Friday, February 28, 2014

The Frock - Darted Sloper (2.1) in Knit

More drafting!

Today we are deconstructing The Frock.

First, some brag shots to show you the dress itself and all its lines.

These photos make me laugh because this dress is so not-me. I made it to wear to a relative's wedding last year. I could've worn pants and boots, or a random skirt and blouse, but it was a summer wedding and summer in Minnesota is precious enough to want to dress up for. Also, every now and then, just for the practice, I like to kick myself out of my comfort zone: I'd never sewn-by-draping before AND I don't wear frocks. Two birds killed with the one stone.

What's even funnier than me in this dress is how I started sewing it when I didn't actually know what it was going to look like ultimately. Hahahaha! I started out with just a vague idea that it would be a cross-over wrap front with a pleated tummy panel, sleeves (didn't know what kind) and some kind of drapey skirt (didn't know what kind). The entire process was "draft, cut, sew, fit, and take a break of several days to meditate on how to salvage the mess". Nothing like living dangerously.

Drafting and sewing it was easy, but it was not an instant-fit-from-sloper sort of garment. Reasons:
  1. The wrap design means there are fixed seams (like the side ones) and there are moving pieces. And one does not know how the moving pieces will lay on each other until they are on the body, with the fixed seams in place.
  2. As said, this dress needed a combination of draping and drafting in order to get the fit I wanted. This means that I drafted the basic pattern, then added all kinds of extra length and width and curves here and there, cut it out and then gathered and pinned like there was no tomorrow. There are no darts at all in the front bodice. The draping was to compensate for their absence, while creating a clean silhouette.
  3. It is in knit fabric, which means there is the lovely extra consideration of the stretch factor. Which one can take into account if one wants in the drafting process, provided the garment is designed to uniformly stretch everywhere. And provided that one actually wants one's squidgy bits accentuated by a tightly-stretched garment. No, thank you. Instead, this dress was designed to have no stretch across the upper bodice (at least in the outermost layer), diagonal gathers in lieu of armscye darts and horizontal pleats in lieu of both the vertical waist darts and contoured side seams.
  4. The majority of the stretch was confined to the lining. Specifically, the lining was deliberately made from a hold-in-the-squidgy-body-bits fabric. I used swimsuit lining because I was too lazy to leave the house to buy powernet. 
  5. Because the outer and lining layers were performing completely different functions (toga on the outside, leotard on the inside), the two layers were from different patterns. The lining layer was cut as a fitted garment (directly from the French dart sloper) and the outer layer was cut from a combination of the French dart sloper and dartless slopers, plus draping. So draped-dartless on the outside and fitted-darted on the inside. 
This dress is interesting to dissect for two reasons:

One, it's an example of one of how to make a shaping dress. Any garment that shapes our post-baby waistlines is a good garment to learn to make, right? Even if you hate the design, the techniques and principles are a bit helpful, I thought. Specifically, with appropriate fabric,

  • gathers can be made tight for support, angled for a darted effect and loose for draping and decoration.
  • a lining can be used for support and shaping, and not only to restore modesty to a thin outer fabric or conceal seam allowances.
  • its weight can have a happy streamlined effect on the body. Heavy fabrics e.g. linen, wool, jersey, rayon, hang on one's body and don't ride up as one moves. Working with knit means that as the garment is stretched horizontally across one's body, it also shortens vertically to compensate. The weight of a heavy knit (or the additional fabric of the skirt of the dress) pulls the bodice fabric back down so that the stretch is four-way and proportional. The overall effect are clean, smooth lines.

Two, it's an example of how to flit between dartless and darted. Or of how to use both darted and dartless in the same location on your body. Or of how to use the effects of darted in a dartless way.

This all sounds very vague, so let's get specific with some diagrams.

Beginning with the back - because it is the most straightforward - here is a sketch to show how The Frock's back bodice was derived from the regular block/sloper. It is just the top half, with a little extension below the waist to match the front's tummy panel. The back pieces of both the outer layer and the lining layer are identical.

Here is an overview sketch of the front drafts,

which we will examine in sections.

First, we took the French Dart Sloper and cropped off the portion we need, which is the top half, plus the region of the abdomen and hips. 

