Fixing My Pink Wrinkly Bottom

My #1 Consulting Dressmaker/ Pants Block Alterations request (once we sort out the woven issues) is for altering skinny stretch pants/trousers/jeans.

The pants block works fine for wovens, and I’m happy to work with Blockers on their stretch pants to smooth out the wrinkles.  I can read wrinkles and figure out what should be done.  This wovens-to-skinny-stretch phenomenon was unforeseen when I started making blocks for the internets, and I haven’t done much of it for myself.  It’s just not a style I usually wear.

But I’m game.  And intrigued by the puzzle of making a pattern “just so” for moderate stretch wovens, which is the commonest material for such a cut.  Since it’s chilly weather time and also because I’m fielding more and more of these requests, I’m making a series of skinny stretch pants for myself.  I want to *nail* those other pants on the far side of the planet that I’m helping with, as painlessly as possible.  Starting with the Pinky pants I’ll test my ideas to help me refine the fitting advice I give.  I never give advice I wouldn’t take myself, so that means I experiment quite a bit.  This is the first skinny-stretch experiment.

The photos are *horrible* photobooth snaps of my backside, but they work quite well for documenting the fitting process and showing me what needs to be done.   As I mentioned before, I’m working with a medium-heavy weight no-wale cotton corduroy with moderate stretch.  Normal stuff.

Picture #1.  It’s better to have too much fabric than too little.  I didn’t do anything to the wovens block, I just drafted the pants style and basted it all together.  Yuck.  And it’s backlit.  Yuck.

#2 Pin out the side seams as necessary for a smooth torso.

#3 Sewed about 1.5″ of ease out of the side seams- now at zero ease through the hips. Tempted to stop here, pants plenty comfortable and keep out the breeze.  Know the blog readers will never stand for that kind of wrinkly pink backside.  Decide to pin out ease through entire leg. (Thank you, you all push me to doing better work than I’d do left to my own devices!)

#4  Front of pants ok throughout process.  No problems.  Questionable pockets basted on for easy removal if necessary.  Decide to go to bed wearing my pants, in case I dream about them or have a middle-of-the-night epiphany.  (Sometimes I dream about pattern pieces, perfect ones falling from the sky around me like massive snowflakes.  Then I pluck a few out and they’re the right shapes for what I’m working on in the awake world.)

#5 Did not dream about pants or have an epiphany, in fact I slept like a dead person.  Pants extra wrinkled from being slept in (akin to all-day wear, I am a very active sleeper). Two cups of coffee and I’m ready to try again.

#6 Lowered back crotch further and reduced top of inseam considerably, blending through to mid-thigh.  Not good enough.

#7- Dug into the back crotch seam a little further.  Still looks like a wedgie, but feels comfortable.

#8- Ripped out most of the inseam through the thigh to the knee, stretched the back inseam slightly with steam and heat, and re-stitched reducing the top of the back inseam.  WHY CAN’T I GET RID OF THOSE LAST WRINKLES?

#9- I can live with this.  I ripped the entire inseam. (That’s the last seam I sew on pants, because it’s often the seam that needs monkeying with the most, men’s pants tailoring rules be damned.)  Then I got all kinds of “not cricket” and raised the back inseam 1/2″ at the hem.  I pinned it flat to the front inseam to about 8″ above the knee.  Then I wet the back inseam only and stretched the heck out of it and pressed it dry with the iron.  I sewed it and everything worked together happily.  When I put it back on, some of the ironed-in stretch sprang back into place and allowed these happy tiny wrinkles to show up.  I stopped.  There’s only so much you can play around with a garment that’s already been cut.

I’m pretty happy to wear these out in public now without fear that others may point and laugh.  I had a major brain breakthrough about how to cut and sew pants like this without going through several alterations.  As soon as I get back to Brisbane and my own sewing room I’ll try it on another length of this fabric I’ve been hanging onto.  It’s khaki colored, very useful.  I may even go ahead and play with the nap shading, too.

It’s important to note these are *not* tight.  Not in the slightest.  The pants go on easily, I don’t have to suck in or lay across the bed to zip them and the fly lies flat on the front.

Coming soon- the big reveal.  And also, I have *not* forgotten April’s Hack.  You’ll be seeing her very soon, including the mess I made by using inappropriate jersey.   My English buddy Enid christened it the “Saggy Fanny” top and it’s too funny not to share.

