Bias Magic

In sewing circles, the conversations around bias are largely focused on the beauty of its draping, but rarely focused on how it can be manipulated into different shapes.

Vionnet is referred to as the "Queen of the bias cut," because she is credited with introducing the bias cut garment in the early 1900's. Her bias cut dress didn't restrict movement and draped beautifully on the body. We can probably credit Vionnet and Chanel for freeing women from corsets, and giving us permission to move, breathe, and eat.

You probably already know that when I refer to bias, I mean that the fabric is cut on a 45-degree angle from the grain line. A 45-degree bias is called "true bias"; although, true bias is not a hard and fast rule used by every designer. The truth is, with fashion, one can experiment. Look at Charles James, for example. He would cut bias on different angles, to make the fabric behave and wrap around the body in unusual ways, which is one of the many reasons his clothes look unique.

Here, for the vintage Patou bodice recreation, we will take advantage of bias' weakness by way of stretching and distorting. We are going to cut the chiffon overlay for the upper and lower bodice on the bias, and we will manipulate and distort the fabric to shape new angles. What starts off as a simple rectangle will be stretched and formed into a new shape.

To begin this project, I carefully transformed a 9-inch wide cut of chiffon fabric, and stretched it to cover over an 11-inch width at the waistline.

I mean, that’s pretty brilliant, don’t you think? Cutting and stretching on the bias will provide a different “look” compared to cutting and pleating on the straight grain. Think of it like sculpting with cloth.

I wasn’t entirely sure if the fabric would stretch over 2 inches, but I gave it my best try. I think the stretch amounts to about a 20% stretch!

Success! It stretches! I must admit, it was done pretty easily, too. Ah, the magic of bias.

I mentioned this in passing, but let me remind you that there are two bodice pieces for this design. At first, I was surprised there wasn’t one large gathered piece. What is also unusual is that the pieces are not sewn together. They are sewn and attached separately by hand, onto the corselette.

Then I realized they couldn't be treated as one long piece, because we need to construct the angle of the bias to distort differently at separate angles of the bodice. This required two separate bias cut pieces, since some angles needed more stretch than others.

Here's what it looks like so far.

I have to admit, working with bias is kind of addicting and also fascinating. Working from these designer patterns reveals how professional couture houses cut and manipulate their fabric. A subtle change to the grain line, by cutting on the bias, is what makes the design so special. As Charles James advised us, “Follow the grain!”

Here's how the bodice looks after stretching and wrapping on the bias. However, I'm still adjusting and tinkering with it.

There are professional articles and books written about bias, and I hope you find this discussion as fascinating as I do.


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