Guest Post: Alexandra of In House Patterns

This year, I’ve been focusing a lot of my sewing attention on achieving the perfect fit. Not an easy task, let me tell you! I’ve received a lot of great advice from Alexandra and I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when she agreed to write a guest post! Alexandra is the owner and designer of In House Patterns which launched in 2011. Her designs are classic and refined – making beautiful go-to garments. Personally, I can’t wait to make up a version of  The Belle Blouse, the latest pattern release. Recently, Alexandra decided to focus her blog’s attention on fitting solutions and she’s with us today to discuss the first fitting! Please help me in welcoming her to A Good Wardrobe!

The First Fitting: Muslin Preparation and Fitting Assessment

I am super excited to be doing this guest post on the subject of fitting here at A Good Wardrobe! Finding that perfect fit seems to be rather elusive and a major frustration for those of us who love to sew. I hope to offer a little guidance in this area with some advice about preparing for the first fitting and how to recognize fit issues. For demonstration purposes, I will be using Vogue pattern 8664.

1. Choosing the Fabric

The first thing you might be wondering is: what kind of fabric do you use for the test garment? Well, it depends. You need to consider the final fabrication for your garment first. This means if your final garment will be made in a woven stretch fabric, the fabric for your test garment should have these properties as well. If you will be making a knit garment, you will definitely need to use a knit fabric with the same knit structure to test with (examples of knit structures are jersey, interlock, and rib). By choosing fabric similar to your fashion fabric, you will be able to see the fitting issues that you would be faced with in your final garment and give you the opportunity to solve them in your test run.
The most popular and well known test fabric is muslin. This is where we get the term “muslin” in regard to the test garment. Muslin is an inexpensive, plain weave, unbleached cotton, that comes in about three different weights. This is suitable to use when the final garment will be made in a woven, non-stretch fabric. It is important to use muslin in a weight that is similar to the weight of the final fabric. One thing to remember about muslin is that it does not drape well so if your fashion fabric has a lot of drape, you will need to keep this in mind when assessing fit or, use a more comparable fabric to test with.
Another point that is often not discussed is that you should also consider the colour of the fabric. Choose a light colour fabric for testing, it will show fitting issues more prominently and clearly. Try to avoid black, dark grey or navy; these colours disguise fitting issues.

2. Preparing the Fabric

You’ve chosen your test fabric, now what?  Now you need to prepare the fabric for cutting. There are two important steps not to skip in this process, truing the grain line, and removing shrinkage.
Truing the grain line simply means making sure that the lengthwise and crosswise yarns are at 90 degree angle to each other. The lengthwise grain is along the selvedge edge of the fabric, the crosswise grain should be at 90 degrees from the lengthwise grain. If you find your fabric is off grain, you can straighten it by steaming and tugging it until the grain is trued. For further information, Threads has a PDF information sheet on grain line. The grain line is as important in your test garment as it is in your final garment. A test garment that has been cut off grain may show fitting issues that would not exist if it were cut on grain.
During the process of sewing up your test garment, you will be pressing as you sew and pressing causes shrinkage. If you haven’t removed the shrinkage from your fabric before you cut, you may find that your test garment no longer represents the pattern it was cut from. Steam pressing is usually sufficient for most fabrics at the testing stage unless you are using a fabric with very high shrinkage. In that case launder and press it as you normally would before using. Although not out of the question, I wouldn’t recommend laundering muslin but do give it a really heavy steaming with your iron.

3. Cutting the Pattern

Now you are ready to lay out and cut your pattern. Two things to consider here is what size to cut and then what pattern pieces to cut.
When it comes to pattern size, look at the finished garment measurements on the pattern. I believe this is more accurate than using the body measurement chart at the back of the envelope. The finished garment measurements tell you what the actual garment will measure including ease. This number relates more closely to how the garment will fit. In my experience, for a fitted dress like V8664, you will only need about 1 1/2- 2” ease in bust, waist, and hip girth. With this in mind, choose your size using the following formula: body measurement + ease = garment measurement.
For example using my mannequin’s measurements:

36” (bust) + 2” (ease) = 38” (garment)
28 1/2” (waist) + 2” (ease) = 30 1/2” (garment)
38 1/2” (hip) + 2” (ease) = 40 1/2” (garment)

Now you can take your desired garment measurements and compare them to the pattern to choose your size. If the measurements are not indicated on the pattern, just measure the pattern and subtract the seam allowances.

