Focus on Fit: Suggestions for Pattern Size Picking

OK, so my last post went over the system that I use to pick pattern size. It’s the one that I prefer for myself (and I use it on others too and have great success) but sometimes this isn’t the fix for everyone and everyone has different bodies. I have a few more suggestions for you, both are great links to different info about picking the correct bodice size. Oh that pesky bust measurement…. But first:

A little clarity from my last post. There were many great questions and just in case you missed my update to that post, here are some answers for you. The upper bust measurement replaces the bust measurement when you’re looking at picking your pattern size. So, pick the bust measurement that corresponds with your upper bust measurement. Why do I like this so much? Again, I skimmed over saying that the hardest part of the body to fit is the intersection of the upper bust, shoulders, arms and neck. Four tubes. Not easy to fit. So picking the arrangement that will fit this area is key. Doing things like full bust adjustments, broad back adjustments adding width or decreasing width and so forth are child’s play by comparison and much easier to do than fiddling with those intersections. Also, there was some talk about cup sizes. Here’s the thing with cup sizing. The Big 4 all draft for a B cup. So that’s good to know, but then what does every other company draft for? I’ve read that Colette drafts for a C cup. OK, but other than that I don’t know what the other independents draft for. These are things that you will measure on the pattern and adjust and then in the muslin if more adjusting is needed it will be altered. So does knowing the cup size really matter? Personally, I don’t think so, but this is a big deal to other people, so I’m just letting you know. When we get to the adjusting phase, you’ll see what I mean and that’s next by the way.


Ok, so here are some other great ways to find your correct pattern size for the upper body. First Nancy Zieman’s method. It’s awesome. I really love Nancy. She’s been around for a really long time and she has great advice, techniques and methods. Here’s how she goes about picking her pattern size.


Next, this was a tip on pattern review that I found really useful. This method measures the shoulder width and then from there you compare this measurement to your pattern and pick your upper body size from there. You’ll find that tip here.

  • Jenny - Thanks so much for these posts – very informative and helpful. I usually use my high bust for bodice fitting and that always seems to work out fine. I have a C cup and I usually don’t even bother doing a FBA. My problem has been the upper back area. Always seems a bit big and gapes. Thanks for that last tip – I will definitely use that next time!ReplyCancel

  • Camielle - Sunni, I have a 42″ bust, am old and fat, and this measurement indicated a size 20 for me. Trouble is, it fits in the bust and hips but the waist isn’t big enough and the most awful part………the shoulders and neckline falls off me!!! I have to use a size 14 in the neck and shoulders and then gradually move out into the size 20 at the underarm and hip and still have to make the waist larger as well. Also have to shorten the top between the shoulder and bustline as I always get a wrinkle between the shoulder and the underarm seam. Sloping shoulder adjustment isn’t enough to get rid of this wrinkle. I sooooo hate a top or dress that falls off the shoulders and the neckline is just off the top too big, too low, ………….! The high bust measurement is a must for us old fat women with very narrow shoulders. Again, another great tip from you. CamielleReplyCancel

  • Angela - I think the thing in common with all these methods is that they are NOT using the regular bust measurement to choose pattern size, but instead are using shoulder or upper body measurements to choose the size. This gives people a much better starting point. Thanks so much for all the good info!ReplyCancel

  • Jackie - Thanks so much for the posts on fitting!!!!! This is so helpful.ReplyCancel

  • Gabrielle - I hadn’t heard about Nancy’s approach but I love the sound of it!

    I’ve been sewing a 12 for the top half in Vogues for a few years, but then it dawned on me recently that I used to sew a 10 all over, and that my underlying bone structure wasn’t any bigger than it used to be. So what I’m now doing is a 12 in the top half BUT grading down to a 10 for the upper bust and shoulder areas. I haven’t sewn enough garments this way to say whether or not it works, but your post makes me feel really hopeful that it will work :).ReplyCancel

  • Mel H. - I recently tried the Laurel from Colette. My fitting experience is very limited, so I chose the size based on my bust measurement — size 6. The front fit perfectly, but the back left a huge gap. The last top I tried, the Tank from Wiksten, had the same issue in the back… so it’s time to tackle this fitting issue!

    Interestingly, Nancy’s method would have me pick the size 6 as a starting point, too, but your method of the high bust measurement puts me in a size 0. Looks like I have a lot more research to do on this, but I really appreciate the (timely!) posts on fitting. You’ve given me some really helpful starting points. Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • sewdooley - I’ve struggled trying to fit the “four tubes” area because I’m narrow across the high bust, as well as short. Thanks for the great post, I’m about to start a jacket and this will help.ReplyCancel

  • Megan - I feel like I’ve read somewhere that you should use your high bust measurement if you’re a certain cupsize or above but not otherwise? Is this a thing?

