Saturday, April 6, 2019

Sometimes I cheat-draft

Now that the snow is all gone (hurrah), how is everyone doing?

I have so missed being here on this old blog!

Just last night, as I was mentally composing this post, I wondered, "Does anyone even write blogs anymore, or is that just too old school?" 

After all, it's all Twitter and Instagram and Pinterest these days - it sorta feels like if we can't say what we want to say in a witty hashtag or via single snapshot, no one's going to take the time to read it, doesn't it?

Blogging, I realized with dawning horror, could thus well be obsolete.

I mean, who has the attention span to digest entire paragraphs? Or peruse a tutorial that isn't a videoclip with tinkly music and all the real-time (i.e. slow) bits edited out?

Regardless, I shall blog on. First, because I have old school genes, and second, because I don't do succinct very well. Sad fact.

But you might be wondering about that random panda-face photo. And maybe even that weird title.

Let us begin by saying that my children are older now than they were when I began writing this blog. I remember sewing a lot of child-needed things then, like clothes and costumes and gifts and toys. Those were the glory days of handmade everythings, at least in our family. Inspiration was frantic and abundant and I had both the time and desperate need to turn idea into reality (and then shamelessly brag-blog about it).

As many of my long-time readers might know, I don't use commercial patterns, for reasons that are largely cultural (if so inclined, you can read about it here). In the context of sewing clothes for my kids, this translated to drafting from scratch whatever I needed to make. And as my kids kept growing and needing new clothes every few months or so, that meant a lot of drafting. 

Loads of fun, it turned out. For one thing, it was liberating to be able to make something wearable out of literally just numbers. For another, there was a comforting method to it: locate a child, measure the child, draft her sloper (typically valid for one year, or until the next growth spurt), adapt that into specific garment patterns, sew clothes. 

As needed, I still draft my kids' clothes now, but it's harder because the kids in question are seldom at home to measure and fit. Which is a disappointing inconvenience particularly around a deadline. And then there are those weird occasions when you want to make an outfit for a secret gift but don't want the recipients wise to your intentions. Obviously, dragging a measuring tape up and down their body would be a dead giveaway.

In such situations, I cheat-draft. This means different things to different people but to me it means I take an existing garment my child owns and which she miraculously has not yet outgrown and use that as a starting point in place of actual body measurements. I have her put this garment on and then note which parts fit well, which parts don't, and the exact numerical changes that need to happen to those sub-par parts. Then I trace out on paper the various sections (front, back, sleeve, etc.) of that existing garment and adjust the seamlines, hems and other features to reflect those numerical changes to make the new, custom pattern. I think of this as a first muslin, one which I didn't actually have to sew but which I'm butchering anyway in order to perfect the fit.

Interestingly, drafting this way isn't necessarily faster than drafting from scratch, much as it may so sound. The tracing, for instance, easily goes awry - it is challenging to lay an assembled 3-D garment flat enough to replicate accurate seam lines on paper, let alone isolate the various sections so they don't accidentally overlap. I often find myself re-tracing and re-plotting and re-measuring. Unspeakably inefficient, but we do what we can - ultimately, it's still better than guessing (which I've sometimes also had to do)!

Today, I thought I'd share a recent instance of such cheat-drafting at chez ikatbag. Quick digression first: there are times when I've scrolled through other sewing blogs and marveled at the technical language and almost architectural precision with which a clothing pattern is drafted. Having some drafting experience myself but having it not come from reading modern drafting books, I might get the gist of it but most of it typically goes way over my head. I also find myself asking, "yes, that's a formulaically-faithful rendering of seam-lines and adjustments but what does it look like and feel like on an actual wearer's body? Are they comfortable? Can they freely move their limbs?" 

Then I think about my own drafting posts and how confusing they might be for my readers. Consider: not everyone deconstructs things in their heads the way I do. Or gets excited about the conceptual relationship between a curve on a paper pattern and the distribution of flesh around someone's armpit. Maybe what I consider layman's terms (which I regularly make up) like "seam shaping" and "darting the hollows" sound to other people like I'm throwing around technical jargon, too. And remember that series on women's slopers? The one in which we converted one kind of sloper to another without ever producing an actual garment pattern at the end of it? Summa y'alls must've been, "What is this even."

So: cheat-drafting today, okay? No jargon, but we'll still discuss fit, because fit is the essence of any kind of good and useful drafting. Think of it as a short cut, an everyman's (or woman's) approach to garment making. 

A few years ago, Kate decided she liked onesie PJs, particularly the sort that doubled as an animal disguise. I believe it began as a Halloween costume idea (finally one of the more sensible styles for a Minnesotan-temperatured Halloween). You guys might remember this hilarious and charming ensemble of human-as-animal and animal-as-vegetable

I drafted this outfit from Kate's then-dimensions. I don't remember much about the process other than what a fun change it was to draft something that didn't require a to-the-skin fit. Obviously it had to sit well on Kate's frame without inappropriate and uncomfortable sagging or pulling, 

but it was forgiving enough to have been worn by any other similarly-sized child.

