Lazy pattern making

I’d received an email from someone wanting to know where ease -joining two disparate lengths together- is permissible. I thought to write of it today due to yesterday’s post regarding the front princess line because that seam is an area that is often eased -in school and home sewing- but not in factories. The purported need to ease this seam is yet another pet peeve of mine (yet one more of many!). I realize that many people don’t know this because all of the pattern making books always tell you to do it. Unfortunately -in real life- if the total seam length of the side front panel is longer than the seam of the center front panel seam, this is considered to be lazy pattern making. Many new pattern makers cut the side front princess panel longer because that’s what all the books tell you to do. ~sigh~

There’s two major reasons why ease over the fullest part of the bust is inappropriate. First, ease is only appropriate if the pattern piece containing the longer seam covers a body section of greater area. An example of this is the back shoulder line. It is not uncommon for the back shoulder line to be eased into the front shoulder line because the back shoulder covers a body area larger than the front shoulder. However, this is not appropriate on the front princess seam because the the front side panel is becoming smaller (going into the side seam) rather than larger.

The second reason this is inappropriate is that adding ease over the fullest part of the bust is the absolute worst possible place -that of the curviest portion of the bust. I mean, is there a better way to make this seam even harder to sew? Accordingly, on the job this can be perceived as laziness on the part of the pattern maker because the pattern books are leaving out a big step. This omitted step amounts to extra work for the pattern maker but it’s better that one person does extra work than a bunch of people in the sewing line to do the extra work. There’s more of them than there are of you so it costs plenty.

In a nutshell, once you’ve made that side panel piece, you need to recut the center front panel because it needs to be longer to follow the lines of the curve on the side panel. To illustrate the process, I’ve copied these sketches from Armstrong (1995), pg 135. And by the way, I’m not using Armstrong out of any implied criticism because it seems that all the pattern books advise this practice. I’m using Armstrong because most people seem to have that book versus any other. Anyway, here is the way that the books tell you to do the process:

Above, you’re instructed to close the side dart which -in pattern books- falls shy of the seam line. You’re then instructed to ease the remainder into the seam blending the difference and what not. In real life, it doesn’t work like that because for one thing, this practice contributes to over fitting and depending on material weight, you can get a bubble on that side of the seam. It’s not particularly attractive. Rather, you have two options. The first option is illustrated below and I recommend this one over the second one that I’ll also show you.

Above you close the dart as normally instructed. However, you lengthen the front panel piece to match the side panel. Adding length to the front piece will give you a much nicer line and better fitting than the traditional method shown in books.

Another way you can do this -depending on material weight and snugness of the fit- is shown below. Basically you’d extend the end of the dart to reach into the seam allowance.

If the garment is a vest or coat or you’re using a heavier weight material, the above method can be just dandy. You can tell if this isn’t working, if at the hem line, the seam seems to be hiking or pulling up. If it’s hiking, you need the extra length and will have to go through the additional work of lengthening the front panel.

In the Armstrong book (again pg 135), it shows one final frame on how to add additional ease into the side panel and frankly, just looking at it just make me cringe so don’t do that. Unless of course you’re not getting a nice line that follows the body neatly. In that case, by all means add the additional length to the side panel but be sure to also lengthen the front panel commensurately or it will only subvert your intention. If the piece is not fitting well after this, it is more likely that the side panel is not deep enough (a rather common occurrence). In this case, you’ll need to add more depth across the fullest part of the bust on the side panel side but again, be sure to add length to the front panel to compensate for any additional length.

I’ll be out of the office today; spousal unit has the day off so we’re going on a short NM road trip. Have a great weekend!

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  1. Alison Cummins says:

    I like the idea of lengthening the front. Will investigate.

    Question about the large, matronly bosom. There are four basic ways of dealing with it at the undergarment level. At the extremes, these are:

    1) No undergarment, or an unrestrictive one. The bust level is low and not particularly prominent. The breasts may be sitting on the belly and sort of spreading out over it. Because the breasts are hanging and flattened out, they add width beyond the ribcage.

