Refine My Line: Rockabilly Cowgirl pt.2

The purpose of a review is to reduce costs, improve the construction and resolve any processing issues all while keeping the design integrity intact. Maintaining the designer’s vision is a sore spot for many of us because from design school on, designers are always taught that “production” will change their design to a watered down version that bears little resemblance to the original. In real life, this is unfair and mostly untrue.

gaping_bucklingI consider a product review to be successful if improvements can be implemented without increasing costs and of course, without changing any styling details. In real life, very rarely should one make suggestions that will result in a net cost increase. I mean, we all have suggestions that will increase costs but we don’t say anything unless or until we’re encouraged to speak more freely. RC’s design is going to be very challenging in this regard. Our only saving grace is that the designer has already said she’s thinking of lining it. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, see the first entry.

Below are an aggregate of comments including RC’s in response to our feedback. Most of this took place in the forum so you may not have seen it. Comments are sorted according to fit, pattern design and construction. Construction was most of it.

Fit: (see first photo above) Several mentioned that the neckline stood away from the neck a bit. The yokes are buckling between between the shoulder and fullest part of the bust. Taking out 3/8″ or so in bodice length would bring it down to nest closer around the neck and lay more smoothly.move_seam_remove_dart

Center front is too small for the body this style is shown on. If this is the representative body, the princess seam line should be closer to the side than it is now. The suggested seam line is in yellow, black is the original. My mocked up sketches mask the effect, take a look at the original photo if you have any doubts.

Pattern: There shouldn’t be a dart in a princess line (illustrated alongside the seam line above); kudos to Xochil who also mentioned this in blog comments. Here’s a suggestion to remove it. Don’t be offended by the title of the entry (Lazy pattern making), has nothing to do with laziness, only a bit of inexperience. Bust darts in princess seams is something I’ve been seeing a lot of lately, don’t know why.

Zipper Construction: A consensus arose that since this style is intended to be worn snugly, a regular zipper in a lapped application could be a better choice than the invisible zipper which is pulling apart and lacks the strength of a regular zipper. One member mentioned that a lapped zipper was also more true to the period (40’s & 50’s). Several suggested the zipper could be moved to the side seam if the front placket were functional (I didn’t realize it wasn’t). The designer concurred on the lapped zipper install but not on moving to the side seam saying that a CB closure is the norm in the vintage-repro dress market. She is also concerned that a fully functional placket is too bulky around the waist area for such a fitted style. By the way, when a designer gives justifiable reasons reflecting unique insight to their market, the matter is closed. They’ve made the decision; respect it and move on.

Fusing/Construction: Each yoke piece should be fused -even the hem (see photo below). Moreover, it probably can’t be the same fusible for each section. Remember how I say it’s common to use more than one kind of fusible in a product? Well, this is one of those times. Not only that, the area onto which the yokes are set, need fusible too. Specifically the shell/self portions of the upper bodice, sleeve and hem area. It is possible that the contrasting corduroy on the sleeve can be skipped. It wouldn’t be appropriate to use the same fusible for the corduroy contrast as the other sections. The burgundy (shell/self) should be a stretchy fusible. It should be light and not obvious. If it were my product, I would test it to see if I could use just one fusible. By default, it would have to be the stretchy stuff. Below is fusible placement illustrated. The width of fusible on the shell pieces should be at least 1.5 to 2 inches below the yoke set down point.
Vent or Slit Construction: There were quite a few comments on the forum about the slits which are off to either side of the skirt. This was hard to critique because it comes so close to being a style issue. Our designer said:

As far as moving the slit to the back, I feel that it would interfere with the back hem detail too much. Piping and multiple yokes would make the area very bulky. I actually do like the small ‘fishtail” effect that the side slits create when positioned a certain way; it emphasizes the feminine shape in my opinion.

I’m of two minds. One, I very much like the unexpected surprise of the back and front hem being different rather than matchy-matchy. I also noticed the fish tail effect and was on the fence about it but I can let it go because the designer is well aware of it and likes it. From a construction standpoint though, we’re looking at higher costs of sewing two lined vents rather than one. Then again, I don’t know how she’s finishing the vents now so the costs could even out just fine.

