Standards of Fit, Part One


It hurts to look at these pants with the tight crotch and waist so tight it is pulling the zip. These must be great to sit in.


I cannot tell you how long this blog post has been simmering. It clicks in my mind NOT every time I see a poorly fit garment but every time I see someone say "I love this top/skirt/whatever that you've made and it fits perfectly"  and it doesn't.  Then there are the  times someone posts a picture of themselves in a garment with their bum having an uncomfortable wedgie, wrinkles over the boobs, inches and inches of horizontal fabric at the back waist and all their friends telling them how beautifully it fits. I would never spoil their proud moment but they are walking away thinking their garment fits and it doesn't, at all.

Let's start by saying this post is not a blame game or a judgement of the sewists and their admirers. It is about a lack of education. As stated, I have wanted to post about this topic a long time and one of the things that hung me up was the lack of information on the subject.  It is not easy to find this info. But let's go back logically even a bit before that. Do we even know there are Fit Standards?


Yes, Virginia, there are Fit Standards. I made it a project to find them. Did anyone teach them to me? Not directly. Did I see poor fit on myself? In the beginning only if it looked "stupid" or felt uncomfortable. I saw a wrinkle. I pinched it out, end of fitting. One suggestion for newbies at this game is to join up and frequent the Fitting Woes Forum  on Pattern Review. It will really open your eyes. Posters with wrinkles and poor fit that they can't seem to understand post their pictures, dressed in the garment,  and then experts kick in with what exactly the problem is and how to correct it. Often we know there is an issue but just what is it? Is it a forward shoulder, dowager's hump, knock knees  or some other awfully named fitting challenge? Members are welcome to post their own pics and ask for help and the group is very generous with it's positive commentary.  Reading this often will help you develop an eye for what is right and wrong. Before you know it you will be standing in line at the supermarket wanting to fix those butt wrinkles on the pants of the person in front of you. But this is just an awareness  lesson, albeit a very good one. If you should decide to post a pic and ask for help know that you should keep it simple with a straight up front, back and side full length picture of you in the garment. No need to raise arms or get in in odd positions. It only makes it harder for the experts to diagnose your issue.

Oh, I saw so many pics that would make my point in this article but did not want to post them for obvious reasons. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. I did search retail garments and marketing pics for patterns for examples and that is what is shown.


Pattern Review Fitting Board can be a start but I wanted more solid, proven information and pulled out my sewing books. I went to my two favorite fitting mavens, Nancy Zieman and Sarah Veblen. Their books were typical of the many more I searched through. Great advice on how to fix your specific wrinkle/tight issue. If you knew you had sloping shoulders, large bosom, protruding derriere, here's what you do. But no book,  other than the few I will mention, started with a discussion, picture, or anything about what a well fitting garment should look like, what we are  shooting for in our finished garments.  Is that unnecessary in this age of sweats and yoga pants? Maybe, but even those should fit you properly or you risk the slob effect. I dug further.

Yes, you can avoid the whole issue with clothing that is cut super large but do you always want that look?

My first reference to what she calls "standards for a perfect fit" comes from Sandra Betzina in her book, "Power Sewing".

In a nutshell, she uses one page to tell you that "to fit a garment perfectly start with the high chest area." and gives great tips about the garment fitting smoothly in specific areas, where the shoulder point is naturally, sides seams being perpendicular to the floor in pants and more. This was an introduction to the concept, IMO, but gives one only a taste of what good fit could be. Her key word: "smoothly". She suggests a custom fitting class for yourself as time well spent. This is just one page but on the right path.





I looked through all my books, really nothing in contemporary books about what constituted a standard for perfect fit other than Betzina's words. I decided to look back. Good move. A bit of disregard had to be paid to style trends from past decades but the concept of what great fit is was definitely found in two books and much certainly applies today. The first book is  The Bishop Method of Clothing Construction, revised, C1959. Edna Bishop was the sewing queen of her day and her mantra was grain, grain, grain and how it effected everything done with your sewing efforts. She has a chapter in this book called "The fine art of fitting your clothes" and it is very good. She bullets 16 points that make for her perfect fitting garment. I won't copy those all but will list a few highlights. This book is old enough that I can copy word for word and these are hers. 

