fitting: McCall’s 7387

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Fitting woes: I have lots of those. I’ve also struggled for a long time to find the right starting size in patterns from the “Big Four” companies: McCall’s, Butterick, Vogue, and Simplicity.

For the longest time I felt like I was the only one out there completely confused what size to start with in these patterns. The size indicated by body measurements completely swamped my shoulders and bust, with the waist coming in. What was supposed to be one size bracket didn’t resemble that remotely in practice. I was seeing advice online to just try going down a size, or even two sizes, but it seemed to me from what I was observing that the answer might be actually a bit more complicated than that.

And it was. I’ll talk you through both my solution to finding a good “starting size” in these patterns, and through fit alterations that I typically do from there, using McCall’s 7387 as my example.

1. “The secret handshake”: find your size

The game changer for me was finding Susan Khalje’s video on choosing the right pattern size (find it on her homepage). I find Liza’s comparison of this bit of knowledge to a secret handshake really apt (can’t find our conversation where that popped up so here’s a link to Liza’s awesome blog). Why isn’t this tip anywhere on the pattern envelopes???

Basically, you measure above your bust from arm crease to arm crease, and take that number as a starting point. Here is the rule, as laid out by Susan Khalje (and not the pattern companies — again: WHY?!): if you measure 14″ -> size 14, 13.5″ -> size 12, 13″ -> size 10, and so on, in half-inch increments.

Bam! I could end the post here because that’s the starting point that gets you the size you want to cut out. At least for me it was — this is how I finally found the size that fit my shoulders, which are really hard to fit if you’re not sure where to start. So many variables…

And that’s the next thing I want to talk about.

2. Shoulder slope and forward shoulder

Soon after I started sewing it hit me that that unassuming seam at the top of the shoulder is critical for me. I’m one of those modern-day hunchbacks shaped by computer work, and the shoulder seam in most patterns sits too far back for me, pulling the garment in uncomfortable ways. In knits, that’s survivable, in wovens it can make a garment unwearable.

Making a muslin really helps to determine the right seam placement. If you really want to skip muslining, I recommend cutting out the shoulder area with extra fabric (especially on the back pattern piece) and pin- or baste-fitting the garment before committing to a definitive shoulder seam placement. You might be surprised. I noticed that some patterns from the Big Four are drafted to accommodate the modern-day hunchback, while others were not… M7387 was, but then my shoulder shape is also different than the one they draft for, which brings me to the next issue.

m7387-frontpiece-top
The top part of the front pattern piece with all my fit alterations. Note the changed shoulder slope.

Most of the McCall’s patterns I’ve looked at (and that goes for other Big Four patterns, too, I think) are drafted for shoulders with a pronounced slope. Mine are more “square” with almost no slope to them. In order for the garment to sit right, I need to “square off” the shoulder. Here, I added a wedge from the shoulder side. (Sometimes it might also be worth raising the armhole accordingly. With the kimono sleeve on M7387 it didn’t matter.)

And, not to throw a wrench in all this, but bear in mind that the shape of the shoulder seam might differ between the back and the front piece (e.g. a sloped front piece paired with a very square back piece). If you see such a pair, test it out to see how that shoulder seam sits on your body before attempting to alter it.

3. Back width and range of motion

If you have a good range of motion in Big four patterns with sleeves, then disregard this section. I have a broad back and in order to be able to move my arms comfortably I need to make a pretty significant broad back adjustment while keeping the shoulders as narrow as my “starting size.” So going up a pattern size or two on the back wouldn’t work for me. I also found that blending between sizes isn’t the answer. It’s this alteration:

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Now, M7387 has either a kimono sleeve (the view I made) or a drop-shoulder sleeve. The kimono sleeve gives you a bit more room by default, but I wanted to be sure I’d have enough room, so I altered the back as I would have for a back with a set-in sleeve.

Here’s the redrafted back piece (not pictured: the back yoke, on which I redrafted the sleeve seam so as to fit this piece).

m7387-backpiece-underyoke
… and that tissue-pattern addition at the bottom is what I arrived at after trueing the side seams (the front side seam was longer).

EDIT: I need to a link to another resource. I just discovered the blog Pattern and Branch, and the author, Lisa, has fantastic fitting tips. Here’s a post about altering a pattern with princess seams for a broad back, and her newest (when I’m writing this), with links to posts about several of the beautiful shirts she’s made. Highly recommended reading 🙂

4. Back length and other alterations

I didn’t like the deep pleat in the original pattern so I redrafted the back. In the process, I discovered that the original pattern gave me a pool of fabric resting unflatteringly (and heavily: so much fabric in that pleat!) on my derriere. In short, the center back was too long for me. Burda resolves issues like that very nicely in their patterns with a center back seam: they make that seam shaped, curving it in at the small of the back. Very clever.