As an aside… remember when I said there were ways for technical people to get their way about some style or design issues? The slit/vent example is a perfect example. It would be inappropriate for a pattern maker or stitcher to say they didn’t like the effect of two slits and that it should be changed to one back slit. It is another matter entirely if a pattern maker or stitcher made the argument that costs are substantively increased with the addition of a lining (which the designer has already said she wants). In the end it could come down to the designer having to make a choice between having a lining vs having two side slits. Either way you have to give them the options and then respect their decision. A technician’s job is to work hard to find ways to make a designer’s idea work; not to find ways to make the technical job easier. I cannot abide the latter. A technician’s job is to serve (with pride), not to call the shots.

snap_placementSnap Construction: Quite a few people on the blog and forum picked up on this (I didn’t). The top snap was too close to the neck edge. The reason this is a construction rather than a style issue is that placing a closure too close to a finished edge weakens it. It already has to do extra work of holding a crisp line and taking wear without the double duty of a closure there. The closest that a button or snap should be to a finished edge -be it side, top or bottom- is half the button or snap size or 1/4″; which ever is greater. In outerwear, vests, or bottom weight goods, the minimum distance is 1/2″ rather than 1/4″. Our designer said this was a genuine mistake, that all other dresses have it the correct way. In this same conversation, she mentioned she was considering a style change to shorten the placket because many “people wear belts with very large decorative buckles” and the placket and snaps get in the way.

Lining Construction: I vote for a lining, stretchy of course. In fact, few of the fusible construction suggestions can be done without one. Other than cost, the trial of adding one will be the pattern cutting first and the sewing second. Once you’ve sewn a couple of vents with linings, it becomes second nature. A lot of vent construction is overly labor intensive if the sewing processes and pattern aren’t aligned in an optimal fashion.

This must be said too; contrary to popular opinion, adding a lining can reduce sewing costs. I did a vest once as an example. Between all the sewing and fusing needed for facings (and finishing off the edges) and clean finishing with a lining, the sewing time was less with the lining. Making a lined garment can be higher in fabric costs but not necessarily in sewing costs.

Last but not least, Style & Design: In reference to all of the style comments on the blog entry, our designer said

Kathleen, I do want to say thank you for stepping in on the public side regarding the styling critiques – things seemed to be heading downhill for a moment there. As a designer I’m very confident in how the design details look, and as you said – this is for a very specific market, a niche for sure. The women in my market are very detail driven, and they like things flashy and bold – red lipstick and giant crinolines are not something most people enjoy wearing, but these ladies like that sort of thing. I can’t be “safe” with this sort of design, it really needs to project the exuberance, excess and fun of the late 1940s and 1950s – the flashier the better.

I have to say that I have a new level of respect for what you have to deal with in regards to the public side of things. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be to moderate all of the random comments (not to mention the amount of email I know you receive). Thank you for doing this, and educating people like me. I truly, truly appreciate everything that you do!

I hope this review was useful to you and showed the line between construction and design critiques.

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  1. Charles says:

    These are the types of responses I was imagning, but I see now why I was confused. I was thinking along the lines of “you _should_ do this” versus “you _could_ do this”, and was having a hard time finding things I felt were definitive enough to mention. Like, I would feel awkward suggesting someone add a lining to something when I didn’t know if it was already lined or not (although we found that out indirectly in this case). Or, putting fusible on those sections – that makes sense, but how can we be sure from a photo that those pieces aren’t already fused?

    Not trying to be a party-pooper – this type of excersize is definitely helpful on a conceptual level. It might just be knowing what it’s like to have your work critiqued in a technical sense based only on photographs, and knowing how they often don’t show things “correctly” – getting a thoughtful critique on a negative aspect that’s actually just a quirk or error in the photograph. (Or, getting positive comments for things that came out looking better in the photo than in real life…) It’s like listening to a song over the phone – I can tell you what I think about the melody or structure, but can’t crituque the way the song is mixed because too much info is missing.

    Like, the neckline definitely gaps in the picture, but does it always do that in real life? Maybe it’s the way the model’s standing, or the air conditioner just turned on and blew it out like that, or she’s wearing a bra with a big flower on the front that’s pushing it out. (Okay, probably not, but can we really be sure just from the pictures?)

    Maybe it’s knowing the designer is actually going to read the comments, which moves it out of the realm of “conceptual”. lol

  2. Kathleen says:

    but how can we be sure from a photo that those pieces aren’t already fused?

    Because they’re sagging, wilting or collapsing. Every crease tells a story.

    As far as linings go it’s dicey. If the piece is lined properly, I can’t always tell but I can nearly always tell if it’s been lined improperly, especially if it’s on a body. Charles, I can even tell the sewing order of a piece from many photographs. Photos are the best way for me to collect competitive intelligence on many firms. If their sewing is out of whack, they’re wasting sewing dollars. They could save a lot of money so I’m REALLY frustrated when these people think they need to go offshore, throw in the towel or something like that because their prices are too high to get any traction. It is very frustrating for me because if they hired me for an hour to consult with them, they’d save tons of money and frustration.

