Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Florence and Fred Rub Off

Hello everyone! I still owe you two skirts but it's flipping freezing around here so not much progress on the photo front. Instead I thought I would do a work in progress update on my latest project. It's taken a lot of time and effort so far so a progress post is rather apt.

I don't know if I've mentioned before but I have a really well fitting ready to wear dress that I've been planning to copy. I first started thinking about this when Karen from Did You Make That copied a ready to wear skirt she owns (see her post here). After finishing my slip, rather than making yet another garment from a pattern that would take endless muslins to get right, I thought I would turn my hand to this project for a change of scenery. The result so far has been endless muslins to get right. Hmm sounds familiar. Anyway I'm pleased with it so far so let's start at the beginning.

The Original

The national supermarket chain, Tesco, has a pretty good budget clothing line called F&F, or Florence & Fred as it used to be known. In about 2008 (way before I started sewing again) I bought this green dress, on sale for about £10:

You're probably expecting me to say I've worn it non-stop ever since. Not so. I can hardly believe it now but this thing didn't fit (I bought it without trying it on). I couldn't do it up so it was flung to the bottom of my wardrobe ready to throw away at some point. Luckily I didn't throw it away and I happened to try it on last year. I was blown away at how nice this cheap old thing looked! I recalled it being a plainer shift dress, but look at all those details – the neck band, the waist band, the skirt pleats. (Interesting – perhaps it's only sewers that notice details like this). Above all I loved the fit, especially the bodice.

Ethics of Copying

One of my favourite bloggers, Roisin of Dolly Clackett did a lovely version of a Bernie Dexter dress she had seen (see here post here). There were some interesting comments to her post. Even though Roisin used a commercial pattern an anonymous commenter complained about ripping off the designs of small businesses, copyright and the like.

I don't know what the legal implications are. I figure I'm OK because I'm not trying to sell the dress or pass the design off as my own. I'm just doing this for fun, a hobby and to see if I can achieve the amazing fit the dress gives me. (Amazing fit is something I've yet to achieve with a commercial pattern). I can see that if enough people like me, Roisin and Karen copied ready to wear then the designers may have grounds to complain. However I don't think there are enough of us bothering to do this to have any effect. They are interested in those unscrupulous enough to make a gain at the expense of their designs, which is not what I and other home sewers are about.


After some internet reading into the rub-off method (see this post for example) I set about tracing the dress. Here are a couple of pictures of my rub-off in progress. I will put at the end of this post all the pictures I took of the rub-off process.

I love those vintage paper weights my chap bought me last year at an auction.  Yes my other pattern weights are kitchen door handles. I couldn't find large washers.


As you can see I did a pretty thorough job of pinning the outline of the garment to my tracing paper (which is underneath the garment in my pictures. I have a cardboard grid on my table so I was able to pin through to that.) In my mind this was going to produce a really neat and accurate pattern. Then I remembered darts had to be added. This is when I started to get a bit lost and go a bit mad. Calm down and focus I thought. All I need to do is slash and spread. Yeah - easier said than done getting it all to go  flat to produce a flat pattern piece (when you slash and spread your pattern does not stay flat!). Many hours later I managed to arrive at something that resembled a flat pattern piece but to be honest it involved a lot of guess and eye work rather than the result of technical skill. If anyone knows how to do this or can provide a link this would be good.

Anyway the long and short of it is that for all my effort with the pins and rub-off, I probably ended up re-drafting the whole thing again (maybe several times over) with the help of my curved ruler, adding bits on here and taking away there.

Although I've ended up with a pretty good pattern I'm slightly disappointed I haven't achieved this by doing it “properly”. You know, measuring and stuff, like an engineer would do when designing, say, a bridge. Anyway I guess there is a lot more to it than I thought.

Sunni at A Fashionable Stitch is working on an interesting project called Pattern Play where she plans to design her own garments from a basic pattern. She has given several suggestions for getting the basic pattern, including a sloper, a basic sewing pattern and even the rub-off method. I felt less bad about my pattern drafting efforts after reading her post. She too has found it difficult to draft a basic pattern from scratch.

Latest muslin

Anyway who cares about my less than professional pattern-drafting skills because it has produced a pattern that I'm really pleased with. I'm hopefully 90% there. Here's the latest muslin.

I somehow did the pleats wonky on this version

I've lost count of the number of muslins I've done. I think this is muslin number 4, but it's probably more like number 5. Just before this one I did a half muslin of just the bodice and waistband. I was tempted to move to the final garment after the half muslin and making my changes to the bodice but I'm so glad I didn't. I've made what I hope are the final adjustments to my pattern pieces which were:
  • Adding 2 cm to the length of the bodice pieces (1cm above and 1cm below the bust line) so that the bottom of the waistband would be nearer to my natural waist.

  • Adding more width at the widest part of my hips.
Even though it is tempting to just move onto the final garment I think I will make another muslin. You never know if the adjustments you have made will throw off the fit so I think it's better to be safe. Please pray with me that this will be the final muslin!

Anyway I hope you have found this interesting. The whole process has been an eye opener and learning curve for me. I'll finish with the rest of the photos from the rub-off.

Happy sewing.

