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Grading the Apron Pattern

Grading the Apron Pattern

And now we get to the fun part—at least, I think this is fun.

Grading sewing patterns is completely different than grading knitting patterns. I graded knitting patterns using an Excel spreadsheet, a rather elegant process that’s also kind of fun if you like numbers. Armed with the stitch and row numbers from my gauge swatch, measurements from the garment I had knitted, and target measurements for each desired size, I devised formulas for every section of the sweater, plugged in the numbers, and boom!—let the computer figure out the details.

That’s a gross oversimplification, of course, and my tech editor did go through and make sure the numbers made sense, but it’s a basic description of the process. I can’t do that with this apron pattern. This is a much more organic and intuitive process.

I started with what I had and what I knew:

  1. A commercial pattern I’ve made twice in two different sizes, thus having a good understanding of its construction.

  2. A pattern drafted from my grandmother’s apron with a prototype made up that fits reasonably well if the wearer is 5’ tall.

Using those two things, I was pretty sure I could get to a version of my grandmother’s apron that fits a wider range of sizes.

I started by laying out the front to the commercial apron pattern (size Medium) on the cutting table and pinning the front of grandma’s apron onto it:


You can see that the two pieces are shaped differently—I matched them together at the base of the neck of each piece and centered grandma’s apron on top of the commercial pattern. The next step was to treat these two layers as one and extend and blend the markings. I laid these pinned-together pieces down on a blank piece of tracing material. (It’s actually Pellon Easy-Pattern, which is a spun-bonded “fabric.”)


Then I drew in new lines, enlarging the pattern for the front of grandma’s apron so that it matched the size of the front of the commercial pattern and putting in landmark notations.


I used the same process for the sides, pinning the piece from grandma’s apron onto the commercial pattern piece:


I then laid that sandwich onto a blank piece of tracing paper and extended and blended those lines. The hem on the commercial pattern is asymmetrical, however—the front and side pieces are different lengths—so I left the tracing paper long in that area when I cut out the new pattern piece. I matched up the new side piece to the new front piece:


Using the side piece from the grandma’s apron prototype, I drew in a hemline that was even across both pieces and rounded at the side:


I knew the tricky part was going to be that back yoke piece shaped like an H. On the original apron, it truly is shaped like a plain H, and that was what I copied for the prototype. It fits okay, but I think a shaped H—one that splays a bit on both top and bottom legs—is going to fit better. I was flying a bit blind here and I expect this section is going to need some refinement, but I had to start somewhere. First, I created and pinned in a small dart to make the bottom legs of the H splay out:


(I am too lazy to make myself a decent set of pattern weights; tuna fish cans are a good substitute.)

I repeated that process for the top half of the H and blended in all the lines:


Now I had a shaped H yoke. I wanted to make sure that the piece was a true mirror image, so even though I had lines drawn in on both halves, I picked one half as the master, folded the tracing paper in half and matched up landmarks, then cut the pattern piece out so that each half would be an exact mirror image of the other half. (I did the same thing when I cut the front piece.)


In the final pattern, these pieces may well only be half pieces with instructions to cut on the fold, but while I am working on prototypes, I want full-size pieces. You’ll see why in a moment.

Some people trace patterns onto plain white paper. (The rolls of paper used on medical exam tables are very popular among sewists.) I prefer the spun bonded material because it can be pinned together—and even sewn together if necessary—to test the fit of the garment, like so:


The spun bonded material is stiffer than fabric will be, but it works. For a first draft, I think this is pretty close. I like the overall length and I can tell that the waistline of this version is going to fall at the correct place for someone taller (my dress form pretty closely approximates my own measurements). The shaped H yoke seems to fit better, although without two sides to pin to it, it’s a bit cattywampus.

The final test, of course, is going to be making an apron from this pattern in actual fabric. I was heading in that direction yesterday afternoon, but then the husband came home and I got sidetracked. I’ve decided not to go to Missoula today. It’s going to be another scorcher. I might make another batch of zucchini bread—I baked 12 loaves yesterday—but I’d like to see if I can get this prototype sewn up.

My mother used to say that my father always hoped he would have another engineer in the family. I might not be designing rocket engines, but I think this falls under the category of “clothing engineer.” The husband observed that perhaps I need a CAD program but truly—I like this process of drafting and grading better.


I got a surprise e-mail from my former supervisor this week; one of the transcriptionists is going on vacation and she wondered if I would be available for coverage next week. When that account transitioned to the electronic medical records system, they kept a couple of transcriptionists—the ones with the most seniority—who do a combination of transcribing and editing in the EMR. I worked long enough in the new system that even though it’s been nine months, I can step in to cover. I had to set up the old computer and log in and update my passwords in the system, but I am all ready to work on Monday morning. I’m kind of excited about working again. I really do miss that account and the doctors and the intellectual challenge of keeping up with all the advances in oncology treatments.

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Why 30 Degrees?

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