    I am pretty small-busted but have a great pair of shoulders and a broad back. Looking forward to reading all your fitting tips. :) ReplyCancel

  • Jacq - Thanks so much for these posts – so helpful :) ReplyCancel

  • Marjorie Trundle - I have been sewing for over 40 years and have never heard of Nancy Ziemans methods for pattern altering. For years I was a 12 but now I am a 14 and I have been having trouble with wide shoulder pattern adjustments and back of neck gaping. I am so grateful to you for these posts as Nancy’s method completely makes sense.ReplyCancel

  • Jane - Hi thank you for these posts. I find fitting a terrible chore, mainly because I don’t have any confidence in my ability to get it right.

    For my part I take a 32DD bra and am 36 across both my bust and high bust, so both give me a measurement that leads to a too large pattern size (14). The NZ method you describe above would imply I should move up to a 20 which is frightening! Generally I find a 12 is roughly right but I’m never really sure.

    I guess everyone is different and you have to use a dash of common sense along with these techniquesReplyCancel

  • Nancy N - I also have been a long time sewer. My frame is lean but I’ve “hipped out” over the years, which meant the Vogue 10s that were perfect in my 20s & 30s are way off. FINALLY I found a pair of Ann Taylor darted trousers that fit and were slimming. So I drafted a pattern off that and have been set for pants ever since. I urge folks to try this, although I know drafting a jacket would be much more difficult! It has also helped me to see what works in off the rack clothing, analyze it, and make fitting decisions based on that–so I know that most 12s will be too low in the front, as I am high-busted, and most 8s too tight across the back, as I have fairly broad shoulders. Most frustrating is trying to fit bodices by myself, so I see the wisdom of a fitting buddy!
    Thanks for these posts. I loved seeing all the different pants you drafted off one pattern–probably require more patience than I have, ha ha!
    Nancy NReplyCancel

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  • MariaDenmark - Very interesting series!
    I agree to some degree.
    I teach my students to choose size based on their upper bust measurement, (and then add at the bust for cup sizes with a bigger difference than 4.5 cm between high and full bust) because that is the easier method and because it gives them the opportunity to try this on all patterns – not just the ones I know the cross bust width for. And while Nancy Zieman gives a chart, it must be a chart for some American companies and can not be used everywhere – especially since all pattern companies have the freedom to choose their own size table (as there is really no standardisation out there.)
    That being said – I always measure their cross bust width (like on the drawing above) and their cross back width when we’re insecure about which of two sizes to choose..ReplyCancel

  • Elena Knits - Thank you for these tips. I didn’t know about the shoulders measurement to pick your size but I’ll take this into account for the future.ReplyCancel

  • Julie Ann - Thank you for the tips. Getting the pattern right is the hardest for many of us.

    I have used Nancy Zieman’s method of fitting patterns for years, and this has worked extremely well. I am going to use your shoulder tip in conjunction with Nancy’s method.ReplyCancel

  • Kristin - I can’t wait to play around with these measurements instead of going by my regular bust measurement. Thank you so much for posting!ReplyCancel

  • Amy Thompson - I have not been a sewer for long, so really appreciate this post on fit.ReplyCancel

  • Marjorie Trundle - I found this post so helpful and after watching Nancy’s video, I can now understand why patterns haven’t been working so well. I have ordered her book and now look forward to sewing up commercial patterns like I use to when I was much younger and a lot slimmer. Thank-you so much for posting this.ReplyCancel

Focus on Fit: Picking Your Pattern Size (updated)

Hey everyone! This post has been updated (updates in italics) with regards to the questions being asked! Also thanks so much for your questions because they bring to light things that I forgot to mention and should have.

I used to think this wasn’t that important, but it is. Picking the right size can determine how many adjustments and alterations you’re going to have to make. You will probably have to make many anyway, but this can remove a good chunk. So you need to pick the correct size. Think of this in terms of altering your clothes. It’s just as hard to alter something that is way too big – like 3 sizes too big – as it is impossible to alter something that is 3 sizes too small. Picking the pattern size that is closest to you is much easier to alter than picking one that is 2 or 3 sizes too big or small for you.


For my part, I use my upper bust measurement, waist and hip. The upper bust measurement in particular is a good measurement to go by when picking a bodice because it will insure that you pick the correct shoulder, neck and sleeve arrangement for your body. You would pick this measurement in lieu of your full bust measurement for your bust – now that was a mouthful! This, if you don’t know, is the hardest place on the body to fit. Why? Because if you think of it you are trying to fit four moving tubes – your neck, shoulders, arms and upper bust. All of these tubes have different wearing ease amounts and they all play in tandem with each other. The second place on the body that is hardest to fit – the legs and torso. You’ve got three tubes there and that’s why pants are such a pain to fit. The upper bust measurement works out well too because it removes the headache of figuring out which cup size the pattern was drafted for. Instead, you pick the upper bust measurement for the bust and either do a full bust adjustment or small bust adjustment – something that will be determined better after you take more measurements and in the muslin phase.


