Plan formed. Design picked. Fabric acquired. Next step? Finding a suitable pattern that could be used to make a reproduction 1890’s tea gown.
I had several ideas for this pattern. I could drape it. I could mash together a bunch of commercial patterns to get the general look I was going for. I could majorly alter one pattern. I could find a pattern online. Or I could look through my books of historical patterns, find one that resembled my inspiration tea gown, and size it up. I picked the last option.
I found the patterns I needed in “59 Authentic Turn-of-the-Century Fashion Patterns”. A reception gown design furnished the pattern pieces for the back, sleeves, and front overdress portions of the tea gown. A walking suit design supplied the pattern for the cross-over under bodice. The front underskirt was something I could easily draft myself. Thus, I was all set to go. Pattern drafting could begin!
The patterns in “59 Authentic Turn-of-the-Century Fashion Patterns” are laid out on planes. You start with a central point in the top right corner and measure down and out, marking specific points and then connecting the dots until you have a full - size pattern piece that matches the small one in the book. Now, there's only one issue. If you follow the exact measurements given in the book the resulting pattern will fit approximately a 29" bust - and that's a bit too small for me. Thankfully, there's actually a very easy way to size these patterns up or down. If you make the patterns using an apportioning ruler, the sizing should come out perfect!
So what is an apportioning ruler? Magic, that's what! Or at least, it feels like it.
Most of the patterns in the book give the instruction to "draft according to bust measure. Ok, great, but what does that mean? The patterns all seem to have a 29" bust, but I have a 38" bust. Do I just randomly add width where I feel it's needed, or what? To figure this quandary out, I optented for the 21st century method of problem solving - google. I searched for "How to use the patterns in "59 Authentic Turn-of-the-Century Fashion Patterns"' Right off the bat I discovered what I needed to draft this pattern was a 36" bust apportioning rular.
Apportioning rulers are rulers where 1" doesn't equal a true inch. Rather, it equals a little more or a little less than 1 real inch, depending on if you need to size the pattern up or down. So, for the purpose of my pattern drafting, I essentially needed a 38 inch long ruler that was divided into 29 equal sections. Each section would be an "inch". By using this ruler to make my pattern, I would get a pattern specifically drafted to fit my measurements, no grading up or down required! Now, for the next question, how could I acquire this fabulous tool?
Some Late Victorian/Edwardian pattern books contain apportioning rulers for the owners convenience. Mine, unfortunately, did not. Thus, I decided to make one for myself. First, I did some math. I divided 38 by 29. I got 1.3, which is approximately 1 5/16ths of an inch, or 2 5/8" for every 2 inches.
So, I needed to make a ruler where every "inch" was actually 1.3 inches. Once I had this figured out I took scrap piece of paper and marked every 2 5/8" (as this was easier to measure than 1 5/16"). Then I want back and marked the halfway point between each set of marks. This gave me a piece of paper with several "inches" marked on the edge.
I cut a 2" (2 real inches, not apportioned) strip of posterboard to be my ruler. Using the scrap paper with my apportioned "inches" marked on it as a template, I marked those "inches" all down one side of my ruler.
Then I took a 1 "inch" piece of paper and folded it in 8ths. I transferred these 1/8th markings onto the first 2 "inches" of my ruler. (it would have been better to mark 8ths all along the ruler but I didn't take the time to do that)
And with that, I had an apportioning ruler, and I was ready for pattern drafting! Almost. I read on this blog that pattern drafting with apportioning rulers works best if you have two - one for your bust measure and one for your back (nape to waist) measure, otherwise your pattern may come out too long. So, I divided my back measure by the back measure marked on the patterns in the book (the ratio was smaller than the ratio of my bust measure divided by the book bust measure), and proceeded to make a second apportioning ruler.
I labeled and color coded each ruler so I wouldn't get them mixed up. Then, finally, I was able to start my pattern drafting!
I used the back measure apportioning ruler for all length measurements, and the bust measure ruler for all width measurements. In less time than I expected, (This pattern making system is actually ridiculously easy once you get the hang of it!), I had a fully functional tea gown pattern and I was ready to make my first mock-up!