Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Tailored Suit: What Size is the Right Size??

OK, if there's any plus in being sick (but on the mend) - and entirely lonely - it's that I can spend the day considering math problems. Yes, I did just write that.

Insanely, I'm trying to figure out whether I should muslin the size 6 or the size 8 of the suit jacket and it's making my brain hurt. The Advil is not helping.

This post is to give a glimpse into my system for determining the right size to cut. In certain pattern brands that I use routinely (Vogue, Colette), I've got a good sense of this, but this is Gretchen's first foray into publishing a suit jacket pattern of her own design. It's uncharted territory.

Some things to consider:
  • Envelope pattern dimensions for size 6 are 36 bust / 28 waist.
  • Envelope pattern dimensions for size 8 are 38 bust / 30 waist.
  • Hips are larger than mine either way so I'm not going to worry to much about this now but I may need to grade - or widen seam allowances - at the next muslin stage.
  • My dimensions are 37.5 bust / 30 waist. (For some reason, today my bust measurement is 37 - but let's assume 37.5)

You may think it's a no-brainer, that I should cut the 8.

Important Note to readers: I'm pre-planning for my MUSLIN at this point - do not try to figure out measurements on your fancy fashion fabric. Obvs, if I get this math wrong, I can adjust the muslin and then the pattern before I cut my real fabric. I'd simply like to start at the point that will leave me with:

a) the fewest adjustments or, at least

b) the easiest adjustments.

Let's not Forget Pattern Ease...: OK, another thing to consider. I tried to figure out (sadly, without the benefit of markings that indicate full bust point) how wide the pattern actually is, in each size, including pattern ease. Y'all know that when a pattern says it's 37 bust, it's not the finished size. Depending on your comfort level with snug fit, pattern ease can take a smaller size on paper to the right size on your body. I went to the pattern and did some measuring.

Anyway, if my calculations are correct, the size 6 is actually 37.25 inches (including pattern ease) and the size 8 is 40" (including pattern ease).

I'm going to assume that waist pattern ease is in the same proportions so the size 6 actual waist is likely 29.25" and the size 8 is probably 31.25".

...Also Don't Forget Fabric Ease: Remember I said that my aubergine wool does not have a lot of give. I just gave it a tug and I'd put the stretch at about 5% tops. That's not enough to be useful. Told you natural fabric give has its advantages...

Now, let's factor in a few other key considerations:

  • The size of your seam allowances is adjustable: I tend to prefer working with 1/2 inch seam allowances. This pattern includes 5/8" seam allowances. Given that there are 16 seam allowances in this garment and 4/8 inch is 1/8 inch smaller than 5/8 inch (I know, this is torture but stick with me), this means I would gain 16/8 of an inch - or 2 inches, just by cutting the seam allowances down marginally. By shaving a bit off the SAs, which is my preference, my size 6 would become 39.25 in the bust.
  • What's the optimal amount of wearing ease?: Oh, this is one that everyone's going to have an opinion on. You should have an opinion on this! I like to wear my clothing quite snug. I'd say, at the outer edge of not "too snug", if you know what I mean. So I feel that 1.5 inches is enough wearing ease in a bodice. Most RTW jackets factor in 2-3 inches of wearing ease. One way to determine your preference is to hold the tape measure open 1-3 inches larger than your actual bust measurement and see what you think of the amount of space. Also, you have to consider what you'll wear underneath. As my wool is going to be on the warm side, I'll likely opt for a slimmer top. For what it's worth, I generally like suits worn with slim tops. Women with curves are better off wearing jackets with less ease if they want to flatter that shape. Note: Under no circumstances should the buttons pull. At that point, you need more ease.
  • Finally, to FBA or not to FBA: One of the things I don't know about this pattern - but which I've emailed to ask about - is the upper bust dimension. One's jacket doesn't only fit in waist and hips, but in the shoulders. As you no doubt know, many will tell you that this is the key indicator of fit. My upper bust measurement (the size of my torso above my breasts) is 33". That's quite a bit narrower than 37.5", yes? I must consider, should I find my assembled muslin too small, if my best alteration wouldn't be a full bust adjustment, rather than starting with a larger size. The greater the difference between the upper bust measurement and the full bust measurement, the more likely a full bust adjustment is the alteration you'll need - not going up sizes to approximate your full bust measurement. Note: This depends on SO many factors, not least of which is how the designer cuts. If Gertie designs for a wider upper chest - and I suspect she does - then the likelihood I should start small and accommodate breasts (rather than start larger and take away fabric everywhere else) is that much higher.

