Working with Ease Amounts in Commercial Patterns

The amount of ease in commercial sewing patterns can be a source of sizing confusion and fitting frustration. In this blog entry, I look at types of ease, industry standard amounts for different garment types, and actual ease amounts in a selection of corset, lingerie, and loose fitting commercial patterns from a range of eras. Click through to read more.

Ease amounts in commercial patterns are one of the eternally frustrating problems of contemporary sewing. The amount of ease included in designs seems to vary wildly from pattern to pattern, even from the same company, so that the home sewer finds her or himself needing to sew a muslin/toile for each pattern. It adds yet another layer of complication to the puzzle that is pattern size selection. But where does the confusion come from, exactly? I’m thinking there are a few main culprits: patterns drafted with ease amounts that don’t fit the actual garment type, inaccurate pattern photographs, and lack of finished garment measurements to give an objective way to analyze final fit. (For simplicity’s sake, I’m only going to consider patterns for woven fabrics at the moment.)

What exactly is ease?

It’s the amount of extra space added to a pattern in excess of actual body measurements to allow for movement and style. Wearing or fitting ease refers to a necessary small amount of space included in slopers and almost every pattern type (with the exception of corsets, some foundation garments, and stretch fabric patterns) that allow the wearer to breathe, sit, bend, and reach in the garment. This is usually around 2″ of additional space at the bust, 1″ at the waist, and 1.5″ at the hip, no matter what the pattern size.

Design ease is a more variable amount of space added to patterns to create different style types, create silhouettes, and to give movement to the garment. Design ease amounts are proportional and depend to some extent on the size of the garment, though there are general industry standards for different fits that are the approximately the same from pattern company to pattern company.

Ease Standards for Different Garment Types

Ease amounts and garment fit drawn to scale as a fashion flat.. Ease amounts in commercial patterns are a consistent source of fitting confusion and sewing frustration. For tips on understanding industry standard ease amounts and what is meant by different fits, click through for the full blog entry.
Ease amounts and garment fit shown to scale as a fashion flat..

There are about five different categories of fit that pattern companies generally use to describe their patterns. Though there is a lot of variation from garment style to garment style, and the top of the pattern may have one fit and the bottom have another, this can be helpful in understanding how much ease to expect the garment to have. The McCall website here offers a chart of ease amounts for various fits. This chart doesn’t differentiate between design and wearing ease, so my assumption is that this is the total amount added to the body measurement.

Close Fitting (includes 0-2 7/8 inches of design ease at the bust)
Fitted (includes 3-4 inches of design ease at the bust)
Semi Fitted (includes 4 1/8-5 inches of design ease at the bust)
Loose Fitting (includes 5 1/8-8 inches of design ease at the bust)
Very Loose (over 8 inches of design ease at the bust)

Slightly more design ease is added for garments that are layered on top of other garments, such as jackets and coats. The design ease included at the waist and hip varies depending on whether the garment has a waistband or where the garment hangs from the body.

There’s a great piece that goes more in depth on the subject (here), though I’m unsure about the exact design ease amounts it lists. (That chart matches the McCall chart, which I think includes wearing ease and design ease in its amounts, so the amounts of *design* ease added to body measurements are probably smaller than it describes.) It has some very helpful visual guides to what different fit styles look like on the body.

Wearing and design ease standards seem formulaic enough that it’s odd there’s so much inconsistency. So many people on sewing forums and doing pattern reviews describe problems with way too much ease for their size. So where does the confusion come in? Do pattern companies not stick to their described standards? Does grading add excessive ease for certain sizes? I examined a set of patterns to see how this works out for a few different garment fit types from different eras (because I have strange ideas about what constitutes a good time) and found a few issues I’ll examine in detail.

Grading Inconsistency and Wrong Ease Amounts for the Garment Type: Corset Patterns

Some of the problem may come from using the wrong pattern block or wrong design ease for the garment type, though this seems likely only for certain kinds of close-fitting garments like corsets and strapless bodices that require a very close fit to stay in place.

Butterick 4254 corset and stays pattern. Click through for a blog entry on garment ease and amounts in commercial patterns, including two contemporary corset patterns and issues with sizing and ease amount discrepancies.
Butterick 4254 corset and stays pattern.

I looked at Butterick 4254 View C, sizes 12, 14, and 16, which is a historically based late 19th century style corset with a front busk and a laced up back. At the bustline, the finished garment measurements printed on the pattern match the body exactly at the bust. At the waist, for size 12, the pattern matches the body exactly. For sizes 14 and 16, the pattern is 1/2 inch smaller than the waist. So for this particular pattern, there are two fit problems. First, the ease seems to vary irregularly by size at the waist, which is problematic for predicting fit. Second, the lacing gap for most corsets is usually about 2″, so if we add that, the final corset is not going to fit as a sewist would expect it to fit. If the sewist is wanting a garment that fits something like a Victorian corset, they’re going to be disappointed, because there’s no way a period garment included 2″ of ease, and a corset would have nipped in at least an inch or two at the waist as well. Sewists using this pattern on various boards usually recommend sizing down about two sizes, sometimes more, in order to get the fit that one would want in a corset.