“Giveaway” Winners and Understanding Dart Depth

Congratulations to Kathy (from central west NSW) and Seraphinalina, your numbers came up when I did a random number generator and I’ll be drafting you a pants block.  Please email me and I will send you the details.  The first testers are going well, I hope to be able to offer this service soon but not before it’s user-friendly!

I spent a little time today playing with paper and rotating darts, then uploaded the spick and span pretty shiny new copy of the 45″ bust Blank Canvas Tee.  It’s a tidier version (still hand drawn) and better proportioned.  Thank you to everyone who has given me feedback about the tee, I think I’m close to being happy with it.

I think future “hacks” will be available as .pdfs and the posts about them will hit the high points of construction rather that going in depth.  That seems the simplest way to present the information…

While I waited for the pattern pages to scan, I took a few photos to illustrate the point that the width and depth of darts directly affects the curve of the fabric.  Fabric is flat; darts introduce depth as you work them into a garment.  It’s one of those simple concepts I found hard to grasp at first when I was learning about patterns.

When you alter a pattern in the bust area, whether an FBA or SBA, you add or remove width from the garment.  With an FBA, you add width and the darts become wider (sometimes it’s best to divide them).  With an SBA, you remove width and the darts will become narrower.

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I first drew a small dart, then medium, and a larger dart.  Then I did a second dart to illustrate that multiple darts allow a more controlled (and more pronounced) curve.

Tomorrow- More Casual Vintage, from re-watching of season 2 Mad Men…

Updating the Blank Canvas Tee so I Can “Make This Look”

I’m looking ahead on the Sew Weekly to the “Make This Look” challenge.  I like this sailor-styled knit top from Plasticland and also think it will be a great “hack” for the Blank Canvas Tee.

It’s great to have a basic pattern that I like and fits me so I can chop it up and make fun tops like this.  I’m using a light-medium weight rayon knit with a dash of lycra.  The white satin elastic should work well for the trim- it has some give but not much, and is very firm.  I found it in the lingerie section, I think it will work.  I’ll show you how to change your own favorite tee pattern to make this tee as I work on it myself.

I released the Blank Canvas pattern over Christmas and the response has been helpful and encouraging.  It’s one thing to have piles of ideas, it’s a horse of another color entirely to execute those ideas.   I’ve already learned more than I thought possible about making patterns for download.

One consistent alteration among the testers for the 35II size is the shoulders, and I added a little more ease through the bust.  I re-drafted and scanned the 35 and the 40 to reflect these alterations, so the pattern should require less alteration when downloaded.  The new copies are available in the side bar and the How To Sew The Blank Canvas Tee page.

In response to observations, I decided to nix the “V” and “II” types.  It’s unnecessarily complicated for a top like this.  The biggest difference between V and II lay primarily in the side seam shaping, which is highly variable anyway. Instead, I’m offering straight 35 and 40 sizes.  The copies are neater too, since I know better what I am doing.  Eventually I’d like to learn to draft on the computer- but for now I will draw and scan.

I plan to clean up and simplify the 45’s-55’s, and add a 30 over the next few weeks.  I’m more confident with the larger sizes because I had more opportunity to test them before uploading, so I’m happy for the current patterns to stay for a little while longer.  I’ll let you know when I update them.

A big thank you to everyone who has sewn one and sent me a photo.  Thank you, thank you!!  If you’d like, please post a link to your finished tee on the Blank Canvas Tee page, or please send me a photo I can add to the gallery.  The new pattern isn’t drastically different, it’s just an improvement based on feedback and improved scanning skills.

And now the most pressing question of all:

I have a black pencil skirt and a length of plaid-y black and white poly chiffon that’s dying to become a skirt like this one.  Too much?  What about as a fun, silly casual skirt?  I do love whimsical casual wear.   I could see myself wearing it with the sailor top, or with quieter, more grown-up basics for a touch of fun.  What do you think?

Edit: Dianne reminded me of a conversation we had the other day about Japanese culture.  She lived there during her schoolgirl days and told me about Japanese school uniform, or fuku:

I find them really delightful, my final sailor top and skirt will have a definite flavor of fuku.

Balancing Darts and Refining a Full Bust Adjustment

This afternoon I pulled out my much-loved and altered Vogue 8872 pattern from storage to refine the darts and seams.

The fit is fine, but I always hated the super-chunky under bust dart and wanted to fix it. I feared separating the dart or moving it, because I knew I “didn’t know enough” to mess around with darts.  So I left it.

