Monday, January 23, 2012

Video Tutorial: Try On Patterns Before You Sew With a Digital Dress Form (Croquis)

Here it is, folks—my long-promised video tutorial on how I dress my digital croquis, based on my Colette Pastille vs. Colette Macaron sheath dress showdown! It's just three minutes long, so please take a look and share with your friends, embed on your own blog, whatever!

If you have any questions about a specific part of the video, leave them in the comments and I'll answer them in annotations directly on the video.

Now that I watch it critically, perhaps it's more of a "demo" than a tutorial, as it doesn't really go into the real nitty-gritty—what size paintbrushes to use, how to do a proper selection for filling, how to use layers, or how to create repeat fabric patterns, etc. Do you need to know that stuff too?

So I'd really love your feedback:

  • How's my genereal script/approach/use of images/video?
  • Is it too long/too short?
  • Is my narration understandable, or too fast/mumbly?
  • Are there some bits you're more interested in than others?
  • Should I do more of these? The other tutorial I've been promising to do for about two years now is how to create a really robust digital croquis in the first place using a variety of methods—digital, hand, etc.
  • Would it be better as a series of printable photos and text than a video?

The details: I captured the demo with iShowU, and edited it and recorded the voiceover in iMovie. I found the voiceover the most challenging part—at first I tried to wing it, but I kept stumbling over my words so my film-school-grad husband suggested I script it. Here's my rough script with some notes/links:

Mikhaela Reid here from Polka Dot Overload with a demo of how I “try on” sewing patterns using my customized digital dress form, or croquis.

With a little practice, you can plan your sewing wardrobe, design fun details and play with palettes and fabrics. Best of all, you can preview how a design will look on YOUR awesome shape before you cut—or even buy—your pattern or fabric. This is particularly great for use with vintage patterns with really stylized envelope drawings.

Back when I was super pregnant, I used my croquis to create storyboards and plan extensive modifications to non-maternity patterns.

So let’s talk tools:

  • First, you need a croquis. This could be one you traced by hand and scanned or drew directly into the computer. (Tutorial forthcoming, I swear!)
  • You’ll need images of your planned fabric, whether you’ve already purchased it or not. I keep all my fabric stash photos catalogued by color and type in Flickr, because I am obsessive.
  • A pressure-sensitive graphics tablet is optional—but I can't recommend it highly enough. Drawing with a mouse is clumsy and awkward, like drawing with a bar of soap—a pen tablet lets you draw naturally and create thicks and thins that look brush or pen-drawn just by changing pressure. I use a Wacom Intuos, but you can get a small Wacom Bamboo for $77 new, and I've seen used Bamboos or Graphires go for as little as $20 on eBay—less than the cost of some presser feet. Don't worry about size—even the smallest one can do what you need for this.
  • Finally, you’ll need digital image-manipulation software with the ability to paint and use layers and patterns. I use Manga Studio (speciality software for cartoonists—you don't really need it, I just happen to be really comfortable in it) and PhotoShop (just don't have TOO much fun with it) but GIMP is a great open-source PhotoShop alternative that does most of what PhotoShop can do for the excellent price of FREE GRATIS.

So let’s get started. I’m going to speed this up, but the entire process usually takes me from 15 minutes to an hour—drawing and coloring these two dresses took about 20 minutes total.

Here’s a grayed out photo of me in a tank top on which I’d already drawn my croquis on another layer. For reference, I’ve pulled up the pattern flats for the Colette Macaron and a photo of Mena from the Sew Weekly wearing her lovely version.

I usually start with one of the key lines of the design, in this case the mock sweetheart neckline. I keep the fabric in mind—is it stiff? soft? stretchy—and how it will hang from my body in real life. It wouldn’t be realistic to draw lots of soft pleats or folds in a stiff fabric with no drape. I also think carefully about ease. In this case I’m working with a firm cotton stretch woven and I plan to make the dress very fitted, so I draw the outlines very close to my actual contours...

And then I ran out of patience and winged the rest of it. And if you listen, you'll see I had to edit out a lot of the above for time's sake, too.

Recommended reading: If you're interested in a good reference book on how to render garment details...

  • Fashion school textbooks like Fashion Sketchbook (which I bought used at the FIT bookstore) or 9 Heads are excellent but extremely expensive.
  • Fantastic Fit For Every Body has a great section on drawing your own croquis, whether you're an artist or not!
  • Also, remember, that they're teaching you to render the unrealistic and superstylized 9-heads-or-more-tall fashion figure—which is the opposite of what we're trying to do here with our custom-made-for-our-awesome-real-bodies croquis.

    But really, the best thing is just to study real clothing and fabric, and practice, practice, practice. I love these sketches Lladybird has been doing with her croquis by hand, and she claims she's "no artist", just "pretty good at copying stuff."

Enjoy! I'm dying to know what you all think of this—please let me know. And if this tutorial/demo inspires you or helps you in your sewing planning adventures, please leave a comment with a link to your projects so I can see them.


  1. Oooh, can't wait to watch this (also can't wait to find the pen for my drawing tablet, but that's another story... :P). Right now I'm struggling with my croquis---I want something a little more realistic and close to me (much as my nine-or-ten-heads-tall sketches are fun), but every time I trace off a photo I want to go jump off a bridge. Maybe I just need to compromise a little between cartoon and reality...

    If you absolutely can't get a drawing tablet, I prefer drawing in a vector program like Inkscape (also free and fairly intuitive), as it's easier to twiddle the lines into a good shape after the fact. But definitely tablet all the way.

