This reminds me to place it on the fold and not cut. I actually mark that excess paper with big letters FOLD and arrows pointing to it before pinning it down.  Can you tell I've cut a few center backs in my day that I shouldn't have?  And last but not least:

Please, iron your pattern pieces before cutting them out and after if necessary. You can't get a good fit if there are wrinkles in the pattern. A princess seamed jacket can have 16 seamlines to stitch up vertically. A 1/8th inch mistake from wrinkles or poor cutting habits will add 2, TWO, inches to your bodice!!! Make sure your fabric is all ironed smooth before placing your ironed pattern pieces on the fabric or attempting any alterations.   You can use pins or weights. You can use shears or my preferred rotary cutter and mat to cut.(More accurate, more dangerous).  Go slow with your layout and cutting. Time invested here is payed off later. Make a cup of tea or such and relax and enjoy the beginning of the sewing process.  Cut your pattern pieces out before putting them down on the fabric, ridding yourself of any extraneous tissue paper. It will be so much easier to cut and cut correctly without all that extra.  Trying to evenly cut the pattern piece and fabric out as one is just that, trying. The pattern pieces should all be cut out eliminating those black lines, ironed, flat pattern measured and placed on fabric that is on grain. Now you can cut! Here is my process:

1. Rough cut out the pattern pieces leaving the excess paper for pieces going on the fold.
2. Iron those pieces. Don't ever use steam. It will shrink the paper.
3. Flat pattern measure and match up cross/circles at bust, hip, waist and bicep.
4. Make any needed adjustments or
5. Cut those pieces out, eliminating the black line. Make and cut out a muslin (mark ) to discern what those adjustments will be on more complicated patterns, new pattern companies whose fit you are not familiar with, or when you have invested in expensive fabric for the project or...
6. Do your marking if no muslin being made.
7. Grab your favorite beverage and READ THROUGH THE INSTRUCTIONS THOROUGHLY.
7. Ready, set, sew!

Happy sewing and until the next time,



  1. Yay! I do all these things!!! :)

    If I am making a pattern for the first time, those instructions become my nighttime reading. I read through and visualize what they are telling me to do. So invaluable!

    And hear, hear on no darts ending at the tip of the tit! :-D

    1. That's a great suggestion, Nakisha. It's good to know that I'm not the only one who reads sewing books, mags, patterns before I drift off to happyland. Thanks for your input.

  2. This is SO helpful - thank you for posting. I'm going to mark this and make sure I go through your checklist before my next garment!

  3. Looking forward to your marking post.

  4. Great advice for new sewers or even more experienced sewers.

  5. Thank you for reaching out to Vogue / McCall's and report back to us. Oh and I too read about sewing right before going to sleep!

  6. Thank you so much. Your posts demonstrate that I can always keep learning. I look forward to your posts!

  7. This is all good information and I rely on the markings and notes on BMVK patterns.
    I recently had a good look at the Vogue pattern I just worked on. The pattern glossary translations on the pattern paper are going to be very handy when I finally work with the Euro pattern magazines I bought earlier this year.

    1. That's a great idea, Velosewer.

      In case any are a bit confused, Velosewer purchased some European pattern magazines. The Big Four patterns often have the instructions in Spanish, or around here, French, in addition to English. She will use the glossary in the other languages to help her with the European patterns, brilliant! Thanks for that tip, Velosewer.

  8. Thanks for answering my question!

    I also read though the instructions and do a dry run in my head. Sometimes I make notes in the instructions (add inseam pockets here), or if I am making enough changes I jot down a new set in a notebook.

    1. Good hint. I do the same, notes in the margins and a log in my notebook. thanks, Jamie.

  9. Love these posts, Bunny!! So many answers to questions I would never think to ask.

  10. Thanks so much, especially about the circle cross/bust cut out.
    I had no idea that was where my nip was supposed to be.
    Now that explains why they say to wear a good bra when fitting.

    1. Definitely. The bra can make a big difference particularly on princess seams.

  11. Bunny, really enjoyed this post. On the topic of where darts should end, I don't think you even need to consult with a more experienced teacher - a picture is worth a thousand words, and for the picture in question? That'll penetrate even the densest newbie sewer's head?

    Anne Hathaway's 2013 Oscar dress -

    There should be a gif floating around the internet somewhere, I'm sure...

    1. Exactly. That waist has a little something going on too. Wouldn't want to be that designer!


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