I made a quick tracing of the “original” pattern and marked my bust apex.  I held the pattern piece up to my body in the appropriate area and marked my nipple.  It’s helpful.

When you have a very curved area to cover, the more darts the better.  This shirt has several “control” areas- the underbust dart, the side dart, and a little bit of gathering around the neck.  The side dart looks fine, and I don’t want to add to the neck gathers.  Instead, I’m going to introduce a shoulder dart.  This is something I learned I like through sewing vintage patterns, and it’s only recently been pointed out to me that it’s a helpful dart for a busty lady (duh!).  I drew a line from roughly the middle of the shoulder seam, to the bust apex, down through the offending dart.  Then I cut that line.

Using the bust apex as my “hinge,” I opened up a dart in the shoulder.  Notice the bottom of the dart- rather than being open as before, it is now pointed at the bottom.  Just like a “real” dart.  That was how I judged how far to pivot the pattern piece.

I laid another piece of polytrace on top of the pattern to make a “clean” copy.  Notice the dart is crooked.  Generally, that kind of dart should be parallel to the CF.  I marked a guideline from the tip of the dart straight down to the hem.

Then I remarked the dart, using the straight guideline to help.  I marked the dots in the same place vertically, just shifted it over.  There’s several ways to do this, I take the simplest route.

I pinned out the side dart.

I laid the front onto the back to make sure the seams aligned.  I took this shot before I pinned out the dart, much head-scratching followed by head-smacking.

The front arm curve is slightly higher than the back.  I shaved off the front, smoothly blending it to the curve of the arm hole.  This is common with an FBA.  Double check that your sleeve will line up with your new arm curve.

I pinned out the shoulder dart and “pressed” it to the neck.  Then I cut along the shoulder line, so the shape of my dart would be correct.

Now I have a refined version of my favorite blouse- I can’t wait to try it out!  Notice none of my darts are terribly large.  Darts make flat fabric conform to a curved body- several gentle darts do this more easily than one or two chunky, abrupt darts.

Next time I do a “refining” post, I can show how to make a large FBA into princess seams.  In the meantime, do I hear any other pattern alteration requests?

I saw the Real Girl Belly Project over at xoJane and can’t resist sharing.  I love projects like this- slowly changing perceptions of women’s bodies and the media.  I figure the joke is on the fashion mags et al- we’re women AND we’re social media. Prepare for an eyeful.

I have most of the day to work on the Bladvass Dress tomorrow!  I made the pattern today.  The Sew Weekly challenge this week is to make a garment out of a piece of household fabric.  Does Bladvass count?  I bought the duvet cover specifically to make a dress.  If I sleep under it tonight, does that count?

Pattern Alteration: Basic FBA

When I first started altering patterns, I had no idea what I was doing, and the tutorials I found were basic outlines rather than practical “how-to” guides.  This is exactly how I perform this alteration.

An FBA or “Full Bust Alteration” is probably the commonest pattern alteration.  Most pattern companies (Big 4, I’m looking at you) draft for a B cup.  If you are larger, chances are you have funny wrinkles at your armhole, or the shoulders never fit correctly or perhaps the back is always too wide.

I suggest using your “high bust” measurement to determine the size you’ll use through the shoulders and bust.  The difference between your full bust and the pattern’s full bust tells you how much to alter the pattern, though you can “cheat.”  This is a very personal preference, don’t be afraid to change things up if you want.  Check out my guide to wearing ease.

This is a very raw approach, as soon as I learned to do it properly I knew I had to work out new dart placement and balance.  That will be the second part of this post (due next week if you’re interested).

Debi at Happy Sewing Place recently posted on “Bridging the Gap.”  It’s been following me around all week.  Altering patterns for your body with confidence is a big part of bridging the gap between competent basic sewing and being able to produce with your hands the lovely thing that lives in your head.

The gallery may not make much sense until you get your hand in and try.  If you have any questions at all, just ask.  Someone else may be thinking the same thing.  I’d also like to know what I can do to make alterations posts more useful to you in your sewing.

Tomorrow- another installment of  “What I Learned Not To Do, The Hard Way.”

Pattern Alterations: How to Fix Waist Length

This was one of the many fitting issues that came to light on the “Pattern Alterations: Let’s List and Vanquish Them” post.  Luckily, once you know a few key basics it’s simple to fix the pattern.  Remember that- pattern alteration is all about fixing the pattern so it is more like your body.

