Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Book Review: Design-It-Yourself Clothes

OK, first off, I’m going to tell you right up front that this is a crazy long post with no pretty pictures.  So if you don’t feel compelled to read long, drawn out commentary about books you might not even own, skip ahead to something else now.  Trust me, it won’t hurt my feelings (because I know you all think I’m so sensitive and all).

A few weeks ago I jumped on the bandwagon and bought “Design-It-Yourself Clothes” by Cal Patch (because on top of being emotionally sensitive, I’m also a follower).  Frankly, I have some trepidation about books aimed at beginners that purport to teach them how to “design” anything, be it clothes or gardens or houses.  Generally speaking I find these types of books to be a bad combination of assuming too much ability in the reader on one hand and on the other being unable, in such a limited format, to teach complex design skills.  I just don’t care for them much.  But then, I have had extensive years of training as a designer, so I’m probably a Design Snob.  Just in the interest of full disclosure.  (So let’s see, that’s: Emotionally Sensitive, A Follower and A Design Snob.  Wow.  Lotta labels.)

However, knowing that I have this prejudice and always endeavoring to overcome my shortcomings, I decided to go ahead and give this book a try (especially after seeing Angie A.’s great first-run results with her pants muslin).  I would really really like to have a t-shirt pattern to use as a TNT and I’ve been meaning to rework my old one for months now.  Maybe drafting my own from scratch would be the solution.

Things did not get off to a good start.  In the introductory instructional section, the author walks you through the body measurements you’ll need to take to complete the patterns. Measurement #1 (emphasis is mine):

“BUST: To measure your bust, wrap the tape measure around your chest at it's fullest point.  Be sure that the loop you’re making around yourself is roughly parallel to the floor, and that it’s not dipping up or down as it wraps around you.  This number should be the same as your bra size.”

Um.  No.  No it should not.  Unless you are a man.  Even an A cup bra wearer will not have their full bust measurement add up to their bra size, unless they are wearing someone else’s bra.  Now your high bust measurement, that should be your bra band size.  Try it sometime.  For instance (and sorry but here we go a little number-crunching crazy):

My under-bust measurement is 32”.  You add 4” to this number to get my bra size, which is 36.  My high bust measurement is, not-so-coincidentally, 36”.  My full bust measurement is 41”.  There is a 5” difference between my high bust measurement (or my band size) and my full bust measurement (41” – 36” = 5”), therefore based on these calculations I should wear a 36 DD bra.  Which I do.  I do not wear a 42 bra.

Now this quote of the author’s could totally be a typo.  But I think in a book aimed at beginners, this is a sort of a big problem and will cause no end of confusion. 

From there, things got more difficult.  At no point does the author suggest taking an high bust measurement and then adjusting in some way for the full bust size.  I think that if you use your full bust measurement to draft your pattern, you will end up with batwings under the arms, because you haven’t allowed for boobs.  This is just my (somewhat educated) theory.  Saying that, I only drafted this on paper and didn’t try it in a muslin, so maybe I’m wrong about that.  Regardless, I think the confusion about the bra size/bust measurement thing alone would be hard for a beginner.

Or maybe not.  The intention of this book is pretty clearly focused mostly on the ability to produce your own designs and only nominally to have them fit you based on your measurements.  Which a beginner can probably achieve with the given information.  This is in the opening paragraph:

“You know exactly what you want and you’ve got the sewing skills to pull it off, if only there weren’t that one, teensy-weensy recurring problem: the pattern.  Even the best seamstress needs one, but a pattern for the vision in your head just plain does not exist. Yet.”

With this system, you can make your own patterns but they won’t fit extraordinarily well without some standard alterations, if you don’t fit into a fairly slim mold.  A really slim mold.   But they will be your designs and maybe that’s all that’s important.

I did make the pattern exactly as described in the book.  Then I made the pattern again using my high bust measurements instead of my full bust measurements.  Here’s a comparison, the original pattern on the bottom and the high bust pattern on top.  The bottom one is actually .25” too narrow at the bustline because I mis-measured, but still you get the idea):


Next I did a standard Full Bust Adjustment on the pattern that used my upper bust measurement.  I ended up with a pretty good approximation of my existing sloper, minus the alteration for my sloping shoulders (the author suggests an average figure for factoring the shoulder slope, which was not nearly steep enough for me since I have very sloping shoulders— I think I can add a shoulder slope body measurement to my list and adjust for it in the flat pattern.  I’m going to investigate that later).  

