Archive for April 2012

Aids to getting well fitting basic blocks

April 28, 2012

An updated version of this post is in my free .pdf
e-Book on Personal basic pattern making blocks.

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I keep going on about starting from well fitting basic pattern blocks. But how do you get those well fitting basic blocks in the first place. . .

Some people have no difficulty with fit. But obviously many of us do need help, as we support a huge industry of books and teachers and companies providing tools. It’s fascinating how many different methods there are.

I’ve pulled together all the information I have about methods which are supposed to make it easier to get a good basic block. These links have been scattered around in various posts. So here’s the combined list in case it’s helpful.

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Pattern Drafting Software

Most pattern making software has a demo version so you can check if you like the method of working. Though you do have to pay out before you can find if it produces a good pattern for your own body shape. The software packages include guidance about improving the fit. Sadly that doesn’t necessarily work, if the calculations don’t allow for your particular body shape specialities.

Bernina My Label [support discontinued at end of 2012]

Dress Shop

Garment Designer   (link on left in menu along top)

My Pattern Designer

Pattern Maker

Pattern Master
They have introductory software on fitting garments, so you can check if their basic blocks work for you.
A few more comments in my post on pattern making software.

P. S. Your Personal Fit and are 2 companies that do the calculating and printing out for you. Claim to send you basic personal blocks drafted from measurements you send them.
Fit Me Patterns claims to do the same for specific styles.
P.P.S. Wild Ginger, makers of Pattern Master Boutique, have personalised individual style pattern downloads at
I don’t know anything about these.

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Tracing methods

There are also paper-and-pencil easy ‘personal fit’ methods. Allow for a limited number of measurements.

Bonfit Patterner
Top, skirt, pants – plastic templates slide together to make different sizes.

Fit Nice System
Tracing very simple basic shapes for knit top and elastic waist pants. Many suggestions for pattern alterations.

Sure Fit Designs
Bodice, skirt, pants, shirt, by join-the-dots tracing method. Good booklets on pattern alterations.

The Lutterloh System only allows for bust and hip measurements. When I was trying these methods I already knew that was not enough for me.

A few more comments in my post on easier fitting shells.

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Simplest basic block drafting from scratch

For people who’re willing to do the work themselves, there are basic pattern drafting instructions on the web. Start with your measurements and a large piece of paper, and make your own basic patterns.

Perhaps the best known free ones are from Burda Style :

Fitted bodice with darts
[If your front is not average in size or location, you may want to add shoulder-to-bust-point, shoulder-to-waist-over-bust-point, and bust-point-to-bust-point measures to this method. Or try Sure-Fit Designs. Also doesn’t include sloping/ square shoulders, high round back. . .]

[Doesn’t include a bicep measure, so not much help for large arms.]

Simple bra pattern
[Developed from the bodice block, so has the same limitations.]

[Doesn’t allow for different measurements front and back.]

Conversion to princess line dress

Loose fit dartless top

Trousers/ pants
[Doesn’t include crotch length. Or allowing for the different effects waist-to-crotch height, flat/ large butt or abdomen, deep torso, sway front/ back have on the pattern needed.]

All pattern drafting methods using personal measurements claim to give a well fitting personal block, but they all have similar limitations. As do the software methods based on them. They would have to be horrifically complicated to include all 88 fitting topics in the Liechty book (see below). These detailed personal adjustments really are made more easily using a muslin.

If you’d like to start your pattern drafting with something simpler, here’s a couple of books.

The simplest is :
Jessop & Sekora. Sew What ! Fleece
Simple patterns and simple sewing instructions for near beginners.

A bit more complex :
Cal Patch. Design-It-Yourself Clothes
Basic tee, shirt, dress, skirt, pants, plus instructions for pattern alterations. Minimal sewing instructions.

For a list of some pattern making books, see my post on Pattern making – the formal route.

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Altering a muslin to fit

Sadly the ‘easy’ methods don’t work for everyone.
I spent several disconcerting years trying most of these methods (including a couple of top-of-the-line software systems and some college level pattern drafting books) without getting a good fit.

I finally realised the only way that worked for me was to start with a muslin for a basic block (from any source) and do a lot of alterations using the information in the marvellous fitting book :
Liechty et al. Fitting and Pattern Alteration. 2nd edtn.

Yes, ‘doing it the hard way’ – but
Hurrah, success at last 😀

If you’re very lucky you can find a good professional dressmaker to do this for you.