This is primarily a “Bone Structure” measurement.  Some “Weight/Muscle Distribution” issues come to play here, but we need to focus on one issue at a time.

The first step is to locate your waist.  It’s not always located at the navel, or where you’d wear your pants waistband.  From a pattern alteration perspective, it’s the narrowest or “mid”-point on the torso.

To find your waist, I suggest the elastic method.  Locate a piece of 1/4″ (6mm) elastic which is longer than your waist girth.  Braided elastic is fine, but try not to use a wide piece of waistband type elastic.

Tie it around your waist, make it snug but not tight.  I suggest wearing close fitting but unrestrictive clothing- I’m wearing an old knit top and leggings for this exercise. Move around a bit to allow the elastic to settle at your natural waist.  Stretch, twist, whatever.

Measure from the “notch” of your neck (the angle where your neck meets your shoulder), over the fullest part of the bust, down to the waist elastic.  Stand straight, I’m exaggerating in the photo.  If you can, have another person take this measurement while your hands are down by your sides.

The benefit of measuring from the “notch” to waist instead of the CF of the neck to waist is that the “notch” remains fairly constant on your body and the pattern, whereas the “front neck” can be difficult to locate accurately.

Make note of this measurement.  I suggest keeping a handy list of updated measurements.  My sewing goes more smoothly when I don’t have to fumble for measurements and suchlike.  I already have them written down in one place.

I like to draw lines across my patterns at bust, waist, and hip level to aid pattern alteration.  Measure from the “notch” of the neck on the pattern straight down to the waist.  Don’t forget to take off the shoulder seam allowance.

(Actual Front Waist Measurement – Pattern Front Waist Measurement = Amount to be Altered)  For example- My front waist is 17″.  If I measure the pattern and it shows itself to be 18″, then 17″ – 18″ = -1  A negative number means I need to “take off” that amount.  A positive number means I need to add that amount.

To shorten a waist, locate the pattern’s shorten/lengthen line.  If it doesn’t have one, you can use the line you drew at the waist.  Draw a line above the shorten/lengthen line using a ruler.  Make this line the same amount you found above- that is, I would draw a line 1″ from my shorten/lengthen line.

Then fold the pattern to bring those two lines together.  You can pin, tape or sew the tuck in place so it is permanent.

To lengthen, locate the pattern’s shorten/lengthen line.  If the pattern doesn’t have one, I suggest drawing one yourself a little bit above the actual waistline.  Using a ruler and a scrap piece of paper/patternmaking medium, draw a line.

Draw another line parallel to the first, the distance between the two lines should be the amount you need to lengthen.

Slice the pattern on the shorten/lengthen line.

Position the scrap piece underneath, making sure the pattern CF lines up.  Pin, tape, or sew the scrap in place.

Finally, “true” your pattern piece at the side seam, so you have a nice smooth line rather than a choppy one.

Make sure to alter the back in the same way and the same place you altered the front.

This skill applies to sleeves, skirt length when you have a shaped hem, pants, or wherever you need to lengthen or shorten a pattern to make it perfect.

Extra Credit: While wearing your waist elastic, see if you can persuade a helper to measure from the notch of your neck straight down to your waist elastic.  Is there a difference between the “front waist” and “back waist” length?  Yes?  How much?  If the back waist is significantly shorter,  you may want to read Sherry’s post on altering for back waist length (also sometimes called “swayback”)

Tell me- does this help?  Do you have any questions not covered here?  What alteration should I dive into next time in this series?

Additional perspectives:

Sew What- How to Petite a Burda Pattern

The Semptress- Waist, Front/Back Waist

Ease and Pattern Alteration- The Art of Being Lazy

Please allow me to unburden myself of all useful information I can think of relating to ease… Today’s post is a little wordy, but it all hangs together.  Be sure to let me know what I missed!

I had a hard time grasping the concept of  “ease” as an intermediate sewist.  For years, I only thought of ease as allowing me enough room to move- “wearing ease.”   I cast around for reasons my garments were over-fitted and stumbled across the concept of “design ease.”  The penny dropped.  That’s the amount of ease a designer builds into a garment for the purposes of design.  What makes a blouse blousy or a coat swingy?

Design ease.

Click the image to visit a positive blog post about curves from the blog Brains and BeautyEase is a very personal preference.  Some people prefer looser garments than others.  It’s common to confuse a close fit (very little wearing ease- it’s tight) with a good fit (skims the body with nary a wrinkle, but does not constrain movement). I think the photograph above shows good fit rather well.  It’s the same dress on two different body types, with very little ease.