Note that the legs and sleeves end in simple hems, which are congruent with the clean lines of this outfit. Later iterations of this onesie design (which we'll see in the coming photos) swop in cuffs for hems.

Fast forward 3 years to Halloween 2018, when Kate reprised her animal onesie costume theme and asked to be a deer.

Obviously, the draft from 2015 was no longer viable, so I started from scratch. And in grand Halloween tradition, I procrastinated, so that by the time I was ready to draft the outfit, Kate was in school and unavailable for measuring.  No numbers to work with and no model to fit. Curses!

Enter cheat-drafting. At the time, Kate owned a thin store-bought unicorn onesie that she was on the brink of outgrowing: not sloper-tight, but still sufficiently close-fitting that it provided a good representation of her natural dimensions. I dragged the thing onto huge sheets of drafting paper, laboriously traced out the seams of each part (without unpicking any) and then set to adjusting the overall fit. I made it a little bigger - not only because Kate had grown since, but also because she'd requested it be suitable for accommodating cartwheels and other acrobatic acts (as deer must surely perform in their natural habitats), and the fact that it had to be worn over regular clothes. So more give in the leg-to-crotch length, as well as a roomier girth, plus cuffs at the wrists and ankles to keep the limbs from riding up when she was upside down. 

Still relatively clean lines, apart from the puddling at the ankles and wrists because of the cuffs.

Two months later, one of Kate's sisters floated the idea of another bunny suit for a Christmas gift. After all, we reasoned together, the 2015 bunny suit was too small now, but while it did fit, it was much loved, and extensively used. It would be a quick sew - I'd use the deer pattern and simply give it bunny features. 

Alas, I'd tossed out the deer draft. 

Since I usually just whip up new drafts from the kids' most current measurements whenever I need them, I seldom save paper patterns. Especially when I don't foresee making the same outfit a second time (who does that?)

Curses again.

More cheat-drafting, then - for reasons of secrecy, this time. Decided to trace the deer suit itself, since it fit. Besides, how much could a child grow in 2 months?

The child, it turns out, not so much. The pattern, on the other hand . . .  

When you cheat-draft a pattern from a previous cheat-draft, quite a bit gets lost in the translation, as it were. Note that armhole seam, for instance - already jutting beyond Kate's natural shoulder point in the deer onesie (first generation cheat-draft), it had in this bunny suit (second-generation cheat draft) slid unceremoniously down her bicep. 

Which, had I the opportunity to actually fit Kate before completing the garment, I'd have shrieked at and immediately corrected. Sadly, the first time I beheld it on Kate was on Christmas morning after she'd unwrapped it. 

And because Kate was thrilled, I forced my inner (cringing) seamstress into reticent submission and chose instead to celebrate her joy.

Better voluminous than too tight, I further rationalized. Especially for PJs.

Weep not, friends - redemption forthcometh. Read on!

Bizarre shoulders notwithstanding, I saved the paper pattern this time - a fortuitous decision because this past weekend, Kate turned 11 and announced, "For my birthday, I would like a panda suit next," as if there existed a bucket list of animal outfits she were checking off with each milestone celebration.

I gleefully obliged because - whoo hoo - I had the pattern all ready to lay out!

Until I googled "panda" and observed the distinct black and white color blocking on a panda's body. Apparently, while its limbs are black against an otherwise white torso, the black of its arms continues over its shoulders and into a band over its upper back. 

Raglan sleeves it was, then. The original set-in sleeves, with their mysteriously-migrating sleeve caps, needed a major overhaul anyway.

A quick armscye conversion later, we had those black panda arms-and-shoulders.

And here is Kate in her panda onesie. Again, no opportunity to fit her beforehand because it was a secret gift. And while it's still voluminous,

(the better to represent the fullness of real-life panda bodies, one might say)

it's all good for the obligatory calisthenics.

And now you know the story behind that panda face - 

and its moral: while it is liberatingly okay and sometimes even advantageous to cheat-draft, repeated and cascading cheat-drafting is like taking a photo of a photo of a photo: if you squint hard enough, you might just about make out what the original looked like.

