I’m 5’10”. Not exactly Olympe Maxime, but definitely on the tall side of average for a woman. In fact, 5’10” is the average height of men here in the UK – but that’s a whole other story… (and completely unrelated to sewing)
If you’re tall too, then you’re probably familiar with the usual tall-person grumbles: people making the same stating-the-obvious comments about your height; never having enough legroom on planes, trains and buses; and how hard it is to find clothes to fit.
Like me, perhaps you took up sewing partly so you could recreate your favourite RTW clothes for longer arms, a longer torso or longer legs.
So what does it mean to be a taller sewist? Well, you know you’re taller than the average when:
You view yardage charts with scepticism. Ms Average may be able to squeeze a summer dress out of 2m of linen, but you’re definitely going to need at least 2.3m.
You get irrationally angry with pattern companies that don’t include lengthen/shorten lines and a back waist length measurement as standard. And don’t even mention those patterns with ‘no provision for above the waist adjustments’!
You can slash and spread a pattern by 1/2/3″ in your sleep, and you buy masking tape in bulk.
The pattern says you need a 4″ zip, so you buy a 6″ zip.
You’ve been coveting one of those Simflex buttonhole gauges for all your shirts and shirtdresses – you always have to shift the buttons around.
You have no fear of large, bold prints. Sunflowers? African wax print? No problems.
What have I left off this list?
And is it the exact opposite if you’re petite, or are there different things to consider?
This has been a long time coming, but my first-ever pair of Ginger jeans is finished. And boy, am I pleased with the results!
I’ve been after a pair of high-waisted flared jeans for ooh, about forever. And I finally gave in and decided I was going to have to make them myself.
The fabric is a lovely, soft, true blue stretch denim that I bought from Guthrie & Ghani last year in just the right weight/stretch combination for this pattern. One word of warning – if you’re long-legged, want to try the flared adaptation, or are planning to use extra large seam allowances to help with fitting, then buy more fabric than the skinny-legged Gingers pattern suggests. The cutting layout isn’t all that flexible because the denim has to be laid a certain way to prevent the legs twisting. I had 2.5m of 60″/150cm wide denim and that was only just, just enough.
The fitting process has turned into a real quest for me. I began sewing all those years ago because high street trousers didn’t fit – and having gone through this process I now know why! I must have taken them on and off at different stages of construction at least twenty times, so if you can spend a whole day sewing in just your underwear (!) you’ll probably get them finished a lot faster than I did.
I started with the size 16 to fit my 43″ hips, and graded down to a 14 at the waist at the same time as flaring the legs from the knee. I then lengthened the crotch depth by 1″ and also checked the total inside leg against my own measurements. These are my standard alterations for any pattern, and I usually find it’s fine to make these straight on the pattern without doing a toile/muslin first.
Taking a tip from Pants for Real People, I also enlarged the seam allowances to 1″ rather than 5/8″ at the inseams and outseams before cutting out to give me plenty of room for alterations. This was a complete lifesaver – and you should absolutely do this if you’re about to cut into good fabric for your first pair.
Let out the inseam and outseam along the thigh by 1/4″
Lowered the back crotch only by 3/4″ (in 3-4 stages)
Made the front crotch seam shallower by 1/4″
Let out the inseams from the knee downwards to make room for my large calves
Re-cut the yoke with more curve (effectively putting darts in the pattern to make it narrower at the top)
Steamed the waistband like crazy with the iron to give that more curve and trimmed it shorter (I’d run out of fabric by this point and was trying to avoid piecing it)
Sewed the back leg/yoke seam with a wider allowance at the centre back, reverting to the ordinary seam allowance at the side seams – this helped deal with my swayback
Took a big wedge out of the side seams at the top hip, effectively grading down to a size 10 there.*
Yanked up the centre back so it sits further into the waistband, and the same with the centre front
Oh, and I fiddled endlessly with the back pocket placement to see if I could manage to disguise my low seat!
I discovered I have what Pants for Real People creepily describes as a ‘crotch oddity’, in that I’m low in the back and high in the front. If this is you, you’ll notice that your RTW trousers always seem to either drag down at the back or disappear into your bum crack, yet you might also have some weird puffiness in the front crotch.
