How do you like to do your fitting ?

More on personal sewing style – how do you like to fit ?

I reviewed fitting aids in a post on aids to well fitting blocks.
Most of those are methods of getting a pattern that’s a better fit than average.

This post is about ways of getting an existing pattern to fit better.

There are two groups of techniques involved :
– methods of fitting (here),
– if you make a fabric trial garment, then there are several methods for transferring changes from muslin to make a revised pattern.

There are many parts of the fitting process. Long ago I innocently assumed fitting was all well understood and everyone used the same method 😀 Now I don’t follow any one expert entirely, but combine tips from several.

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Different basic approaches

Liechty et al Fitting and Pattern alteration show 3 different ways of fitting :
– altering the pattern, on the basis of differences between your measurements and the pattern measurements,
– tissue fitting,
– altering a trial garment (‘reading the wrinkles’).

Many people like to make as many changes as possible to the pattern before (or without) making a test garment. For that you need to analyse your fitting issues, and find the differences between your measurements and the pattern measurements. I thought I’d like to work that way, as I’m good at analysis and practical sums. But I’ve found I prefer ‘reading the wrinkles’ on a test garment. Look for sags and strains, and try changes to see what works. Without any need to analyse what’s wrong and by how much.

Fitting gets better with experience – you know what to look for and what to do about it.

There are some fit alterations where you need to add a wedge to the flat fabric shape, such as doing an FBA or allowing for a large behind. See my posts :
Fabric wedges below the waist.
Note on the FBA.

It isn’t necessary to do this wedge adding to the pattern before making a test garment. If you don’t minding slashing and spreading your fabric, it’s quite easy to add a wedge to a muslin. See the intro photos for Lynda Maynard’s fitting class at Craftsy if you’re not familiar with this technique. Drawings and written instructions in Liechty et al Fitting and Pattern alteration.

It is possible to do this on yourself. You just need patience to keep taking the muslin on and off while you test different size darts or widths of added strip. I add temporary front openings if need be, to make it easier.

It is easier if you have a fitting buddy. I haven’t, but I have got patience. Use a full-length mirror in good light. Light from the side shows wrinkles well. Other people find taking photos is a big help, but that’s not something I’ve tried.

Tissue fitting – loved by many but not for me. I like to keep the starting point pattern intact – I’m the sort of person who puts the pattern back in the envelope using the original fold lines – eek 😀 Fitting buddy essential for tissue fitting, preferably someone who knows about fitting alterations. You only have half the garment, and how do you pin the centre back in place on yourself ! If you do want to try this, lots of guidance in Palmer-Pletsch books and DVDs. Though remember that tissue paper and fabric don’t behave in the same way.
I used to have all their books, much loved by many but they never answered my questions so I’ve passed them on.

Another advantage of testing the fit on your body (tissue or fabric) is that you can adjust lengths, shapes and positions of style elements, etc. until they flatter your face and body shape.

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Some specific fitting guides

There’s a huge range of general methods and specific details used by different experts. Obviously fitting is one of my life quests, as I’ve tried a lot of them 😀

Since writing my post on fitting aids I’ve taken some courses on ‘reading the wrinkles’.

Sarah Veblen has a book Guide to perfect fitting, and pdf lessons with support videos at Pattern Review and videos at Taunton Workshops.
Detailed information, and personal help in the PR courses. Better content on fitting armholes and making a sleeve to match than I’ve seen in other courses.

Lynda Maynard – video lessons at Craftsy
Many examples of slash and spread on the muslin. (If you’re on the look out for ideas for fitting larger high hips above smaller thighs, Dolly is an example.)

I’ve also tried a class on changing the pattern before making a trial garment, Sandra Betzina on pant fitting at Craftsy. Reminded me that’s not a method I’m comfortable with.

P.S. 2018 – I’ve now taken some of Brooks Ann Campers’ fitting classes with video teaching, and they suit me very well. Having tried nearly every ‘works for everyone’ fitting method without success, I have at last got bodice and skirt patterns which fit, and without having to analyse my unusually long list of the fitting issues listed by Liechty et al. You start by drafting a pattern that is a first approximation to your shape, but most of the work is done by draping the fit of a muslin. Her classes don’t suit everyone, some don’t enjoy her cheery style and there is a lot of problem solving to do (with her help), but for me – hurrah !

