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?
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?
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.
After a serious think about the contents of my wardrobe – and the gaps in it – earlier this month, I settled on sewing the things that would get me through an average week. Top of my list was t-shirts – mainly because I had two patterns and plenty of knit fabric ready to go.
I opted to try out my self-drafted T-shirt pattern first. Since the initial fitting, I decided to revise the block to include more ease, and I made four small alterations to the fit:
I narrowed the shoulder by 0.5cm
I added a smidgen more width around the bust
I took in the back waist a touch
I raised the armscye by 1cm to give more freedom of movement
I then added the three neckline variations I wear most often – boat (or slash) neck, scoop and crew.
The fabric is leftover from a (pre-blog) maternity top I made back in 2013. It’s a lightweight cotton jersey with decent recovery, bought at Sewing for Pleasure at the NEC, but I can’t remember the name of the shop or the price unfortunately.
I stitched the shoulder seams on my ordinary sewing machine so I could add clear elastic as a stabiliser, but then used my overlocker for the other seams and to finish the remaining raw edges. Instead of the usual bands or twin needle finish, I opted for a zigzag stitch after reading the Grainline Lark sewalong.
I’m really pleased with the fit. It’s close-fitting but not too tight, and that balances the looser-fitting bottom halves in my wardrobe nicely. If I can avoid getting caught in the crossfire of flying egg and blackcurrants that constitutes dinnertime with a toddler, then hopefully I’ll be wearing it every week for years to come.
The pattern was free and the fabric and notions were all leftovers, so I’m calling that a zero-cost new top. Huzzah!
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.
This is a huge topic, but it’s one I feel I can’t ignore. Well-fitting trousers (or pants for our American cousins) have been my holy grail ever since I started sewing. But it can be such a confusing world to launch yourself into that I thought this new series might help others grappling with the same problem.
I don’t pretend to know everything about the process, so I’d welcome your suggestions for improving and updating the posts in this series as I go along.
So where do we start? By choosing the right pattern.
If trying on trousers in a shop has ever brought you to tears, you’ll know that there are styles that do and don’t suit you. (You’ll also appreciate this awesome long read post by the Holistic Seamstress.)
Does the style suit you?
Being large of hip and thigh, I accepted long ago that skinny jeans are unlikely to ever feature in my wardrobe. I live in wide-leg, flared and (unfashionable horror of horrors) bootcut trousers. I’m tall but not all that leggy, so I avoid cropped trousers, side seam pockets, pleats in the front and anything too high or too low waisted.
You might be the opposite – petite, or very slim of leg and larger of tummy. Whatever your shape, find what suits you and avoid the heartbreak of finally making trousers that fit you perfectly but which don’t suit you. If you’re a confident sewist, you might want to alter a pattern to suit your style. Personally, I prefer to take an easier route and choose a flattering style to start with.
Another straightforward option is a flexi-fit pattern with different pieces for different styles. In my stash (but so far untested) is this Simplicity Amazing Fit trouser pattern 1696, which contains three different trouser shapes.
How closely does your shape match the basic measurements on the envelope?
When it comes to fitting, not all trouser patterns are created identical. Each pattern company uses its own fit model and if your proportions are the opposite of theirs then you’re just creating extra work for yourself blending different sizes.
Not sure what shape you are? Try on different RTW trousers and study where they’re tight and where they’re loose. Or take your waist and hip measurements – if the difference is greater than 10″ you’re a pear; less than 10″ and you’re more of an apple. If the difference is exactly 10″, lucky you – you can choose a mainstream pattern and you’ll have one fewer alteration to do.
If you can’t find a pattern you like anywhere, there’s another route you can take – drafting your own. With the right instructions, it’s fairly simple to draft a basic trouser block using your own measurements. On the upside, you’ll then have only minimal fitting alterations to do. The downside? You’ll need to add in all the styling yourself (and it won’t come with instructions for sewing them up!). So this is a good option for confident drafters, or if you’re looking for a relatively simple trouser pattern.
