Have you ever wished you could make your clothes fit perfectly? Think how many different sizes and shapes we all are, and it’s no wonder that off-the-rack clothes sometimes work and sometimes don’t.
Over three days at the beginning of November, twenty-eight women participated in a class taught by New York-based designer and teacher Kenneth D. King. The participants made perfect “patterns” of themselves that they can now use to create clothing that will fit themselves beautifully. The class was offered through a collaboration between PatternReview.com, an online site for sewers, and the American Textile History Museum. Most of the participants said they had never had the success they wanted in making clothes that truly fit themselves. Some said they could alter clothing for someone else, but they could never get it right on themselves. Some had taken other classes and used other methods to create patterns but were still looking for a better way. One woman even came all the way from England to take the class!
The goal of each participant was to create a moulage—a French word meaning “mold” or “casting”—a form-fitting muslin bodice sewn from their personal paper pattern. The project began with students paired up to take measurements of one another. This step included all the measurements you’d expect plus a few more that most people had probably never thought about before. And since there was no benefit to be gained from hiding your figure flaws, everyone had to don a leotard to get the most accurate measurements. So a roomful of women started taking off their clothes—well, only most of their clothes—to get started.
Next came a whole series of mathematical calculations and plotting lines on paper. If you looked at the instruction sheet, it seemed pretty daunting, and there was a lot of serious concentration among the students. However, Kenneth was a master at making all of it great fun. He interlaced step-by-step instructions that dispelled the concerns any math-phobes in the audience might have had with stories that had all of us howling with laughter. At the end of the first day, every student had a paper pattern for the back of their moulage. It might not sound like much, but it was a day of intense work—and fun.
On day two, everyone moved on to the front. As you might guess, this part of a form-fitting garment is a bit more complicated. The geography of a female torso has a few more ups and downs on the front as opposed to the back. So, a lot of figuring, drawing, positioning, and double-checking went on in the morning. By afternoon, everyone was ready to cut out and begin sewing. By mid-afternoon, the first person with a finished moulage appeared and—to a chorus of oohs and aahs—discovered that it REALLY FIT PERFECTLY. Her moulage was just right. It was smooth and form-fitting, with no gaps or pulls on the fabric that needed adjustment. And, as a real testament to how well-fitted it was, she could hardly breathe. That was the goal—a “second skin.” One after another, the students finished their moulages and most found they had a perfect fit or needed only some slight alterations to make it right. The cries of wonder and satisfaction were exciting.
The third and last day of class was spent creating a pattern with “wearing ease”—the space a person needs to breathe and move in a piece of clothing. Everyone was thrilled with the results. Each student went away with their moulage pattern and a basic torso pattern that can be used to create a wide variety of clothing that will fit perfectly.
We finished with a special opportunity to see the study collection pieces loaned by FIDM Museum & Galleries in connection with the special exhibition at the time, High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture. As couture pieces of clothing, the study collection dresses were made specifically and only for Betsy Bloomingdale. Like the students’ moulages, these pieces were made for just one person. They enjoyed the opportunity to look closely at historic couture styles and sewing techniques, thinking about how they might incorporate some of the most renowned designers’ ideas into their own clothing.
What a three-day whirlwind! It was a lot of work but well worth it, and we at ATHM enjoyed having everyone visit us while they took the class. Look at all those happy faces.
Diane Fagan Affleck