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Pattern with or without seam allowances

Pattern with or without seam allowances ? People feel strongly for or against.

You can make many fit adjustments if you cut wide seam allowances. If you’re not happy doing this by eye, you need to add them to the pattern before using it to cut fabric.

I find it easier to use a basic pattern without seam allowances. So I can draw round it to mark the stitching lines, and cut outside them. I have a transparent french curve with 5/8″ marked round the curve – makes marking stitching lines easy (here in UK).


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Reducing the effort of making a muslin

Some people avoid muslins like the plague. I have so many fit issues that making muslins has big rewards. I have reduced the hassle.

I use swedish tracing paper for a first test for a woven fabric, so I can trace a pattern and mark out a trial garment in one step. Best to use fabric close to the garment fabric for a final test. (P.S. 2018 – it needs to be ‘proper’ swedish tracing paper. Sadly what is now available in the UK under that name is just tracing paper, not like interfacing, and can’t be used for making trial garments. A sad loss.)

I have my basic blocks in card, with no seam allowances and the darts cut out, so I can draw round them easily.

(Yes, top and bottom don’t match – I haven’t finished revising the top to fit my new waistline. Neckline and shoulders are still useful.)

Mark stitching lines, and horizontal and vertical reference lines, on the test garment fabric. Some experts use tracing wheel and carbon paper to transfer the lines from the starting pattern, then baste over the tracing with contrast thread. They warn against permanent marker pens. Sorry, those are what I use ! Another advantage of swedish tracing paper – you can just trace all those lines.

I confess I do the first fittings with the seam allowances sticking outwards, and without pressing the muslin.

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Sequence of fitting

As well as the basic technique for making alterations (starting from the pattern or from a test garment), there’s also the sequence in which fitting issues are dealt with. Different experts start with different areas of the body. Try starting with your biggest area of difficulty. I find once I’ve got the shoulders / high back/ neck/ armholes right, most other issues disappear. But some fitting methods deal with the shoulders last !

I have sloping shoulders, a high round back, forward neck, unusual armholes. Many people like to start with an FBA. Or re-locating the bust point. One fitting system starts by getting the waist at the right height. For fitting pants, I first get the crotch extensions right. Other people may deal with large buttocks first, or waist/ abdomen larger than average. When you’ve solved the biggest issue, many other things may fall into place.

And how important is it to be able to move comfortably ? I test sitting down in pants, walking in skirts, reaching forward in tops. . .

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How many muslins ?

I make adjustments to a test garment until it’s right, then make a pattern from the final version. Rather than going through a cycle of make pattern – test in fabric – revise pattern – make another muslin, etc. I do baste the changes into the muslin, instead of just pinning them. To stabilise the muslin before making more changes to it.

Some people like making many muslins so they keep everything neat and tidy. The most I’ve heard of is 7 muslins ! Sorry, I get screaming bored if I do this. I only started enjoying fitting when I realised it isn’t necessary to make a completely new muslin after each fitting adjustment. One of my personal limitations 😀

Though in an ideal world you do make a muslin from what you think is the final pattern, to fine tune the fit.

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From muslin to pattern

If you make a test garment, transferring the fitting changes from the muslin to make a revised pattern is an essential part of the process. There are several methods for this. Here are a couple of them.

Many people, for example Lynda Maynard in her fitting class at Craftsy/Bluprint, mark the original stitching lines on the muslin, measure the distance away of the new stitching lines, and transfer those measures to the original pattern.

Personally, I find it easiest to make a new pattern : mark along the stitching lines of the finished muslin, then take the muslin apart, flatten it, and trace the stitching lines through to pattern paper.

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I’m secure now about the methods I like for fitting, and for revising patterns. Though it’s taken several years and multiple false starts to get here. Many methods are not for me. (Tissue fitting – I tried it once, but never again 😀 Many other details of methods – I look at and cringe “no way”.) But I’ve learned something interesting or useful from most of them. And many methods I don’t enjoy are much loved by others.

There definitely isn’t “one size fits all” for fitting methods!

