Maybe I can still drape

It’s been a long long time since I draped anything but now that I have this handy dandy new dress form it’d be a pity not to do something new with it. Not that I intend to change my spots -I prefer drafting- but I was semi-inspired to get in on this contest that some home sewers are doing over at Pattern Review (a knock off contest). I could just as easily have drafted the thing but I didn’t want to model it (that’s another thing forms are good for) and being that the form is so new, I still haven’t made a block to fit her so I would have had to have draped a block anyway (much faster than fiddling with drafting and measuring). So what the heck. I draped a style I picked from the Sundance catalog.

Forced to guess, I’d say this is an updated version of a vintage dress, it has tons of pieces. Not that I think that’s a bad thing. I love vintage styles and am always glad when those are recycled. Modern stuff doesn’t thrill me much. I don’t know if you can tell from the photos below but we have a five piece front. The piece list is:

  1. Center front band (a yoke of sorts, going into the shoulder line)
  2. Front
  3. Front midriff (cups the bust, ends at the waist)
  4. Upper front skirt band
  5. Front skirt

Nothing is this fitted these days, if you look at it on the model, their version isn’t very fitted either. I don’t know that anybody other than this dress form will ever wear it but I wanted my version to be better fitted. Here’s the detail of the front bodice. You can also zoom into the dress on Sundance for a better view.

The back of the dress has a cool detail. Likewise, it has five pieces. These are:

  1. Back yoke
  2. Back
  3. Lower back midriff
  4. Upper back skirt*
  5. Back skirt

Item #4 is cool. I don’t know if you can see in this picture, but the lower back midriff is a shaped, curved piece, ending just shy of CB. The CB portion of the skirt sews to the back bodice, around the curve of that quasi-peplum shaped line. Here’s a photo, don’t know if it’s obvious but if you look on Sundance very closely, you can see it.

Cut to the chase, the drape illustrates the line best.

Most of the drape is pretty standard stuff. Squish goods together and pin. Roll edges and pin. Drop pins. Pick them up. Stab self. Drop more pins, let them lie there (then I can look forward to having pins stuck halfway into my foot). Stab self with pins again, there was a lot of that. Which end is pointy-er? I’m not sure on some of these. I’m out of T-pins which I prefer and these are too short and skinny for my klutzy large fingers. And dull. Did I already say that? It’s not as tho they’d been used before. I hate cheap pins but don’t use them enough to justify being particular and looking for good ones. As though I’d know which were any good anyway. My fine hand coordination is definitely lacking. No hand sewing for me! I still can’t tie a knot in the end of a thread. Speaking of, the gathers on my drape were just squished together, I couldn’t find a needle to do a basting line and it seemed like too much work to turn on one of the machines for three inches. So, squish, stab, repeat. It would have been faster to draft it if I’d had a block (whine). That’s what was going through my head with every squish and stab.

Before I digressed, I was saying the drape was standard stuff. Except for the back skirt that is. The front skirt was fairly simple, a circular type skirt. Is it cheating to have cut a wedge out of the goods before I hung it? Below:

Resulting in:

The back was another story, there’s that peplum-type styled line and to make matters worse, it stops shy of CB waist so the skirt has to reach up to meet it (see the peplum drape sample, three photos up). I figured the solution was to cut out a curvier, more circular wedge, more than the 45 degrees I’d done on the front skirt. That didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. Oh, the other thing is, I don’t like the back skirt on the Sundance site. It’s limp. Wimpy. It’s an A-line skirt, not circular like the front. Boring. A-line skirts are easy (that’s what my first attempt looked like). If the front is circular, the back should be too (design continuity) so that’s what I wanted. I’m not showing round one, below is round two of wedge cutting (you can see the shape of the first go round too):

The result of this is below.

While this was an improvement over the A-line skirt (version 1 wasn’t shown but looked exactly like the Sundance version), I didn’t like the skirt drape above at all. We have one thick flounce near CB and another one off toward the side seam. Sloppy sloppy. I wanted the fullness to be more evenly distributed so I decided to cut out some more (below). By the way, doing it a third time took major restraint. It would have been much easier to correct this via flat pattern making. You’d close up some fullness from those two flounces and open it up in the middle. Anyway, since this is an exercise in draping, and as counterproductive as my inner child pouts that it is, draping is how I finished it. Whine whine whine. Below I’ve cut out yet another wedge.

As you can see from the result below, this third cut out nicely distributed the skirt fullness. Finally. Yeah me!

If you want to see the draping process start to finish, see my web album. A couple of notes if you traipse over there.

