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.


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.

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.


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?


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!

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.

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.

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.



How to make trousers that fit: part 3

Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s time to get cracking on that pattern and make up your first toile (muslin).


Whether you take a 2 or a 22, picking the right size can mean one fewer toile in your fitting process so it’s worth re-taking your hip measurement at this point. Make sure you’re measuring around the widest part, that the tape is horizontal and then compare your measurement with the chart.

For trousers (pants for our American cousins), it’s best to go by your hip measurement. We’re going to fit the trousers from the crotch outwards – in all directions – so the waist measurement isn’t as important as the hip.

This week (and it definitely varies during the year…), my hip measurement is 42″ so on this Simplicity chart (Amazing fit trousers 2860), I’d use the size 18.



You might want to trace off the pattern you’re going to use before you start. We’re probably going to be hacking it about quite a bit…

Initial adjustments

There are three things I think you can safely adjust before you make up a toile: the crotch depth, leg length and any grading up or down between sizes at the waist. Each of these alterations can be done pretty accurately based on your measurements, and they’re independent of each other. If you do them now, you won’t have to do an extra toile to get them right later.

  1. Getting the crotch depth right

The crotch depth is the vertical distance between the waistline of the trousers and the crotch. On my Simplicity pattern envelope, it’s helpfully stated that the pattern uses a  waist to hip distance of 9″. I know that my waist to hip distance is 10″, so I’d lengthen the pattern by 1″ at this point.

If your pattern doesn’t state the waist to hip distance, you can measure the pattern pieces to work it out – just remember to subtract all the seam allowances at the waistband.

Most trousers patterns have a marked lengthen/shorten line you can use to adjust the pattern. If yours doesn’t, then pick a spot below the placket opening but above the crotch seam and draw in your own line  perpendicular to the grainline. Use the pattern’s notches to match up your front and back pieces so that you make the alteration in the same place on both.

Already sewn up your toile? Sunni from A Fashionable Stitch has written a great post on how to identify a crotch depth problem from your toile/muslin.

2. Getting the leg length right

This is an easy one to spot, and to alter later on, but you might as well get it right first time, especially for slim fit trousers.

Leg length in trousers is usually quoted in inches, and it’s measured along the inseam of the garment rather than on the body. So if a pair of trousers has a 33″ leg that means the finished garment will measure 33″ along the inseam from the crotch to the hem.

You can measure a pair of trousers from your existing wardrobe and compare these with the inseam of the pattern piece (remembering to take off the seam allowance at the crotch and the hem allowance).

Then lengthen or shorten the pattern pieces at the marked lines (usually at, or above and below, the knee) until it’s the length you want.

3. Grading between sizes

With your waist measurement to hand, go back to the pattern envelope and see if you’re the same pattern size at the waist as at the hip. If not, you might want to grade (taper) up or down a size to get a better fit. For the moment, I’d suggest you only alter the pattern at the side seams and the waistband, and by one size at most. There are other possible reasons for a large size difference here (a sway back or a large abdomen, for example ) and we need to leave ourselves scope to make these alterations if needed.

Tips for an easier fitting process

There are some other things you can try with your toile to make your fitting process easier:

  1. Transfer all the pattern markings, including things like the hip line and knee line, onto your toile. This’ll help you see not only whether those lines are in the right place, but also whether they’re lopsided.
  2. Enlarge the seam allowances from 1.5cm to 2cm or even more if you like so that you have room to try letting the seams out.
  3. Marking the seam allowances on the pattern pieces, and transferring these onto the toile fabric will make it easier to work out your fitting adjustments and to transfer these back to the pattern pieces.

Ready? Set your machine to a nice long basting stitch, thread it up with a contrasting thread, and let’s get to it and sew up the toile!

Missed parts 1 and 2? Catch up here

How to make trousers that fit: part 2

If you’ve chosen a terrific trouser pattern that suits your shape and figure type you’ll be casting your eye around for some suitable fabric. There are so many options – what should you go for?

Choosing fabric for trousers

Start with the fabric suggestions for your pattern. The designer will have put lots of thought into these, recommending fabrics with just the right qualities. If you’re still in a quandry, then as well as colour, print and feel, you’ll want to think about:

  • stretch: does your pattern call for a stretch fabric – if so, then if you stray from the recommended stretch factor then you might need to size up or down to get a good fit
  • thickness: if your fabric’s too thick then details like a fly front or pockets will be hard to sew and could distort the garment’s lines; too thin and you’ll be at risk of VPL!
  • creasing v pressing: linen makes beautiful trousers and it’s easy to press, but as soon as you sit down you’ll be covered in creases – an artificial fibre won’t crease much but it’ll be harder to press into shape.

Once you’ve chosen your main fabric, you’ll also need fabric for making a toile (muslin) or potentially several. Grab something that has exactly the same stretch, and a similar weight and thickness to your main fabric. This is so that your final trousers fit the same as your toile.

Hubble, bubble, toile and trouble

Let’s face it, you’re probably making your own trousers because RTW trousers usually don’t fit you. So there’s no getting away from it: you are going to have to make a toile. Probably two. Possibly three. So load up on calico or scratch around for something else you can use – I made my first trouser toile from a gift wrapping bag.

Depending on your pattern, you might be able to leave out some pieces when you make your toile. You can probably forego the back pockets (although it helps to mark where they’ll go), and potentially the front pockets too, depending on the construction method.

I’d suggest you do put in the fly-front zip, side zip or whatever fastening is suggested. The fit won’t be exactly the same without it. And you should definitely plan to toile the waistband.

