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Yokes: One Way to Hide Darts

August 12th, 2012 by tatterdemalion

Hello y’all, and especially Jenn, who took me at my word and asked for a tutorial on how to make yokes! It may be helpful if you’ve already read my crash course on dart moving, but even if not, it should be pretty easy to follow along. Hands on helps for faster learning, so you may want to work along side with your own copy of miniature slopers, found in nearly any pattern drafting book and probably some places on the web. Or you can draw your own, if you are handily artistic. Which I am not. As we will see shortly.

So this is a yoke sloper (or block, depending on who is calling it names). It is 1/4 of a skirt, and half of the back, and it has one dart for your bum. As you can see, even though life has picked me up, swirled me around, and dropped me on my bum, I still have the same ol’ dining room table and the same really bad lighting.

The first thing we’re going to do is draw a line straight across the sloper, level with the bottom of the dart. (Please bear in mind that right now we’re talking theory so we understand what we’re doing. Please DON’T go do this to the original pattern that you want to modify so that it has a yoke.

Now take a cute lil pair of scissors and cut along the line we drew, the same way you cut out the dart earlier. This essentially renders our solid sloper block into three pieces.

Now rotate the two top pieces together until they touch, and Ta-Da! You have a skirt with a yoke!

And now this is the part where you say, “Now, wait just a second, honey. I don’t know about you, but the rest of us don’t consider this a yoke. A yoke is sort of like a waistband-type thingy, and this thing goes half-way down your backside!”

Okay, okay. Technically, this could be a yoke, albeit a very deep one, but really this is just to give you an idea of what we’re working on here. A yoke appears to have no shaping in it, because the shaping is moved to the seam between the yoke and the rest of the garment, rather than in it’s original dart location. But shaped it is. All we are doing when we make a yoke is moving around the shaping so we can put seams where we’d rather. The fit stays the same, but the fabric pieces look different.

So what would we really do?

Let’s draw our line higher up, bisecting the dart. In real life, we wouldn’t want a yoke so deep. So here’s our little example we’re drawing; in real life, you would measure down from the original waist however deep you wanted the yoke to be. (So, if you wanted a 3″ yoke, you would measure three inches down from the original waist at several points, and connect them as needed. That is to say, if your original waistline is curved, you really want your lower yoke seam to follow that same curve.)

Cut along that line, and again, you have three pieces. From here, you really have a lot of different options. Let’s explore some of them.

The simplest option is to put the two top pieces together, and blend the edges where they meet (smoothing out those points and dips into gentle curves). That leaves you with this:

You would still sew it up just like you would a normal darted skirt. So that lil’ dart, but then seam the yoke piece onto the top edge. The shaping–the fit of the garment– is still the same, but sewn up, the pieces now look different than the original draft.

But what else can you do?

Here, we’ve put the two “yoke” pieces together, effectively “sewing the dart” in that part of the garment. But now look what trickiness I’m going to do. I’ve drawn a line running straight from the point of the dart down to the hem of the skirt.

Slice it and dice and sew it up, and what do you have?

An embarrassingly bad sketch of a yoked, princess seamed skirt! All the same shaping is still there. The “dart” for the top pieces is now “hidden” in the horizontal seam, and the dart for the lower pieces is now hidden in the vertical seam. We’ve added more seams, but we haven’t changed the fit of the skirt. This style would be good for firmer fabrics without a lot of drape — denim or dressier weaves that are thicker and stiffer — or just any time you want a more tailored look.

But what else can we do after we’ve sliced it and diced it?

Take a minute to think about this one. As you recall from previous tutorials, when we close the dart at one end, we “open” fullness at the other end. Rather than sewing this dart, we’ve rotated it closed, opening it up in the bottom. We’re not going to sew this dart in the bottom; we’re going to leave it open on the pattern and un-cut in the fabric. What will this look like?

An inky sketch of an A-Line skirt with a yoke. This skirt will now be nicely fitted up by the waist and through the hips, but after that, it opens up in to a much more full skirt with lots of drape and movement. This would be good with thinner fabrics, or if you’d like a skirt with a little more swish and swirl.

But what else can we do?

You can gather it. Put together the top pieces for a yoke. Don’t sew the darts in skirt portion; instead, gather the extra till the skirt fits the yoke.

Not really my kinda thing, but everyone knows I’m a style heathen.

Here’s another option, if you are into fashionable, noteworthy sorts of things:

It might make your head hurt a little, until you figure out how it goes together, but I promise, it’s the same fit, just with different seamlines on the backside. And as one who has made a lot of stuffed animals, I can tell you it’s really not too hard to sew, either. Sew the skirt dart first, and then the horizontal dart connecting the skirt to the faux yoke.

If you really, really, really don’t want darts in the back, there is another option, but this one will mess with the fit a little. I’d only do it if your original dart is already pretty small, for whatever reason (this can include having already lowered the waist, making your skirt a little low-riding, or a different body build. For example, being short and sturdy, I def have darts back there. My lithe, bean-pole sister? Not so much so. She could get away with this method a lot better than I could).

