Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pattern Alterations

...or as a subtitle...How I cheat!

As you know, I've had a couple of meet-ups with other sewists recently.  At all of these meet-ups, conversations always end up being about what we sew and how we fit.

When Opal & Eugenia and I were in Metro (sorry Elizabeth but your dental appointment was over and you had headed back to work!) we were discussing alterations we make to our patterns to get a better fit.  That's when I told them that I cheat...because I don't believe that I "alter" patterns the way "the fitting experts" do.  I am forever folding tucks into my patterns necklines and taping them down to decrease the size of the neckline.

Or using the fabric's natural tendencies to give/add room to a garment...i.e. linen and it's relaxing fibers or the extra drapiness of silk...I also intuitively make some pattern changes now since I've been sewing so long (OMG just realized that it's 40 years this year!) that I actually have to take a minute to think about the "hows" and "whys" of what I did.

So Opal here is the "correct" way to do a "high round back" pattern alteration, courtesy of Fit for Real People by Pati Palmer and Maria Alto...which should be in every sewist's library, btw!

This alteration is found on page 122 of the book:

a.  about 1" below the neckline seam, draw a line across the back of  the pattern from center back to the armhole or shoulder seamline.

(all of these samples are from a fitting class I took with Colleen Jones)

b. cut to the seamline from the center back to the seamline, forming a hinge.

c.  raise the upper section at the center back about 1/4" - 3/8".  Insert tissue and tape down.

d.  the center back is now slightly curved at the top.

Then FFRP  goes on to tell you how to handle the now curved pattern piece.

1.  If placing the back piece on the fold, ignore the curve, the neckline will be slightly larger (usually 1/16" to 1/8")...ease the extra fullness into the collar or facing.

2.  OR add a center back seam so that you can maintain the curve
     (this is what I usually do!)

3.  OR add a neck dart...see FFRP for further instructions on this.

On the fitting front, I also regularly raise side seam darts...omit fisheye darts (that's more fabric for my past childbearing-into early menopause belly).  I will pivot and slide a pattern piece in a heartbeat, oh and my personal favorite slicing a pattern to add a seam to achieve the fit that I want.

Now for my disclaimer...I work to achieve a fit that I like.  I don't like close-fitting clothes.  I don't believe they flatter me and they are difficult for me to work and move around in.  But you may like a different type of fit and you as the sewist/designer should fit garments and make them for your lifestyle.

I'm sure that I'm not always using the proper techniques but my goal is to get garments that work within my fit parameters, out of flat fold fabric and onto my body as quickly as possible...because you know I love having a new outfit to wear on Monday mornings!

So what fitting shortcuts do you take?  What alterations to you make to your patterns instinctively?  Or do you make any?  Or are you scared to fit?  And do you have an idea of how you like garments to fit or are you just winging it?  Talk back to me because this is the Question of the Day!

...more later!


  1. I'm still pretty new and I am still winging it on fit. I have FFRP, and I do find it to be helpful. I also find trial and error to be helpful.

    The thing I love about sewing is the freedom I feel to do things my own way. I know that not every combination is desirable or even possible given a particular construction technique, but I know enough techniques now to problem-solve.

    For example, the pattern for the dress I am making now is lovely, it's even designed with quilting cottons in mind - which is a bonus for my lifestyle. However, the pattern included facings and no lining instructions. So I am adding a lining (summer being a short and mild season here). I was inspired by all of the different embellishment options presented in the pattern, but I wanted something a little more subtle. So I decided to add matching piping.

    The problem cropped up after I attached the lining when I went to turn the bodice right side out. The straps were way too narrow - especially with the added piping. I asked for help on Pattern Review, got almost none, and slept on it. The next day I had an idea. I thought it over. And over. And then I decided to try it. And it worked!

    Of course that is not a fitting issue, but it gets at how I approach sewing. I now appreciate a muslin, but I also find a tissue fit to be an invaluable start.

    Of course, I have yet to try to sew pants...

  2. Learning to fit patterns to my unique body is my goal. It's so frustrating to cut out a pattern (based on your full bust measurement) only to find out it's too big around the neck/back. I have the Fit for Real People book and highly recommend it. For those women who have a very full bust, buying patterns by the upper chest measurement vs the full bust measurement and then adjusting for more width through the bust is so much easier than trying to adjust the neck and back to be smaller. Hmmm, how do I know that? ;)

  3. Oh you know I'm terrified to attempt to fit much of anything. That's why I make the same skirt all the freakin' time. I'm pretty sure I need to do a sway back adjustment on my skirts, but they fit and I never tuck a shirt in so It's all good.

    Your posts are always to informative, make a personathink and are helpful. Thank you. g

  4. This is why I love sewing and this online community. Each of us has our own way of doing things that works for us, no matter what the fitting experts say. I fold like you do, Carolyn, with no problems whatsoever. I find that an alteration that was needed for a pattern made in one fabric is not necessarily the same alteration in another fabric. I know to move my bust darts an inch lower and that generally I am a little longer from shoulder to waist than most patterns, so I start there and do it by instinct depending on the fabric and the garment.

  5. I definitely wing it and like you I think I have a reasonable idea of what I like and what works for me, however unconventional. Lately instead of doing an FBA I've found that cutting a size larger at the bust works for me, at least in Vogue patterns and that's easy so I do it! The downside is that it makes me very nervous about making things for other people, my fit as I go, kludge it together method is a bit unprofessional!

  6. I finally got it that I have square shoulders and now I cut out the pattern tissue and automatically eyeball how much I should square the pattern shoulders (about 1/2 to 1 inch, more or less) and raise the armhole. Also I routinely cut huge side seam allowances on the bottom. easier than painstaking alterations to the flat pattern, and with the same result. I always have to baste to check anyway.

