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The theory of fit: explore fit from a different perspective.

COMMON FITTING THEORIES aren't necessarily accurate or applicable for real results on today's body types. While body and fitting needs change over time, fitting methods really haven't. Instead, sewists read the same books, take the same classes and make the same mistakes when an innovative trick or a new tip is all that's needed to take garment fit from good to great.

Taking time to understand the underlying factors that affect fit in the modern body helps you become a better sewist. Read on to explore common obstacles to fitting success and why the modern body has different fitting needs.


It's easy for sewists to develop preconceived notions about fit or the use of specific methods. Habits and day-to-day methods often prevent us from thinking outside the box and trying something new. The body is a moving, changing object, and new fitting methods are needed to accommodate these changes. But before new techniques are explored, consider your fitting mindset.

Mindset and approach to fit is the No. 1 skill that either aids or hinders the results.


The Measuring Tape

You have years of experience and your skills mostly stem from traditional home sewing, 4-H or home economics, where you learned commonly taught methods of sewing and fit. You may have branched out to different sewing methods, such as quilting or embroidery, but when returning to garment sewing you've found the body is quite different to fit. You may have found yourself saying, "I used to sew a pattern right out of the envelope, but now I don't fit any pattern size." While it's no reflection on sewing skill, achieving the perfect fit seems impossible because the techniques you once relied upon don't give you desired results. This is a common issue in sewing, and it's very discouraging for any sewist. It's difficult to relinquish favorite methods, but implementing a new skill and having it work can be refreshing for a veteran sewist, especially when viewing the before and after results.


The Pincushion

With the increase in social media and unlimited availability of sewing information, self-taught sewists are a large and growing market. Eager to learn and try new skills, you poke around for inspiration wherever you can find it. You may identify with DIY-ers, young moms, new sewists of any age, trendsetters and more. You find tutorials in books, videos, magazines and most often on the Internet. You often look to experienced sewists for fitting advice (or any advice). With a body that requires pattern-fitting knowledge, you're often seeking trendy styles and a creative outlet. You ask lots of questions and are willing to try anything new to immerse yourself into sewing. Generally, you have no preconceived notions about sewing and fit and you jump right into learning. The challenge is finding the right sources to turn to rather than stumbling upon unverified and untrustworthy information, particularly on the Internet,


The Scissors

You're the confident sewist who sews well and consistently, like a good pair of reliable scissors. You sew regularly and have mastered many techniques. When it comes to fitting, you've read every fit book and taken every fit class. You're familiar with numerous fitting methods, yet you still have challenges that are never solved. You may continue trying the same methods because of how you were taught; however, your body and/or the patterns you're using are different. As difficult as it is to change and deviate from your go-to fit method, you may need to try something unconventional for the desired results.

Understanding your sewing mindset and personality helps determine what might be holding you back from a well-fitting garment. Of course, there's no need to change things that work well, but consider trying a new technique for the areas where you struggle.


It's fascinating to know and understand the underlying factors that affect fit. Over the years, changes include, but are not limited to, overall larger bodies, heavier bodies, more fatty deposits, changes in stature and increased musculature.

The traditional hourglass figure is often outdated, though that shape is what most fit methods refer to for standard adjustments. Many pattern companies developed their basic pattern shapes and sizing decades ago and fitted them to those smaller standard body types. Clothing was also not as disposable as in generations past, so sewists spent more time sewing fewer garment types, which were then worn over shape-giving foundation garments. For the most part, our bodies aren't trained that way today, and there's a much wider variety of clothing to fit the broad spectrum of figure types for all ages.


Fit can seem much more complicated than necessary. It's a skill that takes practice, but it's attainable for anyone who tries. Fitting success can happen easily, quickly and efficiently, and it's not necessary to memorize a dictionary full of fit issues and their solutions, many of which aren't even needed. Instead, approach fit from a common sense perspective.

MYTH #1: Picking the right pattern size is the most important step.

TRUTH: A pattern is a guide to create a style, not custom-fit to anyone's body. A pattern size is simply a name given to a group of measurements. A pattern won't fit perfectly out of the envelope, and forget using only the bust, waist and hips as a fit gauge. Use those measurements to select a size range only. A lot of sewing and fitting issues are blamed on the pattern, when most often, the problem isn't the pattern at all. In fact, the pattern size really doesn't matter. Always select a pattern close to your measurements, as that's the purpose of the pattern guide. Your body might be a size 14 on the bodice front, a size 18 on the lower-body front, a size 12 on the bodice back and a 20 on the lower-body back. In any given pattern envelope, certain pieces won't fit or match your body and will need adjusting. Either unnecessarily purchase four different patterns, or select the pattern closest to your measurements and then easily scale it to create a custom pattern to fit your unique body. Selecting a pattern is less about purchasing the perfect size and more about learning how to work with the pattern you have.

MYTH #2: Sewing a fit sample requires extra time and money.

TRUTH: This step actually saves you both. Expert fitters know that a fit sample is a must for achieving the perfect fit. This step can't be skipped, but consider the process. Unless you're doing haute couture sewing, it isn't necessary to hand baste or add pockets and decorative details to a fit sample. Fitting needs to be fast and efficient. Instead:

* Quickly cut major pattern pieces from inexpensive muslin or a fabric similar to the final garment.

* Sew only the major seams (princess, side seams and shoulders) and pin the openings closed.

* Don't add plackets or collars.

