The one purchase that supercharged my dress making skills

OK, I have to start with an apology for the clickbait title. However it is true that one purchase made a huge difference to my skills, both making and fitting garments. The boring reality is that there was no magic quick-fix involved. It was exactly the opposite. This purchase made everything slower, allowed me to practice, make mistakes, learn, and ultimately work out the problem areas of every dress making project.

My purchase was a 10 metre bolt of calico. Not very exciting I will admit…

Before buying this fabric I never made mock-ups, (or muslin or toile) AND THIS IS WHY EVERYTHING I MADE DIDN’T FIT.

If I could time travel I’d go back to my younger self and state the gosh darned obvious: I don’t fit in mass produced high-street clothes, so what made me think I’d fit into a mass produced high-street pattern? It was so exciting to start a new project that I couldn’t be bothered with all the preparation. Prewashing fabric? No thanks. Ironing seams? Not likely. Mock-ups? A waste of my time.

As the youngsters of today say: Learn from my fail…

Adjusting a collar pattern to fit

Reasons why a mock-up is crucial:

  1. Testing the size of your pattern. If, like myself, you don’t fit a standard size then adapting a pattern to your shape is essential. I’m a size bigger on my bottom half than my top half so I have to adjust all dress patterns around the hip. But I can’t change a pattern blindly. I have to test the fit and overall look of the garment with a mock-up.
  2. Practising the pattern techniques. Having a safe area where you can go through all the steps of the pattern in a practical way so you can resolve any difficult areas before you start with the actual project. It also means that the real project will be quicker as you know each step more thoroughly.
  3. Save fabric. It’s the most poignant pain a sewer can feel. When you cut out a pattern shape in your lovely fabric and realise that it’s not the right size. As with the points above. You don’t want to have the trial and error with your beautiful fabric.
  4. Working out how much fabric you need. You can make a mock-up before you buy the real fabric and this way you have a better idea how to lay out your adjusted pattern pieces and know if you need a bit more or less than the orginal pattern specifies.

Although making a mock-up can seem daunting. So here are a few tips to help.

  1. You don’t have to do both sleeves/cuffs. Just one will be enough to see if it fits.
  2. You don’t have to finish the seams or hems. This will speed up construction. Unless you want some stitching practice, then carry on.
  3. You don’t have to keep the mock-up. After adjustments have been made and applied to the final pattern you can pull apart the mock-up and reuse/re-cut the fabric for another mock-up. Thus saving fabric.
  4. Don’t be afraid to make a second mock-up. You might have made quite a few changes to your pattern so if you feel the need to test the pattern pieces again. Go ahead. Practice makes perfect.

Once you have a pattern you are happy with you can reuse it many times over. In different weight fabrics a pattern can look very different and smaller changes can easily be made by adding details such as different pockets, sleeve lengths or decorative trims. It is worth investing the time and effort early on in a project to make it work over and over again.

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