Fabric laid out on bed with half-circle skirt pattern pinned on, ready to cut

The Clothes Make the Woman

64 Arts

Or, rather, the woman makes the clothes!

Last time we talked about measurements, now it’s time to get to the fit.

I love the scene in Monster In Law where Jennifer Lopez’ character says, “Well, I’m making the dress to fit me,” talking about her wedding dress and the fact that she’s not starving herself into one. Bravo for the sentiment, certainly, and that goes for any clothes!

So! (Or, well, Sew…) Presuming you’ve bought the pattern closest to your size it’s time to compare the base measurements to yours and see what, if anything, needs to be adjusted. In my case, being more plus-sized than the pattern, everything needed to be bumped 6 or 7 inches, depending on the measurement.

If you find yourself in the same situation, keep in mind that the difference between the pattern measurement and your own is TOTAL. If you have one pattern piece for the front and one for the back (or 2 sides or whatever), remember to divide the difference by each piece of the puzzle, adjusting for whichever section needs it the most and how your particular garment is constructed.

Here’s how it worked out, cutting the pieces for my dress:

Since the front is one long piece from shoulder to hem and fairly fitted, I decided to allow 4 inches of increase for the front. Your first thought might be that it’s easiest to just add a couple of inches to each edge but your first thought would not be the best in this case. While there are exceptions, changes to the length or width of a garment are best done within the body of the pattern.

Sometimes it will be clearly marked, like here, where there’s a line through the bodice that says “lengthen or shorten here.” Basically, this is the safest place to adjust the pattern without messing with any of the fiddly fit bits, pre-marked darts and so forth. This particular line is good for those with a longer torso. Though on garments designed with a longer line in mind, a bit of a fold of the pattern to get the marked waistline to hit at the right point would not go amiss.

Close-up of a dress pattern, with adjustment line shown

I’m pretty short-waisted and this pattern seems like it’ll do okay for me as-is, lengthwise. Where I needed the change was width! Like a lot of dress patterns, this front bodice is one piece that’s meant to be cut on a fold. While it may mean adding an extra dart or two to keep the neckline from gaping, the easiest place to add the needed width was the center. I just measured and moved back the pattern from the folded edge 2 inches (remember, since the piece is folded, only allow 2 extra inches for each side, totaling the needed 4 when it’s all flat). I could have also extended the waist and hip measurements but, after seeing how the front fastens at the back of the waist and the back covers it, a longer loop closure will take care of any needed inches and the back of the dress will hide it.

Cut out bodice pattern piece showing added center section

The back is divided into a bodice and 2 parts of a skirt. The back bodice was cut out last, but I’m showing it out of order so you can see another way of making a pattern fit your measurements. In this case I needed to allow a certain amount of additional width in the center so used the same technique as above, at first. Since the waist edge goes all the way around, though, I needed to make sure it would reach. Adding the extra inches to the entire bodice would have made it way too loose but extending just the tail of the sides wouldn’t work because it would risk a bit of a gap along the sides.

So I made a slit between the pre-marked dart and the inner edge of the shoulder/neckline and added a couple of extra inches by splicing in parchment paper (from the kitchen). Because I didn’t want to create issues with the shoulder seams not matching, though, I kept the shoulder the same width and just moved out the bottom piece in a wedge. I have a feeling this will work the best. Time will tell.

Fabric laid out on bed with half-circle skirt pattern pinned on, ready to cut

The skirt was a chore. While I’m certainly looking forward to the fullness the circle skirt will provide, cutting each half out flat was more than even the kitchen table could handle. The bed was the only place large enough (other than the floor–and I really hate having to cut out fabric on my hands and knees) to accommodate the pattern. Just make sure you don’t pin or cut anything but the layer of fabric you intended to!

This was actually an exception to the don’t add inches to the edges rule. Because of the pattern being so large and cumbersome (and fairly straightforward for a circle skirt) I just added about an inch or a smidge more to each edge to increase the waist circumference. Of course, as I’m writing this and thinking about it, the way this dress fits, I probably should have allowed more. I’ll be sure to pin-fit it first, but I have a feeling I’m going to need to add some lenth at the wiast edge–the best way to do that, I’m thinking, is just to cut a large hole in the center–after all, I’m pretty sure the skirt is going to need hemming, this way it won’t need as much!

Back bodice pattern with wedge-shaped adjustment made.

Which brings us to the why of the muslin. While I’m hoping that this test-dress turns out to be something I can actually wear, at least around the house, the muslin gives you a chance to work out the fiddly bits of a pattern. Usually what makes a piece of clothing interesting are the sort of details that can trip you up in the making of it. The fact that this dress, especially when done in contrasting fabrics, looks like a full skirt wrapped around a sheath dress means that I’ve got to account for my waist and hip measurements twice: not something I’d normally have to do. Then again, since my test fabric is a knit (and the pattern was meant for a woven), the stretchiness might help cover my errors this go-round while I sacrifice the fuller skirt for a heavier, flowy one.

It’s my best intention to get this sewn up this weekend so I can show you the finished muslin and we can move on to other forms of needlework. Of course, being that it’s December and everyone’s calendars are filling up fast–mine is certainly no exception–we’ll have to see what actually shakes out. Chances are I’ll be just as surprised as you next Tuesday!
Until then, is there anything that wasn’t clear about today’s portion of the project that I need to explain better? Are you willing to try your hand at making a dress of your own, yet, or have I totally scared you off?

7 thoughts on “The Clothes Make the Woman

  1. I have this vague ambition that I would like to make myself an article of clothing…someday. But I find the whole thing really intimidating.

    1. Maybe start with something simple (no sleeves or crotch) like an apron?

      The first garment I made from start to finish was a tea-length princess seamed dress with long sleeves. It was a bit of a big project to tackle after not sewing more than a cross-stitch sampler in years (and completely by hand–I hadn’t adopted Mom’s old sewing machine yet), but it was very rewarding when it was done.

  2. Do you know how in awe I am? I sat here, reading every word of this, knowing I do not have an ounce of capability to do such a masterful thing. Yay for you! It’s like when I watch Project Runway and I think, what are these people, wizards?

    Oh! And congratulations on the impending nuptials! Double yay for you! Just so you know, my husband and I dated for five years and two of them were engagement. Nothing wrong with taking your time.

    1. Making clothes–whether from a pattern or by your own design–is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. A very floppy, 3-dimensional jigsaw puzzle πŸ˜‰ I am flattered that I could awe you, you of the witty turn of phrase and fantastic adventures.

      Thanks for the congratulations, as well. We’re happily ensconced in our engaged phase and plan to enjoy it πŸ™‚

  3. See, there’s math involved…wherever there’s math, I am soooo screwed! I <3 velcro πŸ™‚

Share Your Opinion Here!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.