If I’d started this way, instead of spending years trying all the ‘quick and easy’ methods, I might have got there much faster. On the other hand, I don’t think I would have had the knowledge about patterns and my body to be able to ‘see’ the alterations needed, from the start. Like many other aspects of styling, for many of us getting a good fit is a learning process, not something that can be got right in one step.

Butterick, McCall’s and Vogue all have patterns for basic fitting garments you could start from. With some instructions about how to adapt them to fit better (not enough for me).

Butterick 5627 dress, for sizes 6 to 22.
Butterick 5628 dress, for sizes 16W to 32W.

McCall’s 2718 dress with bodice fronts for 5 cup sizes. Individual patterns for sizes 6 to 22.

Vogue 1004, dress, individual patterns for sizes 6 to 22.
Vogue 1003, pants, individual patterns for sizes 6 to 22.

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A mixed method

Donald McCunn How to make sewing patterns has instructions for a simple personal block. You make a muslin from that. Plus instructions on altering that to fit an individual body.

He also has online classes with many videos which show how to do the pattern drafting, sew the muslin, and adjust it to fit well. Plus photos of different body shapes and alterations they need.

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Kitchen cling film

Or have some fun with a helper and a generous supply of kitchen wrap.

Here’s the original article describing the wrapping method, by Kathleen Fasanella.

Here’s a blogger telling it for real with many photos 😀

This isn’t a completely simple method, as you need to add movement ease to the basic body shapes, to have a wearable pattern.

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Oh dear, this was supposed to be a quick summary 😀 but I keep thinking of comments.

I’m considering a post on which methods include which measures and so which body shape features. But even if it’s possible that may be rather a large task.

Sadly, none of the tools which are supposed to produce a well fitting basic block without much effort actually work for me. And I haven’t got a good helper. Don’t know how many of us have this difficulty. But I’m no longer innocent. Don’t believe any marketing claims that a simple method works for everyone ! Now I’ve found what I need in the Liechty book, I’m quite relaxed about it all. Before this I had several upsetting and confusing years without success, trying many methods which claimed to give a good fit but didn’t work well for my body shape. Ah well, it was one way of learning about fit.

So if the easy methods produce a successful pattern for you – then how marvellous for you, and how lucky you are. I’m jealous 😀

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Links available April 2012

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The Classic Style

April 20, 2012

The ‘Classic’ style is well known and popular. Many basic wardrobe plans are based on classic styles.

Judith Rasband‘s simplest wardrobe cluster is a group of 5 items.

Her March 2012 newsletter makes the case for wardrobe basics very clearly, These simple clothes with very few added style elements are mainly what is called the ‘Classic’ style.

Buying into fashion lines that feature garments with simple design lines is the smart way to dress.  These clothes are called “basics” because you can build most of your wardrobe with them.  With simple design lines, basics don’t call a lot of attention to themselves.  Basics don’t have design lines that fight with other garment’s design lines.  Most basics don’t go out of style.  You can find basics that are affordable.  Some of my favorites are
basic blazer and bomber jackets,
basic V-neck tops,
basic sport [band collar] and camp shirts,
basic straight and flared skirts,
and basic straight-leg slacks. 
With a wardrobe built on basics, you can afford a more complex or decorative garment once in awhile because it will go with most of your basics, adding a surprise element to your usual looks.  Building your wardrobe on basics is the way to go! 

Rasband counts a style ‘basic’ if it’s so simple that it will co-ordinate easily with pretty well any other style. So, for example, a ‘basic’ top co-ordinates with almost any skirt or pants style.

One of each of her basics would give you a ‘cluster’ of 5 items, perhaps as many as 10 different outfits.

Basics which include a blazer jacket also make good business wear for many people. Their simplicity means they don’t draw attention to themselves but do look efficient.

Perfectly Packed suggests a basic business wardrobe of 8 classic items :
suit fabric : blazer jacket, straight skirt, pants.
dressier fabric : zip-front jacket, sheath dress.
lighter fabric : sleeveless top, a-line skirt (together make a 2-piece dress).
shirting fabric : shirt.

I reckon you can make 21 different outfits out of these, enough for every day of a working month. Add another blouse or shirt and that adds 9 more combinations.

Similar classic styles make the basis of many other published wardrobe plans. Such as Nancy Nix-Rice’s basic wardrobe, newsletter issues 21 – 28.

