Friday, September 8, 2017

Grading the Kirtle Pattern

The next step after scaling up the patterns in the Tudor Tailor book is grading them to fit you. Unless your body measurements are the same as the measurements the pattern was designed to fit, you'll have to adjust the pattern since, unlike an already graded commercial pattern, there is only one size offered. I have never graded a pattern, so I relied on Missa’s instructions here: I highly recommend going over and glancing at her how-to in order to make sense of what's about to come. In fact, I highly recommend her site in general; she is a font of knowledge, and her explanations actually make sense.

Now, when deciding how much larger to make the pattern pieces, I found it a bit frustrating that the bust and waist were not indicated on the original pattern. I’m assuming the bottom edge of the kirtle bodice is meant to sit just at (or just above) the natural waist; the bust point, however, took a bit of guessing. The Tudor Tailor book indicates that the patterns given are meant to fit a 28” waist and a 36” bust.  My current body measurements are more like 39" at the bust and 30" at the waist. When trying to decide how to change the pattern, there were a few factors to take into consideration. 

Between the several layers of fabric and the boning, the finished garment's measurements will end up smaller than the pattern itself indicates, but I also want this garment to allow for just a little bit of squish. I’m not trying to waist-train with this, nor is the kirtle intended to do this, but I do want it to hold my body in the fairly rigid “conical” shape that is recognizably Tudor; it will need to be able to compress my bust and remain taut and rigid everywhere else. As a person with some squish, this necessitates a small amount of negative ease through the bust, and a very close fit at the waist. I also want to allow for a bit of stretch from wearing the garment, and perhaps a bit of weight loss as this has been the trend. Therefore, on this first go at a pattern, I chose to draft it to just my waist measurement instead of adding any ease, knowing it will end up slightly smaller than my current waist measurement after the addition of the boning. I also chose to factor in some negative ease through the bust, making it smaller than my actual bust measurement.

Next, I needed to decide how long to make the pattern. Going up in size, as Missa explains, also means adding length to allow the pattern to follow the curve of the body without coming up short. The way I make sense of this to myself is to imagine a car going over a small hill vs a large hill; the car has to travel a longer distance to get over the large hill. This is assuming that the pattern is already the correct proportion for your height. However, this isn’t exactly a pattern piece with a lot of curve; it’s going to smoosh the body rather than conform to the curvature of the bust and waist, which to my mind means the length won't have to change so drastically, as it's not going from having a small hill to travel over to a large hill to travel over; there aren't really any hills in this pattern. So, I determined how long I wanted the bodice front to be (or perhaps a better way of thinking about this is how far above the waistline—the bottom of our pattern—do I want the kirtle neckline to sit), and how long I need the side seams to be so that the side of the garment does not cut into the armpit. Recall, too, that this is a garment meant to be worn under another fully-constructed gown. Therefore, I want enough space in the armscye that I can have another sleeve on over it without that feeling too bulky, so I want to make doubly sure that this isn’t digging.

With all of these factors in mind, I measured my pattern pieces so I could decide where make my changes. The bust (or at least where I guessed the bust would fall…) is approximately 34 inches (so we’re assuming that the pattern is accounting for some negative ease since it's supposed to fit a 35" bust- further supporting my plan), and the waist measures to 28 inches-- exactly the waist measurement the garment is meant to fit. The center front is 11” long and the side seam is 7”.  I am pretty sure my front needs to be more like 8.5”-10.5” depending on how much my bust gets “smooshed” upwards, and the side needs to be more like 5.5”. I very unscientifically determined this by putting the base of my clear ruler at my waist and holding it close to my body, mimicking the flattening of the bust the kirtle should provide, and looking in a mirror to decide where I'd like the neckline. I chose to actually shorten my pattern rather than lengthening it as I graded it up, knowing that I can adjust further on my mockup if need be; I suspect I may have to adjust where the neckline sits, and I think I’ll definitely end up widening the neckline and adjusting the angle of the straps.

