Saturday, July 31, 2010

Plus Size Wars

That's the title of an article written by Gina Bellafante in The New York Times Magazine section this week.  No more than four people sent me a note about the article and there is a folder about it on the Plus Size board on Patternreview.

My first thought when I was reading the article was "Thank God I sew!"  My second thought was that designers and retail outlets that refuse to take the time to make this product are full of crap!  Seriously!  It is fat prejudice plain and simple.  It doesn't fit with their "ideal" of the perfect woman so they treat this customer like a stepchild.

However, this is the portion of the article that set my teeth to chattering:

"The most formidable obstacle lies in creating a prototype. If you already have a line of clothing and a set system of sizing, you cannot simply make bigger sizes. You need whole new systems of pattern-making. “The proportions of the body change as you gain weight, but for women within a certain range of size, there is a predictability to how much, born out by research dating to the 1560s,” explained Kathleen Fasanella, who has made patterns for women’s coats and jackets for three decades. “We know pretty well what a size 6 woman will look like if she edges up to a 10; her bustline might increase an inch,” Fasanella said. “But if a woman goes from a size 16 to a 20, you just can’t say with any certainty how her dimensions will change.”

Thin people are more like one another; heavier people are less like one another. With more weight comes more variation."

Seriously...THIN women are alike!  You have got to be effing kidding me!  If that was the case then ALL thin women would go into a store and put on a dress, pay for it and walk out with it.  But how many THIN women have to go from store to store...designer to designer...RTW label to RTW label to find an outfit that fits!  This is oversimplification in the worse way and another example of fat prejudice!

No...the most formidable obstacle lays in the fact that manufacturers and designers don't want to take the time to create the prototypes.  They don't want to take the time to work out the challenges.  They want to throw some scraps into the store...complain about the space that these larger garments take up...use a so-so presentation and then when it doesn't sell say, "Look it doesn't work.  Plus size women don't want to buy our garments so let's move on!"  Only one manufacturer of plus size garments was mentioned in the article for taking the time to overcome the challenges associated with clothing plus size women, Marina Rinaldi.

And don't get me started on the pattern companies...because they are not far behind their compatriots in the retail world.  Though I will give Simplicity Patterns a job well done because they at least have a fashionable line for plus size women...but Vogue, Butterick and especially McCalls...not so making the grade.

If I, who has limited patternmaking skills, can figure out how to reproduce a designer dress to fit my plus size body then it seems to me that with the resources a RTW company or designer has at their disposal they can do the same.  And if it was so horrible to make clothing for plus size women and be successful at it, then stores like Lane Bryant, The Avenue and Torrid wouldn't be doing such a booming business.

To me "Plus Size Wars" offers nothing new and insightful to this discussion.  It is just a rehash of why this market is underserved.  It was written to ride on the coattails of some of the recent European magazine articles and pictorals glorifying the plus size woman.

If you are plus size and sew like me...be grateful!  Continue to work on learning to fit your body, figuring out what colors and styles work for you and be glad that you can make your own clothing because your plus size sisters that can't sew are settling...and you don't have too!

...more later!


p.s.  I am not upset/mad/angry with Kathleen Fasanella...my point is that I was not impressed with the article and with manufacturers reasons for not servicing the plus size market.  I understand that she was just a contributor to the article.

46 comments:

  1. Thank goodness for sewing. I'm not plus size (at the moment - whole other story) but my mum is, and I understand the challenges of finding things that fit and flatter. It's also about shape - thinner women have huge variation in shape as well; I have big problems finding clothes that fit! So glad that I can sew - and that you continue to make such inspirational garments!

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  2. Very well said. I'm so glad I can sew. In general I prefer what I have made. It causes problems with my second job because I refuse to buy what doesn't work. I really think the fashion industry is out of touch with reality.

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  3. I'd agree, nothing new was in that article. I just went to the Lane Bryant site and checked out the jeans and tops. As I expected, darned little is offered in tall sizes. Not only do I have the issue of being plus size, I'm 5'10" tall, and the offerings are even more pathetic for those of us in that category.

