Friday, August 22, 2008

Why Balance Patterns

There have been two comments that I want to address. The first was left by Chrispy commenting on Hannah's balance sketch she said...
"Ok I understand the principle but why balance them. Is it so they lay better on the body?"

This is a complicated question to answer because there are different reasons for different aspects of balance. I want to preface all of with the fact that this is just my understanding and could be wrong. In this case we have lumped together a few different ideas so I'll try to address all of them.
Balance is:
1: Keeping your side seams parallel.
2: Making the front larger than the back.
3: Keeping your shoulder seams parallel.
4: Aligning grain along the side seam or any seam for that matter.

I'm going to start with 2 because its easier. The front needs to be bigger so you can breath. There is also an element of "Looking right". Even though the side seam is not exactly 1/4th of the way around your body it looks like it is. The greeks were really into this idea and made whole buildings that looked "right" but weren't. The columns got bigger at the top to make them look straight for example.

As for 3, this is a way to keep your shoulder seam straight. The length of the neck line and armsye shouldn't change just the orientation of where that shoulder seam connects to the neck and armsye. When that seam is straight the shoulders are parallel as in Hannah's balance sketch. In this diagram the black would be correct where as the blue and orange would not give you parallel shoulder seams. Hopefully from this you can imagine how you could move the orientation of your shoulder seam in order to make them parallel.

Now for the biggy #1
Why keep your sides seams parallel?

This is a diagram of "how a dart is born" from one of my favorite pattern manipulation books "Basic Pattern Skills For Fashion Design" by Zamkoff and Price. I think that it does a good job of explaining how taking a dart out of the front changes the grain line on the side seam. The green line comes from when you keep your cross grain parallel to the floor across the bust and around the back. This is only possible where the darts are taken out along the princess line. The other line is how the grain gets distorted when you take a dart out on just the bottom.

This is where my question to hannah came in. It is easy to fold up the dart and keep the side seams parallel but the way that it distorts the grain lines at the side seam is a choice that you have to make as a designer. For me it will depend on the design on the fabric for instance you could match the stripes at the side seam if there were no darts. It might also depend on how I might want to distribute the ease. If you have bias grain going across an area where you might need more room you could use the bias to reduce bulk.

4: I also like to think about the side seam being not so much a break where two pattern pieces come together but as a large dart that just isn't connected anywhere. If you imagine a standard fish eye dart where it goes from skinny to wider to skinny again, it would seem weird to not have it be symmetric. But if it was symmetric you could slice it down it center line and lay the two pieces on top of each other and they would be not just parallel but identical. This is what you are aiming for when you balance your patterns.

The other comment I wanted to respond to is about the gaping at the back of Taylor's dress. liron said...

"Great dress.
might I ask why you were worried about the side seam? I mean, why would there be a problem if you pinch the extra fabric from the center back and taper it to nothing on the side? (I am really asking as I am new to pattern making). You could also do it in more than one place-it just might give it some more balance (I think)."

I'm going to respond to this in the same post because it takes exactly the same sort of thought process to understand this issue as the balance stuff. This is not to say that its the same issue it just feels similar. so this is a sketch of the general shape of the back pattern piece of that dress.

If I just pinch out the part that's gaping I worry about the distortion it causes. This sketch is the same as the first with a dart removed at the place where its gaping. Its a little exagerated but I wanted you to be able to see it.
The issues that come up are the angle in the back line, the angle it put in the side seam, as well as general shifting of the grain along the whole top part of the pattern. My thought was to do it anyway because the amount I have to take out is so small (unlike this picture) and then just true up the pattern. It always bothers me though to feel like I'm letting things slide that could be understood so if anyone has any suggestions or knows why I should or shouldn't do it like this feel free to speak up.


hannah said...

thanks carlly, im going to respond again when its not 2:30 in the morning, but i wanted to say that i had a conversation about balancing patterns with a coworker today, and we agreed that mostly, balancinga pattern is necessary because it makes things look right -- as previously stated, and it gives a solid foundation to work from later when making alterations. At the studio we make sure everything is balanced each time we make the alterations on the paper patterns after a fitting, and knowing what you're dealing with in relation to a different pattern piece-- say you're working on the front shoulder of the self fabric -- if your pattern is balanced, you can pick up the back neck facing, or the front lining, and know what to expect in terms of shape, and proportion and necessary alteration. Hope that makes some sense.
I also realized that many people are less familiar with balancing because it belongs fundamentally to draping. If you're patterning with blocks, youre using a base that's already balanced (hopefully) and building off of that piece will lead to continued balanced patterns. I think. Maybe haphazard slashing and spreading could lead to some seriously wonky side seams. I have to think about this some more.
I drew out a couple more balancing illustrations, there's still alot more to say about it.

Liron said...

Hi again,

OK, I now understand .
I recently made this surplus dress (top and skirt attached together) and I had about 5 cm extra fabric along the front cleavage. I took about 1-2 cm from the waistline to zero at the side seam, and the rest of it along the curve of the of the cleavage to zero at the side. I think it turned out fine. But maybe I didn't see something that wouldn't look right to you.

Maybe you can even take some of it out along the higher part of the back to zero at the armhole?
Just a thought. Am I sounding like the biggest newbie? LOL
Well, I had to ask. No learning is good without it.

I am really interested to know how you end up doing it.
And thanks again for your elaborate reply.

Chrispy said...

Awesome thanks for the response. I was just going to check the comments and realized that I got an entire blog post as a response.

I see from your response and Hannah's comment that I already naturally balance my designs since I learned pattern making by draping the garment on a dress form.

I just had never seen the bit about making it smaller when they fit in to each other.

Now I am excited about getting back to some sewing designs. Most of my professional work is knitted design where I work with each individual stitch.

Helen said...

About the gaping at the CB of Taylor's dress and what to do about it. The problem sort of reminds me of the under the seat bagginess in pants that is solved by the 'fisheye' horizontal dart.

On Debbie Cook's website (
familyphotos/sewing/info/KK_fisheye_dart/index.html), I found a diagram of this -- it's a two or three step process and I can't add images (sorry) so please bear with my explanation.

step 1. pinch out the amount that is too big. You've done this.

step 2. Mark parallel lines on the pattern the amount of this pinch. You will shorten the entire pattern by this amount all the way across.

step 3. Add half the amount of the pinch back at the bottom and top of the side seam to restore its length. On pants, you add it to both side seam and inseam, here you are adding to the two side seams.

Alternatively, can you treat it like a horizontal dart and take it out of the CB length at the neckline and waistline?

I think either would avoid the side seam grain distortion.

Carly said...

wow! that is a great little tutorial. I think that what you are saying is more or less exactly what Hannah was suggesting. I think I'm going to do a few different techniques and post the results. It would be a great experiment for me.