Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Do we as sewists really understand ease?

Seriously, think about it..."Do we as sewists really understand ease and how it relates to the patterns we buy?"  This thought came to me as I was reading Gertie's blog post today.

How many times have we looked at the picture on the front of a pattern and made an assumption without actually reading the verbiage on the back of the pattern envelope.  That pattern description is there for a reason and it gives clues to the pattern designer's thoughts, as well as, to how the pattern company drafted the pattern pieces.

So let's examine the definition of the word we sewists frequently use.

In "Fit for Real People" by Pati Palmer and Maria Alto there is an entire chapter dedicated to ease.  They start their chapter with this definition:

"Ease is the difference between body measuements and garment measurements.  Some people like tight clothes and others like loose-fitting clothes.  The amount of ease you find comfortable is personal perference.  It varies with size, age and lifestyle." 

Then they go on to define two types of ease ~ minimum and design and what types of fabrics have more and less ease.

Adele Margolis in her book, "How to make clothes that fit and flatter" says this about ease:

"It is difficult and often unwise to give standard amounts of ease.  An amount that's right for one person may be altogether wrong for another.  If you just want to stand around decoratively, you'll need less ease.  If you're the type that insists on moving around you'll want more.  If you're heavy, you'll need more; your muscles in motion take up more room.  If you're an active type, you'll feel imprisoned by a dress that encases you.  An uncomfortably snug dress that keeps you tugging at it may spoil your fun and your looks.  A comfortable one leaves you free to enjoy all around you without worrying about "bustin' out all over" - like June."

Now I'm one of the first to stand up and criticize the pattern companies when I feel that they are coming up short when serving us their core customer.  However, sometimes I think our own lack of understanding causes us to blame the pattern companies for a wrong that isn't theirs but ours...and that's myself included.  We have to know & understand a few basic sewing terms and pay attention to the clues that the pattern company is giving us. 

For example ~ Loose fitting, very loose fitting, fitted and semi-fitted are terms that regularly appear in the pattern descriptions of the Big 4 Pattern Companies.  After looking through a few of my Burda Style Mags, I do realize that this information is not included in any of their definitions.  However, the Burda envelope patterns that I own do use these words such as; close-fitting, loose fitting and fitted.

I think we need to determine what amount of ease we like to wear before we cut into a pattern or are swayed by the pattern's photo or sketch.  And once you have a set amount of ease that you like to have in garments, then carefully use the wording on the pattern envelope to assist you when picking the style of garment to make...but to generally state that the pattern companies allow to much ease in their patterns...does not take into account these factors or the fact that the pattern company sells patterns to fit a variety of people who have different ideas about how much ease their clothing should have.  What works for you, may not work for me and vice versa.

We need to learn what works for us and use that.  We need to learn the principles of minimum, of very loose-fitting or of close-fitting ease and process that into our reasoning when starting a garment.  I think when we have a better understanding of how ease works in not only our garment's design but in our everyday lives, we will be happier with the ease in our finished garments.

To that end, I can not recommend highly enough, the book, Fit for Real People.  As stated earlier, there is an entire chapter on ease, how to measure for it, how to understand it in relation to a pattern vs. an actual garment, and how to achieve the right amount of ease that we desire in our garments.

I hope I haven't sounded like I'm lecturing...I guess I'm just passionate about the fact that we sewists should understand all of the complexities of making a well-fitted garment.  There are just so many decisions that we must make that ultimately affect the outcome of the finished garment...and there are several great tools in the marketplace that can assist us with learning to make the most informed choices.

So the next time you make a garment and wonder why it's too big or too small, ask yourself if you took the time to look for the "ease words" when choosing your pattern!

...more later!


  1. Once again you have hit the nail right on the head. I think as sewing we have to stop thinking about how RTW fits us and more on how we like our garments to fit. The great thing about sewing is that we can get the fit we like but we have always, and I mean always measure the pattern before we cut.