After redrafting the back with a smaller pleat (or gathers) I noticed the issue remained. In the photo above you see my solution: I straightened out the seam at the top. Here’s what the original looked like:

m7387-backpiece-pleat1

With the smaller pleat, I needed to swing out the side seams to give myself enough room on the hips (I repeated this adjustment on the front piece).

5. Bonus adjustment: dartless FBA

McCall’s Patterns are usually drafted for a B cup, which is not my size, so I knew a full-bust adjustment would give me more breathing room. I could have chanced it in this pattern but I was curious what an FBA would look like in a piece without any darts. I learned all about it from this great Threads tutorial by Louise Cutting.

Here are my notes on it:

dartlessFBA

And that’s it… In the end I shortened the front piece a bit and reduced the curve of the hem, but that was a style choice, not a fit alteration. Here’s the post about the finished shirt.

Since I’m definitely not an expert, I recommend using my notes just as a springboard to researching the fitting alterations that you think will work for you.

Apart from the resources I’ve linked to here I also recommend Kathleen Cheetham’s course on shoulder, neck and back fitting on Craftsy, and — of course — Fit for Real People, whether you want to tissue-fit or not.

What are your best fitting tips? And, by the way, if you disagree with anything I’ve written above, feel free to let me know in the comments, too. I’m always happy to learn and adjust (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) my ideas.


PS: One more alteration I mentioned in the previous post about this shirt but didn’t discuss here (because it’s not fit-related): I simplified the button placket construction by incorporating the placket into the front piece.

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seasonal wardrobe disorder

winter-wardrobe

Today’s post is brought to you by my oddly late realization that virtually everything in my wardrobe is completely and totally seasonal. Or seasonally-affected, ha! That truth (which should have been obvious, you might argue) was beginning to sink in when I was putting my Top 5 of 2016 post together and noticing that at the time of writing it I wasn’t able to wear almost any of the clothes on that list if I was leaving the house. 

Then I realized that trying to wear rayon tops at this time of the year was a strange act of defiance only made possible by handknit cardigans. Then I made the Keaton pants, and, finally, the loving embrace of brushed cotton snapped me out of my state of denial.

And that’s when I made the sketch above. That there is the truth about what I need in my winter wardrobe. No dresses and no skirts, it’s no country for them. Only pants, handknits, and knit tops allowed in the presence of snow shovels.

I see the light now and I’m finally replacing my well-worn RTW clothes with me-mades. Here’s what I’ve made so far:

First up, the Keaton pants + a trio of Plantain tees (I already have four long-sleeved ones, I should add).

I feel like I don’t praise the Plantain tee pattern enough. My photography skills are not up to hyping it up more as a basic, but it’s a brilliant pattern that’s helping me replace a lot of not-so-great RTW tops with ones that I really enjoy wearing that are also neutral enough to go with almost everything.

I’m thinking at this point that even if Deer and Doe decide not to go the PDF route I kind of owe it to them to do a transatlantic paper pattern purchase just to express my gratitude for this wonderful free pattern.

Up next, the first fruits of my Burda tracing frenzy (thanks to everyone who offered their tracing tips in response to my Instagram post): two pullovers from pattern 106 from Burda 8/2016.

On the gray one I messed up everything it was possible to mess up because I was sewing when I was tired. I figured (wrongly) that I could do some sewing in lieu of a nap. On the upside I learned to unpick serged seams and I got a wearable pullover in the end.

(Photos clearly inspired by the Leaning Tower of Pisa.)

Size-wise, it was pretty big and I shaved off quite a bit on the side seams. I also didn’t add enough of a seam allowance on the neckline. It was enormous and droopy. What saved it in the end was inventiveness forced by being down to pitifully small and narrow fabric scraps. I used a non-stretchy scrap cut lengthwise with the selvedge included.

The fabric was leftovers from an unblogged Oslo cardigan. I’ve seen some lovely makes from it pop up on Instagram. What I personally don’t love about it is its poor recovery.

On to the second one, also from leftovers. This thick interlock knit had already become a Finlayson pullover (another unblogged Christmas gift) and the black dress from this post.

This pattern is good for squeezing out of leftovers, thanks to the central back seam. By the way, that seam is brilliantly shaped — it comes in on the lower back, thus working as a sway-back alteration. I’m seeing that on many Burda patterns and it impresses me every time.

