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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Handy sewing hint of the day #16

I should call this the can of worms entry.

The last week I have been busy. I made a blazer, more on that later, did family stuff, and visited with my niece who will be coming to live with me in September while she is in nursing.

We have been working on some long overdue basement renovations to make a sort of apartment for her to stay in, and yes my mouse saga continues. Suffice it to say I now have a close business relationship with a company called Skedaddle.

Now onto the hint.


Obviously this is going to set off several posts at least but I think it important not to disappear into the weeds too quickly without an overview of what personally (and this really is my own opinion) I feel are the basic principles.

It is going to take me some time to get to all I want to say, but we better start somewhere.

Principle #1:

It is always easier to make something bigger than it is to make something smaller.

Think about it. 

If the neckline is too big (I have said elsewhere that sewing the facings of a neckline first and trying it on to see how the opening looks before you jump in and make a top that has a neck that swims on you is a good idea, and that is worth repeating here) you can't make it smaller really. I mean the fabric you wish you had is already gone, you cut it away and there is no way to get it back.

This matters because it leads you directly to what size pattern to buy, and to the universal truth that most women measure in odd numbers and most patterns define measurements in evens.

What are you supposed to do if you are "between sizes" or, just as typically, not one of your measurements is in the same category?

This brings us, without really answering this question yet, to:

Principle #2:

Fit the parts that the garment is going to hang on first and adjust the rest.

For an upper body garment this is the shoulder/upper chest area (essentially above the breasts, which we all know have nothing to do with your frame size) and your waist/pelvis area.

Specifically this means buy a pattern for a garment that hangs from the upper body according to your "upper bust" chest measurement - that number you get when you wrap a measuring tape across your shoulder blades (this will catch bone/frame size) high under your armpit and across your upper chest, avoiding your bust line all together. A pattern sized to fit this part of your body will most likely fit your neck, shoulder and frame pretty well (with only minor adjustments for things like a forward shoulder etc. or shoulder slope if you need them) and eliminate a lot of that awkward mobile neckline or bunching you can get if, like most woman who have matched the pattern size to their "bust," you are making a garment that is too big for the hanger.

In your head you have to translate the upper bust measurement to what the pattern calls "bust" and add extra to the bust later (two methods, remind me to write about those) and of course if you fall between sizes buy the smaller size.

So if your upper bust is 35, your bust is 38 you buy a pattern for a 34 bust and add 4" to the bust line. Try this, just doing this will eliminate an amazing number of fitting issues.

In sewing pants or skirts however you have to look at your waist and hip (the later universally defined as the largest lower body circumference) and decide what is the smaller measurement and select a pattern that matches the smaller, waist or hips, of those two measurements and then add accordingly.

So much easier to add to the side seams of a skirt or pants to fit a larger waist or too try to take in excess fabric from the crotch area and above, in a pair of pants.

To help you visualize this think of how so many older women look in pants they buy, particularly from the back view. Tons of extra fabric flapping around their hips and legs am I right? This is because, in order to get enough space to fit larger, older waists, they have had no choice but to buy a size that is way too large for their frames, legs and hips. How much easier would it be to get that fit right out of the envelope and just to cut a wider waistline?

Conversely how many of you have seen photos of sewn pants that suffered from smiley crotches and baggy fronts (some of these are even in the pattern books). Again adding to the legs as necessary and even altering for a fuller seat (will show you how to do that too) is a lot easier that trying to get rid of extra wrinkles and fabric.

Principle #3: Keep it simple and do only one adjustment at a time. Wrinkles point, literally, to the area you need to work on and let them tell you what you need to do first.

Try the suggestions above, do some simple flat pattern additions where your measurement indicate you are going to need too (as above where you can see the need for an extra 4" coming around the bust) and make up a trial pair without any further changes (if you want some "muslin" I have a vast collection of mouse pooped sheets I no longer trust).

The fact is that each pattern change you make has sort of a ricochet effect, improving or worsening another area, and if you fiddle too much in too many areas too quickly you won't really know what is working and what isn't.

