Focus on Fit: the Birth of a Sewing Pattern

I debated whether or not to include this post in this series, but I’m becoming more and more passionate about using a basic pattern to start with than anything else – something we’ll go over more in depth later on. Knowing about how patterns come to into being will help you understand why they don’t fit some people, most people, all people, whatever. I hope you’ll find this post revealing especially as refers to demystifying how patterns are made.

You might be surprised that not all sewing patterns start from what we know as a sloper (something like the fitting shell patterns from McCall’s, Butterick or Vogue). In fact, I nearly fell off my chair when I read this passage from Fashion Incubator (also, read this post and this post if you are interested in the process, especially if you’ve ever thought about creating your own sewing patterns):

“The real meaning of sloper is a pattern without seam allowance, regardless of what it’s for. Drafting a basic fitting shell (“sloper” to home sewers) is just a whole lot of work. In real life, there’s faster ways to get there. Beginners feel as though they have to earn their stripes by doing it the hard way, that they have to put a lot of work into drafting a basic fitting shell as tho it were a rite of passage or something. It’s amazing the work they put into it and what for? They still end up with a jizillion iteration cycles. Bummer.

Now, the way we do it is to buy or use something that is similar to what we want to do and we fit that. Then we use a basic body -a block or an existing pattern, the fit of which we already like- and transfer to that, whatever the distinctive features of the new style. Plus, we make our fit changes. This way our first prototype will come out looking pretty good. For example, let’s say we’re making a coat. We are not going to start with a basic fitting shell. We will start with a coat pattern that we already have, that looks closest to the style we want to develop. That’s much different than how they teach you in school where everybody starts with a basic fitting shell. Fitting shells are pretty close to useless when it comes to style development; doing that, one will end up making a lot more iterations than we do. In real life, you’d be hard pressed to find a basic fitting shell pattern in the plant of any manufacturer. Beginners go from a “sloper” to coat incrementally. That’s a lot of work. Start with a coat. Make the changes, including fit. Then, bingo, you’re there. If you want to make a blouse, start with a blouse. Develop a basic range of styles that fit you and use them over and over again.” [emphasis added]

Though Kathleen is talking about industry patterns to create garments in the ready-to-wear world, this gives you a taste of how sewing patterns – from any company, commercial or independent – are made. The number one question I’m asked when teaching is, “Why don’t sewing patterns fit me?” Let’s talk about what the pattern companies are fitting/drafting to – what/who are the models? What is the original sloper fitted to? The Big 4 fit to a dress form, or so I’ve read in many different places. Personally, I think that reveals a lot of things. Who is a dress form size and proportion? Dress forms are very helpful, but they are not real people. Still the pattern companies have to start from somewhere. The independent pattern companies? Who do they fit for? Usually, these small businesses fit their patterns to the creator of the company. For example, Tasia is the model for Sewaholic Patterns. She stated this in so many words right at the outset of her pattern company. She drafts for pear shapes and she is a pear shape and so its easier and more beneficial for her to start with something that fits her body type and create patterns from there. I think its really really important to approach fitting from this vantage point. Instead of always snatching up the latest and greatest pattern from the pattern companies, it can actually be really beneficial to just look at the latest designs and create them yourself from your own set of patterns that already fit! I realize that reinventing the wheel each time a new pattern comes out (meaning I actually have to fit that pattern) is just not something I care to waste my time doing – unless of course they fit you right out of the envelope or with very few alterations. Develop a basic range of styles that fit you and use them over and over again.” The even better thing about this approach is you can take elements you like from a pattern that you have not fit and subtract things you don’t like. Let me give you an example.

Kill-Me-Dress-5

Remember way back when I made this shirt dress. This dress has been in heavy rotation and was finally retired this year. I have worn this thing to death. I have loved this dress so much. It was awfully hard to fit, but in the end I did it and had a wonderfully fitting dress.

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Then I saw the release of Colette’s Hawthorn this year. In the back of my mind I thought, “Hmmmm…I could recreate this style with my own pattern (that already fits!!!) by simply changing the neckline treatment.” No, my pattern is not the same as Colette’s but my pattern fits me and has many elements that I prefer to the Hawthorn. For those of you that are interested, I actually picked up the Colette Hawthorn and tried to fit it. For me its not worth it. There were so many things that needed fixing that in the end, it would be easier to draft my own version of the neckline using my own well fitting pattern than try to get this pattern to fit me the way I want. Additionally I could subtract the things I didn’t totally love, like the collar treatment and the absence of the sewn-on button placket for my own pattern. See how that works?

Now, what I’m not trying to do here is bag on sewing patterns. Sewing patterns are wonderful because drafting your own slopers from scratch can be a huge ordeal. I’ve done it and it is a big deal and really, I didn’t get any better results than I did when I just fit a fairly basic sewing pattern. There are exceptions – straight skirt, leggings, a t-shirt maybe, but seriously, fitting and a well drafted pattern go hand in hand. Just because you draft a pattern, to your measurements, does not mean it will fit you – ask me how I know…. This all feeds back into that same idea – Develop a basic range of styles that fit you and use them over and over again.”  What needs to be clearly understood here is that you don’t have to purchase a new sewing pattern every time you want to sew a different style. Look at the patterns that you have in your stash with similar lines/shapes, that you’ve made, that you’ve already done the fittings for and manipulate those, add in new details and such.

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I know this post is getting long, but I also want to give you another idea for starting with something that fits you better than a sewing pattern ever could. A rub-off. Getting a pattern from a pre-existing garment. Remember when I did this little knit cardigan? Remember when I made this jacket? Both were rub-offs. I utilize Steffani Lincecum’s book for how to do this and I do it a lot. She also has a Craftsy class on this topic. So does Kenneth King – he uses a different method, but achieves the same end in his Jean-ius class. He also shows you how to do it in this Pattern Review class. There are many ways to do a rub-off, so don’t think that there’s only one right way. The key is, if you have a dress, skirt, blouse, jacket, etc., etc., that you bought from so-and-so and you love it and you wear it to death and it fits you just the way you want it to fit you, then get a pattern from it, asap. You will have eliminated a ton of work for yourself. If you end up purchasing Steffani’s book, it also gives you ways to change the pattern. Yes! You can create a whole wardrobe of tops from your favorite blouse. This book has completely changed the way I look at sewing patterns and fitting. I love it that much!

Alright, I’ve given you a lot to chew on here. What do you think? Does it surprise you how sewing patterns are made? Did you ever think that you could play designer instead of letting the pattern companies do it for you?

