Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sloper Dresses and Misadventures in Drafting

Some photos at last.


I will share with you one of my daftest choices of fabrics for a muslin mockup.
First, I will share that sewing for children, in spite of being fun and lovely and cheap, is challenging because of how hard it is to measure them. There is a lot of shoulder shrugging, lying down, wriggling, twisting, jumping around, dancing and clapping. I very seldom have sufficiently accurate measurements in the first round. Often it takes me two to three very short rounds of measuring before I have a good enough set of numbers with which to draft a sloper. Sometimes I begin drafting with my first set of measurements, and then discover inconsistencies, and then have to capture the child in question and re-measure some bits.

I like to turn my muslin mockups into wearable garments just so it isn't a total waste of fabric and time spent chasing and measuring. I found this white cotton fabric on sale and somewhat liked the ready-sewn ribbon trim on it. Thought it would make a nice little girl's dress. So I drafted the sloper, then ironed out the fabric and got ready to lay everything out.

Should Have Not Used This Fabric reason #1
The trims were diagonal. And irregularly spaced. And one-directional. Meaning if the trims were to meet at the seams, I would have to break rules and do a bizarre layout. Which I did. Some pieces were along the grain and some were at weird angles to it. I didn't have to do this, of course, but

Should Have Not Used This Fabric reason #2 I am anal-retentive when I sew so of course the seams must meet. Because of the irregular spacing of the trims, some did indeed not meet at the seams, but I ate nutella and became sort of easy-going and smiley and let those go.

Should Have Not Used This Fabric reason #3
The fabric (some cotton-bordering-on-voile thing) was translucent and loose-weave. Had to have lining. A full lining, including the sleeves. Looked on the bright side by telling myself that this would take care of the facings. Yippee. If you've done any drafting, or even adapted patterns for fit, you will already know how idiotic I was being about using this fabric. I got mum on the phone and told her about it and she kept saying "Oh dear. Oh dear. OH DEAR. Oh no. Oh dear. Oh no." There weren't a lot of alterations but the extra lining made it tricky to check for fit. At one point, I thought I had drafted the back neckline too small, and so unpicked the faced invisible zipper and neckline and let it out. Then I tried it on Emily again and realized it was now exactly as much too loose as I had just cleverly let out. Hit self on forehead, re-unpicked the invisible zipper and neckline and took it back in. As a result of all my manhandling, the lovely soft loose-weave fabric had become somewhat wonky at the neckline. Why did I think I could leave off staystitching just this one time?
So a regular comedy of errors. Very funny now that I look back.

Here is Emily wearing her sloper dress. She is standing on one foot (why?) - especially evident in second photo - and making the neckline pop out at the shoulder seam.

Also, I kept just the bodice portion true to the sloper fit and flared out the dress in four panels from the waist. I The last non-knit dress I made for Emily was met with "my waist is too tight! My chest is too tight! Everything is too tight!" from her, so I gave her more ease in the waist and a lower neckline to eliminate grumbling this time around.

I was mostly interested in the shoulder seams, armscyes and sleeves, really.

Some back views - I am not bothered about there being a little more ease in the back sleeve (see armpit folds) than I'd like because this is an unstretchy fabric and should not pull over her back chest when she moves her arms around.

An interesting thing I discovered about hangers (see very first photo) - they don't always fit the shoulders of the dress that hangs from them. Maybe they are made for kids with squarer shoulders.

Here's Jenna's sloper dress:

Because children are infinitely wiser than adults (especially their mothers), I let Jenna pick out the fabric for her dress. She did well - all-over print, cotton, unstretchy, opaque. I faced the neckline and zipper - ran out of invisible ones so used a regular white one. Didn't even bother to do a lapped zipper either.

As with Emily's, I was really mostly interested in the fit at the shoulders, neck, armscyes and sleeves

as well as her little post-toddler tum. Emily has lost her little belly but Jenna and Kate still have theirs, which had to be taken into account in the drafting of their slopers.

