Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Starting Point for Getting a Good Fit

Fit is one of the most exciting and challenging things about sewing. A well-fitting garment can make you look like you’ve lost 15 pounds, and it can also really improve the polish of the garments you construct.

So how do you do that?

Introducing the Body Graph 

The best book I have found to help me understand how to fit garments is Fit for Real People. It’s got lots of great details around modifying patterns for particular fitting challenges. It all begins with helping you understand how your body is different than what pattern companies design for.

Buy this book. Look at all these happy women and their properly fitting clothes!

The big  pattern companies like McCalls, Simplicity, Butterick, etc. basically use the same sloper (a master pattern with no seam allowances) for their patterns. In order to get a good fit, you need to understand how your body compares with the “ideal” that they have designed for. You can do this with the body graph.

How to Make a Body Graph 

The book has great step-by-step instructions with illustrations. Here’s a general idea of what to do:
  1. Trace your body onto a large piece of butcher paper. 
  2. Mark a few key points:
    (a) Top and bottom of head
    (b) Shoulder
    (c) Waist
    (d) Hip (where your thighs join, also mark the widest part of your hip if this is different)
    (e) Knee
  3. Divide your body up based on these key points. In the “ideal” body, all these are equally distributed. 
  4. Start comparing your body to what the pattern company’s design for. There is a wonderful worksheet in the book that walks you through it step-by-step. You’ll be looking at things like the width of your body at certain points, the slope of your shoulders, etc.

What I Learned About My Body 

Now is the part where I reveal quite a bit about my figure in hopes of helping you understand this.

Here is my body graph:

Notice something right away? 

My Left Leg is ¼ of an Inch Bigger than my Right Leg! 

Readers, let me tell you, I never even knew this was the case. Even looking at my legs now, I can’t really tell the difference. But, boy does it matter when you’re fitting clothes. Take exhibit A here, a pair of pants I am currently working on (Butterick 5895).

See that? Excess fabric because Slim is so thin. 

All I had to do was take in the leg a little bit on my right side. Ta da! Now I’ll have a great fitting pair of pants.

I Don’t Have Broad Shoulders, I Have Square Shoulders

I always thought I had very broad shoulders. So much so, that I would stay away from puffy or fluttery sleeves lest it draw attention to them. Turns out I have been operating under a misapprehension!

The shoulder slope the pattern companies are designing for is 1 5/8 inches. I have a ¼ inch slope to my shoulders! This makes them square. The shoulder width is 4 ¾ inches, mine is 4 ¼ inches. So mine are not broad. So now I have no fear about wearing things like the lovely Colette Taffy and looking like a linebacker.

I am Short-Waisted

According to pattern companies, your waist should be mid-way between your underarm and where your thighs join. I have 18 1/4 inches between my underarm and where my thigh join. So here’s an image that will show you the differences between me and the ideal:

If you’re more than 1” above or below the “ideal” then your short or long-waisted for your height. I am short-waisted.  I like wearing high-waisted skirts and pants because it allows me to accentuate the thinnest part of my torso. I also find it to be more comfortable because it matches the shape of my body!

How You Use This 

Going into any project, I know up front that I will have changes to the pattern based on my body graph. Things like:

  1. A full bust adjustment. The major pattern companies design for a B-cup in the “ideal” form.
  2. Shortening the waist.
  3. Adjusting the shoulders to account for my squareness. 
  4. Taking in the right leg a bit on pants. 
  5. Etc.
See? You’ll have to make adjustments based on each of these items in order to get the garment to fit you properly. Fit for Real People also includes great instructions for how to make each of these changes.

A Caveat for Indie Pattern Companies

Indie pattern companies don’t work off the same slopers as the big ones, so you’ll likely have to make different adjustments. At least you understand your body enough to know what that might be!

For example, Colette Patterns designs for a C-cup instead of a B. I’ve found Gertie’s patterns from her book always require narrow shoulder adjustments for me, and I don’t usually have to make those changes for the larger pattern companies.

An Ode to Chubs 

In closing, I will leave you with a limerick in ode to Chubs, my left leg.

Oh Chubs, you throw things off kilter
It’s a wonder I don’t just change to a quilter!
Because of my body graph
I can just laugh
Instead of being bewildered!


  1. Thanks for sharing this. I have found a croquis traced from a photograph incredibly useful in developing my eye for my own proportions. This seems incredibly useful in a more tangible way. Fit for Real People just floated to the top of my reading list.

    1. I never made the connection with a croquis, but you're totally right! I'm glad you found it helpful!

  2. This looks like such a useful exercise, but I don't know that I'm secure enough to actually do it! I will see if my library has that book though, as a first step :)

    1. Yes, there's a picture in the book of a woman with a bag over her head that is meant to convey the same idea - it's a bit frightful to think of doing it! I find it's best to approach it with humor and curiosity - it will certainly help you with getting clothes that look better on your figure (even if it is slightly lopsided like mine). Good luck!

  3. Thx and brilliant never knew all this, so guess what I'm going to be doing!!!! :)

    1. You're welcome! I hope it went well for you!

  4. That's great idea. I was doing a little different apporoach but the result is that I know now what and where to adjust. I have made a basic bodies, skirt and dress (and I am woring now on pants) to have a template so I could always check the pattern.
    The most important is to know yourself, your pluses and minuses to achieve the best fit.

    1. Exactly! I have seen some folks that use the same method, and it seems to work very well for them. You can do a quick check to match a pattern to see if it will fit you before beginning. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Great information! I am sure I will find it very useful. Thank you for sharing. :D

    bonita of Depict This!

  6. This was useful as I've just picked this book up from the library! I'll make good use of it for the 3 weeks while I have it out :)

    1. Oh, how lucky! I love getting sewing books from the library.