Friday, May 18, 2012

Lessons from the Fitting Front: Setting the Stage

I've chosen to make New Look 6356 for the online Pattern Review course I'm taking at the moment. The course, Fun with Fitting: Bodice with Darts, requires that you use a pattern of your choice - preferably simple, with side bust darts and an optional set in sleeve. (FYI, Sarah Veblen, the instructor, happily weighs in on student pattern choices and suggests a robust list of her own. I've chosen one of the ones she recommends.)

I've traced a mash up of the jewel neck front and 3/4 sleeves (franken-altered by me from the existing sleeve pattern). Given that I've been experiencing the week from hell at work, I have barely engaged with the course pdfs (the primary method of instruction). I intend to sew up my first muslin this weekend, when I hope S and I can get together to work on each of our bodices.

Craftsy vs Pattern Review

In brief, for reference, this Pattern Review class (and I believe this is the general structure for classes on the site, though anyone should feel free to correct me) is comprised of:

  • Articles with clear photos and examples (like chapters of a book that pertains specifically to the course at hand)
  • An optional video component (for extra fee)
  • Scheduled online chats, and 
  • A classroom forum wherein one can ask specific questions (and provide photos) for detailed feedback from the teacher.
To compare this briefly to Craftsy: The medium is distinctly more low-fi (one might even say drab and difficult to navigate) but the feedback (in my opinion) is superior. As my latest Craftsy venture focused on complex garment construction (with practically no mention of fit) and this class focuses on complex fitting (with little thought for the wearable end product), I can't really align them from that perspective. One key distinction between these platforms is the duration of instruction. Craftsy, as you know, offers lifetime access to the course and instructor feedback. Craftsy feedback, as I've found it to date, given all the courses and workshops I've attended, tends to be superficial (though sometimes that is just fine). Pattern Review puts an end date to instruction and feedback. Sometimes that end date is extended slightly to allow for a complex topic to run itself through, but when it's done, it's done. You can continue to review the articles and optional video for as long as you like. The feedback here (student and teacher provided) is detailed and timely.

Basic Fitting Order of Operations (For this Project, at any rate...)

Based on information available in many books, fitting (like sewing) has a certain order of operations.
A fundamental mechanism of fitting anything - and I'll speak in terms of darted bodices here because that's what I'm working on - is beginning with a pattern that will get you where you need to go.

This pattern does not thrill me:

However, it will do the trick so that, in future I can apply many elements of my new-found great fit to other projects having similar bodices. A complex bodice pattern, with lots of bells and whistles, may suit my aesthetic more than this monastic one, but those bells may well interfere with determining basic fit. Note how, above, I refer to "applying many elements". Via this exercise, I hope to come away with a sloper. I realize, though, that any sloper has to adapt itself flexibly to every new project. By that, I mean fit continues to be a matter one must consider every time one makes something.

Next up is doing a bit of basic math / reviewing some of those commercial patterns (optimally "easy" patterns that outline finished measurements). You can trace or cut the original paper pattern. Though I don't enjoy it, I recommend tracing because it's much easier to amend the traced pieces than the originals. Fit exercises are about making iterative changes. You have to assume you may need to go back to square one at some point. Once those originals are shot, you can't resurrect them.

In terms of math, I'm not being glib when I say this isn't difficult as long as certain key elements are marked on the pattern. Even if those elements aren't marked, you can manage. But let's consider those "easy" patterns - the likes of which I'm making - which indicate beyond a shadow of a doubt where the bust is, where the waist is, etc.

You can work out the finished measurements, even when they're not indicated on the pattern pieces - and often they are not, by measuring at the bust, waist and hip horizontal lines and subtracting all the relevant seam allowances. Choose your seam allowance amount. Often it's 5/8". Make sure you're accounting for back seams or princess seams (which add extra joins, having allowances, that sometimes we forget). Doesn't matter what width of seam allowance you choose to use. From this fitting perspective, a seam is simply a join in fabric. Just make sure to subtract the decided horizontal allowance from each side of any seam. This can take a while to become intuitive.

Measurements - and this is something that really clicked for me when I started fitting hand-knitted garments - are horizontal (see paragraph above) and vertical. Vertical measurements are those from the neck to the bust, from the bust to the true waist, from the true waist to the high hip, from the high hip to the full hip (for example). How many of these measurements do you have to consider? Happily - only the ones that pertain to the pattern you're making. Just remember, any vertical measurements that impact the neck, arm or hem require subtraction of the seam allowances associated with those areas...

Basically, any time any seam interacts with your horizontal or vertical measurements you need to account for it by subtracting it from your overall dimensions. It's really not rocket science, but it is finicky. Even the briefest lapse in focus can derail you.

