Couture Secret: Cutting Coat Fronts Slightly Off-Grain

I’m happily slaving away at the Gentleman’s Waistcoat, no pics until I put in the pockets and buttonholes.  Meanwhile, I found another book.  Yes, another one.  I still don’t agree with the Palmer Pletsch approach to tissue fitting (wasteful, inaccurate, doesn’t help with my weird back issues, etc) but they make some tasty techniques books.  This one is couture techniques, but also delves into the history of “The Couture” and the thought processes involved.  Very well organized and indexed, to boot.  Of course I’m devouring it from cover to cover and my very talented Fit Guru colleague is likewise devouring.  We’re like a two person nerdy seamstress book club. 

More to the point, remember my 1930’s coat?

Remember the center front grainline conundrum?

 Basically, while tracing I discovered that the CF line and the marked grainline were not exactly parallel.  When I cut my muslin, I chose to ignore this because I was unsure and could find no information on the subject.  I assumed I was being picky and fell back on convention which is that the CF is perpendicular to the floor, and the grainline should run parallel to the CF.  That worked out fine.

Last night I found a section in Couture the Art of Fine Sewing (pg 49) labeled “Off-Grain Openings.”  It shows drawings of coat openings and skirt vents which do not completely meet at the bottom.  A little bottom wedge where the two edges want to kick away from each other.   I’ve seen this before but just assumed I was fatter than I thought. 

“The amount that a specific garment needs to be adjusted off grain is dependent on weight- the weight of the fabric (heavy or light), of interfacing, buttons and buttonholes, and on the length of the garment (short jacket vs. full-length coat).”

So off-graining allows the garment to sit straighter than the straight of grain would allow.  Eureka!

She gives the nitty gritty on how to adjust and generally by how much depending on your fabrics and interfacings.  Her pattern adjustments don’t involve changing the grainline, but rather shaping the CF opening with a sort of wedge.  Which is cool.

My CF is straight, but the grainline is inversely skewed.  It comes out to be the same thing!  So that answers the question I had about the pattern- it is not badly drafted or poorly copied (I didn’t think so), but rather a stunning example of fine couture technique which found its way into a commercial pattern.  Now I’m aching to know which company this pattern came from, and exactly what year and the designer if I can find out such things.

You also off-grain the facing and the lining.

She does offer warnings that it may be a bad idea for stripes and plaid.  Also, my coat is rather a wrap coat so the whole front-wedge effect is kind of moot.  But still, very interesting.  I think I’ll try it anyway. 

The book also discusses the difference between Dolman sleeves and Kimono.  Basically, Kimono are a type of Dolman sleeve.  Dolman sleeves are cut as one with the garment; kimono sleeves are dolman sleeves cut at right angles to the garment.

Wicked.  Now I’m off to sew that waistcoat!


  1. My husband likes the idea of me being a "nerdy seamstress". I think I rather like it too. So from one "nerdy seamstress" to another – keep up the good work. It is inspiring to work with someone with similar passions who encourages you to experiment and not feel weird because you love to sew.

  2. Whoops – I tried to edit and accidentally deleted!! Came back to say more likely yours is 1933, the envelopes change in 1934 to a single colored illo for most patterns. But not all. Definitely McCalls though. Almost forgot, I've been doing a little sleuthing. Your coat is going to be McCall's, from probably 1934, possibly 1933 or 1935. I've identified the one you didn't get (Simplicity 1541, 1934) and the artwork on yours matches the McCall's of that year. Haven't homed in on your specific pattern but that might help!

  3. I was trained 'old school', and would normally draft a coat with a sloping CF – from .5cm at waist to about 2cm at hem (depending on length). I think the vagaries of commercial production (straight lines, fabric utilisation, etc) have largely eliminated this – have a look next time you're on the street!

  4. Well this is interesting information and I need to get some more books for my sewing library. Sherry's comment is particularly interesting and I don't know why I didn't think of it before. Of course commercial production would do what saves money. Makes perfect sense! As for tissue fitting, I think it is a waste of time. By the time I've dicked around I may as well have cut out a muslin and sewed it up. That way I can draw all over it and keep it as reference when I make the next one. I know some people think tissue fitting is great, but it doesn't work for me.

  5. This is a great book. I have had it for years It contains info that I have not seen in any of my other sewing books (and I have a lot). I love the section on unique bound button holes and drafting different designer sleeves. FYI Palmer/Pletsch has a utility that notifies them when bloggers mention their books or fitting techniques in posts. Sometimes they leave comments.

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