Sunday, January 8, 2017

Pattern Alterations - there is always something new to learn

Since shortly after Christmas, I have been under the weather with this virus that is going around, a long cold that hangs on and hangs on. So last week, since I couldn't do much except sit around, I treated myself to a couple of classes on Craftsy.

I chose two fitting classes with Pati Palmer and her daughter Melissa Watson. One is for fitting shirts and tops, the other for fitting knit tops. This is not new material to me, but having this in a video format is a new way of learning. I decided to actually take a pattern and follow their instructions to the letter and see what the results would be.

I chose The Fearless Tee from Material Things, an old t-shirt pattern that I have used for years with success. I wondered if I could improve upon the fit.

                                                     Fearless T-Shirt 

First up, I went down a size, using my high bust measurement to select the size. As Pati explained, when patterns were first produced, the bust meant that measurement above the bust. She said think of a sculpture of a "bust" and that is what was meant by a bust. The measurement that we take of our full bust is actual a measurement of our breasts. Huh, that made sense to me. And if you read the disclaimer in pattern catalogs, they will tell you to pick the size by your upper bust measurement unless there is less than 2" difference between high bust and bust, because then either measurement will put you into the same size.

So down a size I went, which meant that there was no way this pattern would go around my body.
On to a tissue fitting, following the order specified in the video. First off, I saw something new to me: the need for a high round back alteration. I didn't know I needed one, but it became obvious that I did. I also needed a broad back alteration as the tissue would not reach to my center back.

So I altered the upper back, slashing the pattern and spreading it 3/8" at CB and coming back to nothing at the armhole. Then I slashed the pattern through the shoulder seam right down to the lower edge and spread it 1/2"  Another fitting with the tissue and I was amazed. The back now fit but what amazed me was that my shoulder seam was now straight. I have been troubled by a weird shoulder seam for years, but it is the reverse of all the fitting books. Rather than having to alter the seam at the armhole edge, my seam was pulling toward the back at the neck edge. Adding 3/8" to the high round back released that area and the shoulder seam was now sitting right on the top of my shoulder where it should be.

Altering the front was easy; I needed a full bust alteration of 1 1/4" to provide enough circumference so that the centre front would meet my center front. And this meant I now had a bust dart added to the pattern. As Pati says, if you buy a $200 designer t-shirt, it will have a bust dart in it. If you don't like the appearance of a dart in a knit, she advises trimming the dart legs to 1/4" and pressing it up, rather than down. I did all of this and the only remaining alteration was to shorten the dart by 1/2" as it was too close to my apex.

I sewed up the new altered pattern in a bamboo knit that I bought last year from Blackbird Fabrics. The fit was good, it could be a little tighter in the front but that is easily fixed by sewing deeper side seams.

I decided to compare the new altered pattern with the one I had been previously using, which was the same pattern, but in one size larger. At first, the differences don't appear that big. But they are significant. First off, I have a shorter shoulder seam, which is good. The new back is slighter wider in the armhole area than the old pattern, and the broad back alteration makes the entire back larger from the armhole down. Previously I had been sizing up both front and back to make this fit.
The new front is narrower in the armhole area, which is an improvement. I often find bagginess in garments in this area. The FBA gives me the added room at the side seam, without making the rest of the tee larger.

The finished results mean that I now choose the large size in this pattern, with 1/2" more in the back, and 1 1/2" more at the front side seams with extra length. Using the extra large size did give me the circumference that I needed but not in the correct areas. Basically I am a smaller size in the back than in the front, it would appear. You know, I should have seen this previously as I can recognize this in my youngest daughter who seems to have inherited my upper body. She is short-waisted with a full bust and a broad back. I can easily see that in her, but it took this tissue-fitting to see this in myself.

So the new alterations do indeed give the room where it is needed. So rather than just getting a pattern to fit around me, the alterations have given me a pattern that is narrower where required, broader where required, and gives the extra length to the front that a full bust requires.

I am impressed with the results and am now going to use this pattern along with the cowl from Sewaholic's Renfrew Top to give a different look in a similar weight knit.

I am eagerly awaiting the materials to arrive that accompany the course; each course gives you a pattern and the fitting manual; you also have access to the video as much as you wish to watch it.
I will wait for the blouse pattern to arrive to make the alterations to that and then I will tackle the princess-line shirt that I wish to make into a tried-and-true pattern.

Many thanks to Pati Palmer and to Melissa for their efforts with this video. I know that Pati has been fitting a bazillion bodies for the past 45 years and her experience is evident. She is now passing that knowledge along to her daughter Melissa who seems to have the same love for fit and sewing that her mother has.


  1. Julie, thank you for your concise explanation of this fitting of a T. It really sounds as if those alterations are what I need also!

  2. Cherie, if you have Pati's book Fit for Real People,you can see these alterations done on Marta starting on page 96. They really do make a difference.