Sunday, March 20, 2016

Thinking Out Loud About Fitting

WARNING:  Picture light, and word heavy!  This is for my fellow fitting nerds . . .

Before I get started on this post, I want to mention that this morning I realized I'd left out some information from my first Inari post that I think is pretty important. I've gone back and edited that post, but I thought I'd add it here too:

You may be wondering why I went to all the trouble of cutting along the seam line for the front and slashing and spreading for the back, rather than just adding some extra to the outside of each cutting line.  Sometimes adding to the edge of the pattern works, especially on straighter edges and for smaller additions, and where two adjoining pieces will add the same amount. But in my experiments with fitting over the last few years, I've found that I often make things easier for myself by maintaining the length of the original seam line.  In both the adjustments above, the length of the seam line remained unchanged, and therefore everything matched up like the original when I went to sew the pieces together.  So more and more, I tend to adjust along the seam line when possible.

To illustrate this point, imagine 2 concentric semi-circles, let's say 1/2" apart.  If you could straighten those two lines out, you'd find that the inside line is shorter than the outside line.  Now imagine that those two semi-circles are pattern pieces with the inside line being the seam line and the outside line being the cutting line, and you need to add more room.  If you just add, say another 1/4" to the outside, your new seam line moves out to correspond - but it is now longer than it was originally!  If you did not make a corresponding adjustment to the piece it will be sewn to, they won't fit together.

So, seam line adjustments seem like more work - and they are a little - but they often save me a bunch of frustration.  And I get to feel like I really know what I'm doing ;-)

OK, so now today's post begins :-)

I think about fitting All. The. Time.  It's one of those things where I didn't know that I didn't know, but now that I do know . . .  I was perfectly happy for a long time buying and sewing clothes that fit OK, but not great.  But once I started to learn how to fix some of the areas that weren't fitting well, I became kind of obsessed with it.

Add to that the fact that I'm a "Princess and the Pea" kind of girl - seriously, the other day my foot was bothering me and I finally discovered that there was a flax seed in my shoe.  A flax seed!!  I'm very sensitive to sound and touch - I hate getting my hair cut because it hurts when the hairdresser washes, combs and styles it!  So when my clothes are too tight, or dig in certain areas, or shift so that I have to keep yanking them back into place . . . I'm not a happy camper.  And that is the main reason that I do all the fitting I do.

So for quite a while, I've been trying to pay attention to how my clothes feel when I'm wearing them, and apply that to changes I might make when sewing.  Scooping that bit out of the front armhole on the Inari is a good example:  that feeling had been bugging me for a while on many garments, and it finally filtered through to my brain how to fix it.

I received a few comments both here and on Instagram to the effect of "Oy - if I have to make that many adjustments, I'm just not going to make that thing!!"  I get that, I really do!  The thing is, from an aesthetic point of view, a lot of the adjusting I do isn't strictly necessary.  It's just what I do to make myself feel more comfortable in my clothes.

I'm going to give some examples of that in a bit, but first I think it might be helpful for you guys to know my starting point.  In addition to having 3 different sizes for bust, waist and hips (not at all uncommon) I also have a LOT of asymmetries in my body - more than most, I believe.  For instance, one of my legs is longer than the other (which creates a tilted pelvis, which creates differing hip curves right and left) and the shorter leg has a longer foot to compensate!  I have a prominent shoulder blade on the right side only, so if I were going to REALLY make a perfectly fitting garment, I'd have to create different patterns for the right and left sides of my body.  I could go on . . .

To illustrate, here are the adjustments I do - I think you'll be shocked by the sheer number!

I almost always have to do:
1.  Forward shoulder adjustment (and corresponding sleeve head adjustment)
2.  Broad back adjustment
3.  Sway back adjustment
4.  Larger hip adjustment
5.  Shorten sleeves
6.  Shorten length for skirts, dresses and pants

I often also have to do:
7.  Low round back adjustment (a.k.a. dowager's hump - oy!)
8.  Outwardly rotating elbows adjustment
9.  Shallow upper chest adjustment
10.  Prominent thighs/full seat adjustment for skirts or pants
11.  Knock knees adjustment for pants
12.  Narrow upper chest adjustment

Yeah, it's a lot.  I don't have to do all of these all the time, but I always have in the back of my mind that this is a menu of changes I might have to choose from.