  7. I have routine alterations that I make as well, which I learned through trial and error over the years and are probably not done "properly". I'm short (and short-waisted) so I always take a tuck to raise the waist. I routinely cut the neck and shoulder a size smaller than the body. I often omit darts or tucks at the back because I am thick through the torso. There's way more to learn but some of it does become instinct and it depends on the fabric as well!

    I've just made a pair of bathers - now that could have been a fitting challenge but they fitted without alteration! Shall show them off on my blog soon.

  8. I have only been sewing for about two and a bit years, so I am still quite new to alterations. I have FFRP and am taking a dressmaking class. I have to say that I often find the fitting process technical and intimidating and have been known to spend some much time on pattern alterations and toiles that I have lost interest in making the finished garment. Maybe winging it once in a while might help me move on!

  9. When you told me, in Metro, how you sometimes made your neckline alterations I was so pleased!! I felt able to confess that I, too, had done this pinching and smooshing of the pattern tissue. I had been living with this feeling that I was doing something very BAD! Thanks, Carolyn, for making me realise that, if it works, it's OK to do it - the sewing police aren't going to swoop in on us:)

  10. I was taught to sew with strict rules in junior high – of course no fitting issues then !

    Since I’ve been back to sewing in the past couple of years, I’ve learned that you ‘can’ think outside the box and am learning now how I like my clothes to fit and how to fit myself. This meant I had to get over being scared to make adjustments. Tracing out my patterns helps because I can just retrace if I mess up.

    So far my arsenal of adjustments includes forward shoulder, a small high round neck/back, raise waist, swayback, cutting different sizes for different parts of the body (OMG my sewing teacher would have fits !), and on my current dress project - my very first sliced and diced bodice to make an FBA :-)

    Now that some of them have been done a few times, threre are times I no longer need the book(s) sitting right in front of me and I’m more likely to ‘eyeball’ the adjustment. ‘Winging it’ is very free-ing !

  11. I do "cheater" alterations, too. For patterns that are drafted for larger cup sizes....I don't do an FBA....I just grade out to the next size and back in. If I can get away without mind-bending alterations...I always do! So far, I've managed to get away with it ;)

  12. fitting standards are so varied. I have seen them described in many books as generally skimming the body. I find I like my pants cut a little closer than that standard and think when they scootch a little bit around the center of my ass they can look better. I have made slacks that other bloggers say fit perfectly. At first I agree but after wearing them a few times I just find the are unflatteringly too big. So my next pants goal is to start with a smaller pattern, move in the legs to eliminate back volume, and see how that goes.

    For me knit top patterns are generally way too tight. I feel uncomfortable in them in an immodest sort of way. I have made a few and find I just don't wear them. So another goal is find a knit pattern/size that feels right for me and still looks stylish.

    We all have to find what works for us individually. Your quest is always a great journey to be part of.

  13. Thanks for the tutorial and I will definitely purchase this book.

  14. I always end up making a forward shoulder adjustment. Years of being hunched over a computer keyboard, no doubt!

    I also almost always have to lengthen sleeves and/or pants (the exception being Jalie tops and HotPatterns pants).

  15. What a great post! It's just so much easier to do things our way and especially if it works! Those problem solving and reasoning skills kick in. I keep saying with each pattern that I am going to to a the experts. Not yet! Thanks for the tutorial. Are you sure? 40 years? What were you -10 when you started? Lol! Thanks again!

  16. I've learned that darts are my best friends and now incorporate them into my dresses and a center back seam is a must. Bust darts for my tanks. As for my Jackets, I cut a larger size to accommodate my busty area, dart to pinch out excess and taper the seams for my torso. I'm still working on the perfect pant fit and this past weekend took the easy route and took apart one of my perfect fitting loft pants.

  17. Well, here is a doozy for you - I try to get the pattern pieces correct, but when all else fails, I just start marking new chalk lines and such directly on the garment I'm making. :/ It's completely slapdash and make it up as I go along, but hey, it works for me - especially for those garments that I don't muslin out first.

    As for fit, after a year of sewing, I think I'm *finally* getting my fit issues figured out. Namely, that I like my garments to fit quite closely and to have much less ease than is worked in to most pattern pieces.

  18. I have FFRP too, and love it! Somewhere near the end of it, one of the authors says something like, following the rules is fine, but if it works for you, that's great too. (I'm paraphrasing terribly because I don't want to get off the couch and find my book). Anyway, I do a lot of cheating, too. ;)

  19. Ha, I cheat ALL the time! :P I do slash/spread or pivot/slide sometimes...but sometimes I just eyeball and redraw seams and skip to the next size, and all of the above. That's definitely where a quick muslin comes in handy!

  20. I am lucky (or so far unaware of any fitting problem that I have), and usually I don't have to alter BWOF (now Burdastyle) patterns other than adding a little upper body height and sometimes a slight sway back adjustment. When I used fitted patterns from Vogue I did some adjustments at the waist (adjusting darts, mainly)... I also sew from Patrones mag and IMO the tailored sleeves need some kind of armhole/cap adjustment to work for me

  21. Thanks. I'm going to look for the book, "Fit for Real People".
    I have been making blockers and slopers (TNT's) for dresses, skirts and jackets through sewing classes. I noted each of the alterations made on these muslins so I haven't had to make alterations on my own. I have also bought several fitting DVD's from Craftsy and attended a Sandra Betzina Retreat.
    Learning to 'fit" for my personal figure is where I am right now.


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