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Pattern Fitting On Your Own

Being stuck at home with plenty of fabric and patterns might seem like an ideal situation, however fitting a new pattern in #isewlation can be a challenge! Here are a few simple fitting adjustments that can go a long way to helping you try out a new pattern or fine-tune something you’ve made before.

For the purposes of this blog post, let’s say that you know your basic size in a particular brand of pattern. To find that measurement with dresses and tops, I start with the bust measurement and match that to the pattern’s size chart. Having chosen a size I always take the front and back pattern pieces and pin them together at the shoulder seam, then drape it over my shoulder and take a look in the mirror.

Here I’ve pinned this Simplicity dress pattern together at the shoulder and placed it over my dress form. This is my all purpose dress form that is vaguely in my size. I add batting, put a bra on her and stuff it with fabric scraps, or anything I have on hand to adjust the shape. You don’t need a dress form, especially if you are fitting yourself - after all you want the garment to fit your body, not the shape of a form. My form’s name is Josie, after my great-aunt who taught me to sew. 🙂

You need to pin the pattern pieces together at the STITCHING LINE - so note what the seam allowance is for that pattern. Here the seam allowance is marked in red at 5/8”. It’s very important to treat the pattern pieces in the same way you would do a muslin, pinning accurately on stitching lines and don’t worry about the paper - it’s surprisingly tough.

Line up the pattern center front on your center front and take a good look. At this point, without pinning the side seams together you can see how the neckline looks, whether the bust dart is in the right place, and even if the finished item is going to be miles too long or way too short. Be sure to put the shoulder seam at the top of your shoulder. Note that on some patterns the seam is not at the top of the shoulder, it could be a shirt pattern with a yoke, and a dropped seam so check to see where the shoulder mark is on the pattern.

The glaring issue on this pattern is that the bust dart is way too high. Bust darts add fullness and length to the bodice front but it’s important that they match your own fullness. Needing to lower the bust dart is a really common adjustment - even if someone otherwise fits well in a pattern.

The purple arrow shows where the bust dart ends, and the dotted red line below shows where the fullness is on Josie the dress form. It looks like the bust dart needs to be lowered about an inch.

Moving a Bust Dart

To lower the bust dart, draw a rectangle around the dart. Use the grain line or center front line to make your rectangle parallel to that and then determine how much you are lowering the dart. I like to draw the line below the dart to show where I’m moving it. Cut out just the rectangle and move it down by the amount needed. Don’t worry about the side seam at this point.

Once the dart is moved there is just one more step to do. The side seam needs to be trued up and the dart bulk adjusted. The dart bulk is that little pointy bit that sticks out in a dart. When the dart is sewn and pressed down this “bulk” is there to catch into the side seam.

Here’s how to make that adjustment.

Bicep Adjustment

Another common fitting requirement is needing more room in the bicep of a shirt, dress or jacket. Here’s a tip for a quick and easy way to add an inch more room in the bicep area without doing a standard bicep adjustment on the sleeve.

You can add to both the front and back bodice side seams, and also the the sleeve seam. In this example I’ve added 1/2” to each seam, which will create 1” of extra circumference in the sleeve at the bicep. The extra amount added to just the top of the bodice seams will not really be noticed in a lot of garments and might make it more comfortable to wear. The advantage of this method is that if you end up not needing that extra 1” you can always stitch it away!

Bonus Suggestion - How to Use the Finished Garment Measurements

And my bonus fitting suggestion - try out the finished garment measurements on yourself. Many patterns now have the finished garment measurements listed on the pattern which are there to help you choose your pattern size. One caveat to this is that it presumes you will accurately sew all seams at the indicated seam allowance - which is a good thing to do anyway!

Sometimes it can be difficult to translate that concept into how a garment will actually turn out. I always suggest to my students to place the measuring tape a

round you body at the number the pattern is telling you will be the finished garment measurement and see how that feels. You can see if there will be way too much ease and you can possibly go down a size, or if it might be too snug when finished and you need to go up. Either way it will give you an insight into the easy built in by that particular pattern designer.


Do you need help with your garment sewing project? Take a class or schedule a private lesson with Beth at Hello Stitch Studio! She is also offering online options during the Quarantine.


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