Steely Seamstress

Sewing for life

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Improved t-shirt fit: some initial thoughts

Lately I have been trying to improve the fit of my clothes. Nothing major, it isn’t as if I have massive fit problems with my clothes, but I’m just getting ultra fussy and I’m intrigued to see if starting from scratch will yield improvements.

The first fit improvements I made were to sleeveless tops. I did suffer from gaping armhole problems here. I drafted a custom bodice and when I made a new top, used the improvement armhole and dart size and positioning to get a much better fitting top.

More recently, I have wanted to tackle the fit of my t-shirts. I have used various patterns and some fit better than others. During the sewing weekender I tuned in to Jenny from Cashmerette and was interested in her thoughts on fit. I must admit I have never used a Cashmerette pattern and have generally thought of it as a pattern company aimed at the curvy market. My body is the opposite, being very straight, with hardly any difference between bust, waist and hip. But, on discovering that I needed to make essentially a full bust alteration on my custom bodice, I thought that perhaps looking at the sizing Cashmerette offers might be interesting.

To find out what size you are, Cashmerette offers a sizing calculator. So I made the four measurements it calls for; High Bust, Full Bust, Waist and Hip.

The one measurement I had real problems with was the High Bust. After showing Mister Steely my armpit several times, we concluded that ‘measuring tape over the top of your bust and underneath your armpits’ is not a very diagonal measurement for me. Is that significant? I don’t know. I tried and my measurements ranged from 82-84 cm for the High Bust, so I decided to enter both of these into the calculator.

The two resulting calculations are below:

Those calculations are using the cup size though that I used to buy in the shops. However, when I measured my cup size for the Simplicity 8229 bra I calculated that I was a C cup. However, this uses a Chest measurement (under the bust), rather than the High Bust measurement. So, I tried this out on the calculator and got these results:

At least it wasn’t too inconsistent, despite my difficulties with pinning down one of the measurements:

Size 4 C/ D for the bust

Size 12 for the waist

Size 2 at the hip

There will be quite a bit of grading between sizes as I expected, and I won’t be doing that small bust adjustment.

Luckily, the Sewing Weekender armed me with a discount for Cashmerette patterns. The Concord t-shirt (I keep thinking it should be spelled with the extra e, like the Concorde plane) was just what I was looking for – a good basic t-shirt with several variations in length, sleeve-length and neckline.

I have chosen some not terribly exciting jersey for this pattern, but I fully intend to make some boring workhorse t-shirts.

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An examination of rise (also known as where is my waist?)

I’m periodically bemused by all those Sunday Supplement views on fashion. I’m showing my age here, because I don’t think that many people actually buy printed copies of newspapers. However, I couldn’t think of another generic term to describe those articles where the author tells you about the latest “must have” trend and seems to imply that your life isn’t work living unless you have this blazer or that midi skirt. So, one of these trends that is commonly spoken about is for high-waisted trousers. In fact, I would say that the high-waisted trouser is something much talked about in the sewing world too. The trouble is I don’t really know what is meant by “high-waisted”. Sounds odd I know, but bear with me as I try to explain.

Where is my waist?

First of all, I suppose let’s define where the waist is, because I’ve found there isn’t just one answer for this.

According to this site (medical) this is how we should measure our waist:

  1. Remove or wear thin clothing around the abdomen and hips.
  2. Hold the tape measure between the top of the hipbone and the bottom of the ribs. 
  3. Breathe out normally.
  4. Bring the tape around the waist. 
  5. Do not hold the tape too tight and ensure the tape measure is straight around the back. 
  6. Record the measurement.

The above instructions sound logical, but how about “between the top of the hipbone and the bottom of the ribs”? Depending on your body there could be quite a bit of difference between the hipbone and the ribs.

This site (scientific) maintains that the waist circumference should be measured 2.5cm above the umbilicus. However, the authors were interested in the measurement that the best explains abdominal fat mass.

