For the last part in my Demystifying Bootstrap series, I’ll be sharing with you how I’ve been successful with fabric layout, construction, and fitting of the Bootstrap Fashion patterns I’ve used to date. This is where the rubber meets the road, kids. It’s all fun and games and now we get to the part where it’s every person for themselves or better thought of as your own personal Project Runway finale.
For this phase of any Bootstrap project you pick, I highly recommend that you have a tiny bit of experience, a sewing friend or teacher you can call or that you get really good at scouring the web for articles on how to make the garment you’ve chosen. If you are a newbie to sewing or haven’t made the garment you chose, you may feel lost, stuck, or overwhelmed. Why? Because Bootstrap does not offer fabric/pattern layouts or photos/drawings with construction instructions.
Please don’t let this deter you or overwhelm you. There’s a wealth of help and information at your fingertips. The CSC Facebook Group and the #sewcialists and #sewingwithknits communities on Instagram are ready and willing to assist at the mere ask of a question. I spent years lamenting and complaining only to come up dry with answers. It was when I was grateful for what I had before me that I discovered Kelly Hogaboom’s sew alongs, Jan Bones classes, and many, many more helpful people who were eager to see me succeed.
At the point I began using Bootstrap I had enough experience to stop using instructions and start relying on my own intuition. Over 20 years ago, I cut my teeth on the big 4, Sewing Lingerie Patterns (US, Canada), Jalie Patterns, Eva Dress Patterns, and my army of vintage sewing patterns. I’ve always been a “I’ll read the directions when I get stuck…” or “What recipe?” kind of person. I had to learn the hard way to read instructions. I owe a great deal of my success with knits to Jan Bones and Jalie Patterns. I also encourage you to read or learn anything you can from Lorraine Henry. Gosh, so many resources to list!! I share all this so that you too can seek out some of the same resources that have made me successful and try them out for yourself. No one source has all the answers and each teacher gives us another piece of the puzzle, another part of the answer that we get to put together and solve ourselves.
One of the key issues I have had with Bootstrap patterns surrounds length. Some patterns have turned out way too long, others way too short. There was really no way to tell how they would turn out until I had the pattern pieces printed and taped together so I could compare to an existing pattern or my body. That’s a “not so fun” kind of surprise. The lengths can be critical to your success, especially if you have any part of your body protruding like I do – bust, bum, belly, thighs (anywhere!) In order to cover a protruding body part, we need extra length.
Lorraine Henry says “L before W” is her golden rule. This means adjust all your lengths first (FIRST!), then tackle your widths or circumferences (round the body bits). Start at the armpits to waist or hip, for example, then front/back body neck to waist or neck to hip. When you get your Bootstrap pattern printed, measure, measure, measure your lengths. You’ll save yourself lots of fabric and heartache!
Interestingly enough, I just discovered as I’m writing this article that the Bootstrap Fashion team includes the following note at the bottom of patterns for us curvy gals:
IMPORTANT!!! FOR PLUS SIZES WE RECOMMEND TO MANUALLY ADJUST LENGTH FOR ALL STYLES PER YOUR INDIVIDUAL REQUIREMENTS AFTER YOU PRINT THE PATTERN OUT.
The cute pink raglan I made turned out WAY too short!
And this red shirt (unblogged) turned out to be a freakin’ dress; WAY too long! It was a bit disappointing and I didn’t feel like putting in buttons or snaps because it was so long and the gathers were in a weird spot too close to center front. So it’s sat in my UFO pile for months!
Tackle your pattern lengths now, my darlings, before you even think about cutting your precious fabric.
When you receive your instructions from Bootstrap, the list of items to cut below are all you have. No photos.
Another thing to note is that the pattern doesn’t include the recommended amount of fabric for the pattern you’ve purchased. Honestly, I see this as an improvement to suggest to the Bootstrap Fashion team. You’re probably thinking, “Hey wait! How much fabric do I use?”
Guidelines for fabric quantities are found in 2 places:
First: on each pattern page a few lines below the “Add to Cart” button.
Second: inside your pattern instructions, generally on page 5. I think it’s been page 5 on at least 10 of my patterns, so that’s a fairly safe bet. This is not going to be as specific to your pattern however. These are Bootstrap’s guidelines for amounts of fabric based on the type of pattern. I’ll also note that since I’ve purchased so many Bootstrap patterns, I generally stop my instructions print out at page 4, the one right before this. I don’t need to waste paper printing this every time because I have average fabric amounts for patterns in my head. If this is new to you, printing it and keeping it your pattern, noting the fabric of interest and such can be immensely valuable. Or, take this page with you shopping. Heck, laminate it and keep it in your car or next to your computer. It’s a wonderful resource!
How do you layout the pattern on your fabric?
Bootstrap offers no visual fabric layout. No problem! The grainline is marked on the pattern, and your mad Tetris or parallelogram experience will assist you immensely.
- How many pieces does the pattern say to cut out? This is found in parenthesis on every pattern piece: (1, 0) means cut 1; (1, 1) means cut 2 (mirrored); (1, 1) can also mean cut 1 fashion, 1 lining.