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  4. I'm not a plus size however I cannot go into most stores and buy just anything off the rack. If I try on 10 outfits I'm lucky if I find two outfits that fit right. ..and then I inspect the garment and usually put one back because it is so poorly made. In a way I am so happy that I wear a uniform to work and don't have to keep a civilian clothes work wardrobe up..I think it would be very hard to keep up a quality and professional work wardrobe with what is available out there to buy. I am amazed that you can to this through your sewing. Your garments/outfits are always beautiful and professional and your talent/energy/time management is very impressive.
    I love reading your posts, you always have very informative and interesting topics....now if only you could sent me some of that energy :) Have a great weekend.

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  5. Yes, yes, yes. Thank you for writing this article. I was very disappointed with Kathleen's response on the Pattern Review Board. Heavy woman are no different than thin women when it comes to the changes that occur from size to size. Why do plus sized clothes have to add so many inches to the neckline and shoulders? You don't see that kind of difference between a 10 and a 14. Why such a big difference between a 16 and 20? I am really glad that you took the time to make your argument so succinctly!!

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  6. Thank you for what you have said here!! If I could I would give you a high five right now! I am a plus size woman and I have been since birth ..big boned as my mother always said...so finding clothing to fit let along comfortable is a whole other story! I just started sewing again and I have had some trouble getting plus sized patterns to fit me right but so far I have tried on my own to figure it out and make it fit me better than they can. It really is sad that there aren't more plus size pattern makers out there! Maybe you should start a line! :)

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  7. Well said. This thin women are all the same BS is infuriating.

    I suspect that it's more likely that they think thin women won't mind a bad fit, because they will still look thin. Whereas there's that old adage that a bad fit on us fat women will 'add pounds'!

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  8. Amen. I could not have said it better myself. Retail is ridiculous. Most of their clothes do not fit well anyway. Like you and many mention, women (of all shapes) have trouble finding clothes that fit properly. I am grateful I know and like to sew.

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  9. I totally agree - ALL women have "variations" and different shapes, regardless of their size. I can wear an extra small in tops and a large in bottoms - guess how hard it is finding a one-piece dress that fits.

    LOVED this post!

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  10. Gee, maybe someone would finally figure out that we'd be more than 18% of the retail market if there was decent plus-size clothing available. I am also plus size and tall - the only place I can buy reasonably priced pants is Talbots, and that is only because they put enough of a hem that I can take it down, but can only wear flats with them... Hence my desire to start sewing again. I have to dress professionally for work and it is slim pickings in RTW.....

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  11. All thin people are about the same ?

    Kinda makes you wonder just how Artisan Square and PatternReview evolved. Sewists of all sizes with fitting issues - DIFFERENT fitting issues !

    The other day I went into a shop to try on dresses - I'm 'about' a size 12 - well I tried on 9 dresses all sized between M-XL, 10-14 and of the 9 only one fit - & I've got a pattern for one just like it at home - didn't buy a thing :-)

    I'm glad I'm learning to sew !

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  12. Amen! Amen! Amen!I totally agree with you.

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  13. I wouldn't get too mad at Kathleen. The infromation she gives and says is from inside the industry. Many manufactors and fashion houses built a brand pointed at a certain type of customer. They feel they are good at what they do so why should they expand into area they don't think thier good at? I don't think it's ok that such a huge market is forced to choose from such a small selection of garments or patterns but it how it currently is. If you read some of Kathleen other blogs about how fashion comes to us some of the industry practices kind of make you understand where Kathleen is coming from. She herself in her blog feels that the brands are out of touch with their customer or potential customer. I still think the industry is full of bull because they don't want to spend the $$ or the time real creating clothes for the plus size woman or man. It makes me glad I sew even when I have trouble fitting myself.

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  14. thankyou for writing this blog post. i am not skinny, but i guess fairly slim (sporty). but i am very tall and that makes it totally impossible to buy anything ready made that fits. even the pattern companies cater mostly for people that are 1.68m tall. well i am 1.86 (6.1).
    i feel i have just as many fitting problems as bigger people. so i am with you on the issue, only from a little different starting point.
    love your sewing blog, it inspires me every day :-)
    barbara

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  15. You are so right!! I'm a bit of a plus-size (and tall) and I sometimes get so angry in shops when I see all those clothes that seem to be made for Barbie and her friends. Insane! I don't even understand that there are people who really fit in thát! Get real!! Very often I think: I can make that myself and then it won't pull here and stretch there. Often enough I plan on buying lots of things but in the end I come home with only lots of sewing-ideas. (Which is a good thing of course). So yes, I'm also very, very happy I can sew.