First, I cut open a paper bag and laid my pattern pieces on top of it. The brown paper bag will end up being the "extra" inches in my pattern. 


I needed to add 3” to my pattern pieces at both the waist and the bust, which makes this a bit more straightforward; I didn't need to slash and spread, as illustrated in the Tudor Tailor; rather I just needed to add the same amount all around. If you are proportionally larger at the bust or waist than the patterns, you'll have to adjust your patterns at an angle, rather than the straight lines you'll see in my illustrations. You may still need to separate the sections of the pattern completely as I have, rather than just slashing like the illustration shows, depending on your body size.

The Tudor Tailor's illustration of the slash and spread method

I just eyeballed where I made the marks to cut based on where I thought I’d be the most likely to not negatively affect the line of the waist or neckline. I also made a horizontal line just above the waist from which to shorten the pattern. This is a bit harder because I want to adjust the length of the side and the back more than the front, and I cannot slash and spread horizontally without completely messing up the pattern; this adjustment may need to be made by redrawing the waistline and the neckline once I have the pattern at the correct circumference. To start with, though, I ended up angling the bottom pieces slightly so that I shortened the pattern on the side and not the front; I have a more extreme dip at the waistline than the original pattern as a result. 

Because the back of the pattern was being shortened a uniform amount across the pattern, I simply folded it. It's upside down in the picture, but I folded just above the waist; you could see the shadow of the fold more clearly if I took the picture from this angle, though. 

I know that I will need the bulk of the extra inches in the front of the pattern to accommodate my bust; I have a relatively narrow back and ribcage, my fullness is in my bust. Therefore, I wanted to add just 1 inch at the back, and 2 inches in front, increasing the pattern measurements to 31” at the waist and 37” at the bust. This will be smaller than my bust measurement, but as discussed, I want to leave some room for squish. I’m just guessing that this will fit, of course—I’ll need to wait until my mock-up to see if these guesses were accurate to my body.

Because I was only working with half of the pattern, this meant adding .5” to the back pattern piece and 1” to the front pattern piece. These measurements needed to be distributed across the cuts I made to enlarge the pattern. Because there aren’t darts, princess seams, etc… I made only 3 points at which to add fullness, one on the back piece and 2 on the front piece. So, I spread the back piece by .5” and each line on the front was spread by .5” to add up to the full 1.5”. That way, the finished garment will be 3" bigger all around.

Once my pieces were spread and shortened, I taped them in place, and cut out the new, larger and shorter (gee, doesn't that sound flattering?) pattern. 

Hopefully this makes sense! I think actually going through the steps helps clarify things, so if you're finding yourself in the position to grade a pattern, my best advice is to just get in there and do it. Keep in mind that I'm just guessing on a lot of things; this pattern is very much a draft, and I'm using my own experience and knowledge of my body and how I often have to alter garments to make educated guesses on how to adjust this pattern. We won't find out until I make a mock-up whether or not I was totally off, so it's best to think of this iteration of the pattern as the first draft of several.

Next up, see how I plan on adjusting this first draft of my pattern to fit me more accurately!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Scaling Up the Tudor Tailor Pattern

After I decided my shaping garment was going to be a kirtle, that left me the task of actually obtaining a kirtle pattern-- not as straightforward a prospect as I wish it were. With no commercially available pattern, I was left with a few viable options:
-Draft my own
-Enlarge and alter the pattern from the Tudor Tailor book
-Order the pre-graded, pre-enlarged Tudor Tailor kirtle pattern
-Order Margo Anderson's Tudor pattern