We kept the armscye bust dart (1), to ensure that the armscye fit snugly. However, we didn't leave it as a dart, turning it instead into gathers because they are more consistent with the style of this dress.

This snug armscye, when set with a sleeve, 

now does not gape.

We removed the french dart and vertical waist darts and, in their place, accordian-folded the abdomen and hip region into a high-recovery panel (2)

We also contoured the resulting side seams inwards (3) to compensate for the darts. This principle was explained in an earlier post in which we created a dartless sloper by removing the darts from a darted sloper. 
Case in point: see red arrow - that topmost pleat/gather is at an angle, impersonating a french dart. And if you scroll back up to the brag shots at the beginning of this post, you'll be able to see how those gathers aren't all horizontal, instead draping at angles across the underbust area, duplicating the effect of bust darts.

The newly-undarted front bodice was then ready to be adapted into its wrap halves.

We slashed diagonally across the chest as shown (4) in mirror image to create the two layers of the composite front. The outer layer remains as is, but the inner layer gets its tummy panel portion cropped off in favor of a slightly dropped waist (5) that matches the back draft. This leaves just one, outermost layer for tummy-control duties; the bulk of two layers' worth of gathers would have nullified this effect altogether.

Next, we drafted the lining of the front bodice. 

To match the outer garment layer, the draft was again slashed across the chest. Because this fabric (swimsuit lining) was so stretchy, the armscye dart could be removed (6) without danger of gaping, and the bottom of the armscye raised to compensate. To achieve a streamlined fit, the waist darts (7) were preserved. 

Here are some photos of The Frock turned inside out, so you can see this streamlined effect, even while the lining is compressing all the layers of gathers and pleats underneath. 

There is a simple facing on the diagonal neckline.

As mentioned earlier, the back lining has the same vertical waist darts as the outer back,

with one slight difference - the back lining darts are full-length (i.e. they come up to the shoulder blades) for maximum support and streamlining,

while the back outer darts are very short-  just enough to take in the ease in the small of the back while the side seams do the rest. 

Then, the dress was assembled. The 4 layers of the front bodice and the 2 layers of the back bodice were sewn together, tested for fit, and then attached to a semi-circular skirt (and its lining). I toyed with various skirt styles, including the fail-safe A-line. Eventually, the semi-circular won - in spite of it making me look even shorter than I am- because its drape seemed to flow with the rest of the dress.

Finally, the sleeves. I tried various, more streamlined styles and eventually gave in and ruched it. Ruching is too fancy for me, personally,

 but it goes with the rest of this dress, so I let it be.

The top of the sleeve is ruched with elastic

 and the bottom gathered in place with pleats.

Here is a full-frontal shot of the dress, which I couldn't take while wearing it,

(or the straight-on back shot, for that matter,

not to mention a three-quarter back view without twisty contortions).

And did you notice there is no zipper? Whoo. But the best part? I can scrunch it in a ball and throw it in an overnight bag (along with my pearls). Frock or no, this dress is definitely growing on me. I never would've guessed.

Monday, February 24, 2014


Special announcement: 

Today's frog button tutorial tutorial is brought to you by my mother Mae!
From 3 years ago!
Which is how long it took me to finally post it!
Which is the story of my life.

So, here's the story: I first made frog buttons many years ago when I was a teacher and we needed a sample blouse for the seamstress hired to sew competition costumes for our high school choir. 

I sewed this blouse and made the buttons to match, after which we found someone who was able to custom-mass-produce them, based on the sample design. 

I was lucky that Mum could make the ball knot because being a traditional garment element, it wasn't something people in my generation had as part of their sewing repertoire (if they sewed at all, I mean). Centuries passed, during which I completely forgot how to make the ball knot so when my parents were visiting us here in the US three years ago, I had Mum refresh my memory. I took a series of still photos of its various stages, bought some brocade in anticipation of making a blouse to showcase the buttons, and then got distracted by other projects and babies growing up and preschool chauffeur duties. Late last year, I unearthed those photos and decided that if I didn't do something about them now, I never would. 

