A young student recently emailed, asking about dress form usage.
Here are some answers:
Draping on the form
In the picture above I’m showing my adult students how to drape basic front and back slopers. I’ve draped the front sloper, clipping at the neck and waist to allow the muslin to lie over the form. I’m about to drape the back sloper.
Because turning the right side over gives the left side, I only drape the right side of the form.
On the right the shoulder is about to be adjusted, the side bust dart increased, to allow the cross grain to lie parallel to the floor.
Understanding fabric is crucial for successful draping
Most clothing is cut on the straight grain.
Straight grain refers to the direction of a fabric’s weave that traditionally parallels the selvage (finished edge) of the fabric.
Before fabric is woven, the warp yarns are threaded through the loom.
The weft yarns are then woven through the warp yarns. Warp yarns are stronger than the weft (fill) yarns because they must be able to withstand the constant beating of the weaving process. Warp yarns lie on the straight of the grain.
The weft (fill) yarns lie on the cross grain, a 90 degree angle to the warp yarns.
Because they are the fill yarns, and only need to move through the warp yarns once, they are not as strong as the warp yarns.
When fabric is cut so the warp (straight grain) yarns hang on the plumb, garments last longer, drape and hang better because the stronger yarns are supporting the garment.
Straight and cross-grain lines
The straight grain AND cross grain need to be marked on all pattern pieces.
To ensure good draping, ALSO mark the straight and cross-grain lines on all of the muslin pieces before pinning them to the form.
These lines are needed on both the patterns and muslins. They need to be marked on the muslin to properly align your muslins on the form.
Determining that the draped muslin is on grain
Make sure, when pinning muslin on the dress form, that the straight-grain lines are on the plumb to the floor, and that the cross-grain lines are parallel to the floor.
A plumb line, shown in the diagram above, can be made by tying a string to bolt, as shown here. Use the plumb line to establish the straight-grain lines. In the diagram it is being used to determine the side seam, which is traditionally drafted on a straight-grain line.
Use a four-foot straight edge to make sure the cross-grain lines are parallel to the floor. A four-foot straight edge can be purchased at a hardware store.
First lay the major pieces – such as the skirt or bodice on the form.
Work from the top down.
Pin, then see how it looks. Much of getting this right can be done by eye.
Using Dress Forms to Design
1. Paper can be cut and pinned to the form, shown in the picture above, which then, after being fitted, can be used as patterns.
2. Flat patterning can be used to manipulate patterns into new styles, then cut in muslin and pinned to the form to see the effect.
3. Muslin can be draped on the form, then rearranged until the desired effect is achieved.
4. Styles can be developed on the dress form, then custom graded to fit individuals.
Checking that a home-sewing pattern is drafted correctly
The industry’s dress forms are manufactured to exact measurements
Pattern makers, drapers, and designers use dress forms, manufactured to the company’s grade-rule measurements, to develop patterns that fit the sample size correctly.
The dress form in the above picture is a standard size eight.
A blouse pattern, shown on the left, has been cut from muslin to check if it has been drafted to the grade-rule’s measurements. Notice that the blouse pattern and muslin are too small at the waist. All of the pattern’s printed sizes need the width at the waist corrected before my students can use the pattern in class.
The blouse pattern’s sleeve cap also has problems. Walking the sleeve cap around the armhole revealed that the sleeve cap’s sewing line was 1/2 inch too short. A different sleeve pattern is being tested to make sure its sleeve cap sews into the blouse pattern’s armhole.
Grade rules are mathematical systems companies use to make sure the sizing is consistent throughout a clothing line’s size range.
A clothing line is a collection of clothing styles that are designed to meet a designated typical customer’s life style and body type.
Depending on a company’s number of clothing lines, some companies may have several grade rules, others may have only one.
The diagram above shows where patterns are graded to enlarge or reduce their sizing. All of the vertical dashed lines on the pattern are straight-grain lines. All of the horizontal lines, with the exception of the waistline, are cross-grain lines. All grading involves parallel moves.
Patterns are developed to fit the sample size, a size that is approximately mid-way in the grade-rule’s size range.
It is not until the pattern’s garment has been approved for mass-production that the sample size pattern is graded into the other sizes in the size range.
Dress forms are also used to check sections of custom-made garments
The left picture shows the stiffening that will be used in the prom gown’s bodice being checked on the dress form before being sewn into the prom gown’s bodice, shown on the right.
The Fit Model
To make sure clothing designs will fit the typical customer, designing departments hire fit models.
A fit model has the same measurements as the clothing line’s typical customer, whom she represents. All clothing made for that line of clothing will be tried on its fit model to make sure the clothing fits, is comfortable, and will look good on the typical customer.
Because much of the process of designing new garments does not require the fit model, fit models usually have an additional job, such as clerical or another assignment in the designing department.
Much of the time a dress form, manufactured to the company’s grade rule measurements, can substitute for the fit model. But it is a temporary substitution.
To be sure the desired effect and fit is achieved, the garment needs to be tried on the fit model.
Learning to fit people is more important than learning to fit the form
A dress form is a substitute for fitting a person. Fitting a form works only so well, the reason I don’t use dress forms in my classes.
Instead I have my students fit each other, the only way, in my opinion, for students to learn how to fit well.
There is no substitute for fitting the person who will wear the garment. Most people are wearing clothing that doesn’t fit because many people’s figures are significantly different than standard sizing, a grade rule used throughout much of the industry.
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