I also looked at Butterick 5797, View A, sizes 12, 14, and 16. It’s described as a corset, close fitting, and labeled with “Making History” (though, alas, there’s no info on the specifics of that history included). This one closes with a zipper in front and has no lacing. I found that based on the final garment sizes given, at the bust there is a consistent 2″ of ease for all sizes. At the waist, for size 12 and 14, there is 2 1/2″ of ease, and for size 16, there is 3″ of ease. At the high hip, there was approximately 1 1/2″ for all sizes. For this pattern as with the other corset pattern, it isn’t going to fit like an actual corset at all, so a sewist expecting that is going to be disappointed, though they might suspect that from the zipper. (Without lacing to allow movement with breathing, the zero ease typical of a corset isn’t really desirable or comfortable). An argument could be made for having more design ease at the waist for larger sizes since design ease is proportional, but if that were the case, the ease amount should increase between size 12 and 14 by some increment as well, but a corset is usually expected to nip in at the waistline.

What’s frustrating is that two “historical” corset patterns from the same company seem to vary in the amount of ease they use for similar garments in a way that is not transparent. Even if you give them the benefit of the doubt on 4254 and pretend that 2″ that should be indicated for the lacing gap are part of the pattern ease, when you compare the two patterns, the ease amount doesn’t change in the same way between sizes, so how can you predict the fit accurately? If you know the best size for you in one pattern, that same size may not work in the other pattern. Looking at the pattern envelope raises another issue as well.

Is Pattern Envelope Photography Realistic?

The photo on the envelope of Butterick 5797 seems to fit the model as a contemporary corset might, if worn without the intention to nip the waist. But if the model were wearing the size indicated for her on the size chart, it’s very unlikely it would fit this way. If a strapless boned bodice had 2″ of ease at the bust, it probably wouldn’t stay in place. If the model’s garment had 2 1/2″-3″ of ease at the waist, it probably wouldn’t appear this form flattering on her.

My suspicion is that models on pattern envelopes almost never wear the sizes of the garment they would be told to select on the pattern envelope, and during the photo shoot, clothing is probably pinned with clips to flatter body curves and hang just right. The photos of this particular pattern look lovely, but what’s the point of great product photos that don’t accurately depict the fit of the product? It creates an expectation that’s going to be disappointed.

Ease Amounts in Commercial Patterns over Various Eras

1930s

I was curious about ease amounts and silhouettes in other commercial patterns and over different eras, so I looked at several more examples of different garment styles for the sake of comparison.

The oldest pattern I looked at was a dress from 1934 from Mabs Weekly, one of the fashion magazines of the era that often included a free pattern. This one would have been a fitted bodice style. I don’t have the original illustration of the garment, but the pattern is for a 36” bust. The final garment measurements weren’t listed on the pattern, so I measured the pieces themselves and subtracted the seam allowances to find the finished measurements. The finished measurement of the garment at the bustline is 39.5″, for 3.5″ total ease.

1940s Lingerie Pattern Ease

Advance 3067 slip pattern. Click through for a blog entry on garment ease and amounts in commercial patterns, including vintage and contemporary lingerie patterns and ease amount discrepancies.
Advance 3067 slip pattern.

I looked at another pattern, Advance 3067, for a slip from what I’d guess is the 40s from the envelope design and the lines. The slip doesn’t have a placket or closure and isn’t cut on the bias, so it’s close fitting but probably not as close to the body as some lingerie. (This image is borrowed from an Etsy listing here). I found that for a size listed as 32″ breast, the finished measurement (which I had to take from the pieces themselves) was 36″ after seam allowances were removed. At the waist, the garment had approximately 6.75″ of ease when darts and seam allowances were removed, which makes sense for a pullover style garment.

1950s Lingerie Pattern Ease

For this example, I examined a contemporary reissue of a 50’s era Simplicity bra pattern (Simplicity 4333). The contemporary version of the pattern is numbered 1426, and I looked at view C. *Represses rant about ugly contemporary pattern envelope design with all her might* But seriously, the 1980s wood stain exterior paint green of the Simplicity logo and the weird way the elements are balanced is just…no. NO.

There is some confusion with using the finished garment measurements in some reviews, as it’s unclear if the size represents the full bust. (My guess is probably yes, since that’s where the Simplicity site suggests measuring to select your pattern size. Personally, I think the high bust is the better starting point for accurate pattern selection, since it measures your frame rather than your breast fullness.) According to the size chart, the finished measurement matches the body measurement exactly at the bust.

Out of curiosity, I measured the pattern pieces for my likely size as well. For the size 12 pattern, the finished measurement is listed as 34″. But there is a button placket at the center back, and it’s unclear if those finished garment measurements include the amount that the band overlaps at the placket or not. I measured to the center line of that placket, essentially measuring the circumference of the garment when closed for wearing, and found that when seam allowances were removed, that size would actually be 33″, an inch smaller than the body, which isn’t going to be workable for a garment with no stretch. (Counting the overlap in the finished measurement would have given me a measurement of approximately 34 and 1/4″ full circumference.)

While there’s definitely some room for error on the part of my measuring, a lack of any ease for breathing and the lack of clarity in what the finished garment measurements actually mean are a problem. While the contemporary formulation of band size/cup size wasn’t being used in the ’50s, it seems odd to me that one of the Big 4 pattern companies couldn’t examine the pattern measurements and explain their sizing in a way that takes band size/cup size into account to better serve the needs of their current customers for the reissued version. If I could find the original pattern, I’d love to compare the ease standards and grading used in the original to the ones used in the reissue. I’m also curious how accurate the finished garment measurements printed on patterns usually are.

Contemporary Lingerie Pattern Ease

I looked at Vogue 8888 to get an idea of how much ease is used in contemporary lingerie pattern making as well. View A is a loose-fitting surplice robe. View C is a close fitting, bias cut pull over camisole. View F is a semi fitted pair of bias cut shorts.