When I am taking measurements for sewing though, my primary aim is to make comfortable garments, so what do the sewing websites say? I found Jenny at Cashmerette advice probably the best. She asks you to consider the following question – “where do I want the intended waist on my garment to hit me?” She also provides the following advice for people who are pretty straight and up and down (which best describes my shape) – “You can pick wherever you want, and it becomes more about the proportion of upper: lower body in a garment that you prefer”. This explains a lot about my ambivalence when it comes to rise.

What is rise?

Rise is the distance from the middle of the crotch seam (right between your legs) to the top of the waistband. According to my online research, rise can vary from 7 inches to 12 inches (both these websites mention this range – I find it odd that the range is quoted as the same for men and women).

I found this handy picture on this website, describing the fit of jeans:

Diagram showing the fit of jeans

How to choose the rise I prefer for my trousers?

I have just been measuring the rise of the jeans I am currently wearing. It is 6 inches. The measurement is so low it fits below the range I quoted above. These jeans are very old and were bought in the noughties when rise so low you can see most of the person’s bottom was the prevailing trend. But on me they sit exactly at the top of my hip bone and across my belly button. What I can conclude from this is that my anatomy is quite different from the average in this respect and I have a very short body.

Using this website as a guide, low-rise is described as 3 inches below the navel (even lower than the diagram above), mid-rise is described as 9 – 11 inches , and high-rise as over 10 inches. This means that for my body wearing a low-rise pair of trousers at two to three inches below the navel would be very indecent on me! Given that my preferred rise is about 6 – 7 inches, this means that all those trendy high-waisted trousers with rises of over 10 inches wouldn’t be high-waisted at all, but would come up over my ribs and be competing with the bottom of my bra! Or most likely they just wouldn’t stay at this height and just ride down the whole time.

Below I’ve inserted a picture of me wearing my Palisade shorts. These shorts are a toile and the rise is really too high. It isn’t that evident from the picture, but the shorts tend to slide down resulting in a drop crotch look, which isn’t the look I’m after.

Shorts – t-shirt tucked in

I have learned that rise is a measurement unique to the individual and where they wish to wear the waist of their trousers. It seems rather neglected by the pattern companies though. Why don’t we get jeans patterns, for example with different rises, just like there are many pattern companies now doing different cup sizes? I had a look at a few jeans patterns and quite a few describe the pattern according to rise. Of course, that rise will look quite different on different people:

Ginger jeans (Closet Core Patterns) are described as low-rise

Jamie Jeans (Named Clothing) are described as regular-rise

Birkin flares (Paper Dahl), Ames jeans (Cashmerette)and Dawn jeans (Megan Nielsen) are all described as high-rise

Admittedly it isn’t a particularly difficult adjustment to make, provided that the pattern has lengthen/ shorten lines. For me, it is one of the most common changes I make to trouser patterns. It is also worth bearing in mind that you may need a different size of zip if you alter the rise by a substantial amount. (This is one of the reasons why I buy haberdashery as I go along and not at the beginning of a project, tempting as it may be to have everything to hand at the start). The explanation for short rise given here makes me wonder about how this rise is drafted trousers in menswear. Short rise is not the same as low rise. Sadly, I couldn’t find more information on this. I wonder whether there should in fact by two lengthen / shorten lines on trouser sewing patterns; one above the zip and one below?

So, am I any the wiser about what high-waisted trousers are? Yes, I suppose I am. But at the same time, I realise that I am never going to wear them “off-the-shelf”, either from a shop or directly as drafted by the pattern company. They simply wouldn’t fit or be comfortable. I think I’ll continue to do those rise adjustments.


#MakeNine2019 – Making a bodice block for a sleeveless top using Metric Pattern Cutting by Winifred Aldrich Part 1

One of my #MakeNine2019 projects was to make a bodice block. The reasons for this are simple; I have an unusually shaped upper body. All my life it has been tricky to find tops that look good on me; I never wore RTW fitted shirts or blouses because they simply didn’t fit at all. But even since I started sewing my own clothing, I have struggled to create sleeveless tops, in particular, that are well fitted with the more usual fitting adjustments. I end up with gaping arm-scyes in particular.