* It fits smoothly without wrinkles, strain, or bulges and without sagging. It hangs gracefully and smoothly from the shoulder and the waistline. It should never have to be pulled into place. 
*The neckline should not ride up. 
* The armhole should be one inch below the armpit. 
*Front bodice and bust darts STOP SHORT of the crown of the bust (apex) but are in line with it. (1959 here peeps. Who says vintage dresses have darts to the apex?)
*Hip darts STOP SHORT of the fullest part of the hip.
*Side Seam hangs perfectly straight from armhole seam to hemline.

This is just a gleaning and she provides much more detail in the book. She insists you can't get a good fit without getting the right size pattern, using the best style for your figure, wearing the proper undies, underlining properly and much more. It is definitely worth checking this vintage book out of the library to read Chapter 8. A neat quote from Ms. Bishop: "Fine fitting is one of the main differences between poor and good dressmaking."


Next I reached back for one of my all time favorite sewing books, also vintage, and in my opinion, priceless! This is "Fashion Sewing for Everyone" by Adele P. Margolis. The diagrams in the book are dated to the point of being cute but they are simple and they get her points across very clearly. Best of  all, Ms. Margolis is an incredible teacher. She is very clear, articulate and posesses an amazing sense of humor that is widely seen throughout all of her books. On ease, she says "just the right amount of ease is the goal. We don't want you flapping around like a scarecrow, like June, bustin' out all over." There are great drawings to simply illustrate how grain effects fit and how it must appear in a garment. Some of her thoughts on fit, direct quotes from Margolis:

* The waistline seam of a garment should be about a 1/2 inch lower than the natural waistline.

* All circumference seam lines are curved to follow the natural curves of the body: neckline, bustline, hipline, hemline, etc.

* If fitting your wide shoulders as per the rule makes you look like a football hero in full regalia, by all means set the armhole seam in to narrow the shoulders.

Don't you just love her wit? While Margolis will teach you a lot about fit and have you laughing through it, this still wasn't quite what I was searching for. I wanted a list of sorts, something sewists could refer to when they look at their muslins or basted garments  and don't quite know what is wrong with it but know that something is. I wanted something compact and organized. Most of all, I wanted something that professional garment makers said were the Standards of Fit, a voice of authority. Of course this all had to be in understandable prose as well.  I went back to Dr. Google for the umpteenth time and I think on page three of results on a recent afternoon found the Holy Grail!

*******************

This post has turned into something filled with a lot of info and therefore quite lengthy. I've decided to do it in two parts. Please share your thoughts in the comments and come back for Part Two. Thanks for your patience,,,,,,,,,,,,Bunny.
ETA: I will be away this long holiday weekend back to see friends in NY which I am really excited about. There is also 2 feet plus snow predicted there and here so it could be  interesting! I have been putting the final touches on the next blogpost and it should be up once we get back early next week. Thanks for you patience. May you all be safe and snuggly warm in the cold weather!...Bunny

Comments

  1. Another real good source for Standards for Evaluating the Garment is the book Fitting and Pattern Alteration by Liechty, Rasband and Pottberg-Steineckert 3rd Edition pages 62-65. I agree that when I see a garment made by others, it is sad to see how ill fitting it is and I hold my tongue. They appear so proud of the garment and unless asked for suggestions and/or advice I remain silent. I read many blogs and one thing I notice is that sew-ists want to eliminate all wrinkles and overfit their garments. Garments need to feel comfortable standing and sitting. It has taken me years to learn to not overfit and to be content with ease.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree and went through my own over fitting phase. Ease needs to be there.

