Project Ginger Jeans – the fitting

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.

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You can see here I’ve blended two sizes to use the larger one at the hip and the smaller one at the waist.

The fabric is a stretch denim I bought in Guthrie & Ghani last May. It’s a medium weight with roughly 2% spandex, as recommended for this pattern.

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.

First fitting

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.)

Second fitting

Here they are after those adjustments. Looking better, I hope you’ll agree.

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!

Third fitting

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!

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Flared lower ribs adjustment

50s_sundress707If 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.

  1. First, make any length alterations you need, and any alterations to the bodice at or above the bust point.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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)
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Here the dart on the right is the same width as the original, but the point is lower. This gives more room for your ribcage but keeps the waist measurement the same.

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?

Fairfield shirt – the fitting

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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.

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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:

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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.)

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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.

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I didn’t interface the collar pieces for the toile, so it looks a bit crumpled in this picture.

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.

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With the shoulders pinned up, you can see how it might look in the final version.

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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?

The long and the short of 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.

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.

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.

Fairfield shirt toile – number 1

Two blue striped and checked shirts laid one on top of the other to compare size

After the epic woman v fabric battle that has been constructing two pairs of blackout curtains (30m of fabric, small cutting table), it was time to get back to making something a bit more manageable.

I haven’t done much unselfish sewing recently (unless you count the curtains) and I wanted to try making my first shirt. So I decided to combine the two and make a Thread Theory Fairfield shirt for Mr Wardrobe.

The Fairfield sewalong has really clear instructions for taking measurements so we measured him up and I began making a toile (muslin) from an old striped cotton bedsheet.

This pattern uses lots of enclosed flat-felled seams to give a neat finish on the inside of the garment and these were new to me, so I spent some time working out how to do them accurately. As suggested in the sewalong, I didn’t bother with interfacing, buttonholes, the second collar stand or the second yoke piece for a toile, and I didn’t even attach the second cuff.

I’d been feeling fairly confident about taking on a shirt until I watched the final of The Great British Sewing Bee – where the contestants made a man’s dress shirt for their final pattern challenge. Luckily this one doesn’t include six rows of pintucks, although the tower placket isn’t the easiest thing to get your head around if you’ve never sewn one before. The sewalong is really clear, so I’d recommend this pattern to any non-beginner sewist wanting to attempt their first shirt.

I sewed up a size M, which matched Mr Wardrobe’s measurements, but when he tried the toile on, it wouldn’t meet across his chest! In fact, it came up a whole size too small. So I initially suspected I’d made a mistake with the measurements.

Having compared it with one of his favourite RTW shirts, I think I’ve worked out why it was too small.

As you can see here, the toile is probably around 1/2″ narrower at the underarm seams, typically the widest point of a man’s shirt – and the place you would take a chest measurement to determine the pattern size.

Mr Wardrobe’s widest point (in blue marker pen) is 1/2″ higher up this, in a spot where it’s almost impossible to measure the circumference. And when you look at the shoulder seams, they’re significantly narrower on the toile than on his favourite RTW shirt, making the whole upper chest area roughly a size smaller.

So I’m going to need to make a second toile, in a size L. Judging by the first one, I think there are going to be some other adjustments to make at that point (shortening the shoulder seam, shortening the sleeves, narrowing the waist and potentially a forward shoulder adjustment as well), but I’ll have to wait and see about those.

Having fallen in love with the fabric Morgan used for one of the promotional images (the casual version in these pictures), I’ve been hunting for something similar for sale in the UK. Draper’s Daughter probably has the loveliest selection of linen and chambray shirtings I’ve seen online so far, but if you can recommend some other options, I’d love to take a look.

And I hope to have a better-fitting version to show you – on the model this time – later in the summer!

Fitting my self-drafted T-shirt block

Close-up of sleeve head

A little while back, I spent an evening revising GCSE geometry by making a close fitting T-shirt block or sloper. And this week I finally got around to running up that toile (insert Kate Bush soundtrack) to see if it fits.

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.

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.

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
  • try adding short sleeves.

Wish me luck!

How to make trousers that fit: part 4

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.

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My first toile for the Thurlow trousers needed more length adding to the crotch depth.

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.

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My second toile needed more length in the back crotch seam.

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.
  • Colette’s Pants Fitting Cheat Sheet – clear and short (!) but doesn’t come with diagrams
  • My current favourite, chapters 5 and 8 of Vogue Sewing (2006). The diagrams in this one are some of the clearest I’ve seen but it’s not as extensive as Fitting and Pattern Alteration.

