Hello lovely CSCers!
As you all know, I’m totally passionate about the amazing power of sewing your own clothes when you’re blessed with a curvy figure – that’s why Mary and I first set up the Curvy Sewing Collective. But, just like many of you, I was still frustrated by the lack of patterns that were available in my size, or anywhere *close* to my bust size. So, I decided to try to do something about it, and last week, Cashmerette Patterns was born. It’s the first pattern line designed specifically for curves, in sizes 12 – 28 and cup sizes C – H. You can read all about it at my blog, but I wanted to give you the “behind the scenes” story here today, because I’m always intrigued to hear those from other companies!
I’ve known for a long time that conventional sewing patterns don’t fit me well, whether that’s Big 4 or indie patterns. My specific bugbears were:
- Pattern companies that stop at an 18, or have weird variation, where some patterns go to a 20 and some mysteriously go up to a 24 (you know who I’m talking about!) or into “W” sizes.
- Having to do an Full Bust Adjustment on everything. EVERYTHING! Did you know that the average US woman has a DD chest? And that companies keep on drafting for a B/C, or if you’re *really* lucky, a D? My HH bust laughs at that.
- The consequences of the FBA: trying to tame the Big Honking Dart, deal with bizarro armscye issues, having to grade back into my waist size.
- Not having thoughtful grading on bigger sizes: why do you assume my shoulders get wider as I put on weight?! Or that my arms get longer? Or even my head gets bigger? (yes, that’s actually happened in a garment I made with a hood). Why is there no more vertical length to allow for the bust getting bigger? It seems to betray a basic lack of understanding of plus size bodies.
- An absence of thoughtful pattern design – no, a dart shouldn’t end 1 inch from the apex of a HH. Nor do I want to make a huge dart and cut it out afterwards. I also want designs that are proportionate on my body type.
The first thought of specific pattern line drafted for curvy bodies occurred to me several years ago – but I dismissed it, because I have never drafted before, and I knew that just taking a class or two wouldn’t give me expertise. But almost precisely a year ago (October 2014!) I was brushing my teeth and it suddenly hit me: I don’t need to know how to draft patterns – I just need to know someone who does. And if we use an appropriate curvy block, and include the features I’ve been looking for, we could be on to something!
Once I’d found my awesome pattern drafter (who does both home sewing and industry sewing patterns), we set out to create the blocks. These are like tight dresses which you finesse until they fit perfectly, which you then use as the basis for all other patterns, adding in ease as needed. You have to create two: one for knits, and one for wovens, because they behave so differently. This was a tremendous challenge! It took us nearly 6 months to perfect. I didn’t want to use myself as a fit model because I’m more busty and less hippy than average, so instead we used a combination of a specially designed plus size form, which is based on actual women’s measurements, rather than a “scaled up” size 8, so it has things like a squishy tummy and a swayback, and we also tested on a variety of real women.
The main challenge, as you can imagine, was getting the perfect fit through the bust. If you have a large chest, there’s a lot of angles going on there. Eventually, we found a block which led to a perfectly smooth armscye, and no bunching at all at the bust or armpit – I literally screamed for joy when I made the sample! Then, we made another two blocks, so that we had three in the end: for C/D, E/F and G/H cups. Our block ended up looking quite strange compared to what you’re used to – way more curved down the side, and with a significant dip in the front, which allows for the additional vertical length you need with a bigger bust. Plus, we drafted in a swayback, because nearly every curvy woman I know has one of those!
Once we had the blocks done, it was on to designing our patterns. For the first one I decided to go with was a classic wrap dress, as I’m their #1 fan – they do such awesome things for curves. That said, I’ve always had problems though with not having enough coverage, and with gaping necklines, so those were our focus areas. Through a combination of lots of tweaking and testing we were able to achieve a truly no-gape neckband in the end, which I’m really proud of! Again, the pattern pieces look quite different to what we’re used to – but that just goes to show how far off “regular” patterns are from fitting curvy figures.
After testing, it was then a matter of putting things into production. I wanted to do paper patterns as well as PDFs, because there are very strong camps who prefer each one, so finding out how to do that was an adventure in itself. In the end, I had to find three different printers for the paper patterns – for the envelope, pattern, and booklet.
And then, I had a party to assemble them! I’m super lucky to have a great group of sewing friends in Boston, the Crafty Foxes who meet at Grey’s Fabrics every week, and we made a mighty assembly line.
For the photoshoot, I knew that I absolutely needed women with the curvy figure the patterns are designed for – but I found out quickly that there’s no plus size/curvy modeling agency in Boston. So instead, I drafted in my friends! All three of us were photographed, and we span size 16 to 24. In the future, I’d love to have all sizes in the range covered. Here’s an out-take from our shoot (at Grey’s Fabrics):
So exactly a year later, here we are, with the launch of my first dress, the Appleton Dress!
I have a series of other patterns in the works, which will be coming out in the next few months, and each time I’m tackling common problems curvy women have with patterns. I want to come out with styles which are wearable, comfortable and stylish, without sewers having to spend hours altering the pattern.
I’ll be doing calls for pattern testers in the future – if you’d like to be considered, sign up for my newsletter (you can find the sign up sheet on my blog, on the right hand column). I would also LOVE to hear what kind of patterns you’d like to see in the future, and what *your* personal bugbears are with patterns today – let me know below!