  • Maggie - Thanks for this series, Sunni! Making a pattern from an already existing one makes total sense. I have tried to make a sloper and it ended disastrously! A lot of time and energy for nothing at the end but a little heartache and lots of muslin :) ReplyCancel

  • Eva - Thanks for this. I am taking a beginner’s pattern making class, and while I am enjoying learning the tricks of the trade, I cannot see me going through the sloper process for myself – we’re carefully measuring a dress form in class, and still have 3 fitting iterations, and I cannot even see yet how that would work on a real human! Your remarks are just spot on. Buying that book now!ReplyCancel

  • cristina - I´m currently unpicking some old worn out trousers that I like a lot. Hopefully I will be able to replicate them without leaving any piece out! (it always happens with machines and bicycles ;-) ReplyCancel

  • Jackie - So appreciate your post!ReplyCancel

  • Barbara - Strangely enough, just yesterday I was looking at my pattern collection which, like my cookbook collection, I love to paw through and seldom use precisely for the reasons you’ve so articulately written; it requires too much energy to tweak them to perfection. I came to the conclusion that all I needed were a few great-fitting patterns and a little imagination. Unfortunately it’s taken me decades to figure this out, so I have amassed quite a library!ReplyCancel

  • Meredith P - This was *very* helpful and interesting, especially about the part about starting with a coat to make a coat, etc. I’ve typed up and printed in large letters “Develop a basic range of styles that fit you and use them over and over again” to hang in my sewing room. Thank you! Looking forward to future installments.ReplyCancel

  • Marianne - Thanks, Sunni! I’m in the middle of copying my favorite jeans with Kenneth’s Jean-ius class. Can it be this simple? Get this one right and never need another pants pattern? Hope so!ReplyCancel

  • joelle - this is actually a very simple idea, but a genius one! it’s so easy to get distracted by shiny new patterns, but really, with a few basic shapes and basic drafting skills, the world is yours!ReplyCancel

  • ciara long - thank you so much for doing this series! i find it so hard to get patterns to fit me and i’m really looking forward to the rest of the series. also thanks a mill for the link that book! its currently in my amazon cart!!
    love the blog, Ciara xReplyCancel

  • KaoruMarie - argh, I wish this post was written two weeks ago before I started making my own sloper! I have my first sloper measured out and I haven’t even tried fitting it because the next few steps in my book were so daunting….so many iterations! Your post makes so much sense…now I need to go make some rub-offs of blouses I recently purchased and love! I can’t wait for the rest of your posts on this topic.ReplyCancel

  • Kristin - I’m actually not that surprised at how dresses are made! I’ve experimented with patterns (that usually fit me with minor alterations) and I’ve rubbed off clothing (before I had even heard of that term) and it’s ridiculously easy. When I looked into creating patterns “properly” (i.e. with a sloper) it seemed to time consuming and ultimately, not worth it. I continue to rub off various clothing from my closet to make new things and secretly I feel guilty, like I’m doing it the wrong way even though it makes sense to me. I really loved this post because, as silly as it sounds, it gives me the validation to continue on my path when I constantly feel the need to buy new patterns and I look forward to more essays on fitting!ReplyCancel

  • Delawa - Amen!
    I agree, I am an unique body pear shaped but I go through so much to sew something and this idea is the solution to my problem.
    My measurements are 41, 37, 52 with long arms, heavy upper arms, slant lower back , long legs , full hips 11 down. See what I mean. I am tired of taking classes and work away with nothing. I took a blouse apart and I am been doing my own thing . I will look into that book.ReplyCancel

  • Laura - I made a sloper in school, but switched to a pattern block because I wanted a sample size that was more flexible, and found the pattern block fit better.ReplyCancel

  • Amanda - I absolutely agree with the idea of developing a range of styles and using them over and over. It’s been my ultimate goal since I started sewing, but two years into my sewing adventure, I still have not used the same pattern twice. This is partly because I went through a huge learning curve in the beginning on what styles actually suit me; and partly because my size changed drastically due to weight loss. So now I’m kinda back to square one, and figuring out what “basics” I need, and which patterns will best meet those needs (which means I have to make each one and see if I actually wear it LOL)

    What it comes down to is that I think finding our basic patterns, and going through fitting each time we try a new one, is gonna be tedious, yes, but personally I’m willing to do what it takes to reach that goal in the end of having some great TNT’s that I can rely on! ^__^ReplyCancel

  • Karen - I’ve recently decided to stop buying patterns (at least for this month, lol) and make my own from existing basic patterns that fit. I love pattern drafting and I hate fitting so it just makes more sense. I have some fitting issues: freakishly broad shoulders, rounded upper back, flat chest, sway back, and that’s just my top half! I’ve never owned a pair of jeans that fit well. I am working on a fitting shell though. It’s not quite done, but I already find it helpful for understanding the shape of my body and why things fit the way they do. When it’s done I’m going to use it as a cover for my dress form so I can do more accurate draping.ReplyCancel

  • Thewallinna - This is exactly the reason why I stopped buying patterns. I came to a conclusion that with 12 issues of BurdaStyle issues and 25-30 pattern of other companies + some pattern-making basics I will be able to create pretty much anything I want. Although, I have to say that I find my slopers useful, especially the skirt.ReplyCancel

  • Beth B. - I literally was researching slopers yesterday and considering making some. After reading this, I think I’ll take a different approach :) It definitely makes more sense to start with the patterns I already have and go from there. Thank you for soaring me all that extra time!ReplyCancel

  • Michelle - Very good idea and actually one i am trying to get into.. However, finding those first couple of patterns to make up my collection of go-to patterns is proving to be quite hard as well! That’s why i have decided to take some classes with a seamstress who will help me with fitting. Can’t wait to read the rest of your series!ReplyCancel

  • Jennie - I hope to reach this level someday, where I can use my well-fitting pattern or garment to draft a new style.

    Getting to that point that is tricky. I have never owned a ready made garment that fit well enough to copy, and, with the exception of a pair of leggings, I have never sewn a well-fitting garment, either.

    I gave up sewing years ago because the patterns never fit. I’ve just started to try again and am hoping that this series will help me reach my goal of having a few basic patterns that can be used to draft whatever I want.ReplyCancel

  • Rosie Wednesday - Wow! That makes total sense to start with a coat to make a coat! I’m so glad you shared that. I’m just getting into using slopers and did a post recently on my blog on buying ones that are custom-made for you as a shortcut (and pretty reasonably priced). I’m fascinated by all the options!ReplyCancel

  • EmSewCrazy - You have just freed me!! I alter patterns all the time to get the look I want and was feeling guilty, thinking if I had my own sloper I could just draft/change it to what I wanted instead of sifting through my patterns. SO nice to know that it’s actually a legitimate way to make clothes!ReplyCancel

  • Sarah - Well I’m surprised!! I’ve been drafting my own patterns for a few years after going to college, but I didn’t realise pattern company’s do that, it does make total sense though and it’s now got me thinking differently too! Thanks for sharing this info :) ReplyCancel

  • Carol - You mentioned that Sewaholic’s patterns are geared towards more pear shaped figures. (I found this out for myself when I tried to make her lounging pants) My shape is wide at the shoulders and narrow hips. Do you know of any independent pattern makers for my type of figure?

    Thanks in advanceReplyCancel

  • KayoticSewing - >> Develop a basic range of styles that fit you and use them over and over again.

    Makes so much sense. Why go through the trouble of fitting again and again and yet again, when you can take a basic pattern after the fitting part is done and just chnage the style!ReplyCancel

  • Miss Crayola Creepy - I have had Steffani’s book on my Amazon wish list for a long time. You have convinced me to order it :) ReplyCancel

  • Kathleen - I used to cringe when I heard the term “sloper” but I’ve gotten more used to it. I’m old enough to remember when it was still a derogatory term. Maybe the correct pronunciation provides a hint; traditionally, it rhymes with slop, not slope.

    Slopers originate from the nascent years of organized apparel production (late 1800′s). RTW firms of the day weren’t called RTW (ready to wear), they were called “slop shops”. Intentionally deprecatory of course and their competition (custom tailors) said slop shops used “slop patterns” (shortened to slopers) to cut a range of ready to buy sized clothing. Among old school manufacturing workers, the term “sloper” is still deprecated; it marks a neophyte. We tend to use the term “block” but again, we mean a block to be what home sewers call a “TNT” or tried and true pattern.

