Yesterday I went up and started discussing dress design with Mily. She felt the first step was to create what she called “the cradle”, which I gather is a corselette from which the rest of the dress hangs. (Corselette being a less extreme version of the corset; its purpose is not to pull in the waist, but to give the dress a solid foundation that won’t shift around.) So we took my dress patterns, pulled out the pattern for the “foundation”, and started ruthlessly altering it.
It was fascinating watching Mily at work. She was unfamiliar with home pattern standards, and tsk-tsked when I told her that standard seam allowances were 5/8″ all around on every piece. She said that in her couture company, the top seamlines were only 3/8″, 1/2″ on the vertical lines, and 3/4″ at the sides (to allow for alterations later). This reduced bulk, especially when working with a buckram interior. (Buckram is a stiff, loosely woven fabric that looks a little like white window screening. They use it to construct their cradles/foundations.) She also wasn’t happy about not having the seamlines marked. I traced the pattern onto “real” pattern paper (which has a 1″ grid marked on the paper), marked off the seamlines, and she started work.
“Work”, for Mily, involved a lot of measurements, first checking the bust measurements, then the waist measurements, then the between-bust-points measurements, then the shoulder-bust measurement, then…well, you get the idea. Each measurement was done on me and then between seamlines on the pattern pieces (I could see why she wanted the seamlines marked). She shaped the pieces to be more rounded, so they would fit my curves better, brought down the shoulder line (because we wanted the shoulder line a little lower than on the original dress), changed the scoop of the neckline from a V to a rounded curve.
What struck me most, as I stood there for three hours and watched her work her magic, was her rapt attention to detail. She made sure that I get the outside measurements and the seamlines exact when tracing the patterns – she could spot a difference of as little as 1/16″, and insisted that I redo it, telling me that very small changes could make a huge difference in the finished garment. She checked each pattern measurement carefully, and even checked each seamline to make sure the two seamlines matched precisely and that there were no sudden changes of angle at, say, the armpits. If there were, she redrew the lines to produce a smooth, rounded curve.
It took a total of three hours to finish the alterations, at which point the finished pattern looked nothing like the original one! But I took it home, finished and ready to work into a muslin.