Sewing Essentials: The Importance of Ease

If a garment were to be made to one’s exact body measurements it would be skin tight and there would be no room to walk, sit or move about. What gives every garment room for movement is ease. Ease is a term used a lot when it comes to garment sewing.

While, technically, it can refer to more than one thing, such as to “ease” a sleeve shoulder cap into an armhole opening, in this post we’ll explore ease as an element of fit and define it relative to its use in commercial patterns.

Find your perfect fit when you master the art of ease.

perfectly fitted shirt

Perfectly fitted shirt from Pati Palmer

What is ease?

When using commercial patterns, ease is what creates both the fit and design of a garment. It is the difference between the body measurements that determine a pattern size and the look and fit of the design, or technically, the finished garment measurements. It will vary from style to style and the degree of fit of a garment.

sewing ease

Ease is comprised of two separate measurements, wearing ease and design ease. Both, when added to a patterns basic body measurements, equals the finished garment measurements shown on the back of a pattern envelop and/or on the tissue pattern pieces.

finished garment measurements FGM pattern

Wearing ease

Wearing ease is the amount added to a person’s body measurements so one can move in a garment. Without it a garment made to just the body measurements would be skintight. It’s generally a small amount, just enough so a person can sit, bend or twist about.

The amount of wearing ease added to each of the three basic body measurements — bust, waist and hip — will vary based on body size, personal fitting preferences and fabric used in making the garment.

Design ease

Design ease, also referred to as style ease or fashion ease, is the amount of fullness added, again at the three key body points, that creates the overall look or style of a garment. For a close fitting garment the amount of design ease added will be minimal if any, while for a loose fitting one the amount added can be considerable. With both design and wearing ease the amounts can be adjusted to one’s personal preference.

The pattern companies provide ease charts that define the amount of total ease added based on fit categories, however they don’t define how much is attributed to each type of ease. This first chart from the McCalls Pattern Company, details the amount of total ease (wearing and design ease combined) added based on various fitting categories. The fitting category names are often used in the brief garment descriptions detailed at the top of the pattern envelop back.

Ease Chart

However, ease, especially wearing ease, is a very useful element that can be used when either drafting your own patterns or when making pattern adjustments. Knowing the right amount of wearing ease to add is important to getting the right fit. And, as all sewists know, getting the right fit is one of the primary reasons people sew their own clothes.

So, how much wearing ease does one need?

As is the case with most sewing, it’s personal. Everyone has their own expectations of how they want their garments to fit. The type of fashion fabric will also determine the amount of wearing ease to consider. For a close fitting garment, if the fabric being used is tightly woven and has little give more wearable ease would be added to allow for adequate movement, while for a fabric with more give, less wearing ease is needed. To help guide how much to add here are some useful standards.

Wearing ease guidelines by body area

Bust area – Add 2 to 4 inches to the bust measurement. The larger the bust and body size the more ease to factor in.
Waist area – Add ½ to 1 ½ inches to allow for turning around, bending and raising arms.
Hip area – Add 2 to 4 inches, again, the larger the body size or give of the fabric, the more ease to consider.

If drafting a pattern based on one’s body measurements simply add in the amounts indicated above at each of the three body areas to allow for the appropriate amount of movement needed. Then based on the style of the garment add in the appropriate amount of design ease you think you need to create the style of garment you are going for.

Ease, in this case total ease, is very useful when pattern adjustments are needed, such as sizing up a pattern. Let’s take for example the amount of total ease at the hipline of a basic A-line skirt is 3 ¼ inches, you are a size 14, but your pattern only goes up to a size 12. Add the total ease, 3 ¼”, to your hip measurement to determine your finished garment hip measurement.

Now determine the difference between that number and the finished garment measurement of the size 12. Divide this difference by 4 to determine how much needs to be added to each pattern section to size up to the 14.

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