What I found was that for the robe (View A), the bust included 6.5″ ease and the hip had 7.5″ of ease for all sizes. For the camisole, there was 3″ of ease at the bust for all sizes I checked, which might be just slightly above what the Big 4 ease charts describe as “close” fit by about 5/8″, but which makes sense given the lack of a closure and need to be able to pull it over the shoulders. For the shorts (View F), the hip had 3.5″ of ease. (I checked the actual pattern pieces for this view and found this measure to be accurate, too.) The waist had 8″ of ease, which, along with the stretch of the bias cut, would allow for them to be pulled over the hip without a placket or opening. These ease amounts aligned pretty accurately with the stated total ease amounts for the major pattern companies for different fits, and the ease amounts were the same for all sizes I looked at.

Contemporary Pattern Ease in Loose Fitting Garments

I looked at McCall 6649, a loose-fitting button up menswear style shirt in a B cup size, and found that the bust had 5 1/2″ of total ease, the waist had 6″ of total ease, and the hip had 6″ of total ease for all sizes I looked at (16, 18, and 20 for this pattern). So ease amounts were consistent, and matched the given ease chart amounts for a loose fit. I was curious, though, if the final garment actually fit as it’s depicted on the envelope or if it might be looser, especially at the waist. The model may be wearing a smaller size than the envelope would recommend for her body measurements, or it might be styled to be flattering, or maybe it’s just me.

I looked at one more “loose-fitting” pattern, the McCall 6465 loose tunic dress. For sizes 16, 18, and 20, ease amounts were consistent. It had 5.5″ of ease at the bust, 13.5″ of ease at the waist, and 8.5″ of ease at the hip. The ease amount at the waist seems large, but if the dress is pulled over either the shoulder or the hip, it would make sense for the narrowest part of the body to require more ease here. This one was a looser fit than the other pattern, so if a person was expecting “loose fit” to mean the same thing on both without pulling the patterns out to check the finished measurements, there might be some frustration with the results.

Conclusions

The patterns I looked at seemed mostly consistent with ease amounts described as “industry standard.” I can’t find much information on ease standards in ready to wear, so I’m curious how those industry standards are applied outside of patternmaking for home sewing.

If ease amounts in patterns are relatively standard, then where does the confusion and frustration come in? I’m thinking some of it is the stylized photography of pattern envelope photos. When we see a photo of a finished garment, there is a certain automatic assumption that the photo is more realistic than the highly stylized, exaggerated silhouettes of vintage pattern envelope fashion illustration. But the photos aren’t as realistic as they seem if the samples are potentially being selected to flatter the model and the garment rather than depicting the actual fit of the pattern if it were sewn to the model’s body size. This is compounded by the possibility that clothes are pinned in place or pinned closer to the body and that photo editing might be creating the illusion of closer waistlines or trimmer leg silhouettes than the garment really gives.

So what’s a sewist to do to avoid pulling her/his hair out? The best indicator of final fit is the finished garment measurements. You can check the total ease amount by subtracting actual body measurements on the measurement chart from the finished garment measurements printed on the tissue, if they’re present. If not, it’s worthwhile to measure the pieces at least at the bustline to get an idea of whether the fit the pattern is said to be is the fit you’re expecting, and the waist and hip measurements are helpful as well. If you have a sloper that you work with for pattern fitting, you can rotate the darts to the approximate position of the sewing pattern you’re comparing it to to see how much the additional space the sewing pattern has, and whether this works for you for the fit you’re seeking.

Finally, it’s a good idea to know what kind of ease you prefer in your garments, and a great way to do this is to measure ready to wear clothing you already have that fits the way you’re wanting your sewn garment to fit. For example, if you have a skirt that is just long enough and has the amount of ease you want in a close fit, measure its actual dimensions and compare with your body measurements to get an idea of what desirable fit is for you. I’m incredibly picky about how pants fit, so as soon as my pregnancy belly resumes a more semi-permanent, somewhat back to normal state, I will be measuring a few of my favorite pairs of jeans for exact inseam length, favorite boot cut flare amount, and crotch depth that is tight enough to give some curvy definition to my back end without being pinchy or uncomfortable. In my own patternmaking future, I hope to help with the ease confusion issue by listing final garment measurements clearly and offering consistent descriptions of fit or an explanation of the amount of ease so that, hopefully, the sewist can know what they are getting into without having to sew muslins of every pattern.

If you have frustrations with pattern fitting because of excess ease, I hope that this was helpful. Do you have any tips or strategies that help you to get consistent fitting results from commercial patterns? I’d love to hear them!

Advertisements

Adapting a Sloper to Your Measurements – The Maternity Sloper

I thought it might be useful to share the process of adapting a sloper pattern to actual body measurements, and what more extreme sport version of this could I do than showing how I adjusted my usual sloper size to fit the ever shifting, radical transformations of the pregnant bod? Things have shifted, swollen, and rapidly expanded in ways that I have never drafted for before. These changes are specific to certain body parts, so simply sizing up till something fits wouldn’t give me anything that fits my actual skeletal structure. I have to bust out the scissors, tape, scrap paper, and all the best swear words I learned from my time in the restaurant industry for this transformation.