For this reason, I thought I’d stop the tinkering-round-the-edges approach I have until now adopted for fitting my tops and try creating a bodice block from scratch using a pattern cutting book as a reference. I found Metric Pattern Cutting by Winifred Aldrich in a charity shop, and immediately snapped it up. It’s old, but a classic.

Step 1

According to the book, the first step is to take all the measurements I need. The book has a handy section on which measurements to take and how to take them. For example, the sleeve length is measured by placing your hand on your hip so tat your arm is bent and then measuring from the shoulder bone over the elbow to the wrist bone above the little finger.

Body measurements

Body measurements

Before I started, I made some predictions about how my body might vary from the standard measurements and it was no surprise to find that I have a very much shorter waist to hip measurement, larger waist and wider back.

Here’s a table of my measurements. The dart and armhole depth (in red) are standard measurements and I didn’t include the measurements that would be needed for a dress / skirt, like the waist to floor measurement, because I won’t be needing that for making a top.

Bodice block measurements

Bodice block measurements

Step 2

The next step takes you through drafting the block. I used some squared paper and followed the instructions for the “close fitting bodice block”. To make everything clear, I marked my final lines in green felt-tip pen.

Close fitting Bodice Block

Close fitting Bodice Block

Step 3

For a sleeveless block there are some additional instructions to transform the bodice block from step 2 above so that it will work for sleeveless tops. These involve drawing new side seams and armhole depths. I’ve marked these onto my block in orange felt-tip pen.

Sleeveless Bodice Block

Sleeveless Bodice Block

So far so good. My next step involves transferring my front dart from the shoulder to the underarm and then making a toile. I think this is where the fun will start. I have some more predictions for this step; there will be some further adjustments to make as there will be some gaping at the armhole, which means I’ll need to make a full bust adjustment….just a prediction….

I can see why I’ve put off doing this process before. It does seem easier to just go with the rough size on a pattern, make some small adjustments and live with the fit I get on the finished garment. I would say that the fit isn’t too bad (nothing anyone else would notice), but I’m getting fussier as time goes by. I can see though some more benefits for getting this right. I’ll have a block that I can use to make my own designs and I’ll really be able to dive into the Pattern Magic books with more confidence.

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Skill Ratings and Beginners Projects

I spent a little time recently thinking back to when I first started sewing clothes in earnest. What sort of advice would I give my beginner self? I googled “beginner sewing projects” and “beginner sewing patterns”, and I realised that my thoughts around what projects I should have tackled at the beginning didn’t really coincide with the advice on the internet. I thought this was interesting and worthy of a blog post. I hope my ramblings are useful.

On the Colette blog, when it was still updated regularly a while back, I remember reading this post on skill building. Certainly, Colette aren’t the only company to use skill or difficulty ratings for their patterns, there are many others that do so. However, I thought I’d use a couple of their patterns to illustrate my thoughts because they tend to share their processes with their customers well and have written about how they rate their patterns in this skill ratings post.

The Amber dress is labelled, like many of their seamwork patterns as a beginner pattern. Their Aster shirt is labelled as intermediate. Clearly, there are more potentially fiddly details, like buttonholes, in making the Aster shirt. Sewing clothes, though is not just about sewing techniques. Sewing clothes requires considering fit. Looking at those two Colette patterns again, I’m wondering whether getting that Amber dress bodice to fit snuggly is any easier, than getting good-looking buttonholes on the Aster shirt? The Aster shirt has a more relaxed fit, will this make it an easier garment?