And a final few words on some things I have noticed in the vast number of alteration and fixes available all over the internet.

a. Don't be freaked out by fitting. 

If you have the general idea of the why it really isn't that hard and don't let anyone tell you it is. A Ph.d. in civil engineering is not required. It's the why not the how that matters really and I am going to try to help you with that. A whole lot of adjusting without knowing what's going on is sort of like that cooking you did in the early days where you knew it needed something and kept dumping in seasoning until you ruined it, probably egged on by a younger sibling.

There really are easy ways to fix most things and IMO we can leave the complicated ways to folks who actually have a Ph.d.s in civil engineering.

b. Figure out your own body and clear your head of any misperceptions about it. What your family told you was probably wrong. I spent years altering for the big hips I was told I had and it wasn't until one high forceps, one broken clavicle delivery (poor baby and not me) and a C section that I realized I have narrow hips but a big butt. Completely different alterations. I will do my best to help you figure out where you might need to alter, keeping it simple of course.

c. I dispute all that advice about measuring clothes you like the fit of and using that as your personal ease preference etc. If you had that many clothes that fit maybe you wouldn't need to sew. Sewing your own clothes means you hope for better that RTW, and fortunately that's not all that hard.

More later, busy week but my mind is going to be churning on this one. 


theresa said...

Yes, yes and yes, And be truthful about your size. It does no good to measure out at a size 16 and still buy a 12. And you might be one size in front and another size in back.
Theresa in Tucson

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for your article. Okay now I'll try now not to lose sleep over cutting out the pattern properly :-)(thank you so much for your previous response to me) and follow your advice on correct pattern sizing to get good fit. I'm trying very hard right now to catch up with other responsibilities so I can manage my time to sew, which I really want to do more of. With best wishes to you and your family, with gratitude that you care and use your teaching and other talents to help anonymous people, family, and others,
Lynda from Toronto

Candis said...

These are all such good things to learn and remember! And I could kiss you for talking about the advise to measure clothes in my closet. I am an overweight, middle-aged, Round-bottomed, round-tummy, 40A!!! woman. NOTHING in my closet that is RTW fits me well. That is why I like to sew. So when I come across a perplexing fitting need, the advise to measure something is so annoying!

I am so looking forward to your next post!

Candis from the WA coast

Kansas Sky said...

THANK YOU FOR THIS! I look forward to each post.

Jessica Walker said...

You're the best--I look forward to more in this series!

Janet Friel said...

Thank you for this advice - I've always gone for a bigger size thinking it was easier to grade down where necessary, but never really achieving the fit I wanted. This post has completely reversed my thinking and I look forward to applying it to my next garment. I may finally get a pair of trousers to fit me!

jennywren said...

Oh fitting has been my nemesis so far. I returned to dressmaking after many years of buying rtw but of course my figure has changed over those years - previously I could sew straight out of the packet. I have made one pair of casual jogging bottoms successfully - but chose the wrong fabric - and that is it! I have made so many wadders (all tops/blouses) that I have been ready to give up. So I shall look forward to your posts on fitting and maybe, just maybe, I'll finally have a 'lightbulb' moment! Using the upper body measurement does sound like it might be the right starting point, definitely not something I have tried before.

overflowingstash said...

Food for thoughts! Hungry for more!
Looking forward to making my relationship with fitting less torturous :-D

Kay said...

"If you had that many clothes that fit maybe you wouldn't need to sew."
That advice has always seemed ridiculous to me.

Thanks again for this series. I'm older than you, but you are wiser than me, at least when it comes to sewing (and many other things as well).

Dara Harper said...

Thank you for this post! I learned something new already! Looking forward to the up commiing ones! Happy Sewing

Liz said...

The series is so great but please,please write a book. It's much easier to understand these principles for someone(me) who is a visual learner. You have such a knack for writing and all this info needs to be shared. I've followed you for several years and am amazed at your knowledge of sewing. Looking forward to the next installment!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this information! I always enjoy reading your posts and often learn something too. You're entertaining and educational at the same time-can't beat that!

Louise said...