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  16. Wonderful post, Caroline, and thanks for the link to the Times article. Since I was fifteen and curves arrived on my 5 foot frame I have been inspired to sew for fit. As much as I love fashion, getting a decent fit was the true motivator. Shopping retail ALWAYS means alterations. I go, therefore I sew.

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  17. When I first (a long time ago) saw Kathleen's point about increased profile/shape variation in plus size women, I thought it was valid and interesting. However, as you say, non-plus-sized women also vary in build and have to look for brands that fit them. I, for example, have a very slight build and have difficulty finding stuff that fits across the shoulders and the bust at the same time. And arm length is another issue....

    The real problem in my opinion is that most manufacturers are trying to capture the biggest possible market at the lowest possible production price, instead of going for a niche market. So for example, if one manufacturer did clothing suitable for "apple-shaped" plus-size women (and why not men?), and another made clothes for "pear-shaped" people, and so on, the consumer would very, very quickly learn which brand suits her/him. I don't really think it's a pattern-cutting or design problem really.Most manufacturers are just cr** at market research and marketing basically!

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  18. thank you for your great comments!!
    It's amazing how the plus size market is treated.. (not only in the US, but here in the Netherlands too)
    indeed... I'm thankfull I sew!

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  19. Enjoyed your comments today. I'm not a plus size (now), but let me tell you: I have spent days shopping for a special dress on the retail landscape, only to come home sew it up myself. (I always think I'm going to save time if I buy it, but I'm always wrong.) Regarding Kathleen's comments, I would expect more from her and was hugely disappointed at her remarks.

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  20. I was thinking the same thing this week
    :thank God I sew
    not just because I'm plus size but
    because I'm never limited to RTW
    I think its another form of oppression
    so that is why I take ideas from RTW and make
    my own stuff that is more cost effective, better
    fit and last longer
    that is how I fight back
    so don't get me started!

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  21. Brava! Years ago, there wasn't much RTW in my size. Then, and now, the RTW is badly sized. Do you know any women with with a 6.5 inch shoulder seam? Or arm wholes that end 4 inches below the armpit. While there are more choices, to get something well made, we have to spend a mint. Thank G-d I was taught to sew when I was a child, or I'd really be up the creek. And, on a happier note, thank you for taking the time to write such detailed blogs. I ALWAYS learn from you.

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  22. Oops. That's armholes, folks. Sorry.

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  23. As if pressure isn't put on women with images to begin with, then it's like the point was 'don't bother, their not worth it'. I hate when women feed into hurting other women, when they rationalize it by saying it's 'business'.
    Oh, and on a lighter note, I think I read in your 'about me' that you do fiber art, is this like 'mixed media'? I ask because I am doing a piece for the first time and could use some guidance, help... please...

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  24. OK! I haven't read the article, but had to jump in.... I wear around a 20 RTW and recently started sewing, which helped me realize why I hate so many clothes at stores (it's the shoulders, they're so BIG!!) ANYway, since sewing, I've started to pay a lot more attention to HOW things fit, and how people want them to fit. One of my closest friends has the same measurements as me, but she has a fairly flat stomach, and wide hips, whereas I'm more roly poly in the side view, narrower if you look straight on. We look AWFUL in the same exact clothes, even though we have the same measurements. I think that would be a real challenge to design for the mass market in larger sizes - the differences ARE magnified when our waistlines are magnified!!

