I recently decided to make a dress design croquis, after reading about it several months ago in the The Colette Sewing Handbook. For those who aren't familiar with the term, croquis is French for 'sketch', and in dressmaking terms this refers to a sketch of a woman, onto which you may draw your own garment designs. It helps your designs to retain a sense of proportion and shape. Too often my sketch books were filled with designs like the one below, which, while they captured the essence of what I had in my head, gave no clue as to how it may look on a real person without strangely rounded, hunched shoulders!
For a croquis to be most useful to a home seamstress, then it's ideal to base it on our very own bodies. This will give the most incite into what will and won't work and allows you to plan your designs to flatter your own proportions. While the process can be taken from a photo of yourself wearing knickers and bra, I opted for pulling on some close fitting leggings and a figure hugging vest top instead. I then set up my camera to take a few pictures of myself. It's never the most flattering thing to stand soldier-like for a photograph, but I can see that for a croquis to be usable, it's the best option. Once the photos were taken and printed out, I then pulled the glass on my daughter's desk half-way off, so that it hung in mid-air and I placed her bedside lamp beneath, to allow the light to shine up through the glass, providing an impromptu lightbox through which to trace over my photograph.
Finally, I scanned my traced images into the computer (I took photos from the side, as well as the front), created a page with a repeat of my image going across it and printed out a stack of copies. And then, because I am a geek and my daughter has filled our home with professional stationery supplies, I laminated the front cover I'd designed and bound the pages into a book, which I've rather grandly entitled Dressmaking Design Sketchbook.
Before I embarked on this process, I'd suspected that designing on a croquis may be helpful, but it's actually surpassed my expectations in its usefulness. Having a book of blank body canvases has found me regularly picking up the book to draw off designs from my head at times when I wouldn't otherwise have bothered committing them to paper or dreaming up new things when I've had a spare five minutes.
It's also given me a really clear idea of how to embrace my proportions. Ever since Anne Shirley lusted after a dress with puffed sleeves in Anne of Green Gables I've harboured a love of this sweet gathering at the sleeve cap. But oddly, it's never made me feel fantastic to wear them, no matter how much I love the feature. When I drew a puffed sleeve (right), next to a close fitting sleeve cap (left) on the croquis below, it was really clear that it's because this feature doesn't work with the proportions of my body as a whole.
In my book, I've created croquis that I draw directly onto, but I can see that when designing dresses it may be better to overlay the croquis with another sheet of paper and design over the silhouette of the croquis, to avoid having visible thigh lines on the dress design, as below.
There's something very stark and odd about having an exact replica of your own body, unencumbered by clothing, or even skin tone. It's quite fascinating and the result feels as though you've found yourself unexpectedly modelling in a life-drawing class because what appears on the paper is entirely objective and has little to do with your own subjective idea of how you look.
How do you dream up garments? Do you have a collection of sketches? Do you use a standard croquis or one of your own silhouette? Might you make one yourself?
Ps. When I went on my pattern drafting course at the London College of Fashion they suggested we brought very hard HB pencils with us. I felt slightly inadequate as after using one for a day I actually decided that I loathed those pencils: the specified hardness barely showed up and drove me potty. The pencils I use for everything from homework with my children, to drafting patterns, to drawing on my croquis are inexpensive Bic propelling pencils which can be bought in packs of ten in a variety of colours (if you scroll back up you'll see some pictured. I haven't intentionally used one in every colour). They are truly wonderful and all four of us love them. If you want to buy some, we've found them in Sainsburys and WH Smiths - look for Bic Matic 0.7mm HB#2. They have a super rubber on the end of them too.