Friday, July 30, 2010

Drafting Part I - Overview

With all the computer glitches behind us now, welcome (finally) to Part 1 of our drafting series!

This is the part in which I drone on and on about the basics without actually drafting anything. Some of you already know all this, and some don't, but I always feel it's worth boring the former into a coma so the latter can start with them on the same page. Here we go!

1 What You Might Need For Drafting:

This is an example of what I usually use when I draft:

  • Big sheet of paper (butcher paper is nice)
  • Color pencils (and eraser)
  • Long straight ruler
  • T-square or set-square or your gridded cutting mat or some other thing to help you square lines (i.e make them perpendicular to one another).
  • Measuring tape
  • Curved ruler, flexible ruler, french curves, if you like some aids for curve-drawing -not shown in picture because I usually sketch my curves free-hand (not as hard as it sounds).
  • Narrow twill tape, ribbon or thin string
  • Child

There have been times when, for want of big enough blank paper, I have drafted on newspaper with a ball-point pen or sharpie and laid that out and pinned that onto my fabric. I am just confessing that here so you'll be reassured that you don't need special magic drafting paper. When I am enabled to, though, this is the kind of paper I like to use for drafting:

It's regular thin brown kraft paper with vertical lines. Those lines help me draw parallel lines more easily. I know a person can buy special drafting paper that has a grid marked out which is probably even better, but I don't need it. I buy this paper from Ikea - it's KOTTE wrapping paper - for about $2 a (8 m long). Sadly, Ikea only has wrapping paper in stock during the Christmas season - so check back there maybe in October.

The KOTTE paper is still available, but it is now called SNOVITA. At 99c a roll that's 8 m long, it's a good deal.)

2 Measuring (and Measuring Children)

Children, especially small ones, are very hard to measure. They don't stand still. They have no waist. They are ticklish and shrug a lot. Candy or a movie or some other enticing thing helps. I personally prefer measuring children who are 4 years old or older, because they can be reasoned with and made to stand relatively still for measuring. Also their tummies are less round, which makes for easier measuring and therefore a better fit.

I personally feel that the most important success factor in drafting is getting accurate measurements from the start. If forced to estimate exactly how important, I'd say a good draft is
  • 70% accurate measurements
  • 20% drafting /drawing skills
  • 10% knowing how to analyze a muslin/first fitting

When I drafted as a younger person under mum's tutelage, we did a lot of estimating of key measurement points like the base/side of the neck or the shoulder point. Skilled and experienced measurers and drafters like mum and other people in her generation can get away with it. Now that mum and I inconveniently live in different countries and I can no longer have her visually advise my measuring process, I find I need more objective methods of pin-pointing these measurement positions. Here are some methods mum and I (and other people) collectively use now:

I Tie twill tape/ribbon/unbulky string around waist:

Sometimes, if it is helpful, you might even like to tie another string around the hips, or chest. This string is a good marker of the important horizontal reference lines (waist, hip, chest) for measuring. Now this cord in the picture is not a good choice because it is thick and adds bulk to the waist measurement when you wrap the measuring tape around the waist, on top of it. But I used it for the photo for its lurid visibility.

Note in the next photo that the cord is horizontal because the waist is horizontal. Even if your child wears her pants with the front waistband under her tummy. Remember this photo, incidentally - it shows quite clearly that small children have those wonderful bellies that are so cute, but that you will need to take into account when you draft for them.
Try your very, very hardest to complete all your measurements before removing this waist string. If you take it off and then retie it the next day to take more measurements, it will likely not be in the same position as before, and you might end up with measurements that are inconsistent with the day before's and drive you nuts when you draft them.

II Drape a thin chain or string over the back of the neck
This gives two vertical lines from which you can measure the width of the neck, the distance from the side/base of neck to the shoulder point, the depth of the front neckline etc.

III Use small stickers or body/washable marker pens:

Children like them, and they make convenient markers for the important measurement points,

like the shoulder point (pink strawberry), the side/base of neck (pink heart), the depth of the front neckline (yellow circle)

and the back of the neck.

