Another Piece of the Pattern Fitting Puzzle

Working out Pattern Fitting

High school Chemistry wasn't a waste!
Applying the Scientific Method one pattern at a time.

It has taken me a long time to submit to pattern fitting and alteration. I stopped sewing for myself a few years back because fitting seemed so daunting and so mysterious, and worse, so unattainable. I expected to sew an item from a pattern and have it fit, perfectly, right out of the envelope, at least as well as ready-to-wear. But I forgot that when I try RTW on, some of it doesn’t look right at all. Very frequently I have to move on, or try a size up or down, before settling on some slightly ill-fitting version of acceptable. Why should I expect a sewing pattern, designed for a certain proportioned body, to fit mine without any modifications? Those measurements on the envelope aren’t answers. They’re clues.

Pattern Fitting Checklist

Who knew you needed a thick skin to sew?
A well-fitting garment will look better despite my "flaws."

Little by little, over the past year, I’ve been cracking the code that is fitting my imperfect but one-of-a-kind body. I know I’m short —that’s an easy alteration. Short-waisted, too. I’ve accepted my shape is not the ideal hourglass but columnar—as Selfish Seamstress coined it so aptly, I need a FWA (Full Waist Adjustment). Not only that, I have a pot belly. At my thinnest I had it, and it hasn’t gone away with crunches and core work. So I learned, by dipping my toe in the water, how to make adjustments for those things.

With a little more scrutiny on my homemade clothing, it dawned on me that I have Some Sort Of Back Issue. I don’t know what it’s called. It might be sway back, or it might be erect back, or even a bit of both, but most importantly, I anticipate the need for attention to this area, and I’ve figured out how to make the pattern alteration. (I usually take a wedge out of center back, tapering to nothing at the side seams.)

I don’t have a dress form padded out to my measurements and I don’t see one in my budget in the near future, but while we’re dreaming let’s put this one on the list. Sigh. They even have one for a straight torso instead of a curvy one! Back to reality… All of my fitting is done by myself, by staring in the mirror and pinching and pinning and twisting around and trying something else. There are no sewing friends nearby to help. My high school teacher Mr. Sherrow would be happy to see I’ve finally made use of the scientific method—coming up with a hypothesis and putting it to the test to draw some sort of conclusion.

When I was making the Schoolhouse Tunic, I had an ‘Aha!’ moment that led to my current fitting experiment. It just dawned on me when I placed the bodice on my frame for the first time: I have Square Shoulders! This is totally nerdy sewing stuff, but I was excited to figure it out. Of course, being of a lazy mindset I completed the tunic as is, and knew I’d research and apply that alteration to the next shirt project.

I remember when I was pregnant I started seeing pregnant women everywhere. Now that I’ve identified the Square Shoulder issue, I see it in all my clothing, when I was completely oblivious to it before. All of my shirts have that droop right behind my neck. I suddenly remembered the back neck gaping on all my shift dresses I sewed last summer. I wondered about it, but couldn’t come up with a solution at the time.

I’m working on my second version of Butterick 5678 now and using my go-to fitting reference Fit For Real People as my guide for this new piece of my pattern fitting profile. The first version of B5678 I made earlier this year is a wearable muslin. It has two sleeves and opens up the front—I’m proud to say it reads as a shirt to the general public. A closer look, however, reveals some funny details. I sewed both of the breast pockets closed when I attached the pocket flaps. I didn’t expect to put anything in those pockets, anyway, so I just left that misstep as it was. I made some seriously hideous buttonholes. Fray Check I love you. I screwed up the bottom of the button band and had to invent a sort of patch to go over it. I cut a tiny hole in the sleeve near the cuff and added another patch there—both style elements to the naked eye, I assure you.

Anyway, this next version is going to be awesome! It will even have the Square Shoulder alteration and for that, I’m pretty stoked. Who knows what pattern fitting puzzle pieces I’ll discover next?


9 thoughts on “Another Piece of the Pattern Fitting Puzzle

  1. chicenvelopements

    I think it’s so cool that you are figuring all this pattern altering stuff out. That is a goal of mine. I’d love to be able to create clothes that fit perfectly.
    Thanks for sharing what you are learning along the way!

  2. stirandstitch

    i really want to learn how to alter patterns for a better fit, but i’m so intimidated by the potential for disaster! congratulations on jumping in and figuring it out :)

    1. littlepostcards Post author

      I’m starting to realize the potential for disaster is higher if I don’t try to figure it out. :) It’s taken me long enough and plenty of wadders to come to that conclusion!

  3. liza jane

    I make a square shoulder adjustment every time now. I remember figuring out that it got rid of that strangeness at the back neckline. I also lower the back neckline. I have some other sort of back issue going on, but haven’t figured that one out yet. Good luck with sorting it all out! It’s fun to figure what works, what doesn’t. I always feel better in clothes that fit me well.

    1. littlepostcards Post author

      Sorry it’s taken me a few days to reply to your comment – I was away from electronics, wandering around NYC getting inspired! That’s a good idea to lower the back neckline – I hadn’t thought of that! Hopefully all of these fitting tweaks will become second nature after a while.

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