‘K. So. Here’s an up close picture of our original dart.

Now we draw the line that will make the yoke. (See how I was clever enough this time to make it follow the original waistline?)

Now we’re gonna monkey with the dart. Draw a straight line down through the center of the dart.

And draw new lines for the dart, ending at the lower edge of the yoke.

So for this version, it will still fit snugly right at the waist, but you won’t have the same amount of shaping through the hips. You really need a drapey fabric to make this work, like a very fluid knit or even silk.

Cut out only your new dart, and then slice and dice.

And rotate for the yoke.

You can see why you can’t really get away with this unless you have a pretty small dart to begin with. You can also see that there’s pretty much a fish-eye dart of un-sewn ease. Maybe you’re okay with that, and maybe you’re not. It all depends on what you’re heading after.

Now, I have reprimanded you to follow the original line of the waist when drawing your yoke. You don’t really have to; that’s another style option. You can draw it how ever you’d like it to look and however you’re willing to dare to sew it. (Angles and curves can get tough, but if quilters can do it, so can you!)

You’d still just rotate out the dart in the yoke portion (put the two pieces together and cut them from the fabric as one piece), and you’d still just sew the dart (or any of the other options we’d discussed) in the skirt portion. The fancy-shmancy curved line doesn’t change any of that.

As a final note, it’s very important to realize that this tutorial DOES NOT just apply to skirt yokes. A significant example would be a shoulder yoke. Technically, these can go in either the front (taking up some bust fullness) or back (for shoulder curve), but are most frequently found in the back.

My picture up-loader is telling me I’m out of space, so I can’t do a step by step for you; but you’d follow the exact same process of drawing the line for the yoke at the tip of the dart, cutting the pattern into 3 pieces, and rotating the top two together and smoothing the lines. It would look something sort of similar to this.

The top is the original darted pattern sewn up. The middle has the same shaping, but now that dart is hidden in the yoke seam. And the bottom one is supposed to portray a boxy, unfitted top with no shoulder shaping.

But don’t feel like you have to stop at what is most common. You can actually turn the bottom of a bodice into a yoke in the same manner. Experiment! And let me know if you have any questions. 🙂

Posted in Technical, Tutorials | 2 Comments »

I take your questions and do my best to answer them, vol. 2

March 29th, 2009 by tatterdemalion

Bernice recently left a comment on my “Crash Course on Dart Moving“.




I like taking questions from the audience, and I like being able to help people who are struggling to figure something out. If anyone out there has questions, please ask them. It may take me a few weeks for me to get back to you, but I will get back to you. I can’t give a 100% guarantee that I know the answers to everything, but I have to be getting close to knowing everything. (Right? Right? C’mon, somebody back me up here!)

Okay, this explanation is going to be on the long side, so bear with me. Because the first thing I’m going to talk about is the whole reason or purpose for darts.

Here’s a sheet of paper. We’re going to pretend it’s fabric, because like fabric, it is flat.

paper or fabric, you choose

(That’s my brother’s mouse, and my brother’s speaker.) And here in this next picture is a can of Parmesan cheese.


(And that’s my brother’s mess. I take absolutely no responsibility for that mess. It’s all his.) The poor, abandoned cheese container has no clothes. But we’re going to fix that.

no darts

So we take our fabric and wrap it around the container. Perfect fit, right? And no darts! This is our “guy” example. His clothes need no shaping. He doesn’t understand why you always get so grumpy about clothes not fitting, because how complicated can it be? You just wrap some fabric around yourself, and you’re good!

We will try not to do violent things to our guy example, even though he has no empathy or understanding and thinks everyone in the world is just like him.

Here’s a girl example:


She has curves.

If she takes a piece of fabric and wraps it around her, it’s not going to fit her the same way it fit the guy. Here’s a cutaway example so we can see what’s happening:

the speaker covered

The fabric fit our guy example the same way all over. There was nothing complicated about that situation. But in our girl example, the fabric covers her just fine at the largest point, and it’s loose everywhere else. In order to get the fabric to fit her the same everywhere, we need to do this:

speaker with a darted cover

We’ve pinched out the extra. What does this look like when we take the paper off?



So, darts are shaping that is made by taking away fabric where it is too loose. Generally speaking, anyway. That’s the idea; tuck it away in the back of your head for the moment—we’re going to talk about something slightly different now.

Here is another mild-mannered piece of fabric/paper:

another example

Hello, fabric. This fabric has no shaping. It has no darts.


Here I’ve drawn on a 1″ dart. So now this fabric has a dart, but it is an “unsewn” dart, so there is still no shaping. Let’s “sew” this dart.


Now instead of laying flatly on the table, this fabric has some shaping.


See what I mean?