    2) Breasts lifted up and out in pointy cones. The breasts start somewhere forward of the arm and start pointing inwards from there. No width beyond the ribcage.

    3) Breasts lifted up and then squashed straight back against the chest. These are sold as minimizer bras and are often used by the buxom trying to fit into RTW. The breasts don’t stick out in front as in 2, but they do stick out at the side adding width beyond the ribcage.

    4) Breasts lifted up and then squashed back and together to make cleavage – push-up bras. Theoretically, the breasts should not add width beyond the ribcage.

    Kathleen, intuitively I percieve your first solution as being perfect for 2) and the second working well for 4).

    Would 1) and 3) be situations where you would have extra fullness and either a) justify ease or b) require a different solution, given that ease is just too much of a hassle? Well, 1) probably doesn’t want a snugly fitted princess curve to begin with, so this isn’t really relevant, but let’s say 3).

    Am I understanding anything correctly?

  2. Sarita says:

    I always thought easing the princess seam was a big pain in the you-know-what, not to mention being unsightly. Of course, neither the pattern books nor any of my college professors knew any better. Thank you for showing this solution! I have a feeling I’m going to be using it a lot.

  3. joni says:

    wouldn’t it be nice if every woman would wear bras that fit them properly and put the sisters where they are intended to be? I’ve seen too many women in beautiful clothing that look like poo because of their ill fitting bras.

  4. Gidget says:

    Alison, I sewed a dress for a lady once that was exactly as you described in 1. I split the front panel into three (mainly to ‘break up’ the landscape). I then added horizontal fitting darts onto the side panels. It looked nice, but I am not sure that was the correct solution. I just remember from the vintage pattern site to think in terms of flat panels and in this case, there were three seperate flat planes to deal with before coming to the side profile. I would be interested knowing what the solution to that particular fit is. Great question!

  5. Alison Cummins says:

    Gidget, thank you for the compliment – I think asking good questions is about the highest state one could aspire to.

    Joni, it’s true that for full-breasted women the fit of undergarments has a great effect on the fit of the clothes. Technically speaking, the “sisters” are supposed to be as in 1), dangling in our laps to feed our children conveniently. Since we don’t have long fur to grasp like our great-grandmothers did, and since our babies are too weak and big-headed anyway to just cling to our bodies and nurse, we have to sit still and put our babies in our laps to feed them. This introduces a technical difficulty: our laps are rather far away from our upper chests. If our breasts are small and perky baby-feeding requires workarounds. Long dangly breasts are much more convenient. Breast size and shape remain a compromise though – long and flapping breasts interfere with a lot of other activities like farming, which is why there’s so much variation – no shape is perfect, so as a population we’ve got a bit of everything.

    Because we have culture, we make decisions about how we want to present ourselves. And because we have elastic, bras come into the decision-making process. We can choose to have pointy breasts, flat chests, voluptuous cleavage or a natural droop.

    Comfort also comes into the decision-making process. Many women can’t tolerate the restrictiveness of a supportive bra no matter what they’d prefer to look like. Other women can’t tolerate the unsupported weight.

    None of this is about where the breasts are “supposed” to be – I’d have a lot of trouble knowing where that was anyway. For myself I choose to present each of the four profiles I outlined at different times.

    But yes, getting body proportions, undergarments and clothing all coordinated and working together is essential for a good look.

  6. Christina says:

    I’ve gotta say, I am a little lost. I have never heard, or seen, ease in a princess line. Ease for the sleeve insert, yes, but here, no. Maybe this is one difference for me, residing and being taught in Australia. To be honest, I cannot remember what we did in pattern making class, but I will pull out my books and have a look. Most interesting topic. I still use all my old blocks from college and I have a princess line block, so just use that of course.
    I could be mistaken though, was quite a while ago I made those.