Fuck, this is a lot of info to take in.

Let's recap:

  1. Always do a muslin.
  2. If you want to spend an afternoon deciding which size muslin to cut, see the insanity above.
  3. Consider the following elements before and during your muslining process:
  • Pattern dimensions from the back of the envelope
  • Pattern ease (you may have to figure this out with math)
  • Fabric ease
  • Seam allowance size
  • Personal wearing ease preference
  • Upper bust measurement for which the piece has been cut (hopefully this will be available - otherwise, you kind of have to figure it out when you muslin...)

OK, where does this leave me?

I hope to hear back about the upper bust measurement on the pattern. If it's 34 or higher, I'm going to cut the size 6. I suspect it won't be lower than that, so if I don't hear back, I'll still cut the 6.

Of course, if any of my painstaking measurements du jour are inaccurate - namely my approximations of actual pattern dimension (given that there are no markers on the pattern to indicate exactly where the full bust is) then I may be in a bit of a bind. Literally.

That's why we practice on sheets first.

So, thoughts about this? How do you determine size? Do you always measure first or do you wing it? (Usually I wing it.)

PS: I'd like to point out that it has taken a number of hours for me to figure out just this little piece and I haven't even come near the proper sewing of the muslin yet?! Complicated projects are, well, freakin' complicated. I try to keep in mind that it's all sewing (even if it's taping pattern pieces, writing posts about sewing, thinking, reading etc.) That takes me from overwhelmed to productive. Do you have any tips on this?

Update: Man, this post has only been up for 10 minutes and I'm updating it?! Just reread the tips sheet from the Craftsy course and it indicates that the pattern is cut generously and that one should go with the upper bust measurement in choosing a size?! By that analysis, I'd be a size 4. I don't think I can do that. But, after all of my measuring, I'm that much more confident about cutting the 6 instead of the 8.

Updated again: Y'all know, based on your comments and the info I've discovered, that I'm probably going to a) muslin the 6 but not before b) tracing the 4. Then, if the six is ridic, I can recut the 4 reasonably easily. Yeah, it's potentially a waste of time - or a major time saver. Only time will tell. (Oooh, way to profile today's word: "time"...)

40 comments:

  1. Oh- you caught it - I was going to remind you that Gertie says it's cut big. I keep having this experience of cutting the right size and then getting a garment that's too big - huh?. In this case, i bet a 4 with an FBA is your right fit..since Gertie made such a big deal about the ease...have you watched the "cutting your fashion fabric" episode?

    ps i love that you're home doing all the math for the rest of us!

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    1. I've watched the whole thing AND I've read the instructions 10 times. How did I miss that??! I'm going back into Cutting the Fashion Fabric - in truth, that was the episode I found most tedious, maybe cuz I wanted to move onto the pad stitching :-) I'm thinking about the FBA. What size is your bust measurement and what size muslin did you make?? (Or did you not follow the plan?? wink)

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    2. i'm just sewing vicariously through you for now! I spent so long making a plan, buying fabric, thinking, taping that damned pattern together...i swear tonight's the night for the muslin. Tonight!

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    3. Well make sure you link to any posts you write about that muslin experience! And keep us posted. PS: I still haven't found the part of the course where Gertie talks about the pattern being large-fitting (only the part in the tips and techniques materials). Can you tell me the chapter and time stamp when you get a chance - I'm going kind of nuts trying to locate it!