      Delete
  2. What a thoughtful post. I sew so that I can have a well fitting garment that is so elusive in ready-to-wear. It is so easy to overfit but we do have to be able to move in our clothes. I now ask myself if I would buy the same garment as is in ready-to-wear. If the answer is yes then I’m satisfied with the fit. I learned to sew with the Bishop method where good fit was stressed and, of course, the grainline. Looking forward to part 2.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What a cliff hanger! Can't wait for your next installment.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I had two thoughts as I read your post. The first one selfishly, "Is this why Bunny doesn't leave comments on some of my garments - my fit is off?" And the next was ummmm yeah well since a "popular & hot sewist" didn't write the book a LOT of the sewing community isn't going to pay attention to those books. Yeah I sound pretty selfish and cynical but your post did make me think. So Imma pull my copies of those books off the shelf and read them again...specifically the info you've pointed out cause fit is important.

    Oh one more thing - I won't criticize a new sewist about their fit. I WILL encourage them because if we discourage (criticize too harshly) at the beginning, they won't continue to sew. Most sewists do try to develop their sewing and fitting skills. I'm actually thinking of Renee from MissCeliesPants who recently posted a few pics on Instagram of early garments explaining things she would change now that she knows better. So it's a fine line to walk...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It wasn't on Renee's blog. It was in her Instagram stories sadly. But I think I'm going to ask her to repost it to her grid because it was an awesome example of how her sewing has grown. Thank you for the references but as Keisha says below me, we can all continue to learn new things! Also, I'm glad you're interacting with newbies who want more than the new basic sewing books are providing.

      Delete
    2. Here is my original reply to Carolyn's comment. I went to try and edit and it disappeared. "You were definitely not one that I see with the off fit. In fact, I have recommended many a more plus shaped woman to your blog to see how great they can look by making and fitting their own clothing. You set a great example, Carolyn. I do hear you on the "popular and hot" sewists who publish, probably a bit before their time but I have gotten great feedback from newer sewist from anywhere for solid info. They themselves are finding a lot of the newer books falling short, but certainly not all. I think we all need to hang together and never discourage a new sewist or supply critique they haven't asked for. Thanks for the heads of on Renee's blog. I will check it out."

      Delete
  5. I'm going to piggyback Carolyn (which wasn't my original intent! :-p )...I've only been sewing for 6 years. Looking back, I am SO glad I just took off on my own before finding too many resources. It can be EXTREMELY discouraging for a newbie...you don't know what you don't know! I think there's that initial pride & joy that YOU MADE A THING! I look back now and very, very(!) clearly see what was wrong with early garments. I learned more about fitting as I made things and knew something was off. But to try to chug away at fit and toile until it's "right" as a newbie? I think many would be overwhelmed. I DO encourage newbies to make.the.FBA.already!! Like, seriously, if you gotta do it, you just gotta do it and get it over with! Also, +1 for blogging. Looking at front/back/side pics of garments have helped a ton when considering how to fit/sew a new pattern.

    I was at my monthly sewing meetup and had on a top that I really loved when I finished it. Many of the ladies complemented it and some wanted pics! I told them to beware. Why? I asked if they'd noticed how many times I tugged at the neck/collar. One sewer had...she's definitely aspirational (for me) in her sewing. I knew that was the last time I would wear that top.

    The fun part (for me), is that we never stop learning (if we're lucky!). A few months ago I checked out Allyne Bane's Creative Sewing from the library. It was so awesome I stalked Amazon for a copy (and paid just $8!). The inside was signed by (I presume) the first owner and dated 1956. It makes me smile every time I open it!

    Can't wait to read part 2!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I will have to check out Bane's book. I just knew people would have great suggestions in response to this blogpost. I am writing it at the request of a couple of very new sewists, young moms, who really want to know this stuff.

