Vogue 1004 fitting shell in gingham

Pattern Fitting and the Fitting Shell

Once every seven years or so I get the itch to sew a garment. And every time the results disappoint me. The primary reason for this is the fit. It seriously never occurred to me before that patterns wouldn’t fit right out of the envelope. And when they didn’t fit, I blamed myself, thinking that my body was just a weird shape or I didn’t have the skills to make the item correctly.

So when I learned more recently that it’s uncommon for patterns to fit well right out of the envelope — that they’re just a guide to get started — it was highly enlightening. And encouraging!

There are so many options when it comes to pattern fitting, it was a little overwhelming to know where to begin. People seemed to favor one of two methods:

  1. slash and spread
  2. pivot and slide

I was most interested in the slash and spread, and fitting a muslin before jumping into nice fabric. Because I’m a visual learning, video classes are my go-to learning tools (I’m addicted to Craftsy and Creative Live). It was really hard to choose between the Craftsy classes Sew the Perfect Fit with Lynda Maynard and the Fast-Track Fitting series with Joi Mahon. A helpful Craftsy Comparison blog post on Bobbins & Whimsy described the differences between them, and the most compelling factor was that Joi teaches how to measure and fit the pattern before making the muslin, making a sewing buddy less necessary.

Joi teaches a logical approach that includes measuring the different sections of the body and adjusting the pattern in those specific sections. This allows the adjustments to be made where they match the body instead of just where the pattern’s existing adjustment lines are printed. And it gets the muslin much closer to a good fit the first time, although some fine-tuning is likely after the muslin is made.


Followed Crafty’s Fast-Track Fitting and Fast-Track Fitting: In the Details classes

Process notes

  • used Vogue Fitting Shell 1004 with 1″ gingham check fabric
  • traced off a copy of each pattern piece and left originals intact
  • forgot to pin out the darts when measuring the pattern against my body measurements, so had to trace off a second copy of each pattern piece
  • compared body measurements to pattern measurements and adjusted in batches (vertical first, then horizontal)
  • cut fabric one layer at a time to stay on grain
  • transferred pattern markings to fabric with transfer paper and wheel (and fabric pen for darts)


Vogue 1004 fitting shell in gingham check

Vogue 1004 fitting shell in gingham, torso

This was a fantastic learning experience. The best parts were:

  • gaining an understanding of how to compare body measurements to pattern pieces
  • learning how to change the pattern to fit me
  • gaining confidence that now I can adjust a pattern before cutting it out in the final fabric and it’ll fit so much better
  • the moment I tried on the muslin and saw how well the bodice fit
  • having the time to go through the entire fitting process on a practice garment rather than feeling pressured or rushed to fit a final garment

The most challenging parts were:

  • transferring the pattern markings to the fabric so they would show up
  • knowing how to make the pattern pieces for arm holes and sleeve cap fit each other
  • doing the math on the horizontal adjustments and still have the side seams match up
  • fitting the sleeves into the arm holes (causing many rounds of getting up and down from the sewing machine, trying on the muslin)

Forgetting to pin out the darts when measuring the pattern was actually a happy accident — it allowed me to experience the process of making pattern adjustments so that the second time it went much more smoothly. The first time, I made one adjustment at a time, in pace with the videos. But the second time I was able to see it more holistically and make smarter cutting choices.

Trying on the muslin for the first time was such a delight. The bodice (without sleeves) fit like a glove. The lower body needed a bit more wiggle room, but it was definitely in the ball park. To adjust the lower body I removed the front darts and increased the area and length of the back darts. In retrospect, I think it would have been better to adjust the sided seams and leave the front darts.

Attaching the sleeves to the arm holes was tricky! This by far took the longest time in the muslin fitting process. My primary hangup was the shoulder area — my shoulders are wide and I didn’t end up with quite enough fabric in that area. I never did fully resolve the sleeve fitting, but eventually had call it good enough to move on.

Once I had it fitting well enough, I went the seam lines with a marker and disassembled the muslin, then transferred the changes to the paper pattern. Mostly this was for gaining the experience doing it. It’s unlikely I’ll actually use the pattern again as it is. And I had to laugh because by the time the muslin was done, a few of the adjustments needed to be put back to the original pattern measurements.

What I learned and can apply to future garment fitting projects:

  • don’t be too stingy with seam allowances on the fitting garment
  • adjustments for wide shoulder and square shoulder should help my upper torso fitting issues (this method for square shoulders looks interesting because I also have the sway back)
  • a broad shoulder adjustment may be necessary (as in this method written about by A Fashionable Stitch)
  • it’s important to make horizontal adjustments in the right places so that the side seams still match up when joining the top to the bottom

It’s also become clear that it’s going to take practice and repetition to become confident about when pattern adjustments need to be made. My hope is that by making several different garment patterns in relatively quick succession things will become more intuitive.