As a general rule, I find that the more “fat” in a given area (everyone has it), the more ease will be necessary.  For example, the industry standard for an average woven “fitted” garment is 2″ ease through the bust, 1″ through the waist, and 3″ through the hip.  The breasts and buttocks are common places to carry fatty deposits, and in the case of hips the 3″ barely provides room to sit properly.

This is yet another issue I have with many plus-sized patterns- they provide the same amount of wearing ease as for other body types.  However, the plus sized body will usually feel more comfortable (and therefore more confident) with a little extra ease.

A tip I picked up about waistlines- if you find your waistlines consistently cut into your flesh when you sit down, try taking your waist measurement while seated.  I can’t remember where I read this, but it’s sensible.

Ease can also help camouflage ridges and rolls created by undergarments.  I like about 1″ – 1 1/2″ ease across my back for this reason.

It’s important to pay attention to the designer’s intended design ease when altering patterns.  It’s far too easy to alter all the design right out of a garment.  It may fit like a glove, but “over-fitting” will edit the design details out of a charming blouse, a clever coat, or breezy sun dresses.  Before I alter a pattern, I double check the design ease.

You can make design ease work for you. It’s a balancing act- as a general rule, the more design ease in a garment, the less it will need to be altered for “bulk.”  If I measure a blouse pattern and find it has 8″ of design ease through the bust, I won’t trouble myself to alter.  If I measure and find  it has 5″ of ease, I will alter gently (lazily).  If I measure and find it has less than 5″, I’ll carefully alter to my measurements.

First, decide on a size.

Second, draw a few lines on the pattern perpendicular to the grain line through the bust (roughly 1″ below the bottom of the arm curve), waist and/or hips.  Draw lines on both the front and back.

Measure each line.  Metric is useful here because it allows emotional distance from your measurements (vice versa if you’re already metric).  Besides, the standard seam allowance on most patterns is 1.5cm, which is easier to juggle than 5/8″.

Write the measurement on the line.  Take off seam allowances and darts.  I don’t get pedantic about measurements- I round to the nearest half cm or quarter inch.  Experience tells me it’s not worth stressing over anything smaller. (Though you should by all means if it makes you happy.)

Add each line together, front and back.

Double check the “size” measurements on the pattern envelope.  The pattern’s measurements you just took will be larger.  If you subtract the size measurements (in my case, 39″) from the pattern measurements (42″), you have an idea of how much ease the designer put into the garment.  I find this is very useful for altering patterns and preventing over-fitting.  If you’re lucky, the pattern paper will have the “finished” measurements printed right on the pattern.

Ease chart, courtesy of Butterick Patterns

If you’re new to altering patterns or drafting, you can also measure existing garments in your wardrobe.  If you have a blouse that is neither too loose nor too snug, then measure it through the bust, waist and hips.  You can make note of these measurements and it will help with your pattern work in the future.

One more type of ease: Negative Ease.  Negative ease is most commonly seen in knits, swimwear, activewear and lingerie.  The fabrics used are stretchy, which means that even when they’re made up with zero or negative ease, you will still be able to turn handsprings, sing, eat, laugh and reach the top shelf in your sewing room.  Negative ease garments skim the body closely.

I hope this mini-series on pattern alteration has been helpful. Now tell me, what is the most pressing alteration I should methodically photograph and explain?  Short/long waists and how to measure them?  FBAs?  Something weird you really want to be able to do but can’t find a good tutorial?  Let me know, maybe I could do one a week as a regular feature.

I have some Crowd-Sourced Tee patterns tweaked and ready, I won’t have a good block of time to sit and “electronify” them until Friday.  Friday!

Here’s an intentionally fuzzy preview of the near future:

Halter-style Indonesian batik dress with full skirt and uneven hem and pleat details?   Are those finger waves for summer?  Yes, please!

Pattern Alterations: Weight/Muscle Distribution

Hills or Mountains, it's all just topography

I may not have been as clear as I could yesterday about my approach to fit issues.  In discussing pattern alteration, I prefer to ignore the body image aspect.  We can talk about it later.  Instead, I want to lay out a basic introduction to pattern alteration before I plunge headfirst into writing how-to tutorials.