Choosing your size this way will eliminate some fitting issues related to the garment being too large since some pattern companies build excessive ease into their patterns. It will also tell you where you will need to add or reduce the pattern to accommodate your specific body measurements. One little tip when choosing the size: it’s always easier to determine how much smaller to make a pattern rather than how much to let it out so I would recommend cutting your pattern a little larger if your desired garment measurements do not correspond to the pattern exactly.
So now that brings us to what pattern pieces to cut. Well, you don’t need to cut them all for the first fitting, just the main body pieces are sufficient. Cut the pieces that make up the front and back of the garment. Don’t worry about cutting the sleeves or collar, you want to perfect the fit of the body first. No need to cut pockets, trims, facings, or linings, adding these for the first fitting can create a diversion from the real fitting issues.

4. Transfer the Pattern Markings

By that I mean ALL the markings. You will want to be sure to draw in the CF and CB lines as well as the bust, waist, hip and hem lines on the outside of the garment. (Bust, waist, and hip position should be drawn on the back pieces as well.) I even go so far as to draw in all the seam lines which will help to determine the amounts to add or release from the garment. If you have pockets or other styling details, just draw them directly on your muslin at this point. You will get a good idea if they are a good size and position but will not distract you from the potential fitting issues.

5. Sewing the Muslin

This is the easy part! Simply stitch up your test garment following the sewing instructions. A few tips on sewing and preparing your muslin for fitting:

  • Be sure to press as you go so that your test garment is neat and tidy for the first fitting.
  • Secure necklines by stitching along the seam line. Necklines are easily stretched out if they are not secured. Press the neckline seam allowance to the inside of the garment, clipping the seam allowance where necessary so it is flat and smooth. It helps to visualize the finished neckline position and shape.
  • If your garment requires a zipper, it’s a good idea to machine baste one into the muslin, it makes fitting on yourself a little easier and you don’t have to worry about getting stuck with pins. If you have a mannequin, it’s not necessary.
  • Don’t forget to turn up the body hem and machine baste it in place before the fitting.

6. The First Fitting

Now it’s time to try it on! If you don’t have the luxury of a mannequin, you will need to enlist the help of a friend. It is extremely difficult to do a fitting on yourself. Thankfully, I have “Maureen” she’s my mannequin and as you can see from the photo below, I have some work to do. All of these bumps, bulges, wrinkles, and drag lines mean we need fitting alterations.

Here, in order, is what to look for:

  • Center front and center back lines – Your center front and center front line should line up with the center front of your body. Have a friend check the center back line.
  • Side seams – The side seams should appear vertically straight on the garment when worn (you’ll need a friend’s help with this too). This is a little known tip that makes your garment even more visually appealing.
  • Bust line – The bust line position on the garment should be level with your bust line.
  • Waist line – The waist line position on the garment should be level with your waist line.
  • Hip line – The hip line position on the garment should be level with your hip line.
  • Hem line – Check the hem line position. Adjust it to its most flattering position on you.
  • Lines – Once the aforementioned lines are in the correct position, check that they are level with the floor. If the bust, waist, and hip line are not in the correct position and are not level from the floor these will be your first fitting corrections. Pin your garment to find the correct positions for these lines and determine how much you will need to adjust your pattern. Start at the bust line and work down. Adjusting the level of the bust line changes the position of all the lines below it.
  • Neckline – Check the neckline for gaping.
  • Shoulder – Check the shoulder width. This is important if you will be adding a sleeve – the sleeve fitting will be affected by this point.
  • Armhole – Check the armhole depth. You generally need minimum 3/4” lower than the base of your armpit but this depends on your body and your comfort level. If you need adjustment here, it will also affect the sleeve.
  • Girth – Check the bust, waist and hip girth-in that order. Deficiencies in these areas are usually what creates all those wrinkles and draglines. Your goal is  to eliminate those wrinkles! Eliminating them is a matter of manipulating the fabric to it’s most relaxed and wrinkle free position. This will involve pinning in, and letting out in specific areas of the garment.

When you’ve eliminated all those wrinkles you can easily determine the pattern corrections you will need to apply to your pattern.
Here is “Maureen” in the fully pinned muslin after the first fitting. Doesn’t this fit make her appear slimmer? That is the beauty of a good fitting garment.

