Fitting, why you should do it right.

A huge part of the sewing process involves getting the garment to fit to our 3D shapes from a flat pattern, that mainly started as rectangular shapes. It can be very frustrating, specially doing it by yourself.Recently I met two of my fellow sewing friends (Mela and Dibs) for a fitting season with an arsenal of fitting books and a measuring chart for each of use.
There are mainly 3 techniques of fit/ adjustment:
Flat pattern, where you compare your measurements to the flat pattern. That way you will discover the amount of ease.
Pin fitting a garment
Creating a muslin/toile
My personal preference, I always measure the flat pattern to know the ease when dealing with a new company. If I been sewing a vogue or simplicity based on previous experiences and notes, I already know. It’s always good keep all your info in a sewing notebook.
It helps understanding what fitting terms translate to, for example a ‘semi fitted’ skirt offers 3 to 4 inches. It can varies by pattern companies so keep a chart on your notes too!
99% of the time I will pin fit the pattern. It just works well for me and allows me to gather information for my constant adjustments: Lengthen, FBA, Reposition of darts etc. I may also use my block pattern to compare. It’s a very fast way to see the adjustments needed.
1% of the cases I will do a muslin. If I am unsure of the alterations or using fabric I care enough to protect it!
During our fitting session, we did all techniques on Dibs, because we wanted to debate results. Each method offers positive and negatives and you don’t need to do it all at the same time.
The process start with an accurate measure of yourself. I have been gaining weight since my back operation so I tend to update my sheet every 3 months. I really recommend getting a friend to do it for you.
I personally like having an additional column next to the measurements where I divide my measurements by 4 so it’s easy to measure pattern pieces individually. I also make sure I measure from the stitching line so I don’t have to keep adding/subtracting the seam allowances on my comparison.

Step by Step to pin fit a garment:

1. With your measurements, decide the pattern size. Most fitting books recommend taking the high bust adjustment. If you have broad back, take your measurements from the underarm line to the underarm line on the front. You can check the difference by measuring the back  but use the front measure as your guide. It will eliminate the excess (gaposis) the extra measurement on the back will give on the  neck.
2. Look at the flat pattern. Sometimes the ease will allow you to go for a smaller and more flattering size.
3. Once you confident with your pattern, start marking the stitching line with the pattern seam allowance that is generally 5/8. Neck vary! It will be so easy for you to pin and sew later.
4. Fit your tissue. This has a inbuilt sleeve. If not, leave the sleeve out of it because they are very delicate. Before you pin fit. reinforce the curves with seller tape. I use micropore. Yes, you heard it right.. the one you get in the pharmacy. It’s cheaper, more available that scotch tape and easily removable from tissue. I also careful clip the curves so they give as fabric.

5. Measure the distance from the pattern to your centre front. Then to your centre back. Those are the alterations you will make on your flat pattern. Alterations should be done mostly by slash/ spread methods unless the different its once size up or down. 

6. Make your modifications

7. Add fitting insurance. Specially if you are not making a muslin. Fitting insurance is a couple of cm or inches on your side seams that will allow you to play more with the fit.  I never sew without it!
That confused poor Dibs a lot as she keep thinking we were making the pattern too big. That’s why having your stitching lines marked is so important.  You don’t need to keep checking back to your 5/8s.
The extra fabric also allow you to have a beautiful even seam finish too.
If you are not confident on your changes, try a muslin or use a cheap fabric to test the fit there.


8.  Set your machine with large/long basting stitches9. Pin your pattern pieces, considering the grain and using a tracing paper and wheel trace the stitching line, mark all the pattern references as grain, notches, etc… this must be very accurate process.10. & 11. Sew as you would and consider your muslin from all angles. Here the arm holes were too tight and high so we tried lower the shoulder. The darts could be a bit higher to eliminate the extra fabric that happen when we lower the shoulder.

12. All seams must match perfectly so you can use your fitting insurance to re-arrange if they aren’t.

Once you happy, transfer all the changes to a fresh pattern paper and sew!!!

The fitting books I recommend are:

Beginners level:
Fit For Real People by Pati Palmer, Marta Alto
Pants For Real People by Pati Palmer, Marta Alto
Fast Fit by Sandra Betzina
Intermediate and beyond:
Fitting and Pattern Alteration by Elizabeth L. Liechty

Photographic tutorial on how to measure yourself
Threads Magazine Tutorial on measuring yourself  with a chart.
Sew News Body measurement chart for comparison 

Hope it helps sharing our day and what I do. I will write more on muslins as I construct my coat!


  • I had another go at it yesterday. I started by shortening the bodice pieces by 1.5 inches, the grading out to a size 18 form a 14 waist for the skirt. I made the muslin up, and the waist sits at the perfect place, but I need to take out about 1.5 inches at the back for the sway back analysis from both the bodice and the skirt. It is getting better. It fits better already. the problem now is seeing what I am doing at the back. I think I will wait for my mom to come on monday.