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Reproducing the basic classic wardrobe

You only need a couple of wardrobe patterns and 4 fabrics.

Butterick 5760


darkest neutral suit fabric : jacket, skirt, pants.
lightest neutral shirting : shirt (shorten dress).
(the knit cardigan gets mentioned later)

Butterick 5147


mid neutral dress weight : top, a-line skirt.
mid neutral dressy fabric : jacket (made without collar and with zip front), sheath dress.

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‘Modern classics’

There are versions of the classic styles which look more ‘modern’ because they are crisp, close fitting, a little edgy.

The Vivienne Files frequently suggests basic minimum wardrobe groups in ‘modern classics’ style.
For instance some of her recent posts are on wardrobe groups consisting of neutrals plus one accent colour :
– 5 core dark neutral garments (for her that’s usually 2 tops, 2 bottoms, dress),
– a couple of white or light neutral tops,
– an accent jacket,
– 6 other garments in accent colour.
That’s 7 neutral garments and 7 accents.

Example here. And some of her other posts : one, two, three.

This modern take on classics includes many knits. Her basics include tees, knit classic cardigans, and leggings as essentials.

Tees, both fitted and looser and longer. Many tee patterns of course, one is McCall’s 6491.


Knit cardigan closing to neck, see Butterick 5760, first pattern mentioned in this post.

Slim pants pattern by Palmer-Pletsch, McCall’s 6440 (seams down back, 4 hem styles).


Leggings : McCall’s 6360 is one of many leggings patterns, 4 styles 4 lengths.


The ‘modern classic’ style is essentially sleek and close fitting, crisp in wovens. If you’d like to explore beyond Big 4 patterns, look to :
Burda Style downloads

Notice I don’t call these ‘young classics’, as anyone can wear them if you’re the right shape 😀

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Doesn’t mean of course that you have to wear these styles, or be limited to colours of black, white, grey, and denim blue. . . [aargh, eek]

As frequently happens, I find myself thinking about classics because many people write about them, even though I never wear them myself.

Does the classic style make you feel your best ? or make you feel constricted and constrained and unable to be your true self ? It’s very interesting this. The Vivienne Files recently posted on her everyday basics here. I actually shuddered. She loves these, but if I had to wear them I would find it completely soul destroying. Even if they weren’t all black, they’re the wrong shapes and fabrics for me. Fascinating that people can be so different.

For those of us who never wear classics ? We have to do a bit of thinking outside the box to work out how wardrobe plans like this match up with our own needs.

I have a whole lot of reactions to all this, some of which I’ve cycled through many times before. As usual I feel so strongly about this I found myself writing several hundred words, so it’s become a separate post (here).

There’s much to enjoy here. I’m fascinated by clothes and style, and I enjoy looking at and thinking about the classics. But it’s definitely not a style for me to wear myself !

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Patterns and links available April 2012

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Improving sewing success

April 14, 2012

How can we know what we’re getting before we finish sewing ?

I recently wrote some comments at Stitchers Guild on sources of wardrobing advice for beginners. Ejvc commented it’s easy to find garments in the right colours, shapes, personal styles (all except fit !) when shopping. Because you can try before you buy. But much more difficult to get it right when sewing, because you have to wait ’til you’ve finished to know what you’ve got.

Good points. But I think there are many things we can do to increase our success rate. We haven’t got to work completely in the dark until the last moment about what we’re getting.

Incidentally, these are all things that designers do.  They don’t expect to get their designs right first time without any testing of the real life item (as opposed to the mental dream or the glamourised sketch !). They develop on from styles that have been used before, rather than starting afresh for every garment. And they test frequently during development, so they can give up quickly and without guilt on styles that don’t work out.

Colours and fabrication

I always check colours and fabrics before cutting (preferably before buying !). Hold them up against myself in a full length mirror. Is it a flattering colour ? fabrication, texture, pattern in my style ? good on my body (too stiff or too soft) ?

Also hold the fabric up to test how it drapes.
If you have a dress form, pin the fabric on in a rough approximation of the style – does it look good ? drape right ? have the effect you were thinking of ?

There is no longer a fabric shop here. And buying fabrics on-line is a problem for me. Small differences in shade can make a big difference to whether the colour is flattering. And those small differences aren’t usually reproduced well on screen.
I have a rule not to buy without a sample. I still have problems with :
– fabrics that look different in a large piece than in a small sample.
– fabrics that I’ve bought samples of, and then a different dye lot turns out to be completely different. . .
But those problems happen less often than they would without taking any care.

