the Quest for a Perfect Fit

I have a thing with getting just the right fit in a garment. It’s one of the plethora of reasons why I sew now instead of buying RTW – though I do still purchase clothing here and there. I had long avoided making anything that required a perfect fitting bodice with sleeve. But then I decided that I really wanted a perfectly fitted shirtdress. That one dress that brings out everything I love about my body and gives me a little Oooomph in the upper body. Now, you may ask, “Why? Why, Sunni, have you avoided a making a piece with a perfectly fitted bodice?” I’ll give it to you straight. Two words ~ armscye and sleeve. Enter my Christmas Break project. Come on now, don’t be shy…

This is the shirtdress folks. The bodice anyway. Originally it started its life as McCall’s 4769, but there is so little left of the original pattern that I’m terribly tempted to say it’s mine. Fine, I’ll just say it. It’s mine with a collar and button down placket from McCall’s 4769. And this thing fits like a glove.

Let’s get back to my piece on the armscye and sleeve, shall we? Yes, let’s, because I’m quite sure that you are all dying to know what my big problem with this thing is. Well, let me tell you. Not only do I have a very forward thrusting shoulder (this means that my actual shoulder, actually thrusts forward more than what is considered the norm)(it also means that it thrusts forward a good whole inch more than a traditional commercial pattern) but I also have a very broad upper back (this means that only the upper back is broad not my entire back – and it also means that its quite broad by about 1.5″ beyond traditional commercial patterns). What it all comes down to folks is that when I make a bodice on anything – shirt, dress, jumper, jacket, etc. – I can’t put my arms comfortably out in front of me. Daily activities like driving, eating, opening a door feels restrictive and quite frankly, by the end of the day it starts hurting because the fabric has rubbed my skin raw in the front shoulder/upper arm area. In fact, I stopped buying woven shirts altogether because of this very issue.

So, now I’m sure you’re wondering what this all has to do with McCall’s 4769. For starters, I made about 7 or 8 (maybe more, there were so many that my memory is a bit shaky) of that particular bodice. It’s really just a basic sloper bodice – two darts in front and one in back – and I put sleeves in each and every one and in not a single one could I put my arms comfortably in front of me. Finally after exhaustive thinking and doing, sewing and cutting, slashing and spreading, I had a serious epiphany and reached for Simplicity 2724, something I had completely forgotten I had made with much success (this is the Naughty Secretary Dress btw). This is the one bodice with sleeve dress that has worked like a charm. And it is now my sloper/fitting shell, etc for the top portion of my body. Granted I had to lengthen it, put the darts back in and take the puffiness out of the sleeve, but in the end, I think I’ve got something that is nothing short of a revelation for me. I intend to start using it to see what I need to change on a pattern before I go directly into creating a muslin. I’m rather excited about it to say the least.

What’s that one item you are afraid of making? Do you fear/dread the awful adjustment of trying to fit it just right? When you fit something, are there things you are willing to live with and things you just won’t? Arms being able to drive my vehicle ranks rather high for me. And now, I can! Yay!

I have a few things to finish up on this dress (as you can see) before I give you all the big reveal, but don’t worry. You will be jealous. Guaranteed. Indeed, I do believe that you should be after 7 or 8 (possibly 10-ish) muslins.

xoxo,
Sunni

  • Reana Louise - I’m already jealous! Jealous, and excited to see this perfectly fitting (nearly totally designed by you) garment! For me the dreaded thing is swimwear. My lyrcra taunts me Sunni, taunts me, because of my sheepishness. Not in 2012 though–I’m going to make swimwear my bitch.ReplyCancel

  • Debi - First, love your new blog layout. Second, that dress is AMAZING! Great job on designing and fitting this beautiful dress! I can’t wait to see some pictures of you wearing it!ReplyCancel

  • Mrs Mike - Pants are my nemesis! I’m tall, and I’m used to adding length to shirts for a better fit. But after having children, between adding length and trying to adjust for my not so slim tummy, pants are a royal pain. I typically end up with RTW which are at least 2 inches too short :( ReplyCancel

  • Seraphinalina - Love it! Such a classic dress, you’ll get a ton of use out of it justifying all the work.