Pattern alteration is a technical, hands-on skill.  It’s translating the topography of your body into lines and curves and coaxing a flat piece of fabric to fit and drape beautifully.  It’s just a brain-puzzle.  It is not an emotional struggle between woman and pattern.   Words like “sway back” or “forward rotated arm” are not death sentences or judgmental criticisms, they’re useful existent terms to help sort out fitting issues.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Good fit and proportion can make even Paris Hilton look smart. Who would have thought?

Besides, I find wearing a well-fitted garment trumps all those niggling worries about size or shape.  Think about it- good fit visually communicates one of two things: cleverness or wealth.  You’re either nimble-minded enough to make clothes to your individual specifications or rich enough to pay someone else to do it.  ;)

On to Weight/Muscle Distribution:  This is the most individual type of pattern alteration as it focuses on muscle mass and fatty deposits.  Weight Distribution is a function of genetics and habits.  Through working with hundreds of individually shaped women, I noticed a few basic “types.”  These won’t apply to every person on earth, but I find this to be true most of the time:

  • “Petite” body type- A-B cup, usually with a “straight up and down” silhouette.   This person may not need to alter commercial patterns much for fit, and when they do alter it’s often to make adjustments for bone structure rather than weight distribution.
  • “Average” bodies.  Often a B-DD cup, this type encompasses most women.  Colette Patterns caters to this type of body very well.  This person may have one or two “bone structure” type alterations, and any number of “weight distribution” alterations.
  • “Plus” bodies are often the most unique, which is part of the reason that pattern companies and retailers aren’t that great at dressing larger women.  When I am working with a plus-size woman, I try to nail down any “bone structure” issues first.  Then I focus on the main “weight distribution” alterations.

Common “Weight Distribution” Alterations:

  • Full Bust Alteration or FBA– This is an alteration that adds length, width, and changes the shape of the armhole so it lies flatter against the body.  If you are a C or larger, you may notice rumpling in the from armhole, wrinkles pointing from your arm to your bust, wrinkles below the bust, or the back of your tops are too big.
  • “Narrow Shoulders”- Kris mentioned this issue in comments: “I have ridiculously narrow shoulders for my size. I usually cut an 18 at the shoulders and adjust to a 22 at the hip...”  I would say based on experience, this is completely normal.  A LOT of people have to do this.  Shoulder length (from neck to where your arm starts) doesn’t change much as a person puts on weight.  It’s relatively constant.  Patterns forget that.

  • “Sway Back”- Of course, true sway back is a bone structure issue.  Sherri at Pattern Scissors Cloth did a truly magnificent post on sway back, including all the other issues which may be creating those lower back wrinkles.  I think “juicy booty” may be much more common than actual “sway back.”
  • Full or Thin limbs- I sometimes alter for a full bicep, as do many people.  Thighs are another area which may need attention for comfort, mobility and drape.  These are often simple “slash and spread” type alterations.

I plan a post for each of those alterations.  It’s the main points of Weight Distribution fit issues, please tell me anything else relating to weight and muscle distribution you’d like to see.  If I don’t know how to do it, I’ll find out.

Also, I forgot to pick a giveaway winner!  I’m so sorry!  I got absorbed in this t-shirt project and lost track of time.  After printing the comments and putting them into a hat, I let Lila draw.  She picked LizaJane from LizaJane sews.  LizaJane!  Send me your address!

Next Up: All About Ease, and perhaps something pretty and fluffy after all this technical stuff.

Getting a Handle On Pattern Alterations

I’m working on the crowd-sourced t-shirt pattern, and reading carefully through all the comments.  Thank you so much for sharing your fit issues with me, I believe I will be able to give you a fairly decent if simple pattern in return.  The more input, the more useful the finished pattern will be.

As I was working on the draft, I pondered how to best explain pattern alteration.  When I began learning, I would get frustrated because I put a great deal of effort into altering a pattern, only to find it still didn’t fit well.  Once I began thinking of pattern alteration in a conceptual way, I started to understand how best to alter.  That is to say, I quit thinking with my emotions- “I put so MUCH work into fitting this damn jacket and it still isn’t right!  Raaaar!”

Fit and Pattern Alteration come down to three basic concepts: Bone Structure, Weight Distribution, and Ease.  I want to focus on each of these three in turn while I work on the t-shirt pattern (shooting for next week).  I’m also working on some pattern alteration posts, please feel free to continue telling me which ones you’d like to see.