    Like, the neckline definitely gaps in the picture, but does it always do that in real life? Maybe it’s the way the model’s standing, or the air conditioner just turned on…

    I would hate for you to get the wrong idea Charles but yours is a great comment. I don’t know how I know this, I just do. I can’t articulate intangibles like this. Through this exercise and if we have continuing examples, I can learn to describe what I see and others can learn to see it too. In this case of the gap, I would still know it even if the model attempted to fluff out her upper chest. I don’t just read the lines of the design, I read the body too. I know what muscles do and how their shapes change with expansion and contraction. I can lose hours in endless fascination watching muscle groups move. Idiots describe some of this as unproductive “hand flapping“. What they don’t know is that we’re often watching muscle, ligament, joints and flesh move.

    I had this long discussion with various creators of 3D pattern software. I thought it was dumb, a stupid idea, a real waste of money. It was only through discussion with these parties that I learned that 2D pattern pieces do not automatically jump up and form shapes for people viewing them. They do for me. It’s so easy for me (like breathing), it doesn’t occur to me that other people don’t do it effortlessly without thinking. It’s spatial intelligence. Some people have higher spatial IQs than others. Tragically, many people with high (even stratospheric) spatial IQs tend to do very poorly in school. That would explain a lot in my case…

  3. katy says:


    Thank you so much! This is amazing. If you are up for it–it would really help me understand the fit/spatial IQ/etc. If you could show some before and afters of garments that don’t fit well then do, or offer some examples that are weak in one area and a counter-example that is stronger. If you don’t have the desire/time, I totally understand though.

    Can’t wait for the next installment of this series.


  4. Kathleen says:

    If you could show some before and afters of garments that don’t fit well then do, or offer some examples that are weak in one area and a counter-example that is stronger.

    This would be up to the producer of the garment and why I said I’d give preference to those who were willing to do a follow-up after implementation. It would be impossible for me to do it without the pattern and fabric. Then because of time and labor involved, I don’t know how I could provide this service for anyone but clients -unless I won the lottery :).

  5. Victoria Kathrein says:


    I am confused about the dart. Before eliminating the dart, you said to shorten the entire front so it doesn’t ride up. Then, you eliminated the dart (I looked at your example). But, in eliminating the dart you had to lengthen CF piece. Doesn’t this “lengthening” take it back to the original pattern? Am I missing something?


    Victoria Kathrein

  6. Kathleen says:

    Look at the last sketch on the lazy pattern making page. That wouldn’t involve lengthening anything. That variation would work especially if the CF princess seam is moved over to the side.

  7. Victoria Kathrein says:

    One final question with regards to gaping neck (front being too long), I have wrongly corrected similar problems. Except the real problem was not the pattern, it was the fact that the pieces stretched during construction: either they were not interfaced and stretched or, they stretched as I fused the interfacing. In this type of a garment, is it better to construct a basic dress and then create the yokes?

  8. Jess says:

    Kathleen, I would happily trade some of my past high academic grades for some more spatial intelligence! It is a shame it’s not valued in school, I had some friends like that & it was obvious there was missed potential, & frustration for them.
    This is so interesting/educational, thank you.

  9. dosfashionistas says:

    What Victoria said about the yokes. I wondered about that also. If the garment is not being fitted through the yokes, it seems to me that it would save money and neaten construction to sew the yokes separately and apply them as an overlay. The edges would be finished by the piping and could be crackstitched (stitch in the ditch, some call it) in place. I have seen this done with Western shirts, so the idea is not new.

  10. Kathleen says:

    Sarah/Victoria: The order of construction for this dress is fairly obvious (overlays) but I didn’t ask RC anything. I haven’t had any conversations with her about the dress beyond what you see in the forum. I thought it would be cheating to do otherwise. In the event I need to ask the designer a question about their style in the future, I will include the specifics in the entry.

    In this type of a garment, is it better to construct a basic dress and then create the yokes?

    I developed an unusual technique to sew dramatically shaped and fitted yoke style lines like this years ago that I’ve never published but plan to some day. The best way to answer this question in the meantime is to say you should partially construct the bodice and then set the yokes as an overlay before joining at the shoulder line. There is an exception if the yoke does not cover the entire shoulder line. In the case that a tiny tab of the front/back runs all the way up through the shoulder line, then the yokes should also be joined front to back, the front/back at the shoulder line and then the yokes laid over that.

    I can’t think of an example in which a yoke should not be fused, in part this controls shaping. To prevent the yoke from stretching during fusing, you lay the yoke pattern piece down on the ironing board, lay the yoke wrong side up on top of it, fusing on that and then press. Use the pattern piece as a guide to maintain shape integrity. If the shape devolves in spite of your best efforts (it could have happened during cutting itself), you trim the fused yoke to match the pattern piece. Hopefully you would work out this problem before production. It may take block fusing (the need for block fusing is rare, it’s over used especially in California) but first, the yoke pattern should be checked to make sure it is fitting truely. That is usually the problem.

    To some extent RC would have to have fit through the yokes based on the princess line on the shell underneath.

    Hope this answers your questions.

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