- Do your pattern pieces indicate to cut on the fold or flat? Often, if I’m not matching stripes or plaids and the pattern piece comes flat, I will fold it in half and plan to cut on the fold. If that doesn’t allow me enough fabric, then I will open it back up and play around with the layout.
Let’s say you fold your fabric in half, selvedge to selvedge (that’s the non-cut edge) and begin to layout your pattern. I first eyeball the grain line and place all my pieces atop the fabric, like fitting together a puzzle. For simplicity’s sake, I’m only going to focus on a solid color, no stripe, plaid or nap (i.e. velvet) or any sort of directional matching. I’m also working with a 4-way stretch fabric. Those 2 assumptions allows me to place the pattern pieces right side up and upside down. If I change those assumptions, I may need to put all the trumpet flares of my skirt heading the same direction on the fabric, thus causing me to need more fabric. I’m all about finding a way to make a beautiful garment using the least amount of waste. So any time I can “flip-turn-upside-down” any pieces, I will. I may be violating a ton of sewing rules, but if the final garment works with no issues, then I’m gonna go for it!
Notice that there is a LOT of red space along the fold (right side) and the facings (those J-shaped pieces) look a bit catawampus. It’s not pleasing to the eye to look at. The pieces aren’t “fitting” together like Tetris, on my fabric. Which tells me that there is likely a better layout to be had.
Note the lower right corner piece is the front of the garment. It is a pattern piece which was printed flat and I’ve folded it in half and placed on the fold to see if that helps save fabric.
I will also create some layouts which offer lots of left over fabric so I can use it for panties or trims on other garments. Doing this means I will create excess openings in the fabric layout and skip areas that are on the fold to create the largest amount of leftover fabric. Again, I want to eek out every little bit of fabric I can and waste as little as possible.
To see if it offered any better layout, I opened up the center front piece and placed it. This allowed me to play with nestling the front facing and the front side princess seam piece. FYI, in this photo, I’m missing the center back piece.
Let’s try something a little different with those facings. Here, I’m nestling them near one another, sort of like spooning. I did try placing them upside down, tucked them into the space between top of skirt, and also rearranged placement of the back facing.
As you’re beginning to see, there can be an infinite number of possible layouts!
I am not the “exact grain” kind of sewist. I recognize that being on grain is critical, but I no longer let it keep me up at night if my pattern pieces aren’t to within 1mm of tolerance. I apply the phrase my dad has lectured on for years, “What’s the definition of tolerance? The roughest finish to get the job done.” Huge emphasis on the value of being done and having good enough quality. This doesn’t mean doing a poor job, rather it implies that there is a point at which it stops adding value to get more and more accurate & precise (those words mean 2 different things, mind!) If I’m within ¼” or less, I’m good with that.
I jump in with my rulers at this point and make a capital I shape. I get as straight as I can at the selvedge or the fold, then place another ruler perpendicular to that and another ruler parallel to the selvedge or fold. This allows me to work out from the straight edge and get as close a parallel to the grain as possible. I’ve found a T-square to be invaluable as it is generally a “yard stick” long and runs across most fabric. If you’re at 60” or more wide, it may not reach all the way across. I also use my cutting mat (shown in the above tables) as much as possible. My goal is to make my tools work for me, not me work for them.
Once you have the grain lined up, cut, cut, cut away! Then store the extra fabric for the next project.
Here’s the dress I was cutting out in the fabric/pattern layouts above.
Generally, page 2 of your “Sewing Instructions” download will contain actual sewing instructions. These are only written instructions. No photos or diagrams are available directly from the Bootstrap Fashion team. They allow for the community to create and sell instructions on how to construct garments as they please.
On a few occasions, I’ve had patterns that came with absolutely no instructions. In that instance, I emailed the bootstrap team (they’ll include a follow up email to your purchase that you can easily reply to) and asked if they had instructions. One time, I even had the fabric all cut out before I realized that it didn’t have the instructions. Ha ha! It was a particularly challenging pattern as it had facings placed in ways that I hadn’t yet tackled and the order of construction was particularly important to ensure that I didn’t have raw edges peeking out. The Bootstrap team responded quickly and finished translating the instructions for me! Yay! They are such a nice team of people.
So, we have no photos or diagram, only this list of instructions to go off of. Let’s say you don’t have experience sewing the welt pockets that are included and the instructions say absolute diddly about welt pockets. This is where the infinite wealth of your sewing book library, your sewing friends, and the wonderful community of bloggers come in super handy. Google or Bing are also your best friends. So are learning to use search terms effectively. I’m quite surprised by how easily I think in search terms and how so many people I encounter struggle. Likely you all are experts at this, but I’ll offer some of my tips all the same. Please share yours if you have any! We are eager to learn from each other!
Search Terms for Welt Pockets: “how to insert welt pockets” yields several suggested searches. If your original search terms don’t get you the articles that seem to fit what you’re needing instructions on, then try the suggested search terms. “Welt Pocket Tutorial” may produce a LOT more results.