      Delete
    2. I didn't get my first sewing book until my neighbor and sewing mentor, gifted me a copy of the Vogue Sewing book. This was about 1976. I wish I'd been aware of some of the sewing books you've mentioned. I really needed help understanding fit! I love when I see a new sewer on line; I never offer advice unless they ask for it. But one of the pieces of advice I always give, is buy a sewing book and a fitting book. Sure the internet is out there, but there is nothing like a great book. So much more information can be found in a book.
      I'm glad that you are doing fitting posts. I really think that many women don't know what good fit is. Yeah I also advise learn how to make an fba already! They ask which pattern companies draft for a fuller cup. My answer is why restrict yourself when learning to make an fba opens up a whole lot more patterns. I am going to look for the fitting books you've mentioned since I never found them when I was a new sewer. Now I have an aging body that needs a somewhat different set of alterations.

      Delete
    3. Yes on the FBAs already. You make such a valid point about opening one's self up to so many more pattern companies with a simple FBA. Over and over I see questions from newer sewists about this or that pattern company and how it fits. I hope I can get across that our bodies are all so unique that a pattern fitting out of the envelope is sheer luck, not necessarily a well drafted pattern. Sewing is fitting and we all have to expect to learn fit if we want to sew clothing. Thanks, Nancy.

      Delete
    4. I love that you are addressing fit. I definitely struggle with fit in my sewing and really worked on some muslins to get a much better result several years ago. These pattern changes made a world of difference to my sewing. Then my body changed and I needed to adjust my fit again. I have been sewing a long time but not sewing good fit for myself most of that time. I think as my lifestyle changes, my body changes, and styles change I really need to go back to the drawing board and tackle fit again and in more depth. In my overfitting phase I made a winter coat without the ease needed to both wear a sweater and reach forward simultaneously. It was so much more obvious in the coating fabric than in muslin. My next coat was a much better fit. I used to make jeans for myself but haven't recently as my body has changed and I need to rethink the pattern. I made several attempts at French jackets a few years back that I wore a great deal. I no longer dress up so often and when I tried one on a few weeks ago, I realized that I need to adjust the fit of that pattern if I'm going to make another. All this to say that I'm so looking forward to your next post. So much to learn--and this is one of the joys of sewing but also a struggle.

      Delete
  6. Wow Bunny! I was just soaking up this good information and the resources you listed when you dropped the mike (LOL). so much food for thought. I'm guilty! I've been known to critique the fit of the woman standing in line ahead of me in the grocery store. While doing so, I actually stand there thinking that I know exactly what's causing the issues AND think that I know just how to correct them. Yet, I have fit issues of my own including some the same ones that I see on others.
    Then I thought, "wow, although I'm not a newbie, am I supposed to cave in and quit now"? I have been on a quest for proper fit since day one, and have fought hard not to give up. I just keep trudging along continually trying to learn. One day this fitting stuff will finally sink in and then I'll be able to create perfectly fitting garments, especially PANTS. I do have the Bishop book and will be taking it down off the shelf and will be looking for the other books mentioned here too. I will definitely be tuning in to your next segment because stopping my learning to fit process is not an option.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I think the hardest part is to find the balance between fit and illusion. The last Margolis quote nails that. Sewing also evolves as we do. I quit sewing for myself after the first baby because I had no time to figure out fitting and it was a lot more fun to sew for the kids. Now everyone is grown and I've returned to self sewing, only to find there's so much to fix now besides height and square shoulders it's a mental challenge.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So glad you brought that up. Maybe fit and ease creat the right illusion? I do love Margolis's philosophies.

      Delete
  8. What an interesting post and funnily enough just popped into my email box while I was thinking about some rtw dresses that I had worn in the past that looked awful on me (in hindsight and looking at old photos) mainly because I had decided that oversized styles would work as I’d gained some weight. I’m thinking about dresses I want to make this summer and I’m determined to get the fit right - something I always find difficult because I’m a DD cup and I often end up choosing very loose styles ( that make me look kind of frumpy if I’m honest) because I don’t have to worry about fba and armhole fit etc. Looking forward to part 2 of this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can definitely find a great fit. I would recommend you follow and dig deep into the blog "Communing with Fabric". Shams, it's publisher, discusses her fit issues with being "uber busty" and she is quite stylish as you will see.