For your upper bust, waist and hip, you’ll want to take these measurements in your underclothes – whatever that entails – and you’ll want to do it in front of a mirror. This way you can see what’s going on with the tape measure. The upper bust goes around the upper portion of your chest, which may or may not make the tape measure fall perfectly parallel with the floor. Also the measurement doesn’t need to be skin tight, just snug like you could put a finger or two in there with your measurement (note this for all measurements). The waist is taken at the narrowest point of your middle. This may or may not be where you wear things like skirts or pants and even if that is so, you still need a reference point. I put a piece of elastic around my waist and do the hula for a minute while it settles. Then I take my measurement over that. This is crucial for a bodice, but for a skirt or pair of pants, I measure the place on my mid section where I want the waist to hit me and then measure the pattern pieces to see just how much I might need to add or subtract in order to get these types of garments to hit me where I want them to hit me. This involves thinking about ease which I’ll be covering much more in depth later. For the hip, you need to take the measurement right at your hip bone and then again at your widest area below the waist which may or may not be at your hip bone. Let me tell you why. For pants, you need the measurement that is right at your hip bone. The crucial fitting part about pants is that they have to fit those three moving tubes pretty perfectly so you need to take the measurement at this crucial area because those intersections don’t happen mid thigh or what have you. However for skirts and dresses, you’ll want to take your hip measurement at your widest point below your waist. This actually means that you might have a wider measurement just below your hip bone and for skirts, this is much easier to fit. Not impossible to fit, just less work.

I know there are other ways to determine your correct size, but truly after having tried several ways (oh so many ways!!!) I always come back to taking these three measurements this way. They’ve served me well and they’ve also served those that I teach well too. They take care of the bigger headache areas and reduce the amount of work you have to do too. Let me clarify though that these are the things that have worked for me and for others that I have fit and worked with too. But if you feel you are picking the right size and are happy with the way things are working within that size, stay with what you’ve got. Also, you don’t have to take these measurements every time you pick a new pattern. Take them once, write them down, memorize them and then a few years later take them again, just to make sure that nothing has changed or what not. Our bodies will naturally age, things will start shifting and well, you know, that’s how it goes. Just check every few years to see what size bracket you fall into.

Make sense?

  • Diane @ Vintage Zest - Thanks for the great pictures! I had to have someone measure themselves for a dress I was going to make them, but they weren’t sure where to measure. This will work nicely!

    It’s funny because as much as I measure myself, I always end up at the same size. Yes, I’m one of those people whose measurements are all exactly the same size, so I wouldn’t have much altering to do. Still, I choose exactly one size smaller to start my garments and everything works out perfectly! It saves me from taking in all of the seams on the muslin and I haven’t had a problem yet.ReplyCancel

  • Tee - For years I could use my regular bust measurement. As I’ve gotten older and my cup size changed the high bust measurement has worked so much better for me when using commercial patterns. Now I just make a FBA and i’m good.ReplyCancel

  • dani e - Thanks for sharing this advice!! I have been having a hell of a time fitting my tops/bodices. I just got back into sewing this month after many years on hiatus and am having to reteach myself everything. thank goodness i have done muslins and not ruined any good fabric yet. I am a new reader of yours and I have a feeling you are going to be on my speed dial…Thanks again!ReplyCancel

  • theresa in tucson - It also helps to know how much ease is in the pattern. I normally wear a 14 but I just traced off a McCall’s P&P shirtdress pattern from the early 90s. It’s a 10 but because of the ease built in and the dropped shoulder, the only things I’m changing are the neck, the bodice length and the length of the sleeve; circumference is just fine.ReplyCancel

  • SewingElle - Great informative post. Do you or does anyone else know which pattern companies, if any, give the upper bust measurements that their garments are drafted for?ReplyCancel

  • Gabrielle - How timely – I’ve been thinking about fit by pattern brand recently because I want to make a pieced dress from a pattern brand I don’t normally use, and I’m not familiar with how their patterns fit me. It’s a pain to have to measure a whole lot of pattern pieces to work out the size they’ll sew up as (as opposed to what size the pattern envelope is talking about), and the fact that finished garment measurements don’t tend to get listed on the envelope makes buying the right size a bit of a guessing game until you have a feel for that brand’s sizing.ReplyCancel

  • Barb - Thank you for this info. It normally sounds so very complicated and tends to put those of us who haven’t yet built up experience levels.ReplyCancel

  • Beth - This is great advice! After many years of sewing, I finally learned the importance of the upper bust measurement. I have a full bust so going by that measurement always gave me clothes with a too big back and shoulders. Now I cut different sizes for shoulders, back and bust and it works so much better. :) ReplyCancel

