Motive part II

Discussion - Approximations of the body

Chapter 2.6

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As clothing is made for living bodies, problems of inactivity and rigidness – as may occur when exhibiting fashion in museum contexts as a result of bodies being replaced by mannequins (Debo, 2003:9) – is also a problem present in the design studio. Broby-Johansen (1953:2) points out that to thoroughly know anything about clothing, we must first discover what the clothes conceal – the body – and then observe them in use. This is clear for the paradigm of ancient drapes, as only the rectangular piece constituting, for example, a sari is not enough to understand the sari: the body cannot be left out. However, the body is just as essential for understanding any kind of garment: the garment in itself is not enough, and neither are the garment and its pattern. Without the body, the garment can neither be entirely understood, nor fulfilled, or as Yamamoto notes: “Clothing is, ultimately, made to be worn. It is complete only at the instant it is donned by a living human being” (2010:68). Dress historian Dorothy Burnham further notes, “The body with its need for movement is a variable constant in the development of clothing” (1997:2). As valid as this point is from a historical perspective for developments in dress, it is equally essential for the creation of dress and for future developments in the field of pattern cutting.

For practical reasons, fashion designers do not typically work directly on a human body while draping or constructing a garment. Within the different pattern cutting paradigms and methods, different theoretical approximations of the body can be identified – theories that do not represent the body accurately, yet close enough to be useful for cutting and draping. These approximated theories aid in the construction and design process and are also used to make predictions of the result easier.

For ancient wraps, the body was present during the creation of the garment, as it was wrapped on the actual wearer. However, directions regarding how the fabric was draped around the body may be extracted and viewed as models of explanation or theoretical frameworks for these garment types. Similar to ancient drapes, historical garments made within the paradigm of rectangular-cuts – resting on the shoulders or on the waist – were also not cut from patterns, and, as shown earlier, it is possible to extract directions or guidelines from these garment types by observing their relation to the body in the same manner as for ancient drapes.

For drafting and flat construction, the tailoring matrix is the theoretical approximation used predominantly, along with the basic block patterns derived from it. This paradigm has come to define the construction of modern garments, with their shoulder and side seams, together with developments of grading principles, and the framework is arguably also strongly interconnected with the contemporary notion of fit, which is a rather different concept to that of form in relation to the dressed body. For draping on the dress-stand, the tailoring matrix arguably also constitutes the theoretical framework  that shares both methodological directions of working (from the outside and inward) and the horizontal and vertical guidelines for measuring and marking.

The methods of draping and flat construction that are based on the paradigm of the tailoring matrix work principally from the outside towards the body, as they begin with a straight matrix or a straight piece of fabric pinned onto the dress-stand. From that flat surface, surplus fabric is gradually removed by inserting darts and by shaping seams, which adjusts the shape of the fabric towards the body. In contrast to construction methods based on the tailoring matrix, ancient whole cloth wrap dressing clearly works from the body outward, as it drapes the fabric around the body without cutting into it. This is arguably also the case for historical rectangular dressing being noticeable in (i) the usage of gussets to create shape, thus adding as opposed to removing fabric, as with the darts in the tailoring matrix and (ii) the directions of hang-and-balance that may be extracted from these garments in a manner resembling those of ancient drapes.

The mathematical systems developed during the 19th century in attempts to turn pattern cutting into a scientific practice have certainly had a huge impact on the development of the field. Theories of construction based on horizontal and vertical measurements of the body and the methods of drafting patterns based on mathematical instructions are successful and operational ways of representing the static body. The practice of drafting from a tailoring matrix of straight lines in combination with given measurements makes it relatively easy to communicate the procedures of drafting in literature, utilising scaled sketches and verbal explanations.  

As Almond (2010:16) notes, understanding the fundamentals of cutting is an essential part of designing garments, both from a creative and commercial point of view. Working with patterns requires “a sound knowledge of the human form” (Hulme, 1945:23) and an ability to envision the body while shaping the pattern pieces. However, Fischer (2008:25) notes that, in educational settings, “pattern cutting can at first seem difficult and intimidating but with a basic understanding of the rules to be followed – and broken! – the aspiring designer will soon learn interesting, challenging and creative approaches to pattern cutting.” May this difficulty of understanding and applying pattern cutting rules relate to the foundations of the prevalent theoretical framework? Does the tailoring matrix promote such abilities as envisioning the body while shaping pattern pieces? It can be assumed that the tailoring matrix is a valid way of representing a static body correctly, but whether or not this theoretical framework is a preferable way of describing and understanding the interaction between soft fabric and the living body is questionable.

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