Now what happens if we make the dart bigger? Here I’ve made the dart into a 2″ dart.


And when we tape it up, the shaping is even greater.


The larger we draw our dart,


The taller our shaping becomes.


Some people phrase this as “The bigger the bump, the bigger the dart.” I think of it as simply the difference between two measurements. You have to take as much as necessary out of the bigger measurement to make it equal the smaller measurement.

Now let’s move on to a real life example. Here’s me. In an old t-shirt. A Land’s End boys’ t-shirt, to be exact.


(The mess is all mine, but I still don’t take any responsibility for it. I have lots of good excuses, but they take too long to type.)

Since it’s a boys t-shirt, it has no shaping whatsoever. Somebody has sewn together two flat rectangles, and put sleeves on it. It’s meant to fit our cheese container, which needs no shaping. It’s all the same anyway on a boy. But I am not a boy, and this means it doesn’t fit me the same everywhere.

What this means is that there are darts when I wear this t-shirt, but they are un-sewn darts.

Remember in our examples? When we put the flat piece of paper on the curvy speaker, suddenly there were these big gaps that weren’t there when we put the same piece of paper on the cheese container. And do you remember in the second example, when we drew the darts but didn’t sew them?

Well, this is what happens when you put the unshaped fabric on a shape. It tries to make darts.


Did you see them before I pointed them out to you?

This is what we call “un-sewn darts” or “fullness” or “extra fabric”. If you put an un-shaped piece of fabric on something that has shape, there is “leftovers”.

So here we “sew” the dart. I’m pinning out the fullness; I’m “creating” a dart; I’m shaping the fabric.


And in this extremely blurry picture, you can see it’s still all loose and unshaped on the left side.


So that’s what you call a bust dart. This is what happens when you put in a waist dart:


Since my nickname is not “Miss Skinny Through the Middle”, I find these waist darts to be hugely unflattering, and in real life I’m not going to use them. But if you were a guy, “waist darts” are the only darts you’d ever use, and even then, probably only if you were working on a jacket/sports coat/etc.


So shaped on the right side,


unshaped on the left. The shirt is the same. It’s just that one side has “unsewn” darts, and the other side has “sewn” darts.

You can also shape the side seams. Notice the unsewn darts on the left?


In real life, I would use the bust dart and shape the side seam, but I wouldn’t use the waist dart. This is now seriously into sausage-casing territory, which I call “Not a Good Look.”


In general, you can always use smaller darts. It just means you will have “less shaping”, or your garment will look more like the paper on speaker. But you can’t really make darts bigger, beyond a certain point. Could we have made the darts bigger on the paper on the speaker? No! Could have we made them smaller? Yes, but it would have been a looser, less shaped fit.

So what does any of this have to do with anything? Well, to answer Bernice’s questions:

(1) Your pattern probably does have darts, they’re just unsewn and undrawn. You can put them in. Probably pin-fitting a muslin would be the way to go (just as I pin fit my t-shirt), simply because it’s the most straight forward. Putting in darts will change the fit, though, so if you already like the fit, don’t bother with the darts.

(2) Once you “put your darts in”, you can’t really make them bigger. That’s just the shape you are. But you don’t need to make your darts bigger in order to put in pintucks.

All darts disregarded (either sewn or unsewn), all you need to do to add pintucks is slash-and spread.

Let’s move on to little pattern examples, of which mine are unfortunately very poor quality. I apologize, but I’m running out of steam here, and I really want to get this answer to you this weekend. Otherwise it’s anyone’s guess when I’ll finish it.

If I had a “dartless” pattern that I liked, and I wanted to add decorative tucking down the front, I’d mark off the section I wanted to tuck, like this:


Then I’d slash right up the middle of that section, and spread it apart as far as I needed it,


and tuck it.


Now if I had a shaped pattern, and I wanted decorative tucks down the front, I’d arrange my darts like this:


Mark off my area I wanted tucked, like this:


Slash right along the straight line and add my extra fabric, and tuck:


Now I think what Bernice was talking about was doing “functional” tucks, using tucks to take in the fullness instead of darts. In that case, you can leave the darts without having a perfectly vertical line, and simple tuck out the fullness at the top and the bottom. This will mean the tucks won’t make as straight line down the front of the shirt, but rather will end before reaching the bust.


And that was my rather pathetic illustration of the origin of darts, where they came from, how they got there, what they’re doing there, and what happens when they leave. If I was being paid to do this kind of stuff, I would have taken the time to actually have unblurry, focused pictures. But as it is, it has taken me 5 hours to do all of this, and everything else I was supposed to do this weekend is calling my name. So as far as picture quality, I guess you’ll have to take what you can get. As far as understanding it, however, please let me know if you have any other questions. I will keep working at it until it makes sense for you!