    I’d say pants are something I haven’t tried. Partially because I just haven’t looked at a pants pattern and ever thought “oh wow, I can’t wait to do that” the way I do for dresses, tops, bras, panties… One day I’ll get annoyed enough at the RTW pants I have and want to make my own.ReplyCancel

  • Kathi Giumentaro - Hi there. I have the same problem. Very forward facing shoulders and borad back. (I don’t think I really have a broad back. I think the forward facing shoulders is the cause)
    I have made 6 wool skirst in the last month and a half. This is why I’ve ordered the petersham from you and yes, I am avoiding the dreaded button down. It’s on the top of my list to get right in 2012 and will be the most frustrating. If I come out of this with 1 TNT I will be happy.
    Thanks for this post. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one making way too many muslins for one item.ReplyCancel

  • Corinne - Absolutely nothing in sewing is more gratifying than finally solving a fitting problem, good for you! The dress looks great, can’t wait to see it in total. Love the new site design too.ReplyCancel

  • oonaballoona - sloper is my dreaded fear as well… but seeing your gorgeous shirtdress makes me a little less afraid…

    at first i thought the red pins were an embellishment, the color goes so well with the material!ReplyCancel

  • Shannon - That is a great looking dress – looking forward to the big reveal.

    I have the exact same issue as you. Standing there with my arms at my sides – no problem. Reaching forward – binding at the bicep and across the back. I prefer vintage patterns due to this problem. They usually have darts at he shoulder that help add some fullness across the upper back – right where I need it most. I even add them to most of my contemporary patterns now too.ReplyCancel

  • Darci - What a great dress, Sunni! You are going to wear the HECK out of it! After that many muslins, I agree you SHOULD be proud of the amazing fit. We ALL have fit problems, which was a complete surprise to me before I took a pattern fitting class. I have to make the same five alterations for every Big4 pattern, which is a booger, but in the end, it’s all worth it. Clothes that FIT are fantastic!

    You actually inspired me to get off my duff and FINALLY make a pair of pants that fit and make my tush look fantastic, so currently, I’m working out my second muslin for a pair of Colette Clovers. Pants are my nemesis, but 2012 will be the year of NO FEAR of pants!ReplyCancel

  • Suze - Oh, how I hate setting sleeves! I always end up with some sort of bubble or pleat – very frustrating. Must get better at that this year. I am narrower in the bust and shoulders than commercial patterns want me to be in comparison to my waist and am still learning to fix this completely. I usually end up with a very annoying little gape at the top Centre Back. I WILL eliminate that this year, if it is the last thing I do *shakes fist at heavens*. Your shirtdress is absolutely beautiful – I am sure than jealousy will be experienced!ReplyCancel

  • sue - sunni, this dress looks lovely! can’t wait to see the completely finished product. love the little ties on the sleeve cuffs…pure adorable! and the collar is darling as well! I personally am afraid of really delving into fitting garments just right, but you’ve given me a little boost of inspiration/motivation. :) ReplyCancel

  • CGCouture - I’m anxious to see how you’ve worked this out, and am crossing my fingers that you’ll post a tutorial or something, because I also have a narrow shoulders/chest & broad upper back, but then I have to throw an FBA in there too. Maybe if I have a springboard I can work out how to fix it for my narrow shoulders and FBA from there.ReplyCancel

  • Stephanie - Oh my goodness, I love that dress. I’m excited to see the finished product. Those sleeves are darling.

