August 2016

Join us behind the scenes in the Lee & Pearl design studio!

For the last few weeks, we've been working on big projects in the Lee & Pearl™ workroom. We shared some sneak peeks on our Facebook page, and the reaction was so positive that we decided to devote this entire newsletter to a behind-the-scenes tour of those upcoming projects — and of the Lee & Pearl™ design process itself.

Have you ever had so many projects clamoring for your attention that the one really BIG project you're aching to get to keeps getting pushed back and back. But finally a day dawns when the worktable is clear, and the calendar is empty and you can bring all your attention to bear on that one project...?

Okay, stop laughing. That day has not arrived, and never will. But last month, we decided to make the big project happen anyway. We are now hard at work re-sizing and re-drafting every last one of our 18 inch doll patterns for both the fabulous British historical A Girl for All Time® 16" dolls and the adorable new American Girl® Wellie Wisher™ 14 1/2" dolls.

We are proud of the reputation for perfect fit and just-like-the-real-thing scale that our 18" doll patterns have earned, and our re-sized patterns will be no different. The hard-bodied Wellie Wishers™ and A Girl for All Time® dolls aren't just shorter than standard American Girl® dolls, they have entirely different body shapes and geometries. So we aren't just re-scaling our patterns — we are re-drafting them from the ground up, based on new fitting slopers that we have designed individually on each new doll.

Which brings us to the first behind-the-scenes question: What is a sloper?

Why do Lee & Pearl doll patterns fit so well? We make our own, perfectly-fitted basic sloper patterns!

A sloper (also known as a block) is a basic pattern with minimal darts and no extraneous design elements. Slopers fit smoothly on the body, and can be altered using a variety of pattern manipulation techniques — such as slashing-and-spreading and dart rotation — to create a wide array of fashion patterns that maintain that basic, perfect fit.

There are many ways to make your own slopers, and lots of classes, tutorials, books and videos to show you how.

For some of our slopers — especially sleeves and hat crowns — we start with measurements and the formulas from our books to create basic patterns that we then refine on the doll until a perfect fit is achieved.

But that perfect fit can also be created by pinning and folding muslin rectangles onto the doll herself. This technique — called draping — is great for making basic bodice, dress and skirt slopers. It's especially useful on American Girl® dolls, as you can pin fabric directly onto their cloth bodies. You can even turn one of your dolls into a temporary dress form for draping, by basting all the important construction lines (center front, waist, hip, etc) directly onto her torso.

But there's one more technique for making a close-fitting basic pattern that they probably won't show you in any of the books or courses. Essentially, you can make a mold of your doll's body using masking tape and plastic wrap.

We learned this technique from the theatrical costume and cosplay world, where it's often used to make corset forms for non-standard body shapes. It's also quite effective for fitting hard-to-pin, hard-bodied dolls like the Wellie Wishers and A Girl for All Time dolls.

Here's how you do it: wrap whatever part of the doll you want to mold in plastic wrap. Then form a tightly fitted shell over the plastic wrap using short strips of masking tape. Make sure the tape strips hug your doll's curves for a perfect fit. When the section you are molding is firmly covered in tape, mark your edges — in the example below, that's the center front, center back, side seams, neckline, arm joint and leg joint — and carefully cut the tape form off the doll, following those lines.

Then flatten your tape forms, slashing darts as necessary, and scan or trace them into the first draft of your new sloper.

Why do Lee & Pearl doll patterns fit so well? We make our own, perfectly-fitted basic sloper patterns!

Fun, huh?

Armed with our new slopers, we were ready to start recreating our entire library of wonderful patterns. But then... the old itch hit.

Perhaps it was the release of the new American Girl® historical doll, Melody. Or maybe it was gazing at our A Girl for All Time® doll Sam and her adorable flower-petal shoes. Or it could have been the news that next year's Costume College design theme will be focused on that one special decade that went from posh to mod, to fringed to fabulous...

What can we say? We decided that we wanted our very first three-doll-size release to be a NEW pattern, and we wanted it to be something super-stylish from the 1960s.

So we put our new slopers aside for the moment and hit the pattern shelves, the books and the web in search of... INSPIRATION!

We started, as we often do, with Pearl's awe-inspiring collection of human-size antique, vintage and modern patterns. This collection fills all three walls of a walk-in closet and is catalogued by era and style in fourteen 3-ring binders and an Excel spreadsheet that lists every design element of every pattern.

Yes, Pearl is a little OCD about her patterns.

Next, we hit the books. Both Lee and Pearl love collecting fashion and fashion history books. You can generally find stacks of them teetering around both of our workrooms. And what's an Amazon wish list for if not to keep track of all those books we still desperately want?

Finally, we scoured the internet for images and started a Pinterest board for our new project.

We'd love show you the board we're putting together, but as it's a work-in-progress, it's still one of our "secret" boards. We do try to make these secret boards public as soon as we can. If you want to check out some of our previous inspiration boards, here's the Late Medieval Inspirations Board we made for our Pattern 3001: A Late Medieval Lady's Wardrobe. And here's a cool board that we just made public — the 2016 Olá Brasil! Inspirations Board we put together for our 2016 FREE pattern for mailing list subscribers. Scan through this board and you'll understand how we knew that the off-the-shoulder look of our Samba Top and Bahia Dress was going to be EVERYWHERE this year!

Armed with images, patterns and historical books, we were ready to start winnowing down our selections and deciding which styles to turn into pattern drafts.