I didn’t have wide enough seam allowances to make the front crotch seam as shallow as I wanted, but it’s good enough – and I’ll know for next time.
*You can’t really tell in these pictures, but my right leg is around 1.5cm shorter than my left, and my pelvis is also smaller on the right side. This means I make side seam alterations unevenly, taking slightly more from the right side than the left. Plus I ended up placing the back pockets by eye, rather than using the pattern markings, so that everything looks more balanced and even.
Compared with the fitting, construction was – almost – a breeze. Heather’s instructions (I used the E-Book) are clear and logical, so it doesn’t feel as daunting as you might expect. You absolutely can make jeans.
My Janome DKS30 didn’t much like doing dense stitching with topstitching thread through multiple layers. It really hated backstitching and bar tacks through more than 3 layers. If you have the same problem it’s worth buying a regular thread in the same colour as your topstitching thread and trying the bar tacks with that instead. I did this on the belt loops and it made things easier – it worked better than switching stitches, or changing needles. I also did a fair amount of the backstitching using just the hand wheel, and avoided the automatic thread cutter. Next time I might get my vintage Singer 201K out for the topstiching, although she doesn’t have a zig zag stitch, so I won’t be able to use her for the bar tacks.
What my machine does have that helped a lot, is a small black button on the presser foot which fixes the angle of the presser foot, even when you’re starting at a thick edge. This meant I got away without using a hump jumper.
You press the black button as you lower the foot (it does help if you have three hands), and then begin sewing as normal. The presser foot will stay level even if you go over a hump, and *should* hold a fairly even stitch.
I used my overlocker (serger) to finish the seam allowances for speed, but it protested at anything more than three layers of denim, so I also employed the overedge stitch on my ordinary sewing machine. This is a really secure way to finish fraying fabrics, and it comes into its own when you don’t want to cut anything off – for example if you’re going to use that edge to line up something else.
The Prym rivets and jeans button kits I bought did turn out to be partially plastic, but they’re holding up well so far. (I’m probably going to live in these jeans for the next month or so, and the proof will be in how much pudding I can eat in them!)
The rivets were really fun to put in, and the only casualty was one of my thumbnails which accidentally took a battering when I got distracted by the doorbell…Can any UK sewists recommend a good source of metal ones for me?
If you’ve been hesitating about sewing jeans, I’ll be honest with you. No, it’s not as quick as a skirt or as easy as a jersey top.
Update: Since I first published this post on 21 January, I’ve made two sets of adjustments to the original fit. I’ve added pictures and info from the second and third fittings to this post, to keep all the fitting info together.
Earlier this week, I finally got around to cutting out my first ever pair of handmade jeans. I ended up crawling around on the floor underneath our dining table because I had to cut in a single layer, and that’s the only place I could lay the whole thing out. My knees haven’t forgiven me yet.
Then I almost ran out of fabric because I’ve already made a few flat alterations to the pattern. I used the tutorial in the Closet Case Files E-book on sewing jeans to convert the original skinny/stovepipe leg pattern into a flared version. (You can now buy the flared version as a pattern expansion, but I opted to save $7+printing+sticking hassle and do it myself – it wasn’t tricky.)
I graded from a 16 at the hip to a 14 at the waist, and added 1″ to the crotch depth. Lastly, I enlarged the inseam and side seam allowances by a further 3/8″ to give me a full 1″ of wiggle room for adjusting everything.
I cut everything out and basted the basic pieces together using a really long stitch length (5.0 on my Janome). Special thanks to Alex, who reminded me to staystitch first. This is mentioned in the pattern, but not in the part about basting/fitting, so I would definitely have forgotten otherwise.
So, onto fitting. Jeez, this might turn out to be a long haul. (Front, side and back views in the picture right at the top – please excuse the poor lighting, it’s been so gloomy in Worcestershire recently!) I figured I might as well share the fitting process in all its gory detail.
Problem number one is that they’re too narrow through the thigh, so the crotch of the jeans can’t currently sit in the right place. In the back view you can see the horizontal wrinkles across the back of my thigh and knee area, showing it’s too tight here, so I’m going to let the inseams out from just below the knee up to the crotch seam. And from the side, you can see the side seam is pulling towards the front at mid-thigh level, which I *think* means I should let out the front thigh a little more than the back.