  2. I'm completely on board with what you're saying. I've been one to review a pattern and say that the company was overly generous with the amount of ease. Sometimes I feel that there is a big discrepancy with how the garment looks on the cover model and how the actual sewn garment will turn out. We all know that the companies have been known to "jimmy-rig" a garment so it will look "right" on the model. I appreciate reading a review to know that a particular pattern may run a bit larger than what I normally may expect from that particular company.

    I have that book too and I love it!

  3. No, you certainly don't sound like you're lecturing! Ease is such an important part of fit, and one I should have mentioned in my post today. I do think there is a discrepancy between the ease in sewing patterns and in ready-to-wear. I think the current trend in rtw is towards less ease, but sewing patterns seem to have more ease than is expected at times. It reminds me of when I took a drafting class at FIT and one of the full-time students there complained that his professors were always harping on about adding more ease, and all the students liked everything to fit super tight. No ease at all!

    I like that Margolis quote about standing around decoratively. Ah, Adele. She was always right on!

  4. I don't have that one, but have read about ease in others, such as Vogue Sewing book, I think. That is a hard concept to always remember, but try to measure the pattern and compare it to me and other garments to get an idea. Also, some list the ease needed, like Simplicity, which helps. There again, making a muslin or using TNT's comes into play to help you succeed, I believe.

  5. I agree, it's important to understand ease! It was a revelation to me to read that those terms - "loose fitting" "semi-fitted" etc actually mean something! Now, I like things fitted, so I know if I'm looking at something described at anything else, it will need adjustments. I also think the sizing is pretty useless - I don't even look at the size numbers, just the finished garment measurements. One thing that frustrates me (I come from a knitting background, where this is common) is the lack of a schematic or good finished measurements on pattern. I just measure the pieces, but I think this is a barrier to achieving good fit for many people! I like how Simplicity patterns list the finished bust size on the back of the envelope. so I can know before buying it if it will fit. I'm a pretty new sewer, but I feel lucky that years of knitting my own clothing has given me a baseline for understanding ease.

  6. This is such an interesting topic and so vital to our sewing success! Thank you for elaborating on Gertie's blog and stressing how fitting ease is different for nearly every person. Having sewn for hundreds of clients over the years I always made up muslins so they could see and feel the fit and get over the shock of pattern sizing versus RTW.

  7. If it is a lecture, I do appreciate it! I spend a lot more time looking at the pictures than reading the text. Something to think about.

    I wonder if there is less ease in European clothes than American clothes. Since I have been in England the clothes seem tighter. I just thought it was me getting older, or styles changing.

    In the late 90s I lived in Abidjan. There was a French couturiere there. She had trained in Paris before marrying an Ivorian man and settling in Abidjan. She sewed clothes for all the French ex-pats as well as rich local women who wanted "Western" style clothing. She made me some beautiful clothes, but I could hardly breath, much less sit down in them! I went back to her many times, but I could never get the clothes any looser. Madam Quasi knew best! All the Europeans thought I looked much improved. All the Ivorians thought we were all nuts as it was much too hot to wear tight clothes that just make you sweat!

  8. I think it's also important to differentiate between amount of ease and poor drafting/lack of adherence by some pattern companies to their own standard measurement sets. I've been aggravated recently with extra length (not ease) in the shoulders of some patterns. I expect something that is labeled (as an example) "loose fitting" to have extra circumference around the body to achieve the desired look. But it should fit at the shoulders and neck.

    Okay, thanks for letting me get that off my chest. I agree with you about ease, and it's the most variable of variables in sewing. It's also so subjective. I know intuitively how much ease I like in a garment, but I have no idea how my preferences will play for other people. I use the line drawings on patterns as the first indicator, thenlike KMQ, I measure the pattern pieces as an even better indicator.

  9. Right on sister! Ease is a tricky, yet personal thing. It can also vary from company to company and don't even get me started on indie pattern companies. To that end, I look at the finished garment measurements printed on the tissue and then decide which size to cut based on the amount of ease I personally like for that particular style of garment.

  10. Another note, the thing that bothers me is the lack of length in the bust area. If it has an empire line, it falls in the middle of my bustline, not below like it should. Very aggravating... I count on having to lengthen it a bit. And I am a short person :)

  11. I do read the fit words, but things I"ve been sewing for myself turn out too large, usually at the places I myself need more (bust, mainly). I am starting to think I need less ease than I'd assumed.