Posted in Articles, Technical, Tutorials | 4 Comments »

Push My Buttons

December 2nd, 2008 by tatterdemalion

Why on earth did I decide to make myself jeans? Here I am, having just completed bodice and skirt sloper that could be used to make me any skirt, shirt or dress I can dream up, and all I wanted to do was make pants. What is wrong with me?

Well, nothing is wrong with me. At least with my reasoning skills. The problem is that there are no jeans to be had, for love or money, that properly fit me. The non-stretch jeans have such a long rise they go up to my armpits; this is because I am very short waisted. The stretch jeans—besides the afore mentioned unforgivable sin of being stretchy—will have a perfectly fine rise for me in the front, but in the back do not cover near as much of my backside as I would like. And none of them give me enough room to maneuver and all of them are at least six inches too long, and most of them more than that.

So, jeans. Yes, I drafted my own pattern for jeans. Yes, it was a headache, a nightmare, exceedingly tedious at parts, but I drafted them and sewed them. They actually came out pretty good, although I can’t possibly make another pair without tweaking the pattern (partly for greater ease of construction, partly for continuing to improve the fit). It was enough of an effort that I don’t really feel like talking about that part just now. Suffice it to say, I made a perfectly acceptable pair of jeans; all that remained was to install the metal button.

The metal button. You know, it’s on all of your jeans. It’s the kind you pound in with a hammer—it has a nail part and a button part, and whence the two are joined together they shall never, ever separate, and all that. They’re sometimes referred to as “bachelor’s buttons”, because you don’t have to sew to install them. I ordered a hundred of them in bulk (for Pete’s sake, you didn’t think this was the only pair of jeans I was ever planning on sewing, did you?), from a small family owned store in California.

I, by the by, am in a completely different universe, because I live on the East Coast. In the North.

Which is why I spent as much getting the silly things sent to me as I did on actually buying the buttons themselves.

But never mind all that. The button, the button.

I am sufficiently experienced with Murphy enough to know one must at least do a test run, both for the button, and the button hole. It went shockingly smoothly, both the button and the buttonhole. Okay, the button might have been a bit crooked, but that was just because I was sufficiently experienced with hammers to be a little more generous than was needed on a pound-in button. But still. That’s what trial runs are all about.

So I repeat the process on the actual-factual pair of pants, except being a bit more gentle on the pounding end. It comes out very nice. Life is good.

I wear the pants.

Life is still good.

I put the pants through the washer.

Life decides it can’t be good all the time.

The button comes apart.

How can this be? You pound it together, and whence joined, it never, ever separates. Remember? Remember? REMBEMBER?!

I push the button back over the nail. It goes on very easy, and comes off just as easy. Perhaps I didn’t pound hard enough. I look at the nail. It is blunted now, so I certainly pounded it hard enough to start trying to come through the button part. I take the nail out of the pants, and send them through the dryer. Maybe it was just an odd fluke. When they are dry, I’ll try again.

Or maybe Murphy is out to get me again. I try it on my sample again. Just in case, I get out my “anvil” from when I set snaps. It is hard. It is metal. It is just the right shape for cradling the button head.

Pound, pound, pound.

Ah, there we go. Nice and snug. Now I will button it through my test buttonhole. . .

. . .ker-plink, plankety. The button falls off of the nail.

What on earth? I look at the button. I look at the nail. There are no teeth on the nail to grip anything. The only mechanism inside the button to grip anything appear to be going the wrong direction. I look at another one of my 100 buttons. They all look the same. What gives? Am I supposed to pound so hard the tip of the nail flattens out so much that it can’t come back up the hollow stem?

Much vigorous pounding later, on a brand new button, I’m pretty convinced that is not the answer. Despite the “anvil” there is now a little out-dent on the front of the button. The stem of the button has been squashed down along with the nail. And the button and nail still merrily separate.

I am confused. There where no instructions with the buttons, but how hard can it possibly be? I know I did this once before; my first test button stayed in fine. I turn my sample to examine how my first and only success that ever happened.

Ker-plink, ker-plankity. My first and only success turns into yet on more failure. What. . .what. . .what? This just does not make any sense.

I search online to see if maybe there are tales of “what to do when your jeans buttons refuse to be happily married” or “what to do when you can’t even figure out how to install a bachelor’s button, for Pete’s sake”, or “how to keep your jeans buttons from falling apart at inopportune moments” or “please tell me you can get these things to stay together with out using a blow-torch or a sledge hammer” or “CAN ANYONE GET THESE STUPID THINGS TO WORK?!” The closest thing I can find is people recommending you “pound them gently but firmly several times”, that the button is installed when it “can no longer turn within the button”, and that if the button stem bends that your “nail is too long” (or your fabric isn’t thick enough), and you can cut it a little shorter (ha, yeah). No one reports their buttons spontaneously falling apart like poorly constructed bridges.

I send an email to the company out in California, because maybe I am just denser than a fire brick and I am just seriously not getting something.

The very nice company sends me back an email very promptly, telling me to please call this number and ask for Roberto. You will need to have the style number handy.

