Sometimes It's Wise to Make Your Garment Twice

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on Jan 4, 2006 1:41 PM

If you’ve ever attempted to crochet a garment, then you have been faced with a tormenting question: Will it fit?

One prerequisite to making a well-fitting garment is, of course, to match the gauge given in the pattern (see previous article about the Joy of Swatching).

But that’s only part of the answer to this question. Matching the gauge specified in the pattern ensures you will get a garment with the dimensions intended by the designer. But will these particular dimensions fit you? Will the general style and shaping be flattering?

If the garment is a rather classical one, chances are that you already have garments with similar styling in your own wardrobe, or that you can easily find a similar garment that fits you in a store. Then you can just check the measurements in the schematics (hopefully provided with the pattern), measure the garment that already fits you and see if the numbers match.

But sometimes this is not possible. Perhaps the garment you want to make is not a classical style. It’s something new – at least to you. And you can’t find anything like it in the stores – or you are too busy or too far away to go shopping.

Don’t worry. There’s still hope. You don’t have to spend hours and hours actually crocheting this garment before you know whether it will fit or not. I suggest you make this very garment a first time before you start crocheting (and maybe even before you buy the yarn!) according to the measurements of the schematics – not in crochet but in fabric.

This is a tale in the past tense, because the garment in my example is a bolero. Today, boleros abound in the stores here in France, but a year ago, there were none. That’s why I had no idea how this style would work for me, when I found a nice pattern in a knitting magazine.

I was only browsing this magazine for inspiration, and had no intention to dig up my long forgotten knitting needles. But this shape was really something I would like to try – maybe simply by converting the pattern into crochet; maybe by applying some kind of free-from technique.

But the hitch was: would this style suit me? Or would I look like a rugby player with a bad boob job? (Wide shoulders and a large bust are not flattering in all garments, believe me). There was only one way to know: make a mock garment.

So, I went to the cheapest fabric store in town and bought a knit fabric on sale. A knit fabric (as opposed to a woven fabric) is a fabric which looks like miniature knitting if you look closely. It’s stretchier than a woven fabric, and therefore mimics a crocheted fabric better. The one I found (at a whopping 0.75 euros per meter) was rather thin – it would have been even better if it had been a bit thicker, like a sweatshirt fabric. On the plus-side (besides the price), was the fact that it was a solid colour (very, very green). Patterned fabrics are less useful for making mock garments. The pattern tends to distract the eye from the shape of the garment – and that shape is what we really want to see here.

I went back home and proceeded to make my mock garment. (If you know how to sew, the explanations that follow will perhaps seem too detailed. I have, however, presumed that Crochet me readers don’t necessarily know how to sew.) [Ed. note: I don’t sew. But I want to. Thanks for the detail, Annette!]

The first step was to make a pattern paper. Starting from the measurements given in the schematic, I drew a full scale pattern. Graph paper (available in large sheets in fabric stores) makes this task rather simple. If you feel unsure, and the pattern pieces are complicated, it might be easier to check the maximum height and width, draw a square of these measurements on your paper, and then draw the pattern piece within this square.

Schematics are not designed with the intention to make sewing patterns, so some measurements may be missing. Most can be deduced from the other measurements featured. If not, start by drawing the ”known” measurements, study the schematic and fill in the remaining lines, trying to follow the shape shown. Draw with confidence and hope. It will work.

graph paper cut-outsBe aware that some pattern pieces are shown only once, while there are two of them in the garment – typically, sleeves. For other pattern pieces, like the back, the schematic may only show half the piece. In my pattern, the whole body was made in one piece, but the schematic only featured one half: one front and half the back. (Actually, in this pattern even the sleeves were only shown in half.) Most of the time, you don’t need to complete or duplicate these ”half” pieces on the paper pattern. The time to solve the problem is when you cut out the fabric pieces.