  • Marina Kastan - Once you have these measurements, do you compare them to the pattern’s size chart or to measurements taken from the pattern pieces themselves? I’m especially confused about the upper bust measurement–if you’re measuring the patten piece, where do you take the measurement from? If you’re using a size chart, do you use the upper bust measurement the same way you would a regular bust measurement? Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • BeckyThompson - Yes! Makes PERFECT sense! You’ve explained this so clearly. How and why and that’s what I need. I always struggle with patterns when I notice that my waist measurement (smallest number) is a size or two lower than the numbers in line on the pattern. That’s not where I want my waistband to actually fall (because my high waist is up around my armpits!), but it’s the narrowest part. You’ve cleared that up! So now I know what matters is the type of garment I’m making. Who knew? I’m going to put a big chart on my wall that says:

    MAKING A ??
    Top – Upper bust, waist
    Pant – Hip bone
    Skirt/dress – Lower hip

    Do you use the neck to waist measurement at all (down the back)? If so, when and how and where do you measure?ReplyCancel

  • Meri - Hi! Thanks so much for this information! I have a question about using the upper bust measurement – what do you compare it to when choosing a pattern size? Do you measure out all the different pattern pieces at the upper bust level minus the seam allowance? Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • Carolyn - Sunni – I’m really enjoying this series! It is well written and chock full of useful information!ReplyCancel

  • sewlittletime - probably a silly question – if the widest part of your hip may be your thighs, do you take the measurement with your legs together or standing normally? really useful series – thanks sunni!ReplyCancel

  • lisa g - great info here, as always! i’ve been thinking a lot about the upper bust measure for determining which size to go with… as i understand it most patterns draft for a B cup (which, i believe, is upper bust + 2″ and not actual cup size). so would it make sense to take your upper bust +2″ to determine what size to go with, then SBA or FBA to achieve your actual bust measurement? i haven’t tested this out yet, it’s just been something i’ve been thinking about lately. you know so much more on this topic than i, so i’d love to hear your thoughts!ReplyCancel

  • Eirini - Great information and very clearly presented! Thanks for sharing. Your point about upper bust measurement makes perfect sense to me- when I go by the full bust pattern size I always need to adjust my bodice because of my narrow shoulders. The thing is that the majority of patterns do not provide a size guide on the basis of the upper bust measurement, so my question is the same as Meri’s: do you measure the pattern pieces in that area and then compare them to your measurements in order to determine the right size?ReplyCancel

  • Camielle - Sunni, you make your tutorials so interesting and wonderful to read. Thank you so much for them and for being so cute, cheery and honest about everything. The hula hoop visual is just the best! CamielleReplyCancel

  • Tracy - Great info on fitting – a topic I often find mystifying & frustrating to deal with as a beginner!

    For the upper bust measurement – does choosing a size based on this # work for indie pattern co.’s like Colette Patterns which drafts for C cups (instead of the standard B cup)?ReplyCancel

  • Sunni - Hey all! Just so you know, since there were such great questions here, I decided to update the post so some of the questions are answered there – updates in italics. Hopefully this makes sense, if not, come back and ask!ReplyCancel

  • Sunni - @theresa in tucson – There is a lot of built in ease in the Big 4, however I’ve never been able to go down a size because of the way my neck, sleeve and upper bust fit. I know some can, but I have not yet experienced this with myself.

    @Sewing Elle – they don’t give the measurements for the upper bust, only the actual full bust. But instead of using your actual bust measurement, use the upper bust measurement in lieu of that to pick your size. Hopefully this makes sense!

    @Gabrielle – Yes, I agree. I wish that all pattern companies would include several more measurements to go by, but they don’t. As regards the upper bust measurement, I still feel that this gives you the best orientation for your upper body across the board, commercial or indie pattern.

    @Marina Kastan – I compare to the measurements on the back of the pattern envelope first. The upper bust will be the measurement you use in lieu of your full bust for deciding which size for the bust – does that make sense? Such a mouthful, I know. From here, we’ll be taking many many more measurements and comparing those to the actual pattern pieces.

    @Meri – No, you’ll use the upper bust measurement as your guide with picking your size. This will be the bust measurement on the pattern sizing chart, but you’ll measure your upper bust and use that in lieu of your full bust.

    @sewlittletime – Stand with your legs together and then take the hip measurement.

    @lisa g – I just use the upper bust measurement in lieu of my actual bust for all patterns because many times with the independents, I don’t know what cup size they draft for and the upper bust (which I’ll pick the bust size from) will determine that correct orientation for the shoulders, neck and arms. From here, there will be many more measurements to take and then compare that to the actual pattern pieces and then of course we’ll talk about ease and all that too.

    @Eirini – No, just pick your bust size according to your upper bust size. I’ll be going over much more in depth what happens from here.