See part 2: choosing the right fabric and why you’re going to have to make a toile
September has been sewing indie month – to encourage people to discover and buy from independent sewing pattern designers. But which pattern companies are indie and what’s the difference between them and ‘The Big 4’?
The Big 4 – comprises Simplicity (including New Look and Burda), plus Vogue, Butterick and McCalls, all of whom are part of the same group along with Kwik-Sew. So maybe they should really be called The Big 7? Or 2?
I’ve used several patterns from Simplicity*, New Look*, McCalls*, Vogue and Kwik-Sew* in the past. This month, I’ve tackled a pattern from Sewaholic. And I’ve previously used patterns by Megan Nielsen*, Colette and Oliver & S.
So what’s the difference?
Buying the pattern
Big 4 patterns are sold by high street retailers and by online retailers like Jaycotts. Indie patterns are available direct from the designer’s website, and many are sold through smaller sewing retailers like Guthrie & Ghani or Backstitch. Most indie patterns are available as .pdfs but some are also available on paper. Most Big 4 patterns are only sold on paper.
Price-wise, the retail price for a Big 4 pattern is usually a bit less, at least in the UK, and when they’re on sale the discounts are bigger.
What are the patterns like to work with?
Indie patterns tend to come with more stylish packaging and more inspiring illustrations – some of the Big 4 photography can be really dated with frumpy photos.
Some indie patterns are printed on tissue, and some on more substantial pattern paper.
Sizing varies, too. While Big 4 Misses patterns all use very similar body measurements on the envelope (although it’s widely thought that Simplicity patterns include a heck of a lot of wearing ease – a sneaky form of vanity sizing, perhaps?), each indie pattern company has its own system. A small selection of Big 4 patterns also come in different cup sizes (usually A, B, C and D like my 50s sundress)
I’d say that the Big 4 patterns I’ve used have been marked up more thoroughly to help with fitting than the indies. They’re more likely to include markings such as lengthen/shorten lines, hiplines and bust points, and to indicate the measurements like the distance from the hip to the natural waistline. This makes them easier to alter to fit you without a toile, I think.
I’ve found that the level of detail and clarity of the pictures in the instructions can be hit and miss with all the companies I’ve tried so far, which brings me onto far and away the best thing about indie pattern companies – the sewalongs!
What’s a sewalong?
Exactly what it sounds like. The pattern company provides a step-by-step online guide to sewing the pattern to supplement the instructions. This usually gives extra tips on choosing fabric, making the garment and includes photos to supplement the line drawings in the pattern instructions. Tilly and the Buttons has taken this one step further, creating an online class you can buy to help you make the Agnes jersey top.
How do you know if you need to alter the length below the waist?
I don’t think you need to make a toile to work out whether you need a length alteration. You just need to know your own measurements.
Start by measuring your waist to hip distance – you’ll need a tape measure, some wool or string and someone to help you.
1. Strip down to your undergarments, or a slim-fit pair of trousers like leggings, and tie a piece of wool or string around your waist. (If you’re not sure exactly where your waist is, try bending to the side – like in the ‘I’m a little teapot song’! Your waist is the hinge where you bend.)
2. Use the tape measure to find the point on your hips with the largest circumference. This might be close to your hipbones, or below the fullest part of your bottom if you have proportionally large thighs. Everyone’s different. If you like, mark the spot with some tailor’s chalk to make things easier.
3. Ask your helper to measure down your side, from your waistline to the spot you found in (2). Keep the tape measure in contact with your body rather than pulling it taut. This is your waist to hip distance.
Womenswear patterns, except petites, usually use a standard waist to hip distance of 8″ in all sizes. You won’t usually find this measurement printed on the pattern envelope, but you might find it written on the pattern pieces. If your measurement is 7″ or under you’ll need to shorten patterns, and if you’re 9″ or over you’ll want to lengthen them. Mine’s a whopping 10″ – which explains why I have trouble finding RTW trousers – so I always lengthen almost all patterns at this point.
Does it matter if I don’t make this alteration?
