fitting punishment

Can you spot a theme?

Dear readers (well, I’m not someone who can pull off calling people “darlings” so there you go — “readers” it is), I hope that wherever you are Sunday morning didn’t wake you with the ironic synesthesia of blinding snow cackling into your ear, “so you thought it was spring, sucker!”

My coping strategy was to go to Joann’s and give in to the McCall’s pattern sale that was just ending. Here’s the thing though: all my attempts to fit patterns from the Big Four to my body above the waist have so far ended in failure. Maybe I lack the courage and the stamina required to fiddle with calculating just how many sizes I should go down so as not to swamp my shoulders in fabric, and then with properly muslining, and making further adjustments… but really what is the point in suggesting the wrong size to your customer to begin with?

It doesn’t seem to be just a question of how different bodies are since I have yet to come across a sewing blogger or pattern reviewer saying that making a garment up in the size suggested for their body measurements worked out fine.

Given that shoulders are actually pretty hard to fit correctly — never mind re-size if you’re starting with a size that is too big — what point is there in not giving any measurements for the shoulder area on the envelope (not even for a suggested size), not to mention giving almost no information about finished measurements on that envelope? And I haven’t even gotten to those 4″ of ease in the bust… Have you met anyone who wanted 4″ of ease in a fitted garment?

I did come across some very helpful advice about fitting patterns from the Big Four. Most helpful perhaps was a video on choosing the right size from Susan Khalje. (Sadly, it’s impossible to link to directly — you need to scroll through the homepage to find it.) This post on Nancy Zieman’s tips is also great. What is perhaps most interesting about them is how the advice really just goes against all those “suggestions” you will find on McCall’s, Vogue, Butterick, and Simplicity pattern envelopes…

So I will definitely go back to the drawing board with fitting these patterns. I really can’t stand having a collection of seemingly untouchable, dead-end patterns, since, as you can see, I am having a hard time resisting the siren song of big sales on them.

Advice is, of course, most welcome, but so are your stories about fitting these patterns — success stories and fitting nightmares alike. Please share!


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I write about sewing, knitting, and may sometimes be tempted to talk about books.

5 thoughts on “fitting punishment”

  1. Yes! What is the point in suggesting the wrong size to the customer to begin with?!!!
    Well put.
    The idea that there is insider information that one is supposed to Just Know before buying a pattern —or anything— infuriates me. Finding the correct size shouldn’t be a process shrouded in mystery and fear.
    If a chart is provided, it should be correct and usable, as is, without knowledge of the Secret Handshake. None of this using your above bust in place of the bust measurement on the chart. If it says bust, it should mean bust, dang it. Words have meanings.
    There was one time, in line at a JoAnn’s, when I heard a store employee advising a customer to put back the size 12 pattern and go get a size 6, because, “You’re so slim!”
    I thought that was super bad advice, but now, with knowledge of the 4 inch ease situation, I’ve almost come around to the opinion that you can actually buy your retail size instead of pattern size.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve read through so many blog and forum posts on the subject. Some even involved people actually bothering to email McCall’s only to get a non-answer that the 4″ of excess is there because “bodies are different and we want to accommodate that.” Well, I don’t know how that would work because my shoulders that end up in a fabric tent if I go by the useless body measurement size chart…

      In the grumpier corners of the internet people sometimes like to complain about the prices of indie patterns and argue that the Big Four patterns are cheaper (which is only true for the big US sales, really) and better drafted than indies (hmm…). Indies are all different, obviously, but the good ones do actually bother to give you the measurements you need to figure out what size to cut out — both for your body measurements and the finished garment measurements, so you can see the intended correlation and then decide whether to go with it or size up or down. If a small independent company or designer can do it, why can’t the Big Four?

      Well, my plan is to cut and at least tissue-fit the hell out of McCall’s M7387 view A. We’ll see how that goes. My natural inclination is to trace and save the original but I think that a sacrifice to the dark gods of risk and cutting is in order at this point.


  2. Gahhh Big 4 sizing infuriates me to no end. Of course bodies are different and most people will likely need to make some adjustments, but the weird vanity sizing is so. pointless. I generally use patterns that I know fit me well (Sewaholic basically drafts for my exact body type), and try to figure out the corresponding size of Big 4 patterns by just visually comparing the flat patterns. Even still, that’s a gamble.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Aha – now I know why you were talking about fit! I hadn’t seen this post, haha. I’m honestly not sure my pattern counts since it was a very straightforward knit pattern, but in my case the ease was not a bad thing as I didn’t want it too tight. I have also heard there’s an awful lot of excess ease in most Big Four patterns though, and that one ought to go down a size (or more?). That does seem more than a little illogical. Funnily enough, we just started the topic of fit and blending in the League of Adventurous Dressmakers course. This month is about measuring (do it every time, do it right, basically) and looking at the ease issue. We have 2 more months where we go more in-depth (seems like almost all of us students asked for this topic so it’s definitely a common complaint) and if we cover anything that sheds more light, I will return and add to the discussion.


    1. Oh I always talk about fit. I’m fixated on that 🙂

      The… let’s call it unusual ease in Big Four patterns is really challenging for me because it’s not simply a matter of an extra 4″ throughout the garment. Because we need different amounts of ease in different places — we desperately need some sitting ease in a skirt but can do okay with minimal ease on the bust, for instance — calculating the preferred size for Big Four patterns turns into a nightmare, at least for me. According to their body measurement chart I basically fall into one size throughout. But, really, in order to get a decent fit it doesn’t work for me to grade between two adjacent sizes. I have yet to figure out what that properly fitting size for my upper body should be. So far I know that it’s at least two sizes down from what fits my lower body, but maybe more.

      I’m of course looking forward to hearing more from you about your own fitting discoveries. Congratulations on your lovely new skirt and top again 🙂


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