August 26, 2009

Half a tutorial on the Watteau pleat

It took me a bit longer than promised (life getting in the way there), but I finally made my little drawings. So now I can explain the construction of the Watteau pleat dress a little better. What I'll writing here is about making a 'latter-day Watteau pleat dress' like my own. The pleat is pretty much similar to the one on a historical dress, the rest of the dress however, is not.

That said, let's move on to this half tutorial of mine. I made my dress based on my personal sloper, but what I made was a dress with armhole princess seams which is fairly fitted through chest and waist. A dress with pockets in the front side pieces, obviously. You could insert the pleat at the back into any pattern which roughly suits that describtion (if it is shaped by darts, that would be fine too. The important things are a fitted top, no horizontal waist seam at the back and a shaped center back seam and having the full shoulder line on the same pattern piece makes drafting the pleat easier).

On you center back pattern piece, mark how far out on the shoulder you want the widest part of the pleat to be. At the back seam, draw a straight line from the neck down, as shown. All the lines for the pleat will be parallel to this one.

In this drawing, you can see the pleat in its full glory. The line at piece number 1 should be placed on the fold when cutting the fabric. The easiest way to go at drafting this monster is by using something like tracing paper. Place it on your normal pattern piece, along the line you've drawn. The piece between the waist of the dress and the line should be added to the pleat pattern piece, on the 'outside' (so mirroring it over the center back line).
Take care that the edge of the paper won't move away from the center back line and pull the rest to the line you marked at the shoulder. You are now making piece 8 in the drawing. This is the lowest layer of the pleat. Fold the paper back at the line and make a new line, about 4 cm from the one you came from. This is piece 7. Fold back again and go back half the width of piece 7, creating piece 6. Each line in the drawing is a fold, you have to fold 7 over 8, 6 over 7 and 5 over 6, then 4 is folded under 5, 3 under 4, 2 under 3 and 1 under 2.
The width of piece 5 should be the width of piece 8 minus the width of piece 7. 5 will be the part of the pleat best visible on the outside. It's the part I made in the printed fabric. Piece 4 should be the same with as 6, 3 the same as 7. These four folds create the distinctive double folded look of the Watteau pleat. With pleat 3, you should be back at center back. The exact width of pieces 1 and 2 is not important, but they should be the same, allowing for a basic pleat at the center.
When you're done folding the pleat, cut the tracing paper along the shoulder line of the original pattern piece. Or, if you prefer, make a small shoulder yoke like many historical dresses have. In any case, cut the pleat with the paper folded.

In fabric the pleat should be folded just like you did in paper. Just make sure you add the 'negative' bit from the original center back line to piece 8. For the dress itself, you have to use the original center back line. When sewing the back of the dress, stitch piece 8 to center back. Then, onto piece 8 stitch the straight vertical line for the pleat from the neck till a bit below the waist. Finally, stitch center back pieces to each other (catching the seam allowance of the pleat) until the end of the straight seam.

I hope you can make sense of my explaination. Don't hesitate to drop a comment if I'm not making sense, but please bear in mind that I'm only an amateur at this and English isn't my first (sewing) language. But if you want to make your own Watteau pleat dress, I'll be happy to help and I would love to see the result. Just leave a link in the comments! (of course, this applies to personal use, not commercial)

To make this tutorial a bit clearer, as requested by Cristina, I'm now adding this picture which shows how the pleats are stacked. Ignore all the vertical lines exept the 'piece between bodice and pleat' one, they're just there to make the picture understandable.

August 21, 2009

More on Watteau pleats

In the comments, someone asked about how to make a Watteau pleat. Actually, it's not that difficult. I started out studying pictures like the one in my first post about it. Trying to determine how it was built up and how far it was stitched down.
However, on my recent trip to the book store (ah, books and fabric, my two great weaknesses...) I found this great book.

In it were pictures like this one, which shows how the back of an orginal sack back dress was folded. I did mine the same way, before I found the book.

Essentially the pleat is completely straight, all its parts are the same width for their entire length. I'll have to make some little drawings to show you how to engineer that thing into a dress, but its about time I go to work. So more about that tomorrow.

August 17, 2009

Watteau pleat day dress

Finally, here they are, as promised: the pictures of my Watteau pleat dress. Please don't pay attention to the slightly weird poses and strained facial expressions. I never look well on self-timer. I took pictures from front, back and sides to really show off the different faces of this dress.

Seen from the front, it looks like a vaguely vintage inspired day dress. And of course, it has pockets...

From the side, you can really see the 'gap' between my back and the pleat. There is a bit of fabric there, reacting space between the slightly hollow back seam and the straight pleat.

And from the back you can see the Watteau pleat in all its glory. I know it would have been more historically correct to have the entire back of the dress in the same fabric (gowns of that era closed at the front, sometimes showing a contrasting or matching stomacher and petticoats there) but I ran out of the black and white printed fabric. I thought this would be the best way to deal with the fabric shortage, although it means that my pleat will not blend in with my skirt seamlessly like in the historical examples.

I am rather happy with this dress. It was a big experiment, but I think the end result looks good, and was suprisingly easy to make. But of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and for any of my sewing creations that means wearing it out. I haven't worn this one outdoors yet, and based on the reactions on my (much more 'normal') double polkadot dress, I may be in for a treat. I have shown the dress to a friend however. She liked it, even though she's not into 'unusual dressing' herself.

