Meguey's Rants

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I needed a place to stick these, so here they are. I'm also a seamstress and costume maker and long-time observer of clothes, so I wrote this up to be useful. Enjoy, and comments on it are very welcome. Someday I hope to have photo examples, but that might be a while.

My newest rant is about how to make a base actually look male. Enjoy.

Meguey's Fabric Rant -
All fabric hangs from the body, and everything tends to be pulled down by gravity unless constructed to defy gravity. Clothes are supported from the shoulders, waist, or hips - any other parts are suspended from one of those three: sleeves from shoulders, pants and skirts from waist or hip, scarves from shoulders, etc.

There are four main things that effect how the fabric hangs on the body.
1) Fabric weight and fiber content
2) Cut of cloth - bias vs. straight
3) Woven vs. knit
4) Design

Fabric weight - heavier weight fabrics fold or crease more sharply and often have fewer folds than softer fabrics. Think of a tweed blazer jacket sleeve and compare it to a chiffon sleeve. Heavier fabrics will more willingly defy gravity and stand away from the body. Think of a leather jacket collar and compare it to a silk blouse collar. T-shirt cotton is a mid-weight fabric, sweatshirt fabric can be heavy weight and generally is easier to 'read' if it's drawn as a heavy fabric.

Cut of cloth - Imagine a square of fabric in front of you, like a washcloth, for example. If you take the two top corners and pull away from each other, you will get a little stretch. If you take one side and pull top and bottom, you will get a little stretch. If you take diagonal corners and pull, you will get a lot more stretch - that's the bias. Cloth can be cut on the grain, on the bias, or in between. Cloth cut on the grain will drape around the body, like most jeans, men's button-down shirts, nearly all uniforms, and nearly all T-shirts and sweats. Cloth cut on the bias will hug the body and be more flexible for sculpting, like most lingerie, many vests and fitted garments, and a lot of more sophisticated formal wear. Many garments contain both: a strapless ball gown will have the bodice cut on the bias to hug the torso, and the skirt cut on the (nearly) straight to flare away from the body, a tailored jacket will have the body on the bias and the arms more on the straight. Note: a bias hem will be much more rippling, as the fabric tries to hang straight from the diagonal seam.

Woven vs. knit - woven fabric is generally more stiff than knitwear, and knitwear does not lend itself to sharp edges easily. Knits more readily cling to and follow the body, woven goods hold a bit more of their own shape and stand away from the body more. Think of a knit cuff on a turtleneck shirt and compare to a buttoned cuff on a woven shirt: the knit one moves with your wrist, your wrist moves more independently inside the woven one. Also, think of a tube dress that clings everywhere and compare to a shift dress that skims over the body everywhere.

Design - (this is the topic of many books, I'll be very brief) Remember that for all clothes, you have basically a series of rectangular tubes - the tube for the top (upper torso), a tube for each arm, a tube for the trunk (lower torso), and one or two tubes for the legs. Where that tube needs to fit closer to the body, like pants or many styles of sleeve or fitted tops, part of that tube must be cut away so it fits closer and/or that portion must be at least slightly on the bias. Where that tube needs to be widened to flare out, like a skirt or many other styles of sleeve, width needs to be added to the tube. Note: a soft light-weight fabric can be made to act like a heavier, stiffer fabric for design purposes by lining it with a stiffer material - think of light weight woven cotton men's shirt collars that stand up and hold their shape due to lining, and of any knitwear belt that is backed with a stiffening material. This is often used in design detailing.

Again, remember that all fabric hangs from the shoulders, waist, or hips, and all fabric tends to go down with gravity.

Meguey's Fold Rant -
Folds: there are seven basic types of folds, and they each have a handful of names, depending on where you learned about them J. Folds depend on the figure beneath them, remember where the fabric is supported. The type of fold depends on the type of fabirc and the pose of the figure. Folds repeat - the fold in the t-shirt sleeve will show up again at the waist if the figure is seated (and the t-shirt is long enough to hit the waist!), the fold at the jeans hip will repeat at the knee on a seated figure, the folds at the top of the skirt will be echoed at the bottom, the folds at the top of a puffed and cuffed sleeve will repeat in mirror image at the cuff. The number of folds depends on the weight of the cloth and how worn it is; generally, softer fabrics and older fabrics will fold more than stiffer, newer fabrics. Think of a brand new pair of jeans, and compare to your favorite oldest pair.