I've noticed that how much fitting I have to do depends not only on the style of the garment, but also on the brand of pattern I'm using.  I'm sure that comes as no surprise to most of you.  While I do enjoy the challenge of fitting, I'm not a glutton for punishment.  So for instance, I mostly avoid Colette patterns these days because they just take too much re-inventing of the wheel to work for me. I've found that patterns by Burda and Named are often really good starting points for me, i.e. need less adjusting.  I'm having a love/hate relationship with Style Arc at the moment because I love the designs, but have had mixed results with the fit.

Most of the time when I'm trying out a new pattern for a woven, I'll do a tissue fitting first.  The tissue fitting doesn't always diagnose all the issues, but it's a good start for me.  For knits and stretch wovens, obviously that won't work, since paper doesn't stretch. So I generally make up a garment using a similar, less expensive fabric.

In both cases, after I've made my first garment, I wear it a bit and then go back and tweak the fit.  My problem is that when I make something I like, I usually want to make five more Right Now!!  After I made my Inari dress the other day, I really had to stop myself from immediately cutting out another.

Now, like I said, a lot of the adjusting I do isn't really necessary for appearance. Once I started to learn to fit, I found that I look at people on the street and assess the fit of their garments AND my reactions to their garments.  I often can see where they'd need adjustments, but you know what?  It's mostly no big deal - they look fine.  And I know that I do too, in a garment that doesn't have optimal fit.

Here are some examples pulled from things I've made over the last few months. Last week I bought the Grainline Lark pattern.  The very first thing I did was to trace out the pieces in size 2, grading to 4 at the hip and removing 2" from the bottom.  I also did a small forward shoulder adjustment, 3/8" I think.  Here's that top:


Pretty nice, huh?  It's still a little long, but that's because I used a very drapey rayon jersey.  The next day I made another one, also navy blue, in cotton/lycra and the fit was much closer and shorter.  (I couldn't get a picture because it was too cloudy that day.)

Then I got curious:  what would this pattern look like on me completely unadjusted?  So I decided to find out.  I made the third one with no adjustments except for the body length - I'm only 5'4" after all! This one is made from rayon/lycra jersey.  And it looks fine!  It was also comfortable enough for me to wear it for 2 days.


Here's another example.  I'm exploring French jackets lately.  I made my first one in January, all by machine, to see if I liked the style on me before going whole hog with the handmade kind.  I used a Burda magazine pattern (03/2012 #109) and did a quick tissue fit, after which I only did a small forward shoulder adjustment. Here's jacket #1:


Looks great, IMO!  And feels good.  But after wearing it a couple times, I decided to refine the fit.  For version 2, I narrowed the shoulders 1/2" (unusual for me), took a 1/4" tuck out of the upper chest and added 1" overall to the hem width. Very slight adjustments that produced an even better fit.  Good enough that I also used this pattern for the leather jacket I made earlier this month:


These are to illustrate my point:  do I really NEED all the adjustments?  Not necessarily.  But do they make the garment look and feel better?  Definitely.  And I truly enjoy the challenge of figuring out what each new pattern needs.  But if I didn't enjoy it, I could totally skip it and it would be fine.

So for those of you that don't enjoy going to these lengths with fitting - don't! Unless a garment is uncomfortable or doesn't fit at all, don't worry about it!  I'm perfectly happy wearing RTW pants and jeans that have wrinkles at the back of the legs.  But if I'm making pants or jeans, I do what I can to remove those wrinkles. It's an interesting pastime for me.

I'll end with another picture of my Inari dress, version one.  I like it; it's comfortable enough.  I will certainly wear it even though the fit isn't spot on, because the fabric is so pretty.


Are you a fitting nerd too?  I'd love to hear your thoughts on these matters.

33 comments:

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  2. I think you've summed it up in excellent fashion (see what I did there) how garment sewing and fitting is an individual journey.

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    1. Hehehe - I do see what you did there, and it's perfect!

