Master the Art of not Draping!


In the "State of Play" almost anything can happen....and I am #thankful that my friend is a master at cut.  Max worked in the design rooms of Versace and Dolce Gabbana, at Ittierre; super mecca of couture fashion manufacturing.

His cut has the born with touch quality that comes only from the DNA of a proud Italian family of couturiers.  Cut is innate...they say " It cannot be learned...only passed to generations", like wearing Patek Philippe, I wondered? Maybe so, but while working on projects with Max,  I soon found out that nothing can be re-created more easily than a fabulous cut. That's how I learned the art of not draping. Seriously.    When I met Max our communication was limited by language.  He did not speak English, and I did not speak Italian. At all.  Bearing the language obstacles... the project for boutique "uniforms" for 600 Wells Fargo managers, happened.  There were basically 5 pieces for each woman:  2 jackets, 1 pant, 1 skirt and 1 blouse.   The tailored , yet easy and simple jacket pattern was key.  The jacket needed to move and have shape; but beyond just that, we wanted it to stand out on it's own with style.  (Like even for those days when you just don't have it...) Easy, comfortable shape.  The pattern was certainly not conventional, but we thought surely... this was a universal cut that could stop the tracks for "every single body feels great in these clothes!".  The cut alone took two weeks.  With 13 Regular Sizes and 12 Petite Sizes...(which were tested on the dress forms, by us, in each size with all of the measurements and various shapes too match), we had a winning formula.   Each sample was tested from a ratio of measurements from 600 women.  By creating a "pear," an "apple", an "after baby shape"... "grandmother"...You name it shape; every shape in every size...the cut was magic.  The clothes felt and looked fabulous.

The success of the project was amazing.  Life changing.  Plus...Max mastered English and I learned the art of not draping.  

One pattern, one cut...many ways! 

Fit really can be simple. In our 20 year design friendship, Max and I have worked techniques and details endlessly, into the night... but the joy of re-creating one pattern, infinite ways, is what I love  most. Instant gratification. Once you get that first can take it to the limit with necklines, openings...blouses going into dresses...and on and on.   (Jacket fitting lesson in "Jackets the Rock!") 

more about curves...

1. Choose a pattern for each piece...skirt, pants, etc. and re-create the shape to match your own; comfort zones, and curves. 

2. Create a fabulous blouse pattern, rather than a "new blouse".  Play with the muslin as it falls over the curves of the dress form, and reshape it...over and over again, into many different styles.   This becomes the piece to use a hundred different ways.

3.  Anchor jackets and dresses at the shoulder slant and upper chest; matching the arm crease. Even when working on a drop shoulder, the arm crease is considered in the fall of the fabric.  If there is too much fabric, pinch it.  Seriously.  Then raise your arm to test.   Pants and skirts are anchored at the waist.  Bustiers are anchored under the bust.  Every piece has a sequence...always starting from the anchor point, at the top, and following the lines of the body, working down.

I absolutely know that every little bit of ease counts.  I know that for every action there is a re-action, and I know that when there is an unwanted wrinkle...go to the problem. "Creating a cut" (the mystery you might read about in Gods and Kings)  is about following the shape of the movement of the body. Why don't they just say that, I wonder. 

Higher, smaller armholes, with ease in the bodice at the bust, will give movement. The "cut" is in the bodice.  A full bust, once again, needs fabric from waist to high armhole for shape and ease.  The cut is about addressing the movement point with ease. Ease can be placed just at the bust line and 3/8 inches down from the arm hole on the side seam. Cut = Curves of the body.  Follow them.  Ease the fabric.  Give them movement.  And so with my one pattern (for each piece that I am obsessed to create), I fill my house with many different styles of clothes.  (I live alone, so it works.)

Best, and easiest, way to create a beautiful bust line in clothes,  is to re-create the bust on your dress form, and check the curves for silhouette.  


1.  Dress form = 36" full bust / 31" under bust. Without pads.

2.  (2) sets of bust pads: place one bust pad feathered with flat end facing the side at a 90 degree angle toward the side armplate; place second bust pad flat and facing the shoulder.

Dress form now measures 39" full bust/ 31 " under bust

3.  Filler pads placed just at the fullest part of the bust line. (reach in through the armhole and place 1 filler pad, just at the top of the bust point on the form.

Dress form measures 40" full bust/ 31 under bust

4.  Side back pads placed along the side of the dress form.   Measures 41" full bust 32" under bust

The cover should be size large to accommodate a 41” bust.   The covers are stretchy and have a good memory, but be sure the cover is large enough at the bust so as not to compress the bust with a too small cover.  The covers can also be taken in at the waist with a slight zig zag stitch for super hourglass shaped ladies.