I don’t have time to call before Thanksgiving, because I am making blueberry pies. (You must please remember that California being 3 hours before us, there is some inflexibility as to when I call.) I did want to wear my jeans on Thanksgiving.

I gently tap in a button on Thanksgiving morning.

It comes out with in 20 minutes.

I get annoyed and give it a few very annoyed whacks.

It stays in all day.

I put it through the wash.

It stays in.

Now I am in the horns of a dilemma. I can pretend that the first 5 buttons were all flukes and that my remaining buttons will all be saintly and co-operative, or I can call Roberto.

I do not want to call Roberto.

Because the facts that he lives in California, didn’t email me himself, and is named “Roberto” all strongly suggest that he may not even be able write English, and almost certainly speaks with a heavy accent.

Now, please do not misunderstand me. I do not have anything against heavy accents. I do not have anything against people who can’t write English. I do not have any problems with people with people who can’t speak English or write in any language.

The person who has the problem is me.

Because, you see, I talk very, very, veeerrrryy fast. My family, who has to put up with me all the time—they only listen to every other word, at best, and make up the rest. My friends, who don’t have to be around me all the time either just smile and nod and pretend I make sense or ask me to repeat myself. Slowly. With space between the words, please.

And these are the people who not only speak my language, but know me personally! And they usually already know what I’m going to say before I say it!

So I do not want to talk to Roberto. Because I already know what he will say. He will say “What? What? I cannot unduhstand you. You haf no hammuh?” In a heavy accent.

I try to get help from my brother. He verifies it looks like it doesn’t work. He pushes one together with his bare hands. Well, I think he used his chin, some, too. His chin is like an anvil. Or something. He keeps stopping part of the way through to see if it’s stuck yet, but it never is. When he gets to the part where he blunts the nail and it still doesn’t stick together, he labels them all as cruddy pieces of junk.

I dread phone calls in the best of circumstances, and this isn’t even that. I am about 99.9% certain that I will have an awful, contorted, humiliating conversation with Roberto, wherein I try to explain to him what I am doing, and how it isn’t working, while he tries to understand and be helpful, but mostly tells me to do exactly what I’m already doing, and assuring me that if I follow his instructions it will work. And then I will have 100 buttons that don’t work and the instructions that don’t work to go along. A cute matching set.

To make matters worse, one button is still in place. I don’t know that it will still be in place, but it opens up the horrifying possibility that even if Roberto was 5 minutes down the street and I brought the buttons over in person, Roberto could still do the exact same thing I’ve been doing, and it would stay in. At least, for 5 minutes, until I got home. Or for five hours, until I was out in the middle of shopping, and suddenly ker-plinkety-ker-plankety loosing my pants button.

But because I am a good little girl, and I like to think that some how I can’t actually predict how these things will go, I called. Today. At four o’clock over here and one o’clock over there.

The first person who answers the phone is a very pleasant, perfectly normal, maybe-he-is-just-five-minutes-down-the-street-even-though-his-address-is-California type person. I ask to speak to Roberto, as my email instructed me. I am very pleasantly transfered. And then a pleasant voice says, “Dis is Roberto,” with an accent so thick it would put the Great Wall in China to shame.

At some point, you have to decide whether life is a tragedy or a comedy. Somewhere between verifying that no, I was not looking for jeans buttons, I had already bought them from him, and they were not staying in, despite being pounded into mauled bits of metal and his wondering confusion of how this could possibly be, I decided it was a comedy.

“Hm, dis is ve-ey odd. No udder customehs complain of dis. Do you pound it on somesing hard?”

Yes, I pound it on something hard. Very hard and very hardily, I have pounded this thing on something very hard. Don’t worry, I didn’t phrase it like that to him. But I did go over all the facts of the case.

“Dis ve-ey strange. It should be just the easiest ting,” he says, greatly confused.

“I thought they would be,” I say, “That’s why I bought them!” We both laugh. We are both greatly confused.

“Vat ziti are you?”

“Excuse me?”

“Vat ziti are you?”

“I. . .um,” All I can think of is the pasta “Ziti”, but I am not it, and it doesn’t relate to jeans buttons. “I, ah, I don’t understand your question.”

“Vat. Ziti. Are. You.” he says, very clearly.

Long pause.

“Vat ziti are you; you know, are you Lozzanglis?” Ah, Los Angeles!

“No, no. What city am I in? I’m on the East Coast!!”

“Ah, dat is what I thought. . .” he trails off.

We discuss that it is a hard surface. We discuss how thick my fabric is, but he says it is not too thick.

“Well, I not know what to do, because you are over there and I am over here!” We laugh. Yes. Life would be so much simpler if I could walk down the street, and he could show me how to do it in, and it would stay in for all of five minutes.

He suggests I use pliers. He suggests I have my very strong brother who puts them together with his bare hands to try the pliers. Yes, try that and see how it works.