Once you have your paper pattern, cut out the pieces from the fabric. Any ”half” pieces, will be cut ”on the fold”. This means you fold the fabric lengthwise and pin the pattern piece neatly along the folded edge. Once cut, the bottom layer of fabric will be the mirror image of the pattern piece, thus completing it. The sleeves are also cut from a double layer of fabric – most often (though not in my example) you don’t have to worry about any fold here, since we are really talking about two separate pieces.

A careful observer will note that I left a small strip of fabric (actually 1 cm / ½ inch wide) around each piece. This extra fabric is also known as seaming allowance – you need it because you can’t seam fabric exactly at the edge, or it will fray and/or break at the first wearing.

marked fabricThis means I had to mark the actual pattern outline on the fabric, so I would know where to seam. The simplest way to do this is to use tracing carbon paper (also available in fabric stores – you are on your way to becoming a well-known customer there!). Put this special paper, carbon side up, under your fabric. The next step is to outline the pattern with a device that transfers the carbon to the fabric. This is usually done with a tracing wheel, which leaves a discrete, dotted line. However, I had no idea of the current location of my tracing wheel. Since in this case there was no need to make a particularly discrete line, I simply used a pen – thus marking both sides of the fabric in one go, one with the pen and the other with the carbon.

The unfolded, marked fabric piece looks like this. An atrocious view for any experienced seamstress, but a quite satisfactory result for our purpose.

sew the pieces togetherAfter all this fiddling around with pattern and pieces, it was time to go for the actual seaming. I obliged myself to forget everything I’ve ever learned about seaming with small, tidy stitches. The only important thing is that everything holds together, and it can actually be quite useful to be able to take this temporary garment apart easily. You may want to alter garment pieces, or you may want to use the fabric as cleaning rags.

Keep in mind that when you sew the fabric pieces together, they should almost always lie with right sides facing each other. The wrong side, which is where you made your seam markings, is the ”outside”. This way, you get neat seams, with the seam allowances hidden inside the garment. It’s also very easy to pin along the seamline and follow it when stitching.

trying it onSo – after a couple of hours, I had a version of the garment I intended to crochet. A very green and perhaps not incredibly well-made version, but still good enough to decide whether I would look OK in a bolero or not. I just had to take a deep breath and put it on.

I learned quite a few things this way (including the fact that I should wear a smooth-finished bra with my pink top, but that’s not really the topic here). The photos I took were even more revealing than my first peek in the mirror. I decided that I looked good enough in a bolero, at least in my own opinion, and that it could be a fun and wearable addition to my wardrobe. That was the question I asked myself initially, and here I got my answer. But there was more to learn.

necklineI didn’t like the way the neck was cut. It actually looked nicer when the unfinished edges rolled out, creating more of an open V-neck look. If I was to crochet this garment, I would definitely change this about the pattern.

I didn’t manage to take a decent picture of the back as viewed from the side. Nevertheless, the mirror had already revealed that the fit would be better if I made a couple of small darts at the very bottom of the back, to suppress some extra width.

And then, my pet peeve. The sleeves.

Too tight. Too tight already in this thin fabric, so definitely far too tight when made up in crochet. So tight they crawl up the arm, creating an ungracious bulge at the shoulder seam. Not pretty.

Something strange is happening with sleeves these days, be it in ready-to-wear or in garment patterns. They are always too tight. I’d love to see the ”standard arm” these clothes are supposed to fit. I don’t claim I have skinny arms, but I believe they’re quite normal in proportion to my overall size. How on earth do people with relatively large arms find clothes?

Of course, I would have been delighted if this pattern had fit me perfectly. However, finding out about its limitations and needs for modification actually taught me more. A lot of these things are also applicable to other patterns (and I will definitely note the sleeve width for future reference).

It will make some effort to modify the pattern accordingly, but when (if?) I get around to that, I will be assured that the time and work I put into crocheting this garment will give a well-fitting result. What more can you ask for?

So, you see, sometimes it’s wise to make your garment twice.

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