  7. Cherry says:

    Hi, I’m a recent reader, occasional costume maker and home sewer, with an interest in patternmaking, especially historical.
    I don’t altogether understand what you are saying about princess-line ease. If the bust is at all rounded, there is going to be a breast-tissue bulge at the side of the bust. So the side panel will be covering a greater area, just as the shoulder blade makes the back shoulder bigger. Only in the youngest firmest figure will there be three flat planes of the front..or did I misunderstand?

  8. Kathleen says:

    Five things.
    First, home sewing is often over-fitted; hence some of the problems in developing blocks.

    Second, the back shoulder is going from small to large. The small area -shoulder line- is eased to compensate for the larger area to come over the shoulder blade. The reverse is true over the bust point. At the bust, the ease point is going from large to small (bust point to side seam) which is the opposite of the shoulder line. Were you to apply the same logic and reasoning, the side seam would be longer -and eased- to cover the upcoming fuller bust point.

    Third, not everybody seems to remember this but this (existing) ease in the side panel is only adding length -not girth. If you need more girth at the bust point to cover roundness, you’d add it there by moving the bust point out. If one is simply adding length in that side panel, adding length does not correct for additional fullness at the fullest part of the bust.

    Fourth, often you do need that length to permit sufficient fabric to travel over the fullest part of the bust; it gives nicer shaping. If you’ve restrained that length by easing the side panel onto a shorter front panel, you’ve subverted the need of the additional length. You’ll get a nicer line if you add length to the front panel.

    Fifth, I really wish more of you worked in stiffer, heavier fabrics. Lightweight goods have a lot of give which conceal the dynamics of a draft. If it will look good in heavier goods, it’ll look even better in lighter weight goods. Why rely on the weight of goods to compensate for pattern problems? It doesn’t seem entirely honest to me. You can’t “cheat” in heavier goods.

  9. Alison Cummins says:

    Kathleen, you’re absolutely right. About pattern-making goes without saying – I mean about the wooly thinking that had me marching so pedantically down the wrong path. Of course: ease against the princess seam can only add length. And while there might be a theoretical need for extra length to flow over the bulge at the side of the breast, in practice this is avoided by fitting correctly instead of overfitting. Got it.

    Thank you!

  10. Jeanette says:

    My instructor, a professional patternamker, did teach us that we did not need to add ease to the side panel. However, he taught us to develop the princess block from the single verticle dart block. Do you have any thoughts on this?

  11. Valerie says:

    In our patternmaking class, once we closed the side dart and cut the princess line, we would ‘blend’ the curve on the side piece so that it is smooth between the gap, which would shave off a slight amount. I suppose this also meant to reduce the length and better match the center panel length…I’ll have to revisit those class notes again. But I like seeing your method as another solution :)

  12. Kathleen says:

    Here is a sample photo that illustrates that the patternmaker followed text book instructions to make the side panel longer than the front panel. The excess length was eased in and the side back panel was cut to match the side front panel, compounding the problem …

  13. louise says:

    I’m a home sewer who is fed up with commercial patterns not fitting right and has decided to junk them and start from scratch (and I’d really like to do it as well as I can, because I’m a frustrated engineer at heart, despite my BA). I’m using Aldrich’s book to draft a princess seam bodice, and my first basic block has turned out pretty well, I think. Anyway. There’s nothing in the book about making the panels different lengths, and I infer from this discussion that you wouldn’t have to (unless it was part of, say, a FBA).

    My question is: why would anyone think that the ease was required in the first place? Surely each side of a seam is effectively the same line; just because this one happens to go over the bust point, why would one think that the pieces should be different lengths?

    (Oh, and in the case of the shoulder seam, is the easing taking the place of a dart?)

  14. Kathleen says:

    Hi Louise, even if the front is altered for a larger bust (FBA), the side of one’s bust is not larger than the front panel.

    People think ease is required because home sewing patterns are generally made that way and since home patterns reflect the majority of sewing experience (of those who care to comment on the matter) that is what many people think. It does not help that the most popular books on the market say the same thing. It’s to your credit you got a better book.

    Yes, ease in the shoulder seam draws in a bit of darting that is positioned over the back shoulder.

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