    But I digress. I think the big 4 serve their market well enough. A lot of sewers never get on the internet or discover indie patterns. Big 4 are good for budget minded people who are learning to sew and are young and trim enough to wear anything. I think that indie patterns are great because they pigeonhole a fitting segment. Like RTW designers, it is best that indies carve a fit and style niche rather than trying to hit broad swathes of the market like the big 4.ReplyCancel

  • Terri Gardner - Just went on Amazon and got the book. I have a class with Crafty that I’ve haven’t had time to look at that’s goes along with this idea. I need to get on that!ReplyCancel

  • crab&bee - What a timely post – as I get more into fitting patterns, the more work it sounds like to try new ones! I’m getting better at reusing the patterns I’ve already fitted and only buying ones that have a truly new design or design element. I do have to say that I’m surprised that there aren’t more pattern companies like Sewaholic that cater to specific body types. Imagine if you could bypass some of the most common issues to your shape!ReplyCancel

  • Qui - This is exactly what I want to hear!! :) I’m not in a position to buy many new patterns right now, and fitting new patterns is such a pain. I’m already working off a dress turned blouse pattern, making different variations. And I spent time looking at coat patterns this morning, only to realize nothing is exactly what I want and I might as well alter the blazer pattern I recently used.
    I could not agree more with you on this Sunni!!ReplyCancel

  • Susan Partlan - I absolutely agree with you that this is the way to go in developing your own home sewing patterns. The sloper-based home sewing patterns are great if you are very trim and your body measurements and proportions closely follow those of the sloper. Otherwise, you might as well come up with your own.ReplyCancel

  • theresa in tucson - And there’s just something fun about taking a collar from one pattern, a sleeve from another and grafting them onto yet another basic pattern and coming up with something unique and that fits. When I buy patterns now I tend to buy for the details I can harvest or for those styles I don’t already have. If the silhouette is already in the collection a screen shot is all that’s needed to provide the inspiration.ReplyCancel

  • K-Line - I totally agree with you – and I think you’ve articulated this so well, Sunni. I read the rub off book, on your advice, and I’ve applied the principles since then – namely with a new bra pattern (not that it worked – but I’m getting close). I’m now considering the items in my wardrobe that I like a lot (or want to modify). It’s easy to fall into the lure of pattern-fitting but sometimes it’s a lost cause. Recreating something you’ve already worn many times – something which you know will fit – is a very smart idea. Mind you, I can do this with a simple garment (not that bras are that simple, more low in pieces!) but not with a suit jacket, for example. Well, maybe I can. Maybe I’m just intimidated.ReplyCancel

  • hearthrose - I like having a fitted sloper for my beginning and working from that. I find using anything else excessively painful. I wish there was more instruction on how to do this – how to adjust the ease, etc, appropriately.

    Short, busty, short arms, high waist, heavy stomach… the list goes on. Starting from my own pattern is the only way to go, regardless of how painful it is to draw it up in the first place.ReplyCancel

  • lisa g - great post! thanks for sharing this info. developing a range of styles to make variations on makes complete sense; and i guess i’ve been doing this, though not consciously. in fact, i always feel a little “untrue” to a design when i’m changing things to get to my vision, so i guess i feel somewhat vindicated now!ReplyCancel

  • Carolyn - I don’t use the rub-off method but you know that my entire sewing is based upon a basic range of styles that fit me and that I use over and over again. I add pieces from other patterns, cut my patterns up, and use them over and over again. I do admit that I buy a lot of the new patterns but always on sale. I like seeing the pieces of the patterns up close and imagining how I can use them with my TNT patterns. I’ve also got a collection of vintage patterns for the same reason, to garner new ideas using vintage techniques…things that aren’t covered in the newer patterns. But I only buy patterns that fit my style,just in case I want to attempt sewing it.

    This was a great post Sunni especially since it verified/confirmed my sewing philosophy!ReplyCancel

  • Amanda - Sunni. thank you so much for this post- it really make a lot of sense. For some bizarre reason I had in my head that I needed to have drafted a block and get going from there. When it comes down to it- the styles I love are all quite similar and it makes more sense to work from those patterns that have already been modified. Anyways, thanks for the thought provoking post!ReplyCancel

  • starryfishathome - This sounds a very sensible way of building a pattern wardrobe. I have never had a well fitting pair of jeans or trousers, so have had to work on endless nearly fitting muslins however.
    I expect to have a set of basics worked out and then will be able to apply this theory.ReplyCancel

  • Elena Knits - Thank you for this very inspirational post. I’ve been thinking about this over and over for the last months. I started sewing one year and a half ago and I learned how to draft slopers and modify them. Then I tried the world of bought patterns; and I still don’t know what to stick to. The ones I draft myself fit without major issues, but I have problems to do heavy transformations and sometimes a bought pattern is kind of shortcut, if I don’t have fitting issues, off course. Still thinking, and thanks to you, I know I’m not alone in this.ReplyCancel

  • Sarah - Great post, really super helpful, but all I can think about is your blue dress. It is perfection. I am going to need to make my own version very soon.ReplyCancel

  • sallie - This is so brilliant! I feel like this is unconsciously what I’ve been doing, but I just didn’t know the “why”. For instance, I’m very leery of buying new pants patterns because I’ve had horrible experiences trying to fit crotch curves, and I happen to have ONE pattern that I already like the way it fits through the center front and rear. I’d much rather make style adjustments to the pattern I have rather than chance it with a new, possibly ill-fitting pattern! Anyway – this is just such a very smart, practical way of building up a pattern collection! Thank you for putting it into words for me!ReplyCancel

  • Kelly - This is such a great post, thank you, Sunni! I really want to get to the point where I have a collection of great-fitting patterns that I can just adapt. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) commercial patterns, or at least Simplicity which is most of what I sew, fit me pretty well with just a small petite adjustment, and right now that seems easier than getting over the pattern adaptation hump. I would love to have a simple, streamlined pattern collection, though, from which I can make almost anything!ReplyCancel

  • anonsewa - Identifying that basic range of styles is really key advice. It will save you significant time, frustration, and money. I still buy patterns, but so few because most of what’s out there I know will not flatter me or I already have something similar that I can mix and match elements. I think some of home sewers disappointment is unlike retail shopping you can’t try on a garment and realize right away it looks terrible on you before you sink in time and energy. It’s taken me the better part of a decade to figure out what companies start with the best fit for MY body with minor tweaks (Burda) and the styles that don’t dissappoint.ReplyCancel

  • Debi - Great post!! This is why I sew primarily with the same vintage pattern company and year….they are made for my body type!ReplyCancel

  • PendleStitches - A set of well fitting patterns in a range of basic styles that I know fit me and suit me has been my goal since I returned to sewing. It think it’s time to suck up the fitting work and put this into practice. Thanks for a fabulous post and a great reminder.ReplyCancel

  • RhoAnna - LOVE this post! Great idea “Develop a basic range…and use them…”- I’m glad to see I’m not the only one to not love the return after the investment of all that time, energy and swearyness of math involved with drafting a sloper. Thanks for sharing!ReplyCancel

I see your silk peau de soie and raise you DUCK DYNASTY!

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I totally don’t get why more people don’t want to sew. I mean what is double faced wool, or Liberty of London Tana Lawn or exquisite silk crepe de chine to Duck Dynasty cotton prints? These are the things that dreams are made of. Rednecked, bearded camo men. I have to hand it to Hancock Fabrics – this was brilliant. Brilliant. It just landed in my mailbox yesterday and all I can say is, I hope there’s still some left. It’s not as if any of us really wanted a Hancock or Joann full of beautiful natural fibered cloths/fabrics anyway. This is definitely what we all want. Right….RIGHT?….(I hope my sarcasm isn’t too blatant. A little over the top maybe?)

