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  • Helen Puddefoot

An experiment with fitting

Hi stitching fans!

For the past week (and a bit) I've been working on one, single item. Just one. This is unusual for me, I am usually a sewitasfastasIpossiblycanbecauseIgettooexcited! sort of person but two things came along that changed my approach on this occasion.

First up - I reconnected with Craftsy. Craftsy, if you aren't aware, is an online workshop platform that allows you to take classes in all sorts of things from gardening to cake decorating - and of course sewing. I took one of the classes on product photography a while back after Tilly mentioned it on her blog and I really enjoyed it. I had some time on my hands the weekend before last and I found myself browsing through some of their sewing classes.

One thing (of many) that I'm not yet very good at and haven't ever really learnt to do (not being a trained seamstress and mostly self-taught) is how to alter patterns to make sure they'll fit you and any of your personal physical 'special features'. I have a few patterns where I know the fit isn't quite right - it's never so dreadful that I wouldn't wear it out of the house, but there are little niggles that bug me.

One of these is my ultimate trousers.

This pattern from Sew Over It is a total joy to sew, and perfect for my body shape in terms of style, but on both the pairs I've made I had to do some last minute adjustments to try to sort out some fitting issues that you can still see on the two photos above (cf horizontal drag marks at the crotch on the yellow pair). Not really knowing what I'm doing I tend to 'botch' it at the very end of the process because I'm SO NEARLY DONE and then something doesn't quite fit as it's supposed to. Impatient, what can I say.

I decided that I should really try to figure out how to fix these things in a more, um, professional way. I'm the sort of person who really likes understanding how things work so if something isn't fitting and I can't work out why that usually sits and hops up and down in my brain until I spend the time to find out how to fix it.

This led me to a craftsy course on fitting - there are quite a few to choose from and I only signed up for one so I can't say it's the best on the platform, but boy was it good! I learned SO much - it was slightly overwhelming at times, and the approach used in the workshop is a little alarming at first but it really helped me with this particular project.

The course I signed up for is called 'Sew the perfect fit' and is taught by a lady called Lynda Maynard. When you sign up you get sent a pattern as part of the cost - it gets sent from the States so it takes about a week to arrive, but I quite like watching the whole course through before I actually sit down to do anything with it so that works fine for me.

The method she teaches is all based around using a muslin or toile - a practice version of the garment that you sew up and then adjust to your particular size, addressing any fitting issues you might find along the way - then transferring those changes back to the paper pattern. The really nice thing about this approach is that you can see what's not working very easily on a real 3D garment and then fix it, either by pinching out fabric or, more concerningly, taking a pair of massive scissors to your unsuspecting model and cutting the toile up while she is wearing it.

Because the item I was making was for me I had to ask my mum (who was visiting) to help me - this isn't something you can easily do on your own, which is its only drawback - we very quickly dissolved into absolute fits of giggles as she was cutting a particularly large hole across the middle of my bum while I was standing in my living room surrounded by scraps of fabric, pins and too much tea.

The class actually uses a fitted dress with sleeves so there were issues with my trousers that weren't covered - and I think in hindsight starting off with trousers may have been a bit ambitious for me - there are more bits to fit than there would be on a skirt or dress because they do up underneath as well as round the edges (that's the technical language).

So here are my particular issues:

1. My waist is in proportion to my hips, so any garment that sits at the true waist is fine on me - however, the ultimate trousers sit about two inches below your natural waist - just below your tummy button. This is sadly where all the pies and cake that I eat tend to hang around discussing the weather, or whatever it is they do, and therefore my tummy button circumference is not entirely in proportion to the rest of me. I have a big belly, basically.

2. I have quite a hollow back, I always tend to get gaping at the centre back on jeans or worse fitting trousers

3. I have a bottom - I don't think its a particularly unusual bottom, but it's definitely there so I had to work out whether it would cause more issues than it really should.

4. I'm short - 5'2" counts as short - and most of that shortness is in the legs so I always need to take things up

Those are the ones I knew about before I started, I found lots more don't worry!

So I dutifully sewed up my toile and put it on - it didn't fit, not even close. For some reasons I'd cut out the pattern pieces a size too small so I couldn't even get them over my hips! Thankfully the recommendation by Lynda is to make your toile with a 1 inch seam allowance so you can take it out if you need to. I needed to. Once I'd done that things were looking slightly better - but it was still a way off fitting around the waistline - by about three inches!