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    4. uhoh, what if i was reading between the lines? when she says "my size is an 8 because I said so!" i guess I assumed that meant it was generous. i'll check tonight (with the cutting!!) and let you know.

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    5. OK, that part I remember - where she says that in her pattern, her size is an 8 because that's what size she chooses to be. I'm happy to know I'm not going crazy. On the down side - I watched the fabric cutting chapter 4 times?! :-)

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    6. i'm sorry! she totally doesn't say that. you're having quite a week with Ms Gertie, aren't you? I'm cutting a 6 because i'm usually a 6. i'm leaving the decision about if that's correct to the muslin, because I stink at measuring myself. And it's cut! here we go....

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    7. K- bust is 38, waist 30-32. the 6 fits me perfectly...i think. what do you think? http://superstarbecca.blogspot.com/2012/03/my-first-muslin-starlet.html
      holla! thanks for getting me going!

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    8. It's great! I just left you a comment with still more questions :-) Excellent muslining. Did it take you a long time?

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  2. My gut says cut the 6. At worst, you'll have to do an FBA. But considering the fact that A) you're narrow in the body and B) I'm assuming Gertie isn't drafting for large-busted women and C) you prefer things snug, I just have a gut feeling the 8 will be swimming on you in the shoulders.

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    1. My gut says this too. But now peeps are suggesting the 4 (which is what the instructions advocate). I'm so confused.

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    2. If that's the consensus based on what Gertie's said about the pattern ease, I'll bet they're onto something. My gut isn't screaming any kind of right answer (after all, I've never made a jacket) but it definitely screaming that the 8 would be too large,

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    3. haha. my gut says 6 too, but that's just cause i ate too much chocolate. ;)

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  3. Hmmm. In a fitted jacket, in a non-stretch fabric I would go with 2 to 2 1/2 inches ease at the bust. That would allow for a thin fitted top beneath and not be loose. Remember that the fabric just needs room to move around. Circumnavigating my waist plus another waistband will require extra room, so I would probably allow more than 1" at the waist, but I haveb't made a jacket I wanted that fitted at the waist so i'm not sure.

    As to pattern sizing! I find that going by upper chest measurement always works better for me as otherwise things are too big through upper chest and it is much easier to do a fba than to fix a too big upper chest. I would go with the smaller size. I am 38 to 39 through the full bust, depending ( currently 38 1/2) and 34 through the upper chest.

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    1. Mardel: As I believe everything you say, it is likely that I'm going to go for 2 - 2.5 inches in the bust, whether I have to make no FBA, a small one or a large one :-) I figure I can easily grade out in the waist, and in at the hips, as necessary - she says having not even begun the process...

      It seems like you're suggesting I cut the 4. In fact, you too would be a 4 in this pattern and we couldn't be more differently shaped. One of us would need to add inches to the length (I imagine), the other would need to shorten (that's the me part). For some reason I feel that your shoulders are wider than mine, but maybe - because you are tall - I have that impression. I just can't imagine that we'd both cut the same size and a few alterations would take care of all the distinctness between us.

      I guess that's the whole point of alterations though.

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  4. I would have to ask, what is the finished bust measurement? I'm signed up for this course but I'm still farting about with the muslin for the couture dress. Trying to resist the temptation to jump into this one.

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    1. For the 6 it's 36 (pattern) 37.25 (with ease). For the 8 it's 38 (pattern) and 40 (with ease).

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  5. I love this post!! I really enjoy seeing how othr people approach fitting. The only advice or suggestion i would give is to say that after attending the pati palmer fit week the one golden rule they would give is to always go with upper bust. In my case this meant going from a vogue/mccalls size 12 to 8 intops . It is amazing the difference this makes and surprising how easy it is to adjust the rest of the pattern. I think it would be an interesting experiement to try the size 4 and to then do a fba and whatever other adjustments you need and see what the fit was then like. You could even try tissue fitting the 4 rather than doing a full muslin. Sorry about the essay but i love talking about fit.

