You've seen it. The outfit you want to make. That portrait that's been on a postcard on your sewing room wall for a decade. The Janet Arnold pattern that cries out to be made. The gown in the museum display that made you gasp. The Pinterest image that caused the hairs to prickle on the back of your neck...
But how do you go about translating your dream into a reality that you can wear? Unless you happen to be exactly the same proportions as the original wearer, there's some work to be done. Over the last eight years we've brought together writers from all over the world to share their top tips and expertise, so you don't have to perspire over your pattern drafts or struggle with your seam lines anymore!
With over 500 articles on everything from death's head buttons to authentic tailoring skills, we have a mine of information for costume makers. But if it's creating and fitting historic patterns you're after, here's a whistle-stop tour of the articles you may find of most use...
Marion sets us off with a brilliant piece about starting a big project. If you have a grand design in mind, then she has some things for you to consider. For a start, have you considered how the style will work on your body shape? Whether the colour will enhance or drain your complexion? Just because you love it on a painting or in a glass case doesn't mean it will work for you without adjustments. Everyone has certain silhouettes, styles or shades that suit them best, and it's always worth considering the finished look before you plough straight into a project.
|Will your choice fit and flatter? Marion provides key points to consider|
Of course, before you start any actual sewing, you need accurate measurements. This may sound easy, but there's a knack to it and some common mistakes many of us make, especially when it comes to that balance of providing enough ease without losing the essential shape. Marion gave us a brilliant guide to measuring back in 2013. It even has video tutorials!
|Where to measure on the body.|
So, what if the pattern doesn't exist yet? What if you've seen something you want to make, but you have to make your own pattern from scratch?
We can help. With a series of articles on basic pattern drafting, you too can be the master (or mistress!) of your own patterns.
Following on through Marion's series, you can then learn how to use these measurements to create a basic set of pattern blocks, alter them to create custom patterns and, ultimately, these basic skills mean you will then be able create your own patterns based on garments in paintings and illustrations. Everything you need to get started is right here with the Basic Front and Back.
If all that still sounds a little daunting, then Cathy's 'Easy Pattern Drafting for Absolute Beginners' (Hark! Let's have a quick David Bowie moment!) is your answer.
Pattern drafting needn't give you nightmares.
Equally, it's not always easy to fit yourself – or find someone willing and able to help you – but Jenny-Rose White has the answer for the lone seamstress.
|Jennifer White showed us how to get a perfect fit, even when you don't have a sewing buddy to pin you in!|
If you want to copy an extant garment, then a great place to start is Jennie Chancey's article on 'forensic costuming.' No, this isn't anything to do with CSI, but instead the technique of properly studying garments to gain the most, and best, information from them. Not only does Jennie run through all the kit you'll need (particularly useful if you're going on a museum study visit), but she also provides a comprehensive list of every aspect you'll need to investigate to make sure you don't miss anything. There would be nothing worse than returning from your visit to find you forgot to measure an essential seam, or photograph a particularly curious detail!
|Even the most delicate or damaged garments can be turned into usable patterns with the right tools and skills|
Jennie also guides us through the process of taking a pattern from an extant garment. This is something explored further by Caroline La Porta in her article 'Copying Your Closet.' If you have a piece of clothing you love and want to recreate, or something that's become too fragile to wear, then Caroline will show you how to turn it into a usable pattern.
|Caroline La Porta turns a garment into a pattern, step-by-step|
For another take on how a garment can be studied forensically, look at Sunshine Buchler's article comparing the construction of four Victorian day bodices. She works methodically through every aspect of the garments, giving plenty of information on everything from the fastenings to the seam finishes so that we can copy the original construction techniques.
|Sunny Buchler studies the four bodices in great detail, providing valuable insight into the seamstresses' skills and technique|
Sometimes, the pattern already exists but needs some work. There are some useful tips about scaling patterns up in our 'Ask the Experts' Q&A from August 2009.
Cathy Hay wrote a wonderfully useful guide to resizing historical patterns. This is particularly useful if you're wanting to work from small-scale patterns like those in the books of Janet Arnold and Norah Waugh.
Cathy works through several methods of scaling up patterns and pattern adjustment to suit all costume makers. There are paper methods for the more mathematically-minded, or draping methods for those of us who prefer a more 'hands-on' approach.
If it's historically authentic techniques you're seeking, then there are original books and dressmakers' guides available online. Cathy and Marion picked their favourites in this article from 2010. These sewing guides are free to view and chock-full of wonderful illustrations and tips to help you get that 'stepped out of a portrait' finish.
Perhaps one of the most popular of these is the 'Keystone' Jacket and Dress Cutter with its prescribed 'system' for achieving the perfect fit – whatever your shape or posture. Published in 1895, this must surely be the ultimate guide to fin de siècle glamour and an essential resource for anyone recreating dress of the 'Gay 90s', especially those fabulous sleeves...
|Jeanne Hallée dinner dress c.1894-6, in green velvet, with the voluminous sleeves typical of the era (OASC Lisence, Met Museum)|
Sleeves are the bane of many a costume maker's life, and drafting them can be a daunting prospect for veteran pattern makers, never mind newbies. Back in 2011, Marion McNealy provided a wonderfully straightforward and foolproof guide to 'Drafting a Basic Sleeve'. No more cursing over misaligned armscyes! If you follow her step-by-step instructions and remember a few key principles, it's hard to go wrong. That which may once have seemed impossible will become a cinch.
|With a bit of string and Marion's instructions, sleeves will no longer be a source of stress!|
Jennie Chancey also shares lots of advice on drafting your own sleeves, starting with a basic sleeve sloper, before moving on to creating your own skirt patterns.That article follows on beautifully from her basic guides to drafting a bodice sloper [block] and turning this into a historical bodice pattern.
|Jennie Chancey starts at the very beginning, with the basic kit you'll need to start drafting your own patterns|
Lastly, you may find this is the perfect excuse to add to your collection of costume books. If so, there are some recommendations here for books which will help you refine and add to your skills.
|Surely there's no such thing as owning too many costume books?|
We hope this has helped you navigate your way around some of our 500+ articles here on Your Wardrobe Unlock'd. If you have any other particular favourites, or have found articles which we've not mentioned here but have been particularly useful to you, please feel free to share them in the comments below.
Equally, please tell us what else you'd like to know about and we'll do our best to accommodate your wishes in our upcoming schedule!