I’m starting with my high bust measurement, which pre-pregnancy was 36″. (With swelling and rib cage expansion as everything gets displaced upward, my current measurement is *slightly* larger, but I’m choosing to disregard the slight discrepancy since the bones of my neck, shoulders, and upper chest are still basically the same. These bony structures are the place that most garments will hang from, so I’m choosing to prioritize this over the softer fleshy areas that have slightly swollen (or vastly expanded) where adjustments are easier to make because fewer planes of the body are intersecting.

After printing and assembling the sloper, I’m using my Body Measurements for Sloper Comparison worksheet to record the sloper measurements and my own body measurements.

front-and-back-waist-length-measurement
First, I check the vertical positioning of my front waist length, back waist length, and bust position. For my size, the front waist length of the sloper (taken from the high point of the shoulder to the waistline) is approximately 16.25.” My body measurement from high point shoulder to the area previously known as my waistline is approximately 15″. Since this is imprecise at best given my current shape, and because I know I’ll need additional length in the bodice front to cover my baby bump, I’m choosing not to adjust the waist position.

For the back waist length, the sloper measurement is approximately 16.75″ and my body measurement is 17″, so I’m not going to make any adjustments here.

bust-position-sloper-measurementFor the bust position, I measure the pattern from the high point shoulder to the bust point/apex/nipple, and the measurement is 9.5″. My actual body measurement is 10.5″, so for this area, I’m cutting the entire dart area out and shifting it 1″ lower and redrawing the side seam, and comparing to make sure the length still matches the back side seam length.

bust-position-sloper-adjustment

bust-position-sloper-adjustment-redrawn

vertical-adjustments-completed

Then I move on to the horizontal girth measurements, where things get really intense. The total waist circumference of my sloper is approximately 30.5″. My body measurement is about 41.5″ right now. The sloper measurement includes .5″ total ease at the waist for this size, so my total desired waist circumference in my adjusted sloper should include .5″ over my body measurement as well, so the total width of my personal sloper after adjustment should be 42″ total. The majority of that difference is in the front of my body, so when adjusting the sloper, most of the adjusting will be taking place in the front. From previous pattern work, though, I do know that my waist is proportionately larger than most patterns’ standard sizing, so for the sake of balanced distribution, I will add a bit to the back waist width as well.

The front waist measurement of the sloper is 16″, .25″ of which is ease, and my body measurement is 23.75″, which is 7.75″ of difference. If I add .25″ of ease, the total front adjustment I need is 8″. (I want to maintain at least about a half inch of wearing ease in my pattern, I want to be sure to add about a half inch over my total body measurement at the waist.)

24″ actual body and ease – 16″ sloper measurement = 8″ adjustment needed to full front bodice at the waist.

So I’ll be adding 8″ of extra width to the front waist, total. Since I’m working with the pattern piece that covers a quarter of the body, I’ll only be adding 4″ to the actual pattern piece. (All of these changes will be doubled in the actual fabric since this piece is cut out twice.)

For the pregnancy shape, the front waist darts are definitely not needed, (unless you’re going for something super fitted at the underbust, in which case you could shorten the dart to the length needed and end it higher, well above the waist). For my current purposes, I don’t need the dart at all. It’s 1″ wide at the waistline, so eliminating this dart adds 2″ of total width to the front bodice, or 1″ of the needed 4″ width in the quarter body pattern piece.

I still need to add 3″ to the quarter body front bodice piece, or 6″ to the full front bodice, at the waist. To determine where and how to add this extra width, I’m going to consider what amount I need for the back as well. The sloper measurement is 14.5″ in back, which is .25″ ease. My body measurement at the back waist is 17.75″. If I add .25″ to that body measurement for ease, the width I want the back waist to be is 18″. So for the back, the total adjustment I need is going to be:

18″ actual body and ease – 14.5″ sloper measurement = 3.5″ adjustment needed to full back bodice at the waist.

This means I’ll need 1.75″ added to the quarter body back pattern piece. The back dart is 1.25″ wide at the waist line, so one possibility would be to eliminate it, but I don’t want to do that and entirely lose the shaping it provides. Though my waist is wider than typical proportions, my back definitely does have curvature there that a dart allows the fabric to follow. I may narrow it slightly to add some width, but I’ll wait to see how much. Another possibility would be to slash and spread the pattern along something like a princess line hinged at the underarm area, but this is probably more complicated than what I need, and would involve changing the hip, too.

For the sake of simplicity and trying to add girth to the pattern in a way similar to the rectangular body shape I actually have, I’m going to reduce the waistline at the side seam by straightening it, making the same adjustment to the front bodice side seam, because those pieces must match in length and their alignment is crucial to the balance of the final pattern. This adjustment adds 1.25″ width to my quarter body pattern pieces in back and front. The remaining amount I need to add at the waist is .5″ to the quarter body back piece and 1.75″ to the quarter body front piece.

side-seam-adjustment

To finish the waist adjustment to the back, I’m going to narrow my back dart width by .5″, leaving me with a .75″ back dart for shaping. To finish the waist adjustment to the front, I’m going to add to the center front by essentially slashing and spreading along the line where the dart was to add space for the additional body volume here.
I want to slash and spread enough to make the waistline 1.75″ larger. (Interestingly, in historical patterns, the center front seam often was curved along this line. To me, this seems like a potentially more accurate two dimensional depiction of the actual body shape in the front of the torso, which is rarely flat, unless you’re very athletic and far more disciplined about food than I.) Another benefit to this pattern adjustment is that in the future, when/if/to whatever extent my body does return to normal, having a center front bodice seam will allow for easy repeat alterations, so my maternity wear isn’t necessarily going to be relegated to the back of the closet for the rest of time, but can shrink back down with me as needed.

all-waistline-adjustments

Next, I want to look at the high hip. The industry standard for this measurement is approximately 4″ below the waistline, with the full hip approximately 8″ below the waist, though of course this varies from person to person and between different figure types. I want to compare the high hip of the sloper (36″, .5″ of which is ease) to my high hip body measurement (39″), remembering to add .5″ of ease to my body measurement. I know from previous pattern work and from my belly bump that the entirety of this discrepancy is in the front of the pattern.

