This photo-essay is intended to give you an overview of one way to drape fabric on a body to achieve a tight fit.
Meet Sheree. My patient model who also happens to get two finished cottes out of this experiment.
For this fitting, I decided to try something new. Rather than starting with 4 separate thin rectangular panels, (which is my typical method and one that is more historically supportable) I started with one solid piece of fabric with a hole cut out for her head. Please understand that this is a modern convenience, not to be construed as my interpretation of what historic tailors used. I used a blue linen fabric which will end up being the lining of her gown. Robin Netherton suggests trying this, and for both fittings I used the same lining material in order to do as ‘pure’ a comparison between them as possible.
Since the center-front seam will remain comletely straight, I basted it shut first before beginning the fitting.
I began by pinning the front and back panels together to form loose side seams. I routinely checked the center back piece to confirm that the fabric remains on-grain. When I’ve basted these side seams (not a tight fit yet), I will then fit the center-back seam. I worked on the side seams first in order to batten down the fabric a bit before centering the back seam.
Before working on the back seam, this is what the fitting looks like so far. As you can see, bust support has not yet begun to take shape.
First, I pin the center-back seam, being careful to keep it straight and on-grain.
When the pinning is finished, I baste the center-back seam to about 3 inches below the curve of the lower back.
At this point, the fabric is beginning to look form-fitting in the back.
The bust fitting is best achieved, to start, from a supine position. This idea is promoted by Robin Netherton, and after trying it, I have to agree.
At my request, Sheree repositions one breast as high as she can push it from the bottom up. This is so I can refit that side’s seam more snugly.
I repin and fiddle with the side seams until it appears that the bottom of Sheree’s bust is pushed as high up as it will go.
It is important that when adjusting seams, you keep your panels as on-grain as possible. Click here for a diagram.
Before working with the armholes, her bust begins to look and feel supported, but there is some strange shaping which will be relieved once the armholes are shaped and fitted with sleeves.
Another view of the fitting as it begins to come together.
Sheree’s bust is reasonably supported even before the armholes and sleeves are worked in.
With S-curved sleeveheads pinned into the armhole, the bust appears much more naturally shaped. There is some compression on the lower-outside portion of her breasts, but this appears to be a common side-effect of this fitting style on well-endowed women.
A bird’s-eye view showing the shaping of the bust from above.
Before cutting out the neckline, I did a quick running stitch at the point at which the final neckline will be placed. This helps add some integrity to the fabric before cutting into it, mostly on the bias.
The shape of a front panel piece in its finished state.
Every body will produce a unique set of panels. This should serve as a general guide, but if you don’t get this shape, there is no problem, as long as your final panels support your bust asthetically and practically.
The shape of a back panel piece in its finished state.
Note that the back of the armhole is less curved than the front. You may need to experiment with the shape of the armhole to fit the body properly.
Sheree’s finished gown is a maroon wool twill that spiral-laces in the front and is closed along the arms with buttons.
The neckline of this gown was considerably lower than the neckline of the curved-front-seam gown I produced for this experiment. I did not make the two gowns’ necklines at different levels on purpose. In retrospect, I think this gown could have benefited from wider shoulder seams and a higher back.
Another view of the final gown produced from my fitting using a straight-front-seamed method with four panels.
This fitting method produces a much more pronounced “shelf” of cleavage than the curved-front-seam method. Please take a look at the Comparison section to read details of how these two shaping methods stacked up against each other.