Here’s the comparison of the high bust pattern (on top) and the FBA pattern (on bottom):


This new pattern, along with the back and sleeve draft, made a skin-tight t-shirt that I would call a sloper since I don’t ever wear clothes with zero or negative ease.    It did fit relatively well, with just a few fitting issues around the armscye relating to the sloping shoulder adjustment that I haven’t made yet.

So after all that, I may be able to add some ease to this and just perhaps I’ll have my perfect t-shirt after all.   But I don’t think I could have done it without knowing about the FBA beforehand.  Plus, because she has you draft the front and back identically and I did that humongous FBA, my side seams were off-center by about 2” (which isn’t surprising since my FBA was 2.5”).  So if I want my side seams to be in the right place, I’ll have to readjust both the back and the front patterns.  Frankly, I’m not sure how that will go.

Sheesh.  I think I could have just used my existing sloper, but I can’t get that vision of the Perfect T-Shirt holy grail out of my head so I think I’ll keep working on it. 

I will say that I like the attitude of this book and the chatty style of the writing.  And I think on the whole for pants and skirts the drafting will work pretty well for most people.  But I’m not totally convinced on the shirt thing unless you are a very slim, very small-busted person.  There’s a reason all the models in the book look like they wear A cup bras.

Saying that, this will be a great way to draft things for the kids, since they obviously don’t wear bras at all yet.  So that will be interesting.  Plus, I finally broke down and bought the pattern drafting book that Judy loves so dearly, so I guess I really will be drafting my own kids’ patterns in the near future.


And now I say, “Wow.  If you read all that, you are a much more patient person than I am.  You get another gold star!”  And yes, at some point I will actually sew something and write about it.  And my next two posts will consists of nothing but pictures.  Honest.  Pretty pretty pictures with no words at all.  Well.  Maybe a few words.


  1. Hmm, what does it say about me that I found your post neither long nor boring? Drafting and fit are endlessly fascinating topics and there can never be too much written about them in my very humble opinion! I would love to know what would have happened had you made a muslin from following their draft exactly as given? If you get a spare couple of days would you mind trying that out for us? ;-) Painful as the process is, the Holy Grail Perfect Fit Shirt will be owrth it in the end.

    And now I'm nervous - if you don't love my favourite book you're going to hate me for making you fork out $30 on it!

  2. I have both those books and I found that Cal Patch's tee for 2yr old Laura was much better than the several I made using Aldrich! She isn't big into the 'whys' of drafting, and her ease on the body blocks is more tent-like than easy-fitting - check out my Pinafore Drafting posts for further details... On the other hand, I've done a couple of trousers and a skirt using Aldrich, and they've been great. (PS I got mightily confused by the bust measurements in Cal Patch so I'm relieved to see it isn't entirely my fault).

  3. Yeah, that bust comment stuck out like a sore thumb to me as well. What?? And while I like the skirt that I made from the book, I admit that I deviated in several ways from her instructions. No one needs an inch of ease in the waist, unless you want your skirt to fall down... Still, as a total novice to drafting, her style is very understandable and approachable. I definitely see a few merits for this book. But I won't be using her basic shirt pattern (with no darts!?!? WTH??)

  4. I did not care for that book. There are no darts in the pants or the shirt. Not worth the money. Better to put your money on a good textbook.

  5. Judy, I think drafting and fit info is pretty interesting too, but I also think we're, well, unusual. But then again, probably so are most of the people who read this blog, so there you go. :-)

  6. Maybe it was meant to say "This is NOT your bra size"? Who knows.... I've been thinking about buying this book too since Angie's posts but I think I'll wait. I'll let you all test it first! LOL!

  7. Good catch. I took the measurements, but didn't actualy READ what she wrote. Same for following the pants draft directions. I sort of read between the lines on a few steps, because...because I already know some stuff? Maybe? I think the book isn't that great for brand spanking new sewers, especially those without any knowledge of fit or alterations. I tweaked my pant draft as I went because I knew already how to do that. (like adding for the high hip, full inner thigh, etc.)

    I do like the breezy directions and chatty style. I also like the style of the garments, very clean and "J Crew"-ish. So I'll probably plod along and try the t-shirt and basic shirt draft. Obviously I'll be adding a FBA, but I sort of figured I would.

  8. Since I am an A cup maybe this book would actually be useful to me. However, I think I will stick with patterns. I am no designer. Thanks for the review!

  9. Nutty book. But congrats on losing 8lbs and I notice you changed your piccy to a negative, cool.


You know you want to say something....