This is the tricky part. You can't always tell from looking at the picture on a pattern jacket — or a still image of Diana Ross or Audrey Hepburn — whether the silhouette will also look great on a doll. This is when we pull out our trusty roll of thick, blue paper shop towels.

We love shop towels. They can be stitched, cut, slashed, taped and darted just like regular fabric, but they are also cheap, disposable, and never need to be hemmed.

One of our favorite things to do with shop towels is to make freehand cut-outs of styles we are considering for the dolls — well before we've made the actual pattern — and pin or tape the rough shapes in place on the doll to test the silhouette.

For instance, we now know that this ruched upside-down flower pot hat from the early 60s is going to look AMAZING on the dolls — something we would never have known without this five-minute shop towel version.

Plenty of shop towels later, we had winnowed down our inspirations to a single cohesive outfit — this stunning early 60s look, based on a pair of high-end vintage patterns.

And that means — it's pattern making time!

We are now going to show you how we recreated the most complicated piece in this outfit — that beautiful swing jacket with its elegant curved seams, cut-in-one sleeves and side panels, and stylish shaped collar.

We started out with one of our 18 inch doll slopers — the T-shirt sloper, which has plenty of ease and a comfortable, unisex fit. We swapped the opening from the back to the front, and extended the neckline all the way up to the doll's neck joint. We cut the sloper out of — you guessed it — shop towels, stitched it up and put it on our doll model. And then we started working to replicate the curved seam lines of the original illustration using pins and a piece of rattail cord.

Coming soon from Lee & Pearl: Pattern 1964 Sunday Stroll for 18 inch, 16 inch and 14 1/2 inch dolls!

Once we were happy with the placement of the lines, we traced around them with a marker, took the sloper off the doll, and cut out a first draft of our new pattern along those new lines.

Coming soon from Lee & Pearl: Pattern 1964 Sunday Stroll for 18 inch, 16 inch and 14 1/2 inch dolls!

Of course, that first draft was not a perfect fit. We're never that lucky.

Coming soon from Lee & Pearl: Pattern 1964 Sunday Stroll for 18 inch, 16 inch and 14 1/2 inch dolls!

The sleeves don't hang quite right and the curve is a little off. But changes are easy to make when working with shop towel drafts. We just drew slightly different lines, and slashed and taped the underarm until we were happy with the drape.

And then we made a second draft.

Coming soon from Lee & Pearl: Pattern 1964 Sunday Stroll for 18 inch, 16 inch and 14 1/2 inch dolls!

Better and better!

This draft was good enough, in fact, that we decided to start working on the collar pattern simultaneously.

We started with a shop towel rectangle that we slashed and pinned until it formed the proper curved shape. And then we made another. And another, refining a little each time until the shape was perfect.

Coming soon from Lee & Pearl: Pattern 1964 Sunday Stroll for 18 inch, 16 inch and 14 1/2 inch dolls!

By about the fourth draft of the combined collar and jacket body, we had perfected the curves and were ready to start creating the facing and lining pattern pieces.

At this point, we should mention that we do all of our pattern work — from the very first draft — in Adobe Illustrator. It's a program that our designer Pearl is comfortable with from years of work in ad agencies and design firms — and it's a program that allows wonderful, mathematical precision when rotating darts and design lines, and matching up curved seam lengths. But plenty of professional designers work with hand-drawn paper patterns until much closer to the final draft.

Coming soon from Lee & Pearl: Pattern 1964 Sunday Stroll for 18 inch, 16 inch and 14 1/2 inch dolls!

Here's another use for that closet full of patterns and the Excel spreadsheet that catalogues every design element in every pattern. When it was time to figure out the fairly tricky alignment of the front facing and collar, under collar, back facing and lining pieces, we were able to pull up similar pattern pieces — or in this case, the actual Vogue originals — lay them out on the worktable, and study how they fit together.

This is not the same as COPYING the original pattern pieces, which wouldn't help anyway, as the doll pattern is based on an entirely new sloper for an entirely different body geometry. But studying how collars are made is always useful. Both Lee and Pearl learned to sew by following the directions in many, many patterns. And we learned to design in exactly the same way.

So there it is — our 18 inch doll in her finished early 60s swing jacket.

Coming soon from Lee & Pearl: Pattern 1964 Sunday Stroll for 18 inch, 16 inch and 14 1/2 inch dolls!

With a pretty pink satin lining, too!

Coming soon from Lee & Pearl: Pattern 1964 Sunday Stroll for 18 inch, 16 inch and 14 1/2 inch dolls!

Now we just need to repeat this process for a 16" doll. And then again for a 14 1/2" doll.

And then make the skirt, the shell top and the hat. And gloves would be nice. And Lee really wants a handbag. Ooh, and a floppy shaped beret would be fun, too. And maybe a cape, and another dress.

And oh-my-goodness, look at these beautiful vintage style pearls and beads we found...!

Inspiration. It'll kill 'ya.

We hope you enjoyed this peek inside the Lee & Pearl™ workroom.

And for some very special holiday inspiration, don't forget to visit last year's four-part Halloween Party Newsletter, filled to bursting with costume and cosplay ideas, and FREE candy and prop tutorials!

Join Lee & Pearl for Halloween costume patterns and FREE crafts and tutorials!

Join Lee & Pearl for Halloween costume patterns and FREE crafts and tutorials!

See you next month...

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