Once you get into the process, you’re likely to end up making two or three toiles before you find the fit you want. Each one will be better than the last, and you’ll get there in the end, I promise.

 

 

New Year, new perspective?

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Over the Christmas break, I’ve been pondering how sewing your own clothes affects the way you see your body. In January, there’s so much incitement to diet, to get fit and to give up everything from alcohol to pasta that I wanted to take a step back and work out if sewists see this sort of thing differently.

Now that fast fashion is so cheap, most of us start to sew clothing because we can’t find the clothes we want in the shops. For some of us that’s because we have quirky taste. But for many of us, it’s because what the shops sell doesn’t fit us properly.

If you’ve ever gone into a mainstream teen clothing chain – one that all your friends love – and find as I did, aged 15, that you can’t fit into the largest trousers on the rack – it knocks your confidence. It’s as if the fashion police have stopped you in the street and publicly labelled your body too tall/short/fat/thin/curvy/lumpy/weird to wear the same clothes as everyone else.

When you sew your own clothes there’s no size label in the back of the neck, chiding you for being fat or thin. You just grade up or down a size and let the seams in or out here or there. You can just be you, in your clothes – uncategorised and unique.

If you’ve ever tried on a beautiful RTW shirt that does come in your size only to find that it gapes across your boobs and billows at the waist, you leave the shop feeling that you’re too chesty to be fashionable or somehow peculiarly shaped.

When you sew your own shirt, you can make it to fit you rather than letting yourself be judged against someone else’s standards. It’s just clothing, after all – WTF should we make this yet another opportunity for someone we’ve never met to tell us there’s something not right with our bodies?

It may not be up there with knowing that you’re loved or succeeding in your career, but feeling that it’s OK to be you, shaped exactly as you are, is fundamental part to your self-confidence. Sewing your own clothes gives you more control over that. And if you want to, you can make it in neon orange, too.

Does RTW sizing and fit get your goat? Has sewing helped you see yourself differently?

Further reading – stuff that’s made me stop and think: 

Jenny Rushmore from Cashmerette’s heartfelt interview on Seamwork radio

Najah from Wanna be Sewing Something’s exploration of the process of conquering the changing-room mirror

Alterations Needed explores why so many celebrities always look as though their clothes are tailor-made (spoiler: it’s because they ARE tailor-made!)

 

Fitting part 3: finding your pattern size

Ah, pattern sizes. How can something that sounds so simple be so tricksy?

You’re more than just a number

Although most of us talk about ourselves in terms of one clothes size, the reality is that most of us are a combination of sizes. I’m going to explain how to decide which size you’ll need to go for, but chances are that you’ll be different sizes across different pattern companies, different garments, and probably even different parts of the same garment. And it’s quite possible that none of these sizes will match the labels in your RTW clothes.

For skirts that are fitted at the hips, or for trousers

For these, you should choose the pattern size that best matches your hip measurement. Your hip measurement is the widest part of your derriere – probably somewhere between 7 and 10 inches below your waistline. If you’re between sizes, then go with the larger size. If the garment ends up too big, it’s much easier to take it in than let it out. Don’t worry if your waist measurement puts you in another size – it’s easier to adjust the waistline than the hips.

I recently made the Simplicity 2290 pyjama bottoms, and my 42″ hip measurement put me between the M and L adult sizes so I made an L-size toile to check the fit.

For skirts that are fitted at the waist, but not at the hip

Fairly obviously, you should choose the pattern size that best matches your waist measurement. Again, if you’re between sizes, then go larger rather than smaller.

For tops

For children and chaps, this is easy – pick the size that most closely matches your chest measurement.

For ladies, boobs can cause a few issues here.  99% of commercial patterns (and RTW clothes) are made to fit a B cup*, so actually they fit very few of us – given that Ms UK Average is apparently now a D cup.

To find your size you’ll need:

  1. Your full bust measurement – this is around the fullest part of your bust which is usually where your nipples are. Keep the tape measure horizontal.
  2. Your high bust measurement. To take this, hold the tape measure under your armpits, as high as you can get it whilst keeping it horizontal.
  3. Your bra cup size, just for good measure.

If your full bust and high bust measurements are within 2″ of each other, then you can go right ahead and select your pattern size using your full bust measurement. Lucky you.

