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Article 22 - Sept. 20, 2010
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Shaping A Garment

By Jessica Lynn Harris

(This Marilyn Monroe type dress was shaped by gathering and darts.)

The most amazing thing I find about sewing my own clothes is how a flat piece of fabric can be cut into pieces and then sewn together to make a shaped garment. Various sewing techniques are used to achieve this two-to-three dimensional miracle. 


The Princess seam will shape a female figure with the best results. However, if you are new to sewing and making your own clothes, princess seams can be rather challenging. A princess seam is sewing two pieces of fabric together that are shaped with opposite curves. Once sewn, these pieces automatically take shape. Princess seams are used in the bust area and occasionally along the hips in dress patterns. They give the model a slim look by accenting, rather than hiding, her curves. (Think corset.)


Darts also help achieve a more curved look and are used in most garments--they are used in menís wear, as well. Bust-area darts can be found from the side or the bottom of the bodice leading to the center bust area. Darts are also used in shaping trousers and skirts. In bottoms, they are usually found in pairs at the front and rear. When sewing darts it is important to make sure they are the same length and width on each side. You must also remember to abstain from back-stitching as this can cause a bulge at either end of the dart, causing your garment to look unprofessional and awkward. Instead, leave the threads long and tie a knot by hand.


Gathering is another technique for shaping a garment. Gathering does not fit the contours of the body, but creates a shape by pulling a large piece of fabric into a smaller size, giving a garment (or shoulder seam, waist line, etc.) a wavy, draping look. (Think Roman toga.) There are many methods to gather both by hand and machine, but I find this to be the easiest: set the machine at a larger size zigzag stitch and pull the top thread long. Place the top thread directly in the center of the pressure foot and zigzag stitch overtop of your thread the area you desire to be gathered. Back stitching is not necessary. When you cut your thread to remove your fabric from the machine, leave the top thread long. This is then pulled, a little or a lot, depending on how small you require your gathers. Pin the gathers in place and baste directly over the pins. 


Pleats, like gathering, create a three dimensional shape that does not necessarily follow the lines of a human body. They too take a large swathe of fabric and bring it down to a smaller size. But instead of a flowing look, pleats are often pressed to create sharper, crisp lines. (Schoolgirl uniform, anyone?) Pleats are created by folding fabric with precision and purpose. These folds are usually spaced evenly apart. Sometimes the folds will follow the same direction, sometimes they will fold away from a center point, this depends upon the look the designer is hoping to achieve. 


Variations of these techniques come together to create a complex garment. Some gowns have princess seams in the bodice and gathering at the sleeves. A schoolgirl skirts uses both pleats and darts. And trousers and menís vests are fitted in part by successful, even darts. But whatever youíre making, and whatever technique you use, itís always fun to think about the before and after. Taking a flat rectangle of fabric and turning it into a garment that has shape and life is a sort of magic, even if not done with wands like the fairies in Sleeping Beauty. 


Founder & Publisher: Judi Harris
Editor in Chief: Jessica Lynn Harris
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copyright 2010 Love To Sew
Article 22 Sept. 20, 2010




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