Colette Pattern Skill Ratings

It made me realise that difficulty ratings are usually based solely on the techniques involved in making a garment. I have found getting decent fit to be so tricky, particularly when I started sewing clothes. In fact, I could probably insert an invisible zip or sew a buttonhole without any instructions at all these days, but have much more to learn about fit. Not only that, if I should happen to make clothes for someone else with a body shape distinctly different from my own, I’d need to completely revisit what I have learned so far.

So bearing this in mind, I’ve put together a list of early makes which had fit problems and those that were successes. And I’ve looked into how fit considerations were so important for the outcome.

1. Wrap dress

Overall Assessment:

This wrap dress (Butterick 5898) was one of the first items that I made and I have long considered it less than satisfactory. The fit in the bodice is terrible and from the off I have considered it a fit disaster. I have worn it but with an extra t-shirt layer underneath to fill out the bodice and improve the fit.

What went wrong?

I was so fixated on making a garment that didn’t include closures, because I thought that they would be “difficult”. Consequently, I chose a dress that had no zips or buttonholes, but I didn’t take into account how difficult it would be to get the fit right on the wrap bodice. I don’t wear dresses much so it was probably a style mistake too.

What would I do differently?

I just wouldn’t make this dress now. Looking at the bodice, a little tinkering would not suffice to get a better fit. I would have to completely redo the bodice, these are the changes I would have to make:

  • Changing the length of the cross-over which is too long.  I have a short body, and shortening the bodice would necessitate a re-model of the cross-over and its facing (by changing its angle) so that the tie falls at waist height and across the body far enough to meet the left-hand tie in the correct place.
  • Changing the front bodice as this appears to be too large with the exception of the bust measurement. The bust darts fall at the correct place.
  • Changing the arm holes so that they do not gape.

All in all, I have reckoned that I would be better off drafting my own wrap dress instead of trying to modify this pattern. I was so disgusted by this garment I got rid of this pattern! Never again!

Wrap Dress

2. Sorbetto top

Overall Assessment:

The fit on this Sorbetto top isn’t too bad. It’s always been wearable, but then I have revisited this top and made adjustments. The subsequent Sorbettos benefitted from these amendments.

What went wrong?

I listened too much to internet opinion. The Sorbetto is a popular “beginners” pattern and it’s free. Who doesn’t like to embark on a new hobby as cheaply as possible?

What would I do differently?

I have discovered that fitted tops are a difficult area for me, particular a top such as this which needs to be close-fitting. These are the changes I would have to make:

  • Enlarge the armholes, so that they don’t cut awkwardly underneath the arm. I made this change to this top, last year to make the top a little more comfortable to wear.
  • Enlarge the bust dart a little, this would make any gaping at the arm hole, resulting from it’s enlargement less likely.
  • Widen the back at the centre back line, to accommodate my wide back.

I would be comfortable doing these pattern adjustments these days, but it has taken me a while to learn that these need to be made so that a fitted top is more comfortable. Knowing this, I probably shouldn’t have tackled this type of top in the early days. I would imagine that the Sorbetto would actually provide even more problems if you really did need to do a FBA (full bust adjustment) and didn’t know / appreciate that you needed to do one. Beginners don’t always realise that most patterns are drafted for B-cups. The recent Sorbetto top pattern has been drafted for a C-cup.

Sorbetto Top Annotated

3. Goth Skirt

Overall Assessment:

The fit on this skirt isn’t terrible at all. In fact, I would say it is fine, but only after I added belt loops to the skirt. (This skirt was a free pattern from the Be My Goth website, now no longer available).

What went wrong?

This was the skirt that made me realise that I do need lots of ease in the waist. My waist seems to vary quite a bit during the course of a day. This skirt would literally fall down to my hips in the morning and sit on my belly after dinner!

What would I do differently?

I have a couple of ways for reliably handling this dilemma. The first is to build extra ease into the waist measurement to make sure it isn’t tight after dinner and then put belt loops on the skirt or trousers. A belt can be adjusted and make the skirt or trousers fit snuggly whatever the time of day.

