One of the primary reasons people choose to sew their own clothing is fit. Having clothing that fits better than store bought ready-to-wear makes the added time and effort involved to get the fit right makes sewing them yourself well worth it. But, as all experienced sewers know constructing the garment — any garment — is the easy part. Mastering the fit is the hard part.
Photo via Craftsy instructor Joi Mahon
The three basic fitting methods
Fitting is a process that begins before the first pattern piece is cut and continues throughout the entire construction process of any garment. There are three basic fitting methods that occur in the preliminary stages of sewing. They include: measurement adjustments, pinned tissue fitting, and trial garments, aka making a muslin.
Which fitting method is best for me?
The three methods on their own, in theory, tell a good, better, best approach to adjusting fit. The method one chooses depends on the intricacy of the garment being made, the garment’s intended fit and the severity of an individual’s personal fitting issues.
For example, if making a simple garment with few style lines, like a T-shirt or a loose fitting top, in most cases nothing more than measuring the pattern against one’s basic body measurements is sufficient for getting the garment to fit right. While on the other hand, if making a tight fitting dress with lots of styling details, making a trial garment will ensure the garment will fit properly.
In many cases using one, two or all three approaches could be necessary. This is especially true for intricately designed garments like a tailored suit or a special occasion outfit to be made in an expensive or delicate fabric. In these cases it is not uncommon to employ two if not all three methods to get the fit just right.
Let’s explore each fitting method a bit more…
1. Measurement adjustments
This method involves measuring the body at multiple points and then comparing them to the flat pattern measurements. The most basic points include the full bust, waist and hip. When comparing the two always remember that the flat patterns include a preset amount of ease and seam allowances. The amount of preset ease is always indicated on the pattern pieces in the form of “finished garment measurements.” Patterns can then be adjusted where differences at those points occur.
This approach is sufficient when fitting simple garments with few style lines and when few personal fitting issues are involved. An advantage to using this fitting method is once the body measurements are recorded they can used again and again, especially for patterns from the same pattern company.
This fitting method is time-consuming and more difficult to execute accurately when working with patterns that have lots of styling details or many components that have to be pieced together. Knowing where points connect and how any measurement changes will impact those connections as well as the impact to grainline requires detailed and very careful calculations.
2. Pinned tissue fitting
Photo via Craftsy instructor Kathleen Cheetham
Tissue fitting involves pinning pattern pieces together at the seam lines to construct the basic structure of a garment and then trying it on the body to isolate fitting issues. This method provides a solid, but still general idea of how a garment will fit at key points around the body.
The tissue fitting method is best for identifying big fitting issues. Is the garment too loose or tight at major body points like the bust, waist or hip? Does the neckline fall where you want it? Is the shoulder line correct? Are there gaps around the armhole? Is the length too short or too long? Are darts in the right spots and do they sufficiently address those contour points? These are the types of fitting issues a tissue fitting can sufficiently address. Once isolated, these issues then need to be adjusted on the flat pattern.
While generally this is good first fitting approach for most patterns, this method has a number of disadvantages. Chief among them is the fact that patterns only address half the body so many assumptions need to be made of how the patterns will fit around the entire body. Furthermore, the tissue paper itself poses issues. One, it is difficult to work with as it tears easily and is subject to moisture from body sweat. It also drapes very differently than fabric, so getting a true idea of how the pinned garment will look in the fashion fabric is difficult to discern. Lastly, pinning styling details such as gathers, tucks or pleats is cumbersome and fairly inaccurate.
In the end, this method when used as the sole form of first stage fitting works best on simple garments.
3. Trial garment
Photo via Craftsy instructor Pam W. Howard
Making a trial garment, which is typically referred to as “making a muslin,” involves constructing the basic structure of a garment in an inexpensive material to test its overall fit. It provides the most thorough approach to fitting and isolates every fitting issue that will require adjustment. Yes, this approach is the most time-consuming and adds cost, but it ensures the best overall end product.
The key advantage is as a prototype garment it covers the entire body, unlike tissue fittings, which only address half the body. The fit of the muslin through wrinkles and pulls will, literally, tell the sewer where fitting issues are isolated and need adjusting. Once fitting issues are isolated and resolved on the trial garment the sewer can then either transfer the adjustments to the tissue pattern or disassemble the muslin and use those pieces as the pattern.
Another key advantage to this method is it protects the fashion fabric. It prevents having to rip out seams and overworking the fashion fabric, which can hinder the appearance of the final product. In addition, once all fitting concerns are addressed and adjusted, constructing the final garment is fast and easy.
The main disadvantage is the trial garment material in many instances doesn’t perform exactly as the fashion fabric. While it is recommended trial garments be made in a material that resembles the drape and feel of the fashion fabrics, no two fabrics are exactly the same. This means the fit may still require some fine tuning throughout the construction phase, but fortunately, these are usually only minor adjustments.
Learn everything there is to know about mastering fitting with Craftsy’s fabulous selection of sewing fitting online classes.