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  3. Hi Gail! I hear you on the altering the side seam issue ...it would require walking the pattern and truing the seam but IMO it is the method that changes the intende shape of a pattern the less. When you slash and spread like you did you are not actually adding ease or modifying the base measurement but actually adding flare which is a style change. In the case of the Inari though a large difference in circumferences between hips and bottom opening would result in a more accentuated egg-like shape that one might or might not like. The bottom line is the Inari looks great on you! I can't wait to see how those sleeves will fit. On the more general to fit or not to fit discussion I'm with to fit but not die over it and especially not to overfit. I noticed the people that overfit end up with garments that tend to look all the same. I think pattern brands are just like clothing labels therefore they will offer a different fit and raise different fitting issues unless the are based on generic templates found on books; in that case of course they will all have the same shitty fit. So I don't get those people complaining about there being too many pattern designers out there. I can't really imagine a world with only one brand of clothing!
    ps. I am obsessed with fitting pants so I stare at people butts in public places ... there must be some folks out there that think I am a weirdo :)

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    1. LOL, Sasha! That last bit!! I hope you don't get caught! ;-)

      You're right, I did add flare along with the hip ease. It worked out OK for me on this dress because I did want a bigger opening at the bottom (I hate it when I have to take baby steps because of my clothing) and I definitely didn't want to have an even more pronounced egg shape! I think this compromise was necessary on this pattern, and I'm happy with it. But now you have me really curious: do you know of a way I could have gotten the extra room at the hip without changing the shape at all? I get stuck a lot on dresses with no waist seam, re: fitting. More geekery!

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  4. I really enjoyed reading this post. I delved deep into fitting after losing a bunch of weight post-baby #3, and really enjoyed feeling like I knew what I was doing in addition to the actual resulting garments. For me, that type of nerdiness is one of the joys of sewing. But now, still carrying all the weight from baby #4, I find myself without the motivation to make the effort ... because I'm hoping I lose the weight. So I'm waiting to sew for myself. Which kind of sucks. But things like a shoulder line that I need to keep shrugging forward, or ill-placed bust darts, tend to render garments unwearable for me. If I don't make the effort to fix the problems, it's just wasted fabric.

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    1. I mostly agree - it's just wasted fabric. But I keep reminding myself that I'm learning from the rough drafts :-)

      I know what you mean - I went through a couple years when the shape of my body kept changing (thank you, menopause!) but now that things have stabilized, I'm a lot more willing to put the time and effort into getting a good fit. Also, it's so interesting! Having a challenge keeps me intellectually engaged in sewing.

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  5. Fantastic post Gail! I totally agree on the reasons for fitting. I *wish* I could wear ill fitting clothes, I really do. But wearing a dress that I have to say, continually pull forward on my shoulders is uncomfortable and frustrating for me, because I can't stop noticing it!

    Discovering the forward shoulder adjustment was a real turning point in making clothes I actually want to wear. And like you Burda is an excellent match for my figure, to the point where I always end up in trouble with patterns from other companies.

    Do you ever find some patterns which won't seem to fit correctly, despite pulling out every fitting trick in the box? I've recently muslined and turfed Grainline Archer (kept falling back on my shoulders), Sewaholic Granville and Simplicity 1587 (had literally no movement with sleeves on) because even with my usual fitting adjustments there was no way those patterns would fit. Simplicity 1587 makes me especially sad as it is a beautiful retro reprint.

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    1. Thank you so much, Siobhan!

      That's a really great question. I remember having zero luck with the Colette Peony dress 3 or 4 years ago and finally giving up on it. But that was before I really delved into fitting. I may be able to get it to work now that I know more, but the Christine Emery Dress came out in the meantime and I got a great fit with that, so I never bothered.

      I know for myself that I usually get better results with patterns that have a center back seam (one reason I was surprised the Inari dress worked for me!). I think that the better understanding I get of the shape of my body and what clothing shapes work best for me, the fewer troubles I have. It's similar to knowing that there's zero chance I can buy a pencil skirt from J. Crew - I just don't have that shape.