I think it's very exciting to have my parents teach you stuff because they are amazing people who know the strangest and most wonderful dying-art variety of techniques. I wish they lived closer (or at least in the same country) because I'd be filming them a lot more often to preserve all the things they know. I want to do this more but it's challenging because when we do meet, we'd rather just hang out and enjoy each other's company than collect tutorial fodder. Anyway, you get to share what I do have so far- that one tutorial by Dad on marbling paper, and today's, in which you'll see Mum's hands in action, making the Chinese Button Knot.

Some preamble before we actual begin the tutorial. 

A frog button

consists of two parts: 
  1. the part that actually does the clasping/toggling, which is either a ball knot or a loop, and 
  2. the decorative part that you stitch onto your garment, and which is loopy and beautiful and looks like a frog.

Then you'd combine one frog (with a knot) and another frog (with a loop) 

and they make a pair/set of frog buttons/closures. And then you make a couple more pairs/sets and you'll have enough to fasten a typical qipao (or qipao-style blouse).

The most important part of the frog clasp/frog toggle/frog button is the knot. As I mentioned in this earlier post, the frog portion is purely decorative and, in the case of masculine garments, even completely absent. The knot-and-loop, though, is what makes the closure work at all, so we're going to spend an obscene amount of time and effort to do that today.

In the following photos and video, we're using a thick cord for visibility, but real frog knots are obviously made with much thinner trim or bias tape. 

Step 1
Loop cord over hand.

Step 2
Take right-most cord

and loop it over your thumb.

Step 3
Take that thumb loop, flip it

and lay it over the first loop. Prepare to pull that underlying bit of cord up.

Step 4
Pull that underlying cord up into a short loop.

Step 5
Take the left hanging cord, bring it under/behind the right cord, and insert it into that short loop, 

from front to back.

Adjust and tighten to form this knot. Note that the knot is still perched on your finger like a ring. Do not slide it off your finger. It needs to remain there throughout the entire knot-tying procedure. Also, see that hole in the middle of the knot? We're going to be inserting the two trailing ends of the cord through that hole.

Step 6
Pass the top cord under/behind the bottom cord, going anticlockwise to the 3 o'clock position on the right,

inserting it through the hole from the bottom up,

like so.  Pull the cord all the way up through the hole.

Step 7
Take the bottom cord next, passing it behind/under that first, top cord, in an anti-clockwise direction, 

until it reaches the 9 o'clock position on the left. Then insert it into the same middle hole,

 from the bottom up.

Pull the cord all the way up. You will now have both cords sticking out of the hole, side-by-side,

with the whole knotty mess still perched on your finger.  Slide everything off your finger, and begin tightening the loops (it's okay to tighten even that loop that was wrapped around your finger, and it is okay if it "disappears").

If you flatten the knot out, it should look like this - even and symmetrical.

Further tightening will result in a snug little ball.

Here is a video I made to show you that whole sequence in action, including my unsystematic fumbling in the second half as I tighten the knot. I refused to edit it out so that you'd know that it's perfectly okay to dig around and pull and poke and take forever to get a nice, tight sphere. Just click on the image below to go to the video on Youtube.

Those are my hands in the video, by the way, not Mum's. If they'd been Mum's, there wouldn't have been fumbling.

Having learned to make the ball knot, we can now go wild and design the elaborate, swirly, loopy frog portion of the closure that gives it its name.

Let's first talk about materials. 
Generally, you can make frog closures from any kind of narrow tape, trim or cord. The flatter the strip, the easier it is to coil tightly. Different tape/trim/cord will also produce different textures and looks. Long ago, people made their own fabric 'cord' for these buttons. They meticulously hand-stitched strips of fabric into flat tubes, and then knotted and wound them into the balls and frogs themselves. Nowadays, with access to all kinds of ready-made trims and cords, we can afford to be a little less "from scratch" and just enjoy the button-making process itself.

Very traditional frog buttons were sometimes made stiffer with thin copper wire inserts. This was often the case with soft satin frogs on brocade garments - the cord was hand-made from skinny capillary tubes of satin, threaded through with fine copper wire and then the frog loops and design formed. The copper wire helped hold the shape of the frog, but you had to be very careful when laundering the garment in question. In the old days, everything was gently and lovingly hand-washed on a corrugated washboard over a basin of water, so this was not a problem. Naturally, I, being a paragon of traditional practices, tossed mine in the electric washer, the unhappy result of which was all the copper wire bits poking out from the bottom of the buttons and me, aghast, muttering, "Where the hell did all this metal come from? It looks like an electromagnet moulting!" I am very rarely profane, but this was one of those times of great duress when, in the face of irreversible trauma to one of my favorite garments, I weakened and behaved uncharacteristically heathen. Needless to mention, the poor blouse was never quite the same. 