Not that you can necessarily tell but in those two bottom photos I’m attempting to show off the pleated detail on the sleeves. That detail is my favorite feature of this pattern.

The second time around I only added a seam allowance on the neckline and the central back seam. Still, I “smallified” it once again by shaving off a bit off the side seam.

Oh, and the cuffs are from a textured knit remnant I picked up at Joann a while back. Not that you can actually see that it’s a different fabric in these photos.

I give the pattern a solid thumbs up, “smallifying” efforts notwithstanding, since they’re just my preference, not a pattern issue.

I can’t wait to tackle the two Burda pant patterns I have on that list. The pleated pair is traced already, the other one not yet. The fabrics are pre-washed. I just need to either muslin or dive in with a bit of fake courage.

But after Katie’s post I fished out McCall’s 7445 out of my pattern stash and now I want to make those, too.

Decisions, decisions. I thank you in advance for wishes of an early spring. But I believe Punxsatawney Phil has already said no to that and the snow banks outside my window seem to be feeling very at home.

What’s your seasonal strategy for sewing? 

pattern review: Camas blouse

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Hello! How was your holiday-season making? I managed to to push myself to fulfill my admittedly somewhat unreasonable holiday work quota, ending up with three garments started and finished in one week. Three! It felt like sewing with the fast-forward button on — very not me, and very tiring at the end of it. Finishing up what luckily managed to be my holiday dress, I was dreaming of not sewing, so it was a bad place to be. But it’s not even two days later and I’m back to planning my next projects. The take-away from this for 2017 is as simple as “slow down, silly.”

Before we stumble into the tricky territory of resolution-making, let’s catch up. The Camas blouse is my next stop on the tour of Thread Theory patterns. Thanks to their generous sales, I’ve bought almost all of their patterns but have yet to make my way through the catalog. So far I’ve sewn several t-shirts from the Strathcona pattern (all well-loved and worn a lot but unphotographed), two Finlayson sweaters (the second yet to be blogged, but here’s the first one), and now, Camas, for me.

This project was a groundbreaking one for me, in unexpected ways. Big words, I know. After all my hesitating over shirt patterns, this is finally one I did make. And, yes, what decided in its favor was the fact that it’s a knit pattern, so whatever fit issues would possibly crop up were less likely to make the garment unwearable. Then again, in my book, a knit project means no muslin because I don’t have a stash of ‘throwaway’ knits matched to the weight and type of my ‘good’ knits.

Here, the fit risks are minor anyway because the design features gathering over the bust and on the back.

Gathering details: yes, you probably can’t see them very well in these photos

The pattern

I have the PDF version and was very pleased to see that the layout is both clear and fairly economical. It was quick to print out and assemble. The pattern includes both a body measurement chart and a finish measurement chart, so it’s easy to pick a size.

The instructions are well-written, easy to follow, and illustrated. In addition, there’s a sewalong on the Thread Theory blog, with lots of practical tips for sewing Camas in different weights and stretch percentages of knits, pattern hacks such as a cardigan and a dress, and even advice for making Camas in wovens.

Morgan’s cardigan from the sewalong (scroll through this post for photos of it) inspired me to test this design’s scrap-busting potential.

My alterations and experiments


First up, the alterations:

I did my usual forward-shoulder adjustment, which I will approach slightly differently next time I make this pattern (draw a new seamline from the original placement on the nexk to the forward position on the shoulder side).

I also raised the armhole slightly, and will perhaps raise it a bit more next time. There are good instructions for that alteration in the sewalong (in this post).

One unnecessary alteration I did (provoked by my usual experience with Colette and Big 4 patterns were the back always has too much length for me) was to lower the neckline on the back neck (that meant adjusting not just the back yoke but also the back neck binding). While the end result looks and wear okay, it’s a little low. Clearly, the original design is the better way to go. Lesson learned.

The experiments:

I combined lightweight knits with mid-weight knits, all having different stretch percentages. The back, fronts, and sleeves are in a lightweight black rayon knit, the yokes are a mid-weight gray jersey, lined with mid-weight white interlock knit remnants. The button bands are in a gray double-knit remnant. Upon reflection, that last fabric was not the worst choice but also definitely not the best one. The seam allowances needed some careful trimming or would have ended up too bulky inside the button band.

Finally, I added a mock-piping detail, using strips of the white interlock knit folded in half and basted to the outer yokes before joining the yokes to the back and fronts. I trimmed the seam allowances in the mock-piping strips to minimize the bulk as much as possible. As you can see in the photos of the back, there’s some stiffness there, but I think it works: there’s still some stretch left. And I think the effect was well worth the risk.

