20 December 2010

The Slippery Sloper

A few days ago, I received the following question and I am just now getting a chance to answer it.

Shelley wrote, "When I read about how to sew clothing, all the books talk about making a muslin, usually starting with a dressmaking pattern. The problem is (well, the first, there are probably many) that my books tend to be rather vintage and the commercial patterns they suggest seem to be out of print. Is there a commercial dressmaking pattern you could recommend for a novice sewer for this purpose? I’ve dreamed of making my own clothes for most of my life and it’s time to either get on with it or give up the dream. I’ll be very grateful for any advice you might give."

It's sounds like you are referring to a "sloper" or "block" or "fitting shell" rather than a muslin.  Back in the day, all dressmaking books suggest making a sloper and many modern seamstresses still swear by them.  The basic concept of a sloper is that you create a snug fitting dress (usually, but you can create a pants sloper as well) that has a bodice, with sleeves and straight skirt joined at the waist.  For example, below are the dress (V1004) and pants (V1003) fitting shell patterns offered by Vogue.  This Burda Style link also provides other sloper resources.

 

The goal with the sloper is to create a garment that fits you like a comfortable glove.  Using your personal measurements, you want to make changes to the sloper to ensure that all your unique fitting issues are addressed.  For instance, I would adjust for my small shoulders, yet relatively broad back, as well as my small waist, tiny bust and large hips.  For work clothing, I would ensure that my bodice and sleeves allowed me to write comfortably on a chalk board (I'm a teacher) and that my skirt would have enough sitting ease.

Once you have a well-fitting sloper, then you can use it to check the fit of commercial patterns you may wish to make.  This is done by laying your personal sloper pattern pieces over the commercial pattern pieces to look for any changes to be made.  For instance, I would check that the shoulder length and armscyce are the correct dimensions and adjust accordingly. Or you can use the sloper to draft patterns of your own. This is done by adding design elements to your basic sloper.  For example, you could slash your sloper to add interesting seaming details or colour blocking effects.  Check out this sloper series, as well as the link above, for more details.

All that said, I do not use a sloper.  I have been sewing long enough that I can just flat pattern measure vital areas (shoulders, bust, waist, hips, etc.) and add or remove tissue to accommodate my particular measurements.  If I am planning on using a very expensive fabric or if the pattern is very intricate, I will create a "muslin" or "toile."  A muslin is a quick and dirty mock up of the desired garment in a fabric of similar weight and drape to the final fashion fabric.  All major pattern pieces are used (bodice, sleeves, collars, skirts, etc.), as well as any closures (zipper, buttons, etc.), but facings are not.  This allows me to determine if the major fitting issues are addressed before cutting into the good fabric.  Often, if the garment is to be done in a forgiving knit/stretch woven, I will throw caution to the wind and just go for it, after a few quick flat pattern measurements. 

I am also a fan of using TNT ("tried and true" or "tested and true", depending on who you ask) patterns.  These are patterns that I have made over and over, tweaking the fit on each successive garment until I have the perfectly fitted pattern.  I have several TNTs - pants, tops, skirts, dresses, jackets and coats - and by simply using an array of fabrics, I can get many different looks.  As well, I will add or delete design details to arrive at a completely different look.

So, I guess the moral of the story is that you have to decide which method suits you the best - sloper or muslin or just diving straight in. 

HZC readers, how 'bout it - do you have any additional info or insights for Shelley?

15 comments:

Reethi said...

I dove straight in, and I'm a big fan of that. The way I see it, with a sloper, you do all the work, and get none of the reward (finished clothes...)

For a new sewer, a finished garment is a bigger reward to keep sewing, I think. Time enough for complicated fitting later down the road...

Couple of caveats: (a) I started with an A-line skirt - which involved minimal fitting. (b) I'm a reasonably standard size, so normal patterns tend to work on me. If that isn't true, then sewing something that doesn't fit at all could be frustrating...

Anita (Summer Gypsy) said...

Thanks for the great discussion. Like Reethi, I also dive straight in, but I have spent so so many hours adjusting, sewing the same seam 20 times till I get it right. Even if it finally fits right, I haven't kept track of it, so don't have a TNT. One of these days, once and for all I'm going to make a sloper. I think it will benefit in the long run.

Hearth said...