You are the voice of sanity! I am in the middle of trying, not at all successfully, to fit 2 very different dresses. I've been going round in circles wondering what on earth to do with all of the various areas of excess fabric. I think I am going to start again, using my high bust and hip sizes as the starting point and see where I go from there. Thank you!

LinB said...

Remember that your clothes are meant to fit well on YOU, not you to fit well into some clothes that somebody else made and sold to you. That means taking some time to really look at yourself, really measure yourself, really be honest about how you like your clothing to fit.

Don't just measure around your bust, waist, and hips: measure your bust, waist, and hips from side-to-side in the front, and from side-to-side in the back. These two measurements are rarely exactly half of your all-the-way-around measurement. It's the reason that sometimes your pants gape open at the back, or that side seams twist out of place when you fasten your trews over a round belly.

Measure how long you are from collarbone to waist, in front and in back. Measure your rise (crotch depth) both by sitting down in a hard chair and measuring the vertical distance from waist to where your body hits the seat; and by running a measuring tape from your waistline in front, between your legs, and up to your waistline in back. Is this number higher than standard (are you longer than average in this part of your body)? Is this number lower than standard (are you shorter than average in this part of your body)?

Have you ever noticed when two people of the same standing height sit down, sometimes one of them is a lot shorter than the other all of a sudden? If one has a short torso but long legs, and the other has a long torso but short legs, this is the result. One person will find that pants legs are never long enough in RTW -- but that there's way too much fabric in the top of the pants. The other finds herself/himself constantly feeling cut in two because the crotch length of trousers is too short -- but that pants legs puddle around ankles because the legs are too long.

Look at yourself in a mirror and determine if your shape is evenly distributed around your waist and hips, all the way around -- or if you are very shallow from front-to-back but very wide from side-to-side -- or if you are very deep from front-to-back but very shallow from side-to-side. All three shapes can have the exact same hip measurement, but pants/skirts/dresses will need something different to properly fit each body type.

Commercial patterns are, by their very nature, drafted to fit a mythical average person. Don't be average! Rejoice in your differences from "normal"!

SuzieB said...

I anxiously await the unveiling of the blazer as well as the 2 methods of doing a full bust adjustment. I only know how to do one so I'm curious. Also, sounds like you need a relationship with a company called something like "Search & Destroy." Skedaddle sounds entirely too vermin friendly!

Deborah Holland said...

"I will do my best to help you figure out where you might need to alter, keeping it simple of course." Thank you so much for the time you put in to help all of us. I've sewn for years and have one fitting problem that seems to be "unfixable"!! I'm six feet tall, but I see this problem on shorter people also. The dreaded wrinkle on the back starting from near the underarm, pointing toward the shoulder blades. I need to lengthen the upper back to 11.5 total inches, but then what to do with the too low sleeve area? When I raise it back up, there's the wrinkle again! I do have slightly rounded upper back. Could it be the width? Could it be the lower part of the armsye being too close to the arm? Who knows? It is a great mystery!, (lol). Thank you again for helping all of us. Deborah

Barbara said...

Deborah, I am going to collect specific fitting questions and work through them systematically once I have covered some basics. Make sense?

Bunny said...

I'd like to add: do vertical adjustments first, then width. Also, never assume any pattern will fit you out of the envelope. Sewing IS fitting. I have seen many a newbie, love'em, who do think that is the case and then get so frustrated. It's just not the real world of sewing clothes that fit. We are all too different. We need to expect to fit every time.

I am so with you on the "measuring" RTW garments that fit. While that may make a beginning reference for some, who says that the RTW piece fits perfectly? Mine never do.

Love your series, Barb.

TinaLou said...

I am learning so much from this series; thanks so much for putting it together! Just this past weekend, I ~inadvertently~ tested out your theory of starting small. I was unhappy with the fit of the first muslin; it was snug in some places. So I made the next size bigger one, and all that told me was that I was wearing a baggy sack that had a whole other set of issues. As I've learned before, wrinkles point to the issue, and if it's too big, there won't be any wrinkles to guide you. The larger muslin was useful for recutting back to the smaller size. Best of luck with your mice; too!