Personal thoughts on Pattern Fitting

by Ramona on April 10, 2015

I’m working on a new series for ASG: Understanding Pattern Alteration. There is such a huge body of knowledge that goes into this subject. I posted thoughts earlier this week on our ASG Facebook page: “My mind has been active thinking about different pattern alteration concepts–why are there so many, do they all have very similar end results, what can be learned from clothiers of the 1800’s to early last century for today, what would make it easier for our members to alter patterns and sew their own clothing, how can I help through our educational program, can a new idea be developed that is even easier?”

meauringIn working on this new series and thinking about those who are just beginning the journey of pattern fitting or those who perhaps have limited experience, it comes to mind my journey in all of this and what I have learned along the way:
• First and foremost it is a journey. It takes time, experience, patience, and a willingness to constantly progress and seek knowledge.
• Though it sometimes seems to be a challenge, it is FUN!!!! –especially when light bulbs go off and things work out well.
• Pattern fitting is achievable.
• Weight gain/loss (even 5 lbs.) can affect fit. It will be more noticeable on a smaller framed person than a larger framed person.
• Don’t “over-think” it.
• There are many methods—thoroughly learn and use the method that makes the most sense and works best for you. After one method is thoroughly learned, move on and explore others.
• Fitting a sloper and drafting patterns from a sloper that fits will give custom fit garments.

drapeHaving done a lot of custom sewing work for many different sized women (and men), and having taught small classes in sewing stores, at our ASG NG groups, and at a small college, I’ve learned there are a lot of things that are not in books that I think are important factors in pattern alteration and fit. Books will discuss grainline basics, but what they miss is an in-depth discussion on how fabric characteristics affect fit and how the creative use of grainlines (ie: bias cut) affects fit:
• Personal preference has a lot to do with fit. Some folks like to wear their clothes tighter, some looser. When being paid to sew something for a customer, it is the customer who ultimately determines the fit. As the paid sewer, I gave my thoughts based on knowledge and experience but ultimately it was the customer who determined what they wanted, whether or not I agreed with it.
fabric • Fabric has a lot to do with fit. Fabric that is bulky with thick,  lofty  and soft natural-fiber yarn making up the fabric will drape, hang and move differently on the body than a light weight, tightly woven man-made fiber fabric. Each has its use in garment style and how fit should be achieved.
• The characteristics of the fabric help define the fit. Is the fabric stretchy? Is it stiff or drape-able? How does it feel and move on the body? Only the person wearing the fabric can tell.

connie crawford book dartAnother thing I think is missing in doing pattern alterations is a basic knowledge of pattern drafting, how to fit a sloper, and how the sloper is used to draft personal patterns. A greater understanding of pattern drafting will make pattern alteration understandable:
• A sloper is a fitted skirt and bodice with minimal ease—basically just enough for movement such as raising the arms, sitting, and bending.
• The pattern of the personal sloper is then used to draft custom fit patterns–or personal garment styles. Because the sloper has been custom fit, drafting from the sloper will give a custom fit to the subsequent patterns and garments. Finessing of the fit is done by drape-fitting and defined in great part by the fabric chosen for the style.
• Drafting patterns gives an understanding of:
o How pattern pieces are developed by rotating darts, changing darts into styles such as gathers or tucks which then can be identified on a commercial pattern.
o How shoulders are moved up or down, in or out to create a stylized line and room for a shoulder pad, thick or thin. If there is an understanding of pattern drafting, then when fitting a commercial pattern there is an understanding of how much the shoulder was extended out and  lifted up for a jacket or coat and how alterations should take place to keep the style lines of the design yet fit the garment for a particular body type.
o How armholes are moved in or out, up or down for the fit and look of a particular style like with a dolman sleeve or a kimono sleeve or simply an alteration needed for an armhole that is too low on a fitted blouse style.
o How the bodice is lengthened or shortened to produce a style and how much ease is required whether for a style such as a blouson silhouette or an empire waist. If there is an understanding about how the style was drafted, then understanding how to alter the commercial pattern–and retain the styling–will be easier.
o How much “design ease” is created within the garment for the silhouette and how the chosen fabric needs to factor into the decision of the ease for a personal fit.
o How pattern companies define their particular fit ease and design ease encompassed in terms such as fitted, easy fit, loose fitting, etc.

1As you can see, there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to pattern alteration and personal fit which is probably what adds to the confusion for those beginning the journey of pattern alteration and fitting. It needs to be a constant search of reading and researching knowledge along with experimenting and testing to gain experience. Truly, it is the experience gained by sewing with different garment styles and fabrics that will ultimately make things easier over time. With that experience, the sewist will automatically be able to look at a style and know which fabric type, the amount of stretch in the fabric, the fiber content and fabric drape that would be best for the garment to be sewn. In the same realm, it is the same experience that will allow the fabric connoisseur to look at, inspect, and analyze the hand of the fabric to know which styles with which the fabric will work well. Choosing a pattern based on the commercial company’s descriptions becomes easier.

quadrantsI think some sewers quit sewing garments thinking they will never be able to understand or achieve acceptable fit when in fact, they are just on the cusp of having all the parts and pieces come together in those “light bulb” moments of achievement. It could be something as simple as learning to “read wrinkles” by simply working in fitting quadrants and reading the grainline of the fabric and understanding how the grainline relates to the body and garment style.


Please, don’t give up on fitting and altering patterns. Keep at it. Gain the experience. Seek knowledge. Ask questions, read books, look at videos, and learn from other ASG
members. Soon that light bulb will go off and all the parts and pieces will come together because each experience builds upon another for understanding fit and pattern alteration.

Sew ‘til next time…enjoy the journey of sewing!

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