After this first fitting, I let out the front and back inseams by 1/8″ each. That wasn’t quite enough so I also let out the side seams by the same amount – just from crotch level down to the hem.
That gave me a better fit on the legs. However, the crotch seam still wasn’t sitting quite high enough and after some wriggling around I determined that the thing dragging it down was my bottom!
To fix that without liposuction, I lowered the back crotch only by 1/4″. This also increases the overall length of the back crotch seam so it’s sitting better all the way up to top hip level now. At the front there were some weird horizontal lines appearing, and there seemed to be too much room in the lower front crotch area, so I also straightened the front crotch seam – making it shorter in the process. (In one fitting guide, this is labelled a ‘receded pubis adjustment’ – which sounds like a really painful operation but it’s actually pretty easy to do if you left enough seam allowance.)
Here they are after those adjustments. Looking better, I hope you’ll agree.
Second fitting: side view
Second fitting: back view
Second fitting: front view
I’m fairly happy with the fit through the crotch and the thighs now, although I’m debating whether to take the adjustments from the first fitting a teensy bit further to try to improve the fit even more.
What needs looking at now is the top hip and waistband area. The front crotch depth is still a smidgen too long, so I’m going to lop a little off the centre front at the top. To fix the gaping at the back, I need to take a wedge out of the yoke piece, maybe a little out of the side seams above the crotch, and then re-draft the waistband so it fits my contours better. Phew!
So since the second fitting I’ve lowered the back crotch by a further 1/4″, let out the back inseam by another 1/8″ and added darts in the back yoke and the waistband to fix the gaping at the back. I’ve taken 1/2″ off the centre of the front crotch depth and a smile-shaped horizontal wedge out across the back – effectively a flat seat adjustment. I also remembered to put shoes on for this fitting to see how they’ll really look.
The fit across the back waist is much better, it’s not gaping or standing away from my top hip area now. The bubble in the front crotch has gone, but it’s been replaced by some diagonal lines that I thought I’d got rid of after the first fitting indicating that the front crotch is too short. The back thigh actually looks tighter than it did at the last fitting, even though I’ve let it out so that needs to come out a bit more again (which might also fix the front diagonal wrinkes, too). And the back view now also reveals a problem I haven’t talked about until now, which is that my right hip is around 1″ lower than my left due to some differences in my leg length and pelvis size. I think I can correct this with a small adjustment to the outseam and the waistband height at the final fitting.
So, armed with the knowledge on what I need to do, and running out of seam allowance to make many more adjustments, I think it’s on to the actual sewing. The pockets, pocket stay and fly will take some of the room out of the front crotch, and I can tweak the leg seams a little along the way. So my plan is to sew them up very gradually, checking the fit several more times as I go. Wish me luck!
New trouser patterns always bring out a few nerves because it can be a pretty tedious process running up two or three toiles/muslins to try to get the fit right. But here I’m working with stretch denim (2% elastane, decent quality, pre-washed twice – I’m being good). So how the heck do you successfully toile a pair of jeans without purchasing double, triple or quadruple the amount of fabric you actually need?
As far as I can tell, there are three options:
Give tissue fitting a go. (This pattern has negative ease at the hips, so I’m not sure how this works in tissue…)
Cut the seam allowances extra wide and try to pin fit the real thing
Make up the real thing and just cross my fingers it comes out as a wearable muslin rather than a complete nightmare.
If you have this fitting issue, then this is the post for you. Or perhaps you sew for someone who needs this alteration? Or maybe you’ve never realised until now that there’s a name for that niggly tight area of the bodice midway between your bra band and your waist?
If you have flared lower ribs then basically your lower ribs stick out more than the average person’s. This has its upsides:
if you become pregnant, you’re less likely to be uncomfortable, or to go up a bra band size
your strapless bras won’t fall down
there’s always plenty of room for your lungs!
But there are downsides too:
your ribs can look bony even when you’re a healthy weight
boned or corseted RTW dresses (think bridalwear) can be seriously uncomfortable
it can be tricky getting the lower bodice of your handmade garments to fit, even once you’ve mastered bust adjustments.