I don’t know everything, this is just my take on pattern alteration.  If you have some of the issues listed, try not to let it worry you.  We can figure out how to work on it.  Leave me a comment about it and I’ll add it to my list of pattern alteration posts, or find you a great source to help.

So, what is “Bone Structure?”  It’s the shape of our skeletons as formed through genetics and posture.  Generally, “bone structure” alterations remain much the same throughout your life.  That applies especially to:

  • Length- Length of limbs, length of torso and back (overlaps with “Weight Distribution” in some cases), length of neck
  • Ribcage- Wide, deep, average, narrow.  This can be tricky to “diagnose.”  If the garment doesn’t sit well through your midsection even if you cut the correct size, then you may need to think about your ribcage.  This is an issue that usually only comes out after other issues have been solved- but not always.
  • Pelvic width- some hip bones are “wider” than others, aside from weight distribution.  This affects the drape of pants and skirts.  They may be cut from the correct size, but the pattern might not work well, pulling or twisting in odd ways.
  • Shoulders- Shoulders tend to change and vary depending on habits and age.  Of the “Bone Structure” type issues, this is the most individual and tricky to fit.  Shoulders may be narrow or broad compared to the rest of the body, they my rotate forward with age and/or as you sit at a desk.  Some shoulders are sloping or square- that’s the shape they are.  A few commentators mentioned a hollow upper chest, a lack of “breast flesh.”  One solution to that may lie in the shape of the shoulders.  The other may be a function of gravity/age/weight distribution (but we’ll get to that!).
  • Scoliosis- This is a curvature of the spine, and should be addressed in the pattern if necessary to prevent the garment pulling or twisting.
  • Sway Back- I think this term is mis-used sometimes.  When applied correctly, it refers to a curvature of the spine in the small of the back, often a result of childbearing (though not always).

The good news is that if you can “diagnose” some of these issues, as a rule they’re not difficult to address and tend not to change much.   I’m a pretty big believer in the idea that properly “altered” clothing will always look good, and that most people can pull off most styles if the pattern is adjusted well.

Think about the alterations you do (or wish you could do).  Which ones may be related to bone structure?   I’d like to hear thoughts about bone structure type alterations, do let me know what I’ve missed.

Pattern Alterations- Let’s List and Vanquish Them

Until very recently, I taught sewing.  (I quit so I could teach through other venues, and so I could blog more freely.) While teaching, I noticed a few general alterations that most people need to make in order to achieve a basic good fit.

My top three observations:

  • Bust-waist-hip ratio- I find that more often than not, a person will be one size on top and one or two sizes larger through the hips and waist.   A common variation is one size on top, one size larger through the waist, and another size larger through the hips.
  • Full bust- I know some people don’t have to do this, but it’s another alteration I see all-the-time.
  • “Sway back”- That’s the rippling folds of fabric some people find settle above their backsides.

When I work from regular patterns, I tick all those boxes and more.  It’s what drove me to learn to draft, but I recognize that not everyone has that option.  This week, I’ve been working on my perfect basic t-shirt pattern.  Simple to sew, easy to wear, suitable for a variety of fabrics and just a little interesting.

Then I thought- Why stop with myself?  I’d like to hear from you- from anyone out in the sewing world who wants the same things from a t-shirt.  I’d like to develop a simple, multi-sized pattern for people who want to uncomplicate their sewing.

Is pattern sizing completely out of step with the modern body?  Or is it just that people who don’t fit the “standard” size are more likely to want to sew?   If most people have to perform the same pattern alterations, is it time to experiment a little to find a “new  normal?”  I don’t know.  I do know I can count on one hand the students I’ve had who didn’t need to alter their patterns.

Tell me your fitting woes.  You gave me some really great ideas for necklines, now I want to focus on the fit. For those who are dab hands at alteration, tell me what’s on your “laundry list?”  For those who don’t alter because they don’t know where to start, tell me what doesn’t work for you.  Where do garments sag, stretch, gap or bunch when they shouldn’t?  I want to make a crowd-sourced t-shirt pattern.

This project has entirely captured my imagination.  Help me make your perfect t-shirt pattern!  I’ll show you mine tomorrow, and then I’d like to make a list of common pattern alterations (this is where you all come in) and work through the list one fit issue at a time.  If I can’t find a useful tutorial, I’ll make one.

List and Vanquish!

If you’d like to contribute but would feel more comfortable emailing me, please do.  stephc (at) 3hourspast (do t) com