Phase 1 -- Naivete and confusion
In the very beginning, when I didn't know how to sew, I would cut out the pieces straight out of the envelope and be surprised when I ended up looking like a potato sack. This period probably peaked when I made the muslin for Colette's Rooibos dress. I just felt so deeply discouraged. EVERYONE on the internet was making Colette patterns. Why couldn't I make Colette Patterns too?
Publicly, I blamed Colette (or whichever pattern of the day) and how their patterns were "poorly designed" and "made for boxy figures". But secretly -- and don't be fooled here -- I blamed my body. Because things I sewed did not look good, my conclusions were that there was something wrong with my body. Even when I somewhat caught on that I might need to perhaps alter the patterns, I lacked the know-how to do that properly. So instead of realising that my pattern-alteration skills (or lack thereof) were the problem, I concluded that it was not possible to be well-dressed with the body that I had.
So in light of this, I felt that there was something wrong with my body that prevented me from being a good dressmaker. At some point I became so fed up and frustrated from the continuous poor dressmaking results, that I simply decided to reject patterns altogether. If no one could make patterns that fit me, I would make MY OWN. So for a while, I did that. I found eSewing Workshops, and I made my own bodice and skirt blocs that I could modify ad infinitum. This was quite an empowering process and allowed me to derive a lot of joy from dressmaking. I drafted my Lobster Dress pattern in that period, for example.
But the problem with this total rejection of commercial patterns is that I wasn't really learning new sewing techniques, and I wasn't being pushed outside of my comfort zone. This is what a new, difficult pattern can do for us after all; it gives us headaches, but it also allows us to grow as a dressmaker. When you're sewing skills are limited (as mine were, and continue to be, in many ways), your pattern drafting skills are equally limited.
Phase 3 -- Reconciliation
Several events in the past months have led to a new era in my dressmaking marked by a renewed appreciation for commercial patterns. The first event was reading the book Fit for Real People (which I talked about here, here and here). The second was attending Lorraine Henry's seminars at the Creativ Festival this spring (I talked about it here and here). And the third was discovering, through Lorraine Henry, this book.
Here's what I've come to understand:
1) The Big 4 pattern companies are the same. They use virtually the same slopers as a base for their designs. What this means is that the same alterations come up again and again and again. Once you know what your figure variations are, and how to adjust the patterns for it, sewing from commercial patterns can be really fast and rewarding.
3) You can't make your body do things that it doesn't want to do. What do I mean by that? You have to accept that there are styles that you will never be able to wear, and that's OK. In my case, I've learnt to stay away from shift dresses, pencil dresses and anything that assumes your body is vertically straight, and I try to stick with styles that delineate the waist.
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I remember how I used to read blogs by more experiences dressmakers and they just made dressmaking seem SO EASY and I wondered why it was that they were always getting good results. I finally feel that I'm getting closer to their secrets. :-)