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How to Make Clothes that Fit Well:

A major part of sewing clothes, whether for yourself or others, is achieving a good fit. There is no point in spending hours sewing and finishing a garment which doesn't fit well. Fittings should be done during the sewing process so that any adjustments can be made along the way. The best way to ensure a good fitting item of clothing is to sew a basic sample first, also called a tailors toile. This is made up is similar, cheap fabric using big stitches, no overlocking or finishing, and usually no buttons or zip. Only the major parts of the garment are needed, like the body and sleeves. You would not need to add cuffs, pockets, facings or details at this point but remember to stay stitch any edges to avoid stretching in these areas.

The sample is worn with the closures secured with pins or hand tacking, and if possible check the front and back fit in front of a full length mirror. From this sample you can see how your final garment will look. If you are pleased with the fit then you may cut your actual cloth, but any fit issues should be corrected by amending your flat pattern first.

Flat Pattern Adjustments:

Basic sewing patterns can be easily altered after fitting your sample but ensure that you know the basic pattern requirements. Ensure that you keep the grainlines straight. These would follow a centre front or back, or centre sleeve. For pattern pieces which are symmetrical, the grain should run along the centre fold or 90 degrees to it (follow the original pattern marking). The centre front or any pieces cut on a fold should remain straight.

Remember that most patterns contain "ease" which makes the garment comfortable to wear and maintains the desired silhouette, so try not to take out too much ease when fitting. On most basic patterns, a front and a back piece each represents a quarter of your body, so when adding or taking out a circumference measurement, be sure to alter this evenly around the pattern. Ensure that changes made to one piece are also made to corresponding pieces, like pinching out fabric from an armhole needs to be done to the bodice and the sleeve. When the alteration is done, smooth all cutting lines and ensure that the seam allowance is correct. For making pattern alterations you need your fitted sample and tape measure as well as spare paper, scissors and sellotape to hand.

Common Fit Issues: Length

You may find that your sample is bunching at the waist so the body length needs to be shortened, but then the hem is too short so that needs to be lengthened. Most sewing patterns will show the best places for the pattern to be shortened or lengthened, marked with a solid horizontal line. Cut along the relevant line on all corresponding pattern pieces, then lengthen this area by adding paper underneath, or shorten the area by folding the piece at this point. This is often best to do at the under bust, at the waistline, at the hipline and at the hem. Ensure all edges are then smoothed off and matching the corresponding pieces.

Sleeves may also be shortened or lengthened in the same way, usually through the area of the bicep and the forearm. Try to not interfere with the armhole or cuff if it is just the length you need to change.

- In this photo, the overarm is too short causing pulling over the shoulder, and the bust is too tight.

Common Fit Issues: Bust, Waist & Hip

Alterations to the circumference of your sewing pattern can help you to achieve a real "made-to-measure" fit. No two people are the same size or shape in the same areas of their body, so altering the bust, waist or hip to fit your own curves can make for better fitting and more comfortable clothes.

When making alterations to these areas it is usually best to do a second sample or toile to make sure the garment fits well. Try not to interfere too much with any existing darts, but add or reduce through the side seams of the front and back pieces if possible (remembering to add to the sleeve inseam to ensure it still fits).

For a larger bust you may need to cut through the dart and add into this area, making sure the centre front stays straight. You may also add more to the front side seam and less to the back. For a smaller bust you could reduce the bust dart slightly and reduce the side seams evenly on the front and back pieces, always checking that the pieces will fit together when sewn.

Adding or reducing the waist should be done at the waistline, evenly throughout all pieces making sure that your new seams meet smoothly at the bust and waist areas. Avoid taking out too much on only one area as this can create pulling when the garment is worn and the silhouette will not flow well. These techniques can also be used when combining two different sizes across one pattern.

Common Fitting Issues: Trousers

When choosing a trouser sewing pattern, go for one which will flatter your figure without causing too many fit issues, especially if your waist and hip measurements fall in different size categories. If your hip is a larger size than your waist, start with you hip size pattern, or visa versa if your waist is a bigger fit size. The waist should be snug and there should always be enough ease around the hip to allow for walking and sitting, so check this when you fit your sample.

One of the most common problem areas when fitting trousers is the crotch. Only when you get the fit right at the crotch should you make any other fit adjustments, as altering this area affects all other areas on a trouser. It is important to keep the grainlines straight down the leg as they are on the original sewing pattern. When shortening or lengthening the crotch, do this horizontally across the pattern on the front and back pieces. It is better to shorten and lengthen though the low hip area rather than lowering or raising the waistline as this may throw the waist measurements off.

If you find that there is too much fabric or not enough at the crotch by the inner thigh (where all four seams meet), then you may add or reduce slightly at this area from the crotch down the inner leg seam on the front and back. To add length to the back crotch only, cut a horizontal line from the back rise seam to the side seam and open a dart the required amount at the centre back to nothing at the side seam. Ensure lines are smoothed off at the back rise seam. The reverse of this can be done to reduce only at the back by folding out a dart in the pattern.

Adding to the waist circumference can be done in a similar way to a top or dress pattern, by distributing the amount needed between all seams at the sides, front rise and back rise. Make sure any waistbands are also added to! If you need to add to the thigh area only, this can be done by adding onto the seams from the lower hip area and from the top of the inside leg seam. Distribute the measurement evenly between all pieces.

Often if there is a fit issue at the trouser crotch, there are lines of fabric either pulling up toward the top hip or down to the thigh area. If these pulling lines point towards the waist then the crotch needs to be lengthened. If these lines point downwards then the crotch should be reduced.

If you have fuller hips then you may need to extend the back width at the waist and the inside leg area of the crotch. This would be the same if you have more shaping over your lower belly, you would need to add to the width of the front rise waist and the inside leg. Once again, any pattern alterations made to one piece should match any corresponding pieces.

Final Fitting:

If you do quite a few alterations, it would be best to do a second sample to fit again. Only when you are happy with this should you cut into your actual fabric. Of course you should use your discretion based on the style of the garment you are making. Casual or loose fitting clothing may need less altering whereas evening wear or tailored items would need more. If you are a standard size through bust, waist and hip, then you may be able to cut your pattern into your actual cloth and fit as you sew. Always remember when you've pinned or tacked an alteration in place, walk or sit to ensure the alteration works for the purpose go the item you are making. All of these fitting points should make for beautifully fitting clothes.

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