39.5″ actual body and ease – 36″ sloper measurement = 3.5″ adjustment needed to full front bodice at the high hip.

This will be 1.75″ needed in the quarter body front pattern piece. If I weren’t pregnant, I would probably slash and spread outward at the side seam to add the needed amount, but since the protrusion of my figure is along the center line, I’m going to add it to the center instead. Since I already slashed and spread at the waist to angle the sloper pattern outward and didn’t yet adjust the hip area, I can just measure this amount and alter the center front curvature to add or reduce as needed here. The amount that was already added at the hip by my previous waist adjustments works just fine here.

high-hip-adjusted

Then I want to look at the low hip measurement, which is approximately 8″ below the waist, give or take based on height and figure type. In my case, and in the case of any full abdomen to some extent, since the belly bump expands both vertically and horizontally, it will be a bit lower than this, especially in the center front. I’ll be adding extra length to the bottom center front to cover everything. The sloper measures 39.5″ here, with .5″ of that being ease. My body measurement is 41″ here. So I’ll add ease to the body measurement and then calculate to find my needed adjustment:

41.5″ actual body and ease – 39.5″ sloper measurement = 2″ adjustment needed to full front bodice.

So I only need to add 1″ horizontally to the quarter body front pattern piece at the low hip. My previous waist slash and spread adjustment angled the low hip line outward more than this, so I’m going to curve that line back in towards the original center front line a bit. I’m also going to add length here, too. My sloper measures vertically about 9.75″ from waistline to low hip, but my current body measurement is 12.75″ here. I’m going to add about 3″ vertically to cover this.

low-hip-and-full-abdomen-adjustment

And that’s it for the major adjustments for the pregnancy belly. I’ll have to add more to the center front as I continue to expand, but the principle is the same. This is by no means the definitive way or the only way to do this in the flat pattern. Most patterns I’ve seen for maternity tend to add extra room/ease at the side seams, which works too, but in a much more drapey way that feels a bit too much like a shower curtain to me. The shape here hugs the curve, much like the cup of a bra pattern curves to encase the shape, rather than just draping over it. The downside of a center front curve like this, though, is that if the curve is bigger than the actual body shape, there will be sagging and wrinkling like a sagging bra cup. But that center seam allows a lot of adjusting as needed to happen during fitting, and changes made there are more independent of the rest of the garment than altering at the side seam might be.

Tutorial on flat pattern adjustments for maternity by Blue Hours Atelier. Click through for more on how to adjust a bodice sloper for maternity.

I hope this was helpful, and I hope that my hormone addled brain didn’t make any blatantly obvious, embarrassing simple math errors. 🙂 There are some other adjustments I do to my own sloper for a forward shoulder and broad back that I’ll probably cover in a different post soon. Happy Friday!

Free Downloadable Sloper Patterns and a Website for Free Resources (!!!)

woven-bodice-sloper-cup-size-variations

I’m super excited to say that I have FINALLY designed and fleshed out a website that I feel good about. And on this website, you will find the *free downloadable sloper patterns* that I have been working on for approximately a year and a half. Why so long? Let’s just say that there are a lot of opportunities for screwing up some seemingly minor thing in the process of choosing sizing, developing grade rules, drafting, applying said grade rules, and modifying for cup sizes, not realizing it for a very long time, and then having to go back and start completely over because one thing affects 37 other things! 🙂 Which is not to say that I can guarantee these are perfect, but I’ve learned so much in the process of creating them that it has been time well spent, and I hope they can be useful.

These are the starting point for my pattern line, and I’m making them available as a potential fitting aid for my future patterns for anyone that chooses to use them, but mostly as my way of trying to contribute something that I hope can be useful to the online sewing community. The online crafting/sewing crowd is so inspiring and generous with encouragement and help and tips and tricks that it’s been a huge part of making this craft what it has become for me. So thank you, friends!

I’ve put every single size in my range up on my website as separate pdf files, and there are B, C, and D cup size variations for each one. They can be used for determining sizes and fit for my (upcoming) patterns, or they can be used as a sort of two dimensional dress form for working out exactly the fit you need for any pattern, or they can be used as a base for your own pattern drafting. I have some resources like a finished measurement sheet, a body measurement worksheet printable, and a tutorial on measuring yourself and adapting the sloper to your measurements on my website here. Feel free to share them with anyone that might find them helpful!

A nested version of the pattern that includes all sizes is available on my Etsy shop here, if you’d prefer it for grading between sizes or your own drafting purposes.
WHAT IS A SLOPER?
A sloper is the basic starting point for pattern design. Also known as a fitting shell, it is a baseline with enough wearing ease to allow for movement and breathing, but no design ease and no details. (It isn’t quite the same as a moulage, which fits even tighter, like a second skin, and it isn’t the same thing as a block, which is a basic pattern for a specified style, with design ease included, that can then be elaborated with details.) Slopers don’t include seam allowances.

