Tutorial: Scaling Historical Sewing Patterns with Photoshop - Part 1, the Prep

Graphic design is my day job, but my hobby is sewing, (or is it the other way round?) and over the years I've been grateful for many kind people sharing their time and knowledge in both areas, today it's my turn to share my skills and give back.

There are several excellent tutorials on how to scale sewing patterns from books using Illustrator and Photoshop, but they don't show the next part: how to draft the pattern so it's actually going to fit you.

So this is what I'll be covering in my tutorial, How to take a Historical Sewing Pattern and Scale it so it Fits You. 

Mind blown, right?

It does require some effort on your part, but I'll do my best to make this as user friendly as possible.

And a disclaimer here: I'm going to show you how to do this using Photoshop because I think it's the program more people are familiar with, however, please note, I draft my patterns in Adobe Illustrator, it's much better suited to the task. If there's a lot of interest, I'll do an Illustrator version as well.

If you don't have Photoshop or Illustrator there are a couple of free programs you can try Gimp, and Inkscape. I haven't used either so I can't vouch for them, but I hear good things.

Okay, Part 1 - It's time to Prep.

You will need 4 things: 
  1. A digital camera
  2. Photoshop or equivalent graphics program
  3. The historical pattern you wish to scale. (in digital format, so a photo, scan, PDF etc)
  4. A sloper, drafted to fit the individual you're creating the final pattern for. 
In case you haven't come across this term Sloper before, a sloper or block, or 'fitting shell' whatever you want to call it, is very fitted, usually has no seam allowance and has minimal darts and style lines. It's basically a flattened map of your body, which when sewn together creates a 3D you.

Here's a picture (click to see larger image) of my bodice sloper (shown without the sleeves) which a friend kindly made for me and that I will be using for this tutorial.

My Bodice Sloper, Front (left) and Back (right) it's made on plain paper with black iron-on interfacing to reinforce it

If you don't have your own sloper then head to your nearest library and check out the instructional sewing books, (I recommend anything by Winifred Aldrich) or online there's a round up of Basic Sloper patterns via Burdastyle.

Now for the pattern you want to scale. I strongly recommend you start with a simple bodice pattern, but where to find one?

When I started sewing historical garments I quickly found the wealth of Victorian sewing books made available free through the Library of Congress's Internet Archive.

This isn't the only place to find suitable patterns, other online resources include: Real Historical Patterns tumblr, and The Ladies Treasury. I also have a Pinterest board of Historical Patterns which you may find helpful

On the commercial side there are a great many books available, for example look up these authors: Jean Hunnisett, Kristina Harris, Frances Grimble, Janet Arnold and Nora Waugh. Please note, the patterns in these books are all copyrighted, so respect their terms of use.

Here's a picture (click to see larger image) of the pattern I will be using in this tutorial, it's called 'Ladies Costume' from page 18 through 20 in the 1888 edition of the National Garment Cutter available via the Internet Archive.

Pointing to the bodice pieces I'll show you how to draft

To make things simple I will be showing how to create the bodice only, not including the sleeves, as it only has three parts, side front, front and back.

FYI this is the pattern I used to sew an 1880s outfit which you can see over on my sewing blog.

Okay, go gather your equipment, meet you back here next week for Part Two.

In Part Two I'll show you how to turn your Sloper into a digital foundation in Photoshop.
Part Three will explain how to scale Historical patterns using Photoshop.
And in Part Four, we'll be combining your sloper with the scaled historical pattern to make your very own pattern!

Your comments and questions are always welcome :) Until then, my friends, sew on!