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  • Fara - I am so glad to see someone say what I say all the time. WHY will JoAnns and Hancock not carry the fabrics we are asking for? Thanks for voicing that.ReplyCancel

  • Graca - Oh my gosh! I thought that was a joke, but it is quite funny. Despite the chuckle, I think I’ll pass.ReplyCancel

  • F. K. - I love Duck Dynasty! But a fabric store is not exactly where I would expect to find Duck Dynasty related things! I’m pretty new to sewing (at least since high school, where I didn’t learn much) so it’s good to know that my inability to find fabrics I love from JoAnns and similar stores is not entirely on me.ReplyCancel

  • Denise Dooley - Just shows you can find anything you want a JoAnns as long as it’s fleece.ReplyCancel

  • Laura D - LOL! Yes, I understand what you’re saying. But on the other hand… I have two little boys who could soooo use some camo fleece jammies for winter!ReplyCancel

  • Virginia - They have to sell to the highest common denominator, they’re the fabric store equivalent of Walmart. They cater to people who need cheep fabric while they’re learning or want to cloth their family in hardy clothing but can’t afford to buy good stuff on the high street.

    If I’m honest, I used to be jealous of stores like that when I was first starting out. I wanted cheep fabric that I could afford to ruin (because most of the time I would).

    I don’t know about the rest of the UK, but in all the places I’ve lived in/visited the fabric shops have been small, family run ones that have really come into their own since I’ve gotten better at making stuff. There are 5 within walking distance of my house. :-) ReplyCancel

  • Sophie - My husband brought in the mail and made a gasp about this flyer. He asked me if “it was everything I had hoped for”.ReplyCancel

  • Dianna - Oh, my gosh, that is just too funny. I think they are going for tongue-in-cheek humor.
    I do hear you though about not having enough places that carry good fabric. Even though I am fairly new to sewing, life is just too short to sew on bad fabric (fine silks are still out of my experience range although I have a few fabulous pieces just waiting).
    I saw the yarn world really turn around when knitting became popular and I bet we will see the same trend for fabric as garment sewing becomes popular again.ReplyCancel

  • ksgentry - I too received my circular from Hancocks and what another disappointment. I have not yet ventured into the store but I can already envision the entire row of bolts of ‘Duck Dynasty’, pair that with more Fleece than the law should allow, throw in the endless rows of craft supplies and it has now very little ‘real’ fabric. We also have a Joann’s locally and while they are a little better I long for a great fabric store, full of silks,crepe de chine, wools of all colors and prints, maybe throw in some wonderful linens. I live near the 27th largest city in the US,Louisville Ky, and they are no better off. I long for the days of Baer Fabrics, it’s three story building was filled with beautiful fabrics, laces, notions, everything that you needed was there.ReplyCancel

  • Paula spruell - Duck Dynasty is my favorite show!!! My family is from that part of Louisiana. I totally get it :-) ReplyCancel

  • Terri Gardner - I won’t be making anything out of it, but with Christmas coming, I bet it will sell. However, I just ordered some samples from Vogue Fabric in Chicago. Can’t wait for those.ReplyCancel

  • Rebecca Clayton - Hey, at least you have someplace local where you can buy zippers. The nearest fabric store to me (~90 miles away) caters exclusively to quilters, so they have no garment-construction notions whatsoever. I’m so glad so much is available over the Internet these days. 15 years ago, I was just out of luck if I couldn’t salvage fabric or notions from old garments.ReplyCancel

  • tanya maile - This is why I have to buy most of my fabrics onlineReplyCancel

  • Colleen - It’s the equivalent of the Von Trapp children dressed in curtain cloth, I guess.

    Horrid. I was in Joann’s this weekend looking for something for Halloween and they also were featuring a rack of camo prints…..they feel like nothing you want on your body. I wonder if the general populace has forgotten what good cloth feels like on the body. Have people forgotten what a treat it is when skin meets silk or buttery voile?ReplyCancel

  • Isidore - I had to go back and look at my flyer because I didn’t remember seeing it, but it was there. Just shows how good I am at blocking out anything beneath the words “fleece sale”.

    Hey, at least they are using camo as it was intended – to blend in with their surroundings.ReplyCancel

  • Erin - I thought the exact same thing when I saw my flyer. Although I think you missed the satin camo print a bit further in. Because that’s what teenage girls dream of for homecoming/prom.ReplyCancel

  • Cathy - I don’t have a Hancock’s anywhere near me so I guess my duck dynasty camo formal wear line will never come to fruition.ReplyCancel

  • Meigan - Oh…my…goodness. Seeing things like this makes me cringe. Shaking my head.ReplyCancel

  • Carolyn - Thanks for sharing that! I’m not on their mailing lists so I wouldn’t have seen it. It was a great laugh!ReplyCancel

  • CarmencitaB - Very, very funny!ReplyCancel

  • PendleStitches - It’s enough to make you sell your sewing machines. Sigh!ReplyCancel

Focus on Fit

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After my class at Sewing Summit, I’ve been receiving numerous requests from the ladies who attended to publish the material I presented there, here. So to catch y’all up to speed, I did a lecture style class on fit and gave some advice on how to go about the fitting process with some ideas for resources and I demonstrated a few of my favorite alterations and adjustments. I feel that the number one reason people end up never sewing again, is fit. Fitting is frustrating. Oh my gosh, it is so frustrating! What I’ve also found is that while you can get the best fit by sewing for yourself, most times this is the result of a lot of hard work. Personally, I also find (lots to find out with fit!) that ready to wear clothing actually does fit me better than just trying to recreate the look with a sewing pattern. This also usually depends on the sewing pattern in question and the particular style/garment I’m after, but goodness gracious, it can be difficult.

I think the process of fitting a garment can not only be frustrating, but intimidating. Where do I start? What is the best course of action? Do I always have to make a muslin? When I make a muslin, what do I look for? Do I make more than one muslin? What is a muslin? How do I know that what I am looking at needs to be altered and at what point do I reach crazy, and jump off that train so as not to overfit?

So I’ve decided to take you through the process that I go through when I’m looking at sewing a new sewing pattern plus we’re going to have some awesome discussions on different fitting related subjects. I’ll be showing you how to adjust a sewing pattern from a list of measurements – that you’ll take yourself – and from there how to create a proper muslin, what you’re looking and feeling for, my favorite fitting books for looking at your muslin to see what’s wrong and how to fix it and how it is possible to go through this process by yourself and fit yourself without a fitting buddy. A sewing/fitting buddy is awesome, but if you’re anything like me, and you’re fitting yourself at 11pm at night, its not like you can just call up your bestest fitting friend and tell them to get over here and help you out. Fitting is also a process. A long process when you have a fitted garment and sometimes you don’t get all the kinks out of the pattern until you’ve made it up a few times.

I’m really really excited to show you some of my tricks and I received permission to publish one of my favorite fitting tutorials here – one that came as a complete revelation to me and one that I’m pretty sure you’ll love too. Also, all the tutorials and posts for this series here on my blog are mostly finished – meaning they are practically ready to post any day! Yes! That’s means that I’ll be giving you bites every few days and you won’t have to wait and I won’t be a liar and well, you know how that goes.

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To make matters even better, this is all going to lead back into my Pattern Play series that I kind of, sort of started at the beginning of this year. I’m actually getting kind of passionate about how hard it can be to fit a single pattern and then filling your closet with versions of that pattern – easy peasy changes to create a completely different look from one pattern.

So, look for fitting posts up and coming. I hope you’ll find my process not only informative, but also easy to follow and get a feel for. Fitting is not necessarily easy, but if you tackle it all one garment at a time, you will get the hang of it. It’s about practice and training. Kind of like running a marathon or playing a musical instrument – before your big debut, you have to have built up to it.

What do you think about fitting? Is it frustrating for you? What’s the most overwhelming part of the process?

