The first step--the one not pictured here--is drafting the pattern itself. I use Dress Pattern Designing by Natalie Bray (which you'll hear more about in coming days I'm sure), along with a tall stack of newspaper, a sharp pencil, felt-tip pen, measuring tape, and a battered green ruler. This system has always served me well.
Next: a muslin! I leave the seam allowances off the pattern, trace each piece onto the fabric (an old polyester sheet from the Salvation Army) in black pen, and then cut an inch outside the tracing. That way I have a neat seam-line when I go to assemble the muslin (as Tasia recommends but less work).
Here's the muslin sleeve piece, all important points marked for reference:
and the assembled bodice:
The next step is checking the muslin for major problems. Forgive the low light and my wet hair and crazy eyes, it was sweaty in that awful polyester and I was tired. Anyway, look closely and you can see all the major problems:
- Gaping at neck point
- Armhole too deep--that is literally as high as I could raise my arm
- Bust seams fall about half an inch inside the bust point, instead of right along it
- Neckline is a little low for how I was envisioning the bodice
So I went back to the paper pattern and solved these problems. I lowered the shoulder seam slightly at the neck point and set the sleeve in a little higher to keep it from dragging the whole shoulder down. Then I redrew a smaller sleeve and raised the underarm point of the armscye to make it snugger. Then--killing two birds with one stone--I redistributed the bodice width around the bust/underarm area, moving the bust seams further apart to add width and taking in the side seam to subtract it. Finally, I brought the bodice neckline up about a half-inch or so in front.
My pattern pieces were looking awful messy after all this alteration, so I cut new ones, with seam allowances, and prepared for "the second muslin." On a relatively complicated pattern like this one, I like to make a simpler version in cheap fabric first. I love this seersucker so I picked it up in green, on sale, because I am awesome. I'm also doing a short sleeve and a back zipper instead of side, so this will be a nice light summer dress. Check out my highly economical fabric layout:
This is how I store my patterns:
and I make sure every pattern piece is labeled so I don't get confused:
And that's it! I'm putting the bodice together now--I hate sleeves, have I mentioned how much I hate sleeves--and I'm going to attach a gathered skirt just like my first seersucker dress (which I wear every other day in the current summer heat). Ultimately, I'd like to make this with long sleeves and a six-gored skirt, in wool lined with cotton lawn, but that is a project for another time (and another seasonal climate). When I get there you can be sure you'll hear about it.