As you can see all those bumps, bulges, wrinkles and drag lines have been eliminated and I now have all the information I need to correct the pattern. I won’t go through the pattern corrections here, but after all of these adjustments are applied to the pattern, it’s best to make another muslin and conduct a second fitting to confirm that all the corrections have been made. The second muslin is when you will test the fit of the sleeves and/or collar.

Well, that’s my introduction to fitting. I hope you found it informative and helpful. You will be seeing the 2nd muslin and a finished version of this dress on the In-House Patterns blog when it’s complete. Until then, I will leave you with my philosophy on fitting: There is nothing wrong with your body, it’s the pattern that’s all wrong for you! I know fitting books don’t address things in this way but in my experience, it’s the pattern that needs adjustment-not you!


19 Responses to “Guest Post: Alexandra of In House Patterns”

  1. Thanks for bringing us this information, Alexandra and Lizz!

  2. This is so helpful! Thanks for the advice!

  3. Definitely bookmarking this info for later. Great post!

  4. I will be reading and re-reading this in the hopes that it will help me with the first fittted top I’ve ever made… it’s doing my head in! I think fitting will be a subject that will be difficult but incredibly satisfying to master 🙂

  5. Fitting is still like a large unexplored desert for me, but every little bit i read about it helps more, and one day I hope to be able to master it; one thing i do know is that i really really would like to have a Maureen of my own!! LOL

  6. Aww, after an awesome post like this one, it is too bad you had to miss the Fit Clinic. Thanks for an awesome interview!

    • I was so disappointed that I had to miss it! I really could have used the help on a blouse I’m trying to make. The back is crazy and it’s nearly impossible to fit on my own. I’m glad you had a good time – Meghan was asking how it went so I’m going to send her your way for an update.

  7. Great interview, Lizz! And thanks to you, too, Alexandra! I love your note at the end regarding all of the fitting books out there. I’ve been delving into them lately, and although the outcome will be positive (a well-fitted garment), the language is all about hiding “your” trouble spots, not fixing the pattern flaws. Love it.

  8. What a great post! Thank you – it was super informative. Now I just need to train my cat to be my fitting buddy…or perhaps more realistically – shell out some money for a better mannequin 😦

  9. Oh you are wonderful folk. I have bookmarked this for my bodice fitting sessions! Thank you both.

  10. Great post! Lots of info and reminders why I need to do a better job at making and fitting muslins. And thanks for the heads up about house patterns! I really want to give that blouse pattern a try. I’m crazy about bow blouses these days!

  11. Thanks for the wonderful post! Additional question for Alexandra: how to choose the mannequin that would best fit our body? How much ease should it include?

    • The mannequin that you choose should not include ease. Try to find one that has measurements as close as possible to your own body measurements. The major measurements to consider are bust, waist, and hip, but these are only guidelines. The length measurements which indicate your bust, waist, and hip position are also very important. Most standard dress forms are a “B” cup so if you are not, that is another issue. For someone who sews almost exclusively for themselves, I think Lizz has the right idea with her link in the comments-a customized dress form would be the most beneficial. An investment of time and $200 would be well worth it. I don’t know anything about the “My Twin” dress forms but I do know professional dress forms cost $2000 or more.

  12. I came across this blog/website by pure chance. You are very generous to share your knowledge and secrets of fitting, it is very much appreciated 🙂 especially as none of us are the same shape and pattern manufacturers are very slow to respond to the trends towards changes in the modern female shapes! I love your comment that it is the pattern that needs adjustment and not you!

    After and absence of many years I am returning to sewing and am brushing up on new sewing/couture techniques as I have the time to practice now
    You recommend to use a test fabric similar to the actual article to be made. My daughter has a beloved roll neck tee- shirt that we really need to duplicate before it falls apart! Is there an alternative to jersey fabric that can be used for the test piece; as you say muslin will not do as it has no stretch. It seems to me that we may need to buy enough fabric for 2 t-shirts, the test piece and the proper garment? Would be grateful for your advice on this.
    My other question is for myself:- “Maureen” does not appear to have extras:) wheareas I have a more mature figure, My tummy area is no longer flat in a relaxed but upright stance – it sticks out! My upper arms are also an area that need to be addressed and my waist is in a different place!! Can you recommend a book with lots of pictures with easy to understand instructions and advice?
    I will bookmark this page for sure.
    Many thanks


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