Front bodice. I ended up doing this again, splitting it into two parts
 in view of the excess fabric around the dart

A closer look

Front waistband

Back bodice with dart. I didn't have to repeat this one as there was not
a lot of excess fabric around the dart unlike the front bodice

Skirt front - lower half

Skirt front - upper section


  1. Quite interesting!! Your muslin looks like an exact replica of the original teal dress. You did a great job.

    I just dug up a wool knit top that fit well - except it shrunk vertically thanks to my harebrained idea of drying it using my hairdryer. I thought I lost the top but as surprised to find it last week. And I was wondering if I should do a rub off or just cut it apart and add some ease.

    I'm curious... how are you supposed to rub off a sleeve.. would you happen to know?

    1. Thank you! By the way the muslin fits me better than my dress form which is now too big. You should definitely try the rub off with a similar fabric to your knit top. If you've ruined your original in the wash and you're not able to wear it then you could unpick it although I don't know if you can see how much it has distorted - need to add back that length. A sleeve would be easy to do as there are no darts and I think it would be easy to get flat (imagine my waistband piece is the sleeve which I was able to get flat). If not do it in sections that you can get flat. You can either pin around the entire sleeve if you can get it to lay flat properly with pins or find the centre (which I did with my ruler) and pin around a half piece. I would probably try to do the whole sleeve as sleeve pieces are not always symmetrical, particularly at the armhole. Good luck if you try!

    2. Scrap the last bit - can't do the whole sleeve of course if it's still attached to your original! Still easy though because there are no darts. Lay your sleeve flat, inside out, flattening out from the arm seam. (The sleeve fabric is folded in half as it's attached to the bodice). If the sleeves are not symmetrical at the armhole edges then do the rub off in three parts, the lower arm, the upper arm front and upper arm back. For the lower arm part part, chalk a straight line on your sleeve from the under arm point across to the folded edge of the sleeve (ie parallel with the bottom of the sleeve). Pin along this line and around the lower arm and trace the lower arm section. That chalked line then becomes the bottom of of the upper arm front piece. Flatten out the upper arm front piece and pin and trace this piece. Turn around and repeat for the upper arm back. If your upper arm edges look symmetrical you can ignore the back. Tape your upper arm front and lower arm piece together. Trace out another lower arm piece and tape that to the upper arm back piece. Tape together the two halves to make a whole sleeve piece. Find the grain-line and mark it. I would mark the grainline by folding the piece in half so that the two lower sleeve pieces (that you know are the same) match. Extend that centre line right up to the upper arm.

      My pins went into the seam-line (rather than the edge of the seam allowance). This produces a net pattern so you add seam allowance when cutting out your pattern.

    3. Thank you!!! Thank you fopr the detailed isntructions. I'm so going to give the rub off method a try following your instructions.
      Luckily the top still fits - sure, a wee bit snug (where a little ease would help)... it just shrunk vertically as I was only trying to dry the bottom half of that top.. I need to add lot more length to that part.

    4. How exciting! I look forward to seeing it. I hope there are no significant bust darts on your top as they really are a pain. The back bodice one I did was fine as it was only 1cm wide but the bust dart was tricky. Don't let the dart stop you though - just stop and think through what you need to do once you've traced. Come back to me if you need any moral support!

  2. Wow, your muslin looks great! I don't think I'd have the patience for all those pins, but the result is certainly worth it :) Looking forward to seeing the finished dress!

    1. Thanks! Yes - 6 pieces in total and some of them were done in more than one part so very fiddly and time consuming. I wouldn't have bothered if I hadn't liked the original so much.

  3. Wow, this looks great! That's a sweet style-- I love the pleats! I haven't gotten very far with this, but Kenneth D. King's Craftsy class about rubbing off RTW jeans suggests using silk organza to make your pattern. The idea is that you thread trace your seamlines and grainlines on the original garment (in bright red thread or something like that), then pin silk organza to the garment and you can just trace those lines onto the organza using pencil. That way there's no damage to the original garment, but it's a little easier to manipulate than paper.

    There's also this book about how to rub off patterns:

    I'm guessing she's got a scientific way to make darts. I have no idea how to do it! I have this book and never use it, so I'd be happy to send it to you if you're interested in it!

    1. Thanks! I didn't know about that course and I haven't heard of that method before. I might try that one next time. I would love to see that book as I'm curious to know how you do these things properly. Having started on this process I am interested to learn more. What about swapping with one of my sewing books?

  4. Have you seen this course on Craftsy? I immediately thought of it:
    I haven't taken it personally but it looks quite fab :) It supposedly includes how to handle darts.

    Huge load of kudos for being so bold and sticking with it so long, through so many muslins! You are a trooper and I'm sure it'll look amazing! :)

    1. Thanks Johanna! I didn't know about that course either. I'm quite tempted by it actually - it looks like it covers darts. The information would be useful for general pattern drafting as well.

  5. Looks like you have done a pretty good job with you latest creation! It baffles me that people are pulled up on creating look alikes or taking inspiration from ready made garments when it is just for yourself.

    I have a similar dress that fits like a glove that I would love to recreate. I have thought about undoing all of the stitches, tracing it and then sewing it back together. Not sure if it would work. what do you think? xXx

    1. Thanks Hannah! It baffles me too. I hope nonsense comments like those on Roisin's post doesn't put anyone off giving this a go.

      If you want to carry on wearing your dress then I would say no. There's no way I would have un-picked my green dress as I still wear it. Use the rub- off method to make a copy though - definitely!