  • Tammy - Thank you so much for doing this. I have taken a few classes from Craftsy on adjusting patterns and making a muslin. However, the “in-between” steps that you mentioned above aren’t often taught. I know everyone has there own process once they get going – however, it will be so nice to learn your approach to making pattern modifications, creating a muslin, and adjusting from there. Thanks for taking this time!!!!ReplyCancel

  • Rachel - This is very exciting. I have read lots about fitting, but have never quite managed to put it properly into practice, so am always keen to learn more.ReplyCancel

  • Maga - Thank you very much for doing this. My daughter and I help each other fit patterns and have learnt a lot since 2008 when we first started doing this but we still have those “scratch our heads” moment when we have no idea what to do next. Looking forward to learning more.ReplyCancel

  • Elisa from CharmingDoodle.com - I’m VERY excited to learn from you about getting a good fit. The number one reason I focus (almost exclusively) on making kids’ clothes is because they are so easy to fit. No crazy curves. I seldom make anything for myself because it takes a long time to get the fit right, and I’m not very patient (aka – I don’t make muslins first) so I waste a lot of beautiful fabric in the process just wanting to sew quickly. Thanks for sharing your experience!!ReplyCancel

  • Lene - Thank you so much for doing this. Fitting is my big problem and the reason why I am not very productive. I have taken Craftsy lessons and acquired (and read) some fitting books and I am getting a lot better. Persistence is the key, which I didn’t apply until recently. I look forward to learning additional tricks from you.ReplyCancel

  • tanya - To be honest i enjoy this part in sewing. The first time i sewed a dress i pick my size on the pattern and got to work. i put it on and i did not fit at all. all that hard work down the drain. so i turn to sewing for my child. then years later i tried again but this time with fit for real people in had and many test garments i learned about my alteration and i took off. I really enjoy fixing pattern to my size. yes it took lots of work..but now it does not.ReplyCancel

  • Alice - I’m so glad you’re going to do this! I have so much trouble getting the right fit, because I never know what I need to fix, how I need to fix it, and where to stop fixing things and say “Yes, this does fit, actually.” My upper body is also weirdly shaped and doesn’t seem to fit into commercial pattern sizing, so sometimes I just get too too frustrated.ReplyCancel

  • Barbara Carlon - I can’t wait for your fitting tutorials! Fitting issues are my greatest challenge, from bust reduction to full bust adjustment. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.ReplyCancel

  • Erin || Sewbon.com - Yessssss! I’m SO excited about this! Thank you for running this series!ReplyCancel

  • The Nerdy Seamstress - Oh my! I’ve been waiting for something like this. I make muslins, but I don’t know what I’m looking for. Everything looks fine with the muslin. Then when I sew it out of fashion fabrics, I have to make more adjustments. I might have to sew a muslin as if it’s fashion fabric. I think that’s the best way for me. Fit is frustrating, but the perfect fit is everything.ReplyCancel

  • Maike - As a beginner, fit is the part of sewing I’m most intimidated by. Like Lene and Magda I wouldn’t know what to look out for. So thank you a lot for sharing your process, I’m very much looking forward to the series!ReplyCancel

  • Maureen Cooksley - I so agree with your comments on fitting…surely the biggest bug bear of all time even to seasoned sewers. I am also eager to learn [which is what I love about your site and posts] and will be logging in regularly to follow the course. If, like me, you have been sewing for yourself for many years, you think you know your own body – that can be a trap – one I’ve fallen into many times. Once I could walk into a shop, pick up a RTW and not even look in the direction of the fitting room, confident that it would fit – and it generally did. Now – all bets are off, and each garment is a bright new revelation. Which I why I make most of my clothes now – so fitting? Yes please!.ReplyCancel

  • Ann - I am new to sewing, just finishing up my fourth item and first dress. I had to make three muslins before I got close to a fit (most problems relating to my short stature, and large, and apparently low, bust). Now, after laboring over the dress for days, I won’t really know whether it fits until I insert the zipper today. Fit is so very important, and elusive for me, as I do not have a standard build. I have an inexpensive, dialable dress form, that seems to be worthless, because even if I get the bust, waist and hip measurements right, the distance between shoulders a bust, and bust and waist are completely wrong. For these reasons, I am very eager to learn every technique you are so generously about to impart. Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • Tracy - I am so excited for this series! I *want* to sew for myself ~ I have a really difficult time finding clothing that fits me perfectly (of course, I don’t shop at pricier stores, where I might be more likely to find something ;-) but you are correct; I get stumped on the fit.
    Another big problem for me is – the fabric. I prefer knits. I am a stay at home mom; knits suit my lifestyle…. but even among knits, there is such a vast difference in how they hang and wear. I’ve made things that fit well, only to have them begin to pill in just a few washes (and I always hang my clothes to dry after just a 10 minute tumble through the dryer) I’ve used my perfected pattern, and ended up with clothes that do.not.fit. what the heck?!
    I am totally sold on the idea of using a tried and true pattern to build a wardrobe, too :-) ReplyCancel

  • Natalie - I am trying SO hard right now not to let fitting myself being the reason I stop sewing. I have no one really to help me fit myself, so I’ve enlisted my husband to learn. Yesterday I made a muslin and we worked on fitting the bodice. Our accomplishment of the evening was that he pinned the back up for me so that I could see what it looked like on. At that point we had to take a break before we both went crazy. Baby steps, right?

    So a series on fitting yourself without help would be awesome! So looking forward to this.ReplyCancel

  • Katie Emma - Looking forward to your posts! I made four shirts from the same simple sleeveless top pattern and finally felt like I got the fit right. Patterns seem to always be way too tight in the armscye and they gape at the back neck. I’d love to see advice on how to modify these spots, especially if there are sleeves or collars to take into account!ReplyCancel

  • maddie - Sunni, this will be great! I used to find fitting hard, until I became a technical designer and that was my job. I have found a certain order of fitting (i.e. fitting from the shoulders down) that works for me. It will be interested to hear your process.ReplyCancel

  • Marianne - If only I could find the mathematical formula that would work any time on my fitting issues! Your posts will be followed closely, interesting stuff!ReplyCancel

  • Mary Solan Avison - Thank you so much for your generous spirit in offering this course. When I was younger I had no difficulty using Vogue patterns size 12 and had only to add a couple of inches around the hips. Now either they have changed or I have, but now I get it very difficult to get a satisfactory fit. I think that nowadays I need guidance on how much ease is required, as I know this varies according to the style, and not the type of garment.

    Anyway keep up the good work I really enjoy your posts, I read them from head to toe and am happy that there are other people out there that still sew!ReplyCancel

  • Tasha - Awesome idea, Sunni! I can’t wait to read more. I definitely feel fit can be intimidating. It’s the “what do I do NOW?” part that’s the most confusing to me when I have those moments. I may know something is wrong, but not always know what in the world to do *about* it.ReplyCancel

  • Gail - This is going to be so great! Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • LM - How exciting!! thank you so much :) I find it very frustrating…the whole process but what really dives me up the walls is the “what am i looking for?” part. and then the “how do i fix it?” sometimes i can’t find a word on the internet and i think i am a freak…anyhow, thanks and i am looking forward to this sereis :) ReplyCancel

  • Mary Pat - Fit is the most challenging part of sewing and why I have thrown away too much fabric. I look forward to reading your insights.ReplyCancel

  • Marie - Very excited about this. I have a lot of difficulties with fit, mainly because I find it hard to judge what different wrinkles mean.ReplyCancel

  • Kerri - As another new sewer I’m really looking forward to this. I started out with a pattern fitting course but the fitting myself I’m finding tough.ReplyCancel

  • Ani - I’m another relatively new sewist — rather, I’ve been sewing for the past twenty years, but only one thing a year and then I get pissy about it because it looks like a 12 year old made it.