If the child shrugs off the chain (always happens), the stickers /body marking ink will still remain.

We'll be taking many more measurements to make a sloper than if were adapting a commercial pattern to fit your particular child. In other words, we're going beyond height, waist, chest, hip, length of skirt. Remember - we're making ours from scratch, so we need more numbers to shape things the right way from the start.

When I am drafting, I usually take all the measurements in one go, and write them down. I usually have about 5 minutes to do this, before the child in question decides she's had enough and runs away. For the purpose of this tutorial, though, I will pretend that I have the luxury to take a measurement, plot it on the paper and then take the next measurement, while the child stands perfectly still. It is a gross misrepresentation of how it's done in real life, but it makes for clearer step-by-steps. OK?

I have included a measuring table at the end of this post, which you can print out and begin to fill up. The key will explain what the different colors and text mean. We will be drafting the front sloper first, and it will be half of the full front piece, just like commercial patterns. This is important to remember because some of the measurements we take will be subsequently divided by 2 or 4 before being plotted.

One way to calculate these half- or quarter-values is to use a calculator (or mental arithmetic). Another way is to fold the measuring tape, which I know a lot of people also do. So for example, if you measured someone's shoulder width as 15 3/4 inches, and wanted to divide that by 2, you'd fold the tape like so

to get the half-value of 7 7/8":

3 Ease

Let's talk a little about ease. Ease is the allowance given in measuring beyond the exact fit. There are two main kinds of ease that we might mention throughout our series.

The first is design ease, which is the allowance added according to a particular style of garment to make it a certain shape, like an A-line skirt. We are drafting a sloper (i.e. exact fit) so there will be no design ease in the measurements.

The second is fitting ease, which is the small allowance to enable the model to feel comfortable in a close-fitting garment like a sloper. Whenever a measurement is taken around the entire circumference of the body e.g. the waist, it is tricky to decide how snug to keep the measuring tape.

How much fitting ease to add, where and how are very common questions. Everyone does it a different way, and to a different extent - there are rules of thumb, and industry standards and all that, but it is also dependent on the drafter's personal preference. If you have read drafting books, you will probably have noticed both similarities and differences in the way the various authors include ease in their measurements.

Let's answer those questions now:

Q1 Where is ease added?
The short answer is: wherever there is movement of the body, like in sitting, breathing and well, moving. When I make a sloper, I add ease only in the waist, hip, chest and armscye - these are the areas that tend to expand or stretch in the course of the wearer's normal movement. I do not add ease in the shoulder width, the neck, or any of the vertical dimensions because these do not change in the course of the wearer's normal movement.

Q2 How is ease added?
Usually I take measurements when the model is dressed in whatever she will be wearing under the garment I'm making. For a sloper, this means just underwear. However, thin, close-fitting clothes (like a snug Tshirt, bodysuit, leggings) are also OK because they don't add significant bulk. Having established that, do you measure the exact, snug value and then mentally add some fitting ease before recording it? Or do you hold the measuring tape more loosely to allow for the ease in the actual measurement? Both work, and it is a personal preference either way.

Q3 How much ease is added?
The amount of ease to add is also a personal preference. Some folks like very snug slopers, and some like more comfortable ones. Some figures are more toned and have more defined curves, and can handle less ease, while others have less defined/demarcated areas of fullness and might be more flattered with an extra bit of ease in their slopers.

Here's what I usually do:
I start with a snug (exact) measurement. A good rule of thumb is to keep the measuring tape snug enough so it does not move up and down but just loose enough so it can shift about horizontally if you move it. For instance, if you are measuring the waist and the measuring tape is unable to stay at the waist level but keeps falling down to the hips, it is too loose. Having established this snug measurement, I then loosen the measuring tape a quarter inch at a time until I think I've found a comfortable fit. I sometimes have the child breathe in so her chest/waist expands, and take that final measurement. Often - and you might be surprised by this - you only need a very little bit of ease, like 1/2" in the total waist measurement for a sloper.