    I'm making a choli-style top (for bellydancing) and your article comes at an opportune time for me. Hopefully I will have more luck this time around!

    I agree with Gertie's observation of RTW / patterns.

  12. I think it is also important to experiment and learn what our own ease preferences are. For example, in pants I actually prefer very little to no ease at the waist and upper hips. My mother sees what I am drafting and says "How can you BREATHE like that?" I see how she fits her patterns and ask "Why do you insist on wearing clown pants?" Even if the pattern companies adhere to their own ease guides, if you are the kind of person that just prefers tighter clothes, you will always feel like you are swimming in something designed to be loose-fitting.

    Self-awareness is so important, so if we do not take the next step to learn (and document!!) our own preferences, then everything we sew will feel a bit "off." Once you learn your preferences, you can zip right through your flat-pattern measurements, and have a great starting point for your alterations!

  13. You are so right about everything in this post. It's the rare person that can just cut out a pattern and have it fit. Fit for Real People has become my sewing bible, and should be a must read for everyone who wants to avoid the homemade look. I'm particularly enamored with their tissue fitting process, which immediately lets you see how that particular pattern is going to behave. I've spent way more time on that part of the process than the actual sewing, and it's making a difference in my satisfaction with the patterns.

  14. I too have struggled with ease. Not simply in knowing what kind of ease I prefer, but what amount of ease is integral to the style.

    For example, though I hate a very fitted garment, it took me a few failures, and a "Duh" moment before I realized that sewing tees for the current layered look meant I would have to make them much more fitted than I used to do.

    That has been the hardest thing for me, melding my personal preferences with the look of the current trends. I am going to check the book mentioned out of the library and have a look.

    Thank you for the recommendation.

  15. Very interesting post, thank you. I've pretty much given up on taking too much notice of what the pattern envelope says. I cut the finished size nearest my body measurements, make a muslin and tweak it from there. I'm still learning about what I like, so I will buy this book and add it to my library.

  16. Measure, measure, measure! It is not so difficult to make MOST patterns fit as prefered IF the pattern is measured and compared to one's body. It takes time to measure a pattern from top to bottom and therein lies the problem.

  17. Lately I have had the most success in picking my pattern size, by looking at the finished size printed on the pattern. I really wish they would print this info on the envelope as I have been caught out buying to my measurements and then finding the ease is more or less than I like. I will try reading the descriptions more and see if that helps me - but the finished size would still be super helpful on the envelope!

  18. Great post and a wealth of information.

  19. Hello Ease! Just this morning I was fiddling with a bodice muslin trying to take out the excessive ease in the back. I didn't realize that those extra squiggles on the back in the technical drawing meant that the back would have so much extra fabric.

    But here's the "description" from the back of the envelope: "Dresses A, B, C, D in three lengths, with raglan sleeves or sleeveless, have front and back gathered bodice, self-faced neck band, back zipper, and gathered skirt..."
    No word on just how crazy the back is there.

    And here's the "description" from the other dress that I am muslining (is that a word?):
    "Misses'/Miss Petite dress in three lengths with bodice variations."
    That's all. Seriously.

    With descriptions like those, all you have to rely on are the sketches, photos, and technical drawings. And if you only have a year or two of sewing experience, that's not much to make a decision before buying a pattern.

    In one of those patterns (I don't remember which) the instruction page reminds the sewist to check the measurement printed at the bust, waist, and hip on the pattern. But there is no bust point marked and there are no finished garment measurements to be found anywhere on the pattern pieces or surrounding paper.

    I am still learning about measuring the flat pattern, but it's annoying to be lead to believe that the information will be there and then not have it there.

  20. I do not feel that you were lecturing at all, you gave invaluable information and it is important for people who sew or learning how me being in the latter. Thank you

  21. I also get highly annoyed when the pattern measurements are inside on the pattern sheet. Duh...Are we supposed to just guess that this pattern will fit? Great discussion, Caroline.

