Draping a Woven Cover for a Beatrice Form - Part 1!
I'll start out by saying how completely different it is working on a Beatrice than it is working on an industry dress form. I've spent many years working on Alvaforms, and have even had the pleasure to work on creating a custom Alvanon form for JCPenney, evaluating measurements, 3D models, shapes, stance and posture, as well as performing comparative fit trials. The form we created is used globally to fit product for several private brands, and it was one of the coolest things I've ever taken part in. Talk about nerding out... but I digress!
Alvaforms are typically hard, with little give on the body. The shoulders and hips can be collapsible, and each form has a hand-sewn linen cover, seamed and marked at standard body reference points. Beatrice forms have none of that- they are created using a scan of your own body, cut into a semi-soft foam, and covered with a stretch knit cover that has only side seams, and no markings at all. (Totally customized, and totally customizable!)
The collapsibility function of an Alvaform is essential, if you're working on 4-8 garments a day, and you need to pull samples on and off quickly for photographs, desk fittings, block discussions, etc. Dressing a Beatrice is very different, since it's not collapsible. It also doesn't need to be. (If there comes a time when I'm sewing 4-8 garments daily and checking each muslin on my Beatrice, please come save me...) The knit cover the Beatrice comes with can be a bit grabby as well, so that's something to keep in mind when working on it. The nice thing about this, is that it forces you to put a lot of thought into closures and ease. Dressing your body will always be different than dressing any kind of fit form, simply due to being able to shimmy into something, or pop on a bit of shapewear, as well as fabrication, of course. Is the bust pulling and tight on the Beatrice? Chances are it will fit smoothly on my actual bust, depending on undergarments. This is something you'll be able to fit to, once you have time to learn the differences between your form and your body, considering the body changes over time, and even during a single day!
Way back when I first got my Beatrice, one of the first things I did was to measure the whole thing, and compare those measurements to my corporeal form, so I knew if there were any differences, and what they were, so I could accommodate for them if necessary. I then decided, after taking some time to get to know what I really look like from far away, to mark my form with reference points and style lines that would be most proportional to my shaping and asymmetries. It brought to mind Being John Malkovich- I know what I'm like from inside my own head, but seeing your body 3 feet away can be somewhat jarring the first time.
Since then, I've draped a lot, fit a lot, and even used my Beatrice as a tripod! The knit cover is removable and washable- which means, theoretically, you can draw style lines directly onto the cover with washable markers instead of using tape/pins. I haven't yet tried this- I have embroidered onto my form, but accidentally cut through the thread while I was trimming a muslin, womp womp.
I will fully disclose that I love working with Alison and Nathan at Beatrice- they're ingenious thinkers, always coming up with new ideas and solutions. We've chatted for a while about making a woven cover for the form, which would give dressing the form a whole different feel. A woven cover, depending on the fabric, could be much smoother to dress, and give additional opportunities to not only customize, but add all those style lines and markings other forms come ready made with. As I've endeavored to start on the project, it has become apparent just how personalized a process it is- I can't make template pattern pieces for others based on my form, and I can't even mirror *my* pieces from the right to the left sides, due to my afore-mentioned asymmetries.
So for anyone who is interested in creating your own woven cover, here's what I did!
Whenever I start making a paper pattern I always grab an envelope and dash out a quick cutter's must on the front, so I know what pieces (and how many) I need to make, and I can check them off as I go, and whenever I'm putting them away, to make sure I haven't lost any. Pieces belong in the cutter's must envelope, naturally.
24 Pieces?!?! Yes. 24 pieces.
Due to my asymmetries, and the fact that I am essentially making my own moulage, there's no way I can cheat and mirror my pieces. I already know my shoulders are differently set and sized, I already know one of my breasts is bigger than the other, and now I can see how drastically different my shoulder blades are, the angle and fullness of my hips, and which side of my body is higher than the other. Even my dart lengths and pickup are different from side to side! It's wild- no wonder ready-to-wear and standard patterns never truly work for me.
If you're following along with your own form, here are some things you'll need for this part of the project:
I started by placing twill tape on my form with the placements that I wanted to be able to feel while draping, and later on, the seams that would be benchmarks for how I fit garments. I opted for armhole princess seams, rather than the traditional shoulder princess seams that all professional forms have. My shoulders are too narrow, my rib cage is too small, and my bust projection is too large to expect to get a smooth front armhole with a shoulder princess. I used 1/4" black twill tape, and marked my princess seams all the way down front and back. I marked my underbust shaping, and my waist all the way around. Then, I pressed lengths of muslin, and cut squares as I went that were large enough for each area. I started at the top and worked my way down- if you try this, you'll want more excess fabric than you think- going around curves takes a lot. My first thought was to try to give a minimum size for each muslin square (__"x__"), but gave it up about halfway, after realizing this would only work for my size and maybe one or two more up or down from mine. You'll have to work yours out for yourself!
When I was pinning my fabric, I made sure it had been previously marked with the grainline, the name of the piece, and the piece number out of 24. There are so many, the only way to stay organized is to make sure everything is properly marked and crossed off as you go.
I tried to keep the fabric as taut as possible, and pin away from the center of the piece to hold the muslin as close to the form as possible. (Point of the pin in the foam pointing towards the center, the head of the pin pushing away.) It's very hard to keep the fabric completely on grain while you're pulling at it, and that's ok- the idea is to get the outer shape as best you can, and then you can correct it when you transfer it to paper. You might think about places where you'd like the woven cover to be on bias- perhaps the side bust panels, or the side panels over the hips. It's not strictly necessary- the basic idea is to get the cover as tight onto the form as possible to give you a smooth surface to work on. Once you have the pattern pieces created you can rework your grainlines and outer lines, if they're super wonky. And don't be afraid to clip the excess- you'll need it to make sure your pieces stay as flat to the form as possible.
Oh! And I did drape all my pieces over my knit cover, simply because I had already pinned my armholes and other placements way back when, and didn't want to have to redo them. You can do it with or without, whatever is easiest for you! Also, make sure you have TONS of pins. I underestimated, and had to re-up my supply right in the middle of all the fun.
I started with the neck, and then worked my way down the right front side, then the right back, and then over to the left. I kept my pieces pinned to the form as I worked, just in case I wanted to move something around and re-mark it, and also to make sure I was tracing curves and joins correctly. I used a variety of things to mark, mostly because I worked on this over a long period of time- markers, pens, mechanical pencils, whatever works for you! What I did try to do, was if I needed to re-mark something, to X out the old line, and circle the correct line, so there was no confusion when I eventually traced everything off.
I didn't end up needing to dart my bust area at all, based on how easy to work with the front princess and underbust seams were. However, my back body was a totally different story. My shoulder blades are quite prominent, and I wanted to mirror the princess seam placement from the front. (Would be weird to have two nexus (nexii??) of princesses on one form, no?) So, I wasn't able to clean this up with a shoulder princess. And now, darts I have!
In order to make sure they were horizontally even from side-to-side, I held up a tape measure, and marked/pinned/marked/pinned and over again- I made sure to step away and check that the darts looked visually even from farther away, as well as close up. I also needed to add darts at my bottom- my body tends towards exaggerated curves, and I really needed to allow fullness at the widest part of my low hip, and to take it back out at my back thigh.
And there she be- a woven cover! fully draped! Next time, I'll show how I transferred my muslin pieces to paper...
Thanks for reading!