We struck out with the scissors and bits of orange fabric to fix this issue and quite soon I was wearing this very lovely thing...

Isn't it lovely?! The clever bit is the lines - they are sewn in and follow the grainline of the fabric, both the straight and crosswise grain. What that means is that you can see very clearly where things aren't as they should be. The lines should always be dead straight - you can see that with a bit of imagination the vertical lines at the top are now running broadly straight- when I first had the trousers one they were bending all over the place because it was so far from fitting properly. You can also see that the very top line at the waist is anything but straight, dipping right down in the middle at the front - so there are still quite a few issues to fix in this version.

Essentially what the orange bits have done is opened up the waistband without affecting the hip measurement. You cut into the fabric and then spread it out as much as is needed - in this case to accommodate the pies and cake in my belly - then insert a piece of additional fabric in a different colour to fill the gap. There were more in the back but I didn't have photos of those...and I don't think you'd have wanted to see them anyway.

So that was round one - then I had to transfer those additions back to the paper pattern, and make up the trousers again in a second toile to see whether they'd done the job. Then it was back to trying on, tweaking and adjusting. This time I was on my own so it was quite a bit harder, but I ended up lengthening the front, also to cover additional belly and try to straighten up that top line, and taking some fabric out of the inseam to account for some bagginess around the rump.

By this point I have to confess I was quite bored of fitting, I'd already made two pairs of trousers that I couldn't wear, so I went straight for the fashion fabric - I lovely tartan wool I bought a few weeks back from plush addict. That's right. Tartan. So not only did I think that fitting trousers would be a good place to start, I also thought I'd do it in fabric that's a complete ball ache to pattern match and would show up any fitting issues all the more clearly because the stripes would be going haywire. Excellent choices Helen. Excellent.

To cut a very long story short(er) I manage to get it done, I even lined them because wool is itchy. I tried my very best to be patient, I really did, but there are still things I wish I'd taken more time on. Here is the finished product:

OK - good things:

1. The tartan is matching rather beautifully across the legs - so the lines pretty much line up and it doesn't make you feel sick to look at them (I hope)

2. They do pretty much fit - the waistline (before the waistband was added, more on that later) does fit my bigger belly and the hips fit really nicely, and the bum fits nicely, so all that effort was worth it compared to the other pairs I have

3. I didn't do lazy fitting like I did on the yellow pair and just take in one side once I'd fitted the zip - resulting in a wonky front seam that always curves over to one side. Good. The front seam is straight, hurrah! This is an improvement.

4. Look at that pattern matching at the front seam!!! That took a while so I'm really pleased with how it turned's a close up for you so you can see it's not just optical illusion

That's pretty good - can hardly see the seam really.

Hurray! So not entirely a waste of time.

BUT, annoying things that still aren't right:

1. The waistband doesn't really fit as it should - I got super annoyed with myself because I put the zip in then realised I wanted a waistband so had to take the zip out again before I could attach it. I didn't really draft it properly and I wasn't sure how to get it to fit snuggly as the bottom of it was a good few inches bigger than the top (again due to the belly issue) so the waistband is bulky and too big at the centre back by about an inch and a half. ANNOYING.

2. Although these seem to fit pretty well when standing still, as soon as I try to move in them I get into some slight difficulties - particularly lifting one leg to go up steps or onto a bus. I think I took out too much on the inseam and it's now restricting movement a bit - it's fine, I can walk and run and move fine in them, but it doesn't feel quite right to me.

3. The invisible zip is already shredding - I don't know what it do to invisible zips but I'm coming to the conclusion that I must fit them too tight because I keep having this problem where the zip tape starts to pull at the stitch line and then the zip pull gets stuck in the lose threads. It's very irritating and I'm not sure what to do to fix it - maybe buy more expensive zips? The actual fit is fine, I can pull the fabric right round so there's no stress on the zip at all but it seems it's still a problem. It might be from having to take it out and sew it back in a couple of times, I don't know.

SO - overall a good experiment, I did some things that definitely improved the fit but I still don't know enough to fix all the issues and my impatientness is still a problem for getting to a really good final garment. But you learn from your mistakes so next time it will be better!

I'm considering signing up for a fitting course as well so I can get some more hands on experience to try and learn how to spot what's wrong and then adjust for it, any recommendations welcome!

Love and kisses


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