    I like fitting to a fault. I slash my patterns, muslin away, then almost have a panic attack cutting into fashion fabric. It has to stop. I can’t wear RTW woven shirts either! This year I need to fit a couple of button-ups and slouchy silk tops. Those would be fabulous additions to my closet, which is full of UO v-neck poly blend knit tops.ReplyCancel

  • Melanie - Fitting issues are haunting me too right now. I’m glad to read about how you went about achieving this and I look forward to reading more when you’re ready for the big reveal. How does one find the time to make 10 muslins, though? Thats what I’m jealous of actually! :) ReplyCancel

  • Lauren - My dreaded fear was pants, but I’m conquering that one (with many many thanks to your trouser sew-along to reference! And a copy of Pants for Real People! and the Colette Pant-Fitting-Cheatsheat! Damn pants take too many references). I just recently had the epiphany that I have to shorten the crotch in all my patterns because I am petite. I have no idea why this just occurred to me (and not, oh, back when I became an adult & realized that I needed to shop petite sizes & get everything hemmed!). MAGIC, I tell ya!

    I want to make a shirtdress this year – and I am so excited to see the grand reveal of yours! I am especially loving that collar. Ugh you have the best clothes.ReplyCancel

  • Suzie - Oh my, I am loving this dress! I cannot wait for the big reveal – and believe me, I am ALREADY jealous! A shirtdress is one of my goals for this year and I’m ever so slightly (!) nervous about sleeves!

    As for what item I’m most nervous about making..at the moment it feels like I’m afraid to make ANYTHING for fear of finding out what adjustments I need to make. I think I’m a very lazy stitcher and would love to be able to just cut out a pattern and make it up and it fit! But where’s the fun in that?!!!

    Love your new blog look too by the wayReplyCancel

  • ELizabeth - The dress bodice looks fantastic! Can’t wait to see you wear it.ReplyCancel

  • Ginny - Your dress looks beautiful! I hope you share some pics of it on when it’s finished. Out of various fit issues I have, my thighs are the biggest one (almost literally). I’m a very obvious pear-shape, and though my waist and high hip measurements are fairly standard, my fullest measurement is actually around the top of my thighs just below my…erm… posterior. I have finally drafted a successful pencil skirt pattern in the last couple of months, and now hope to master 1940s style wide-leg trousers. Now that my last trusted brand of RTW jeans has subtly changed the design so they no longer fit like they did, I think I’ll need to make a lot more trousers for myself!ReplyCancel

  • Kristin - I have the same problems and I avoid woven tops for the same reason. I made a sleeveless top last year and had to add TWO INCHES to the upper back. That’s insane! I prefer vintage patterns for tops as well because I almost never have to alter the back and they have that lovely shoulder dart. Also measure your upper bodice length. If you are short in that area, you will want to shorten that part all the way around, including the sleeves. This raises the armhole and you’ll be amazed at the difference in comfort this makes.

    I HATE setting in sleeves more than anything. Lately I’ve been altering sleeve patterns to reduce the ease considerably. I find that, for me, a very small amount of sleeve ease (like less than an inch) works well and is perfectly comfortable.ReplyCancel

  • Cindy - Oh, I do so hope that you share your tips! I just had that exact problem with a dress I just made, and then I realized that I’ve been having that problem with EVERY dress I’ve made! I think this is subconsciously why I haven’t made anything with sleeves, too. That dress looks absolutely lovely, though! Can’t wait to see it!ReplyCancel

  • Laura - I fear/dread the armscye and sleeve too. I don’t know exactly what my problem in that area is yet- that is why I can’t fix it. Every shirt I have ever bought does not fit me there. I only buy knit shirts because of it. My mom must have had the same problem but she just used big shoulder pads to try to hide it. I am not a fan of that look. Maybe I need a shorter armscye than normal. I will figure it out eventually, when I get over my issues with “wasting” time on a muslin only to start a new one, and then another one and then another one. It isn’t really a waste of my time or muslin because then I would have it figured out. I think I just hate the idea of cutting it out. Again. I loathe the cutting part of sewing. Is that normal?ReplyCancel

  • Lizz - I love, love, love this shirtdress! I bet it looks amazing on you! This is the year that I finally start working on fitted garments. I think my biggest hurdle is often identifying the fit issue in the first place – I’ve spent so much of my life in ill fitting clothes that I don’t always know what a good fit looks like!ReplyCancel