By the way, Watteau was a painter in the late 17th and early 18th century. The pleat is called after him because he painted a lot of ladies wearing the 'sackback gown' or 'robe a la francaise' fashionable at the time.

August 14, 2009

I'm the girl in the big dress

I was free from work this afternoon and I walked into town to buy tea and check out the second hand book store. Nothing worth mentioning really, if I hadn't done so looking like this.

Now, it was a different story. Elderly couples pointed me out to each other with their eyes (older people tend to be more polite). Fashionista's in their early twenties (wearing low cut skinny jeans or zouave trousers themselves) pointed, giggled or looked away disdainfully. Little girls stared openly and in awe.

I'm not particularly self-conscious about wearing this dress. I made it last summer, I've worn it several times, I meant for it to look a bit like a fifties dress and most important, I like it and I like how I look in it. This means I'm not going to be put off by the way people react to the sight of me in this dress.
I choose not to wear the usual young urban 'uniform' of jeans and a trendy t-shirt variaty, so I already know I may get some strange looks. What's interesting here is what people will react, and how.
In my experience (I've had a bit of a history in trying out different looks, and I'm still going strong) little girls will love anything which looks quintessentially girly. So full skirted fifties frocks are bound to be a hit, but so are long skirted romanti-goth do's. Young, trendily dressed women will often dislike just about anything which seriously breaks their dresscode.
Other reactions tend to be more random. Today, the elderly couples may have recognized the silhouet, and wondered about it. Approvingly or disapprovingly, I do not know.

Following Burdastyle and some sewing/fashion blogs, I have seen plenty of vintage style dresses made by other people. I'm wondering: Do you wear those out a lot? Do you get the looks? And what do you think of that?

August 13, 2009

On bolg reading...

I don't follow a lot of (sewing/fashion) blogs. Of course, I know there are some very nice bits of writing and craft out there in the blogosphere but honestly, I don't have the time or the effective system to root out the jewels among the junk and keep track of them. Besides fehrtrade, which I mentioned before, there is one other blog which I never fail to follow: a dress a day

If you're more internet-literate than I am, and love sewing, vintage or fashion, you must have come across this jewel already. Although blogger Erin occasionally shares pictures or stories of her own sewing (always dresses and skirts), that's not the main focus of the blog. Instead, the great pictures found on the web, and clever and at times hilarious writing take center stage.

It's Erin's birthday today, or maybe technically yesterday (European versus American timezones tend to mess with my mind) and what she asked of her readers is to pay a compliment to someone, anyone. Just for the sake of appreciating the world around you, and for being nice to others. Isn't that wonderful?

P.S. Pictures of the Watteau pleat dress are coming up this weekend. I've been working all day, every day for the past two weeks. Although that's great, it does mess up my photo-opportunities.

August 7, 2009

Of course I didn't forget about him...

Somewhere last week, I said I was off to make a shirt for my boyfriend. And after that, I posted about other things, like making a watteau pleat dress. However, I didn't forget about him, or put my own sewing first. Not this time, at least. He had a job interview coming up (we will now the result early next week, so fingers crossed...) and I thought he could use a new shirt for that. I almost finished it (didn't have buttons yet) before starting on the dress, and he wore it yesterday.

The picture (which isn't very nice, my apologies for that) shows the new shirt at the front, and behind it, its family. This shirt is the seventh one I've made using a shirt block I've drafted for him. I tend to be a bit limited in my fabric choices as he prefers dark colours and good men's fabrics are hard to find. However, on each version, I change details in the styling, like pockets, plackets and topstitching. My boyfriend hasn't bought a single RTW shirt since he can have these.

I originally drafted this pattern using Winifred Aldrich's metric pattern cutting for menswear. I would really recommend this book to any seamstress who enjoys making things for the man/men in her life, and can sew without instructions.
The book provides you, among many other things, with no less than four different shirt blocks, as well as information on how to draft collars, plackets and pockets.

The block I settled for after trying all, is the tailored shirt block. I consider it best suited for E.'s athletic shape. The beauty of using a personalized block is in the fact that you'll never have to deal with fitting issues again. On every commercial pattern, I would have to take one size for chest circumference, and another one, up to three sizes larger, for the neckline (we like to say he's got a bull's neck).

A men's shirt is a simple shape which is supposed to be loosely fitted, and drafting it, with the right help, is fairly easy as a result of that. Pattern making may not be for everyone, but you can hardly go wrong with this.

August 4, 2009

Inspiration at work

Ever since I've been making patterns, I have also had a keen interest in fashion history. Although I've done a lot of vaguely 1950's dresses so far, I can't say I really have a favorite period. I also love the really old stuff (one of these fine days, I'll try my hand at serious corset making again, this time making my own pattern as well).

Something I've always wanted to try is a dress with a Watteau pleat. A Watteau pleat is the straight pleat falling down from the shoulders which you'll find in certain Renaissance dresses. The kind of dress it features in is known as 'robe anglaise' and was essentially a loose garment worn over panniers and tight stays.
I, however, don't want to make a robe anglaise, I want to make a modern dress with a Watteau pleat. The intriguing thing about this pleat (not visible in the back view in the picture) is that it's separated from the bodice of the dress by seams (keeping the bodice tight and the top of the pleat sharply shaped), but flows down to become part of the skirt.

There's a piece of fabric in my stash which I've had earmarked for this dress for over a year. Now, the pattern is done, the muslin's been fitted, so it's going to become the Watteau pleat dress!