I am about ready to tell him he is out of his mind, pliers won’t fix the problem, but the fact of the matter is very clear. He can’t help me. Because it should be working; no one has ever had this problem before, and he is over there and I am over here. So I say okay. And he says if I have any problems, ask for Roberto, and hangs up.

So now what do I do? I know perfectly well it doesn’t matter if I use a hammer, pliers or my brothers bare hands; I currently have about a 20% chance of any of these buttons working. I could email the person who first responded to me, and say “Roberto no can help me, because this never happen to his other customers. The buttons will cannot stay together; please ship me better ones or give me my refund.” But I don’t think they have any different buttons that don’t work like these ones, and if they give me a refund, it’s still only half my money back, on account of how much I paid in shipping (metal buttons are heavy when you ship them clear across the continent). And if I claimed all 80% of them were defective, I would have to ship them back to prove it. Then I would be out my shipping money and my buttons. (I should be clear here that I am predicting what will happen; they have no stated policy on jeans buttons that don’t work. But I would like to note that so fare my predictions have been eerily accurate.)

I feel bad for Roberto, because he wasn’t able to help me, and I feel bad for me, because he wasn’t able to help me. I have a button on my pants, but I don’t know how long they will stay there, or if I will ever be able to install any of the remaining buttons. Everyone at the company tried very hard to be helpful, but no one on the other side of the universe can figure out why my jeans buttons hate me. It’s of no use to me to get more jeans buttons if they all want to fall off without even a half-way reasonable excuse.

Did you ever hear of pilots landing their planes with “a wing and a prayer”? I would like to give you something to ponder. You know the age-old question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Well, now in your post-Thanksgiving jeans, how about you ponder how many angels are holding onto the button of your pants? Because apparently that what jeans buttons depend upon to stay put.

Posted in Contemplations, Not Working, Technical | 7 Comments »

Why I did what I did

August 31st, 2008 by tatterdemalion

I believe in taking responsibility for my actions. No denials, no excuses!! So here’s what I was thinking when I made the infamous cherry dress.

I’m sure you were all hoping for something much more scandalous, but no. In my own quest to better my design skills, I have attempted to read all sorts of materials on design. Mostly, they don’t say what they were thinking; they just throw out vague mumbo-jumbo that roughly translates “you just kind of wing-it, and hopefully it comes out good”. Or else they apply such strained concepts and methods that the end result is something that would be worn down the runway, which is to say, no sane human being would ever willingly, mindfully wear it.

So I may not be any great, grand designer, but I can at least show you the thought process I went through as I made this dress. You may not ever want to make anything remotely like it, and that’s okay. The idea is to be able think more consciously about what you are doing and why. This is necessary when it comes to that all important step called “editing”. You will not be able to figure out what you need to add or take away from your design if you have no idea why you ever starting making it the way you did in the first place. An idea, that is, besides the altogether much too vague statement of “Because I like it.” (Not that such a statement doesn’t have it’s uses—it does, and I use it regularly—but when one is trying to improve something, one really needs to have much more focused thought.)

So, the dress.

I started with this pattern (note the “start”. I wound up drafting my own pattern from scratch, to my measurements).


I liked it because it had such clean, flowing lines. It was a neat fit at the top, but with a nice full skirt. It wasn’t fussy, though it could be elegant if it were made in the proper fabric. I liked how the darts in the back of the bodice turned into pleats in the skirt; I liked that vertical structural line, because I’m doing just fine in the “short” and “wide” categories, and I think it works better with my proportions to encourage vertical movement.

Short side note: Note I say “my proportions”. I am no proponent of us all looking alike—far from it. I don’t hold to an ideal standard that all women must aspire to. But you have utterly no artistic ability at all if you can’t differentiate between proportions that are pleasing to the eye and proportions that aren’t. Some people refer to this as “phi” or the Golden Ratio. Some people have noted that children seem to have an innate sense of balance in their drawings. Some people study the shapes and proportions in nature. Architects (or the good ones, any way) are hugely concerned with proportion. To pretend that pleasing proportions is something that relates to everything the world except the human form is just plain silly.

The job of the clothes designer is not to say—this is an awful form, bring me another one, preferably a size 2 1/2, with high cheekbones. The job of the clothes designer is to trompe-l’oiel, to fool they eye. Anyone who firmly believes seeing is believing hasn’t been seeing well enough how he’s been fooled. Guiding the eye to believe what it is seeing is the job of any artist.

For a most basic example of this: grab a pen and a piece of paper, and draw a square. Don’t use a ruler, or any other measuring device. Now turn the paper sideways. Does the square still look as square? Probably not. The eye tends to squash things. You probably drew your square taller than it ought to have been. When you turned the paper sideways, this was revealed. Now that you have your paper turned, it looks a little more like a horizontal rectangle and a little less like a perfect square. You can search for geometric optical illusions, and you shall find fifty hundred other examples. The point is this: Your job is not is not to fault the form, but to simply present the form in it’s most favorable light. You can change what is seen simply by guiding the eye as you choose—leading it ignore some things, and focus on others. You can make anything look awful if you abuse it enough, and nearly anything will strike the eye if it’s presented properly.