You could opt to save fabric by making a shorts toile instead, as Lauren did for the Thurlow sewalong, but this didn’t work out well for me. The Thurlow pattern uses different pieces for the shorts from those for the trousers – the shorts pieces are wider in the leg so my shorts toile didn’t show up that I needed to add extra width at the thigh. If your pattern only has one set of pieces, you could probably make a shorter version for your first toile (while you get the crotch to fit), but for slim fit trousers, you’ll probably want to make a full-length toile at some point to get the fit right around the knees and calves.

And when you cut out the pieces for your toile, you won’t need to worry about nap, pattern matching or even which is the right side of the fabric, so this should help to reduce the yardage you need to buy for your toile.

Next up (coming soon) in part 3: making your muslin

A Thurlow shorts toile – progress, but not there yet

Front view of brown linen shorts, unheeded

When I set out to make these shorts, I didn’t know if the toile (muslin) would end up being wearable. But I needed to practise some of the techniques, like the welt pockets and the fly-front zip, so I thought I’d make up a complete version rather than just a shell. And I’m nearly there – here they are.

Front view of brown linen shorts, unheeded
All clothes should include bulldog clips, I reckon.

I’ve still got some fiddling to do to get the waistband on right, the hook and bar fastening to add, and obviously I’m not planning on leaving the hem like this. (Unless this is how the cool kids are wearing their shorts these days?) Given the hours of wailing and gnashing of teeth it takes me to find a halfway decent pair of RTW trousers, I was expecting the fitting process to be a nightmare. It’s not perfect straight out of the packet, but I think the Sewaholic fit (pear-shaped, with larger-than-average thighs) is making things easier – I can get the toile on, at least!

Back view of brown linen shorts toile
We’ll see if adding to the rise (crotch depth) also adds enough length to the crotch seam.

As you can see, I need to add quite a bit to the rise/crotch depth to bring them up to the tummy button area, where I guess the waistband is supposed to sit. Once I’ve done that, I’ll be able to assess the crotch length, and finally the fit of the legs. The waistband feels a little large, given that it’s sitting lower than it should be, which surprises me. I didn’t expect it to come up large, judging by the size chart so this might be a symptom that something else is wrong. And I think I’m going to need a swayback adjustment of some sort too.

Side view of brown linen shorts
Wow – the side seam is leaning forward loads here. Why’s that, then?


Would you suggest I change anything else?

Being brave

This was the week I took the plunge and started on my first pair of Thurlow trousers. It’s a pattern that crops up over and over again in sew-land, and as a pear-shaped person, it’s been on my to-sew list for a while.

I’d been putting it off for three reasons:

  1. I was scared of its welt pockets and fly-front zip placket
  2. I was a bit intimidated by all the awesome versions I’d seen around the web, like this and this
  3. I didn’t have enough calico to make a toile (muslin), and I was loathe to buy anything I knew I wouldn’t wear.

But earlier this summer, my lovely best friend sent my son a birthday present from Amazon, which came wrapped up in one of their brown gift bags. Five minutes with the seam ripper later, and I had just enough fabric to run up a pair of shorts – for free!

Gift wrapped presents in paper and bags.
I’ve used one of the large brown gift bags to toile a pair of Thurlow shorts.

So that was excuse number 3 out of the window. It was time to be brave and get over numbers 1 and 2 as well. I did say I was going to challenge myself this year and learn some new techniques… Lauren’s Lladybird blog has a great sewalong for the Thurlow, so I dived in on Monday, cutting it all out. I decided to aim for a wearable toile – and grab the chance to practise those welts and the fly-front – so I cut out all the pieces and dived in.

I haven’t quite got the waistband on yet, so I’ve not been able to assess the fit yet, but I’m very pleased with my first attempt at welt pockets. The sewalong instructions really helped, as the pattern instructions are a bit sparse in places, and Lauren’s included photos of every step which helps you distinguish which pieces are which much more easily than black and white drawings.

Welt pocket in brown linen trousers
Welt pleased with these!

The fly-front zip didn’t go quite as smoothly – I’ll confess there was a fair bit of unpicking involved. Seriously, how do I get the zipper foot past the zip pull without veering off course? Am I stitching too close to the zip, or is there some trick I’m missing that everyone else knows?! But still, it’s in, and I’ll take that for a first try.

Not bad for a first attempt?
Not bad for a first attempt?
Partially made shorts with waistband still to attach and hems to finish
Next step? Attach that waistband

Fingers crossed I’ll get the waistband on this week and then the fitting fun can begin.

Have you made the Thurlow trouser pattern? How clear did you find the instructions?

Fitting part 6: length adjustments below the waist

This post follows on from part 5: length adjustments above the waist. A bit the same, a bit different.

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.

Measuring the distance from waist to hip
Try to measure along the side seam if you can – or close to it. (Much easier if you have a friend to help you!)

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.

Fitting part 5: length adjustments above the waist

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.

My back waist measurement is 17.5".
It’s much easier with a little help from a friend…

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.

The back waist length for this pattern in a size 16 is only
The back waist length for this pattern in a size 16 is only 16.75″ so I added a bit to the length.

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.

Here's my lengthened pattern piece - you can see I've added a strip of white paper to increase the length a little.
Here’s my lengthened pattern piece – you can see I’ve added a strip of white paper to increase the length a little.

And this brilliantly detailed tutorial from Tilly and the Buttons shows you exactly how to do it once you’ve found the right place.

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.

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.