Then I make a muslin from the sloper and let that tell me if more ease is needed or not. I prefer being conservative with adding fitting ease, because it is often much easier to observe fit issues in a too-tight sloper than one with so much ease that the wearer is swimming in it. In a too-tight sloper, you might say, "Oh, I need to let out the the waist by another 1/2 inch", but if the sloper is huge all over, the only conclusion is "What the......! I've made a sack! I can't even begin to tell where to take it in and where!" A common mistake thereafter with a very loose sloper is to desperately take in all the ease in just one area, like the waist, instead of distributing it between the different seams to get a more accurate fit. But more on that later!

4 Reference Lines

Throughout the tutorials, you will find yourself drawing some vertical and horizontal reference lines. Pick a different color pencil for these reference lines so you won't mix them up with the actual seam lines of the sloper. This will make more sense later in the actual tutorials.

5 Miscellaneous Stuff:

In spite of all its rules and methods, drafting is very personal. Different people have different drafting styles. Also, different people like different fits. This is why drafting using the approach in Book A will yield quite a different fit of the same resulting garment than if you'd used Book B's. Some like a lot of ease in their sleeve caps. Some use different formulae for drafting different parts of the sloper. Some swear by measuring additional points on the body to draft certain curves, while others do it free-hand.

Drafting a sloper for a grown adult (like a woman) is similar in technique to that of a child. But you will be quite disappointed if you use this tutorial to make a sloper for yourself (assuming you, the reader, are older than 10 years old and have reached puberty, I mean). Two reasons: one, there are many, many more measurements needed of a mature female body that we have left out for a child, like the bust. Two, there are darts to include to fit that bust, which change the shape of the final sloper dramatically. Just the question of where to position the bust dart is worth a whole series of tutorials. Someday maybe I'll get around to doing the adult sloper. Like when I get a personal chef. But not today.

Please remember that this is a sloper, not a pattern. So this series will NOT address questions like,
  • "so what style of dress will this be?" or
  • "How tall is your 5-year old? I want to know if this pattern (ptoooi!) will fit my 5-year old."

It WILL, however, address questions like,
  • "So now that I have a sloper, how can I adapt it to make patterns?" and
  • "So how can I use it with my commercial patterns?"

For my attempt to explain the differences between a sloper and a pattern, see here.

In the following tutorials, I will use some real measurements but I will not reveal the age of the child from which they were taken. This is to help you resist the temptation to copy all my numbers and recreate my sloper and subsequently be still unable to draft one for your own child/niece/unsuspecting young model you bribed into practising on.
And finally, when all is said, drafted and done, make a muslin/mockup and try it on your model! Straight away, you will get a visual, 3-D idea of what you did right, and what you did not-so-right. Often it takes two fittings, maybe more, to refine all the funny bits. And usually you will be making small alterations - 1/2" to 1" changes. If you find yourself taking in something like 3" in the hip, you're probably adding way to much ease and forgetting that this is a sloper, not a pattern. It's OK to start over! And now that you've seen the effect of your drafting on the actual model, you might be surprised at how much better and faster the second time around is.

Here is the revised measurement table you can print out. The more time I spent on it, the more I added to it, so it has more changes to it than I originally intended. But it flows with the sloper tutorial instructions better now!

Next week: The Front Sloper

P.S. I've deliberately changed my post feed setup to "short" for this series so you'll have to come back here to read the full post. One main reason: there is so much information to be packed in to each drafting post that I am quite certain to overlook something/write stuff I'll want to change 2 seconds after publishing it. This is my control-freak way of dynamically editing and updating these posts whenever something comes to mind. I'll be posting full feeds for all the other non-drafting posts. Thank you for understanding!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Seven Songs

Some people were nice enough to send some awards my way in recent (and not so recent) weeks, and I wanted to acknowledge them here.

Honey from Mondorfment and Kia from Green Chicken 31 gave me the Versatile Blogger Award - thank you!

Kari from Moo Said The Mama gave me the Blog With Substance award - thank you!

I regret to say that I (as usual) shall be breaking the rules and not passing these awards on to other people. I shall instead (as usual) make a list of random nonsense from my life for your entertainment. Today's random topic is Songs - and I present here a very small sampling of the somewhat eclectic music I listen to. I am leaving out ABBA, sadly, so as not to reveal how ancient I am. Oops, I think just mentioning that was a mistake.

