The Alston Dress: The Making Of!

This post contains affiliate links to Craftsy, but it isn't sponsored by them; I bought all my classes myself. If you've enjoyed following along with my pattern drafting and want to learn how to do it to, please consider supporting this blog while you're at it by using one of my links to purchase your Craftsy classes! It doesn't cost you anything extra but I get a little tip from Craftsy. 

In my last post, I showed off the final product of all my hard work learning to draft patterns, but today I wanted to get into the nitty-gritty details of how I did it. As I mentioned, at certain points, I really did feel like I had made a terrible mistake getting into this whole mess... but in the end it was worth it! I wanted to do a little bit of a review of the classes I used, so you know what you're getting into if you decide to sign up! I had a great response to my (seemingly endless) instagram stories of  this process, so this is a full review, and therefore, a suuuuuper long post. There's no giveaway at the end or anything, so if you are just here for the pretty pictures... sorry! More of those next week. :)


The Bodice Sloper

The class I used to make my sloper is Suzy Furrer's Patternmaking Basics: The Bodice Sloper on Craftsy. For this class, you start by having a friend (you really can't do this alone) take all your measurements--this should be someone you are comfortable with since they will be up close and personal and know alllll of your measurements down to the quarter inch! You take the usual measurements--bust, waist, high hip, low hip--but also measure how long your shoulder is, the length, from bust apex to bust apex, and a bunch of other very specific measurements. Then, a lot of math and penciling in later, you have your body mapped onto paper. It's very much like the difference between a flat map of the earth and a globe! You can then use your paper pattern to sew up your first "moulage," which fits skin tight. It's basically a sewing dummy cover, but for you. If you have questions about alterations to make, you can post photos in the class group and Suzy is very responsive, making suggestions for improvements. I ended up making three or four moulages. I'm a bit high-waisted so my first one was too long all around (by about 1/2", I think), and the bust points were a little too close together and a little too high up. I made some adjustments and the fit was much improved, but I still needed to do a swayback adjustment. It took me a couple tries to get that just right, but once I had it figured out, I ended up with a perfectly-fitting shell. This shell is tight! It's helpful to have someone who can get you in and out of it (or you can put a zipper in the front instead of trying to zip or pin a center back seam closed).

Once you have your moulage perfected, you add a little bit of ease all around to create your sloper. This is the basic shape that you can turn into a dress bodice or a shirt or whatever you can dream up! Unlike the moulage, which is really too tight to wear as a garment, the sloper fits like you like your clothes to fit: tighter or looser depending on the amout of ease you decide to add to your moulage.

A lot of sloper classes skip the moulage part, but I really found the moulage to be really helpful. It's much easier to tell if your moulage fits perfectly because it's so tight. The way you draft and sew the moulage, with princess seams and an added dart from bust apex to center front, also ensures that the bust apex is spot on, something that is a little trickier to see if you are just using bust and waist darts that don't extend all the way to the apex. By drafting the moulage first, then the sloper, you also know that your sloper will fit perfectly the first time--so although it sort of seems like twice as much work to do the moulage and sloper, it's really only a little bit more.

My only complaint about this class is that most slopers I've seen have a single dart, and this class ends with your sloper having darts all over the place--shoulder, armscye, bust, and waist. It's not too tricky to rotate all the darts into one and trace off a new copy that looks more like a standard sloper, but it was a little bit confusing for me since it didn't look like I expected it to. It's very possible that this aspect is covered in one of Suzy's other classes, Patternmaking and Design: Creative Darts and Seamlines, but thanks to a history of pattern hacking, I'm okay at dart manipulation and I skipped that class, so I'm not sure. Based on how great this class was, though, I may have to go back and sign up for the darts one eventually.

At the end of this class, you have a full bodice sloper, that you can use to make all sorts of tops and dresses. How exactly to go about doing that is not included in the class. For that, I think you'd need the Designing Your Wardrobe: Drafting Tops class (and the Darts and Seamlines class I mentioned above if you are uncomfortable with rotating darts/creating princess lines, etc., although there are a lot of free tutorials for that online, too). Since my dress bodice is the same shape as the sloper we built, I didn't use either of these, but if I wanted to make, say, a button down shirt, I would get the Drafting Tops class.

The Sleeve Sloper

I used a combination of sources to create the sleeve of the Alston dress. First up, the Patternmaking and Design: Creative Sleeves class, also by Suzy Furrer and available on Craftsy. This class covers drafting a set-in sleeve sloper using measurements from your arm and from your bodice sloper, so you'll need to have a complete bodice sloper to start this class. In the first lesson, you learn how to make a basic sleeve sloper. I found the sleeve sloper to be easier to draft, but harder to fit, than the bodice--actually, I'm still not 100% happy with my sleeve sloper, so I have some more work to do if I ever want to make some dresses with proper set-in sleeves!

The rest of the sleeves class teaches you how to make a bunch of different variations on a set-in sleeve: puff sleeves, 3/4 length sleeves, 2-piece sleeves, bell sleeves (#yearofthesleeve, y'all), cap sleeves, etc. There's also a lesson on plackets/towers and cuffs! I didn't get that far, so I can't comment on those. I stuck to the short sleeve, and my short sleeve is okay, but not perfect. I made several versions and got it looking pretty good, but never achieved the great range of motion that I thing I should be aiming for. It wasn't any worse than other dresses I've made, but it wasn't any better either, and I really want my slopers to be perfect, you know? (Note: Make a muslin of your sloper and staystitch your armscyes in a bright color, then use a different color to sew on your sleeve slopers so that it's easy to unpick and replace the sleeves without totally messing up your armscye.)

