Get into garments

Are you someone who has “given up” on garment sewing? Too many problems with fit? Too many “wadders” that don’t produce the look you envisioned, wasting both time and money?

Dress form measurements by Sew Maris

Maybe there are a couple of things that could help smooth out your process. To start with , let’s talk about picking the right size pattern. We all have been taught to measure our full bust, waist, and full hip measurement. Then use the pattern company measurement chart to select your corresponding size.

Well, that approach often doesn’t work out very well, especially if you are anything other than slim-to-average. There are a couple of reasons for this, one being that measuring “soft tissue areas” like bust, waist and hips doesn’t tell you much about your bone structure. Fitting your shoulder line, sleeves, and neckline area is all about your frame size – and nothing to do with full bust, waist, and full hip.

Susan Khalje has a wonderful, free video on her website talking about picking the right pattern size from the large American pattern companies. Rather than using soft tissue measurements, she recommends starting with your front chest width. According to her analysis, I should be buying a size 14 pattern. According to my body measurements I should be buying a size 16 and adding a bit extra in the hip area. Funny thing, but I had sized down to 14 before watching her video and was much happier with the resulting fit of garments.


Other sewing experts advocate measuring your high bust, and using that number for the “full” bust category. This is a similar principle as Susan’s approach; concentrate more on your frame measurement than your soft tissue measurement.

Pattern example of finished dimensions by Sew Maris

Another clue that can help you decide which pattern size to use is the finished garment dimensions. If you open up your tissue pattern, you will often see the finished dimensions for bust, waist, and hip. What this tells you is how much wearing ease + design ease as been added to the model size measurements for the garment. Regardless of your body dimensions, you can select a pattern size that will produce the kind of fit you like. You are in charge!

Suggested fabrics for dress by Sew Maris

Now, fabric. Oye, that is really another whole set of blog posts. But I can give you one quick, little hint. Take a look at the recommended fabric suggestions on the back of you pattern envelope, and think about the kind of drape, weight, and texture of these fabrics. Linen, denim, and firmly woven cottons have structure and will stand away from your body. Rayon, many silks, chiffons, and gauze are softer and more drapey against the body. It’s not all the fiber tho; the weave plays a role in how a fabric behaves, too. I talk about this more in my pattern and fabric video.   Sometimes you can get away with picking a fabric with very different characteristics than the pattern calls for, but if you are less experienced at pairing patterns and fabrics it is safer to pick a fabric that is listed or one with similar qualities.

Sheesh! Who am I kidding anyway? These issues fill volumes in libraries and bookstores. People take college level classes to try and figure out pattern making and fitting, textiles, construction, and much more. Readers, just jump in. Make some clothes. Put the quilts away for a while. 😉 You are not going to improve much if you aren’t willing to practice. Make some mistakes and learn from them! There are plenty of worse ways to spend your time than working at improving your sewing/fitting/garment-making skills.

Happy sewing!


12 Responses to Get into garments

  1. I hate quilting, but recently started making a scrap quilt for my daughter…because I had so many failed garment projects that could be turned into quilt strips. I bought “Fit for Real People” and read about that high bust idea, which I think will help. I was getting a lot of large shouldered items that were tight in the waist. I will give it another go, I swear.

    • Thanks Angela! I know it is discouraging when things don’t work out well, but there ARE loads of good resources to help. Best wishes, and definitely ask me any questions and I will try to help too!

  2. Great post Maris! I’ll have to look at that video! I agree with your last comment – be fearless, it’s just fabric! And once you start making things good enough to wear it’s the most wonderful feeling!

    • It IS a wonderful feeling, isn’t it Sarah? Nothing can really compare with knowing that you are capable of making something with your own hands. Transformation! Hope you make something fun today!

  3. Good info, Maris! When I started sewing again, I found that modern patterns didn’t have the good fit I enjoyed when I had a younger body. I agree that using the high bust measurement is the way to go. I’ve also found that creating a “fitting shell” pattern that fits the way I like it is very helpful, particularly when using vintage patterns. I put it on top of patterns I want to use to compare the size.

    • Ahhh yes, the fitting shell or muslin idea is great, and using it to double-check a pattern before you cut it out is a big timesaver. Thanks Julie!

  4. Hi, thank you for this blog. Yesterday I came up with an new idea of reconstructing a blous by adding another fabric but after all the measuring, cutting and hemming it did not fit me! I was really sad because I had high expectations of this project and I worked on it all day so it was a big disappointment for me and it made me doubt my sewing skills.
    After reading your blog when you mentioned that practicing will help I am actually encouraged to try again.
    Thank you. 🙂

    • Thank you so much Neno! It IS disappointing when a project doesn’t work out, but I think we take all that experience/knowledge forward with us into the next project, which hopefully goes better! Sewing is hard work, and also tremendously rewarding, so it only stands to reason it will take time to develop great skills. Keep sewing, get a buddy who has more experience to help you, take classes, read, and keep working with fabric. It is a journey! Hope you sew something wonderful tomorrow!

  5. Just discovered your blog from Sew Mama Sew and I absolutely enjoy your blogs. I was a career woman, recently retired, and am now a sewing instructor for both adults and children at Hancock Fabrics in Tucson, Arizona.

    As I read, I am reminded of many of these same conversations with my students. I can’t tell you how many times my students tell me, “Nothing ever fits me right.” I remind them that store bought and pattern sizing is very different (I wear a 12 store-bought, but cut a size 16 pattern, and size it down if I need to). I also tell them they must be honest while taking their measurements. They quickly learn that proper measurements lead to properly-sized garments. Honesty is the best policy!

    I look forward to your next post. You are awesome!

    • Thank you so much, Linda! So great to hear from you, and I love how our stories intersect! Thanks for sharing your thoughts – I love hearing from you!!

Leave a Reply to SewMaris Cancel reply