If they’re more than 2″ different, then you’ll need to choose your pattern size like this:

  1. Take your high bust measurement.
  2. Add 2″ to this.
  3. Choose the pattern size whose bust measurement best matches that number.
  4. You’ll need to adjust the the bust on the pattern (before cutting out your fabric) to get it to fit your chest properly.

One word of warning. If you find that RTW necklines are often quite low on you and bust darts are often below your nipples then your boobs are probably also positioned fairly high on your chest. If this is the case, then you’ll struggle to get an accurate high bust measurement, so your bra cup size might be a better guide. If you’re an A, B or C cup then you can choose your pattern size using your full bust measurement. If you’re a D cup, then use your full bust measurement minus 2″, for a DD use your full bust minus 3″ and so on. It’s taken me ages to work out that I needed to do this but all my bodices are now fitting much better. There are a fair few alterations involved – you’ll need to raise the bust point and do a full bust alteration. And you’ll almost always need to make a toile. But you will get a top that fits across the shoulders, under the arms and across the chest.

For dresses and other full length garments

You’re usually best off choosing your pattern size by your top half and then making adjustments to the bottom half to get the best fit. You can even combine two sizes, say a 12 on top and a 14 below. Most patterns these days are multi-sized – they have several sizes printed on one sheet, so if possible try to buy one that covers both the sizes you need. Vintage patterns are often only in one size, so you’ll have some tweaking to do. And it’s almost always easier to tweak the bottom half.

Done. You can now buy your pattern in the correct size, and – if you’re keen – run up a toile.

* Update: Colette Patterns use a C cup as their standard fit so if you’re cutting a Colette top or dress, the sizing and adjustments will be slightly different. If you’re a B, C or D cup, you can probably get away without a bust adjustment on a Colette Pattern and just choose your size by your full bust measurement. 

Fitting part 2: time to measure up

OK, it’s a bit of a pain. And it can be painful facing up to some of your measurements. But armed with accurate measurements, you can create clothes that fit you, rather than clothes that fit shop dummies.

Your sewing pattern size is unlikely to bear much resemblance to your ready-to-wear (RTW) size so it helps if you can forget what size you think you are and start to think of yourself as a whole set of numbers, not just one.

You will need:

  • a tape measure
  • pen and paper or some kind of snazzy app to store your numbers
  • a helpful friend, partner or relative
  • some string, or knitting wool that’s long enough to go around your waist
  • about twenty minutes.

First up, strip down to your underwear and check that it fits you well. Ladies, pick your bra carefully for this. If you want to make tops that fit, then put on the bra you wear most often – one that’s comfy and gives you a shape you like. If you’re making something that will need a non-standard bra, like a strapless dress, then put on the bra that you’ll wear with the garment.

Similarly, if you’re making something you want to reach the floor, like full-length trousers or a very long skirt, then put on the shoes you plan to wear with it.

What to measure and how

If you’re just making a top or a skirt, you won’t need to take all these measurements, but while you’re at it, I always reckon you might as well.

I use the measuring diagrams from Metric Pattern Cutting for Womenswear by Winifred Aldrich. And there’s another very similar one in How to Use, Design and Adapt Sewing Patterns by Lee Hollahan. I’d love to reproduce them here, but I suspect I’d be in breach of copyright. (If you’d like to have a go at drafting your own patterns, then either of these books is a great starting point, showing you how to create the basic blocks.)

If you’d like some video help to take your measurements, I recommend this tutorial by Create/Enjoy.

I’d suggest you also add your current bra size to the list of measurements – this can be helpful when working out your cup size – as I’ve learnt. If you’ve worn a non-standard bra, jot this down too.

When to re-measure yourself

Your measurements are unlikely to stay the same for life. So you’ll probably find you need to re-measure yourself every now and then, or when you go through certain life changes. I’d recommend you re-measure if you lose or gain 7lbs or more, during and after pregnancy, breastfeeding and the menopause.  And some ladies may find that they want to re-measure if they change to or from hormonal contraception. All of these can affect your shape and your fat distribution (nice!). For children, it’s best to measure every time you start a new project as they seem to be able to grow inches overnight.

Metric or imperial

Oddly I always measure myself in inches but my son in cm. I think this is because women’s pattern sizes are (in my size, at least) roughly two inches apart and it’s just easier to get my head around the alterations.

If you need to convert between the two, just flip your tape measure over and read the figure on the other side.IMG_1112.JPG