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    1. Thank you! I thought it might put everyone to sleep :-) You make a compelling case - those women know of what they speak. But I'm nervous nonetheless. I'm going to consider it. Did they show you how to do an FBA on princess seams? I know it's in their book - and I also have the full bust video. I'm just so squeamish about the FBA for some reason. It's stupid, but I feel like it's very serious.

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  6. This is something I struggle with too, and it's taken me off on the tangent of reading books on fit (which I haven't gotten back to since my vacation, sadly).

    One thing I read that really struck me was that if you're in between sizes, you should cut the size smaller, because over time the fabric will relax, and also, as you say, with so many seams, even a little bit off on each one can change the finished size dramatically.

    I'm still a little dubious, but there's no denying that I've made quite a few things that ended up being too big rather than too small, so I'm going to try it out on my next project.

    I vote for you to do the size 4 with a FBA, because didn't you say once you have narrow shoulders? Another thing I read is that shoulders are the most difficult part to fit, so you should choose the pattern that fits well there - apparently the FBA is a piece of cake compared to trying to alter the shoulders.

    Mind you - this is all just stuff I've read about. I have yet to try any of it!

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    1. I've generally worked from the "cut the smaller size" methodology and it has never let me down. The idea of doing the 4 with the FBA, even if the instructions advise it, is so unpleasant! I have to think on that. I suppose I could muslin the 6, see what happens and cut it down to a 4 (with an FBA) if the whole thing is too big everywhere but in the chest.

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  7. Figuring out size on independent patterns does work the brain - shoot, figuring out size with the big 4 patterns can work my brain too. I think you are doing a great job already and you haven't even cut the muslin yet. I'll be your cheerleader o.k.?

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    1. Oh, I know. I have a headache!!! Did I tell you I had math tutoring in high school?? :-) Thank you for cheering Faye!

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  8. 1) I *really* think messing with the seam-allowances on a precise, tailored piece is a bad idea. Feel free to trim them down to 1/2 if you'd rather, but sewing a different seam line than intended will throw things off.
    2) What about shoulder width and shoulder length measurement? Back size might give you an idea of where to start and whether to FBA or not.
    3) My handy-dandy 50s tailoring book suggests 5-6" of ease at the bust in a fitted suit jacket. I know that's probably more than you want, but I really wouldn't go under 3". I did for my Springy Coat and it's wearable but really the strained-button look isn't the best...
    4)I suspect you're going to go for the 6 anyway---so have fun, I can't wait to see how it turns out! :)

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    1. I'm so glad you raised this! Don't think I haven't been thinking about all these things! OK,

      1. You're right. My secret is that I'm going to muslin with 5/8s and see how it goes. I have this secret feeling that it will be ok - even if the math doesn't support it :-)

      2. The "envelope" doesn't address those measurements... I think I'd rather make a muslin than figure out the math for every dimension of this thing. In the end I think it will be easier to alter the pattern based on my muslin alterations as I need them.
      3. OMG - that's insane - have you taken a tape measure out and had a look at that? OK, 3 inches I can get with, but more than that seems nuts (she says, not having sewn anything yet).
      4. Not necessarily - all of this feedback is really food for thought. I'm seriously considering going for the 4 with a mega FBA. But I just don't think I can do that. 4 seems to small for my mind - and my waist.

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    2. Well, a mega-FBA can add width to the waist as well as the bust, right? Given your frame I'm inclined to think 4+FBA is the way to go, but I know, it's a complicated place to start.

      OK so I just measured both my fave fitted blazer (which you can assess in the photo-shoot with my old Ellen pants) and my Springy coat from last year. The blazer has at least 4" of ease (measuring the outside of the garment) and I can't imagine it working with any less. The Springy Coat technically has about 1" of ease but in practice it relies on un-folding the pleat in the back to work at all, and the buttons are still strained. And that was made from a muslin that fit loosely---it's just that once you add the firm fabric + interfacing + lining there's less ease than you think.

      Hmm, now I'm wondering if I need more ease for my broad shoulders than you do for your large bust... I guess breasts don't move around as much as shoulder-bones do. Hmm.