It’s something that caused me problems when I made the halterneck 50s-style sundress in the picture above, and I ran into this adjustment again this week while sewing the camisole from the Fifi lounge set by Tilly and the Buttons. It’s oddly tight on me below the bust, even though the design is bias cut and curves outwards at that point. Yet there’s plenty of room at the waist…
If you’re altering a standard bodice with bust and waist darts, here’s what you’ll need to do.
First, make any length alterations you need, and any alterations to the bodice at or above the bust point.
Try on your toile, and mark on it where your rib cage ends. Compare this with the position of the top of the waist darts.
Re-draw the waist darts, finishing 3/4″ below the bottom of your rib cage. Pin or baste in the new darts, and try on again to check the fit.
If your revised darts now look weirdly short and fat, you might need to divide each one into two, or you could take a slightly larger seam allowance at the bottom of the side seam (on the front piece only)
For a princess-seamed bodice, rejoice. You can add extra room for your ribs at just the right point (on the front princess seams only) without tweaking anything else.
For a bodice that’s flat-fronted with no darts or adjustable points, such as a knit top, you could grade out to a larger size below the bust. Otherwise, you’ll probably need to go up a size, at least on the front, and then downsize other areas like the waist, back or bust to fit you. And if you’re already grading between sizes on your bodice, look carefully at where you begin and end the grading – just shifting this might help you get around the problem altogether.
If you’d rather get around the whole problem, then the following patterns use pleats or gathers rather than darts to create shaping between bust and waist. That means you don’t have to worry too much about how far up the shaping extends. Others are available of course, but I’ve actually shelled out real money for these three. Interestingly, they’re all from the Big 4.
1. My favourite wedding guest dress pattern Vogue 8446 – (my first version is still in my alterations pile before it’s fit to blog about). I love this style on anyone whose figure isn’t straight up and down. The bodice is pleated with no front darts. Sadly now out of print (noooo!), but you could create something similar with Threadcount 1613 if you can get past the hideous satin version on the envelope.
2. Lisette for Butterick B6168. Another classy offering from Liesl Gibson. This one’s slightly high-waisted, so it may not end up being for me, but I love the way the bodice pleats are joined to the waistband detail.
3. New Look 6000 – a real blogosphere TNT from . Views A, B and C all use an asymmetrical gather on one side of the waist rather than traditional darts. Again, this is such a great detail to have in a dress (go with a solid rather than a print to make it stand out), with the added bonus that you don’t have to faff around wondering if your front darts are too pointy, too long or too wide.
Have you got an obscure fitting issue that you struggle with? And did everything suddenly fall into place once you cracked it?
After my first version turned out to be too small, I’ve made a second toile of Mr Wardrobe’s Thread Theory Fairfield shirt. He’s asked to go incognito in these pictures, so you won’t get to see his lovely mug. Sorry.
The top picture shows the shirt in a size large, straight out of the envelope. I didn’t bother to finish the second cuff, or the hem, so it looks fairly rough and ready, but it’s good enough to assess the fit.
In this post, I’m going to show you the alterations I plan to make to the final version to get a better fit. If you’re fitting a man’s shirt anytime soon, I highly recommend the Fairfield sewalong. Morgan has created two posts showing all kinds of fitting issues and how to resolve them.
The design has relatively little ease, so I’m happy enough with the width across the chest, and also with the overall length of the shirt.
The first thing that needs addressing is the length of the shoulder seam. In this next picture you can see where I’ve marked Mr Wardrobe’s actual shoulder point in pencil on the toile.
The shoulder seam falls 1-1.25″ lower than his shoulder point so I’m going to shorten this seam for the final version. Here it is pinned up to the correct length:
With the shoulder seam pinned up, the cuff falls at exactly the right point on the wrist, so I don’t need to alter the sleeve length. (As an aside, Mr Wardrobe has thought for many years that he had freakishly short arms, but it turns out they’re actually a normal length – he just has narrow shoulders.)
The size L collar was too small, so I’d already swapped the collar and collar stand pattern pieces for the size XL, and this fits fine.
Turning to the back of the shirt, you can see there’s a problem with the lower back area. I think it needs more width at the hip area if it’s going to be worn untucked. This should reduce the bunching at the waist, and I can do a try-on fitting for the darts to make sure they’re just right.
