Category Archives: fitting a fashionable shape

1876 draft update

The draft really didn’t need a huge amount of adjusting, I may just need to adjust some of my measuring ūüôā

The back is lovely, it’s just too wide in the shoulders, and my mannequin does have a higher shoulder than me.

The front is a bit of a mess, I always have this trouble with drafting systems from this era though, so it’s no different. I¬†can however use the changes made today to determine how to take measurements for the¬†next run through.

So basically the same issues as with corsets I have scaled, with other patterns- I have a proportionally narrow torso. I am hour glass but I do not continue to taper out past my lower ribs.

But strangely I had to lower the waist at the side and raise it at the front. This is partly because I clipped the armscye and smoothed the excess towards the upper back and that then also spread down the side.

I also lowered the bust dart points, mainly because I think this mannequin¬†has a¬†very long shoulder to bust measure vs me. But it’s nice to see that this was a relatively easy remedy.

Overall? would recommend for someone who is used to these kinds of drafting tools.

The instructions are lengthy but a bit confusing only because the diagrams are super simple so it can be hard to work out immediate if you are looking at the the draft lines or the tool. But it was pretty easy to do once I got the hang of it. ūüôā Next step¬†is to see if the tool will give the same corrected shape with the new measurements ūüôā

The basque was very easy and worked really well for me for over a natural form shape ūüôā


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1876 basque

The science and geometry of dress
by Jackson, Louisa L., Mrs. [from old catalog]

Published 1876

So,¬†the trouble with the system is the “bust” measure is a sort of not really measurable distance where the armhole (arm size) and the side seam end. ¬†And then you take the back measure separately. Not a full measure all the way around. I¬†used my¬†padded form¬†but still estimated where the side seams would sit. I think I need to tweak it a bit more. But other than my near universal shoulder/side of bust fitting issues I think the scale works.

If I look at the patterns taken from existing garments the arm hole is most definitely not as per¬†the first pass of the tool. I need to get a bit courageous about trimming here! Also to adjust the super rigorous¬†dart placement- the¬†drafting tool is¬†quite old fashioned in that it feels like it’s from the 1860s-very early 1870s. This is about the time there should be two side back seams that slope a little more gently. So¬†I think the tool will work, it just won’t look like the diagrams but will look like the extant items.

The additional steps to make a basque though are brilliant. And it does show exactly why the cross dart sits where it does. This is where fabric naturally folds in at the waist with the basque (called skirts in this book.)

You can see how the fabric is super full in the armscye and above the bust. I’ll smooth the fabric over the stand and then compare to the tool to see what I¬†would recommend in terms of using modern equipment.

The book is very unyielding in the  sens that the distance from CF and CB to first dart is specified. And the distance between darts also specified. The tops of the darts are also very much decided by the tool (while the height is adjustable the distance from centre front is not.


I do love the basque and how the darts are formed! If nothing else I am keeping the dart tool!

I compared the diagrams to extant patterns and yes, I will need to do what these do: rotate  the armscye towards the centre front.


These are all from Patterns of Fashion.

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1876 tool update

Okay, so the body templates are very wrong! My scale isn’t too far off but the markings on it are not perfect. I will do an annotated run through. One problem is the book says to lay the front waist tool 1″ from the edge of the material. but the tool already has a 1″ mark (A). That is not the 1″ that it needs to be set from the edge. Not if the bust measures are to work.

Having tried this tool I know now that the miniature is really not a perfect scale of the full tool as it will appear. The dart and side seam rules are good so I have now made a single file of all the miniature tools.

Some of the markings are wrong.¬†The vertical measures should all be identical distances ditto the perfectly horizontal. So I scaled to the dart rule and made sure the distance between the edge and the lower¬†bust mark as 9″ and this now makes all the “standard” measures line up.

The science and geometry of dress
by Jackson, Louisa L., Mrs. [from old catalog]

Published 1876


thumbnail of 1876minitoolfront thumbnail of 1876minitoolback thumbnail of 1876minitooldart thumbnail of 1876minitoolsidecurve

So these all match, I started with all the mini tools on one file and scaled. everything that I know to be inches seem to match up.

I’ll update my earlier post with the new files ūüôā


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some gems from the manual

The science and geometry of dress

by Jackson, Louisa L., Mrs. [from old catalog]

Published 1876

We cut on the fold due to wide fabrics, this explains why cutting fronts is best done individually.

Yes! The side is where you can do some final fitting tweaks. But it was better to adjust everywhere else first.

How to space buttons for a large bust- it depends on the button size.

The crossdart! (Fish dart) And how it was used and how the third dart came about (I think seen in at least one PoF garment).

