By Judith Rasband
In seminars and workshops, I always say, “I have the best seat in the house!” As the teacher, I’m in a position to see the faces of the people in my audience. I love the soft smile that breaks when someone relates personally to what I’m saying; or the big grin and twinkle in the eye when I’ve caught us in a good joke regarding our sewing habits. Best, is the way the eyes suddenly open wider when someone catches on to the concept that I’m teaching. It’s the “Ah Ha!” look, and it makes my day–makes me know why I love teaching.
In pattern alteration workshops with scissors in hand, most faces I watch are so alive and animated, responding to the surprise movement of the paper pattern as they carry out a procedure new to them.
Watching some faces, however, it becomes obvious that some people are just not willing or comfortable doing all that’s required to alter, regardless of the method. And that’s all right. It’s allowed. We’re talking about geometry on anatomy. We’re talking about multiple figure variations that occur in real life–and later in life as weight distribution shifts and we are faced with new and more fitting problems.
The alteration process is very technical, very detailed, requiring more time, effort, and patience. It is simply more work than some want to do. But don’t give up on fashion sewing! If you’re among those who think, “Do I really have to do all of this?” The answer is “No, not if you choose a looser style to start with.” Simply learn to SEW LOOSE! Select loose-fitting fashion styles designed with more fashion ease that flows more easily over the figure and demands little or no alteration. A looser, softly-styled fit can eliminate many fitting problems, allowing you to get on with your sewing. You can have a terrific time with fashion fabrics and techniques.
Design: Clothing is designed to fit your shoulders and flow smoothly over the figure. You’re looking for fashion styles with controlled fit in the shoulders and transitional design lines that fall smoothly over body curves–or bulges as they may be–areas you don’t want the whole world to focus on. Attention goes to contrast.
Close-fitting fabric that gets “hung up” on a body curve or bulges creates contrast in line and shape. It calls attention to the curve and signals you need a larger size or a larger, looser style. If a larger size won’t give you the look you like–and you’re one who really doesn’t want to alter–you’re smart to select a larger, looser style with more fashion ease or added fullness in the design to flow easily over the figure. The look can be untailored, softly-tailored, or tailored–as you prefer.
Style Selection: Select the garment type or silhouette that matches most nearly your general figure type. This will be your “quick-fit” style, being fuller in fashion design where your figure is also fuller. It is most likely to accommodate your figure type and often without alteration.
Size: Again, clothing is designed to fit your shoulders and flow smoothly over the figure. Therefore, pick your pattern size according to your “high-bust circumference”, using this measured amount in place of the “full-bust circumference” listed on the pattern. This generally results in a smaller pattern size more closely related to your bone structure–your neck and shoulder size. Alter for the bust, back, or bottom below as needed. (I don’t recommend you buy according to “chest width” only. Too often, temporary slumped or overly erect posture can change the measurement significantly.)
Shoulder Yoke: If your body size changes just below the shoulders, consider a fashion style that includes a shoulder yoke. This allows a beautifully controlled fit in the shoulders, with gathers, pleats, or flare below. This allows the fabric to fill out a smaller figure or flow over a fuller figure. Gathers must be tiny and evenly spaced. Pleats can be crisp and very sophisticated. And flare doesn’t have to look like a tent.
Shoulder Pads: If you have narrow to average shoulders and full upper arms extending beyond the shoulder bone, or uneven shoulders, or a larger bust, then learn to wear shoulder pads. No, not huge football player-like pads, but flat-lying shoulder pads that curve around the end of your shoulder, adding appropriate width to balance your upper arms, bust, or body below. Learn to make your own shoulder pads to get a personalized fit. Learn to think of shoulder pads not as a fashion trend, but as a fitting tool.
Sleeves: If your arms are larger, particularly the upper arm, select a camp shirt sleeve, sports shirt sleeve, or bishop style sleeve. These styles are cut fuller than basic fitted sleeves and accommodate the arm more easily without altering.
Blousing: If you have a large bust, midriff bulge, or larger body below, learn to blouse your blouse. Take a deep breath, lifting your chest and shoulders as you tuck or belt your blouse. Let out the breath and relax. As your body drops back into place, you’ll get just the right amount of blousing–about an inch outward and back to the waist. (Opt for a little more if the bust is very large.) The resulting loose fit does wonder to create a moderate transition with less contrast between a large bust and smaller waist; to camouflage a midriff bulge, or to cause the body below to appear somewhat smaller. It works!
Hemline: So often we hear or read, “Don’t hem your vest or jacket at your widest level.” Not so. You need your vest or jacket to reach your widest level to camouflage a proportionally large curve in the hip, thigh, buttocks, or stomach; then skirt or pant fabric must fall straight down below the curve, and not “cup” back under to reveal the curve. Practice “dress slim” techniques, such as color contrast in center front, a collar, and/or a moderate heel or wedge in your shoe to lift and slim your look. It works!
Elastic: If you have a high hip curve or high buttocks contour, learn to look for styles with elastic in the back waistband of skirt and pants. Keep the front waistband flat and tailored looking if you like. Darts don’t easily accommodate and fit the immediate curve of a high hip or behind. Gathers or flare more easily accommodate the curve. Elastic allows the fabric to expand more quickly. Blousing above makes the curve below appear somewhat smaller. It works!
Layering: Layering your clothes allows for a looser, transitional fit on the outside. Consider a vest, sweater, jacket, tunic, or duster, in fabric weight appropriate for your climate. And yes, petite women 5′ 4″ and shorter can wear the longer lengths and layers every bit as beautifully as taller women. Using light- to medium-weight fabrics, simply position your hems at the same level on your body as the taller woman does on hers. For example, hem a softly flared skirt or duster just below your calf, like the taller woman does. Show off the slimmer area below your calf and above your ankle. Don’t limit your options. It works.
Ease Amounts: General fitting ease amounts in larger body areas (usually at bust and hip levels)
• for 2nd layer shirts, dresses, skirts, pants, and shorts is 3 to 4 inches ;
• for 3rd layer sweaters, vests, jackets, tunics, and dusters are 5 to 6 inches;
• for 4th layer coats are 7 to 8 inches;
• for the upper arm, allow 2 inches of fitting ease.
In Western cultures, people tend to prefer to feel their waistline slightly more snug. Therefore, for fitting ease at the waist, allow about 1/2 inch.
Fitting ease is essential below the underarm and below the crotch. Therefore,
• for the underarm, allow 1/2 to 1-inch ease.
• for the leg crotch, allow 1 to 1 and 1/2 inches of ease.
It is smart to pick out a few of your favorite clothes and measure them in the above-listed areas. This measurement includes your body, plus the amount of fitting ease you prefer—which will be more specific than general amounts listed above. Use these measurements as your guide to personal ease.
EndNote: Wonderful, fashionable, loose-fitting, softly-styled patterns are available–in standard pattern books and from independent pattern makers at sewing expos and through the mail. Don’t even consider giving up on fashion sewing. Stay loose. Sew loose. It works!