WHAT IS A SLOPER USED FOR?
Patterns almost never fit right out of the envelope. This isn’t a failure of the pattern. All patterns (except bespoke ones) are drafted to an average set of measurements that falls somewhere in the middle of the vast spectrum of human shapes and sizes and body types. Unless your body dimensions happen to be very close to that average set of measurements used in drafting, your pattern will need adjusting to better fit your body. A sloper or fitting shell can help you to work out and keep a physical record of those adjustments.

A sloper is like a two dimensional dress form. You can use a sloper as a basis for designing your own patterns, or you can use it as a fitting aid to adjust patterns to your body measurements and preferred fit. In adapting a sloper to your own measurements, you establish a known minimum requirement for garments to fit, and you can establish the fit adjustments that you know you need to apply to every garment, instead of figuring them out anew for each pattern. The sloper provides a baseline for fit, where the pattern uses additional design ease, design lines, and detailing to give style, structure and movement to garments.

I wanted to draft my own set of slopers as a starting point for a few reasons. First, I wanted to start from a more realistic shape than the body model commercial companies usually assume. The industry standard body model is usually hourglass shaped, though statistically, most women do not have this shape. I wanted to use as a starting point a somewhat fuller waist and hip measurement than the Big 4 for a more rectangular body type, which statistically is more common, at least in certain European population samples. In developing grade rules, I tried to incorporate statistical measures of actual bodies rather than dress form increments or standard grades for tricky areas like shoulder length. My hope is that this will yield a better, more realistic fit, but the downside is that finding the right one for you will probably require taking your measurements and may not translate directly from what you’re used to using in a pattern from one of the Big 4 companies.

I also wanted to draft my own slopers to start with a very fitted baseline, and going forward, I want to offer patterns that are very clear about the amount of ease they include. Mostly this is because one of my recurring struggles in sewing from commercial patterns, especially trying to sew a historical range from late 19th century to 30s and 50s patterns to contemporary ones, is that the amounts of ease change so much over time and between manufacturers that it’s hard to know how something will fit without making a muslin of everything. And making muslins isn’t the best use of fabric and to me is the. most. boring. thing. ever. Personally, I prefer patterns that don’t include a ton of ease, and patterns from the Big 4 almost always have too much for my liking. So in my future drafts, I expect to use ease standards closer to the lower end of the industry standard range, and I intend to be super clear about that ease so that sewers know what to expect without having to try it and see quite so much.

demeter-nursing-bralette-burgundy-lace-gothic-lingerie

In other news, I added my first underwired and nursing bras to my etsy shop, because holy manic nesting impulses channeled into my creative pursuits instead of my godforsaken hoarder house, Batman! Pregnancy makes me feel like a crazy woman, but throwing myself into work is extremely therapeutic right now.

Coming soon to the blog: how to adapt a sloper for maternity, in which yours truly shall snarkily narrate an exploration of the changes pregnancy has wrought upon this physical form and how I deal with them in the flat pattern format. It will also serve as an extreme example of how to adapt a sloper to your body measurements. 🙂

Have you used slopers in your sewing? Have very strong opinions on the amount of ease one way or the other included in commercial patterns? I’d love to hear your experiences! 🙂

Achievement Unlocked: New Etsy Shop

I’m excited (and a bit jittery) to say that my Etsy lingerie shop is finally open. I’ve been setting it up for a few weeks and still have *so many things* I want to add to it, but it’s a start that I feel proud of. Also excited to say I’m testing sizing and writing up directions for a sewing pattern I hope to release soon. The crafter life goals of sewing for others and pattern drafting do work well together.

So far, no full cradle bras because I’m writing up my 95 theses of how to fit a bra. Not really 95, but a few pages for sure. I’ve been reading a lot on sizing standards and the history of different measurement practices and vanity sizing, and now I see why most of us are totally confused by manufacturer sizing. More on this later when I get my fitting guide all hammered out, but the issue of adding four or five inches to your underbust measurement really throws a wrench in everything. What’s even more frustrating is that just using your raw underbust measure seems like it would clear up everything, but then you have to grapple with figuring out which manufacturers add inches to the underbust measure for their bands and which don’t, and with how individual brands approach sizing, because a 36B in one brand might be another brand’s 32DD. (I intend to use the raw underbust measure, myself, though I’ve found the high bust to be a better place to measure – right under the armpits, over the bonier part of the upper chest, since the underbust measure can vary so dramatically with breathing, sitting vs. standing, bloating, etc. It tends to be slightly larger than the underbust measure by an inch or two, which works out perfectly for me with my broad back and unusual proportions, but may not for everyone.)

For now, I’ve focused on lacy bralettes, underwear and garter belts in the shop, and I’m still learning the ins and outs of SEO and writing copy and it’s been actually kind of amazing in researching all of that to realize how much snake oil marketing stuff floating around out there is promising starry-eyed budding entrepreneurial dreamer types like myself that a fortune is there for the taking if we just fork out 2k for whatever guru’s online course! Ugh, gross. (They tell me that if I don’t set up a mailing list, the howling abyss demon of failure and loneliness and bad skin will come for me, so if you’d like to join the mailing list, it’s (here), and I did set up a 10% off code that will be sent to your email, and I promise I won’t spam you. Especially not with false scarcity marketing or canned enthusiasm adspeak crap, because the world has more than enough of that.)