Seven Songs

1 Currently Stuck In My Head:
Coldplay's Viva La Vida

2 Hippest Version Of Church Staple:

3 Hands Down Absolute Best for Long Car Rides On The Interstate (Watch your Speedometer!)

4 Most Likely To Inspire (and Despair) Me To Play The Congas
Mongo Santamaria's Obatala

5 Most Fabulous Guitar Played With Nine Digits (or any digits)
Phil Keaggy's anything. OK, I'll pick one song.... one of his acoustic pieces .... The Wind And The Wheat

6 Quirkiest aka Best Song To Practise Funny Voices Along With
Throat Culture's Easter Island Head

7 My Wedding Processional, which still gives me goosebumps
Ennio Morricone's Gabriel's Oboe

Monday, July 26, 2010


My apologies- I hit the "publish button" before I realized what I'd done. If you found my drafting-preamble post on your aggregator, I apologize, because it is full of nonsense. Please delete it. The real post will be up in a couple of days.

How To Sew A Small Bag When You Are 3 (and 5) Years Old

Technical update: The computer is back home after several days in the repair shop. It now works, but it isn't quite its old self. Our photo library, for instance, is weird. The superior husband is working on it some more, but even then, it might be some time before I can access my photos for the drafting series (or offload any more from our camera).

Meanwhile, I do have a couple of posts I was working on before the computer keeled over and died. I offer one of them for your happy distraction - the one about the crazy sewing lesson, which happened a whole week ago almost:

Last week I was in Joann's and Jenna said to me, "Look, Mum - sewing lessons!"

I looked - and, true enough, children of varying ages placidly sat at sewing machines, patiently watching an instructor demonstrating er.. whatever it was she was demonstrating. I couldn't resist - I smiled at the instructor when I caught her eye and asked her what they were making.

"Pillowcases!" she called back, enthusiastically.

High fives for all the parents who enrolled their kids in that class. I'm not sure I would personally want to learn how to make a pillowcase if I were 8 years old, but they were learning to sew, and that is always a good thing. I wanted to hug the instructor, and thank her, and tell her she was Making A Difference In The Lives Of Today's Youth etc. etc. But my children started to run away and I felt obliged to follow at least one of them.

Fast forward to today and Emily said, "Mum, I want to sew something."
"OK. How about that blue skirt that's all cut out and ready to put together? Or a small bag?"

She picked the bag. And immediately, Jenna wanted to sew too. Kate, thankfully, wanted to continue playing with small plastic Disney princesses.

Want a peek into Sewing Class at Chez Ikatbag aka Crazyville?

OK, here goes:

We looked in my stash and found nothing. Emily said, "We need girl cloth and boy cloth. Why don't you have boy cloth, Mum?"
"Because I don't have boys." was my clever answer.

So we looked in Emily's stash of random fat quarters (all girl cloth) and picked one, which she cut into thirds: "Mum, these are great scissors!" said Emily. "You should stop making me use kitchen scissors to cut my cloth."

Point taken.

Then we had the girls choose grosgrain ribbons for bag handles

and had them learn to measure
and cut.
Then we folded the rest of the fabric, rolled up the ribbons and cleared our workspace before sewing. All hypocritical nonsense, considering the state of the sewing room whenever I'm the one doing the cutting and sewing. But well, "do what Mum says, dears; don't do what Mum does" is the only way the kids are going to learn good sewing habits, I fear.

Decided that since Jenna was sewing too, and as these weren't garments, we'd leave the edges raw and not bother with the serger. So I pinned down a hem on each of the short edges, and attached the ribbons.
Then I drew, with a marker, the sewing lines right across all those pins.
And Emily went first. "Where's that thing that makes you sew backwards?" was her first question.

Proud moment #1- not only did she remember what the machine did, she was even sounding exactly like her momma, who also doesn't know what most of the machine parts are called.
Four lines of straight-stitch, most of which she did on her own (and I could take photos) and she was done.