      (I'm still very curious what you end up doing, since I've measured the crap out of at least three different blazer patterns in the last 6 months trying to decide where I wanted to start for size ;) )

      (Oh, and PS, I am now the proud owner of a 32C bra. The underwire fits much better than 34Bs usually do, although there's still a slight dimple under-arm. :) Thank you for your bravangelism!)

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    3. True that the FBA adds some width in the waist.

      I hear what you're saying about ease and I'm going to go back and remeasure some of my blazers.

      I'm actually starting to think that broad shoulders ARE much more of a factor than full breasts when it comes to sizing.

      This is giving me a lot to think about and I'm not discounting the possible need for the 4. I updated this post again to say that I'm going to trace the 4 before I cut the 6. Then, if the 6 is large in the upper chest, I'll muslin the 6 with an FBA. Even with the 6, I'm prepared to do an FBA. I just find it hard to believe that the 4 will fit in the shoulders given what I've learned about the measurements of the 6 (not that anything is conclusive). If only the pattern talked about upper bust measurements more - or if more people had made this at this point, I might have some more anecdotal info to work with.

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  9. OMG - gotta start by saying you are all AWESOME! Keep the great feedback coming - now off to answer your comments individually...

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  10. I'm definitely using the size 16 for Gretchen's pattern, and I'm currently determining the need for FBA. I'd normally say go smaller in size and sew with a smaller seam allowance, since that is my go-to method when sewing any patterns from the big 4, but with a tailored jacket, I feel like I might want the full seam allowance in places, just in case. With this jacket I'm going to want to be sure there's adequate ease in the back more than anywhere else. When I sit, I will unbutton the jacket, so less ease in the waist will make for a more optimum fit I think. Of course, I'm considering making this in cotton sateen with some lycra, just for wearability...

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    1. I have to agree that it's a bit dangerous to fool with seam allowances on a tailored garment - even though I'm the one who suggested it.

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  11. You right, it is hard to imagine that I would cut the same size as you, or that I would cut a 4, but such is what experience leads me to believe. I would have to add a good bit at the waist, and adapt for broader shoulders as well, but I have learned that if I chose a size based on either full bust or shoulder width, I never get the chest to fit and the result is very unflattering and aging.

    Isn't fit fascinating?

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  12. Another way to answer this is to find a sewing buddy and take a full set of measurements for each other (Burda's size tables pretty much have all of them,there are about 15-20) and then using the result its easy to compare ones own measurements to the flat pattern pieces (minus seam allowance of course). Each pattern maker bases their pattern measurements on their own unique sloper and because of that garment ease will vary from one pattern brand to the next.

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    1. The challenge is that there's no comparator for Gertie's pattern. I know my own dimensions, I just don't know (without doing a lot of math) what the dimensions of the finished pattern are. I can measure for myself (that's what I've done with the bust), but that took a VERY long time.

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  13. Having been through this exact process with different patterns, you might want to step back a little bit. I have a tendency to overthink these things, so here is what I would do:

    The key line is the stitching line. In the long run, THAT's what you want to get right. And given my philosophy that "brut force is a wonderful method", I would do a flat pattern measurement on the shoulder line of the jacket and cut the size whose stitching lines comes closest to your own shoulder size. Give yourself wide (at least 1 inch) seam allowances and machine baste along the original pattern's stitching lines. Then try it on and have a friend help you adjust the fit by pinning and ripping seamlines to get it to fit you properly. It's time consuming, but well worth it, IMO.

    HTH!

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    1. You are SO right. I'm going to consider the shoulder width of the 6 (and as necessary, the 4) and take it from there. I also have a jacket that fits perfectly so I'm going to look at the shoulder dimensions of that piece and compare them to the measurements I get here. Thank you!

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  14. Thanks for this post, I have sat and pondered exactly this same issue with the starlet jacket. I won't be able to start mine until late april, so I look forward to watching you work on yours! good luck!

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    1. Oh, here's hoping I've worked out some kinks by then :-)

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  15. I'm with you on ease. I like close fitting things :)

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