Stitch by Stitch Book Tour

So excited to be a part of the Stitch by Stitch: Learning to Sew, One Project at a Time book tour today. Remember when I told you about my friend Deborah and her new book Stitch by Stitch? Well, right now her book is on virtual tour and she is here today to share with us how to work with apparel patterns and make it fit you.

Also, if you live in the Atlanta area, you have to stop by Deborah’s store Whipstitch tonight. She is having a book signing and hosting their annual Sew-A-Thon. There will be food, prizes, fancy fabrics and a community of crafters spectating the Sew-A-Thon. The Sew-A-Thon is where several contestants compete sewing all night. Last one standing wins the grand prize of a weekend sewing retreat. Fun, huh?

So grab your copy of Stitch by Stitch and go meet Deborah yourself. She’s a lovely person. If you don’t have a copy yet, you can purchase one there or here. To learn more about her book, you can check out my review of it here.

When I first began sewing, I think I struggled more with fit and sizing than almost any other issue. My mom sewed our clothing for us, so I grew up thinking that apparel was the number one reason to learn to sew, making it just that much more frustrating to find that when I put a pattern together it nearly never fit me even remotely like I’d hoped. So when Tiffany agreed to host a stop on the Stitch by Stitch blog tour, I was so grateful and asked if she thought it would make sense to talk a little about size and fitting–hooray!

There are some key terms that really make an impact here: ease is at the heart of them. Ease is that little extra margin of fabric that a pattern or garment allows that makes it fit and look the way it was designed to look on the body. Ease comes in different forms:

  • wear ease or fit ease is the additional fabric that is included in a design to allow it to fit and function on the human form. If your hips are 36″ and your pants are 36″ all you can really ever do in those pants is stand still. Sitting is totally out of the question. So for a hip of 36″ the pant will usually be 40″ or so to give enough margin all around the body for you to move and live your life.
  • design ease or styling ease is the additional fabric in a garment that makes the garment look the way the designer intended. A flowing caftan has a ton more fabric than a slimming wasp-waisted blouse, and it should in order to move properly. A palazzo pant has a ton more ease at both the hip and the hem than a skinny jean, and that’s by design.
  • negative ease is the reduction in the number of inches in a particular style to account for stretchiness. If you’re working with a knit fabric or with a woven that includes some Lycra, your pattern might account for that by deducting some inches in order to accommodate the stretch of the fabric.

Knowing all this doesn’t help much, though, if you never end up with the right product when you put a pattern together–it really just explains the process behind it, but not how to get the results you’re looking for. So some other numbers are usually involved.

For our example, let’s look at this loosely-fitted top that’s a recent McCall’s pattern release:

Cute top, very on-trend with the front pleat detail, suitable both for normal people and women who are pregnant/recently delivered/are breastfeeding–meaning it’s a top I’m likely to make right now, since I don’t really want to make things while I’m nursing that I’m not likely to wear ever again. Before I can stitch it up, I have to determine what size to make, so I head to the flap of the pattern envelope and check out their handy-dandy chart:

Now, off-the-rack, I’m wearing around a size 8 right now. But my bustline is certainly nothing remotely like the measurements they have here (and never has been, nursing or not). What gives, McCall’s?? Well, what gives is that these measurements are (1) couture measurements, which are closer to formal and wedding gown sizing than what we’re accustomed to finding in department stores and (2) are based on 1950s couture sizing, when women wore far more undergarments than we do now. For most women, this makes them feel ginormous and ungainly – unpretty. Let’s let that go right now, shall we? Instead, keep in mind that the reason there’s this disparity is that the clothing industry has been bumping up the number of inches in a size 8 for years–which means it’s JUST A NUMBER and has no real meaning. Ignore the size. Choose your pattern based on measurements and give yourself a break.

Instead, take a look further down the back of the pattern envelope and locate the finished garment measurements:

These are where you’ll see both the wear ease and the design ease play out. This top was meant to be very loosely fitted. If I have a 36″ bust line, then the finished garment for my size has 47″ of fabric at the bust. That is an INSANE amount of fabric, and it’s more than I want for the look I prefer. So what do I do? Since my frame is on the small side, and it’s just the bust measurement that makes me wear a larger size, and I don’t want a looser fit, I just make a smaller size! Easy peasy. There are no size police here to catch me if I make a S instead of an M, for real. Yes, you do have to be careful: there are other measurements (like across the shoulders or under the arm) that are affected by making a smaller size and adjusting the fit in one dimension can throw it off in another. And yes, this technique is not recommended for pants. The point I’m making, though, is not that you can make any old size you want and it will fit, it’s that the numbers are there to GUIDE you as you sew, not to FORCE you. You are the one in charge of the pattern and the machine, and one of the greatest things about sewing is the freedom it gives you to adjust your clothing to fit YOUR body rather than some imaginary body of some fit model in LA.

Grab the power, ladies. Make it your own. And happy stitching!

» Tell me… Do you have a hard time with store bought patterns fitting you? How do you make it work?

3 Responses to “Stitch by Stitch Book Tour”

  • Sewing Princess

    I have had problems with some store bought patterns… lately I started creating my own… and though it takes longer at the beginning i feel the result is a lot better.
    In the end I think the best is to always measure around your real body the finished measurements to get a feel for it…


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