For my bodice pattern, I must consider these:
  • Jewel neck to full bust (vertical)
  • Full bust to true waist (vertical)
  • True waist to high hip (vertical)
  • Full bust measurement (horizontal)
  • True waist measurement (horizontal)
  • High hip measurement (horizontal)
  • Armscye and sleeve measurements (let's leave these for now)
A ruler and the flat pattern will tell me much of what I need to know for my first muslin.

What I'm aiming to determine over the next couple of days - feel free to weigh in! - is whether I should (for my first muslin) do an FBA and/or sew in the darts.

There isn't just one way to go about things.  If you think about it, draping is about the flow of fabric over 3 dimensional space. If I add darts and do a full bust adjustment before I drape the first muslin, to what extent am I presuming what's required, rather than simply seeing what is when first I drape that pattern over my actual shape?

The complicating factor is that, by flat pattern measurements (which certainly have value, IMO), I need that FBA. I need those darts (and maybe even more of them than are indicated in the original pattern). Point is, however you go about things, you're likely going to need a number of revisions.

There's so much more I could say, but I intend to pick it up in future posts.

For now, let's discuss: Do you take flat pattern measurements? (Note - I never do for stretch fabric patterns. I can't see what the point is, since unique fabric stretch messes with everything knowable.) Do you make your first muslin with sewn darts and/or a (presumed necessary) FBA? Have you had challenges determining initial mathematical measurements from a flat pattern? Have you found errors in the pattern, by flat measuring? What about draping? Do you drape initially without darts? Do you drape on your dress form or on your own body?

Please do share!


  1. I would say that you'll need to add the FBA on the muslin, because if you can't get it on, it's not much of a fitting aid. However, I would be sure to mark the old dart lines, sew them in that way first, to see if you even need to fix them, and how much change needs to be made. That way if you want a looser fit, you can maybe go back and use the old darts (assuming they aren't just huge). Total speculation, of course, since I'm not so good with fitting myself, but those things seem to make sense to me. :-)

    1. Intriguingly, I opted not to (I remeasured flat pattern and took my chances!). Of course, there's still so much fitting to do it boggles the mind:-)

  2. I suggest making first muslin from the given pattern. If you encounter issues you can blame the pattern not your alterations to it, and you learn more about how well this New Look pattern fits you unaltered. I recently started making New Look dress 6020 and the size 8 fitted bodice was cut very generous (I did not need a FBA, but everything else was too large, I wear ~28F no idea how that was supposed to be a EU34)

    As a sewing novice, and found that altering before putting the original together does not save me time. My guess at what to alter does not really lead to the desired result, although I started reading fitting books and I look forward to your posts and the input of your readers.


    1. Mona: I went with this option and I agree with your perspective on fit of New Look, at least with this pattern.

  3. Hmm. In the past, I've often muslined as-is, but I'm not a full-bust candidate. This is similar to my current bodice-fitting project, but I started my two versions of that with one sloper drafted to my measurements and the other a pattern I knew was too small. For the sloper I roughed in the waist shaping by tissue-fitting on my DTD, but it's not super accurate and I still had a lot of tweaking to do.

    1. That's a great idea - though for this experience I'm kind of committed to starting with no referents, just to follow the course.

  4. I've begun to take flat pattern measurements especially for woven blouses and tops patterns. I still haven't achieved the fit I'd like in woven blouses so this will be an interesting dialog. I've found one error in a pattern. I make my first muslin with sewn/basted darts and a FBA. The FBA is needed for all my blouses and tops the amount varies on the style. I'll make at least 3 or more muslins for a blouse. There isn't a hard mathematical formula for horizontal measurements at least for me. I can usually get the vertical measurements to work in the first muslin. Draping? I don't do draping at all.

    1. Fit in woven blouses is a nightmare for so many people! Even the skinny-minis! And, btw, it sounds like you are kind of draping, as you're extrapolating from every muslin.

  5. I started taking flat pattern measurements. I even started a document trying to keep track of ease amounts so I can figure out what I like..

    For now I've been making a first muslin with no adjustments, and sewing in the darts, but I'm thinking of starting with a SBA before I cut next time... Hmmm!

    1. Great idea to document things. I'm a real proponent of that (as I'm sure you can guess) :-)

      What Sarah V reminds us of, in her class and book, is that there isn't a right or wrong way to approach things. Sometimes, you hit the nail on the head right off the bat. Sometimes, the route is more circuitous. But you still get there in the end if you keep working methodically.

  6. Your process is admirable and I know I should follow it but for some reason I easily make mistakes in the measuring stage. Martin did too and at some point ditched measuring in favor of draping then tracing lines to the pattern board. I'm intrigued by this method!