In the end, I chose to enlarge and alter the pattern from the Tudor Tailor book for a few reasons. I quickly ruled out ordering a new pattern, as it felt wasteful when I knew I could work from the Tudor Tailor book, which I already own, with just a little more time and effort and save myself some dollars. I considered drafting my own pattern, and really honestly thought this was the route I'd likely go for awhile. I was afraid of having to work forever to tailor the Tudor Tailor pattern to fit my body perfectly, but when I realized my proportions were the same as the proportions the patterns were drawn for-- I'm 5'4" and they were designed for someone between 5'2" and 5'6", according to the patterns, and I am the same proportion but 3" bigger all around than the measurements the patterns are intended to fit-- I decided that it might be faster and less painful to simply grade up the pattern. Especially when I was facing the prospect of drafting a new block, altering that draft to get it to fit me perfectly, potentially altering that again, and then drawing a kirtle pattern from the block and having to fit that pattern as well.

Part of why I was intimidated by working from the Tudor Tailor patterns is that I don't have a lot of experience working from a pattern out of a book; that is to say, enlarging a pattern, altering it to fit, and then constructing a garment with fewer instructions than are provided in a commercial pattern, especially a garment that may have techniques I'm not familiar, or at least not comfortable with. Once I knew I was going to work from the Tudor Tailor book for this garment, I decided to try my darnedest to blog about my experience, since I searched high and low for a step-by-step description of the process, and couldn't find one that broke the steps down in a way that made it seem conquerable. I'm not going to presume that this account will do that, but I figured I would at least attempt to pave the way for those coming after me. I know I love having a step-by-step account with pictures of how to do something.

I started with some fantastic paper with a 1" grid marked on it. This made my task a lot more helpful, and I don't recommend scaling up a pattern without this, unless you have another means to make sure your shape is accurate (like a projector). I bought mine years ago, so forgive me for not having more information about where to get it, but it's a huge roll of lightweight paper with marks at every inch. Some wrapping paper has a 1" grid on the back, and I'm sure paper suitable for drafting is available online.  I used a bit of paper leftover from another project that was super crinkled, so you'll have to forgive that in the photos. Luckily, it did not impede my task.

In order to begin scaling up the pattern, I counted out the tallest and widest points of the pattern and marked the halfway points for reference. For instance, on the kirtle bodice front, the tallest point of the pattern is 11” and the widest is 20”. I then drew a rectangle with half of those dimensions, so in this example 10” by 5.5”. I only drafted half of the front pattern, as this is hand-drawn and I want to end up with symmetrical curves at the neck and waistline; I will cut it on the fold.  

faaaaaaint box to draw my pattern in
Once I had my rectangle drawn, I counted in from the outer corners to find where the corners of my pattern would be, and then connected the dots with either straight or curved edges, as indicated on the original pattern. For the curved edges, I tried as best I could to mimic the shape of curve shown on the original. 
two dots! These will be the bottom curve of the armscye
Arc drawn
The outline of the pattern
 Once I had the outline of the pattern, I went ahead and added my seam allowance. I still have to grade the pattern up to my size, but I just knew it would drive me crazy to not be able to see both the edge of the pattern piece as well as the cutting line as I move forward, even though I know I'll end up having to re-draw these on my final pattern; remember, this is essentially a draft that will need to be graded up as well as altered to fit my body. To do this step, I used my handy-dandy clear ruler (seriously, where has this been all my life?) to line up the .5” tick with the line of the pattern and make marks to indicate where my cutting line will be. 

Beginning to add my seam allowance...

Seam allowances added! Notice, no seam allowance at the center front, as this will be cut on the fold.

And it looks like a pattern!
What you’ll notice missing on my pattern are the lines to indicate boning placement; I plan on drawing these directly on the fabric where I will stitch the channels.

I used the same method to draw the kirtle back piece; Because there were longer arcs on this one, I counted a few points on the grid in the book and transferred these dots onto my pattern so I had a better idea of what points my curve needed to pass through in order to copy the shape accurately. And that, my friends, is the method I used to scale up the Tudor Tailor patterns!

Next step: grading the pattern! 

