Saturday, March 21, 2015

Drafting Patterns from Extant Garments

Ever wondered how to take those line drawings of an extant garment—like those Medieval Garments Reconstructed, Marc Carlson’s database, or Patterns of Fashion--, and make it fit you, while remaining as true to the original garment as possible? Or better, photographs of the garment itself and figure what shape the pieces are?  
            This is the method I used for most of my major projects; The Sture Suit, G63, and most notably my Moselund Kirtle, as well as a number of projects which are planned but not constructed.

            A point on terminology for reconstructing garments (this is what I use): A museum replica is a piece made entirely with the correct technology, to be as close to identical to the extant piece when new (as possibly).  A working replica (what this class is geared towards making) is patterned from, and maintains the proportions of the extant as much as possible while having it fit you, as well as construction and definition; however, the fabric might not be spun/woven to order.  "Inspired by" I do not consider to be reconstructing a garment--you may be making a perfectly good, period piece, but the goal isn't to get as close to a specific extant garment as possible.

For the first, it’s a fairly simple matter of proportions and scaling, although the more shaping there is in the garment, such as in a doublet, the more the proportions need to play off of each other.  For instance, keeping the proportion of the back to the front.  Naturally, with anything fitted some…finagling…will be required (unless by some miracle your shape is the same as the original owner).
When it comes to drafting from the garment itself, it is quite a bit more difficult, since all we have to work with are photographs.  If you are lucky, they will be of good quality.  It helps a great deal if the garment is laying flat, with as few wrinkles as possible—even so, the sleeves require a fair amount of guesswork.  Basically, trace over the photo, including all seam lines; then measure, paying attention to the grainlines, and carrying the measure to the other side if a piece is on both the front and back.

For most garments—particularly loose ones with an armscye, like the Greenland finds—I like to use the shoulder measurement as the basis, since on many garments it is at the point of the shoulder, or close to it (in which case you must use your judgment, based on your knowledge of the type of garment).  Likewise, with fitted garments you will have to use your judgment to determine the amount of ease (remembering, as always, to add extra ease for the linings, etc.).

[1]Once you have chosen your garment, and made copies of the line drawing--I suggest having two copies, one for the original measurements, and one for the scaled version--, you need to find the scale.  In Patterns of Fashion the scale is built into the line drawings.  For others, and when you are working from a garment photograph, you need to figure it out using your choice of whatever measurements are provided.  I find one of the safest ones (and common) is the vertical measurement, from the shoulder to the hem.  Measure the photograph at that point and divide it into the given measurement(i.e. if the garment length is 1090mm, and the photograph is 153mm at the same point, you will end with 7.12 to 1.  Or, if you prefer not to work in metric it would be 42.9 divided by 153 and your measure is 0.28 to 1).  As a note, I like to use metric and millimeters for precision[2].

The resulting number is your scale.  Start taking a full complement of measurements off the photograph or drawing, and multiply all of them by scale, marking each down on your line drawing. 
Once you have those down, mark all the grain lines where you can.  This is partially because slits for gores can be deceptive—slightly angled or flared.

Chose a measurement to scale from.  Divide the original by your measurement there.  For the Greenland garments, I suggest the (front) shoulders, since it is the only measurement which doesn’t have much in the way of ease (example; the shoulders of the extant come out to 16.8”, and you will divide it by your shoulder width (17”) giving me 1 to 1 scale).  Most of the horizontal measurements shouldn’t need adjusting from the proportions.  However, if you are tall (particularly tall and thin), the length adjustments may need a second proportion, going off of the sleeve length—which may get its own length proportion, possibly width as well depending on your bicep measurement.
 In the detailed patterns of PoF, as they are more closely fitted, you have to essentially plug more of your measurements in, adding the appropriate ease (i.e. divide your half waist measure by the same on the garment for that proportion.  Then repeat for the bust measure).  This is particularly necessary for garments that have the side seam towards the back.  The height of the shoulders should be in proportion (front and back), since the slope is typically not right on top of the shoulder.  In all cases, you have to use your judgment to determine whether measurements need adjustment as you go (for instance if the garment is supposed to have the front gore end at the waist, and you have an extremely short torso, you may have to adjust).
Repeat, transferring and scaling, same as for the first.  Do not attempt to include any seam allowances yet.

At this point—if the garment is fairly geometric—figure out your cutting layout, marking out each of the pieces, and adding the seam allowances in.  Then you can scale it up, using the measurements you wrote down to draft it on your fabric.  As always, use a mockup if you are uncertain.  Something I like to do is cut the sleeve out last, so you can check the fit.

Norlund 78 Hood

[1] I chose the Greenland gown, Norlund 33 while working on this.  The scales and measures I reference are to that.
[2] Which means, when you use your body measurements you will need to convert them to metric (multiplying by 2.54).

© John Frey, 2015. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.  Photographs of my work may not be duplicated.

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