    Also, I know that since I have a reasonable top side (narrower shoulders, rib cage, bigger rack, etc.) I am drawn to WELL-FITTED around the bust and an 'empire' waist - it looks good (well, I like the look!!) But others my size may not be as comfortable with such form-fitting clothing. I know when I shop at Lane Bryant and Avenue (Torrid just isn't my taste unless I'm looking for a naughty halloween costume!!) I can't STAND the cut of the clothing - especially the shirts - everything is way too long and sacklike. I've just assumed the designers are designing for a majority of women (how they came to this I have no idea) who prefer more free-flowing clothing. I think it would be very, very difficult to design well for (again, mass-market) larger women in current styles - I mean, just where to put the bustline would be a crazy point to decide on! I've noticed recently that Target is stocking some designs in the womens section that I liked when I saw in the juniors/misses section, and they totally don't work at the larger sizes - not enough coverage on the top half!

    That said, I think the offerings for larger sizes have totally gotten better in the last 10 years! And my mom has talked a lot about how much it's changed since she was in college and the only option WAS to sew if you wore larger sizes!!

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  25. I don't think Kathleen meant that thin women are all the same, I think she meant that they are more similarly *shaped*. As we gain weight, all of us tend to gain it in different areas. Some of us gain through the middle, others through the derriere and yet others through the hips and thighs. I have known very few women who gain proportionately all over. I'm not defending the industry, mind you, as I do feel very bad for women who are at the mercy of RTW. What are they supposed to do? Live in knits? Go naked? Everyone, regardless of size, wants pretty, flattering clothing.

    While I rarely buy RTW, I have no problem finding things that fit. Finding things that fit and are age-appropriate is the trouble. But, I certainly don't let that get me down since sewing my own clothing is much more fun anyway!

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  26. Just to pick up on the point about non-plus sized women being more uniform in shape. As you said totally rediculous. I recently had the pleasure of trying on clothes made by a local designer/sewist in Vancouver. She makes clothes for curvier and plus sized women, and though I was not trying on clothes in the plus sized range it was a revelation to try on clothes that had been made to fit a person with curves (and not just the socially encouraged ones either). It made me realize how I'd been making clothes from most stores and lines fit, rather than having them really fit me. It turns out all that "everyone looks good in a pencil skirt that really fits" stuff is true! I just wish there were more people doing this kind of work!

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  27. It is a bunch of crap and should be called what it is - thank you! The problems goes beyond the clothes manufacturers. The companies designing for knitted clothing are the same - do you know how much more yarn a plus size woman buys to make a well fitting sweater? Can't they see the profit in that? Seems not, as they continue to pour out patterns in S-M-L. Where is this woman who is able to wear whatever she finds in stores? I'd like to meet her.

    If clothing manufacturers gave us plus size clothing that was actually CUTE or PRETTY - you bet we'd buy it. Just cause we're a size 20 doesn't mean we automatically love the moo-moo look. What about some style details? What about something that is NOT polyester?

    Everywhere I go, the majority of the women I see are plus size. And they seem to have given up. How do I know that? Because they're wearing jeans and T-shirts, cause they are comfortable. They haven't found anything fashionable to wear that looks nice on them, let alone that is comfortable, and think their only option is T-shirts. (no offense to those who wear them on purpose - this is a generalization)

    It seems to me the yarn companies, fabric and pattern companies would be pushing the plus size fashions... we buy more fabric for one dress, more yarn for one vest, more Everything!!! How come they can't figure that out?

    I'm glad I sew! :)

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  28. You are relatively bigger than I am. I officially declare myself "MINUS SIZE."

    Sheesh. The garment manufacturers are failing women of all shapes and sizes. The crap on the racks doesn't fit any human I know. You are so very right - we are lucky we can sew.

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  29. This is the main reason I returned to sewing. I was tired of choosing between having a limited wardrobe or having to pay $300 for a simple black dress or $50 (or $49.50) for a top at LB one of the few retailers who realize that plus size women do want to be fashionable.

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  30. This is the main reason I returned to sewing. I was tired of choosing between having a limited wardrobe or having to pay $300 for a simple black dress or $50 (or $49.50) for a top at LB one of the few retailers who realize that plus size women do want to be fashionable.

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  31. I'm not plus sized, but am large busted. I need a size 6 or 8 below the waist, and nothing ever fits in the bust. I gave up trying to buy clothes, and just sew everything, right down to camisoles. It can be a daunting challenge to grade sizes up and down at the right places, but at least I don't feel like I have an elephant neck or thighs for biceps when I make it myself. I don't know who "Ready To Wear" is designed for, but it isn't me, and isn't even often for my skinny daughters - sizes 0, 1 and 2.