I lowered her center front waistline but clearly didn't do enough for the hem!

The only embellishments I added for this dress were faced sleeve hems, a faced bottom hem and a sash. And inseam pockets. Felt that patch pockets would've been to unsubtle for this particular style.

Bonus photos of sweet, funny Jenna!

Kate's sloper dress is here, in case you were wondering. Hers is knit, which isn't the best material for a sloper dress -because of its stretch, it's hard to tell if it's comfortable because of a good draft or because it's just so stretchy. But well, it's Kate, and she is more acrobatic than most people, so knit it was.

And because some of you asked about drafting sleeves, I took a photo of the three sleeve blocks I drafted for Jenna's sloper. The more I sew for children, the more I learn that they really dislike being measured and being fitted. So I try and maximize each fitting by drafting and cutting two slightly different sleeves and sewing them on the same bodice. So when Jenna did her first fitting, I picked out what fit well with each sleeve, and combined them into a third (and hopefully final) one.

For instance, it is often a trade-off between the ease in the height and the width of the sleeve cap (you need both to wrap around your bicep) and the ease in the bicep width. A sleeve cap that is too high might give you a lot of extra fabric (think 'hideous puff but forgot to actually gather') on the top. A sleeve cap that is too wide will give you a lot of folds in your armpit. A bicep width that is too wide will give you a very wide hem. All that extra fabric translates to more comfort, but it isn't pretty for a basic set-in sleeve. And since this is a sleeve block, it is ideally as small and streamlined as possible while still being comfortable for movement.
Am I making sense? It's 1:40 am now.

So in the picture below, I started out with the same sleeve cap height.

The bottommost sleeve block is Draft #1: narrower bicep, wide sleeve cap.

The middle sleeve block is Draft #2: wider bicep, narrower (i.e. slightly more pointy) sleeve cap.

The topmost sleeve block is Draft #3 - the good draft - and combines the good-fitting bits of both first drafts and a few other adjustments based on Jenna's fitting.

That's all for tonight! Maybe more illustrative drafting posts like these in the future.


  1. They're really lovely - I wish all my disasters looked like that! Can you give me any tips on how you go about drafting your slopers? Can you recommend a book, or is your knowledge based on pure genius? I can't seem to come up with much through googling.

    Also - unrelated question, but I'm confident you're the woman who will know the answer - do you need a smaller french curve for children's clothes, or are they fairly universal?

    Thank you! Kelly xx

  2. Listen, you are crazy to use that ribbon fabric but the fact that the dress looks so good at the end of it means your sloper is damn fine! Have you done a series of posts on HOW to draft for kids? I might have missed it although I'm not sure I'm brave enough yet, spent ages drafting a shirt pattern for myself this last week and about to mock it up in a muslin but I think I haven't allowed enough ease and it will be tight! Love your drafting posts, keep it up!

  3. These dresses fit beautifully, and your girls are so pretty and sweet! I especially love that photo of you and Jenna! I am very impressed by the fit through the shoulders and sleeves, and thanks for the photo of the sleeve blocks. I was surprised by how different the front was from the back - they tend to look much more similar on US patterns, which could be part of why I am never happy with the sleeve fits. Of course, I haven't sewed any clothing in ages - we'll see if I meet my goal of making something wearable this month during the next two days. I'll probably cheat and make a very simple skirt for Emma, just so I can say I did something. I did make owie doll beds, though - very simplified ones out of fleece with no batting and no zipper. Emma laps the elastic around the button on the front for an over-one-shoulder-footed-toga outfit look that is quite comical!

  4. beautifully done. BRAVO!

  5. I can understand your frustrations, but the dresses are oh-so-adorable!!

  6. Awesome. Especially the sleeve info - that's the kind of stuff I never find anywhere else.

  7. Oh, these dresses are so adorable! WOW!!!!
    And I am very glad that it is not only me that makes very strange fabric choices! :-) Unfortunately my projects do not always turn out great anyway.


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