      Delete
  9. Thank you so much for addressing the challenge of fitting. I would love to sew for myself but live in a "desert" of sewing/sewists. I made a few garments that hung on me like sacks and have pretty much given up. There's a ton of info out there on how to fix problems, but a problem has to be diagnosed before it can be fixed.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Yes to the Liechty, Pottberg & Rasband "Fitting & Pattern Alteration: A Multi-Method Approach." Detailed and clear illustrations and instructions for fitting issues. Recommended by Susan Khalje in her online classes. Worth the price.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I need to save this post because even though I have many years of sewing under my belt, the one thing that has been constant in my sewing is having fitting issues. My body has changed over time, spine curve and one leg shorter than the other, oy! I agree the older resources address fitting in more detail than any trendy sewing book currently available on bookstore shelves. My two favourites are Sandra Betzina's Fast Fit: Easy Pattern Alterations for Every Figure, circa 2003 and the Woman's Institute of Domestic Science's section on pattern grading in the Pattern Designing text, circa 1936. Second hand book sales are a rich resource for fitting information.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Easily Amewsed hit the nail on the head for me: "I think the hardest part is to find the balance between fit and illusion." At my age, 64, I have a difficult time finding the right balance. I have a small frame, narrow shoulders, DD bust, and tummy bulge. The last dress I made for myself lies unfinished in my sewing room as I realized even though it fit technically, it wasn't flattering.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This was one of Bishop's rules. It had to fit but it had to be a flattering garment as well. Margolis is a bit more loose in her opinions of fashion creating illusions by maneuvering fit. She backs up her opinions with great examples.

      Delete
  13. Wow....what a post. I'm like several others - in my late 60s, curved spine, stooped posture, now plus size, and have been struggling to get pants to fit for several years. I have been turned off by several blogs because of the poor fit, but follow several others. As a librarian who sewed all my clothes in the 80s I have many of the books that have been cited....now to reread them. I also have scheduled a private consultation with someone who knows fit. I know I am close, but it's the last 20 % ( to cite the 80/20 rule) that has me puzzled. I will get up early tomorrow morning to read your post - have to dive over an hour for my one-year knee replacement checkup, but I think your post will be more important! Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are sweet and hello from a newly retired fellow librarian. I do miss it and it was the best job ever. I think your plan for a private consultation is brilliant and will have you on your way to great garments. I truly believe older women can be stylish despite body challenges of age. You may want to follow Nancy Karpen on Pattern Review or her blog. She makes amazingly stylish clothing and so beautifully fit. Good luck and I plan to have up part two as soon as I get some permissions on copyright quotes so thanks for your patience, everyone.

      Delete
  14. Excellent info Bunny! Also good "food for thought." So glad you are back to posting.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Great post, Bunny! I am not on top of the fitting game by any means, but I do remember the day when if it buttoned, I figured it fit, lol. Looking forward to part 2.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Thank you for this incredibly helpful post! I ordered 2 of the books you mentioned. I have been studying in person with Alexandra Morgan (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRB1MzYqaU7iDi0z1n9qMUQ) here in Victoria BC Canada. She's fabulous! Couldn't recommend her more highly. I think fitting ourselves is the KEY reason most people learn to sew their own clothes and it's the toughest skill to perfect. The other problem of course is that our bodies change over time so learning to fit your own body is rather like hitting a moving target as we age (I'm 64) so the skills will continuously come into play as we go through these changes of weight gains, losses, changes in bone structure, posture etc.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So well said, Kathleen. In our youth our figures are pretty static. Then childbirth and age make us that moving target you so aptly described. My latest thing is change in muscle tone. I am working now to correct that but in the meantime my fit has to be dealt with once again. ugh.... I am going to check out Alexandra Morgan. Thanks.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Engaging commentary:

Popular Posts