Friday, March 9, 2012

Getting fit

The fit I'm talking about here is not about your body, but about what you put on your body, about making clothes that fit and flatter. There was a time when I simply pulled the pattern pieces out of the envelope, cut out my garment and sewed it up.  Most of the time those garments fit, at least fairly well.  That was called Youth.  What we have here now is Maturity.  Look, even la belle Catherine Deneuve (who is 68!) isn't the sylph she used to be.  But, in addition to Maturity, what we also have now is Discernment, that is: recognizing, appreciating and insisting on an excellent fit in the garments we sew.  It was only in the past decade, perhaps when I first encountered Peggy Sagers of Silhouette Patterns at Martha's Sewing Market, that I began to focus on fit.  What Peggy says is the we home sewers were really never taught to fit, to sew, yes, perhaps even beautifully, but not to fit.  And that was certainly true in my case.

So where to start? Sewing books. No particular recommendations here, but among the books in my own sewing library I have Singer Reference Library The Perfect Fit, Palmer/Pletsch Fit for Real People, Nancy Zieman's Fitting Finesse, Bodymapping by Kathy Illian and Shortcuts to a Perfect Sewing Pattern by Rusty Bensussen.  The last two are more about creating slopers but are still useful for fitting help.  Obviously, there's a wealth of information on the Internet.  On the Silhouette Patterns site you'll find an article on Understanding Fit as well as several webcasts.  Go to Pattern Review and search their knowledge base or their boards.  Subscribe to Threads, buy their archive, check them out online.  Just some of the more obvious suggestions.  Most of all I think I really profited from attending sewing shows, both Martha's Sewing Market in Arlington, Texas, and the ETA here in Dallas.  You'd be amazed at how much you'll learn from a 30-minute class, given by excellent instructors such as Peggy, Cynthia Guffey, or Connie Crawford, just to name three whom I found really helpful.  If there's a sewing show you can get to, go.  You'll find it informative, inspiring and lots of fun.

McCall's 4309McCall's 4309 black jacket This simple jacket is a good example of the importance of fit.  It doesn't have darts, or princess seams, or any other of the obvious facilitators of fit.  When I first made a muslin of this out-of-print  McCall's pattern quite some time ago, it was so shapeless and unflattering that I wondered what I'd been thinking of and put the whole thing away.  Then some years later I acquired this fabric with its predominate woven-in pattern which I didn't want to break up or have to subject to tricky matching, and, searching my very large collection of patterns for something appropriate, I settled on this.  But not, of course, as it came out of the package.  I narrowed the upper back and shoulders, raised the armscye, replaced the sleeve with a closer-fitting one, and reshaped the collar. VoilĂ ...a jacket that's easy but not baggy and which has become one of those go-to garments that always feels right when I wear it.

For those of you interested in more specific aspects of how I refined this pattern, and photos thereof, please continue.

Here is a comparison of my altered pattern pieces and the original pieces of McCall's 4309 for the jacket.

On the bodice back and the sleeve, you can see the original pattern underneath, showing the amount by which I modified them.  On the front, of course, I added the facing.  To the left you can see how I drew the facing (a French curve is a must-have!) and then the front lining piece which needs to meet the front facing with a double 5/8" seam (using a standard seam allowance) overlap (so you can have 5/8" to turn under and the front lining will then overlap the facing by 5/8").


  1. Your jacket looks so much more luxe than the envelope photo, with its patchwork look. I know that fabric really makes a difference but you have also highlighted the importance of those small but necessary adjustments.

  2. I second the above comment, your choices make this lovely and classic.