And all of this is to say, I want to hear nothing at all along the lines of protest when I say something isn’t flattering to my proportions. This isn’t about rules, and this isn’t about standards. All this means is that you, as the designer, have the power to lead the eye. Make a conscious decision to do so.

Now, back to the dress.

This is the fabric that I chose.


I chose it because it had my two very favorite colors in it—red and green. It reminded me of the most wonderful part of summer. It was cheerful and full of life. It was meant to be a picnic dress—the sort of dress you can wear when you are celebrating the chance to relax, and the sort of dress you can get muddy without worry.

Hear comes the first design issue. The background color of this fabric is much too similar to the tone of my skin.


Everything needs a good strong frame. Look at paintings, look at windows, look at gates. Nothing looks so awful as something that bleeds into its surrounds, without the dignity to stand up and be proper about it. It weakens whatever it is, to have the edges fade off in a sickly sort of way. So the first order of work was to contain this fabric, so it didn’t bleed away into me. The goal of this dress is NOT to make it appear that I am wearing nothing more than a few vines with red berries on them, thank you very much. The garment is separate from me.

Enter the piping at the neck and sleeves. This creates a line distinguishing the dress from me.


Having placed that red at the sleeves and neck, you can see why it was a necessity to put it at the bottom as well. In part to keep from having the dress fade out weakly at the bottom, but in a part because continuity demands it. The eye is very disappointed when what it expects to see is simply missing. It’s like missing a button off your shirt, when all the rest are very regularly spaced. Your eye just wants it to be there. It should be there. It’s the logical conclusion. Not putting a band on the bottom now would be like writing a story with no resolution. It would be most unsatisfying.

This is what we have now:


Do you notice any problems?

The eye is attracted to strong colors; it moves from similarities to similarities. (You’re going to be hearing a lot about the “eye”, just so you know.) The eye doesn’t have much initiative, it likes to be led. So it is dutifully following where it is being led, jumping about from cherry to cherry to cherry. But the eye is also lazy; it really doesn’t like all this running around. It wants to rest. This is utterly too much work. It would rather look away than keep moving around on this crazy surface.

And so, the waistband. It needed this solid block of color to give the eye a rest. There are those, by the way, who inform you with rigid rules and firm rebukes that you should never ever ever never ever have a belt, waistband, sash, etc unless you have a size 2 1/2 waist. Because, they say, this draws attention to the waist, and unless you have the most beautiful waist ever in existence, it’s basically a sin to wear anything that draws attention to the waist. I would maybe go so far as to caution that I think it’s generally more flattering to wear a dark, receding color, if it’s going to be at the waist like that. A bright, light color looks bigger than a dark color. If you’ve ever seen a black refrigerator, you’d know what I mean. Not that I subscribe to dark colors all the time, every where, by any means, and of course every rule or guideline is meant to be broken, but that’s my two cents.


I suppose at the this point you might be disagreeing with me.

You might be saying you preferred the dress without the waistband. You might be saying that the waist band chops me half, that it totally defeats the purpose of trying to encourage a more vertical leaning of the eye. You might be saying, that darn band is the first thing that pulls your eye, and it makes you look short, short, short.

You may have a point.

I still hold that the fabric I chose demanded that treatment, but therein lies the problem. This is why you can’t just design off of ideas separate from people. This fabric, on someone else, could have been wonderful. I still love this fabric. Just, as a table cloth, or curtains, or something else besides on me. The flaw of my design was not my design, per se, just that I really had no idea what it would look like on me.

In retrospect, this fabric doesn’t suit me. Even with the solid bands of color, the eye simply does way too much moving around, and usually the more your eye has to move, the wider things appear. Since I am already short, adding in more horizontal eye movement is only making me look shorter, and my frame just can’t handle all that busy-work.


What works better for me is solid colors, like this:


It’s not to say that I can’t use textures or details, but over all, I am more flattered by simple shapes and solid blocks of color. See?


(I made the wool skirt. I did not make the wool blend sweater, but I did accidentally send it through the dryer once. It doesn’t drape as nicely as it once did. . . )

You will note that when we compare those two pictures side by side, your eye is instinctively drawn to the the picture on the left. You will also note that as soon as the eye has looked to the left picture, it also goes immediately to my face. If you make yourself look at the photo on the right, you will notice that your eye does indeed get stuck on the red sash. For one thing, it is the largest solid block of color. Your eye wants to rest, and that’s a good place. For another thing, my face is still basically the same color as the background of the dress. It fades away into the background. When I wear the cherry dress, your eye is not instantly pulled to my face. It forgets about my face and pays attention to the dress. This is a problem. Well designed clothes do not draw attention to themselves, they draw the attention the the wearer.

