Patterns can’t fit everyone

Many people complain that patterns don’t fit. But devising patterns that fit everyone is an impossible task.
We have problems with fit, not because pattern designers are doing something wrong, but because we each have a different body shape.

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Our different shapes

There are some data from North Carolina State University, which I analysed in a couple of posts starting here.

They found :
About 1 in 8 of us has waist larger than hips, while about 3/8 of us have waist clearly smaller than hips, and the remaining half of us have no clearly defined waist.
About quarter of us are larger above the waist than below.
About quarter of us are larger below the waist than above.

How can anyone possibly design a pattern which fits all these people – except some sort of sack (add 2 triangular sacks for the half of us who are not rectangle shape ?), with belt supplied for people who want to show their waist.

And the research didn’t even look at fit issues like short-long waist, square-sloping shoulders, high round back.
Or any of the other 80+ fit issues mentioned by Liechty and Co. in Fitting and Pattern Alteration.
Here’s a list of common fit challenges.

My most obscure body shape element is that I have unusual armholes. Liechty and Co. is the only book I’ve found which tells me what to do about that.
We all have different preferred methods of fitting. I like ‘reading the wrinkles’. Sarah Veblen’s good book on this method, Complete photo guide to perfect fitting, has a section on fitting individual armholes. But she doesn’t mention the major pattern change I need to get a comfortable fitted armhole.

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“Yay, this pattern fits me !”

It always annoys me when people enthuse that a pattern fits them out of the envelope, without saying anything about their body shape.
Suppose I recommend a pattern because it fits me marvellously. Should you rush to try that pattern ? Well, I have hips two sizes bigger than top, small bust, short waist, high hip shelf. If you have square shoulders, a generous bust, and slim straight hips, that pattern would cause you a lot of fitting work.

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‘Average’ is best

Many RTW clothing companies use a ‘fit model’. They choose someone close to their idea of ‘average’, and make their clothes to fit that person. Yes, there are people who make their living by having clothes fitted to them. There aren’t all that many people who are close enough to ‘average’ US size 8/ UK size 12 to be eligible !

RTW companies use ‘average’ fit, because over the whole population, fewer people will be far from these measurements.

In the same way, the best that pattern designers can do for fit is to design for ‘average’.
(Unless they’re willing to target only a small part of the market.)
An ‘average’ shape pattern, statistically, though not for the individual, over all the people who use the pattern, will need the least fit adjustments.

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Bad patterns ?

Of course there are bad patterns. In these days when cheerfully inexperienced people can sell terrible download patterns, we’re all aware that patterns need to be of professional quality. So they do have ‘average’ proportions, no mistakes, and all the pieces fit together properly in all sizes. And they have clear markings and instructions.

But patterns aren’t bad just because they don’t fit a specific person !

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Learn to fit

I think pattern companies make a mistake by not making this fitting limitation clear. Then people are disappointed with their product, and don’t understand that disappointment is unavoidable.

Beginner sewers can be upset that their hand-sewn garments don’t fit them by magic, even though RTW doesn’t.
Few instructions for beginners mention that there’s a lot of learning to do with gaining fitting skills as well as sewing skills.

Yes, if you make your own clothes you can have beautifully fitting clothes. But only if you do the fitting work.

Well fitting clothes make you look as if you have a perfect body.
I once saw an exhibit about ‘couture’ which included dress forms for some people who were famous for being elegant. Oh dear, some of them were a mighty odd shape underneath.

So it is worth doing the fitting work !

There are several methods of improving fit. Such as taking measurements and altering the pattern. Or making a muslin and ‘reading the wrinkles’. Tissue fitting is often mentioned but is almost impossible to do without help. You may need to try several methods before you find the fitting method that works best for you. There are several Sewingplums posts about body shape and improving fit (2022 – the most recent is here).

Those of us who are further from average have to do more fitting work. It’s just something we have to accept as part of being us.

Good Luck to everyone who is far enough away from average that they have to do fitting work on all patterns. It’s inevitable for many of us !

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Explore posts in the same categories: fit of clothes

9 Comments on “Patterns can’t fit everyone”

  1. Thimberlina Says:

    Interesting post, I was lucky when I started sewing In my late teens. I bought patterns and made reasonably well fitted clothes without a care in the world. 20+ years later it’s a totally different ball game and I love reading tips on how to improve the fit of my clothes. 😀

  2. Cynthia Baker Says:

    Welcome back!

  3. Vancouver Barbara Says:

    Glad to have you back. Your post is right on the money! And thanks for all the fitting links.

  4. Dara Says:

    Well said!!! That’s why I ENJOY your posts SEW much!!!

  5. Lynn Mally Says:

    I’m with you–there’s no way a pattern can fit everyone. Fit is such hard work! Glad to see you back.

  6. Gillian Says:

    So glad to have you back! I’ve missed your posts.
    As obvious as it is- especially after reading this post – I had absolutely *no* idea about fitting and ‘all that’, until I was given a pattern that was someone else’s unused project. I made it and it was as close as I’ve ever come to being able to cut/sew/wear straightaway!! I then had the comment from my mother (a ‘cut the vogue pattern and it fits straight out of the envelope’ shape) that ‘oh that particular pattern company makes for a larger type of figure’…
    The next few years had me trying to get my head around the subject in England where no one seems to do any courses or anything on the matter. In fact the first year that the Lindon College of Fashion started their summer courses, I signed up for the pattern alteration one. It was cancelled due to lack of interest. I had to take pattern drafting and cutting courses over the next few years instead. Which of course was hugely interesting and beneficial in a ‘from first principles’ concept – but didn’t help me greatly with the whole ‘take a commercial pattern and then do… X. Y. Z….’
    It’s only now that I’m getting over my embarrassment/fear/incompetence/upbringing to begin to get to grips with pattern adjustment and actually to *do* it!!!

    Thank you again.
    Please write more.
    It’s a joy and delight to read your posts!
    With thanks – all the way from Sydney!

    • Gillian Says:

      Edited to correct ‘autocorrect’:

      …in England where no one seemed to…

      Past tense… There now seems to be many more options than when I was there!!


  7. Hooray! Our L is posting, and right on point!

    I agree wholeheartedly, and you said it much better than i could have 🙂 Frankly i’d have some qualms about any commercial pattern that fit me right out of the package, as i know my figure is far from average. Back in the 1980’s i was able to sew ‘out of the envelope’; i left out the recommended shoulder pads and my shoulders had enough room. When the ‘linebacker shoulder’ went out of style, i had to alter.

    Learning how to fit is so important to sewing success. Learning what flatters and works well with your body, personal and life styles is also very important. What a boring world it would be if everything ‘worked’ for every person out there!

    Thank you for a pertinent and helpful article! steph

  8. sewingplums Says:

    Many thanks for all your kind and interesting comments.
    And I’ve just noticed that one of you made the 1000th comment on this site. Many thanks for all your contributions 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

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