The Art of Cutting and Fitting by J. King Wilson, London, 1950 is a real gem of a book. The reason is that, unlike most other cutting texts, it actually deals with the process of cutting to incorporate structural principles of balance into a garment. By way of comparison, most other "cutting" texts seem like pattern books with a minor appendage somewhere on how to tweak the patterns to get them to fit different figures. In the whole of this book, there is not a single pattern to be found anywhere - yet, that precisely is its strength.
Here are J. King Wilson's seminal thoughts on balanced coat cutting. Of particular interest is the terminology he proposes about major and minor vertical and horizontal balances:
Of importance is the fact that he places front-back balance (expressed in terms of total length to hem) at the top of his list of priorities.
However, it must be said that there are striking resemblances in his architectural approach to cutting to that found in an obscure and largely forgotten cutting text - that of Devere and his centre point system from 1866. The centre point system is based around the following balance measure:
The centre point is marked on the side of the waist (either with a pin or chalk) "in the hollow about 1 inch above the top of the hip bone". The tape measure is then placed on the nape of the neck and the distance to the centre point is measured with the tape passing over the bust or the curve of the back (see diagram). These two measures are called the bust and curve respectively.
In a proportionate person, the difference between bust and curve is 2.5" (5cm) according to Devere. This difference is called the balance - which is more precisely, the major vertical balance. You will find that if your subject slouches or stands to attention the balance changes accordingly, so it is important to see if the balance is what you expect from eyeballing the subject's posture.
The most fundamental thing that Devere does with the balance is that he adds it in directly to the draft of a body coat like this:
Note at the top right, where he has started to draft the back panels, he has added the balance of 2.5". In the completed draft the panels will look like this:
In erect and stooping structures, the balance will change:
The theory behind this drafting method is that it is based upon the early incorporation of the correct major vertical balance, through the addition of a balance measure that can be controlled by the drafter.
Devere gives us two additional balance measures to add to non-body coats. For men's lounge-Chester type coats, he recommends a balance of 1 3/4" - 3/4" less than the 2.5" balance for a body coat. He merely states that this is due to the extra waist suppression that needs to be added to the underarm seam. For a ladies riding habit, he further reduces the balance to 1 1/8", this time without explanation. The fundamental principle seems to be that the more waist suppression that must be forced onto the coat, the more this shortens the back balance, and to restore the nape back to the correct position, the balance must be reduced. Body coats require a larger balance, because waist suppression is already inherent within the structure of the coat, whereas with lounge-Chester type coats it has to be forced onto the pattern, thus distorting it by shortening the back balance, which has to be compensated for.
The next question is whether this method of directly applying the unmodified 2.5" balance to a draft works for modern body coats. My experience is that it does not. The problem lies in the fact that Devere wrongly assumes that the distance from C7 to centrepoint is the only determinant of major vertical balance. In fact, probably of even greater importance are the relative balance measures of the front and back depth of scye. If you look at the Devere drafting system, it does not allow you to incorporate this balance measures into the system. In particular, you lose all control over the back depth of scye.
Although ultimately the drafting system remains a failure, of greater importance this represents an historically interesting attempt at basing a drafting system on vertical balance measures. That is, it recognises the fact the major vertical balance is the most important balance in a coat, and in so far as cutting is all about balance, balance, balance, it remains vital to be able to gain control over the major vertical balance early in the course of a draft. Different drafts will require a different balance, and you will have to find what works for each draft. However, the major vertical balance is something to scrutinise early in the draft rather than retrospectively at the fitting to see if you got it right in a hit and miss sort of way.
So, the importance of Devere has nothing to do with the final patterns in his book, which I would no more wear than a doublet or a codpiece, but in the systematic way he analyses the major vertical balance as the most central aspect of balanced cutting. Again and again, Devere seems to be saying to you between the lines: "my dear Sir, get the major vertical balance right and nearly everything else will start to fall into place". Devere's identification of the central issue of the major vertical balance is still noteworthy even if his solutions to the problems of balanced cutting ultimately are not. J. King Wilson goes much further than Devere in identifying points of minor vertical and horizontal balance, but like Devere he places the establishment of the correct major vertical balance at the centre of his drafting system.