If you’re sewing a flared skirt, you’ll get away with it (although if yours is longer than average and you want to get the garment on and off over your bottom, you’ll probably still need to lengthen the zip). I made the Colette Moneta recently and didn’t bother to lengthen the skirt at this point – I just added loads to the hem instead, and that worked fine. For fitted skirts and trousers it’s definitely worth making this alteration.
How to add or subtract length
Most patterns include markings (and even instructions, sometimes) on the pattern pieces to show you where to adjust the length. If yours doesn’t, then you’re looking for a spot between the hipline and the natural waistline. If you make the alteration at a suitable notch, it’ll make matching the pieces easier later on.
Once you’ve got your waist and hipline in the right spots then you can move downwards and adjust the length above and below the knee too in the same way.
Knock-on effects of a length alteration below the waist
You’ll need to alter any adjoining pattern pieces like a fly front, or slant pockets.
If you’re making trousers with back pockets, you might want to shift them up or down a little so they sit in just the right place.
If you’ve shortened your pattern you might get away with less fabric but if you’ve lengthened it you could well need more (including any lining and interfacing).
And you might now need a longer or shorter zip, more bias binding or to move the buttons on a shirtdress.
Ta-da! No more Simon Cowell trousers or builders’ bums.
Lengthening or shortening a pattern is probably the most straightforward fitting alteration. It’s also the first alteration you should make, because it could affect any others. So let’s start here – with above the waist alterations.
How do you know if you need to alter the length above the waist?
I don’t think you need to make a toile to work out whether you need a length alteration. I make this one straight onto the pattern tissue before I dive into any cutting out.
Start by measuring your back waist length – you’ll need a tape measure and someone to help you. Strip down to your undergarments, or a slim-fit T-shirt, and get your friend to place one end of the tape measure on the large bone at the nape of your neck.
Run the tape measure down your back, (touching your body rather than plumb vertical) until it gets to your waist. This is your back waist length. Mine’s 17.5″ – a bit longer than Ms Average.
Compare this measurement with the back waist length given for your size on the pattern envelope. If yours is longer you’ll need to lengthen the pattern for a perfect fit, and if yours is shorter, you’ll want to shorten the pattern. Note that the back waist length is different for each size, so it’s important to get your pattern size right first.
I’d say a difference of half an inch or less is nothing to worry about unless it’s for your wedding dress… You might get away with a bigger difference in a loose-fitting garment.
[If you think you need to add or subtract length between the shoulder and the bustline, then the best way to do this is by adjusting the back waist length first so that the overall top-half length is correct, and then raising or lowering the bust point so that it matches yours.]
How to add or subtract length
Most patterns include markings (and even instructions, sometimes) on the pattern pieces to show you where to adjust the length. If yours doesn’t, then you’re looking for a spot between the armpit and the natural waistline.
Knock-on effects of a length alteration above the waist
You’ll need to alter any adjoining pattern pieces like a facing on a wrap dress, or the placket on a shirt by the same amount.
This is where it pays to be petite. If you’ve shortened your pattern you might get away with less fabric but if you’ve lengthened it you could well need more (including any lining and interfacing). And if the notions you need for the pattern go across the areas you’ve altered, you might now need a longer zip, more bias binding or even an extra button on a shirt.
Once you’ve done this alteration, you’ll be able to assess the fit of your bodice better. Is it the right width at the waist? Is the bust point too high or too low? But if you’re making a full length garment, carry on and make any other length alterations next.
Tricks and tips
On a strapless or strappy dress, if you need to raise or lower the bustline you could simply add or subtract length just above the waist. I’m currently doing this on my 50s-style halterneck and I’m pretty pleased with the results. But it won’t work on anything with armholes.
You might also need to lengthen or shorten the sleeves on your garment. For long, fitted sleeves, adjust above and below the elbow separately for a perfect fit.
If you loathe working with thin pattern tissue, try Swedish tracing paper. You can sew it (and unpick it), so you can stitch up your toile without cutting out again and mark adjustments directly on your pattern pieces. Ink does bleed through it though, so use a pencil or a ballpoint pen to avoid staining your original pattern.
And that’s it. No more hoiking your T-shirts down or trying to hide excess fabric behind a belt.