Lengthen or shorten here

This may be old news to more seasoned sewists than myself, but I still want to share this week’s epiphany – fitted garments actually look better and it’s crucial to alter the pattern you use before cutting into your precious fabrics.

The time has come for us to learn how to fit a bodice. Though I’ve sewn multiple garments and tried to fit them as best I could, I’ve never really bothered to learn the basics. I’ve seen the parallel lines on all the commercial sewing patterns I’ve worked with, and I’ve noticed that almost all of them have been longer in the bodice than my body is (that is, my measured back and front lengths are shorter than the ones the patterns are based upon).

The ever-elusive parallel lines of the commercial sewing pattern


But I never did anything about this, I never learned where which alterations to a pattern should be done to give the best results, I never used the parallel lines to do anything. I just traced and cut the patterns and fabrics and stitched the garments together. Until now.

The difference between the fit of my “Landscape dress” (which wasn’t bad at all, just not perfect) and the bodice block I’m working on now, which was the base of my dress pattern, is vast. We had our measurements taken (more on this – for me – a bit touchy topic to come!) and were instructed as to where these measurements translated to on the flat pattern and how to alter the pattern to fit us better before the first round of muslin fitting. I took out a couple of centimetres in the bodice length, lowered the bust point some more and added some width at the hips. And voilà! Only a couple of small changes were necessary on the first test fit round – the shoulder dart on the back bodice was made bigger, I had to take in some of the added fullness on the hips, the neckline was taken down a couple of centimetres in the front and the sleeves had to be widened a smidge (that’s right, we’re adding sleeves!).

I’ve decided that all future sewing will involve making use of a few key measurements on both the pattern and the wearer (mostly me so far, but we’ll see): Bust, waist, hip, back and front widths and lengths, neck-bust-waist, waist-shoulder-waist and proper arm measurements that include elbow location. It just made trying on a new garment so much neater.

Some golden rules I’ve learned in the process (which I’ve just started):

1. When taking your measurements (for best results acquire a helper for this – I plan to make the husband my measurements expert), use a waist band (bias tape or similar) to anchor your waist line. That way you make sure that all measurements are generated from the same area.

2. If your back is shorter, your front is probably longer and vice versa, that is if your whole upper body don’t differ (is longer/shorter) from the pattern measurements.

3. The shoulder dart in the back bodice decides how much alteration you can do length-wise above the bust line (this can be closed, but not made smaller than non-existent).

4. When shortening a pattern piece, it’s easier (and more accurate) to just fold it parallel to one of the horizontal lines (e.g. bust line) instead of cutting the pattern apart and taping it together.

5. It’s easier to take away fabric than adding it – make sure you have sufficient seam allowance to do alterations in any direction after trying on the garment.

6. It’s exhausting to stand upright in front of a mirror while others fit your garment to your body – be kind towards anyone you make garments for!

I look forward to learn more about fitting, and Sarah Veblen’s Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting  is still pretty high on my wish list. That is, if anyone out there don’t have a better book recommendation when it comes to garment fitting.



Filed under Patternmaking, Sewing

2 responses to “Lengthen or shorten here

  1. It often amazes me how some very small changes can have huge effects on the fit of a garment. I’m also still learning how to properly fit garments.

    • I know, right? I remember when we were fitting the pants we made in the fall, what difference a couple of millimetres did! I think it’s a pity very few people (myself included, but I’m learning) actually know what a well-fitted garment looks like today with a market flooded with RTW clothes. Happy fit-studies and thanks for your comment!

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