As we were saying before the nightmare flashback, any strip of fabric can be used to make frogs. Bias tape is an easy option, but be prepared to stitch the fold shut so it behaves like a single-layered strip. I like using these straight trims - they are like satin ric-rac, but straight. We buy them in Singapore on cards like these.

Here is a more rounded (tubular) trim I found in JoAnn. This is a good option if you're planning to make the simple loops typical of the cloverleaf-style commercial frog closures found on the notions wall in American fabric stores. For coils, this rounded trim might be a little more challenging,

although it can still be done:

Incidentally, that flat fancy knot just behind the loop and ball in the photo above is the same ball knot flattened out. See?

Next, let's talk about variations, beginning with the very simplest- just a straight band with either a knot or a loop at the end, without any "frog". This kind of closure is common in men's garments.

Now, let's actually make some frogs. We begin with the knot (we'll tackle the loop counterpart later).

Make the knot, leaving about 6" trailing ends of trim with which to make the frog portion.

It is a good idea to seal the ends (I used Fray-check) if your material unravels easily.

One simple variation is just coils. Experiment with those trailing ends of trim to determine how long they'd need to be to make a coil (or two) of the size you want. Remember that, depending on the design of your frog, you might be starting with the loose end 

and coiling inwards towards the knot (or loop), stitching through the entire coil to secure it as you work.

Here is a finished example of frogs made with coils of satin tape. 

Here is another coil design, plus a fancy flat knot that I showed you earlier.

This is a variation of a central coil surrounded by loops, in a contrasting double-strand of woven trim,

the same kind I used in my frogs:

When making the knot button, I start with the knot, and then loop and coil around it to create the frog.

When making the loop counterpart, I start with the coils and swirls of the frog, and then make the (centrally-located) loop halfway through the process. Here are some photos of that sequence.

I began with a small coil, separate and complete. That was set aside until needed later.

Then I made a larger coil and, with the trailing end of the trim, began to form loops, adding the second, darker strand of trim as an inner layer. The smaller coil from above was then introduced and more loops formed around it, including the actual Loop that will receive the Knot from its button-partner.

Stitch through the layers of trim to hold everything in place, sewing over the back side, but keeping the front clear of stitching thread. 

The completed loop button.

Pairs of frogs.

Another variations of double coils and double loops:

A rosebud variation: a single coil with a pair of flanking loops for leaves.

Quite a different variation: arcs of cord.

Let's end by discussing how to attach the frog buttons to a garment.

Frog buttons are bona fide fasteners, but they are best placed where they are visible (because they're also highly decorative) and easy to manipulate. We often use only two to four pairs on a garment, and position them on the chest and neck, assigning snaps (press-studs) to the less accessible areas, like the side seam or armpit.

We also often supplement them with additional press-studs, for overall more secure closure.

There is always a frog button at the neck. Correctly placed, the knot and loop themselves should lie along the seam joining the collar to the garment. This (the photo below) is wrong. I initially sewed my frogs higher on the collar than they should be because I didn't want to smoosh the frogs against my collarbone. 

Later, I decided I couldn't stand them being wrong and unpicked them. This (photo below) is better because the curve of the collar is no longer obscured and sits more naturally against the neck. So what if the frog loops get smooshed (actually, they didn't - although in the photo, I failed to align the collar properly on Fleur, so the right frog looks traumatized). 


Now you are frog experts. And can make your own qipaos. And also aodais (which are qipao-style tunics worn with flowy pants). And are no longer intimidated by fashion that's beyond your natural culture. And soon you will be sewing sarees! Kurtas! Kimonos! Hanboks! Kebayas! Baju kurongs!

But here we must return to the familiar world of western fashion. I have a sleeve tutorial coming up, plus the deconstruction of The Frock. Overload of drafting posts, in other words. I blame the weather.