Sunday, 24 January 2016

Procrastination - part 1, the pattern

The first Historical Sew Monthly challenge of 2016 is Procrastination,
"Finish a garment you have been putting off finishing (a UFO or PHD) or make something you have been avoiding starting."

You can find the Facebook album for the challenge here.

It didn't take long to come up with a plan for this challenge, as I'd been sitting on the idea for seven months! Way back in June 2015, for the Out of Your Comfort Zone challenge, I'd planned to make the 1909 Princess Slip from Frances Grimble's The Edwardian Modiste. However every time I looked at the instructions, it all seemed far too complicated. In my head, it involved something like this!

Pollock's Garment Fitting Frame, from Macclesfield Museum

For the Procrastination challenge, I decided to stop being such a wimp, and just get on with it. And guess what? Drafting the pattern wasn't nearly that bad after all.

The patterns in the book are all from the quarterly magazine The American Modiste, and use the American System of Cutting. This is an ingenious proportional system which uses special rulers (reproduced in the book) to draft out patterns. You use the appropriate rulers for your measurements, and the same pattern diagram will work for all of them.

First, you need to take basic measurements, as described in the instructions. You then use these to select your rulers. For the slip I needed the length of waist (upper body), bust and length of skirt scales, but the last two were the same measurement, so I only needed two rulers. I traced the rulers onto heavy tracing paper, and found that these were robust enough to use without attaching them to card.

On a large sheet of paper, you draw a long vertical line. Then you draw a horizontal line at the top. Frances Grimble recommends pattern paper printed with marks at 1" intervals, but I found that working with ordinary tissue paper and my big quiltmaker's rule (pictured below) was fine.

Using the length of waist ruler, mark out the measurements given in the diagram, as far down as the waist.

First set of measurements marked out

Then, being careful to stay exactly at right angles to the vertical line, draw horizontal lines from these marked points. This time use the bust ruler to mark out the measurements given in the diagram (click on the image below to see it more clearly).

Horizontal measurements marked

I labelled all of my points as I went along, for ease of understanding later. In the image below I've also erased the horizontal lines where they extend beyond the marked point, to make the picture clearer. What you should end up with is a sort of join-the-dots.

Horizontal measurements added

And that's exactly what you do. You can use French curves or a pattern-drafting tool to do this, but I found that the easiest thing to use was a flexi-curve. These are quite easy to find; I got mine from W H Smith.

Marking out the curve

For the section below the waist, you use the length of skirt ruler. In theory using different scales for the upper and lower body should take care of my short-waistedness without the need for me to make any further alterations.

This particular pattern has ½" seam allowances added, but Frances Grimble suggests adding a 1-2" seam allowance onto any piece you're not sure about. As the slip has eight pieces, I added a 1" seam allowance all round; hopefully eight inches will be ample for any alterations.

With seam allowance added

And there you have it; one pattern piece. I've only shown the top part, because otherwise it would be an image of an awful lot of table!

Finished pattern piece

There was one moment of confusion. The width of the side front piece at the bottom is given as 22, which would result in an enormously flared skirt. Looking at the dimensions of the other three pieces, and the shape of the pattern piece in the diagram, I decided that 12 seemed more likely.

Next step - making the slip.


  1. Oh super! I have been so squeamish to try drafting from those books, but I see so many patterns I want to bring to life. Your post is nudging me to try one! I look forward to seeing your finished slip.


    1. Thank you Caroline, hopefully this will prompt me to get something done by the end of the month!

  2. Oh how wonderful that it is coming together much easier than you thought!