Motive part II

Systems of garment construction

Chapter 2

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Placing emphasis on the interaction between a moving body and garments may appear self-evident in both reflecting on and practically creating garments. However, most of the construction methods of pattern cutting presented in the educational literature merely deal with the shapes of patterns, how to alter them to achieve a certain familiar garment (cf. Aldrich, 2008; MacDonald, 2010; Öberg, 1999), or how various two-dimensional shapes can be turned into three-dimensional ones that can then be used to create garments (cf. Roberts, 2013; Nakamichi, 2005). Others clarify methods for draping garments on tailor’s dummies or turning these creations into reproducible patterns (cf. Duburg, 2008; Di Marco, 2010; Mee, 1987). This is essential knowledge for anyone who aims to take part in or understand pattern cutting for fashion design, but the story neither starts nor ends with the pattern; instead, it commences and concludes with the body that is being dressed.

2.1 Wrap clothing

Ancient ways of dressing involved little cutting, if any. Wrap clothing such as the Indian sari and dhoti, the Roman toga, or the Arabic hajk were rectangular woven pieces of fabric that remained undefined in shape until being worn and were recreated each time while dressing. Since, in creating these garments, the body is just as central as the rectangular piece of fabric, it would be awkward to illustrate these folding techniques without including a body to fold the fabric around. As Burnham (1997) observes, the techniques used to fold and shape the fabric – as well as the location on the body on which it was placed – differed between cultures and ages as a result of the varying width of the fabric as well as which weaving technique was utilized. Nonetheless, in a variety of cultures, the wrapped garments did rest on and begin either from the shoulders or from the waist.

Reconstruction of an Indian dhoti (cf. Broby-Johansen, 1953:62), with directions of dressing extracted and marked with a line on silhouettes of a human body.
Reconstruction of an Indian sari (cf. Broby-Johansen, 1953:62), with directions of dressing extracted and marked with a line on silhouettes of a human body.

The folding techniques in which a rectangular piece of fabric is wrapped around the body do not include any actual cutting, in the sense of cutting into something, but they help to clarify the essence of what cutting for a human body should be about – the body – and they also tell us about basic principles of dress, such as how fabric naturally wraps around and flows from the body: this way of letting the fabric lead the way is, as Yamamoto (2010:96) explains, the foundation for modern draping techniques that were later developed within the haute couture.

If the garment (and the pattern) is nothing but the uncut fabric, an explanation of how a garment is assembled needs to also include its wearer’s body. Later in history, when the pattern could be communicated in its own right, it was possible for the body to be left out of the process of making and, as a result, it often is.

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