1) Inert (rumple or empty)
2) Pipe (cord or stem)
3) Drop (free or flying)
4) Swag (U, festoon, lock, or diaper)
5) Zigzag (Z or bent)
6) Spiral (S or radial)
7) Half-lock

Inert - This is a piece of fabric resting on a surface, like the floor. Given enough time, most all fabric will, due to gravity, sink to the lowest possible height. Lighter, softer, slippery fabrics do this most quickly; heavier fabrics can take longer. Think of a light-weight nightie or t-shirt tossed on the floor, and compare to a rumpled canvas, velvet or heavy drapery fabric.

Pipe - This is the piece of fabric lifted at one point. It forms smooth, regular rounded tubes that radiate down from the lifted point. If there's enough cloth, the pipe will divide, split in two, make room for each other and perhaps split again before it flattens out. This is easier to understand visually, so think of a narrow gown pulled smooth around the sides, with a train in the back. The train is the pipe, and as it falls, it splits and opens and splits. Of course, design elements can control the splits, so it can fall in ordered pleats as well. Note: the most common vertical skirt folds are actually clustered pipe folds resulting from taking a round or wedge shaped fabric piece and picking it up at several points along one edge. They will look more realistic if they are not all the same length, width or depth.

Drop - This is the piece of fabric lifted by one edge so that the other edge hangs free. This fold is found in motion, when it forms twists and spirals. Think of scarves in wind, and the rippling edges in dance gowns in motion. When still, it falls in classic columns and can look lots like a Pipe. This fold is what happens when an edge of fabric is lifted free of other material and makes a snake-like cascading ripple along the bottom.

Swag - This is the piece of fabric lifted at two points and sagging in the middle. Each point tries to fall into Pipes, but there is a counter - pull horizontally which makes one side of each Pipe interact, or interlock, with the Pipes opposite. Remember that Pipes radiate from the point. This forms a sort of back and forth pattern decesending from the top, where each Pipe in turn makes a half-U until the Pipes are not interlocking, and they fall straight. As the two points are brought closer together, the swag will get deeper, and the Pipes will interlock more steeply, making the U more clear. This is the fold found at the neckline of classic Greek-style tunics, and also where a full skirt is lifted in one hand and held away from the body.

Zigzag - This is the piece of fabric formed into a tube, as around a body or arm or leg, and then compressed or bent. Remember that folds repeat. The lines of tension are greater along the top of the folds, letting the undersides soften. Think of a linen shift dress, with the hips angled opposite the chest; zigzag folds appear under the bust. Also, a sleeve at the elbow or a pants leg at hip or knee, or along the shin when one leg is across the knee of the other. Note: properly fitting pants will have a shallow zigzag fold across the front hips, not the denim standard of radial folds from the crotch. Denim has that as a characteristic of the fabric, not of the garment.

Spiral -This is the tube of fabric, wrapped around a body part, showing dimension of the body rather than the garment. It is the most common sleeve fold. Remember the shape of the body beneath the cloth, and allow the cloth to rest on the body, following the body's curve. Folds widen as the leave the point of support - think of an elbow resting on a table: the folds wrap around the arm, close together at the inside of the elbow, spreading out as they reach the outside of the arm. Also, think of a loose pair of pants: the folds spiral a bit around the leg, getting wider at the bottom. Note: as they radiate away from the support, they are rarely parallel. The key is in choosing what to leave out.

Special notes about arms: at the shoulders, there are often vertical Pipe folds from the arm's eye, where the sleeve attaches to the bodice, and also Spiral folds where the fabric curves around the arm.

Half-lock - This is the fabric abruptly changing direction. This happens lots in seated figures. When the turn is at or near a right angle, the locks will be more sharp and angular; when it is less tightly angled and more sweeping, the locks are more rounded and dissolve into one another. Think of seated figure in a skirt, where the fabric falls from the knee, but half-locks under the knee as the fabric bends. The Pipe at the knee dominates, because the other part is caught at the hip and under the figure. Still, there is some interaction going on, so that's where you get Half-locks. Half-locks also occur often in wraps, shawls, and other fabrics bound around the body.

The big key in shading is to figure out what & where the light sorce is on your subject, and then figure out where the light hits. That will give you the shadow areas and highlight areas. Then you use darker colors or shades in the shadows, lighter ones in the highlights. For example, on your red doll, the light sorce is in front of her, probably about head height (note the shadow under the bust), and slighty to our left (note the small shadow in the fold in the front slightly on our right). It's also not very strong, because there's not a lot of difference between the darkest shadows and the lightest highlights. To make your shading more dramatic, increase the strength of the light, which means making the darks darker and the lights lighter. A really good resource for learning to draw folds and shade is the pattern books at your local fabric shop. There are many examples of a photo of a finished garment and near it the drawings of alternate views or whatever, and that helps you see what lines look like what reality. Hope that helps, and keep up the good work!!