The Making of the Ironwork Gown Pt. 2 - Digitizing & Patterning

I knew that a digitized motif would be best, but I had absolutely no experience with any computer drafting or vector program. I planned to outsource this part of the project. Two commissions fell through before I gave up and did it myself. I googled “open source Illustrator,” downloaded Inkscape, and learned some extremely basic techniques.

Here is the crash-course process which allowed me to digitize the bulk of the motif in a single afternoon. I will not get into the specific mechanics of these steps—there are already tutorials and program help guides for that. But this should get you started.
  1. Create canvas/document in the desired actual size and measurement scale (in this case, approx. 44”X24”)

  2. Scale up reference photo and adjust to fit actual scale (It may be quite blurry, but that's OK as long as there are still discernible edges)

  3. Draw bezier lines around the shapes, dropping nodes anywhere necessary, about 6-8 per curved shape and in all corners

  4. Curve the lines between the nodes, either by manual click and drag, or with the "auto-curve" tool, which is basically magic 

  5. Fill in any gaps (Unfortunately the green and ivory dress stops 6” short on the top of the motif. I had to make some stuff up)

  6. Delete background/reference image

  7. Remove slight camera distortion by converting the whole motif to a path, then bending into shape (I think. I am actually not 100% sure on this part—it was complicated. There was a lot of googling and swearing for this step)

  8. Duplicate the motif and flip it to create the mirror image. Utilize empty sections of the “paper” to print additional motif sections, if needed (I needed extra copies of that specific section up top, for hems) 

  9. Convert to PDF and send to local print shop with wide format printer 

I'm sure graphic designers are rolling their eyes at my inexpert technique. But it worked! Now, consider the possibilities. With the right photo to work from, you could trace any gown motif for applique, printing, or embroidery patterns. You could even trace scans of hand drafted patterns. I now use Inkscape to scale up patterns as well.

Drafting the Skirt Pattern
The motif solved, I moved on to patterning the skirt. Perhaps surprisingly, this was the easiest part of the entire project. Usually, I expect to do a good bit of research to develop a pattern for an historical gown. I study period drafts, diagrams, and seam placements. I agonize over hem circumferences and proportions. 
Not so with the Ironwork skirt. This pattern was a simple game of connect the dots. I took full scale printed copies of the textile and marked out seams based upon where they crossed the motif in the photos. As I worked my way from front to back, the skirt pattern pieces took shape in perfect scale. It felt like patterning backwards, and also a bit like cheating.

I discovered that the wedge shaped piece on the side of the train nests in perfectly beneath the curve of the train on the continuous yardage. The motif continues from one to another (with a gap from seam allowances), proving it was cut that way. This makes perfect sense for a dressmaker trying to use every scrap of a costly fabric. I appreciated this glimpse into the mind of the original pattern maker.

I pinned the paper skirt shapes together on the form to see how it looked. I decided that counted well enough as a skirt mockup. 

Patterning the Bodice

If I wanted to stay true to the original, I could not alter seam placement at all. In short, the gown was unalterable. I would have to work backwards, adjusting my shape to fit the gown. My plan was to get the basic proportional silhouette and then compare measurements to see what was possible.

The single layer coutil corset is based on the pattern we use for the Redthreaded S-Bends. The bust improver is from the Wearing History pattern
. I then added twelve (yes, twelve!) tailoring shoulder pads around my hips, on top of the corset. I ended up with an almost twenty inch difference between my waist and hips (this is naturally about 10”). If anyone is wondering, I laced down just shy of 4”, which is my maximum for a few hours of tightlacing.

I was able to plot out the majority of the bodice using the same method as the skirt. Upon comparison, my augmented measurements came unbelievably close to the drafted bodice. I skipped a bodice mockup and went right to fitting a cotton sateen base bodice.

The only adjustments I had to make were two tiny darts on the base shoulder strap near the armsceye, and an addition of 1/2” at center back. It felt like I'd gotten away with something.

The front bust area of the outer bodice was too complicated to figure out flat. I used the adjusted base bodice pattern to cut a half mockup with extra fabric in front. I drew in the motif, and manipulated the front section on the form until it looked like the original. 

Next week, I'll explain the applique process...

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