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  32. I'm going to jump in here and offer an idea about fit.. I am not plus sized, but many of my sewing and fit students are so I'm learning how to sew gorgeous clothes for gorgeous women of all sizes.

    One thing I've noticed across the board- Most women are one size on top, and a size or two larger on the bottom. I can count on one hand the students I've had that were one straight size.

    The other thing I've learned that I never came across in a fit book is that fit is a function of two factors: bone structure and weight distribution. For example- Forward shoulders, tall or short, those are bone structure. Full bust, "sway back," those are weight distribution.

    I think what Kathleen meant (and I concur) is that the thinner the woman, the simpler to fit them. It's true. We all carry our weight in very individual ways, and the more weight on a frame, the more this becomes apparent. I keep toying with the ideas of plus sized clothing and patterns, I have a list of ideas and sketches but when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of production, it would be expensive to create a pretty RTW that would suit individual plus sized ladies.

    I don't know the answer. Everyone should sew!! :)

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  33. I am not Plus Size, but about a 16in RTW and 5'1", guessing on size since I shop so little. Almost all of the clothes out there are ill-fitting, if you look around you. Watch people and see how the clothes really fit them. I learned how to sew since I don't like how tight regular misses can be, since I have a thicker torso, but a 1x is huge in the shoulders, and I have big shoulders. Fit is an issue in sewing, but at least I can try to make it work and have succeeded with some things. When I was younger and about a size 6, before children, sure clothes fit easier, but I also think more items were better-made in the modest price ranges. Now everything clings in the mid-section and quite frankly, I feel immodest with most of it.

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  34. I'm not plus sized, but I'm with you. Their reasons for not catering to plus sized women is nothing but self serving bull...

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  35. Based on my personal reading on this subject, both from the patternmaking and anthropometric points of view, what Kathleen F. says is fact. There is less variation in body measurements and proportions in individuals with very little body fat. At that point it is skeleton bone structure and proportions, muscles and ligaments. When the human body adds fat it can go in very different locations on the body. One can see that by observing the shapes and sizes of the people around them. I understand perfectly why clothing manufacturers pick a size range and shape for a target customer, and manufacture clothing specifically for them. Is that discrimination or good businesses sense? For me it is good business sense, and if I am not in their target customer size range that is tough beans for me. I actually think manufacturers are changing their clothing to fit the larger and more curvy individual. I used to be able to find and wear RTW pants with no fitting problems. In the past several years, many brands of pants I have bought for ages are increasing the size of the back of the pant pieces and adding huge amounts of fabric to the back thigh area. Do I feel discriminated against for not having the derriere or outer thigh curves they manufacture for? Heck no, it never occurred to me to use that term. Annoyed that I have to alter every single pair of pants I buy? Yes on that one. Glad I sew and know what to alter on RTW or what modifications to make to sewing patterns (because several of the pattern companies are doing the same thing to their patterns). Emphatic Yes! on this one.

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  36. Bravo! I read the article too and was struck by it,a nd not in a good way.

    I have a girlfriend who just reached her goal weight by eating healthy & exercising. She's far smaller than I could ever be and now that she lost the weight she has a far more difficult time finding clothes than I do.

    Manufacturers/designers are very willing to offer up so many fits and styles for size 8 and under but the go from 10 - 16 and then 18+, the degree of difficulty is just exponential.

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  37. It is very interesting that the contributor the article would say that thin women the same. There was a article in Real Simple a couple of years ago about how three women who all wear a size 10 will have a fitting issue. My grandmother told me a when I was younger that there are two size 12
    The industry has us believing that size is more than fit, and size and fit are the same when it is not. Men will have their clothes tailored while a lot of women will not do it. Tim Gunn certainly does not share this view because manufacturers can make the pattern bigger, but will not because of laziness and the cost.

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  38. I'm still mulling over the article you reference as well as others I've found that linking to/from it. What I'd really like to say today is that while KF may or may not have a point, you're the one who's taken the high road with your response to her scolding of you and your opinion. There were more productive and polite ways to have made her points and continue a meaningful discussion without resorting to belittling and insults.