All of the sleeves covered in the class are set-in sleeves--no kimono or grown on sleeves and no raglans. A lot of people in the comments section of the class mentioned they'd love an add-on with those types of sleeve, so hopefully someday Craftsy will bring Suzy Furrer back to film a sleeves part two class.

To transform my set-in short sleeve sloper into a pretty raglan sleeve (my personal favorite type of sleeve to sew and wear) I turned to a second resource recommended by several people: Patternmaking for Fashion Design (vol. 5), which I ordered off of Amazon for about $100. If you take a minute to think about raglan sleeves, you can figure out that they "borrow" from the shoulder of the bodice to add to the sleeve, and that's basically what the instructions show you how to do--just in a very precise way. Because my sleeve sloper was so asymmetrical (due to my forward shoulders), my raglan sleeve was much less symmetrical than other raglan pattern pieces I've used and looked pretty weird, which made me a little nervous. Even though I didn't ask Suzy Furrer any questions during the other parts of my experiments, I missed having the Q&A section of the craftsy class. (Because you can see everyone else's questions, you can often find someone in the class who has a similar issue and read her response to that person, which is reassuring.) For that reason, I'm not sure you could just buy this book alone and teach yourself. I haven't read the whole book yet (and it isn't really one you could read cover to cover) but there is a ton of useful information in it. The diagrams are very clear and if you sort of know what you're doing, I think you could have a lot of success, but I wouldn't recommend starting here if you haven't done any drafting before. I made several versions of my raglan sleeve, but felt more like I was winging it or feeling it out than I ever did during the bodice sloper class, which was more precise. Overall, I felt like drafting the bodice was more of a science than an art, and the sleeve was more of an art than a science.

Designing the Alston:

Once I had my raglan sleeve dress bodice, I still needed to add the style lines unique to the Alston dress--the neckline, the plunging front panel, the back bodice panel, and the sleeve bands. Oh, and the skirt, which I totally ignored until the last minute, since it was just a simple pleated skirt just like this one. I've done a decent amount of pattern hacking, so this wasn't too much of a challenge, and I didn't use any outside resources. (Note: I think this is what some of Suzy Furrer's other classes are for: creative necklines, creative seams and darts, etc.) All you really need to do is cut apart your pattern where you want the seas to be, and then add in seam allowances. I drew and redrew my style lines on my raglan-sleeve bodice sloper muslin (just in pen) and then transferred them onto my raglan sleeve bodice sloper pattern pieces when I was happy with where they landed. I made a few changes to my pattern pieces, tweaking various aspects of the design until I was totally happy with it. Then-- FINALLY--it was time to cut into my fashion fabric and you know, actually make a dress.

Phew! That was a LOT of information, but as I said alllll the way at the top, I had a lot of people comment on my 12 zillion instagram stories and say they were interested in the process, so I hope this long review was helpful. Even if the experience was frustrating at times, I loved the results, and it was all worth it in the end. One of the most amazing parts of making the dress was after hacking up my sloper into a million pieces, tracing it all out onto a bunch of tissue paper, cutting it out, and sewing it all together, I put on a dress that fit perfectly. It's pretty miraculous to try on a dress you've never even seen before and have it fit straightaway, unlike making other people's patterns where you expect there to be a certain amount of fitting, muslin-making, etc, for every different pattern. I can see how drafting your own would be addictive--now that I have my bodice and sleeve slopers at the ready, I get to jump right in to the fun designing part right away next time the urge strikes.

Any questions? I'd love to convince you all to make your own slopers!

xoxo,
allie

ps: i also have Patternmaking Basics: The Skirt Sloper sitting untouched in my Craftsy library--i can't wait to take that one too!



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4 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness this is the best! I'm so impressed that you made your dress pattern and with so many cute details. Can I ask how you decided to use the book mentioned above? Have you ever seen Suzy Furrer's book? Just wondering how they differ (if you have seen them both-I haven't had my hands on either yet). I totally have the Bodice sloper class in my craftsy account partially completed- I can't wait to finish it! Sounds like Suzy has a lot to offer on Craftsy. She's so legit!!! Thanks for sharing the process, and keep it coming :).

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  2. Hi there, congrats on all the work you have put into that lovely dress, I have been on exactly the same journey and purchased all of Suzy's Craftsy classes - just wanted to acknowledge all the work you put into the foundations before you even started sewing your fashion fabric - well done.

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  3. Your dress really turned out beautifully, it's incredible that it's your very first totally self-drafted pattern!!! But it sounds like you put in many diligent hours to achieve it. This is what I studied in undergrad, and Helen Joseph-Armstrong is the book that we used for our more advanced pattern-making courses as well. I still reference this book--I love it. But I totally agree with you, that one should have the already have basics of pattern-making down or the book might just seem confusing. Having your own personal sloper is great! But I love having a dress form to drape on even better... Just putting that idea out there for you...

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