"I'll just make my own clothes"
At the end of 2002, at the age of 38, after a lifetime of a lot of ill-fitting and uncomfortable clothing (at least since puberty), I decided that I had to do something about it. Given that I might well have another thirty-eight (or more) years left ahead of me, and that I didn't want to spend those years in uncomfortable clothing, I decided I would.... learn to make my own clothes.
With my new Janome sewing machine in hand, I turned up to a Community College Sewing class. I talked to the teacher and told her about my problems. She assured me we'd make a garment that fit. She measured my bust (98cm | 38.5 inches) and waist (71cm | 28 inches) and said I needed to buy a Size 16 Commercial Pattern (to fit my bust, although I was usually a size 12 or 14 in clothing) - and she would change the waist. I bought a pattern for a simple dress and, as she said she would, she made changes to the pattern, before I cut out the fabric, so that the waist would be a better fit. I sewed up the dress and had it finished by the last class.
It looked dreadful.
I can't begin to tell you how YUK it looked. To say it didn't fit doesn't begin to describe the magnitude of the problem. It was just WRONG! It wasn't just one thing, it was wrong everywhere. Completely unwearable. The teacher was quite shocked at how badly it fitted, and seemed apologetic that we hadn't had time to do more fitting. When I got home the dress went into the bin.
The Standard (or Ideal) Figure
To some extent I had realised that commercial patterns were made for the same standard figure that ready-to-wear clothing is made for. But I had assumed that making adjustments would be kind of straight forward. I had also not really considered all the problems. I didn't know what I didn't know. Sure, you can make changes to that pattern (the teacher did, to adjust for my waist), but how do you know what (other) changes to make? If your figure is just totally unlike the Standard Figure and you need to change the pattern four or five or six places, where do you begin?
Even if you find it difficult to find shop garments to fit, you have the option of going to lots of different stores, and trying on lots of different things, and then only purchasing things that fit to some extent. You wouldn't buy something that didn't fit in any shape or form. Once you have cut out a dress and sewn it and it's completely wrong, you don't have the option of getting your money back. It's money down the drain.
Too Many Fitting Issues
Given the benefit of hindsight, and the skills I have acquired in the intervening time, I can show the fitting issues I had with that Vogue Size16 pattern by comparing it to my block.
In this first image, I have created an approximation of what would be the base of the Vogue Pattern (ie the block that would be used to make Vogue patterns). It has been created referring to a Vogue Size 16 Fitting Shell and confirmed by referring it to a few Vogue patterns.
In this next image, I have superimposed my block (in white) on top to clearly see where the differences are.
In addition to the initial waist problem (which the teacher made adjustments for), here are the issues (that were not adjusted for): Too big in the neck, the shoulders are too wide, too big in the back, too big across the upper back, the shoulder slope is wrong (very wrong!), AND bust cup is too small (yes, even though the width is there, it won't fit well in the bust). The centre front length and the centre back lengths are too long....
If you wonder why I've placed the Vogue Block the way I have - the reason is that the garment would have to sit on my shoulders.
I really don't know that my sewing teacher would have been able to help me make all the adjustments needed while still teaching about 10 or more students sewing.
Trying Again, but Not Succeeding
The sewing class was in the last term of the year, and there were no more classes for about six weeks over Christmas. Over the break I tried making a few more of garments by myself, trying to make adjustments afterwards. All those efforts came to nothing. I was so disappointed and frustrated - learning to sew wasn't that hard, but getting the garment to fit seemed impossible.
I planned on signing up for the next sewing class, hoping that the teacher might help me learn how to make adjustments to patterns, but then I started a Certificate IV in Assessment & Workplace Training in early 2003 and just didn't have the time. The next time I tried to sign up, the class was full.
In the meantime, I did try to sew a couple of more things, and then I had a thought. Why not try cutting up an old top that had fit me quite well, and try and make a pattern from that? Which is the next part of my story: trying to make a pattern from deconstructing a garment.