Learning photography is infinitely more fun, though I think I lost at least a week to cussing my camera controls and my cat for jumping in the shot when I finally got all the elastics to lie flat for two seconds. You can really see the eternal conflict between my antique feminine, Marie Antoinette delicate aesthetic and my Morticia Addams for life/what would Cersei wear sensibilities:

And now I’m off to bed to listen to the rain. Mmm, gothic novel spring weather.

Fitting Woes: Moulage Drafting

Wow, it appears I have not posted in months. Sometimes I go full Luddite and stay offline for everything but work and listen to wordless cello music while I sew buttonholes by hand, because the pileup of current events has me too depressed about everything to subject myself to the bombardment of information about the all the terrible things…but then Craftsy drags me back.

So I just lost about 10 hours of my life to attempting to draft a moulage. Never again. I took Suzy Furrer’s class on Craftsy, after a lot of reading on the subject and a lot of optimism about this maybe being the thing that finally gets the right armhole/shoulder/neck fit that has eluded me for a few years now. Having just drafted my basic moulage, I can see that it’s clearly a f-ing disaster and it’s going to take either remeasuring measurements I’m 97% sure are accurate, having taken them a gazillion times for a gazillion different drafting attempts, or this process will require a holy fuckton of muslin making iterations that I’m not willing to do, having already been there and done that so many times and have a trial/error based sloper that works already. Let’s call this one a total FAIL.

The problem isn’t the class, really–Suzy Furrer does a fine job of teaching something that seems incredibly complicated to convey via distance learning. She’s thorough and as clear can be expected when neck deep in the hell of applied geometry using fractions. But I have a feeling that the industry standards, basically the formulas and rules behind the drafting, are not going to work for my proportions. As with virtually every set of out of the envelope patterns.

And it seems to be a bit more complicated than simply doing a “forward shoulder adjustment” seen all over the web (see: here for example) and on Kathleen Cheetham’s “Fitting the Neck and Shoulders” Craftsy course, which I have *also* taken and found abysmally lacking in anything new or revelatory that can help with my weird body shape. I like her body positive framing of the adjustments, but it’s mostly what I’ve seen in any number of books on basic pattern alteration already.

I have a) forward shoulders b) a broad back and somewhat wide shoulders and c) a large rib cage and d) relatively thick, short waistline. In fashion column what-to-wear parlance, I’d be an apple body or an inverted triangle. Comparing my trial and error slopers has been interesting, because my back bodice is almost two sizes larger than the front. My shoulders are not only forward, but have something of a concave curve in the front. I’ve noticed this on family, too, almost as if being broad backed without our front proportions being equal causes the shoulder angle to shift slightly to arrange this mass on the frame. It seems as if having a forward shoulder takes the straight horizontal line of the back and makes it into two planes moving in different directions, also rotating the shoulder blade slightly out. I think this changes patternmaking for close fitting garments in a way I have yet to see explained. See exhibit A from some random Tailor and Cutter board I can’t find now which had no citation for the original source anyway:

3971376789_13042f79b5

I think a lot of drafting assumes the figure alignment to the far right, while mine is basically the center one plus boobs and maybe a slight swayback. Le sigh.

There was a fantastic piece in Seamwork (here) talking about gender neutral or gender flexible fashion (a subject near and dear to my heart because some days I want to dress like a 18th century dandy and some days I want to be Scarlet O’hara and my taste ranges all over the place!) On the difference between menswear and womenswear:

“Fundamentally, womenswear and menswear are made for differently shaped bodies. Menswear proportions usually consist of more width in the shoulder, long legs, and a short torso. Womenswear is designed to accommodate someone who is the widest at the hip, and who has a shorter torso, a bust, and shorter arms.”

So, again, I’m wondering if simply adding bust definition to a sloper intended for male bodies wouldn’t be the easier way to get here. Full bust adjustment + waist darting on a menswear sloper? Maybe the usual seam shifting of most forward shoulder adjustments? The world may never know, because I’m irritated to the point of sewing knits for awhile.

 

Lol, just kidding. I’m actually working on a pair of stays with shoulder straps to work on my garbage posture because it’s probably easier than learning to draft for this sh*t.

Fitting Woes and Effin Slopers.

Grumpycat_meme1

I’ve sewn three slopers in the last two days. The only explanations I had left were a) I’m deformed b) I’m deformed and a terrible measurer or c) I’m deformed, a terrible measurer and I suck at digital drafting.

Let me show you why I am deformed. This is my dad:

dadbeingstatuesquelol

Don’t get me wrong, he was the best dad. He was funny and smart and so very, very kind. I miss him every single day, and credit him with what little patience and persistence I have. While my dad’s physique was quite the accomplishment, and while I am, of course, ever appreciative of the glorious blend of Arnold Schwarzenegger-isms and raw egg protein concoctions that comprised my childhood, THOSE BACK PROPORTIONS THOUGH. I inherited those lats, and I curse them every time I sew. (Alas I inherited neither his motivation to be super fit nor his abs, although I do okay–no sugar, healthy eating, etc. I just loathe any exercise that isn’t walking or dancing around my living room like Thom Yorke. Don’t do this barefoot; it’s a good way to break your foot. Ask me how I know this.) Also: my posture plagued my dad. He designed workouts to fix my forward shoulders, which back then I didn’t care about, being a stubborn kid who stooped mostly out of shyness. I still notice myself doing this when the social anxiety kicks in. The combination of broad man back I inherited from a long line of farmer strong brawler folk and my grunge era forward stoop means that fitting a bodice is a nightmare. NIGHTMARE. I also have pretty much no waistline and narrow hips, so that’s not fun when all my vintage patterns are drafted for someone who wore a girdle from age ten. I have been stubbornly fighting with the various pattern fitting possibilities since I began sewing. In the last few days, in a veritable paroxysm of determination, I have tried:

-a forward shoulder adjustment
-a round back adjustment
-a broad shoulder adjustment
-a sloped shoulder adjustment
-lowered armhole
-shoulder seam darts
-neck darts
-drafting a bodice block from my measurements using two different systems

It has been so incredibly frustrating. I can get a block to fit my torso, kind of, using these methods. But as soon as I add sleeves, my broad back renders any forward motion of my arms impossible. The fit is uncomfortable AF. So after the failure of attempt number 3, I broke out the duct tape dress form and tried draping again. I tried this in the past, but wasn’t very practiced, so my results weren’t the best and I sort of let it fall by the wayside. But this time, after all the math and all the frustration, it was easy as pie.

I was going about it all wrong. I’m not deformed; I just have a manbody. And I’m not even that bad at drafting, but all the formulas I was using were based on creating blocks for a much more stereotypically feminine form. The final blocks I came up via draping look way more like this:

mensvest

than anything even vaguely resembling this:

woman's sloper2

and I wonder how many other women with petite, larger waisted, broad backed figures are also making themselves crazy trying to make the formulas work for them when (it would seem) the basic proportions involved are wrong from the start. From now on for myself it’s all man-blocks. I actually had already gone this route for a few pairs of pants, hellbent on not risking the cameltoe look. They work great, actually. And since most of what I want to sew channels Lilith from Frasier and the tailored suit look, blocks designed for men with a slight bust adjustment might be far less of a headache for me.

If anyone else has been through the gauntlet of these particular fitting issues and knows of any solutions, I would *love* to hear about it! I’m also very curious about the theoretical differences in drafting for men vs women. It seems like the tailor / couturier-dressmaker traditions were historically quite separate industries, which I don’t fully understand the reasons for and will have to read up on.  But it seems like the basic methods of drafting should be universal, regardless of the figure? I’m also curious about how many people have fitting problems because of the standard male vs standard female figure used for drafting…

 

Sewing Stagnation: Fitting Woes and The Basic Button Down Blouse

Ever since I began seriously sewing, I have been struggling to attain the perfect button down ivory shirt. It never ceases to amaze me how difficult this is. Almost every pattern I have tried has been too tight for my man shoulders and large rib cage or fit me like a burlap sack. I just tried another (McCalls 4922) and as soon as I finished the set in sleeves found the fit is, once again, awful.

I am so picky some of my woes are self-inflicted. I don’t like the shapelessness of jersey or the places it clings unflatteringly to the body (looking at you, lower belly pooch), so I lose out on the simple fitting joys of stretchy material. I also don’t like the way the seams look in anything but a straight stitch, which is silliness, I know. I want the crisp look of woven materials but I also want to be able to streetfight with no range of motion loss in my tailored blouse. My wardrobe desires are truly ridiculous. This is what happens when you watch too many comic book movies with women who are basically doing acrobatics in a corseted skin tight suit while they fluently speak seven languages hurling perfect one liners at bad guys. SUPERWOMAN COMPLEX INDEED.

But where was I? Oh, fitting issues. I have sewn probably 20 shirts, and I still haven’t found the pattern I want to settle down with as a tried and true reliable basis for further modifications. I have tried draping a sloper on my poor duct tape dress form but that just hasn’t ended well. What looks good on the form does not translate into a flattering shape on my moving body and I don’t know exactly what I’m doing wrong, but it is seriously pissing me off. My sewing skills have come so far in the last year, and yet, virtually none of my sewing projects are making me happy because the fit just isn’t as good as my favorite ready to wear shirts. Even tried dissection of one of these, and somehow the block I drafted from those pieces still didn’t work.

So here’s the problem(s):

1. wide rib cage + nonexistent bust combination is not something most patterns fit well

2. short torso + nonexistent waistline is not something most vintage patterns work for

3. forward shoulders make sleeve fitting suck ass

4. broad shoulders + forward shoulders + hatred of the poofy sleeve cap means you will never be happy in your sewing life ever.

5. I don’t even know if there’s a name for my broad-at-the-bust-line man back but it makes me sad that the princess lines of my back pieces are easily confused for the front pieces bc there’s almost the same amount of muscle mass there as in my itty bitty titty committee case study goin’ on up front here. Shirts always, always, always pull at the back underarm when I try to move because of said mass. On the plus side in the zombie apocalypse I have serious farmer/ax swinger muscle genetics going on.

All of this is a long way of saying I am giving up on set in sleeves for awhile. The cumulative effect of all of this sewing failure is that I’m not even excited at trying new patterns because I know how it’s going to end up: 1980s shapeless boxy shit that only David Bowie could make look sexy (see below), or another thing that makes me unable to move my arms. It’s time for the gusset/kimono sleeve to come into my life in a big way.

80sbowieOh, David Bowie. You make everything better.

Wanna know who else makes everything better? Esther Kaplan Pivnick, that’s who. Sewing guru extraordinaire whose vintage pattern drafting book Fundamentals of Patternmaking can be found at the delightful blog of the awesome TJ at A Perfect Nose (here). After some kimono sleeve sewing therapy I may, once again, under the masterful tutelage of Esther Pivnick, try redrafting a blouse from my own measurements because, let’s face it, the set in sleeve is a part of virtually every awesome garment I see on tv and lust after for my own.