All square

There are people in the world who could look at the pattern on the Victorian waistcoat and immediately copy a basic schematic version of it over to 1 cm dressmakers’ squared paper.

I am not one of those people.  I have no talent for drawing, despite the fact that it runs in my family.  I was obviously too busy squeeing over the maths genes while the drawing genes were being handed out.  I think it’s probably fair to say the maths genes have been more useful, so I really can’t complain.  Besides, I do have quite a lot of patience, and this is one of those occasions where it’s not a bad substitute for artistic talent.

My aim for today was to get a full-sized version of the pattern onto a large sheet of squared paper where I could work with it, but, since I couldn’t do that all at once, the first thing I needed was a grid, and for the initial stages I wanted that on the computer.  I greatly prefer to start projects out on the computer, because it’s so much easier to make alterations where necessary.  I use Paint Shop Pro for all my graphics and design work, and it is a great piece of software, but there is one thing it doesn’t do that I wish it did.  It doesn’t automatically create a permanent blank grid.  It will put gridlines over any image so that you can copy it in a simplified form, but the gridlines aren’t really part of the image.  You can’t do things like flood-fill the squares.

So – and I am really rather embarrassed to admit this – I used Excel.  It’s a terrible thing to do to a sophisticated piece of spreadsheet software; it’s rather like using the edge of your laptop to rule lines.  But it is a very quick and easy way to make yourself a grid.  Simply open Excel, click the top left-hand corner to highlight the whole sheet, and then drag the right-hand edge of the first column inwards until the column is 5 pixels wide.  This will resize all the columns simultaneously.  Now drag the lower edge of the first row upwards until the row is also 5 pixels wide, and all the rows will resize simultaneously.  You now have a square grid; go into the Format Cells menu, click the Borders option, and put borders round all the cells in the grid.  I tried copying and pasting this into Paint Shop Pro, but it refused to work, so in the end I did the unsubtle but effective thing and screencapped it.

Once I had a grid to work with, I then made the background roughly the shade of blue I’m planning to use, so that I could play about with colours.  The pattern of the original waistcoat is in two shades of purple highlighted with gold.  Since the gold consisted of lines rather than solid areas, I decided to simplify things as much as possible and leave it out when creating the initial schematic diagram.  The darker purple looked fine against the medium blue, but the lighter purple didn’t look quite right, so for the moment I’ve replaced it with green.  This may change, depending on how it looks when I’ve put the gold in.

The original design is quite complex, so the schematic diagram doesn’t look too much like the original at the moment.  It does, however, have all the most important features.  Here it is (though this is a smaller version than I’m using, to save your screen width):

Initial schematic diagram

The next task was to work out the scale of the design.  I measured the front pattern piece for another men’s waistcoat (not the one I’m using, as the pattern has not yet arrived), checked how many repeats went across the equivalent distance in the original Victorian waistcoat, did a quick calculation, and concluded that I’d get it about right at a scale of 2.5 mm per square.  My squared paper, if you recall, was 1 cm per square.

We’ll just skip over the next three hours or so here, but it involved the 60 cm ruler that I was extremely glad I’d bought, and wall-to-wall Bach.  I can’t listen to music when I’m doing design work that requires concentration, but ruling up graph paper is another matter.  It’s eye-poppingly tedious.  Bach kept me sane.  Incidentally, if you end up having to do this, I can warmly recommend using a propelling pencil; if you use the ordinary sort, you will be sharpening it every five minutes.

Once I’d got a piece of paper with the right grid on it that was large enough to use to trace the pattern onto a waistcoat piece, I started transferring the schematic design onto this, by hand, in monochrome.  This may take some time, but after all I’ve got to wait for the pattern and the fabric samples to arrive, so I don’t have to hurry myself too much.  This is what I’ve done so far:

Schematic diagram transferred to graph paper

Once that is finished, I will start using ink and/or acrylic paints to create the real design, the one that is actually going to be traced onto the pieces, with the schematic pencil diagram serving as a guide.  It’s already fairly clear that there are going to be a lot of heavy couched lines.  I have a very fine dark purple wool yarn that I think might make a very good lucet cord for couching onto the fabric, so once I’ve finished the piece that is currently on the lucet I’m going to make an experimental sample.

No more for tonight, though.  It’s been an intensive day’s work.

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