I dove straight in, but regretted it when I started making blouses as well as skirts. The time I spent on the sloper was WELL worth it to me, but I have *several* fitting issues to deal with, which is why I sew in the first place.

birdmommy said...

There is fairly inexpensive sloper drafting software out there (I'm a fan of Wild Ginger's sloper software). You plug in your measurements and get a sloper that doesn't need very much (if any) tweaking.

I find I use a sloper to adjust patterns. Threads magazine has had lots of articles about using slopers to fit patterns over the years.

I really found that a sloper has saved me a lot of heartache.

Eugenia said...

Great post! Personally I make a muslin for almost any new pattern that I make. I'm not a standard size and I much prefer to get the fitting sorted out before I cut and sew - I enjoy the sewing process much more then.

Lisette M said...

Before I went ahead and tried Vogue patterns I made up their sloper. I was very confident with Burda patterns but knew the Big Three were made up with lots of ease so I wanted to find out what size would work best for me. This gave me the confidence to work with these patterns. Now I only make a muslin when the garment I'm going to make will require lots of my time and energy to complete, I want to make sure it will worth it!!

Beatrice said...

It really depends if you have fitting issues or not. I had no idea what I was doing, dove right in and ended up with two ill-fitting dresses. I have a very round upper back and a sway back and sloping, forward shoulders, just to mention a few of my fitting issues. I tried altering individual patterns and making a muslin until I was tired of doing the same alterations over and over again.

I use a sloper now, and I ususally don't alter commercial patterns but draft them myself. That works better for me, and the frustration level is much lower. But it takes some time to figure it all out, so this is not for someone who wants fast results.

Antoinette said...

You've explained what a sloper is and how to use it so beautifully. I will link here next time someone asks me. LOL I'm a huge believer in the sloper as I am not a typical size with typical proportions, and the sloper allows me to make all kinds of necessary adjustments that improve fit dramatically without a disaster muslin and the disappointment that goes with it (for me, at least).

Lindsay T said...

Nothing to say about slopers (should do one, haven't yet), but a very belated welcome to that adorable Hartley. He is very, very cute and I know you are enjoying him so much. Dogs really enrich our lives, don't they?

Aminat said...

I guess I may say some few words here, being an advanced begineer myself, I will suggest she starts with a pattern that is almost true to her size, for example she picks the top pattern based on her bust size, and the pant/skirt based on her hip measurement, then she makes a simple test garment and not care about the fit. I bet the joy you get from a first finished garment makes the sewing mojo growing. That is what actually worked for me, once you get the first finished garment then it becomes so easy and everything makes sense. Hope this helps

What-I-Found said...

Just to chime in...vintage pattern sellers often have sloper or "Basic" patterns. They usually have lots of clear instructions and a great way to get started sewing vintage patterns.
Tina

Shelley said...

Shannon -

Thank you so much for your brilliant response. I shall buy myself the Vogue sloper patterns for myself for Christmas. I know I have narrow shoulders for a start, which is why I want to sew to begin with. Petite cut clothes are hard to find in charity shops and I rarely find anything that excites me at full price. Your clear instructions remind me why I adored so many of my teachers growing up. Thanks again. I'm a fan for life!

Thank you also to all those who chipped in. I'll check back for any further additions.

Merry Christmas to all!

Shelley

Marie-Christine said...

Much depends on how perfectionist you are.. If you're the type that'll flog yourself for years over every little imperfection you remember every time you wear something, then perhaps you should go the muslin every time road. But otherwise, I'd take the more relaxed view of HZC. Personally I only muslin if I'm using very expensive fabric to do something radically different from what I've done before, and by that I mean that I make a first version in cheap fabric I don't love.

Hard to tell how long most of Shelley's life may have lasted so far :-). But it she means say more than 5 years of wishing to make her own clothes, I'd definitely try to find myself a class. Sewing is a practical skill, and some non-virtual handholding is most welcome in the beginning.

Jali said...

I have never used a sloper pattern so this is great advice. Usually, I dive straight into patterns. With a little drafting knowledge, flat-patterning works alright.

Caveat: I am not difficult to fit and most of my pattern sewing experience is from using Burda patterns.

fiberchick said...

I use both but prefer to make a muslin of a new pattern and fit it on my duct tape double. Welcome back Shannon. Have really missed your posts!