    @Tracy – Yes! This is exactly why I use the upper bust measurement as opposed to the actual bust for any pattern company. Many times, with indies, you don’t know the exact cup size, so its easier to use that upper bust and get the hardest place to fit good and then adjust for a full or small bust from there.ReplyCancel

  • Stephani - @Sewing Elle, all Big 4 patterns are drafted for a B cup, which if you think about bra sizing for a minute, works out to 2 inches larger than the high/upper bust measurement. So looking at the pattern company’s size chart, which only gives a full bust measurement, subtract 2 inches and that’s the high bust measurement for that pattern size.ReplyCancel

  • Michelle - I know using your measurements are key to doing less work to get the right fit – but what happens when excessive ease thwarts that? How and when do you decide a pattern has excessive ease?ReplyCancel

  • Louisa - Thank you so much for this post, I have the hardest time fitting in clothes, my waist and hips are only 4 inches difference and pants are a mess to fit in ready made clothes. I am going to be attempting to make my “perfect fit” pants!

    I do have a question, when purchasing a pattern (knowing that you will need to alter for fit) should I go with the measurement for my hips or my waist. I am always confused if is easier to add inches for my waist or decrease inches for my hips. Hope my question is not too confusing. Thank you.ReplyCancel

  • Sunni - @ Michelle – I’m debating whether or not to discuss the excess ease thing, but since there are so many questions about it, I think I will! However, I don’t go down a size in the Big 4 because I find that its harder to fit the smaller size in my neck, shoulders, arms and upper bust (almost impossible to fit) and I find that the larger size works so much better for me in this regard.

    @Louisa – As the majority of patterns these days are multisized, you can blend the sizes together. Use your waist measurement for your waist and your hip for your hip. However, if you can’t do that or that pattern only comes in one size, use your hip measurement and adjust the waist.ReplyCancel

  • Angela - I use Nancy Zieman’s method of choosing pattern sizes:—choosing-the-right-sewing-pattern-size/ This has worked out well for both me (size 14) and my daughter (size 10). I usually add to the side seams to fit myself, my daughter can usually wear size 10 without adjustments other than length. I love Nancy’s method because you get a good fit in the neck and shoulders. I have had no problem with ease in the Big 4. I think a lot of people do because they choose based on their bust size instead of their shoulders and are sewing with too big of a pattern. Even with Nancy’s method you still will have to make adjustments (an FBA, for example), but I think it gives you a better starting point.ReplyCancel

  • Rah - First time reader, and what serendipity! As I read, the back of my mind was going “So this is why I have that odd little swath of fabric across the front of my chest.” I have tried so hard to get rid of it and have never been successful. Thank you, thank you! Something tells me I am going to be a faithful reader.ReplyCancel

  • Sunni - @Angela – I love Nancy’s method too, however the reason I don’t use it is because her sizing method puts in me a size 10 when I use a 14 and have much better luck. Because the shoulder, neck and arms are my biggest fitting headache, the 14 works out much better for this whereas the 10 is much too small for me to work with. But I completely, 100% agree, you will still have to make adjustments, its finding the best size to start with that is the key.ReplyCancel

  • Kristin - This is amazing!! I ALWAYS have fit issues on the neckline and I’ve never been able to figure out why or how to fix it. I am definitely going to try measuring around the over bust next time because if I can get SOMETHING to lay flat, I would be so happy. Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth C - I am not sure if anyone said this, but the Vogue web site does provide upper bust measurements on their size chart, though they label it as “chest” and it is listed below the bust (when in real space, duh, it’s above the bust). But the dimensions are there.–misses–petites-pages-340.php

    They also have an ease chart that shows how much wearing ease (not design ease) is indicated by the various size descriptions (close fitting, fitted, semi-fitted, loose fitting, very loose fitting). But I find they don’t always use these terms in their pattern descriptions these days, and it’s not always accurate, measuring the pattern pieces is better. But it’s sometimes useful information about the designer’s intent on fit.

  • Camilla - I’ve always gone by my bust measurement so this is a revelation. I have narrow shoulders so always end up with excess fabric around the chest. I will give this method a go next time. Thanks for the tip.ReplyCancel

  • Focus on Fit: Suggestions for Pattern Size Picking » A Fashionable Stitch - […] so my last post went over the system that I use to pick pattern size. It’s the one that I prefer for myself […]ReplyCancel

  • Sabine - Hi Sunni,
    This is really interesting. I’ve always wondered about pants fit. I am seriously pear-shaped (waist: 28″, hips’ 42″), which makes pants especially hard.
    I was always told to go by hip measurement at the widest point, but that one sits quite a bit lower than my hip bone.
    So, if I understand you correctly, it may be better to take the hip measurement at the hip bone and use that one to pick the pattern size, and then do some sort of ‘full butt adjustment’, in whatever way? Is that what you would suggest?