Promises, promises

So, as you may have noticed, every couple of years I recommit to being a Good Blogger and getting back into the swing of things, but then I fall off the wagon and feel too guilty to get started up again, since I know history will probably repeat itself and I'll still suck at blogging.

The cycle ends here!

Not the sucking at blogging part. I will probably always suck at blogging. The guilt. I am giving myself permission to blog sporadically without the associated guilt.

So, back to why you guys are reading this. I sew things! Sometimes. You (presumably?) like to read about people sewing!

I ended up losing enough weight that I don't think I can salvage much of my old corset or bodice, and I've decided I'd like to do things a bit differently this time around, anyway. I did some research to try to tighten up my plan, and realized there simply weren't enough step-by-step Tudor dress diaries for my liking, although there are lots of inspiring finished ensembles out there. So, with that in mind, I'm going to try to record as much of my process as I can in the hopes that it will help someone else out along the way. There are sure to be mistakes and missteps along the way, but hopefully you nice people out there can learn from them and not make them when it's your turn.

I spent an ungodly amount of time looking at Tudor portraits and decided the way to do this thing is to build a kirtle and a gown. I'd originally decided against this because, first off, I felt (and still feel) that a separate corset is more practical as it can be worn with more outfits. Also, I frankly didn't think that the silhouette produced with a separate kirtle and gown was always accurate to the portraits, especially around the neckline. The issue I had with the Tudor Tailor patterns specifically is that the neckline didn't look open enough once the gown was layered on top of the kirtle. However, after looking at lots of portraits and thinking through how things could potentially be done, I don't think the look is rigid enough to call for a separate corset, and now that I am convinced a kirtle would be worn regardless of whether it was the stiffened support layer or not (although historical evidence points to the fact it probably was if any layer was in fact stiffened, since separate bodies don't really appear in clothing inventories until later), it seems as though it would be difficult to get the kirtle and gown to sit in perfect alignment if the kirtle did not have all that much structure.

To combat my concerns with the Tudor Tailor neckline problem, I think I'm going to try making the kirtle neckline wider, and not build a strap on the bodice; it looks as though the sleeve of the gown is just sewn onto the bodice under the arm and in the back. I wrote this 10-page long, stream of consciousness treatise in my personal sewing diary on why I think that is the case and how I think I'd like to put this thing together, but I'll spare you the gory details.

Here's what it boils down to: in both the Katherine Parr and Princess Elizabeth portraits from the late 1540's, you can see the gown's trim peeking out both at the split skirt edge and at the neckline below the jeweled trim. It's harder to see if the jeweled trim is applied on a contrasting fabric in Princess Elizabeth's portrait, but in Katherine Parr's, it's applied on a red background, not the gown's cloth of silver. I take this to mean that the jeweled trim must be attached to a separate garment, not merely mounted onto a contrasting fabric and applied to the gown itself, as it is above the gown's top edge as indicated by the appearance of the lining. Take a look. Both of these should get big if you click on them; on Princess Elizabeth's gown, you're looking at that thin solid red line, and on Katherine Parr's, you're looking at the tufts of fur.

The original can be found here:, this version cropped by me. Also, I just noticed that the brooch pinned onto the gown is off-center... Count the gold pieces on the billament at the neckline...

The original portrait can be viewed here: I cropped this version. 

See what I mean? If you look closely, you'll also see that the same lining is visible on the sleeve near the neckline, and the sleeve is clearly not set into a strap, as indicated by the unbroken pattern of the fabric on the sleeve (Tudor's weren't big into pattern matching). In fact, it's just barely hanging off the shoulder, and the visible "strap" is the neckline of the kirtle. So, this is what I'm going to attempt to emulate; a very wide kirtle neckline and a sleeve that is held up by the back of the gown and the sheer force of my will alone. We'll see if this works or not. If it does, I think it will get a neckline that is very close to the Tudor silhouette of the late 1540's; if it doesn't, then I'll add a strap or try something else.