When I wanted instructions on how to insert welt pockets that went into the middle of a pattern piece, as in they were not inserted into a seam, then I used several sources to determine how I wanted mine to look. That’s the beauty of Bootstrap’s lack of instructions, the possibilities are endless and there’s really no “wrong way” to make up your pattern. Bootstrap Pattern Instructions are like the Pirate’s Code: “they’re more what you’d call ‘guidelines’.”
For anything you need to learn to construct, go search the web, your bookshelf, or ask a friend. Better yet, scour your pattern library for a similarly designed pattern and see if there are instructions there. For example, I use many of the Jalie techniques from their Raglan/Tank pattern for some of my knit shirt banding.
I’ll be honest, there’s only 1 muslin I’ve ever made from a Bootstrap pattern. After I made the muslin for the Tea & Crumpet dress, I never made one again. Mostly because the fit was so spectacular that I didn’t worry about it anymore. I was cautious and I have still run into issues around too short/too long shirts or the neckline being way too low. But, I always find a way to use the garment in it’s odd state – like I wear a tank top under the dress with the neckline that reveals all the way to the bottom of my bra. Problem solved!
I also rarely make a muslin or choose a pattern that requires that much fuss. It’s just not my favorite thing to do. I tend to make “working muslins” or a garment that I can test and wear, then adjust from there.
Fitting issues I’ve run into are:
- Bodice too short (slash and lengthen)
- Bodice too long (slash and shorten)
- Armscye is too low and shows my bra (½” to 1” adjustment)
- Neck gapes at center back (take a tiny dart)
- Neckband distorted and stretched out (slash the sleeve from shoulder to bicep and add a wedge of fabric for She-Ra biceps and shoulders. This means the shoulders are TOO small. I did re-print the pattern; this is my rash guard. The pattern is designed with stretch fabric in mind. It’s already taking negative ease into account. When I printed a 2nd pattern with “wide” shoulders, it was maybe ¼” different. So, it wasn’t worth using the new print with wide shoulders because it wouldn’t be enough of an adjustment to allow the neckline to lay in a nice even circle. I will adjust this by slashing and spreading my print copy.)
- Small amount of excess fabric at the upper swayback (take a fish-eye dart along the back seamline)
- Inseam too long (re-print the pattern with less shrinkage – I chose 5% and my inseam was much longer and didn’t shorten as much as I thought! This is a SUPER cool setting to play with and very helpful if you run into pant shrinkage issues)
- Back pant waist too low (raise back waist by ½” to 1” or whatever amount too low it is compared to the front waist to get the full waist band level. This is probably because the pattern didn’t offer a “protruding rear” adjustment.)
Some of you may be exhausted reading this list. To me, this is a very minor amount of adjustments. These are like the tiny adjustments I have read about some sewers being able to do with the Big 4. “Wow! That’s all they have to do! I wish.,” was what I used to think because that always felt like a unicorn fit to me. If this is all the adjusting I have to do, I’m WAY ok with it. If those are the accommodations I have to make to get the final fit – then I feel that I’m right on target. Usually I have MUCH, MUCH, MUCH larger amounts to adjust, which throw the pattern off entirely!
Know that while you’re getting an amazing fit that is really stellar to start with, you may still have to make some adjustments. But they are manageable. They’re likely to be much less than what you’ve dealt with before. Go in with an open mind, knowing it’s great, but not perfect and you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
I also suggest that you invest in a really good fitting book and/or class. This will help you learn how to read the wrinkles on your body and make the fitting adjustments you need. Here are a few great starting points, the first of which Lorraine Henry and a couple other seamstresses I respect recommended to me:
- Fitting and Pattern Alteration: A Multi-Method Approach to the Art of Style Selection, Fitting, and Alteration
- The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting
- Fit for Real People: Sew Great Clothes Using ANY Pattern
Another thing to consider, that my friend Kelly has kindly reminded me of when I get stuck in my world of perfectionism, we are already a leg up beyond Ready-to-Wear fit. Most of society thinks that wrinkles across the swayback area, gaps in waistbands, draglines along the bust, etc., etc. are normal. If you make a piece that has some of the same wrinkles, but still makes you look and feel amazing, try letting go and embracing the imperfection. Keep in mind the Japanese art forms of Wabi-Sabi where they embrace imperfection and Kintsugi make a broken piece more beautiful by repairing the cracks of pottery with gold. May all your draglines be golden.
Now that I’ve enough experience with Bootstrap, I’m really looking forward to making some beautiful pieces for my mom to wear. She’s been such a huge supporter of my sewing and it’s wonderful that I can now give back to her.
There are also a few men’s patterns on Bootstrap. For those who are interested, Kelly has used them to make some button-up shirts for her husband with great success. Hopefully more designers will begin to seek out Bootstrap and we will see the men’s wear grow as well. From The Rock and Arnie to Uncle Felix and Bert Large, we love to make our curvy guys look good, too!
If you have any other questions, tips or tricks for working with Bootstrap Patterns, please share! Let’s build up and support each other however we can.
Thank you all for taking the time to read my debut series on the Curvy Sewing Collective. It’s an honor to be part of such a supportive and passionate group. I look forward to seeing you look gorgeous in your Bootstrap Patterns. Please share photos on the CSC Facebook Group or tag your makes on Instagram with #curvysewingcollective.