The Ease Factor in Pattern-Drafting Software
by Karen Campbell
an Online Extra to Threads #106
In theory, you really can't beat pattern-drafting software for a great fit. If you carefully measure your body according to the software directions and type in the measurements correctly, the software should spit out a pattern that fits like a glove. The reality, however, is that creating great patterns on the computer does take a little more know-how, and, at least in the beginning, a healthy amount of trial-and-error. For most novice users of pattern-drafting software, one of the most challenging aspects of drafting patterns is choosing the correct amount of ease for a garment.
Ease, or the difference between your actual body measurements and the finished measurements of a garment, directly affects the look, style, fit, and comfort of any garment. Most garments need a slight amount of ease (called wearing ease) to fit around the body and permit movement; form-fitting knit garments are the exception- they need a negative amount of ease to stretch around the body. Any additional ease (called style ease) contributes to a garment's overall silhouette and design (for more information about ease, see the Basics column, "All About Ease," in the December 2002/January 2003 issue of Threads, #104.
When you purchase a ready-made paper pattern, you don't necessarily need to think about ease. Ease is already factored into the pattern's style, so if you like the fit and style, you can buy the pattern and not worry about ease. If you don't like the fit and style, you can either leave the pattern at the store or alter it in some way. With pattern-drafting software, you are the designer, so you need to make some decisions about ease right from the start.
Function, style, and fabric
When you sit down at the computer and open up your drafting program, first consider the function and style of the garment you wish to create. For example, do you want a fitted sheath dress (minimal ease) for a formal party, or would you prefer a loose-fitting sheath (lots of ease) to wear as a beach cover-up?
Also think about what fabric you plan to use. Heavy or stiff fabrics usually make better close-fitting garments, and soft or lightweight fabrics are best in loose-fitting garments where they won't show every curve or bump. After that, ease often boils down to personal preference. Simply ask yourself if you like your garments loose, close-fitting, or somewhere in between.
Wave some preconceived notions good-bye
As you come to some general conclusions about the amount of ease you'd like to include in your imagined garment, I recommend that you push aside any preconceived notions you have about ease based on commercial patterns. Ease in commercial patterns is added to a standard set of measurements dictated by the pattern company, whereas pattern-drafting software adds ease to your specific measurements.
Simply put, patterns created from pattern-drafting software don't have to be loose to fit. If your measurements are correct, your pattern will fit with wearing ease automatically added by the program. Generally, the mistake a novice user makes is adding too much ease to her computerized draft, based on her experience with commercial paper patterns. It's difficult to get over the mind-set of making sure a pattern will fit "big thighs" or a "tummy."
Know how and where your program adds ease
Most pattern-drafting programs offer preset ease amounts that you can choose among, and I've found that a fitted or semi-fitted style is flattering on most bodies. Some programs also let you adjust ease at different points in the pattern, so you can add more ease at the bust, for instance, but not at the waist (see detailed Ease guidelines and tips for the eight programs Threads tested).
With pattern-drafting software, although you can choose ease amounts, there are times when the software steps in and controls how and where ease is added to a pattern piece. It's important to become familiar with the way your specific software drafts ease. Usually pattern-drafting software adds ease proportionately to a pattern piece for a flattering fit, but depending on the garment style selected, this may not be the case.
|Vertical side seams may lead to more bust ease than you bargained for. With a boxy pattern with vertical side seams, when ease is added at the hip, some software programs add extra ease at the bust as well (shown in pink) to keep the side seams perpendicular to the hem. For comparison, the yellow pattern piece features a shaped side seam and 0 ease; the blue area illustrates 4 inches of ease added proportionately to the shaped side seam at bust, waist, and hips.|
For instance, a boxy shirt with vertical side seams is designed to have the same circumference at the waist and hips, and to keep the side seams perpendicular to the hem, the computer usually drafts the boxy pattern based on your largest circumference. If, for example, your bust circumference is 36 inches and your hip circumference is 40 inches, the software will automatically add 4 inches to the bust to create a vertical side seam. Adding further ease selectively to this type of draft is tricky. You might want an additional 4 inches of ease at the hip only, but to keep the side seam vertical, 4 inches of ease will also be added at the bust, with a result that is overwhelming to a pear-shaped figure. This silhouette isn't flattering to all body types, so you may want to choose a style with shaped side seams for a more proportional fit.
Test it, and take notes
As you become more familiar with the software, figuring ease into any pattern will become second nature. But to start, you'll need to experiment with ease. Print out your sloper (or a basic pattern with a bare minimum of ease, depending on the software) first and sew up a muslin to test the fit; tweak it if necessary by adjusting your measurements. Once you're satisfied with your sloper's fit, draft a more advanced pattern with 2 to 3 inches of ease, or an amount suggested by your software.
Some of the programs allow you to activate your sloper as you're designing a new garment. This is a great way to evaluate ease choices on-screen- with your new pattern layered over your sloper, you can easily see where additional ease has been added. Once you've drafted your new pattern with 2 to 3 inches of ease, make another test muslin. Try the muslin on, and wear it around the house to see if it's comfortable, as well as flattering. Continue adding ease to your pattern until you're satisfied with the fit.
If your software allows you to print an information sheet that outlines all the choices you made for your pattern, by all means do so. If printing an information sheet isn't an option, make your own by writing down the steps you take in creating the pattern, as well as the included ease. Drafting patterns on your home computer is high-tech, for sure, but gathering detailed pattern information sheets in a notebook is a low-tech tool that will help you keep track of and compare your ease choices, so you don't need to start from scratch every time you sit down to draft a pattern.