    Thanks beforehand!ReplyCancel

  • megan - Thanks for posting about the high bust, it had not occurred to me. My bust is the hardest for me to fit, even with ready wear. I had been using my bra band size i.e. under bust measurement. I will definitely be trying this.ReplyCancel

  • Sunni tells how to pick the right sewing pattern size | Sewing Patterns - […] Choosing the right size in a sewing pattern is not as easy as choosing the right size in ready to wear garments.  For starters, you don’t have a rack of finished garments to try on to see which fits best.  And then there’s the fact that sewing pattern sizing is not the same as ready to wear.  Sunni from A Fashionable Stitch tells how to measure yourself to figure out the right size to cut your pattern.  Taking the time to figure out the right size at the beginning will save you heartache (and alterations) later.  Go to A Fashionable Stitch to read her post. […]ReplyCancel

Focus on Fit: Starting with a Basic Sewing Pattern

So what do I mean by “start with a basic sewing pattern/build a collection of basic patterns?” When I think of a basic sewing pattern, I do think of the fitting shells put out by McCall’s, Butterick and Vogue. I only think of them, I don’t actually utilize them. You can of course, but I find it much more beneficial to start with something that has what I’m already looking for. Fitting shells are supposed to fit you like a second skin and really, you wouldn’t ever make one to wear. You would have to add ease into the garment so that you could wear it. Add to that the fact that when you start adding ease, you start adding fitting and drafting problems. So why not just fit something closer to what you want instead of fitting a fitting shell and then trying to make it work for what you want?


When I’m thinking about a basic fitting shell, when I pick a basic pattern, I’m looking at the same types of lines – lines that will be easy to manipulate later. Let’s dissect the fitting shell for a minute:



There is a basic bodice. The bodice is darted. The darts originate from the bust (side seam) and the waist in both the front and the back. Some fitting shells have a shoulder dart in the back bodice too. The skirt is a straight skirt style – kind of like a pencil skirt. It has darts too. Two in the front and two in the back. The sleeve is a set-in sleeve, full length and sometimes has a dart in the elbow. There’s lots of darts here. The awesome thing about darts is that they are the building blocks of manipulation, so when you are looking at new sewing patterns and you’re thinking, “hmmmm….I want something that could be manipulated,” look at where the darts are placed. Have a gander at this post for rotating a dart. Now let’s take a look at a basic pattern that I would pick.



Let’s take this NewLook pattern for example. It’s a basic shell with some variations. Very basic. The nice thing is that it has some promising neckline variations and there’s a woven t-shirt added to the mix too. What I’m especially looking at here is that its got a dart. Its a single dart – the bust dart, the one that originates from the side seam. Its semi-fitted and pulls over the head, so I shouldn’t have to deal with trying to add ease, I should just be able to fit this style and then start playing around with my own variations. It’s basic. It’s classic. You could actually wear this and make a bajillion iterations. Then you can start playing designer and fiddle around with your pattern and create a whole wardrobe of garments based off this one simple pattern. This is the part that excites me. I can see the potential in this pattern. I can see a dress, I can see myself moving the darts around, adding gathers in places, creating a cute little tulip sleeve (oh be still my heart!!), lengthening it for a tunic to wear with leggings, adding a button front, adding a collar. Do you see what I mean? Do you see the fun and creativity that you can inject into the pattern yourself? This is what I mean by a basic pattern.

If you can’t see the potential in a pattern – as in, you could change this or add that and it would make it look completely different – then I think you’ve taken half the fun out of the pattern itself. Granted there are those designs that defy logic and are worth having just because they are so amazingly different and you couldn’t possibly draft that yourself. Personally, I find those to be few and far between, but those are things you’ll have to decide for yourself.

The other thing to keep in mind when you’re picking a basic pattern is the fit factor. In fact, the whole reason I’m writing these posts! Starting with something basic will be easier to fit than starting with something complicated. There’s definitely going to be some things that are not as easy to fit as others, but this NewLook pattern (above), it looks pretty easy to fit and is something that I wouldn’t have to spend copious amounts of time doing a muslin for.

So this friends, is my “basic pattern” soapbox for the day. I’ve also put together a pinterest board of some really great basic patterns. That way if you’re still kind of not sure what you’re looking for, you can go have a gander there where I’ll be adding more patterns all the time. These are just guidelines, but definitely things to think about as you begin amassing a collection of basic patterns to fit to your body.

So what are you thinking? What’s the first pattern you’d want to try? I’ll also do a post on where I think you should start with the fitting process, but what is the ultimate garment you want to fit?

