Toiling on Toiles

In pursuit to finally sew and thus own! and wear! clothes that fit I put a party dress on my 2018 Make Nine checkerboard. The prospect of of having a dress that fit my natural waist has always been a sewing inspiration (rtw hits me at the rib), but I had so little need for a party dress and so much love for the rarely-used one that I own that a fitted dress was pretty low on my list.

Let’s address the elephant in the room while we’re at it: I wasn’t ready, yet, to deal with the alterations. I knew I could. I didn’t have the mental bandwidth to start. After making two muslins with plans for a third it turns out I may not have been ready to reckon with my physical form, either.

An invitation to a party! moved the dress idea from somewhere in the back of my mind to somewhere in the peripheral front. Plus that aforementioned party dress is, no joke, 12 years old and my fellow party attendees have seen me in it a million times or at least as often as we’ve celebrated in party dress. Sadly, we may not actually make it to the party, but dammit I was going to have a new dress to wear on the chance we do.

I picked Belladone. Based on my bust measurement I traced a size 42, added an inch to the bodice length, and did a forward shoulder adjustment.

Those barely visible pins at the bodice and waist are where I pinned this muslin to fit my body

It was too big. Everywhere. What the heck? Why did using my measurement produce a garment that wasn’t my size?

I knew some things. I knew:

  1. You should select a size based on your high bust measurement.
  2. Cup size matters.
  3. Patterns are drafted to a specific cup size.
  4. That cup size varies between designers and lines.
  5. My cup size does not vary.

But I didn’t know some things. Specifically, how in the world you would select your size based on a high bust measurement when I’ve never seen one given in a pattern.

And then a series of what felt like epiphanies, but were actually things that I had read and finally internalized:

  1. You can find out the cup size a designer drafts to!
  2. Once you know that you can back into a pattern’s high bust measurement!
  3. Now you know what size to start with!
  4. If you’re me (I am!) you might need to do a small bust adjustment (I do!).

I tried again. A size 40 + 1.25″ length – .5″ small bust adjustment.  And:

Heavenly hats descend upon me. Unintentional and hilarious.

Exciting! So much better. I was so hopeful it would be that easy and it was so much better that it took a few try-ons to accept that it wasn’t good enough. The neckline is hovering somewhere north or my shoulders and those bust darts are in the wrong places.

I made some more changes. Another .25 to the waist. A gaping neckline adjustment. Moved the darts. This is my untested newly Frankensteined bodice pattern piece:


I worry that by making changes to changes I’m over-complicating things. Is there a single step that could have accomplished both the SBA and dart movement? Does it means something that I have to do both? Am I misdiagnosing my fit problems? Will my final result in any way resemble the original pattern? Did the sleeves of my muslin tear because I installed a too-short zipper and struggled to get this over my head the 4 separate times I tried this mulin on or are they too small and I can’t tell? Can I learn to love my “mature female” pear-shaped body? Will taking pictures of myself in profile inspire me to  improve my abhorrent posture? In the future will we all wear paper dresses?

Time and trial will tell.

Ending at the Beginning

One of my goals this year was to get a handle on fit. Up until now I’d steered clear of patterns that needed fitting or else steamed ahead hoping for the best. If I made a garment that didn’t fit well enough I chalked it up to the learning curve. Hone your sewing skills, first, I told myself. Maybe the fitting skills will follow. Turns out they won’t. Not without intent.

I’ve avoided fit because I don’t understand it. I wonder if I even know what a good fit means. I read about alterations and wonder which apply to me. Body measurements should be fact, right? But I find I have a fundamental misunderstanding of what my body looks like and I have created a lot of fiction about my body. The numbers seem to lie and change. The distinct dimensions of my body become indistinct amorphous ideas in my mind.

My logical mind insists fit should be as easy as measuring and matching. My emotional mind subverts this strategy. Fitting a garment is not only adjusting a pattern, but finally trying to understand what the actual proportions of my body are and not what they should be or what I want them to be.

I quit hemming and hawing and wondering where I should start by deciding to just finally START already. I dove in with York, a simple garment that would require a good fit to showcase a fabulous fabric. I cut a size 6 with a half-inch forward shoulder that I naively hoped would be the answer to all my fit problems like it was for that one lady I heard on that podcast that one time. In defense of hubris, sometimes the idea that something will be simple or easy is the only way we convince ourselves to undertake the thing that turns out to be neither.

Baggy, baggy, baggy. Imagine a copious quantity of fabric across my chest because I don’t have a photo to show you. After pinning, musing, donning, contemplating, and sleep, ideas that had been rattling around in my head finally coalesced and I made a small bust adjustment (why do full bust adjustments get all the attention?!). I was so confident that THIS was the ANSWER (even as I was quite unsure that I was doing it right) that instead of pin-fitting I went ahead and sewed the entire top together sleeves and all This was the result:

Hey! No copious bagging across my chest. But what was that weird pulling behind my arms?


Oh dear. Here I am pointing to where the shoulder seams fell. You might notice they are NOT ON MY SHOULDERS. The armscye wasn’t sitting on my shoulder and that weird pulling was the shirt back stretching when I moved my arms forward. Also note the bagging across my bicep because the sleeve isn’t where it’s supposed to be.


In the end I made my mistake in the beginning when was choosing my size. I need to grade between sizes like whoa. Which in retrospect is fairly obvious, but it gets back to my confusion and wishful thinking about how my proportions relate to one another and how to transfer those proportions to pattern schematics. It’s no surprise I would experience a false start or three or more when I’m so unsure of where the starting line is in the first place.

I tore out the sleeves and side seams and will try again, pin-fitting this time before sewing.