  • Alessa - Oh, pretty! A shirtdress is totally on my to-sew-list, too!
    The garment I have most trouble fitting (in sewing and RTW) is pants. I’m not pear shaped, but have rather hefty thighs, so I have real problems finding pants that are wide enough in the thigh but not too big in the waist/hip area. Also, short legs. I have made one pair of pants which were fiddled with so long, I have no idea which fitting steps I’d have to do the next time. It’s something I’m going to try again this year, though!
    Another step in fitting I always have to do is take things in below the bust. My waist is 2 sizes bigger than my bust and hip measurements, which means garments need to be close-fitting at that point or I look huge. ;) ReplyCancel

  • K-Line - What an awesome dress! I’m afraid of many things, fitting-wise :-) Bras continue to elude me but, one day, I will crack the code. Given the size of my chest, that will be a mega win!ReplyCancel

  • REbekka - I could NEVER imagine being able to sew something this well!!!ReplyCancel

  • Jessie Heninger - Oh my that is so wonderful. I am currently making a pencil type skirt (up to now I’ve mostly made dresses and a-line skirts) when I came to the awful (on so many levels) realization that two children have left my waist for then two sizes off from the rest of my body. Eeep! I’ve already bought the fabric. So I’m trying my best after reading fitting chapter in various sewing books to change the pattern trace the new pieces and will start my muslin soon. Oh how I am dreading the entire thing. Maybe I’ll get lucky and it will work like a charm.ReplyCancel

  • Melanie - Have you read this article:http://www.threadsmagazine.com/item/4498/the-merits-of-a-basic-fitting-pattern
    it explains how to use a basic slopper to analyse patterns and figure out where adjustments need to be made. I’d love to be able to test this method out.
    I get so frustrated with fitting sometimes! Especially the back. Even with my home-made dress-form, I’m not always able to get something sleek and wrinkle-free. I have a narrow back and it’s hard not to over-fit patterns that are supposed to be close-fitting. I tend to go for fabrics that have a bit of stretch to them for that reason.
    This dress looks lovely, I’m eager to see pictures of you wearing it!ReplyCancel

  • Kristin - I have the exact same problem! Every time I try on a RTW woven shirt or jacket I have a “fat man in a little coat” moment (remember Tommy Boy from the 90s?). Since I’m still pretty new to sewing, I fear fitting in general. I tend to gravitate toward sleeveless or loose-fitting patterns. But I hope to get over it some day so I can actually wear a woven top with sleeves and not feel like I’m going to split the seams like the Hulk.ReplyCancel

  • Lavender - I have the same exact issues when it comes to moving my arms in front of me. And you know what, I just picked up that pattern again (god, I’m so inconsistent!). Glad to know that the Simplicity has your dream bodice, and here’s hoping it will be mine, too. This year I really really want to get good at fitting. Wouldn’t be great if Kenneth King would pop in, analyze you and send you on your merry fitting way?!ReplyCancel

  • Jo - Wow. Congrats on a winning pattern! What you have described sounds exactly like common issues I face: the broad back, the forward shoulder. Would you be able to show your new pattern laid over the “original”, so we could see where adjustment were made on the flat pattern? I find myself so lost for ideas on how to make adjustments, that I’m hoping seeing a fix might make it all make sense!ReplyCancel

  • the Dress that Nearly Killed Me! - [...] it is. That dress. Pretty cute huh? I’m so completely in love with it, that I’m just about to cut out [...]ReplyCancel

  • Vicki Kate - Your dress is Amazing and you look stunning in it! I’ve back tracked to your shoulder fitting post here http://www.afashionablestitch.com/2010/sewing/how-to-fit-my-body-pt-i/#comment-10899 and it’s exactly what I need as I’m fitting my first set in sleeved top at the moment and have that whole arm binding / tight across the upper back when I reach forward but otherwise the fit is perfect! So massive thank you!ReplyCancel

  • rebecca - I also have forward shoulders and shoulder blades that protrude. I decided to make a dress form of my body to help with the fitting of my back. i just made a romper that used this form. it seems like it works out really great. it was hard trying to ask my boyfriend to help me fit the back after altering so many muslins. Now I can do it myself.ReplyCancel