    I’m “new” in the sense that in the past two years I’ve been learning about things like “fit” and “actually paying attention to what I’m doing”. I even have to make a muslin of pajama pants because, seriously, I have a pajama pant muslin that is somehow about 5 inches too big around the waist. Why I am incapable of choosing the correct pattern size is beyond me.ReplyCancel

  • Lisa G - i definitely look forward to reading these posts! i feel like i understand my main fitting issues, but it’s taken quite a while to get to that point. there’s always more to learn, so thank you for taking the time to post about this!ReplyCancel

  • Fara - I have been concerned that I am so slow finishing my muslins after having been working at this for a year and a half. It is good to know that it is not that I am just slow but it is hard for everyone until we figure it out. I keep saying I am going to be really good at this someday. Thank you for sharing what you know. Everything helps.ReplyCancel

  • Siri Andersen - Yes! This is awesome! I actually enjoy the fitting/muslin process most of the time, but it can be very frustrating. My biggest hurdle however, is suppressing the urge to wing it. I am bad at structure and discipline, and doing things the proper way. But when I do manage to keep myself in line, things usually turn out wonderfully in the end :D ReplyCancel

  • Diane @ Vintage Zest - For me, the most annoying part of fitting is seeing what I have to change on a muslin, but not being able to pin it on myself. No one else I know sews, much less knows how to pin! Since that is the first hurdle, I’m not sure what other obstacles would lie ahead, but that one is frustrating enough!ReplyCancel

  • Chantal - Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I desperately need this. I’m always so confused and lost when I make a muslin. I can see the problems, but I have no idea how to fix them. I was planning on making several Hawthorn dresses, but I got so frustrated with the fit that I just had to put it aside. I’m looking forward to these posts!ReplyCancel

  • Jackie - I am ready and waiting. This is what I have been looking for!!!ReplyCancel

  • marthaeliza - I really appreciate your honest and direct approach — “it’s challenging, it takes practice and you can do it!” I look forward to this so much, and thank you in advance for all the work it takes to create these posts.ReplyCancel

  • Betty Jordan Wester - I’m super excited that you’re doing this! I can’t wait to read them!

    I’ve gotten to the point where I know I always have to do a gaping neck adjustment and lengthen the waist. I don’t know if I have to do an sba until I make a muslin- and I always have to make a muslin. I’m always shocked when a pattern fits other people right out of the envelope and sometimes a little jealous ;) ReplyCancel

  • Melanie - Great series idea, really looking forward to it. I have found fitting much easier since I got a friend to help me make a duct tape mannequin of myself. She’s not perfect, but it’s much easier to see when I put the garment on Missy (as I call the headless ‘me’) and then play around with fixing it. And that in turn has helped me recognise issues that I can now fix on paper without the need for her. Who knew one shoulder was an inch lower than the other? Missy made that glaringly obvious, but I never would’ve noticed it on my body.ReplyCancel

  • Jillian - Oh my god, I kneel down before you in sheer joy! Thank you for starting what seems like the perfect series for me. I have been sewing for some time and still scratch my head about fitting issues. In fact, my standby is simply running in the side seams. I am beginning to understand this is not nearly fixing fit issues. It’s interesting to try on some of my older makes and start to see their faults with more experienced eyes, but still not understand where to start. I am excited to read your posts!ReplyCancel

  • Miss Demeanour - Oh my how happy am I about this :) The fit is what I do battle with always. It’s the joy of having the proportions of an exclamation mark all top no bottom. I don’t mind the hardwork involved but I agree the start point is the real sticking point with me. Can’t wait to read allabout it.

    Thanks so much :) ReplyCancel

  • Lee - Awesome! Thank you so much for putting this series together! I totally agree with your observations about fitting.ReplyCancel

  • Heather - THIS IS FANTASTIC. I’m obsessed with perfect fit!! When I was in high school I had an impossible-to-fit shape and my mother made many perfect-fitting mini-skirts from the same pattern. I’ve finally realized that I still long for those perfect fitting (lined skirts) and have taken up sewing for just this reason.ReplyCancel

Country Cutie

Having not tried any of Steph’s Cake patterns as yet, several months ago there was a call for pattern testers and so I signed up. I thought it would be a good chance to try one of her pattern offerings and see what I thought. Having seen so many amazing versions of her patterns out there, they seemed really accessible. And I feel that knitwear is definitely something that needs to be beefed up in the pattern industry. The Big 4 have completely wacky knitwear patterns and I don’t mean the designs either. The drafting is basically the same as their woven patterns and I know this because every single time I use one of their patterns designed for knitwear, I have to go down 2 sizes to get even close to the right fit. So weird. So, I feel there is a serious hole in this branch of sewing and something that I definitely support.

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This is the latest, Red Velvet, put out by Cake. The versions I’ve seen are really lovely and they really flatter many people. The sizing process is easy to grasp and wonderfully customizable. Its truly genius. This dress will work in many different knit fabrics and its really versatile not being too overly dressy or too casual. Very much like the Tiramisu, it has a wonderful shape.

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Right out of the envelope or should I say printer (if you get the PDF version), this pattern has a few things that you should be aware of. Starting from the top, the bodice pieces are a tad on the short side. They cut off right in the middle of my breast. This was something that I actually checked before making up my first muslin and had to add 2 inches! Not really a huge deal, but something you should definitely check before you make it up. Additionally, after my first mock up, I ended up adding another two inches to the bodice piece – resulting in four inches total. The original styling, with the midriff seam right under the bust is something I always have problems with. I really do feel that it makes me look pregnant and so I usually always lengthen things like this. Definitely a personal preference and something I don’t feel confident that I pull off very well. Having that midriff more around my natural waist area feels much more….me. To make up for the fact that I added 4 inches to the bodice, I took out an inch at the midriff. Proportionally, I think it does my figure much more justice.

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Surprisingly enough, after adding so much length to the bodice, I didn’t have to add anything to the skirt section. Well except pockets! ha! The pattern itself comes with a train ticket pocket with invisible zipper. Though I’m sure those pocket styles have their place, I definitely wanted something different. So I drafted on my own using Casey’s pocket tutorial. Note that my pockets aren’t shaped with scallops like the ones in her tutorial, but instead just curved side pockets. These are my favorite types of pockets and I do, usually, add them to any dress or skirt that make. Sorry, not sorry!

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Since I was technically testing this pattern, and the pattern line, I did make a muslin in a solid blue double knit. I had hoped that I could possibly still wear the blue knit but found that I had too many problems with it so sacked it and started afresh. I was planning to use another solid double knit, but realized that the muslin – double knit – ended up being too bulky and stable for this style. Instead, I went and grabbed up some yardage of this floral knit jersey. People, I rarely buy floral prints like this, but for some reason, this one really really appealed to me. For those of you living here in SLC, Utah, this fabric is from Nutall’s (the one in Murray) and if you don’t know, this store has like a billion bolts of knits. Seriously. Its the most amazing knit collection I have ever seen. So if you dig the knit – get over to Nuttall’s and get some before its all gone. Ha! This fabric is definitely not something that I usually go for, but the colorway really struck me as something from my 80s childhood and I just knew I would love it. It’s a poly/cotton/nylon blend, not my favorite, but it works great for this dress. Its lighter weight than a double knit, falling into the light to medium weight knit category. The colorway will go perfect into fall I think, with oxblood tights, boots and a cardi.