With the shoulders pinned up, you can see how it might look in the final version.
We ummm-ed and ahhh-ed over a few more alterations, like a potential rounded back adjustment. I think we’ve decided against them, at least for the first one.
But can you help me with the diagonal wrinkles in the final picture? Is that just a result of the way I’ve pinned the shoulders or is there something else going on there?
No, there hasn’t been a terrible CSI incident in my sewing room.
The book that went along with series 2 of Great British Sewing Bee has a curious suggestion to help with fitting. The idea is to look at the different proportions of your body to find out where you’ll need to lengthen or shorten a pattern to fit you. I thought I’d give it a go so you don’t have to.
How could the publishers not find a better picture of Patrick and May? He looks grumpy and she looks startled!
You will need:
An empty piece of wall
A large sheet of paper that’s as big as you (several pieces taped together would also do the job)
Masking tape or Blu-tack
A plumb line, or something else you can use to get a vertical line
A felt-tip pen
A spirit level
A friend to help you
Start by taping or sticking the paper to the wall just above head height. Use a plumb-line or a weight on a string (I used my fabric scissors tied onto a length of yarn) to draw a vertical line down the paper.
Wearing close-fitting clothing (or ideally just your underwear if you’re not planning on taking pictures to share with the world!), and in bare feet, stand with your back against the paper, positioning the vertical line directly behind the centre of your body.
Get your helper to draw around you, creating that essential murder-scene style outline.
Will this hurt?
Mr Wardrobe is no artist, clearly.
Mark the following points with dots or crosses: the top of your head, either side of the base of your neck, the end point of each shoulder, both armpits, either side of your waist, each side of your hip, and your knee line.
Then use the spirit level to draw horizontal line in each of those places.
Finally, take the paper down from the wall and cut along the line you marked across the top of your head. Fold the paper in half lengthways and make a crease at the fold. Then fold it in half lengthways again and crease the fold.
Unfold the paper, and you should have an outline of your body that’s been folded into quarters lengthways. You’re going to compare the fold lines with the lines you drew earlier.
In a standard figure, the book says, the first quarter would be head-armpit, the second armpit-hips, the third hips-knees and the fourth knees-toes.
I marked the crease lines on mine in blue, and comparing them with the red lines you can see they’re pretty close, meaning that I’m not especially long in one area or another. But I am at least 4″ taller than Ms Average, so I know I’ll need to lengthen each area of a pattern an inch or so to get it to fit.
(The comparison also shows up my lop-sidedness. My left leg and pelvis are larger than the right-hand side, and this causes a corresponding slope in my shoulders.)
Overall, this isn’t a massively accurate way to take your measurements for fitting, because it only compares proportions rather than absolute numbers. That said, it’s quite fun, and you do get a life-sized drawing of yourself to cut out and keep.
Would you try this at home? Let me know what you think in the comments.
Sort of, is the answer. Here’s version one in a scarily bright mint green single jersey I’ve been avoiding using for anything else because of its poor recovery. I didn’t bother adding the sleeves or finishing the edges because I wanted to get the fit through the bodice right first.
It’s just about long enough, which RTW T-shirts almost never are. And it’s got the right shape overall. But it’s too tight for my taste and it also needs more room at the bust – the underarm wrinkles are a dead giveaway. Compare it with the best fitting of my RTW T-shirts, from tall girls’ mecca Long Tall Sally.
The scoop neck is much more flattering than the crew on me.
This picture shows up the sway-back problem I have with lots of RTW T-shirts.
So I tweaked the pattern a little to add a teensy bit more ease (1/2″) and followed this Cashmerette tutorial for a simple FBA for knit tops. Jenny’s method adds length to the front bodice rather than width, making the front longer than the back. You then ease the extra length in at the side seams between the waist and the armpit to give more room at the bust.
Here’s version two, in the mint jersey again. As you can see, it’s pretty much indistinguishable from V1, so I’ve clearly been too timid with the adjustments.
Yup, still too tight!
Who’s going to invent a T-shirt bra that doesn’t show through the back of T-shirts?
