Grokking Pavlova

(Isn’t ‘grok’ a great word? I first heard it on the Knit Knit Café podcast, and according to Google it means “to understand (something) intuitively or by empathy”.)

I love sewing pattern geometry. Actually, I love geometry altogether – when I was in my third year at university I decided to code from scratch a visual representation of matrix transformation algebra because I honestly couldn’t think of anything more exciting to do for my ‘Teaching Mathematics in Schools’ project*.

Mostly my grasp of sewing pattern geometry realises itself in the same few fitting alterations I have to perform upon variations-on-a-theme of the standard garment blocks. Every so often, however, a challenge presents itself. This time, it has been in the form of Cake Patterns’ Pavlova Wrap Top.

The starting point is this: I am tall, 6’0″ tall to be precise, and have a proportionately long lower abdominal region. This means that trousers and jeans tend to ride uncomfortably low, and tops tend to ride annoyingly high, resulting an good inch or two of bare skin if I am not careful enough when choosing my outfits. I want to be able to wear my Pavlova top in cosy knitted jersey with jeans, and this is going to mean lengthening it.

(Unfortunately this is also going to mean that I have to lose the “hole-less” side seam feature of the original – a shame, but a sacrifice I’m prepared to make for a warm and covered tummy).

The thing is – how do you lengthen a top like this, where the main pattern piece bears very little resemblance to anything you’ll find in a drafting textbook? StephC, the designer, provides a ‘lengthen/shorten here’ line but if you own the pattern then you’ll notice that the line given on sizes 35-45 is in a completely different place and at a completely different angle to the corresponding line on the size 30.

Er, what?

So I went back to the start. I hammered out exactly how the geometry of this pattern works – where the back is, where the front is, where the neckline runs, and how attaching the wrap around ties is going to effect the vertical hang of the fabric.

Let me share my results, as a help to anyone else who is struggling with the same problem. You need a lengthening line parallel to that given on the size 30 piece if like me you are performing a fitting alteration for a long back. The line on sizes 35-45 is what you use to add length in going diagonally across the body – and you could also use this line to add a pivoted wedge in for an FBA if the side gathers and the stretch of your knit combined aren’t sufficient for your boobage.

Some people will need to do both alterations, of course – but they are not the same thing.

I have to admit, I am slightly dubious at the methodology being employed here by StephC, someone who advertises herself as an experienced sewing teacher and a fitting revolutionary. Yes, knits have give in them which means that the fit of the garment doesn’t have to be quite as precise as in a woven. But I am not convinced that you are doing beginner sewists any favours by encouraging them to take short-cuts. Help them really understand the pattern – help them grok the pattern – and they will get much better results in the long run.

(This is of course assuming that she understands the issue herself. I am not at all convinced having seen her take on knit grainlines – sure, a wrap top employs lots of different angles and the rest of it, but not all knit fabrics are created equal. If you have a knit where the horizontal stretch is significantly different from the vertical stretch then surely it will affect the finished result?)

All of that said, I do love the design of the Pavlova, and am really looking forward to putting scissors to fabric, hopefully easier this afternoon or tomorrow. Watch this space as to how it goes…


*Sarcasm-free zone. I am a geek, and I don’t care!


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