Tips on how to draft a princess dress. I¬†am so happy about the polonaise comments! I have been wondering if there were rules about this but no ūüôā


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dress form extreme make over

This particular form has a few features I have, a pronounced upper ribcage curve, high bust, round ribs. Her hips are a bit too round in cross section but that is easy to adjust by dialing the front and back dials a size larger and the side dials a size lower.


I used very taper shoulder pads to fill in the upper side of the bust, a corset is meant to lift and support so I want this in the same position as I want to achieve.

The padded bra is foam bonded to lycra based fabric so is very soft. I also filled in the gap between bust point and edge of should pads with a bit of foam.

And then a lycra shell was stretched over and basted at neck before I started basting through all layers including the velour form cover.

I darted to the armscye and took a dart out of the back panel on each side.


And voila, a form that is me but exaggerated (also at a height for wearing heels, I should have dropped her down for the photo but hey.

The form has a slight belly which is good for spoon busk corset types, but not so exaggerated as to not appeal modernly..

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Making the tools

As per my previous posts I now have the tools for the 1876 drafting system.

The science and geometry of dress
by Jackson, Louisa L., Mrs. [from old catalog]
Published 1876

I printed and used contact spray to lay them on¬†the inside of a cardboard box my new mirror came in. So nice to have an honest mirror that I can also move for best light/view ūüôā

So I think I got the bodice close, in comparison to the size of the dart anyway. If I have any concerns I know I can redo them using the miniature dart form.

Last night I also padded and resized a¬†dress form to be the ideal shape.¬†Which means today actually draping and drafting ūüôā


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1876 tools

I am not completely convinced the size is correct but I have isolated each tool from:

The science and geometry of dress

by Jackson, Louisa L., Mrs. [from old catalog]

Published 1876

I only know the dart and the skirt tools¬†are correct for printing- as pdfs. The waist¬†and curve… not so sure. I need to really go through the full text to make a bodice pattern to check the placement. Anyway. If you have photoshop you can rescale the files anyway. If you have a pdf viewer choose “poster” as print type and it will automatically print to size.

thumbnail of tooldartrule

The dart is true, I have seen these only in printed form inside books so had no idea just how big they are. I think in terms of centimeters. The curve feels far too big, I scaled to match the 1,2,3,4 as inches. (since trying, these are indeed quite large.)


(I have switched out these files to be more accurate! These are mini tools meant for teaching, so only the “standard” marks are true, I will be marking additional sizes as the scale proper becomes more accurate)

thumbnail of 1876minitoolfront thumbnail of 1876minitoolback thumbnail of 1876minitooldart thumbnail of 1876minitoolsidecurve

These were very hard to figure out. I scaled using the waist length as true to size so¬†is scaled so the distance between each “inch” is one inch.


thumbnail of tooldressskirtrule thumbnail of tool

These two were much easier. What I love about the first skirt tool is it does show some care in deciding on the angle of the side of¬†the skirt gores! The rest of the skirt is basically as per¬†“Nora” (as seen in Patterns of Fashion) but this is about the angle from waist to hip, aso that is very cool ūüôā

I also spent the noight padding a form to my most ideal¬†“Victorian” shape. So I can make¬†corset and bodice patterns that give a very¬†good exagerated ideal form. Not easy when I have a shape that simply has not been fashionable. Okay. c1480 and say 1550-1610 in Cleves and Spain. But that’s kind of it.But that’s for another post. I need sleep!

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Oh look, the perfect book!

The science and geometry of dress
by Jackson, Louisa L., Mrs. [from old catalog]

Published 1876
Topics Dressmaking


So this is really interesting and does indeed help explain the fish dart in some garments.


The basic pattern blocks for bodices were still based on ones from the 1860s. This is to say¬†the end at the waist. I’m started printing the¬†pages up . The first section is for the basic¬†bodice block, then there is a saque, next up are basques (ie bodices that extend past the waist.) So this is very exciting ūüôā My printer is liking the pages so that is also good!

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anne of cleves progress

I am more than 5/6 through the overhanding of the gold borders. I physically can’t make tiny stitches but I also have no one to do this kind of sewing for me and no machine sewing even looks as nice as my slightly long stitches.

So, it’s a case of sck it up, no one will see unless they are actually at my hem. Also if they are they’ll hopefully notice the fabrics and before passing judgement already be thinking of the problems and solutions possible.

Also it’s real silk and real metal. Not mylar. The particular weaves are also very firm, very firm. To the point getting a needle through is tough. A needle needs to be sharp enough at the end to even get through the weave but not so sharp it winds up splitting the threads rather than pass betwee. The body also needs to be slick enough to pass between the threads and not drag them. And finally the needle needs to be solid enough to withstand the drag stress of passing through the fabrics (4 layers thick).