  • My form is wearing a bra. Although she is the curvy version, she’s not curvy enough. A bra and a couple of shoulder pads fixed that. I was halfway tempted to put the matching black lace panty on her too but decided I didn’t need to encourage those of you who’ve been describing her as a little tart.
  • She’s wearing a strip of muslin over her bra. I was taught to do this in school. I haven’t draped enough to know if that’s a good or a bad thing. You’ll also notice I used a small scrap of muslin to bridge the CF at the bust to the form, keeping a gap. I’m not sure why I did that. Really. It seemed like a good idea at the time. If you’re large busted, you don’t want tops plastered to you. Also, I will be adding more gathers over the front bust once I get to paper.
  • Oh, you’ll notice that the back dress bodice, near the side seam, is pieced at an angle. That’s not a style line or a separate piece. It was only after doing the gathers at the CB neck and waist that I figured out my muslin was too small to reach the side seam and I didn’t want to start all over again with the gathering (stab, drop, repeat) so I pieced it with a scrap.
  • Lastly, this is muslin, notoriously uncooperative. The final version, assuming I get to that, will be in something drapey, rayon probably. As such, the dress will need to be larger to provide some wearing ease. I will make the final pattern one size larger to get the same effect.

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  1. Trish says:

    Congratulations on all that stabbing and whining… you persevered and it looks good!!

    You are reminding me of my students when I am making them drape a gathered yoke skirt… and telling them that draping it is hard and insane and, of course, we could easily flat pattern make the whole thing in minutes… but if you ever needed to know how to drape something that is gathered (something more complex in shape than a skirt… ) well, you would want to know how to do it. They agree when all is said and done… stab, stab.

    BTW, here at EPCC, I encourage my students to throw away any pin that has stabbed them. Not to punish the pin!!! It is technically a bio-hazard, and in a room with a number of workers, you may not want to be sharing blood. I know that tossing pins may not be green but I prefer to err on the side of caution.

    We are headed to the El Paso Museum of Art tomorrow evening, 6 – 8 pm for the first Thursday get together. It does cost $8 (I opted for the $25 membership, then it is only $3 to get in and if I go more than five times, I save money…plus, I now get a discount in the gift shop. Do you want to join us… oh, they do give you two drink tickets for your money… hugs, and I hope to talk to you soon.

  2. Hm. It’s a pretty dress, but I’m still waiting for those back gathers to grow on me. There appears to be absolutely no added vertical length to compensate for the three-dimensional space the gathers take up, so not only is there no soft blousing, the gathers look stretched and tight.

    RE boobs and molding a dress closely to them: I think I like a little more fitting than you do, probably because I am fatter than you are. If I just cover them, I get a Vast Expanse of Bosom which is kind of 1920s -30s matronly in a way that is often fun but other times not what I’m looking for. So I sort of cut the area up a bit, often by showing cleavage, or wearing something higher-necked but that fits between my breasts, or cleavage over a t-shirt or turtleneck, or something modest but with front design details and interest to give the eye something to do besides wandering aimlessly over at the Vast Expanse.

    My breasts are nowhere near as high as the Sundance model’s, even when wearing a determined push-up bra. If I simply lengthened the distance between the bottom of the V and the bust point (say, from what appears to be about 0.5 inches to… 5.0 inches) I would get a pronounced Vast Expanse effect. So I’d drop the bottom of the V as low as I could and retain the fitting between the breasts. That starts to look tarty, sure. Sometimes I’d live with that, sometimes I’d slip on a cardigan.

    If I hadn’t tried draping a simple fitted bodice and skirt on my Duct Tape Dummy I wouldn’t have taken your complaining seriously. But I have, and I do. Your dress is gorgeous.

  3. Carol Kimball says:

    Yes, very much yay you. Isn’t it great working on a form that’s your actual shape? Now I want one like yours.

    Re: pins
    If you can’t pin into the form easily, the best ones for this work are flower-headed quilter’s pins, as they’re easy to grab and even easier to see, either on the form or when they’ve journeyed to the floor (they have some kind of pact with gravity). You take about the same amount of fabric with them as the little ones – don’t try to use the whole length.

    I was reluctant to try them but have converted.

  4. Georgene says:

    Try taking a piece of narrow elastic, or twill tape and wrap around a magnet of some sort and ‘sweep’ the floor. The easiest is if you have one of those magnet wrist pin holder thingies, which you can tie with your tapemeasure.. Sometimes I have to do that when there are no more pins left….where do they all go? I can’t believe I went thru a pound of pins in less than a year.

    Draping seems to get easier the more you do, as the pads of the ‘pinning’ fingers toughen up. If I haven’t done much, I lose my callouses.

    It’s good to do both, according to the project. I prefer draping, but I use drafting techniques all the time to get there. I will often use non-muslin fabrics that are closer to the final fabric to get better results while draping. Your dress is going to be yummy in rayon. Just looking at the muslin, we can see the strcuture better. Looking good!

  5. jill says:

    I love the dress!….

    as for a magnet to pick up pins I found the most amazing invention a few weeks ago at Home Depot. They sell this really strong magnet on a pole, it is used to pick up screws and nails, I use it in my sewing room after I have thrown a million pins on the ground….it’s fantastic! There are some like it on ebay.