Madelaine Skirt

Apart from belt loops I also find that wide yokes on my skirts and trousers are a good way to “mould” a garment more to my shape and I look for trousers and skirts with this design. I also find that graded (curved) yokes are generally better fitting and don’t gape at the back (more of a problem for trousers).

Here are a list of my early successes and why they fit so well. I’ve also included a pick of patterns that are similar to my “successful” make for reference.

1. Boho top

Overall Assessment:

I loved this top (Butterick 5357) from the moment I made it. I have made two versions of this top and I really must make some more.

Why was it a good choice of pattern?

The top is very loose-fitting and the “tighter” areas are fitted with elastic. I can imagine that just picking the size based on bust measurement and making up the garment with no alterations is a real possibility for this pattern.

Boho top

Boho top

Patterns that use a loose silhouette:

Clockwise from the top left:

Mccalls M6843 – loose fitting trousers. I know a lot of beginner project lists recommend making pajama trousers, but not everyone wants to wear those. I like these trousers as they would make excellent summer trousers and have some cute pockets

Wiksten Kimono Jacket – a fairly new pattern, but seems to be a firm favourite on Instagram.

Butterick 6575 – The pattern I used is out of print, but here’s a similar loose fitting Butterick pattern

Loose-Fitting Woven Projects

Why restrict yourself to woven fabrics? I was very intimidated by knit fabrics in the beginning, but are they so difficult? A stable knit fabric, in my opinion is just as easy as a woven.

From the left:

Inari Dress – This uses a firm jersey, such as ponte roma.

Hudson Pants – Joggers in a medium-weight jersey, such as sweatshirting or French terry.


Loose Fitting Knit Projects

2. Goth shirt

Overall Assessment:

Blouses and shirts were a no-go RTW area for me as those in the shops never fitted. I couldn’t have been more pleased when I finally made a this fitted shirt that …… well, actually fitted.

Why was it a good choice of pattern?

This shirt has princess seams and princess seams are your friend! Any design that incorporates them is a great choice for getting a shirt or dress to fit. You can always choose a size or two larger than that which will fit based on the bust/ waist / hip measurements and then tack the garment together. You can try the garment on and make tweaks to the seams so that it fits as snugly as you wish. Finally you can sew it up knowing that the adjustments you have made will work.

Patterns that use princess seams:

From the top:

Butterick B5526 – A great pattern with various shirt choices including a princess seamed variation

Style Arc Sussex cape dress – A dress with princess seams

Princess Seams Projects

3. Custom-drafted skirt

Overall Assessment:

This fits like a glove as it should! Interestingly, I found I had to diverge a little from the instructions to take into account my body shape, but it highlighted for me why it has been so difficult to find RTW clothes that fit.

Custom pencil skirt

Custom pencil skirt

Why was it a good choice of pattern?

Learning about pattern cutting, even in such a limited capacity has helped me appreciate considerations about fit that I wouldn’t otherwise have contemplated. Making a skirt from a custom sloper is probably the easiest garment to draft from scratch. There are many good tutorials on line and also Craftsy classes that can guide you through the process for trousers and bodice fitting.

Tutorials and classes about pattern cutting / drafting online:

Custom skirt sloper tutorial from So Sew Easy. This is the tutorial I used for this skirt.

A trouser fitting guide from Sew Over It

Leena’s bodice sloper

A search on Craftsy for all patternmaking courses

Of course, it takes time to build up your sewing skills, and making well-fitting garments in particular takes time. One of the most disheartening things as a newbie is making a garment that you don’t feel proud to wear. Who wants to wear a top you can’t move your arms in or a garment so loose that wardrobe malfunction is inevitable? I hope this post is useful for highlighting a few options for maximising fitting success or alternatively with the looser garments, making that illusive perfect fit not so necessary. As with other skills just taking small steps along the learning curve with each project can lead to real improvements in the success of your next project. Once you have a garment that fits well, it can always be a useful guide for when you try out a different pattern.

Happy sewing and learning to you all!