If you have a body shape fairly close to average, most methods may give you a good result.
If like me you’re well distant from average, you may have to experiment to find the fitting method you prefer.
If fitting involves a lot of work for you, best to think of it as a process of learning, exploring, improving – slow but sure rewards.

Find processes you enjoy, so you’ll willingly do this again 😀

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First published 2013, links checked October 2021

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Explore posts in the same categories: fit of clothes, personal style

8 Comments on “How do you like to do your fitting ?”

  1. sara Says:

    My body shape is pretty close to the Burda standard, so when I use their patterns, I only need to tweak them here and there. My alterations are subtle, but I usually end up making a number of them to get the fit just so, and closest to my personal taste. I usually make one muslin, and that’s enough, even for pants. The only thing where fitting is consistently difficult is a set in sleeve. Maybe the Sarah Veblen book would be the answer. Thanks for the recommendation!

    • sewingplums Says:

      Sounds as if you’ve done enough exploring to get a good fit Sara – well worth it for the result ! and Good Luck with the armholes. Many books on fit don’t mention them – but a friend who teaches dressmaking says that’s what she has most problems with.

  2. Phil Says:

    So interesting to get another person’s perspective! I love to tissue fit but only on my mannequin, this is to basically check there is enough bust room! Obviously no way would my paper patterns stand up to some of the tests you describe. As I have become (marginally) more patient, and following a couple of recent disasters, I have vowed to make this my year of the muslin. I will tissue fit first, make one trial garment out of an old sheet or cheap jersey if it’s a new style, tweak where necessary and alter the paper pattern. Like you, I know myself – I just don’t have the patience for more and am in awe of anyone else that does!

    • sewingplums Says:

      Thanks Phil. The only things my commercial mannequin and I have in common are the basic 4 measures – our lumps and bumps are all different sizes in different places.
      Fitting is something I keep coming back to and trying to improve. It’s rewarding to see I haven’t got to look as bad as I do in RTW 😀

  3. Phil Says:

    By the way should have thanked you for all the great info. During my next struggle I shall refer!!

  4. Vildy Says:

    I”m so impressed with your patience and determination to get the result you want. I haven’t sewn anything from scratch for a long time though I did recently buy a pattern to help with a crotch curve.

    I do extensive alterations on ready-to-wear clothes, though. I used to dream of having a mannequin until I got one and found it impossible to use. I didn’t expect that. Theoretically, it seemed it would be a breeze.

    I try on and just tug and pull 🙂 to get an idea about whether I’d like to lift shoulders or use a pad and how much to take in here or there. Then I pin it and try on again. Adjust and try on again. 🙂
    Sew and try on again.

    Even though I can do complicated alterations, I have the worst trouble with simple hemlines. It matters to me the proportions entire so that I have to select pieces to wear with the skirt and then guess how I would like the new pinned length. And guess about how much hem width I’d like for the effect/drape I want.

    When I was a young girl, I sewed a lot and those were the days of one size to a pattern, mostly. Generally I only had to do alterations for being short – shorten waist length, etc. I altered the tissue directly.

    My mother could not possibly use a pattern but she made a lot of my clothes using what I now understand as draping. ‘Though in the early 60’s with mod styles, what’s to drape. She also could easily borrow a garment from a same size friend of mine and copy it for me, mostly eyeballing it.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Interesting points Vildy. It sounds as if you do make a lot of effort to get a good effect. I’m impressed that you alter RTW. Fitted RTW isn’t a good starting point for me as I’m short waisted, and more than 2 sizes larger below the waist. Yes long ago I too could make patterns out of the envelope 😀 With 50s/ 60s dresses, you could make a fitted top and the huge skirt covered all else.

  5. ejvc Says:

    I have a combination method. First I work with patterns with reliable measures. I measure and grade between sizes; I make the first garment with extra-large seam allowances and baste together. I then “read the wrinkles” and re-baste. Once I’m happy, I alter the tissue.

    When I want to make a garment from an unreliably-sized garment (say Vogue or Simplicity), I use the printed measurements and my own hard-won understanding of how much ease I like to pick the size(s) I want, then follow the same procedure as before.

    I have difficulty keeping track sometimes of the changes I write on the tissue; recently, I’ve taken to using coloured pencils to make sure I don’t get confused.

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