  • Thanks Rachel, very interesting. I have never tried pin fitting with the pattern before and I should definitely pay more attention to the pattern pieces before making a muslin (which I usually do) to get an idea of the amount of ease etc.

    I have the ‘Real fit for Real People’ book and I find the diagrams useful but it’s really hard to get past the dated photography. In some bits, I find it genuinely hard to tell whether ‘before’ or ‘after’ pictures are better because the outfits they are making are so distractingly hideous. From a practical point of view, the clothes are also more loosely fitted than people normally wear today too.

    • Pin fitting makes the process easier because you are practicing mock assembly so lets mistakes on real fabric. its true, the photos of the Fit for real people aren’t very good but the info its very clear. Go for the intermediate book, its a great reference.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this, Rachel. So interesting! I´m not really an expert in fitting, I´m just lucky with Burda, but with your info, I´m sure I´ll give a different approach to Vogue patterns, I love them, but they used to make me so upset with all that ease!

    • your garments look always so good.. its great when we understand how to fit our patterns better. I do hope you try your vogue patterns…

  • thanks for sharing this, Rachel. such a great idea to do a team fitting excerise! I always use the third option (muslin) the first time I make a pattern. But I think next time I’ll try the pin-fitting method.

    • your welcome. I think you will find yourself saving some time in the process

  • i usually tissue fit… i love the idea of extra insurance at side seams, never thought of it that way (always thought i should add extra all around “just in case” but that’s daunting. side seams are doable!)

    • yeahh, high five for tissue/pin fitters!! Its such a life saver that once you start adding it you won’t regret!

  • Very helpful post, thank you. Glad to hear I’m not the only muslin-avoider.
    Pin/tissue fit seems like a good idea – I haven’t tried it before – but I’ll have to remember to lock out the cat. Any rustling of pattern paper and it’s fair game…

    • Oh, let me know what you think when you do… and get the cat away lol!

  • what a great post, excellent summary. I do fitting very similarly to your method. and like you, I rarely make a muslin for myself. Flat pattern measurement and use my math skills! Fitting insurance – I love that term, can I steal that?

  • Working with you definitely made me realize that I must work on creating better sewing habits!

    • Oh, nice that you think I have good habits and I help your journey! Thanks again for hosting our big mess!

  • Good on you Rachel! I’m a huge believer in getting onto the body and off teh table, solving fit issues on the 3D form not in the pattern, which should come later. It is so much mroe intuitive, makes more sense and you learn so much about your shape. But it is also a way easier with a fitting buddy!

  • Saving this one in my favorites 🙂

  • Rachel this is great information…I just cut and sew and fit. I like the paper pattern idea and especially your tape idea, thanks!

  • Nice write up. Having sewing buddies that help you fit patterns is a real bonus. When I’m at home, I use my ‘maths’ brain and flat pattern measurements. There are standard changes that I do. However, I do still make mistakes with fit.
    I hope you all had a good day together as well.
    Your coat is going to be great to see.

  • I love the term (and concept of) Fitting Insurance, too! You need to trademark that! Great run-through. To be honest, I still find it challenging to ‘see’ a finished item just from having bits of tissue paper pinned about my body. I still think I’m getting to grips with fitting. Meeting up to help fit each other is a fabulous idea. It’s so difficult to do on your own.

  • I love the idea of the insurance on the side seams! I must admit to making a muslin as a preference rather than a tissue fit because I am always so scared of destroying my patterns. The micropore makes lots of sense… 😀

  • What a great post! Fitting is a big issue for me. One of the reasons I started sewing is because I find it so hard to get shop-bought fitted clothes that fit me due to being small with a narrow back and large bust. I’ve used some of the technics you’ve mentioned, but will definately being some of the others. I can recommend “Fits for Real People” (I would never have progressed without it!), but I agree that the cheesy photos are a bit useless. I may have to check out “Fitting And Pattern Alteration” now. 🙂

  • I love Elizabeth L. Liechty’s fitting book. It’s got absolutely everything. Great post!

  • This is so helpful– thanks for posting! I’m so nervous tissue fitting, but I need to get more confident doing it! Thanks for the tips!

  • Rachel , Thankyou for a great post.. I like the tissue fitting so much better than making a muslin..[But sometimes I do that too]. Thanks for sharing.

  • this is awesome! thank you! I am lucky as so far my eye isnt good enough yet to pick up on too many fitting issues but had some obvious ones recently and i will try some of this to see for the future how to deal with them!

  • This is a really useful post. Thank you!

  • hi Rachel, this is a very useful post thank you. I can’t quite get my head around the bit about measuring yourself from underarm to underarm. I too have a broad back and my upper bust measurement is only a smidgeon smaller than my full bust (even though I am a D cup). If I take my measurement as you suggest presumably this only gives a figure for the front so how do I use this to check the pattern size which is based on the front and back? I’ve obviously completely misunderstood!

  • Thanks a lot for this very informative post! I recognise some of the techniques as I already use them, but some were totally new to me. It looks like you had a great fun!