The outfit on the left understands this; it grabs your attention with its large blocks of strong colors, and then promptly shoves all the attention to my face. The dress on the right doesn’t understand this, or else is simply being willfully selfish, because it isn’t interested in sharing any of the attention. Your eye can get distracted jumping from cherry to cherry to cherry for a good five minutes, but it your eye is extremely unlikely to be interested in paying attention to my face. (This is most obvious in a still photograph. In real life, the eye is attracted to movement, and as I’m nearly always running my mouth off, that would give my face a chance to be noticed. Or my mouth, at any rate.)

Does this mean that the pattern draft was a waste, and that I should burn it and never look back? No! I would still like to make the “cherry dress” pattern again—just, with a few modifications and a solid color of wool crepe. The lessons here to be learned are:

(1) Good fabric stores ought to have full length mirrors in them, so you can better approximate how a fabric will look on you, and

(2) You can’t design clothing apart from the people who will be wearing them. The idea might sound perfectly grand on paper, but in real life is where it counts. On paper, this dress might sound wonderful, but in real life, I feel uncomfortable and awkward wearing this dress. Because I worked from ideals without seeing how it would work in reality, I failed to meet my ideals that I started with.

Posted in Design, Projects, Technical, Tutorials | 1 Comment »

Dyeing to know?

November 17th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

So you may possibly remember me mentioning my efforts to dye yarn green, and having less than stellar results. The most civilized answer to what color the yarn is has been “kahki green” or “something you would wear with combat boots”. I don’t have any combat boots. . .

Things got odder and odder when I tried dyeing test swatches with (alternately) slipskin grapes and pokeweed berries. Though the dye bath was deep purple and a brilliant fuschia, the yarn kept coming out brown, of all absurd things. So I inter-library loaned 14 hundred million books in an attempt to figure out what on earth was going on. I found lots of dots, but didn’t managed to connect them all until the 14 hundred million and one book. Dots:

  • Don’t use well water for washing your wool; the minerals in the water will form soap scum!!! (Big deal.)
  • Iron added to a dye bath will “sadden” or “dull” the colors.

For some absurd reason, it took me until I found the The art and Craft of Natural Dyeing by J.N. Liles before I finally realized what my problem was:

. . .for practically all natural dyes except madder, logwood, weld, and brazilwood, soft water is best. In former times, rainwater was considered ideal, riverwater next best, and well water the last choice since it often contained the largest amounts of dissolved salts. Not only do salts alter tehcolor of some dyes, but they can sometimes cause spotting, particularly on piece goods. Iron contamination can really create havoc with bright colors.. . .If iron contamination is suspected, dissolve a few crystals of potassium ferrocyanide in about one-half ounce of water. Add a little vinegar or weak acid. If the solution remains clear, it is iron free, but if the solution turns blue, iron contamination is present. The blue color results from the formation of Prussian blue, which is iron dependent.

Alas, I don’t happen to have a few crystals of potassium ferrocyanide hanging around, but I suspect (very, very strongly) that this is the problem. Certainly I was using well water, but my first reaction was “we don’t have that many minerals in the water!!”. After all, a few houses down the street has huge problems with iron staining, and if you go up the street the other way, there is so much sulfur in the water I can smell it across the room as soon as the tap is turned on. Our water, on the other hand, is wonderful. It has no off tastes of either iron or sulphur (is it sulfur or sulphur? they both look wrong at the moment). The fact of the matter is, it’s probably closest to spring water, as the well is very, very shallow. (We sometimes joke it’s just a buried 5 gallon bucket.) The water table in general runs very close to the surface, and it is not at all unusual to have a bunch of springs spontaneously pop up in the lawn every Spring, sometimes force the water several inches into the air.

However, I should have known better. Because it is also a plain fact of the matter that there’s a lot of iron in the ground around here, and you don’t have to go far to find it. When I dig up potatoes, I only have to go about 8 inches down before I find pale gray clay streaked with the rust of iron. So even if our well water is practically little other than run-off from the hill, it stands to reason it can pick up a fair amount of iron on the way.

The bad news is that I won’t be able to use my most ready supply of water for dying.

The good news is that I probably won’t ever have an iron deficiency, and that my water probably provides more essential vitamins and minerals than your average breakfast cereal.

All of that fascinating discussion aside, I do highly recommend The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing. He takes his dying seriously, and goes into detail. Of all my inter-library loaning, it is the only book I actually want to buy. Most other books give such scant information, or absurd repetition (pick plant; crush plant; soak plant; dye with plant. Pick some other plant; crush plant. . .etc) that they’re simply not worth it. This book is very fascinating, packed with information, and not something that someone only interested in quick-and-easy novelty dying would be interested in. If you really want answers, get this book.

Posted in Books, Color, Dyeing, Technical | 2 Comments »

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