  2. Yes, I should have mentioned Inkscape, it's like free Adobe Illustrator. It's really just a matter of preference--Inkscape drawing probably handles more like Manga Studio (i.e. more like real drawing with pen and brush), whereas drawing in GIMP or PhotoShop is more difficult.

  3. Awesome video! It is more like a demo, but it makes me want to know more. :)

  4. I love this! And I have been neglecting my Bamboo tablet...must try. Thanks for the fun idea!

  5. This is AWESOME! I haven't had a chance to engage in detail re: busy day, but I intend to give it lots of attention and I'm sure I'll have questions or more comments...

  6. Hi! Thank you for the video - it was great! I would love to learn about layers and about how you drew the repeating fabric pattern and used it in your drawing...


  7. WOW! I love this video! I'm so in awe....I really want to learn how to do this and I am absolutely new beginner. I'm going to give GIMP and Inkscape a try (and maybe a hand version too)!

  8. Thanks for putting SO much information into the body of the post.

    I'm probably in the minority, but I hate watching videos. I'm generally a patient person, but there's something about youtube that makes me want to run away after 2 second. And it's often really inconvenient to watch videos on my phone and at work (whereas text browsing can be done on the sly...). So thanks very much for not being one of those sites that only sticks up a video with no other information. Seriously, it's appreciated. :)

  9. Awesomeeeee, thank you so much for taking the time to make this video! Photo editing software is so completely alien to me, and it is really fascinating to see someone actually work it probably and make something cool :) I LOVE your croquises (croquii?), they are my favorite ones in the blog-world :D

  10. That is so amazing! Thanks for the tutorial, and I loved your pattern envelope cover redo on Sew Retro!

  11. Thank YOU and the commenters who gave Freebie programs to try... I am a bit of a Luddite (who owns a Mac) and am a bit lost in the plethora of visual/digital image manipulation software... I just don't know where to even start! So the Gimp/Inkscape ideas are a good start. So very behind the times, I know...

  12. I was wondering what to do with my croquis I made last week - now I know. Clearly I have a long road to follow before I can manipulate the images with your facility! Thanks for the info :)

  13. I hope you don't mind my offering feedback, since I don't know that I've commented before. I don't watch a lot of videos online but was interested enough in the subject to check this one out (I've always enjoyed your digital croquis). I thought you did an amazing job!

    How's my general script/approach/use of images/video?
    I thought it was great that you had a semi-scripted video--it made it easier to watch and you got the relevant information across rather concisely. I also really like that you sped the illustrations up since you didn't detail the process--it made it really interesting to watch, nonetheless. I also very much appreciate that you spent the time to edit so that we were just getting "the good stuff". (There's nothing worse than watching 3 minutes of fluff to get 20 seconds of valuable information). I don't have any constructive criticism on the technical aspect--I was quite impressed with the whole thing.

    Is it too long/too short?
    It's a really good length for the content. I could watch a much longer video if you were detailing the technical steps vs demoing.

    Is my narration understandable, or too fast/mumbly?
    You are easy to understand. I like the semi-quick pace, but I also talk fast. I also get a kick out of hearing voices, to see if they match up how I imagine someone will sound.

    Are there some bits you're more interested in than others?
    I like the general overview you gave, but would love to know more about the specifics if you get the time--how to work with the layers (I still have so much to learn), how to do the scaling for your croquis and the fabrics, details on how you digitized the fabrics, any helpful Photoshop tips, etc.
    I also would love tips on working with a drawing tablet. I tried mine for the first time the other night and it was very awkward for me.

    Should I do more of these? The other tutorial I've been promising to do for about two years now is how to create a really robust digital croquis in the first place using a variety of methods—digital, hand, etc.
    I will confess that I followed the link to Lladybird's croquis post and found (and plan to use) her tutorial to make my own digital croquis.
    I would still love to see more videos, and, as I mentioned, I don't normally care to watch videos. I appreciate your expertise in this area and have always enjoyed your digital planning. I know it takes a lot of time to put something like this together, but I don't think it would go to waste as this is definitely a unique niche in sewing.

    Would it be better as a series of printable photos and text than a video?
    Normally I'd prefer photos & text, but I think a video is appropriate. I think you should go with whatever is least time-consuming for you.

    Thank you for the really interesting video!

  14. Hi Mikheala - Thanks so much for posting this. I've been slowly working on getting a digital croquis made after using hand-drawn ones with limited success.

    I'm using Inkscape and Photoshop and am ready to start drawing clothes in on the different layers. Your video was so inspirational, but I find I'm at the point where I need a little more detail.

    My two questions:
    1. Can you post just the video you made in real time, ie not sped up? I think if I had that, I'd be able to figure out what you were doing. So it would (hopefully!) be something you wouldn't have to edit, or do a voice over for, or basically be too much of a time-sink for you and take away time from your family/sewing/work. :)

    2. How do you get the swatches the right size for your croquis?

    Thank you again so much for this post!

  15. I've stumbled on this rather late in the day, but would still like to thank you for taking the time to construct the overview. It covers the basics and I think with using software one always has to "just do it" to an extent to get the minutae (?spelling) of the process worked out, so it's not a problem that it's condensed, rather I think an advantage. I've been thinking about doing this for ages, and my daughter has a tablet, so I plan to abscond with it and experiment now I have your introduction. Again, thanks, Cejay.


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