  • Lise Neely - Thanks so much for this informative post. I’ve been wanting to work with a fitting shell, but never quite sure what to do or how to do it. You’ve provided some great ‘food for thought’ as I prepare to tackle my next project.ReplyCancel

  • Liz - Sunni…..thanks for all the down to earth advice you’re giving me. Although I’ve been sewing many years, it’s rarely been for myself. Your methods of explanation are making a complicated task very easy and logical.ReplyCancel

  • Becky - The timing on this post is excellent! I’ve been thinking for awhile that I want to work on improving my abysmal pattern drafting skills, and even went so far as to purchase a dress pattern with a bodice that I thought could make a good sloper block. (Which I haven’t gotten to yet.) I’m probably not going to stop buying patterns, since there are so many fun ones and I like supporting the indie designers, but I had already planned to try to tweak two patterns I’ve already made before for designs that I have in mind this fall. So it’s good to have that little bit of encouragement that this just might work.ReplyCancel

  • Linb - That New Look pattern is such a workhorse in my sewing life that I think I’ve bought it three times, to gift to friends. Sleeves! Two versions of no sleeves! A high, round neck! A shallow, scooped neck! A squared neck!

    My favorite iterations of it use an FBA (so easy to accomplish when the dart is already marked for you!) that I sew up without the dart: I take the extra fullness between the dart legs and gather it into the side seam. This makes for a softer, rounder accommodation for my increasingly-as-I-age softer, rounder bosom — and I can wear various bras under the blouse without having to remember early in the morning which bra will lift my old dugs to what degree of inclination. I can successfully use either a felled seam or a French seam with this application.

    I use this pattern when I am sewing up reversible tops — it is easy to completely line any of the views, and thus make them wearable on both sides, if I use decent-enough lining fabric.ReplyCancel

  • zibergirl - I have that pattern! I’m going to dig it out and look at it through new eyes, because of your suggestions. I am looking forward to your next posts. Thanks so much.ReplyCancel

  • Chantal - Every time I see the Sorbetto I imagine all of the possibilities, but I haven’t tried it out yet. Maybe it’s time! I’d love to make a simple dress out of it with some interesting details at the front.ReplyCancel

  • Tiffany - How timely! I’m using a Burda pants pattern (which I know fits me) to make into a jeans pattern. :) ReplyCancel

  • Diane @ Vintage zest - Thanks for posting this! I always get hung up on the details without looking at the actual fit sometimes on a basic sewing pattern. I daresay that my pattern collection is way too large, and still lacking at the same time!ReplyCancel

  • Tina - PANTS, PANTS, PANTS!!!!!!!!! Been trying for YEARS!!ReplyCancel

  • Eloise - My sewing focus is entirely opposite from yours. I don’t look for basic patterns that can be changed. Instead my focus is on patterns that already have the style I want and that I can make in various fabrics so that each garment appears different. I’ve made The Sewing Workshop Opal jacket in coral linen for summer and again in charcoal wool knit for winter. Each has its own style although the pattern is the same. I do add personal fitting alterations (FBA, narrow shoulders, etc). Occasionally I change a neckline or sleeve but generally I stick to the pattern as drafted. Please continue your excellent posts. I’m learning a lot. There just might be a “basic” pattern in my sewing future.ReplyCancel

  • Stephanie - Thanks for the post. I think you are right. Sometimes it is easier to go from a pattern that is close to what you want and then manipulate from there.

    I still use a basic block (i.e. fitting shell) to do most of my patterns though. A fitting shell always includes wearing ease. So a fitted dress is always best made out of a fitting shell/basic block I find. Just change the neckline, perhaps change the sleeves and, tada, you have a dress that actually fits.ReplyCancel

  • Kristen Cain - Thank you for this series, Sunni! It came at a great time in my sewing journey.ReplyCancel

  • Cherie - Awesome series! Thank you, Sunni.ReplyCancel

  • lisa g - such a good idea. i have some precious yardage to cut into and particular style i want… pretty sure i can get there through a pattern i already know and love. thanks for the inspiration!ReplyCancel

  • The Nerdy Seamstress - Sunni, I have a Butterick shell. I tried to draft a few patterns and rotate darts from it. It’s complicated and I always have to fix the fit. I like your simpler approach much better. It makes sense. I have a design idea in mind and I’m going to try to use a pattern I already have to try to make it. I love this series!ReplyCancel

  • vanessa - This is a great post, very clearly written and so helpful. For me, the beauty of sewing is being able to free myself from the constraints of design and change details as I see fit. Freedom in design, freedom from buying more and more stuff, freedom to create!ReplyCancel

  • Marnie - I’m still relatively new to sewing and fitting so take my comments for what they are worth but what I like about the fitting patterns is how much they tell me about how my body deviates from the standards that are the basis for all patterns. For instance, I didn’t notice how narrow my shoulders were compared to my bust measurement, nor how short my armscye is and how long my waist is below. If I make a basic shell, I can generally cut a 12 in the bust and a 10 in the waist and it fits well enough, but, doing the exercise of making a fitting shell taught me so much more.