  22. great post. Understanding ease and how the pattern is intended to fit is really necessary to understanding how to fit ourselves. In burda magazine patterns I've learned that I need to measure and figure out how much ease they have intended and if it coincides with what I prefer in my clothes. The size is just a number based on a set of measurements. Ease is what makes us happy or unhappy with what we sew.

  23. Carolyn, you've hit the nail on the head! Once we understand the minimum amount of ease that *we* prefer, fitting becomes so much easier. I don't like a lot of ease so I will often "use up" some of the design ease when fitting. If a garment is described as "very loose fitting" I may even choose to go down a size.

    I'm so glad you recommended FFRP. I own - or have owned - every fitting book on the market and consider it the best, easiest to understand, no-nonsense book ever written. People need to understand that there simply is no "magic formula" and that learning to fit oneself is a process that, with patience and care, can be learned and mastered.

  24. Amazing post. I have that book and I've read the chapter a few times. I'm pretty new at sewing, but I feel the secret to everything lies in the ease. I've been making bras lately and, finally, it occurred to me that they aren't fitting because the pattern is cut for some stretch in the cups but, for support, I've been using duoplex (a fabric with no give).

  25. Good post and I totally agree with you. For me the ease is one of the first thing I look at when I get ready to use a pattern... this helps me to determine which size to select and if I need to make any adjustments. Fit for real people is one of the many books that I refer too often.....

  26. Good post Carolyn! I am not particulary on the Pattern company side, but really, how can they "fit" us all how we would like. It is up to us to work out what we want and to measure, read the pattern envelope (and dare I say) muslin it if we are not sure. That is why TNT's are so valuable!!

  27. Well said! I think an important factor in knowing how much ease one prefers is using TNT patterns. Over time and multiple garments from the same pattern, we arrive at just the right amount of ease, with only minor tweaks required to account for fabric differences.

  28. This post was really helpful! I'm just learning and made up Simplicity 2863 last night according to my measurements, and put it on to find that the sleeves fit great, but the rest was loose to the point that it looked like I had sewn two rectangles together. Had I thought to read the garment description I would have known to take 1'' off each pattern piece to begin with - lesson learned, thank you for being so helpful.

  29. That is so true, Carolyn. I think after many years of sewing, I am only now beginning to really understand the complexities of fit. When I was young (and didn't have as many fitting issues)I think my productions were a hit or miss as regards to fit. And I never knew how much ease to build in or take out. Now that my looks and my bod are gone, I am getting it. ROFL.... That PP book really helped me understand it better too.

  30. I have the FFRP book, and after reading this, I think I need to go back and re-read (it's been a while).

    I know the pattern envelopes can only hold so much information on the back, but I wish they'd ditch the "description" (can see that from the line drawings) and add the high bust measurement the pattern was designed for, and the amount of ease included. Sometimes they aren't too consistent with the descriptions and actual ease in the patterns.

  31. Great post. I'm still getting this all straight, but I've found that for me, using finished garment measurements (when included) and flat pattern measuring has helped me get the right fit. I like very little ease in my clothing, so I often find that I make a smaller size for the big 4 patterns than what the body measurement chart would suggest. I will say, though, this is SO frustrating for a beginner sewist.

  32. You are so right! I was just thinking about this, too. I am sewing a dress for DD right now and making a muslin for niece this weekend. For both of them I am starting with a block, NOT a sloper. I am sure you know this, but a sloper is a skin-tight garment used as a basis to make a garment and, of course, you must add ease to achieve the style you want and any adjustments to improve the fit and comfort of the wearer. I said screw that, I am starting with a block for each girl. A block is just a basic dress pattern with the ease already established(withinput from the girls). Now I will have a basic TNT for each girl, just like you have your TNT. I'll add style features as needed, but for now, I am keeping it simple for myself. Learning about ease for all the different styles and different garments is a big undertaking.
    i am not sure we give ourselves as much credit as we should, for learning SO MUCH about garment construction. oK, now I am going to read all the other comments.

  33. I just bought this book and it is fabulous!


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