      I guess I lean toward thinking that you could get any pattern to work, but it might take a lot of tinkering, and it may not end up having the same silhouette - so why bother? Why not use a pattern that works, right? My leather jacket above is a really good example. The pattern I originally intended to use was very similar, but instead of 2 a front panel, a side panel and a back with a seam, it had the back cut on the fold and 2 front panels. After I did a tissue fitting, I realized that in order to make it fit me well, I'd basically end up with the pattern I'd already been using - so why do all the work? Instead I stole the collar and adjusted it to fit my existing pattern. So much easier!

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  6. I am also a total fitaholic, and like you many of my adjustments are subtle but result in a garment that not only looks better but feels beautiful to wear too. I find many of my adjustments now are quick to do and I make them without much effort or thought, although I guess I am used to spending up to an hour making flat pattern adjustments before cutting out my fabric. It's just part of the process and worth every moment for the finished product. Ready to wear doesn't fit me out of the box so I don't expect to be able to sew up a pattern out of the packet either. Like you I am across 3 sizes, for me I am small busted and narrow in the back and shoulders, plus many other figure quirks that all "disappear" when wearing something properly fitted. One of the reasons I love your blog is your approach to fitting!

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    1. Thank you so much, Janelle!

      That is an excellent point - no reason to expect sewing patterns to fit out of the box if RTW doesn't!

      It took me a while to get to this point - when I first got back into sewing after a long hiatus, I just wanted to play with the fabric ASAP. But now I find I really enjoy the time I spend thinking about the pattern, tracing it, figuring out what (if anything) I need to change for fit. It's all part of a very enjoyable process for me.

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  7. I nearly always make the same set of adjustments you do, although I have less asymmetry. I do always need to narrow the upper chest, though. Thanks for these posts - I was just about to buy the Inari pattern, and now you have kindly shown me all the adjustments I need and how to do them! Sewing bloggers are just the best !!

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    1. Excellent, Lynne! Glad to have done the leg work for you!

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  8. i admire your fitting adventures, and love reading about them.. on the other hand, i hardly ever do any adjustments when i sew for myself, mostly out of laziness, but also because i usually sew with burda patterns, and know they are going to fit me ok without adjustments.. they not gonna fit perfect, but good enough :) but, with other pattern companies, it's often a different story, and i chose not to even go there..

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    1. Thanks, Mokosha! Can't say I blame you - I could probably sew quite happily for a long time just from the Burda magazines! In fact, when I was into sewing about 15 years ago, that's pretty much what I did. Of course, now there's always something new and shiny to distract me, what with all the independent designers :-)

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  9. I've been on the verge of leaving sewing groups because someone posts a question and are told to "just add to the side seam". In the most recent case, a woman had made a woven tee with no bust darts. No you should not "just add more seam allowance"! You need to create a dart!!!

    WAH!

    I'm totally not *there* yet in terms of fitting as I am still learning what good fit is for me. Sometimes I finish a thing, and a love it, and then realize on the 2nd or 3rd wear that the thing is definitely not fitting comfortably. But that's the kind of learner I am.

    If I had to try to work out all my fit issues in the beginning I probably wouldn't be sewing right now.

    I also think that writing out a list of fitting adjustments always seems like "WOW! It's so much stuff!!" but once you know what you have to do, it really isn't nearly as cumbersome as it sounds.

    LASTLY (whew!) - that Lark tee fits you so perfectly!!!!

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    1. You've seen me . . . I am a stranger to adding bust darts, LOL!

      I do the exact same - I did it with the Inari dress! As soon as I put it on the first time, I thought it was great. But when I put it on the second time, I'd had some time to reflect on what could be better. I think we just get temporarily high on new garment fumes :-)

      For me, having the list helps a lot (even though it's a long list). It reminds me of the areas I might need to look at, and I know I won't need to do all of them. Sometimes I forget until after I've made the garment!