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Overall, I’m pleased with how the dress turned out. Really not a hard make. You can click on over to the Cake site to see what other alterations I made and such. And I think that’s it! Have you tried any of Steph’s patterns? Thoughts? They are rather brilliant and I’m digging this dress. And…. what do y’all think of this floral print?

  • martha - So darn adorable! the print is great with your hair. Nicely done!ReplyCancel

  • Gail - I love the floral print for this dress. I haven’t tried this pattern brand. My recent foray into self drafting has made me think about any commercial pattern purchases. Your post has also reminded me of a similar printed knit in my stash.ReplyCancel

  • Miss Crayola Creepy - I just ordered this over the weekend and now I am super anxious to get my hands on the pattern! Your version is so beautiful, the pattern and fabric compliment each other perfectly.ReplyCancel

  • Kirsty - That dress is gorgeous! It’s the first version I’ve seen that makes me want to buy the Red Velvet pattern – I love the print, the way it fits you – everything!ReplyCancel

  • Kelly - I really love this! I’ll have to think about that pattern. I’m still a bit afraid of knits being too clingy as dresses, but I think it might be all in my head. Your version looks really fantastic!ReplyCancel

  • EmSewCrazy - I really like this fabric! Good to know about the pattern changes you made. I like things at my natural waistline so it’s good to know what to expect.ReplyCancel

  • sewdooley - Very cute, looks like the kind of comfy dress you can throw on and be set for the day. I was at the American Sewing Expo over the weekend and participated in a focus group for the McCalls/Butterick/Vogue/Kwik Sew group. It was interesting to hear all the comments related to pattern sizing. They have a new president who is much more interested in hearing from their customers.ReplyCancel

  • Jennifer @ Workroom Social - Cute! Looks really easy to wear. I’ve never used a Cake pattern before, but I should try one!ReplyCancel

  • lisa g - very cute! loving that floral knit. it is nice to see more patterns for knits, and big 4 sizing in that arena absolutely defies reason. definitely an opening for the indie pattern makers!ReplyCancel

  • Diane @ Vintage Zest - I have yet to try any of the patterns, but they’re high on my holiday wishlist!ReplyCancel

  • Nancy Nichols - Love the print, and I am right with you on dropping those empire lines to at least rib cage bottom for a more flattering line. I for one would love to see this in a solid, maybe with 3/4 sleeves for cooler weather?
    I haven’t sewn knit dresses in a long time, but I remember struggling with a surplice wrap one of Vogue’s that I ended up re cutting and patching out of scraps when I couldn’t get the thing to fit and still be able to slide over my shoulders! of the big four I find Vogue gives you the most consistent fit. But then I haven’t bought a new pattern of theirs since 2001, so they may be wackier.
    Love the blog!
    Nancy NReplyCancel

  • Doris - The dress is just as cute as you are! Keep on keeping on!!!ReplyCancel

  • Fashionable Stitching & Structured Hems « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World - […] used a floral jersey fabric and inserted pockets into the side seams, you can read about it on her blog.  If you have Tiramisu, it’s easy to use the pocket from Tira for this!   Sunni opted to […]ReplyCancel

  • Mariann C. - That is an amazing looking outfit! :) ReplyCancel

  • jackie - I’m not much of a floral print person but this one looks amazing on you. The colors are wonderful.ReplyCancel

  • tanya maile - Great dress! I love the fabric an the style is very flattering on you. I can’t wait to try this pattern!ReplyCancel

  • Ashley - Love it! The floral purple is really pretty, and it looks awesome with your hair ;) ReplyCancel

  • Judi - The fabric is beautiful and the dress looks perfect on you!ReplyCancel

  • Marie C - Great look, gorgeous fabric! I must agree about the Big 4 — they do not know how to draft patterns for knits. In addition to the wacky sizing, I have noticed: sleeves eased into armholes (totally unnecessary and usually ugly on knit tops), as well as edges finished with woven bias tape or bulky knit facings. We need to support pattern makers who can do better!ReplyCancel

  • Sewhopeful - I love your version Sunni. Fabric is gorgeous and I like how the extra length changes it from a midrif band to a waistband, it really works. And those pockets are a great idea too. Okey dokey, I’m now off to your shop to order some lovely things that I can’t seem to find for love or money over her in Oz.ReplyCancel

  • Shelly - The colours in the print are perfect for the cooling weather. They attracted me too!

    I have the Tiramisu pattern but haven’t as yet made it. It will be added to my list of projects as the weather warms up here.ReplyCancel

  • Ioana - Your dress so so pretty! Your blog is one of my favorite. I wouldn’t have picked the fabric in the store, but now, seeing how good it looks on you, I might just change my likes…and wild!ReplyCancel

  • Ioana - …..and GO wild!ReplyCancel

  • Ginger - This is so, so pretty! I love it on you!ReplyCancel

  • Angeia - I love this print! Your dress is much cuter than the picture on the envelope! I might have to try this one!ReplyCancel

  • Abbey - This fabric is gorgeous!I wish I could get my hands on some of it!ReplyCancel

  • Solange - I love this fabric, after seeing many plain, striped, polkadots versions which I loved btw, this one is really different! I’m making a printed one very soon, let’s see how it goes!ReplyCancel

  • F. K. - I love that floral print!ReplyCancel

Plaid Jacket Chronicles: Prepping the Pattern Pieces

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Mahahaha! And you thought I wasn’t going to finish this series just like everything else I’ve been doing lately, huh? Well friends, you were wrong! Ha! I am determined to finish talking to you about plaids this week. Ok, okayyyy, it might spill over into next week, but then after that, I’ll have conquered plaid and given you tips and secrets for how to do it yourself. Today I’ll be covering how to prep your pattern pieces for cutting out your plaid jacket. Ok, remember way back in this post when I talked about visualizing T-shapes in the three main pattern pieces? Remember that those three main pattern pieces are: Jacket Front, Jacket Back and Upper Sleeve? Yes, yes those are the main players here and I really really really do feel that if you focus on these three pieces, you’ll make life so much easier on yourself. I’ve read so many books and such that talk about plaids and its usually just a one page stint that says something like – “match the plaids at the seamlines.” That’s it? That’s all you have to tell me about planning a plaid? Its frustrating to say the least. So hopefully throughout this looooong series, you’ve felt like plaids are not insurmountable, but fairly conquerable. Anyway, back to those three main pattern pieces….

You’re going to be creating those t-shapes. This directly builds on the previous lesson, so you’re also going to need to remember/know approximately where to place your dominant stripes. Remember that horizontally they go across the upper bust/upper back and vertically you can choose to have them coming down the bust/shoulder blade line or down your center front and back. Let’s gander at the Jacket Front first. First you need to find the bust point. Usually on pattern pieces from the Big 4, they’ll include that info on the pattern. Its almost looks like a bulls eye. However, if you’re working with a pattern that did not include this info – shame on the pattern by the way – then let’s figure out where that is.

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You’ll need to get two measurements from your body. First measure from your shoulder point (the part where the sleeve connects to the bodice) to your bust point. Then measure from your center front over to your bust point. Now you’ll mark the intersection of these two points on the pattern. First measure down from the shoulder point, diagonally to approximately where your bust point is. From there find the center front – again should be clearly marked on your pattern, but if not its usually the edge of the buttons, or zipper or closure. Measure over to your bust point. Mark the intersection and now you know where your bust point falls.

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This info is important because your first vertical plaid line is going to fall right over the bust. Now if you’ve opted to use the Center Front for your vertical dominant stripe, then follow the same direction, but do it over the Center Front of the pattern. To mark the vertical line, you’re going to use the grainline as the reference point. Simply mark a line that is parallel to the grainline over the bust point.