* Pin and adjust seams to determine ease, and remove any excess wrinkles to create a smooth-looking garment.

Once you have a polished fit sample, carefully mark all the changes or final seamlines on the muslin. Then use the muslin as the final pattern for cutting and sewing the fashion fabric.

MYTH #3: Always begin by adjusting at the side seams.

TRUTH: When patterns were first developed, bodies were much more standard in size, and styles were limited with women wearing more uniform foundation garments. During this time, a common pattern adjustment was to increase or decrease size by adding or subtracting at the side seams or by dividing adjustments evenly amongst all seams. For example, to add 4" to the waist of a dress, divide that amount by four and add 1" to each front, back and side seam. Numerically, this example adds up, meaning the garment will fit around the body, but that doesn't mean the garment will fit the body. These methods may have worked when all women wore girdles and the same style dress, but for today's bodies, this approach is outdated. For example, the front of the body might need 3" and the back might only need 1" to fit and contour.

MYTH #4 Proper fitting is a time-intensive process if done right.

TRUTH: A very common method taught in fit classes involves matching a flat pattern to a few body measurements, such as the bust, waist and hips. Because tissue isn't similar to fabric in drape, this results in an ill-fitting muslin sample that requires more work. Next steps include cutting and slashing the muslin where it's tight, inserting fabric in the holes to fill the gaps, taking in areas that are too big, making a new muslin sample and beginning the process again. This process does indeed work, but it's very time consuming and discouraging for inexperienced fitters. Instead of sewing a fit sample and expecting residual work, take five minutes to scale the paper pattern and create a fit sample that matches the proportion of your body. This process only takes one muslin sample. From there, refine the details and begin sewing with the fashion fabric.

MYTH #5: The full-bust adjustment, or FBA, is the best way to fit a top for a large bust.

TRUTH: FBAs and most bust-fitting techniques revolve around adjusting a cup size. If you compare a pattern with different cup sizes marked, there isn't a lot of difference. The markings are usually derived from a computer-generated grade to the cup. The problem with only addressing cup size is that this method doesn't address the size and placement of the actual breast tissue. A C cup, for example, might have most breast tissue either above the apex (quadrant 1), to the inside of the apex (quadrant 2), below the apex (quadrant 3) or toward the side (quadrant 4. Simply moving the dart or increasing the cup doesn't account for these differences, and if the adjustment must taper back into the original seam, it might cause you to miss an important area of fit in the transition. FBAs also never address the bust curve, a key area of fit right below the apex and above the under bustline. A more accurate and precise way to target fitting the bust area is the Bust Quadrant Method, which targets the four areas of the breast listed above. Using the pattern scaling method, it's easy to grade the pattern to allow space in exactly the area needed.


Not all areas on a pattern need ease. Allow a generous 1 " seam allowance all over and 2" in the side seam as a general rule.


Always sew a fit sample, unpinning and adjusting for desired comfort. Incorporate wide seam allowances, which are easily trimmed off the final garment.


1. Adjust vertical areas first.

2. Adjust horizontal areas next.

3. Pay attention to the bust curve.

4. Polish the outer pattern edges only after scaling the pattern.

5. Don't attach sleeves to a fit sample until the torso pattern is fitted correctly.


Apply this process to any pattern, any size, any style.

Measure the pattern. Measuring smaller areas of fit is more precise than measuring large generic areas. Think of the body and pattern as a puzzle. Each smaller piece on the pattern, if laid directly on the body, should match that exact area on the body. For example, instead of measuring the full bust, measure apex to apex and apex to side seam for the front, and then across the back from one side seam to the other. The three measurements add up to the full bust, but the smaller areas allow for more accurate fitting.

Measure your body in those same areas and compare. If the pattern measurements match, then that individual pattern piece will fit. If the pattern is bigger or smaller than the body, adjust the pattern to match the body.

Cut through the pattern center and increase or decrease from the center to adjust an individual pattern piece. Keep in mind that this isn't the same slashing and spreading technique used to flat-pattern different styles. This technique is actually a form of grading with a more visual approach.

Use a ruler to blend the outer edges of the pattern, darts, necklines and armholes.


Determine your fitting personality in order to identify your approach to fit and overcome obstacles to advance your sewing skills.

Choose the closest answers that mimic your sewing experiences.

1: I learned to sew:

a. In 4-H or home-economics class in school

b. On the Internet--from blogs, videos, free tutorials

c. From family, a long line of seamstresses/sewists

2: I sew garments:

a. From commercial and independent patterns

b. Using free patterns or ones that I develop (or readymade re-dos)

c. From commercial patterns or using slopers I've perfected

3: When starting a garment project, I:

a. Carefully measure my body against the sizing on the pattern

b. Eyeball the right size based on my ready-to-wear size

c. Always make a muslin in the size I anticipate needing

4: I fit my patterns by:

a. Pin-fitting the pattern tissue to my body or dress form

b. Making them and hoping for the best

c. Perfecting my muslins until they fit just right

5: I make garments:

a. Periodically-such as when I have a special event to attend

b. Often--mostly fast fashion that I can wear that day

c. Always--it's the only way I can wear garments that fit

Tally the number of a, b and c answers you circled to determine the highest number that correlates to your fit personality. Find the results at right.
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Title Annotation:Joi of FITTING
Author:Mahon, Joi
Publication:Sew News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2016
Previous Article:Cool tools.
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