  6. Lisa Bloodgood in Portland says:

    I think the lines of the dress are really nice, but they get lost in the print. I think your draping is really nice, too. Maybe solid colors with contrast pieces would be a good choice.

    Because I do occasionally use pins while sewing, I use the ones labeled silk pins, fine, or very fine. They’re fairly long. They don’t leave holes in fabrics. I don’t know how well they’d work in draping, but they seem to be great for sewing. They don’t have big heads though, so unless you have fingernails, they’re not super easy to pull out.

  7. /anne... says:

    I’m with Alison – anything to break up the Vast Expanse! DD does it (she’s a 12DD, and not by choice) by, she says, copying the old ladies she looks after in a high-care nursing home – always wear a singlet/tank. Over the top of that she wears typical teenager low-cut tops, which would look tarty on her without the fill-in of the layer beneath.

    I want a dress form, but I can’t afford (or justify) Kathleen’s gorgeous one. I live about a half-hour drive from an Ebay dealer, so I can probably go and have a look/measure them (I’ll have to pad it up a bit, but I want some of it to fit my measurements). Does anyone have any opinions on either:


    This one is more expensive, but it looks a little like Kathleen’s:

    but I’m not sure I want a body hanging in my house. Not only is it a little creepy, but imagine what the neighbours would say!

    OTOH, DD the paramedic student wants a skeleton :-)

  8. Penny says:

    Nice work Kathleen. you can still drape. Aside from the jabs, it looks like it was a fun draping project for you. I use the fine/sharp glass head pins from WH Collins. It’s weird how you become addicted to certain tools after years of using products that don’t work, but these pins are long, easy to grasp and very strong for how fine they are. They work. The magnetic pin holders are good also. They keep the pins from shifting around so they’re easier to pick up quickly and they never spill. You just get better results from draping on some styles…like period pieces from the 1930s or anything on the bias.

    Julia : The Studio One brand dress forms available on Ebay are good quality and reasonably priced. There are a number of sites that carry this brand, but the dressformmall site has the “make an offer” option for pricing:

    I was surprised they accepted my rather low offer, so this is definately a plus.

  9. Timo Rissanen says:

    “Is it cheating to have cut a wedge out of the goods before I hung it?”
    If it makes life easier, hell no! When I was taught drape (over ten years ago now), we always did quite a bit of drafting directly on to the calico before taking it to the dress form. I still do when I drape, and with circles in particular, trying to get it all perfect through drape alone sounds like some sort of Guantanamo Bay procedure.

    I’m sure many would disagree but I find drape most useful in creating new shapes and forgetting about the block for a moment, but I generally always end up drafting the details after I’ve ‘boarded’ the shell. Each to his/her own, I guess. But I did cry on the inside that one time a student draped a jacket lining…

    Thanks, as always, for sharing. My fave bit:
    “Squish goods together and pin. Roll edges and pin. Drop pins. Pick them up. Stab self. Drop more pins, let them lie there (then I can look forward to having pins stuck halfway into my foot). Stab self with pins again, there was a lot of that.”

    If you ever write a drape manual in this manner – and perhaps someone should – I’ll be first in line to buy it.

  10. /anne... says:

    Penny: I had a look at your link; they don’t ship to Australia (where I am, and the ebay vendor I’m interested in). However, the second dressform I was looking at is identical to yours! Nice to know that one is good value for money.

    I’m still wondering about the first one; it’s not like the conventional dress form.

  11. Alisa Benay says:

    There are other people than me calling her a tart? Then it must be true!

    When draping the back skirt, could you have just draped a circle from the waist & then cut out the yoke piece? hmmm, you’d have too much ease, though, b/c the circle would have already started to expand when you get to the edge of the yoke. If I were doing it w/o having seen your cut out circle first, I would have draped the yoke piece, then started in the center back with straight of grain & draped out from there, creating my flounces & making little slashes to release stress (above the pins) as I went. I could draw that better than write, though, so don’t know if what I said makes sense.

    As for the dress forms, then first one looks like a store mannequin to me, not a dress form. I would vote for the 3rd one, but it didn’t list a collapsible hip, which might me an issue. My favorite dress forms, though are the Uniquely You. They’re made for the home sewing market, but if you’re just looking for a dress form for yourself, you can adjust the cover to your exact measurements quite easily. I’ve got several in different sizes & use them for my clients to get a close proximity to their shape by stuffing up the inside of each (easily removable) cover.

  12. rita penner says:

    I’m new to your blog but completely addicted already. I’ve been sewing my product for 7 years and very lonely for people similarly engaged. I’d like to comment on this lovely dress you draped. I agree with you Kathleen that the amount of gathering is not balanced with what’s going on in the front. It should maybe peter out a bit from side to side. I don’t agree that there should be added vertical length. It might make one look a bit hunchbacked and the gathers being pulled taught keeps it looking tidy.

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