To find the horizontal plaid line, you need to know where your high bust falls. Measure down from your shoulder point to your high bust (I mark my high bust with an elastic tied around the area) and then cut that measurement in half. The horizontal line should fall about in about the middle of the armhole. So to mark your pattern, simply measure down the half distance from your shoulder point to your high bust and mark a line that is perfectly perpendicular to your vertical plaid line. I love love love my 1/8″ gridded ruler for this job – probably my most used sewing tool. Don’t have one, get one! Yes!

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Moving onto the Jacket Back. You’re going to use the Jacket Front as your reference. Match the shoulder seams and mark the vertical plaid line. To get the horizontal line, lay your pattern pieces side by side, with shoulder tips level and mark the horizontal line from the front in approximately the same place.

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From there, extend the vertical and horizontal lines across the pattern in reference to the grainline. The vertical plaid line should be perfectly parallel to the grainline and the horizontal plaid line perfectly perpendicular to the the grainline.

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Upper sleeve is the same deal, with a minor exception. Its very possible the the plaid will not match at the back sleeve and in that case it is more important to match the front plaids. To get your horizontal plaid from the Jacket Front, you need to walk the seam lines. To walk walk seamlines, simply put the pattern pieces on top of each other like you’re going to sew it. Start at the shoulder tip and walk the seamline from the tip of the sleeve to the horizontal plaid mark on the jacket front. Then you’ll need to add about half of the sleeve cap ease. To find out how much sleeve cap ease you have, you need to measure the armhole and then measure your sleeve (both the upper and under) where it connects to the armhole at the seamline. The sleeve will have a larger number and you subtract the armhole measurement from this and voila! you have how much sleeve cap ease is in the sleeve. Divide that number by 2 and relocate the horizontal plaid mark for the sleeve.

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Then, of course, mark the vertical and horizontal lines in your upper sleeve pattern. I like to put the dominant plaid down the center of the sleeve or at the shoulder tip. Again, the horizontal plaid line is perpendicular to the grainline and the vertical plaid line is parallel to the grainline.

The other pieces will be cut based off of these three main pieces. I’ll go over that in much more detail in the next post.

I do hope this is clear. If it ain’t, speak up! Also, do yourself a HUGE favor and reduce the sleeve cap ease on the sleeve piece on any of the Big 4 sewing patterns (sometimes other pattern companies have too much ease too, just check) by following either Casey’s tutorial or Jessica’s or Sallie’s. I like to have 1.5″ sleeve cap ease in jackets. You might like a little more or a little less. Usually there’s something like 2 – 2.5″ of sleeve cap ease in Big 4 patterns, sometimes more. Makes it impossible to put the sleeve in and they end up being uncomfortable and if reduced it also gives you a fighting chance with the plaid match-up. And please, don’t get me started on the “zero sleeve cap ease” thing because I actually don’t think that sleeve cap ease is a myth. I’ve tried so many times to get rid of all the sleeve cap ease in a set-in sleeve and have yet to succeed at not having crazy drag lines up and down my arm. Instead, I slowly drive myself insane thinking its something that I can accomplish. While I do believe that it could be/can be/has been achieved (like many things in sewing) you really have to know what you’re doing to achieve that and additionally, Kathleen recently linked to a 400+ page dissertation on this subject. Yup. Basically you have to be a brilliant pattern drafter to achieve zero sleeve cap ease. I don’t know about you, but I have better things to do, especially when having 1.5″ of sleeve cap ease works for me and my sanity. Additionally, I remembered this sage advice from Sallieoh when she tried to achieve the same thing:

“don’t get caught up in chasing the mythological sleeve. its not worth it and you’ll end up trying to prove something to yourself, which is, in the end, pointless. just make a sleeve that works and move on with your damn life!

Yes. Just make the sleeve that works for you. If you have achieved perfect zero sleeve cap ease, this is awesome. If you haven’t, this is awesome too! OK, rant over. Go ye forth and get ready to cut your plaid, which is up next! Yay!

For all the Plaid Jacket Chronicles posts, click here.

  • kathi giumentaro - I have some black and white plaid shirting that I bought to make a shirt dress. Going on vacation soon but will be referring back to your plaid posts once I am ready to get started.I like the idea of visualizing T-shapes. This is very helpful.
    Thanks for the time you put into these posts.ReplyCancel

  • Kathleen - I completely agree. Doing sleeves is my absolute least favorite thing to do but if you’re cutting thousands of jackets, it pays to do it. Only one, probably not worth it.

    For an enthusiast to spend endless hours reiterating to achieve a perfect match stripe is akin to a given homeowner to get a contractor’s license to build their own simple back deck or get an accounting degree and CPA licensing in order to do bookkeeping for their one employee sized business. Pattern making is a profession like any other, it’s why adept professionals make the big bucks (pattern makers are engineers; experienced ones earn twice as much as designers do if not more).

    Personally, I found it very interesting to see Sunni’s process although it is not how I do it. However, if it works for her, it may work for you so what’s not to like? Like she said, life is too short to invest in it for a one-off.ReplyCancel

  • Sunni - @Kathleen – Thank you! I have loved your posts on sleeve cap ease, but yes, I know now that for an enthusiast – like myself – to achieve zero sleeve cap ease is really really hard. After you linked to that 400+ page dissertation, I knew I was way out of my league. It is the vocation of professionals like yourself and it does pay to perfect balance on a sleeve, especially when you can achieve that much desired plaid match both horizontally and vertically at the sleeve cap. What I have come to realize from your posts on sleeve cap ease is that its not a mortal sin to take some out, because most times too much has been put in the pre-made commercial patterns available today. Oh the heartache of sleeves!!!!ReplyCancel

  • marwa - Thank you it looks so easy I really enjoyed and ll try to do it myself xoxReplyCancel

  • Siri Andersen - I am itching to make a plaid something, but I am terrified of it! This series of posts are so incredibly helpful, I cannot stress that enough! Thank you sooooo much for this! AWESOME!ReplyCancel

  • adelaide blair - Thanks so much for doing this! I love plaids, but have been completely mystified as to how to match them.ReplyCancel

  • Kaylene - Hi Sunni,

    I’ve never commented before, but I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your blog and all of the helpful information/inspiration you post here. Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • Gail - I am really grateful for your tutorials – they provide solid information about difficult aspects of sewing.ReplyCancel

  • Maureen - I read your blog regularly and haven’t commented before, but having read this post through again I realised how valuable it is. I have made a plaid jacket – by hand – because I was paranoid about matching the plaids. NOW I realise how much easier my life would have been had I read this before! duh! Once I had marked all the usual stuff off the pattern, I thought that was it and the rest was up to me to be careful. I love your series – please do more. I want to save all these posts and refer to them again and again. I have been sewing for fifty years – it just shows you are never to old to learn new tricks. Thanks SunniReplyCancel

  • Pat - Again a very interesting post on your blog. I like your videos as well. Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • Taryn - Being a relative beginner I don’t think I’ll sew a plaid jacket in a while, but am learning much about what to do for a first non-plaid jacket. (like sleeve ease) Thank you for such a wonderful blog, Sunni. Being a novice, I haven’t commented here before but must say your blog is always the FIRST I check for information on something and for new posts.ReplyCancel

  • Seattlerain - You’ve just saved me a ton of time regarding sleeve cap ease. I’ve been thinking it was high time to tackle it prior to stumbling onto your links. Thank goodness I won’t have to reinvent the wheel! It might not save my lace Macaron dress where I switched out sleeves with sad scary results. I have to see if I feel like unpicking the sleeves or not. . .but future projects will benefit!ReplyCancel