Good on your body shape

Sketching a style onto a personal croquis is a great help (if you have the skills 😀 ).

Even if you don’t make fit alterations to patterns : know what wearing ease you like for this sort of style, and measure the pattern to make sure it won’t be too large or too small. I remember a top in a favourite fabric that looked so fool-proof I didn’t make any measurements or trials – and it had cut-on sleeves that were too tight round the armhole.

Though measuring doesn’t save me from all disasters. I made a top from a pretty print in just the right colour. PR reviews warned about the neckline. I carefully measured, and all seemed well. But when I tried the finished garment on, it slipped off my shoulders so much it was unwearable.

If I had tried on either garment part-made, a simple alteration could have solved the problem. The neckline problem wouldn’t have shown up in tissue fitting, as it was caused by the way fabric flexed on my sloping shoulders, which made the neckline much wider in wear.

There are many good reasons to make a muslin as part of the pre-planning – check the proportions, ease levels, style element placing, etc. as well as the fit, before wasting the good fabric.

Moral – much basting and frequent try-outs needed at each possible stage of making. . .  Many problems can be rescued (let out seam allowances, add a dart, pleat, or godet 😀 ).  If not, a UFO in the middle of construction is a better outcome than spending a lot of time finishing something that turns out to be unwearable. 

Personal style

Go to a store and try on new styles to see if they flatter you, then look for a similar pattern.

It helps to be aware of your own style – quickly filters out a lot of options. Remember one person’s ‘faves’ can be another person’s ‘never’. I enjoy a recent post from The Vivienne Files. Several of the softer items she avoids are my everyday wear 😀 (my thoughts on a successful cascade jacket are here). And most of the trim-fit ‘modern classics’ she loves would look dreadful on me – not flattering for my body shape, personal style, colouring. (Try Burda Style or styleARC patterns if you want to copy.) I do agree with her about many ‘no-no’ items, but a ‘goth’ or an enthusiastic fashionista would love those spikes and skulls or designer logos. Or perhaps you enjoy casual casuals (here are my posts on sweatshirts and hoodies). Or do you feel at your best in square cut loose fitting ‘arty’ clothes and love Sewing Workshop or Cutting Line patterns.

I’m lucky I have a good visual imagination. I stand in front of a mirror holding a picture of a possible style, and imagine myself wearing it. Also while I’m around locally I imagine myself wearing the style. Has saved me from many mistakes. I now know it’s waste of time starting a project that I’m not sure about, as that will just languish as a UFO.

Or find a designer that works well for you, and stick with their patterns. Not a 100% guarantee of success, but better than random.

If I had to use only one designer, it would be a few patterns by Loes Hinse. But she designs for people with very different shoulders and hips than mine. So her main patterns are not a good starting point for me. Instead I make ‘inspired by’ versions. Or morph the style elements onto my own basic blocks. I also don’t follow her fabric choices, as black, gold, and glitter are not good on me. Hmm, I haven’t got an overlocker (serger) and never wear shoulder pads. Obviously I’m not her ideal customer 😀

Repeat successful patterns

I tend towards a repeating wardrobe because I know what has worked well in the past. (And I’m a timid learner.) But not to worry – that fits in well with most wardrobe building suggestions 😀

Here’s a valuable comment from CCCouture at Stitchers Guild.

“I was just in Las Vegas for the International Textile Expo and lived a dream for a bit in the Chanel RTW Boutique in the Shops at the Bellagio.

I was quite surprised, that while the fabrics are gorgeous, there’s really not much sewing in the RTW pieces.   It’s the fabrics, trims and other findings (buttons) that make them so unique.”

Making small variations to a basic style is what some of the top designers do 😀

Improving your success rate is another good reason to develop new styles by changing details of familiar patterns. Or morph style elements onto good basic personal blocks. Rather than starting from scratch with a new commercial pattern every time.

Though repeating isn’t the best strategy for people who like a lot of variety in their wardrobe. Or variety in their sewing 😀

Practice unfamiliar skills

I always do this, and it amazes me that some people don’t practise before trying a new technique for real. But I know this is another strong personality feature, and many people would not be at all happy if they had to follow my slow and careful ways 😀

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The use of time

For every aspect of getting things right (colour, fabric, shape, fit, style, technique. . . ), the best tool for success is try on, try on, try on, at every stage possible.