I’m also looking to do a series of in person and online workshops.¬†Basically I have been queried a few times on why I rely on my instincts (and I’m framing both my initial and follow up responses in more specific ways) .

I do have good instincts on spotting a modern replica at 50 paces and it is built on a lifetime of access to artists and technical manuals that eventually have morphed into a shorthand. It’s hard to explain not because I don’t have an understanding but that each layer of understanding is built on previous and untangling that for someone who doesn’t have that background is difficult.

So I am working backwards and forwards through time and processes, so it’s taking a bit of¬†work to hunt down resources. I learnt most modern pattern making from books I just read in the library and couldn’t request so I don’t even have records for what most them them- so this is requiring me to read modern drafting and draping books and figuring out what¬†is very new and what is still the same from the 1960s/70s. These books were still on the shelves until very recently and were out of date stylistically but still current in terms of technique.

Luckily a lot of vintage books are starting to become available in e-format!

But that’s also something to take into account- we don’t use darts as much as seams now. It’s a stylistic change but also profoundly affects technique. Especially when looking at straight darts vs curved seams. And cutting fabric always changes the stretch within a large distance from the cut.

And once you cut fabric you can’t uncut it but you can unpick a dart. So again, profound technical changes that started as apparently stylistic choices.

And knits- or mechanical stretch- has really changed how things fit, are cut, and sewn, and assembled.

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fitting wrinkles 1

I may have been reading too many of my Girl’s Own Annuals again!

Anyway, fit has been on my mind a lot recently.

I think there is a fear of fitting, and I totally get why. It’s incredibly invasive! If someone helps fit you they have to lay their hands on you and move your body in unfamilir ways.

It is such a matter of trust there are only a few people I will offer to help one on one, and that is generally if I trust the garment, and the person is an adult.

So here is a very first start to a lesson series. Or guide, or tutorial.


I have three mannequins here. I can make them all the same measurements. here is the closest match to the calico covered form.

Ignoring the length differences, notice the height of the busts.


Notice the shape and gravity defyingness. Also, the direction and placement.

When placing a dart under the bust or a seam over the bust and down to the waist there is a division of the front of the body. If I were to make the same garment for each, they would have to be adjusted for each form as generally the distance between bust points over sizes scales, the shape of the sides, and how they curve around the ribs changes.

I look at a garment on the stand and think it looks lovely, then I put it on and it is not flattering, to me¬†I’m very circular in cross section so darts/seams don’t sit like on oval forms. So I test on all three forms for fit and balance. Nothing wrong in fit, nothing wrong in the shapes of us, just that they are different.


The dark brown form has very round hips in cross section. They are set to the same size as the others but because the fullness is almost perfect even garments will hang very differently, and vice versa.

The bust points are also different and requires a bit of math to work out how to set the dials to bring them together/further apart- also the torsos are in four parts, there is not a lot of transformation possible!

The hips also slope slowly or curve out abruptly.

I am a mix of these three. I wind up using the dark brown form for upper hip and armscye fittings.

Backs and shoulders:

The forms also show very different stances! And when a pattern is made to fit, it will sit differently on me if I don’t match the stance.

The peachy-tan form has a ballet back! The back of the pelvis is turned under for a turn out.

The calico form has a slight sway back.

The dark brown form is bent forward slightly at the shoulders.

I haven’t called them flaws, because I stand like all three depending on circumstance. But it means I do have to really check what era is best matched ūüôā

They also really are distinctive modern historic fashion stances. The dark brown in particular has a 1950s and 60s shape. The peachy-tan one looks very 1980s (the shoulders are not large but from handling this form it is easy to add shoulder padding, in fact easier than any other.) The calico form is much more modern. Built in shoulders mean no room for extra padding and an expectation of a muscular upper back.


I use the calico form for nearly everything else as I am able to pad her to a victorian shape. I add extra hip and bust padding, which is squishy, so I can see the effect of pinching fabric in at the waist and how to taper darts or use an S shape in my dart to create an exaggerated bust.

So I use padding not only to match my shape but to match the shape I¬†want. In the case of Mina.. that has been seriously challenging! As I am circular in cross section I cann’t squish underbust at all. So it always looks bigger in proportion. I have to wear extra.. enhancements to balance that, and even more to get that magnificent sweep of the bodice that made me fall in love with the gown.

I do generally add padding anyway.



There is so much more, obviously, there are shelves of books on the subject. Photos, diagrams, text.. anything you could want. But sometimes it takes seeing something unfamiliar to make that connection.


So that’s why I keep sharing my experiences. As both someone who has had to tackle fit for my own body and to make them both work for historical styles.


Being able to talk about the forms and their shapes

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