Still, as there is no doubt that this is merely one of many more animals Kate will add to her list, I declare this method adequate and - because I saved that pattern - time-saving :) 


  1. Wow, so many amazing costumes - and they look perfectly cozy for playing! What fabrics do you prefer to use fit these onesies? I've been routine with the idea of making one for my (very adult) self and I'm torn between the cost of nice warm fabrics and the staticness of cheap polyester...
    Also, please do continue blogging! I think a lot of people still love blogs. They serve a different niche, their long-form content cannot be replaced by quick and short Instagram pictures.
    Greetings from Germany, Isi

    1. Isi: Wouldn't cashmere be gorgeous, though? Sigh.
      For these onesies (and because our winters are very cold), I used polyester fleece. It can get static-y straight out of the dryer but typically it feels like a soft couch blanket. Maybe a cuddle fleece would be a nice compromise? Something like minky?

  2. I am so glad you blog! And as someone who only cheat drafts, I am relieved to hear that you do this sometimes. But seeing your fit photos makes me think I need to give proper drafting a go again, especially with all your tutorials to follow!

  3. Wonderful post! I love reading your blog. So glad you are back!

  4. Love your animal costumes. Although I haven't learned how to make slopers, I have cheat-drafted other patterns. Please keep blogging - I'm one that loves the detail included in blogs. As a blogger, I have found that readership is down, but since I consider it my personal journal about sewing, I'm okay with that.

    1. Agree with you Terri. I also consider blogging as my personal journal. I am trying to write more regularly this year.

    2. Agree too, Terri. When I started writing ikatbag, it was to document my projects and drafting methods so that someday when my girls were old enough to want to draft, they'd have a resource. I am beyond thrilled that other people have also benefited from it, but if no one other than my girls read it, it would've fulfilled its purpose.

  5. I'm so glad you blog. I love reading blogs. Not such a big fan of following a bunch of people on Instagram. Your animal onesies are a delight. Thanks for sharing your process.

  6. I *love* your blog and always look forward to it! I marvel at your imagination, talents and patience... Your children will have the most wonderful, magical memories of their childhood. (And we readers benefit, too! -- I am always grateful for the posts that you assembled on bag making: so much detail and assistance for we aspiring sewers.)

  7. Please please please keep blogging! You are a marvelous writer and I thoroughly enjoy everything about your posts - walking through your process & inspiration & insights & real-world hurdles. Thank you so much for sharing with us! Inger-Lise

  8. You're so talented! and I love those animal onesies! The Panda one is very cute . Regarding blogging, do keep writing! it's always nice to look back and read old post instead of scrolling endless photos on FB, Instagram or Pinterest.

  9. The panda pjs are very cute. I am also a perfectionist. I have learned that many times it just is not worth the sweating of the bullets.
    All of these fits are exceptional. Generations from now, who knows, perhaps your great great grand baby will fit just perfectly into these.
    I agree that it is the challenge that excites you. My daughters were built very differently. One was completely "average" size, my younger daughter needed everything custom made -- even store bought stuff haha
    Well done Lier

  10. I think that what has happened with blogs is that most of the chatter has dropped off and gone over to the easy snap/post platforms and most of the blogs that are left, are truly about content. I subscribe to many blogs, including yours, because of the content. I got hooked on yours during your zipper tutorial way back when and continue to enjoy whatever you want to share.

  11. I still follow your blog after what now, five years? I started my own blog two years ago because it was fun, I like typing up my creative adventures and it's nice to one day be able to look back and see all the fun projects I made. So please keep blogging!

  12. Please keep blogging! I've been bemoaning lately how all of my favorite bloggers have grown up and no longer discuss their kids and families and very real projects, but instead just advertise their patterns and fabric lines or produce vlogs that I will never in a million years have reason to watch. I'm sure their twitter feeds are great, but I save social media for people I actually know....

  13. I read them. I missed you over the winter! Please don't stop.
    Another blogger I follow has a "blogging without obligation" button:

  14. This is fantastic! I love reading your blog posts (entertaining, informative, and day-brightening)!! These suits are great; I really hope my kids don't stumble upon this post and ask me to make them critter suits! Haha!! I made them capes last year loosely based on and inspired by your fleece capes of the past. Keep blogging!! :)

  15. I agree with these folks. Yes, please keep blogging! Your blog is very educational and personal. I've learned a lot from you and have been inspired as well.

  16. I'm so very grateful that you have kept blogging. It feels like a chat with coffee at the kitchen table (something no one seems to do any more these days either). I have moved 4 times since I started following your blog and the continuity in the midst of lonely isolation has meant the world to me.

  17. What wonderful critter costumes! They look so cuddly! I wonder what you will be making when prom time comes along?!?!

    Please don't stop blogging. Ever. At least not in my lifetime. There isn't anything to replace your blogs. I follow a few bloggers and I think of you all as very close and wonderful friends. I wish I could understand how to fit a simple tee shirt to my old, aging body. If you ever do a fitting retreat, please sign me up.

  18. Well, I'm still blogging, for whatever that's worth. I'm on twitter every day, but only visit IG briefly and stay away from FB entirely. Just wanted to respond to your question, now I'll go back and enjoy your post :)


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