Many people enjoy the sewing but not the testing.  And many other people like to just ‘jump in and have a go’. I think they have to accept that their emphasis is on the sewing not the result. So, much of what they make will be samples to learn from, rather than wearable items. For me, the good results are well worth the extra effort.

Part of sewing success is a recognition of the use of time – it’s not just about sewing.
Pattern preparation, fabric preparation (my biggest dislike), cutting out, marking, developing sewing skills and finding good techniques for a particular process, pressing, checking what you’ve made so far – they’re all processes which take substantial amounts of time to get right. They can’t just be rushed through (or left out altogether !).

So find a way of making them fun. Sew in a way that makes all the processes a treat for you 😀

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P.S. Despite all this, it still didn’t work out as you dreamed ? Here’s a special sewer’s frustration tool from Shirley Adams of Sewing Connection 😀

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Originally written April 2012, links checked October 2019.

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Speedy patterns 2012 : skirts, pants, jackets

April 7, 2012

It’s the final weeks of the Stitchers Guild Sewing With A Plan contest for 2012. So here are some more speedy patterns to fill the last minute gaps 😀

I’ve already posted on the quick top and dress patterns available.

Here are some patterns for skirts, pants and jackets which the pattern companies claim can be sewn in 2 hours or less.

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Skirts and pants

Few of the patterns in my previous post on quick skirts and pants are still in print.
Happily there are several to add.


Textile Studio Brussels one-seam skirt with elastic waist


Textile Studio Manhattan skirt with darts, zip, back slit, several lengths


McCall’s 5430 wrap skirt


McCall’s 6567 elastic waist skirt with various lengths and hems, there’s also a mock wrap version.


These patterns from my previous post on quick skirts are still in print :
Simplicity 2368 skirt with dirndl, mock wrap and 4 gore styles, 3 lengths.
Silhouette 2050 straight wrap skirt with darts, button closure, no vertical seams.


Butterick 5153 one-seam pants, for women, men, children, various lengths


McCall’s 6568 elastic waist pants, 3 lengths, 2 leg shapes


Silhouette 3400 yoga pants. Also webcast and DVD about using this pattern. Webcast and DVD say how to convert for wovens.


Textile Studio Soho Pant, slim fitting with darts and invisible zip.


Combination patterns

Simplicity 2414 tiered skirt + elastic waist pants


New Look 6816 for knit skirt, pants and top


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I haven’t found many new patterns for jackets, but fortunately several of the patterns mentioned in my previous posts are still in print.
Wardrobe patterns
Layers and capsules
Fast jackets

These are some to add :

McCall’s 6084 is a cascade shawl collar jacket for wovens with 4 sleeve lengths


In an e-mail Peggy Sagers says a couple of Silhouette patterns for knits can be made in an hour :

Silhouette Patterns 195 Sweater set


Silhouette Patterns 211 Nina’s top


Not so quick, but there’s a new version of the Palmer-Pletsch 8 hour jacket, McCall’s 6172.


Sadly the Butterick 4138 pattern which claims you can make a blazer in 2 hours is now out of print 😀

For outerwear, there’s McCall’s 6209 ponchos, which have a variety of shapes and necklines, not all shown here.


Still in print from previous posts :
McCall’s 2260 unlined vests
Butterick 5224 knit jackets.
McCall’s 5241 knit cascade style jacket has 3 front lengths all with the same back
Butterick 4989 cascade/ waterfall jackets
McCall’s 3448 ponchos

And nearly all the patterns in my post on fast jackets from independent designers are still in print.

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This year the focus of the Stitchers Guild Sewing With A Plan contest is Tried ‘N True patterns you can use repeatedly to make clothes that work well for you.
Would any of these speedy patterns fill that role for you ?

So have you got time to complete your SWAP wardrobe ?

23 days of SWAP left. Goodness, make one garment a day and you have time for Nancy Nix-Rice’s whole 23 item wardrobe 😀

Holiday weekend – enough time to make a ‘Core 4’ of top, jacket, skirt, pants.

Or, if you’re just missing one item for SWAP, find 15 minutes a day for the rest of the month.

Happy Sewing 😀

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(P.S. here are free patterns for ultra-quick skirts and pants.)

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Patterns and links available April 2012

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