    I’m still working on getting a basic pants block for myself. I have such a long back rise and such a short front rise, plus really full hips and thighs compared to my relatively small waist, that no one makes pants that fit. Even sewaholic pants dip down in back and if I use a plaid or horizontal stripe fabric, I get chevron at the back seam. So I’m continuing to work on getting a basic pant block I can use to modify and make other kinds of pants.ReplyCancel

  • Wendy - Thanks for sharing this series with us! Getting a good fit for my body is one of the most challenging parts of sewing for me, so I’m really looking forward to learning from this.ReplyCancel

  • Seattlerain - I’m really excited about your fitting post series! Two summers ago I started on a fitting shell that helped me determine where to alter on Big 4 patterns. Then I stopped sewing Big 4 patterns because the indie patterns work really well for me. Several of your pins are in my collection! With fall here, I will start with fitting a Clover.

    I’m also returning to the languishing Big 4 patterns in my stash so V8766 needs a turn. Like you indicate, imagine the possibilities! My favorite basic knit tee, V8536, has no darts but I’m hoping to take some of the Laurel inspiration/variation into it.ReplyCancel

  • Gail - Thank you so much for creating the Pinterest board, Sunni! I’m interested in all kinds of fitting, but my current obsession is dealing with my body’s asymmetries in button-up shirts, so I was really glad to see the Archer shirt on your board!ReplyCancel

  • EmSewCrazy - I want to learn how to fit/alter pants. I have a basic wide/straight leg that I want to figure out how to do bootcut and skinnies and such…ReplyCancel

  • Bec Stitches - Great post:) you are always so wise.. off to look at the pinterest board ;) ReplyCancel

  • Karen - I recently tried on a dress with fitted bodice and full skirt and was thrilled how it hid my tummy!

    I read this post with interest and then I looked on your Pinterest Board. I can see what I would like would be possible with Vogue 8766 (bodice D + skirt F for starters) thank you.

    As it is a pattern for woven could it be adapted to use with a knit/stretch too? I’m thinking winter warmth.ReplyCancel

  • Karen - I read this post with interest, and found Vogue 8766 which I would love with bodice D and skirt F.

    Suggested fabrics are woven, can it be used for knit?ReplyCancel

  • Gail - I recently started taking classes in pattern drafting and can tell you it makes such a difference to sew with the assurance that the finished garment will fit around all the quirks of my figure.ReplyCancel

  • Beth - Thanks for the Pinterest board! I’m happy to see some patterns with knits. They’re such a staple of my wardrobe that I really want some basics that I can customize, but it’s hard to find great knit patterns.ReplyCancel

  • Dibs - I actually have that New Look pattern, and I plan to use it as the base for my pattern cutting studies. Good to know you think that is a good base too.ReplyCancel

  • TinaLou - Thanks for this great series. I’m hoping to develop a TNT tee that I can use to draft new details onto in stead of reinventing the fitting wheel over and over. I took a look through your Pinterest boards as well. When researching for a fitting basic for wovens, one of the patterns I considered was Mccall’s 2818, and did my reasearch through blogs and Pattern Review. The results were not favorable, ot say the least. I’ve had good success in the past with some of the Palmer-Pletch line; this one seems to be a HUGE exception. You might want to take a look and decide if you should reconsider this one particular recommendation. It’s already been repinned 8 times; you might be able to still save newbies the hours of frustration that have been reported.ReplyCancel

  • The Sewing French Girl - Very good serie! I was thinking about it today as I was reflecting on my current and future use for Lekala patterns, their customizable feature came so close to perfect without alterations that I think it would be a great place to start for a first pattern iteration.ReplyCancel

  • BeckyThompson - I’m SO glad you are doing this series. I am simply terrified to make tops for myself because I have to do a full bust adjustment on any pattern. After a gazillion attempts, I have never ever successfully created a good fitting top for myself. I have a dress form, its been sized properly and she stands there with one piece of a New Look 0126 pattern cut up and pinned to her to check the fit. From there, I’m paralyzed. I don’t know when or where to add ease. While not fat (per se), I carry my weight on my back so a top can become tight and binding very quickly and I refuse to wear it. For that reason I love knits, but I don’t want one that clings to show the bra roll (or the one below it!) I took your Craftsy class for zippers and have a ton of skirts from your course, but tops is where I’m stuck. Looking forward to the series!ReplyCancel

  • Sarah - What I want to find (or make, eventually), is a simple sleeveless top to be made from slightly stretchy material, with a low squareish neck and princess seams. ok, that sounds very specific already when I put it like that, but you could add ruffles at the neck or waist, lacing loops down the princess seams for a corseted look, little puffed or long bell sleeves, hook and eye tape for a center front colosure. I would honestly wear a version of this top every day, I daydream about it, but somehow haven’t gotten around to finding a simple pattern to start from yet. one day.ReplyCancel

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.


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.


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.


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!


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?)


  • 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