The trickiest part

The blouse untucked

The buttonholes, hands down. Morgan gives both tips and warnings in that respect. I was dreading the buttonholes and I did end up messing them up. I had incredible problems keeping the placement consistent — most of my buttonholes tilt away from the middle of the band toward the blouse front. But not uniformly. I didn’t even bother cutting them open, I just sewed the buttons on top, joining the two sides of the band. I’m not normally a fan of non-functional solutions but I definitely prefer them over failure.

Sew again

That’s my conclusion. Thumbs up all the way. I’m eyeing some more scraps for a cardigan version and the photos from Morgan’s fashion show of her graduation collection make me want to try a dress version. While some of the woven versions are interesting (and I’m really intrigued by Morgan’s idea of woven sleeves with a knit band insert!), I think I’ll stick with knits for this pattern.

With the new Thread Theory pattern release, the Lazo trousers, I’m afraid I’m in danger of becoming a copy cat. I really like Morgan’s design ideas.

Have you made Camas? Other pattern recommendations? Reflections on holiday sewing? I’d love to hear from you.

a monochromatic mini-wardrobe

A few stray rays of sunlight have broken through the cloud layer, so I bring you another post from the frozen planet Hoth. It’s snowplows and snow shovels outside. Here, inside the house, it’s been cat hair and frantic photo-taking, before the sun leaves us to more gray and darkness.

I maybe easily influenced by all this because my most recent sewing has been strictly in a black-white-gray color scheme. Winter camouflage. And, I hope, a solid core for a professional wardrobe to slowly take over for the RTW pieces that have dominated it so far.

Here’s what I made:

Burda deep pleat skirt (here’s my first attempt at this pattern), paired with my third version of the Astoria sweater from Seamwork

The deep pleat skirt with (from left) a black Plantain/Tonic tee mashup (made last winter, worn a lot), white Plantain/Tonic tee, and Astoria

The tops

In terms of the sewing process, I definitely prefer working with wovens. I can’t deny, though, that I get a lot of wear out of me-made knit tops. Overall, they fit me better and have better necklines than most of what I’d hunted down in the stores.

That said, while these two are tried-and-true patterns for me at this point, I keep refining the fit.

On the white Plantain/Tonic tee I stuck with my usual: the neckline, sleeves, and bust from Plantain blending to the more fitted shape from the Tonic tee under the bust. But I finally resolved the minor issue of wrinkles at the armhole by raising the armhole by 1 cm. I’ll keep that alteration for all my new versions.

I had already made that alteration pre-emptively to my very first Astoria (more details on my alterations to the pattern here). It was a good call and I’m definitely sticking with it if I make more. This one I also lengthened by 1.5″ so I can wear it with pants. I opted for the full-length sleeves this time, which I had to shorten by 4″ to get the desired bracelet length (more like “watch length” in my case).

Fabrics: both found at Joann — white mid-weight interlock knit (a synthetic blend) and a rather plasticky off-black mid-weight knit for the Astoria. The former is pleasantly soft on the body and breathes a bit, and I’m okay with the “rather plasticky” quality of the latter because I layer it over tops.

The Burda skirt

front and back

I really like how simple and clever this pattern is. I repeated most of my alterations from the first version, opting for a narrower waistband and not adding side pockets. I know it’s a controversial position, but I’ve discovered that I like pockets a lot but can often live without them.

Skipping the pockets allowed me to squeeze out one more skirt than planned from the 2 yards I bought of this houndstooth rayon-blend suiting (another Joann fabric, the tiniest houndstooth in their current collection).

Here it is, my bonus piece:

A-line mini based on the pencil skirt from Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing

the skirt with the Thread Theory Camas blouse, which needs a post of its own

I really like the double darts in this pattern. I’ve worn my first version a lot and have been meaning to make another. I only had enough fabric for a mini, and that only provided I cut the waistband on the cross-grain, so I widened the side seams to an A-line and hemmed the skirt with Hug-Snug to preserve as much length as possible.

Both skirts are lined (with regular ol’ polyester lining fabric); the linings have been attached with my first attempt at French tacks. The seams are bound with Hug Snug. It took me a while to get there but I am now a convert to sewing zippers in before sewing the side seams. The zippers I’ve inserted by reversing the sewing order in this way have been the neatest and most stress-free for me. It’s all thanks to Sheryll and her brilliant sewing tips.

I’m saving the last piece for another time — more on the Camas blouse soon.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you about your go-to colors and patterns. Do you like to sew mix-and-match sets? How do you plan your sewing? What inspires or influences you?