She said, "I need to make 10 bags, mum. I want to give them away to my (ex)classmates and sell some at a garage sale. Jenna can help sew."

Proud moment #2 - my children have inherited my mass-production genes.

Kate sashayed over, took a ribbon, sat at the sewing machine, declared, "My sew ribbon!" and started to press buttons. Quickly unplugged the cord from the wall socket and explained that she'd have to wait till she was slightly older.

Then it was Jenna's turn - she floored the pedal and said, "Erm, too fast? He he he."

I helped her guide the fabric under the needle and she sewed her own bag. When she had finished, she ran away to play with something else. Kate came up and grabbed the bag and filled it with "(s)parkle markers that are (s)quishy" (glitter glue pens). And sped off with the hijacked bag to the car for the ride to the supermarket.
Breathless! I had to sit down on the floor (full of fabric scraps, ribbon fragments and plastic princesses) to collect myself when it was all over. Not at all like that peaceful JoAnn sewing class. My students are getting younger and younger. I can barely keep up. But they are learning to sew. And that is always a good thing.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Murphy's Law

Well, whaddya know - our hard disk crashed.
Just after I told the entire internet (well, whoever cares to read this blog, anyway) that I was going to do our super-crazy-ambitious drafting series. It must be a sign.

Our computer is in the shop now, being fixed. Fortunately, thanks to the very superior foresight of the very superior husband, we have a very superior backup system that automatically backs up every hour, so we didn't lose any data. But we have no access to our extensive photo library, or scanner software, or iTunes or anything lovely like that, until the computer comes back from the shop.

I feel very pleased that I am suffering no withdrawal symptoms at all!

We said, "oh well, no computer for a few days. Let's go to the park! Whee!" and

"Hey, now we have to dig up our old CDs and actually put them into our (cobwebby) hifi set and press Play, if we want music! Whoo- just like our parents did! That's so 1990s!"

Or it could also be that we (again, fortunately) have three other Macs/MacBooks in the house in. No photo library, no iTunes, no scanner software, no means to offload photos from our camera, no nothing, but we still have the internet. And access to archives.

So anyway, since I have no new photos to show you and you all seem to like photos, I thought I'd do two things:

(i) pick a random photo from the archives of our photo-hosting site:

Whoa! Too random. Toooooooo random.

(But notice - I actually had painted nails in my pre-children days.)

OK, let's try again:
Ah, the lovely Millenium Falcon, close up.
Niiiiiiiiiice, but still a bit random.

Ah, yes, maybe this one:

Grandma's old needle case, which now lives with me. It er... conveniently fell into one of the moving boxes when we left Singapore.

I mentioned I'd do two things. The second is to wish you all a lovely computer-free weekend, although I hope yours won't need to actually crash to liberate you.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Series on Drafting

Well, it's been a while since the last sighting of cardboard on this blog, hasn't it? We've been outside so much these warm summer days that my glue gun is in temporary retirement, till maybe winter. My apologies to those of you who visit with hopes of scoring crafts to do with your kids and instead find nothing but sewing, sewing, sewing and whining about sewing. I'm afraid it's going to get


I am ridiculously excited to be finally doing a series on drafting here on the blog! I've always wanted to share this, but hadn't felt comfortable also sharing its inexactness. I was lucky enough to be forced to learn this in Homec. It was a good, if painful, start. However, most of my real learning was from mum as a teenager and, later in my adult life, from Auntie Laura. Both have drafted from scratch for years (learnt, in turn, from grandma, who was a tailor), and those years of experience have given them such skill in free-hand drafting that they do it "by feel". I am less of a "by feel" person with drafting - I blame my Science training - I've always felt I needed more precise, objective methods of measuring and drawing. I mean, where mum/Auntie L. would effortlessly sketch a perfect armscye freehand, I would whimper, "Can I use compasses? Protractor?" which was always met with a mixture of scorn and pity. Incidentally, we did have french curves in the house, but I wasn't even capable of using those.