      Re: the Lark - thanks! I'm very happy with it. Making more today :-)

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  10. I really love your fitting posts because they've made me aware of so many fitting issues I can address on my garments that I'd either never thought about or wasn't sure how to fix (like the outwardly rotated elbow thing!). I have such a ridiculous amount of fit issues with RTW that just doing the basics like cutting different sizes on top and bottom, narrowing shoulders, and making a swayback adjustment can make a huge difference in fit for me. As a result, I've been lax about figuring out some of the more minor things that, as you say, don't affect appearance so much as they affect comfort. I've felt so much more comfortable now that I've started doing things like forward shoulder adjustments - I no longer need to keep yanking my clothes forward! So I'm a huge fan of the quest for a more perfect fit, and I really enjoy reading your fitting posts.

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    1. Thanks, Gina! It's one of the things I love about sewing: there's always more to learn, so it never gets boring!

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  11. Your post totally sums up my own views on fitting. It's good to be at a place where I know the basics (forward shoulder, square shoulder, petite upper, SBA, etc, etc) but then the list is so long I wonder if it's worth the effort! Of course, it *is* worth the effort, but sometimes it's okay to just ignore it all and stop tweaking every. little. seam.

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    1. Agree! My new goal is to get enough practice with these that I can tell by looking at the shape of the pattern pieces which adjustments I'm likely to need. Not quite there yet!

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  12. Great post Gail! Sometimes I feel like I'm 3-4 sizes (narrow shoulders, then bust, waist and hips often falling in different size ranges) so I'm learning all the time what works well for me. Doing forward shoulders is I think such an underrated adjustment - I'm yet to do one with a sleeve so that might be an Easter experiment! Which method do you use for sleeve adjustment - the method described by Heather B? (Sorry if I've asked before). And BTW your lark looks great! Xx

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    1. Thanks, Sarah! I do the adjustment like Heather B, but slightly differently. I'm planning on doing a blog post, hopefully in the next few days. Just have to stop making t-shirts long enough to sit down and do it ;-)

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  13. Great post, Gail! I like the problem solving aspect of going through my list of common adjustments to try to get the best fit I can. I know I still have a lot to learn and I'm so excited about our fitting class in the fall.

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    1. Thanks, Teri! I do too - although I admit that sometimes I just wish it would work out with no thinking, LOL! But I always feel so proud of myself when I manage to figure it out. :-) I'm really looking forward to the class too - continually refining my understanding of fit!

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  14. This is such a great post! I totally get what you're saying about not knowing what you didn't know. I never used to think about fit the way I do now. And I get downright obsessed with it sometimes. I am constantly checking out other peoples' clothes, and I get distracted in movies and tv shows now because I'm so busy checking out their clothes and how they fit. LOL
    My issue is sometimes I think I really get into overfitting. And sometimes I forget that I have to wear this thing. I did that with my Maria Denmark Edith blouse. I made all these fitting changes, but I really didn't take my comfort into account. It fits, although it's far from perfect, but I never wear it because it's uncomfortable. So for me this is a good reminder of fitting for comfort too, not just for appearance. I love reading your fitting posts and you've taught me a lot!
    And while fitting does take extra effort, it feels so good when you have it figured out!

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    1. Thanks, Heather! It is a fine line, isn't it? And so many variables - different companies, different styles, my changing body. I'm coming to terms with the fact that I probably won't ever achieve perfection :-)

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  15. I love fitting posts :) I am a freak out fitting adjustments. We have a lot of the same things we adjust for too so I always look forward to these posts of yours! Thanks Gail!

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    1. Thanks, Kristin! I always check your posts for fitting tips too!

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  16. Super-Interesting Post! I feel like I want to read it several times, there's so much good info.

    Right now, my sewing is comparatively very lackadaisical, although I have started working on getting a better fit and have come up with a couple of adjusted TNT patterns. That said, it just amazes me when someone mentions a 1/4" adjustment.

    Thank you for taking the time to explore this fascinating topic of fitting.

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  17. I know, just found this, super late to the party.

    I sew because I can get things to fit me, to suit me, to cover me up appropriate to the job I'm doing (or not doing as it happens). I will take things apart and refit them years later, tweak it here, tweak it there. I've learned to leave bigger seam allowances than I used to, just for that future.
    I spend enough on the fabric, I took enough time pondering what to make out of it, and I know I reach for some pieces more often because they fit better.
    So why wouldn't I?
    Love your thinking. Great blog

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