21 November 2005

Clothes Mocketh the Man...

There comes a time when sewing is no longer a solitary activity. So it is with mocking up and fitting patterns. The pattern I use is one I drafted a long time ago and I've lost weight and my desires have changed somewhat as to what I want the thing to look like, fit like, and be able to do. For the looser jerkin which will be worn over a doublet, the old pattern was fine. Since I lost weight proportionally across my frame, the largeness of it was consistant (if that makes any sense) so it suits me fine as an outer garment. For the more form-fitted doublet, that is not the case and I find myself in the predicament of needing a partner to help me re-size the thing.

Now, I've done this for others numerous times and been the guy who poked and grumbled at the 'model' for fidgeting and moving and generally being alive. Well, for all those out there who've had their garments fit by yours truly, rejoice... my uppance has come.

As I've mentioned in the past, I'm not going to get into drafting a pattern from scratch (at least not right away) for several reasons:
  1. I don't need a (completely) new pattern at the moment.
  2. There are so many others out there who have explained it so well that I would be re-inventing the wheel.
  3. I find the process tedious.
However, as I get older I find that my bodyshape has been fluctuating far more than it did in my twenties, so re-sizing my pattern has become an important tool for me. The manner in which I do this works for both genders, by the way (with the obvious changes, of course). I re-drafted the pattern my wife used for her Italian noble bodice with the lacing back seams. I can't say there was a marked difference in the way that went together versus a doublet. Some things really are universal.

CAVEAT: This is how I do this. Kris informs me that there are numerous other ways in which this is and can be done. Also, by the time I'm finished it is quite possible that it would have been less effort to just draft a new pattern. Stubbornness, thy name is Scott.

Since Kristin was one of the first victims of my tailoring pins, it's fitting (pun intended) that she gets to be the tailor this time around.

I laid out the pattern in the usual way on the eggplant denim. This dark heavy fabric has roughly the same body as the final doublet material and is dark enough to see the white chalk lines. If you're using lighter material, use blue chalk. It's not that big a deal, really. White lines on dark fabric photograph better and I'm doing everything with half an eye on how it will look on this site.

I cut out my pattern with an overly-generous seam allowance. (Sometimes, the angle of the entire seam will need to change and a the extra material will allow for this.) Then I basted the thing together with a nice long stitch length. Then I put it on and pin it together in a manner replicating how it will be when it has button holes.

CAVEAT: When you are doing this, remember that you need to account for a final seam allowance. Wherever the rough edge of your fabric is, the real edge will be a 1/4 to 1/2 inch back depending on your preferred allowance. If you don't account for this in the fitting, it will be too small when you've got it put together into a final piece.

In the following photos you may notice that I added an extra seam up the back. I can't remember if I mentioned that when I was discussing plans for the doublet. Every seam you have is one more point of adjustment and makes the fit that much more tailored. Some patterns I've noticed have a back seam, a 'princess' seam, and a side seam, allowing a maximum degree of adjustment. There is such a thing as overkill. At some point your doublet starts to resemble a patchwork quilt.

At each seam, pull the wrinkly slack out of the fabric and pin it. We used safety pins here, I've had good luck doing this with binder clips as well. Look for puckers and obvious fit issues and play with the seams until they're gone.

Keep in mind that everytime you adjust the back or the front piece, you need to keep an eye on your shoulder and neck seams lest they be pulled too far forward or back. Communication between the pinner and the pinned is essential and why doing this over a dress form or duct-tape dummy is not as desireable as having your clothing fit to you. If the collar is choking you, or if the armscrye is too tight and cutting off circulation to your sword arm, the dummy won't tell you.

When you get the fit like you want it, take the chalk and trace along the pinned lines. These will be the place for your new seams.

While you're doing this, the person whose doublet this will be needs to goof around a little. It goes back to what I was saying about making certain your doublet will do everything it will be called to do. Do you need to fence in it? Wear it under armor? Swing from a chandelier? Climb trees? Think of all the things you could possibly need to do and do them, or at least simulate them. Then ask your tailor to make the appropriate adjustments before you take it off. It should be snug, but not too tight to move.

Once the sewing machine in back from the shop, I will baste seams along the chalk lines. Then one more fitting like this one to mark any easements I will need in terms of making or moving the armscrye, collar etcetera (these things move a little when you do that)

All my life I've had trouble buying suits off the rack and I never understood why until I learned to sew. Now that I've fitted and drafted patterns to my bony carcass, I understand why. I'm all torso, which makes pairing up a jacket and slacks difficult without looking like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins when he's dancing with the penguins. Which isn't a good look for anyone, in the renaissance or whenever.

I sometimes wax prosaic about why we differentiate between a costume and garb. A key part of what makes an outfit cross the costume/garb barrier is fit.

In my mind, Costumes are put together to look good for a short time. Some of them look spectacular for thier intended lifespan: the run of a play, the costume ball, or even the run of a season of faire. But it's in the final weekend of a three-weekend faire that you begin to see the difference between costume and garb. If your faire lasts more than a month, the people wearing costumes suffer like a sprinter who entered a marathon and thought they were doing well because they led the first half of the race. Marathons are won in the final mile.

I have nothing against costumes per se. But if you sew your renaissance wear like I do, with fit and function as your watchwords, stressing wearability and endurance... well, you'll be wearing clothing, not costume. And - for me at least - that makes all the difference.


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