Also, while I did a lot of drafting as a teenager and all through my early twenties, I took a decade's break from it while I was in the workforce. By the time I'd retired from my job (hurrah!) to have my babies and was ready to resume sewing, I could hardly remember all the little tips and tricks that I'd learnt as a younger person. Yes, I had access to books but books can only give one the very basics and none of the practical three-dimensional experience (let alone tricks) that make all the difference in doing it really well. It was frustrating to actually know how to do it and remember that I was once good-ish at it, and yet, 10+ years later, produce hideous, hideous drafts time after time. Those were dark days. Very dark days.

So I waited till I could spend some time with mum and Auntie L. in Singapore to refresh my memory and learn a lot of new old stuff. Then I drafted slopers for everyone who was unfortunate enough to be within grabbing distance - and made a lot of patterns from my own sloper and sewed them up. And started to document the process. Happily, with each experimental draft, especially the awful ones, the fog cleared a little more. It wasn't so much getting the answers - it was elucidating the right questions to ask. "What am I doing wrong?" became the most valuable pathway to getting a better fit. Re-exploring old territory with a new map was ridiculously exciting.

But what's even more ridiculously exciting is that I am teaming up with my very oldest friend Jen from My Measuring Tape to do this series! She is a TAILOR. We went to school together, studied under the same homec curriculum, sewed all through our teenage/adult years, and swore to be each other's maids of honor at our weddings. Someday, when our kids are old enough to be left behind, we are going to fly off to Japan/the world and fabric-shop by ourselves, like the repressed maniacs that we are. She runs a sewing business, in which she tailors clothes for people (not to mention herself, the husband, the daughter.......) And when I say clothes, here's what I mean:

I cannot count the number of times I've gone to her for advice - sewing and other kinds. Or the late-night emails (late night for me, early morning for her) we've exchanged about life, daughters and drafting issues -how to draft for unusually-shaped bodies, how to shape darts, where and when to add ease. There is no other sewing peer in my generation that I hold in higher esteem than her. I am relieved, proud, excited (said that already) to have her do this series with me. You are in good hands with her!So here's the plan: This will not be one of those beautifully-photographed fortnights of inspirational features of things you can whip up with fabric from your stash. Hey, it might not even involve fabric! It could be a little technical for those of you less familiar with drafting slopers and patterns. But so many people have written to ask me about this topic that I thought I might finally do it! We're going to spread it out over about two months to give everyone time to digest everything (and us time to take the hundreds of photos). Here's what we're thinking of:
  • An overview of drafting (as we learnt it and now do it)
  • How to draft an full-body sloper for a child, including the sleeve block
  • How to use the sloper with commercial patterns to (ideally) make those patterns fit your child better
  • How to use the sloper to make your own patterns
  • How to draft different kinds of sleeves
  • How to draft different kinds of necklines
and a little fun feature at the end on 25 (and counting!) different pockets, including patch, welt, zippered welt, inseam and inset/cut-in pockets.

Ah, I hear you asking already: Why not slopers for adults? Let's just say that we'll try kids' slopers first, and see how all that goes down for everyone, before diving into darts and pleats and tucks and princess seams.

So if you've ever wanted to try making your own patterns, or have heard about slopers, follow along with us! We don't promise to take the place of a proper dressmakers' class - we're just sharing what we do, and we hope you enjoy it. Are you as ridiculously excited as we are? Grab our button for your blog, spread the word and come visit us this summer!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Gearing Up

Here are some of my incomplete /nowhere-even-near-started projects (the ones I can actually tell you about, I mean):
  • One yellow tunic
  • 25++ pockets
  • One Toadstool/Fairy Pattern
  • One denim skirt
  • One formal dress for self for important party
  • One blouse for very important family member
  • About one thousand cardboard projects
  • One knit dress for self for no reason
  • Several knit dresses for girls
and there I went, shopping for fancy trims and Tshirt knits
for Renaissance Festival costumes. I love sewing costumes - so over-the-top.

What pattern? Simplicity? Ottobre? Burda? McCalls?

Nay, fair damsels: Old ladybird children's books:

Let's see how they turn out! Off to the market now with the kids - the sun just came out. Sewing can wait.