So, some more adjustments to make. (And I’ve run out of mint jersey, dammit.) For the next and hopefully final toile, I’ll:
add another inch or so of ease widthways
lengthen below the waist by 1/2″
scoop out the neckline, even for the block pattern
It’s toile time! Bring on the muslin mania! (Seriously, who actually enjoys this part?) After part 3, where we made some basic fitting adjustments and sewed up the toile, you’re now ready to try it on and see how it looks.
Here’s how to go about it.
First, get the crotch in the right place. The central crotch seam – where you’ve got a cross-shape as the four key pieces meet – should be directly underneath you, and relatively close-fitting so that it can (but doesn’t always) touch whatever you’re wearing underneath. If you’re large of thigh like me, there’s a real chance you’ll have to rip open some seams to do this, so this is why those extra-deep seam allowances were a great idea. If you’re slim-waisted, you might need pins or elastic to hold your toile up.
Once you’ve got the crotch seam in the right place start by assessing the crotch depth – the vertical waist-crotch distance. It’ll be easier to assess this at the front than the back. If you checked and adjusted the crotch depth in part 3 it should be very close to perfect. If it needs fixing, do that, and if needed, make another muslin before you alter anything else.
Once you’re happy with the crotch depth, you can turn your attention to the crotch length. Look at the length of the seam that runs around the body from the centre front, between your legs and up to the centre back.
If the trousers look as though they’re trying to disappear up your bum, then you need more length in the back crotch. If you’ve got excess fabric top to bottom at the centre back seam but the crotch and waist are both sitting in the right place, then you need to reduce the back crotch length. If you have ‘smile wrinkles’ emanating from the front crotch area (!), but the hip and waist are in the right place at the side seams, then your front crotch length is too short. Again, if you need to make one of these adjustments do it before fiddling with anything else, and you might need to make another muslin before moving on. For more pictures and examples, I recommend this excellent post from A Fashionable Stitch on crotch length adjustments.
Crotch depth and crotch length are the two critical fit issues for trousers. After that, it starts to feel similar to fitting a pencil skirt or a sheath dress. Your best strategy is to schedule a quiet hour in front of the mirror and play around with some pins, elastic and a willing fellow sewist or failing that, a camera. (That doesn’t sound so good written down, does it?). Fitting problems seem to show up more clearly in pictures than in the mirror.
To assess what’s wrong and learn how to fix it, you’ll need a good fitting book. There are tons of these out there and I haven’t found one yet that’s perfect: clear, intuitive and easy-to-follow. The main contenders are:
Fitting and Pattern Alteration – incredibly comprehensive, but I don’t find the diagrams and instructions in my second edition copy that easy to follow.
Pants for Real People – a real bible for a lot of people, and it uses real-life photos. But I don’t buy into the tissue fitting approach – no one wears paper clothes and I always tear the tissue when I try this.
After the second version, I decided to add a little bit more to the crotch length, and to use the method that also adds more room at the thigh. And this is the result. It looks pretty good. From the front.
Less good from the back though.
There’s a fair amount of sag going on at the back thigh, which I’m sure wasn’t there when I tried them on at the final fitting. I can think of three possible reasons for this:
I had some, err, pre-menstrual bloating going on when I did the final fitting. (Entirely possible)
The fabric has bagged out from one or two days of wear. Also possible, I guess, but it’s a wool/polyester mix suiting fabric, so I really wasn’t expecting that to happen.
I’ve mysteriously lost half a stone since the final fitting. According to my bathroom scales, this is damn nigh impossible.
To fix this, I think I next need to make a ‘low buttocks curve’ adjustment. Mmmm. Sounds great. And probably to take out some of the extra width I added at the thigh while I’m at it. I might check whether these ones shrink in the wash first…
That said, this is my favourite pair because it’s the nicest fabric I’ve used so far. If I can get this final step in the fitting process right, I might finally be prepared to spend some serious money on some top quality trousering. Or even to line them – has anyone tried this with an unlined trouser pattern?
Pattern £13.50, but this is my third pair so let’s say £4.50
Fabric £18.00 from Birmingham’s Fancy Silk Store, lining pieces were from my scraps box
Notions – roughly £4 for a hook and bar, a button, thread and scraps of fusible interfacing