Haute-contraire

I don’t normally plan to make two posts in one day, but the thing is that this afternoon I got out the pattern pieces I needed, pressed them carefully (which was more necessary than usual, as the sheets had perhaps not been folded with as much care as I would normally expect), and measured them up.  Then I did the maths to find out how long they would end up when I’d shortened them, just in case this would enable me to order slightly less fabric than the pattern envelope specified.

Now I shorten top and jacket patterns for myself all the time, because I have an unusually short back for my height.  I’m taller than the standard pattern measurement, but I also need to take an inch out of the back length of everything.  (The extra length is in my legs, as you would expect, so skirts and trousers almost invariably get lengthened – sometimes by up to three inches.)  Shortening a pattern by an inch is no big deal.  You just make the usual little tuck along the line they give you, smooth out the lines at the edge of the pattern piece, and the job is done.

This, however, is not going to be an inch.  This pattern is designed for a man 5’10” tall, and my friend is, at an educated guess, 5’3″ or 5’4″.  (This is absolutely not unusual for haute-contre tenors.  To get those very high, almost alto-sounding notes, you need shorter than normal vocal cords, and these tend to be in proportion to your height.)  That means that I need to reduce the vertical height of each of the pattern pieces by 8-10%, obviously not counting the seam allowances.  On the front, that works out at roughly 6 or 7 cm – in the region of two and a half inches, if you prefer (I tend to measure heights in inches but do everything else in metric!) – depending on exactly how tall he is.  That’s a pretty big reduction.  It’s far too big to do by the usual tuck method, especially since the pattern provides only one line along which to do it.  (I could draw in a few more, but the more lines you draw, the less accurate a result you get, and whichever way I did it I would have to do a lot of line smoothing, which makes it hard to ensure that adjacent pieces still match up afterwards).

So… I’m not going to do it that way.  Apologies to Microsoft enthusiasts, if there are such people.  I’m afraid there’s going to be further Excel abuse.

I’m going to post the method in detail in case it may be of use to other people who have to make similar drastic alterations in one direction.  For the purposes of the illustration I’m going to assume he’s 5’3″, because that gives a nice round number for the arithmetic (the vertical height reduces to exactly 90% of the original), but if you’re scaling differently, you just have to alter the proportion.  This is what I’ll be doing:

  1. Open Excel and create a grid as I described in the post about how I drew up the basic embroidery pattern, but this time not a square grid.  The principle is that I make a rectangular grid that will reduce to a square grid if altered by the right amount in the right direction.  In this case I want to reduce the height to 90%, so I make the width of each square 90% of the height.  That’s simple enough – I can make the squares 9 pixels wide by 10 high.
  2. Screencap again and turn it into a GIF or JPEG.  (This is because printing direct from Excel can sometimes alter the proportions.)
  3. Print it out on a piece of A4 paper to a scale that makes the width of each cell exactly 1 cm.  Check by measurement that the height is still correct; if it isn’t, go back to step 1 and adjust till it prints out to the proportions you need.  (In this case it should be about 1.1 cm.)
  4. Take each pattern piece, and if necessary rule some guide lines on it so that you can put the grid under different parts of the piece and ensure that everything stays lined up.
  5. Put the printed grid under the pattern piece and copy it over to 1 cm squared paper.  Move it around using the guide lines if necessary.

You will now have a copy of the pattern which is reduced to 90% of the original in the vertical direction, but hasn’t changed in the horizontal direction… and you don’t have to worry about the pieces fitting together properly, because all the seams have automatically altered by the same amount and you don’t have to blend broken lines at the edges.

Well, yes, it’s fiddly.  But I don’t think there is a way to do it that isn’t.

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