From here you can check the Princess option or the Dart option or the Slouch option, for your design...depending on the fabric and the look.  (See Create Your Million Dollar Pattern!) 


Consider the logic of the Princess lines, and the ease at the curve on a bust line, and how this relates to a spinal curve,  a rib cage curve, or a forward neck curve.  1.  Create the curve on the dress form.  2.  Create the curve on the seam of the fabric.  3. Give the fabric invisible ease to glide over the curve.  The issue becomes non-existent.  Comfort... 


Even with lesser curves, fabric is so attuned to the small curves and movement of the body that the allure is all you'll see, even with the low cut.


Cut is creative balance in movement...PLAY. 


Something I keep seeing on the streets is the mid-calf dirndl skirt with the see-through layers!

Only problem with the semi- see-through dirndl skirt is this…If you are “a woman of a certain age”…or certain body shape, or just had the baby shape…not good.  Just not enough interest in that dirndl to be “style” if you might be over 30, or maybe 40; even though we love transparent in the sun.  So I’m changing the look to give it the feeling, but adding just a little more interest without going back to that parachute shape.  I love this skirt for every size.  The larger the size the fewer the gathers.  Just works with ratios. 

I decided to change the look from classic side seams to center seams, The front seam is cut on the straight grain, and the back seam is on the "off grain" (not quite bias) , which makes the fabric drag at the center  back.  THINK: fabric skims butt, slit front.  When seams are cut diagonally (bias), the grain line follows the shape of the body in the back and the fabric falls close against the front of the legs.  This is the easy skirt; the serve at the barbeque, sit down with conversation and fabric flowing with leg poking through the slit skirt…like that.  “Lifestyle”.

Basically, it’s just a rendition of the “I love you so much, dirndl, (but look like an old lady in that)!”, type skirt!

With just a little slicing and turning the fabric upside down, the line of the basic dirndle becomes something completely different. Just gather the extra fabric back into the skirt like a upside down ruffle.   Something like this...



The look was: a skirt, a tank, and thong sandals.  The pockets made it “mom” in a good way, and the slits made it “lady”.  (Forgot my phone, or we would have had a picture!)  THINK: Amal Clooney type.

The skirt hem was sweeping with slits up the sides and cut so simply that I could not resist owning it.   Rushing home to lay it out I realized that as soon as I  put the skirt together with every detail captured in my brain...(pretty simple skirt so no effort), I realized straight away that without "beautiful mom with kids in tow" lost it's luster.   And so I changed it.  Just a little more shape for those of us who do not tower over heads, while sweeping through the deli for ice cream on a warm summer day.  


I chose to cut the sides on the "off-bias" for fun, but the original dirndl shape will be straight on the sides.  The skirt is simply wrapped around 3 inches from front to back with shape at the waist and well planned gathers.  The skirt is then sewn with a double stitch on the side.  

Start by tucking the fabric under an elastic band at the waist to see where the best distribution of gathers should be.  Let the fabric gather and fall over the upper hip and hip line.  The best way to do this is by wrapping an elastic waist band around the dress form and tucking the fabric under.  Pull the fabric slightly up in the front and notice the change in the shape of the silhouette.  Then pull the fabric up on the sides to check the shape again.  The elastic will hold the fabric in place while you play with the fabric for your shape.

From here you can cut and shape to match every silhouette and style, with pockets, unusual seams and well place gathers.

Although I love these skirts for summer and resort they are great in silk with boots.


1. Find a super basic pattern  

2. Follow the steps starting with the shoulder points on jackets and tops, and waist points for pants and skirts.   

Re-create the pattern to address all of the movement areas of the body on your dress form.

3. For custom or personal use, mark movement  points to match your lifestyle... (ie..".Must have lots of bust ease for hysterical laughing", (mark point) "absolutely no waistband exactly at the waist"... wherever that is, (mark best line) "comfortable sleeves to roll up for kids play..."  (Mark armhole depth.) Reality.  The fun front slit might look fabulous, but " wind meets soccer mom" in your new favorite skirt is a re-think.   Lifestyle.  Wearing "almost finished clothes" around the house for awhile is a great test.  If a skirt pokes out when I sit at my computer...(never!) would I feel at dinner?   What happens to clothes when your doing the real stuff?  Style is not about labels.  Style is about being comfortable in creating your look.  

When you love clothes...grab the upper edge of creativity.  You'll know more than many fashion designers.  Develop one great design...then a group of designs, then cut the design, shape the design, sew the design,  test the design, and finally... re-create the design.   All for you.  I call it mediation.


Thank You!

Jill Ralston

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