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  39. It's quite obvious that it's late and I'm tired. I apologize for my terrible grammar but trust my point was made in spite of it. :-)

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  40. That article sounds like a load of crap. I'm not plus-sized, I never have been...honestly, the way that RTW sizes are running, I'm on the small side. But you know what? I still can't find pants to fit me, because their idea of thin = that boyish model figure with no curves. Which I'm also not. So I can see how it would be even more frustrating for people who do wear larger sizes.

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  41. I’m no expert, but I don’t agree that plus sized woman vary more on the shape than thin women; I do believe that many companies don’t want to work on the plus sized market niche and find poor excuses not to do so.
    Plus sized or not, not many of us can make a pattern work right out of the envelope. So besides knowing how to sew, knowing how to achieve a proper fit and knowing which styles work best for you is essential.
    I buy RTW clothes, and when trying them on some fit properly, others don't. I even find size discrepancies between garments of the same brand sometimes. What annoys me the most is the poor quality of the finishing details. These days, knowing how to make/alter/adjust your own garments comes as a blessing, no matter if you are petite, plus sized or regular sized, IMO.

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  42. I thought that the grass would be greener when I lost weight a few years ago. Nope. The grass is still just as ill fitting and poorly made as it was on the other side of the mountain.

    The cynic in me shrugs and says, well, what can you expect from an industry that invented "one size fits all"... As your first commenter said: Thank goodness for sewing!

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  43. I came over to say what Debbie Cook already said ahead of me, and more succinctly (I, too, am tired!) So I'll just say Ditto to Debbie's comments. I'm not surprised, but I was disappointed to see Kathleen's responses to your post.

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  44. I agree completely. Many years ago, before hysterectomy and current weight gain and shape change, I could always buy Evan Picone larger sizes right off the rack and know they would fit. Seems the market for classic plus size clothes has just disappeared as I find nothing that really suits me in the stores anymore. If I am going to put time and effort into making something, I want it to last more than a season. I want it to be timeless -like Chanel jackets, or St. John's suits, etc. I am not sewing at present because, once again, I am trying to get to a smaller (not necessarily skinny) size, something where I don't feel so sloppy or out of control. I have stacks of gorgeous silk tweeds from the days when fabric clubs separated their fabrics by season (oh, how easy that was for me at least), but they are gone. G Street no longer has a fabric club. Four Seasons in BC is gone. I want to go to Mood but would have to take the train as I do not want to drive into NYC. Another thing that gets me is the preponderance of polyester in RTW. I love a lot of the clothes from Coldwater Creek but the vast majority these days are poly and as someone with perpetual hot flashes, I cannot wear poly. Oh for the days of lovely natural fibers. Your blog is wonderful and will be a wonderful, positive influence to get me sewing again. There is a get together of some high school friends this weekend but I am not going (we are almost at 50 years since graduation). Want to know why? Nothing to wear. Shame on me.

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  45. And another problem I have found, since gaining weight, is that some genius decided that once your bra band size changes, that must mean your cup size does too. NO! I have as hard a time finding bras as I do good classic clothes, all because most of the band is taken up across my back but the front part never changed! I just bought two bra patterns from Booby Traps and will see if I can make something wearable out of them. I tried on Spanx once at Lane Bryant and laughed so hard that the clerk came in to see if I was okay - and then she started to laugh. The waist line came up under my bra band! Guess I am very short from waist to crotch!

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  46. I've gone back and forth over whether to respond to this blog post at this late date and have decided that I have something to contribute that you and your other readers would want to know.

    Kathleen Fasanella was not selected at random to be interviewed for the article she was quoted in. She is an expert and highly skilled apparel pattern maker who is highly regarded by her peers and others in the sewn product industry. She is partially responsible for some of the changes that have taken and are taking place in apparel manufacturing because she has been willing to share her expertise and talk in public forums about the problems inherent in the mass production of clothing.

    If the glorious day ever arrives on which I can walk into a clothing store and buy just as wide a variety of attractive clothes for my 46F-busted body as is offered to 32B-busted women, I know I will have Kathleen Fasanella, among others, to thank.

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