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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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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Pre-fitting thoughts: a radical view

It was not my intention when I said we needed to talk about fit to go into a complete discussion of all the how-tos of fitting and pattern adjustment strategies.

There are lots of brilliant resources out there, and there are a few of my favourite techniques in my book, but before we get out the paper and scotch tape I think it is worth zooming out.

Zooming out to why we fit our patterns, and subsequently our clothes at all, what our expectations are, and what the general principles might be.

Here are my own thoughts on these issues. I need to hear what you think too about fit. I'm already looking forward to the discussion.

So here are a few core concepts with comments sort of mixed in too.

Idea #1: Fitting and adjusting a pattern, either before or after you try on a garment or a trial garment, and in reality probably a combination of the two, is primarily about comfort and then about appearance. 

It has to be big enough to move in and yet small enough to look smooth with lines that somehow flow over your own personal shape.

So to my mind any fitting project needs to flow with the construction lines of the garment and not fight against them.

Translated this means if you know your pattern needs some fitting work over the bust, choose a pattern with seam lines over that bust as in a princess seam, or, second choice a dart. Note seams are longer than darts and therefore have room for more fitting. 

If you have bust fitting to do avoid plain patterns like your regular old T shirt shape. 

They don't have the required construction spots you are going to need to stand on to do your work.

So look for seams where you need adjustments and you will reduce your fitting angst by about 90%.

Idea #2: Look for pattern shapes that mimic your body shape. If you have square shoulders look for set-in sleeves. If you have sloped shoulders look for raglan sleeves. Go with the flow not against the current. Another 90% reduction in fitter's meltdown potential. 

Forcing something to go in a direction it doesn't want to is always going to hurt and look it too.

A good example of this is a woman with sloped shoulders, a short neck, and a big bust struggling with fit  in a "classic" shirt style (classic often being designer speak for menswear garments put on women) and consequently opening herself up to a huge amount of work trying to bend those straight lines to her not straight body. 

So much easier if she begins from a starting place of a more feminine blouse with convertible collar and a princess seam bodice.

Idea #3: Fitting won't change your body, it will only help your clothes reflect your body. In fact a really good fit may not produce the look you want.

Examples are helpful here again.

I have a mini pot belly although I prefer to regard it as a badge of honour for three big babies and a C-section. When I make a straight skirt, an item that works over my straight hips, the front of that skirt can hang right down from the little cantilever of my stomach, creating "extra fabric" under it.

Now I can "fit" the skirt more closely with front darts and by taking in the front side seams but this will articulate that belly more closely. 

Understanding that fit reshapes clothes, and not me, leads to what I would call intelligent compromises in fit- in this case living with the loss of some body con shape in the fabric under the belly.

The same can also be said of a woman with say a 42" waist and slim legs who sees the extra fabric under her rear in tailored slacks as a "fitting" issue. 

Do we really want to fit it entirely to the point of egg cup shape or is there a compromise here too? 

Maybe leggings or slim pants with a tunic top or the selection of a wider style of pant leg that would blend in the discrepancy within its own flow?

Idea #4: Some pattern companies are better at naturally reflecting your shape than others. 

To my mind, and after working with many, many women on fit I have decided that rather than starting from a position that great fitting skills will eventually enable you to fit any pattern, you might be better to work your way through a few companies before you work your way through too many muslins.

Another example. 

Stylearc patterns fit me like a glove, with a little added in the waist. It has taken me a while to find them (had to wait about 30 years before those patterns went into production) but as long as I stick to Stylearc pants I am fine - to get the same end result in say a Vogue pattern would take me about five muslins.

However that said as much as I would like to love Stylearc tops they are just too generous in the shoulders for me. I am just too bony up top. 

Now I could use a smaller than my measurements Stylearc pattern to start, and make adjustments to add to the bust and waist so they might fit me, but I find it just so much easier to make tops in Jalies instead. The Jalie draft starts from a point much more like my own shoulder/upper chest shape and I have to make minimal fitting adjustments when I use those patterns.

Idea #5: Do one adjustment at a time. 

It is amazing that extent to which a change on one place can affect the behaviour of another part of a garment. Be wary about fooling around trying to fit too many places all at the same time - if it doesn't give you the result you want right away you will never know why or how to find your way back.

So those are my initial fitting thoughts.

Now what are yours?