Yesterday, I got fed up with always having to manually compare my measurements to a pattern and finally started marking up my cheap ass dress form. The same one I bought with a coupon back in the day — before I knew what to do with it and eons before sewing blogs took off and all the editorial sewists we love to stalk started hugging wolves. As affordably ugly as it is, my dress form has always been an untapped resource for faster fitting. Until now.
I took the dress that fits me best, put it on the form, and chalk-marked the key areas I’m always double-checking when preparing to sew a new pattern. Then, I applied skinny masking tape to the chalked lines. After using the set up to test and correct a final version of the BHL Anna bodice — which I would’ve sorted out in the first muslin had this reference point for my preferred empire waistline been in my life —I rewarded my win with some Washi Tape embellishing.
The tape won’t last forever. I like to think of it as the temporary tattoo I designed to give my fitting assistant a makeover. My headless, fuzzy fitting assistant that looks like a set prop in a muppet horror movie (the only reason I need not to creep myself out further by giving it a name). Instead of fading after a few showers, this tattoo will curl at the edges and slowly peel off in the sun.
I am thrilled that the usefulness of my dress form has evolved beyond my first quasi-customization of 38DD animal print bra stuffed with batting (my lazy attempt at customizing it after the 2006 duct tape dress form I made with some strangers in a library at my first ever sewing club meeting, met an accident on the subway ride home). It’s now sporting the demarcation lines I’ve been missing all this time:
- My most flattering v-neck line with a flower to mark my that cleavage point-of-no return-spot.
- My armhole. Particularly the shoulder and underarm lines of my preferred sleeveless silhouette.
- My side seam length. I am short-waisted, but the depth of my bust eats up so much length, that it’s often hard to tell wear my waistline should sit. The top of the two pink strips indicates my empire and natural waistlines (three fingers above my belly button).
- The back neckline of my go-to bodice. If I was draping a new bodice or preparing to fit a pattern with a collar, I’d probably mark the high neckline with a necklace just like I do when recording my real body measurements.
Looking at it now, it’s seems like an obvious hack. I won’t be googling it or anything, but I suspect I am not the first person to pimp out her dress form with Washi tape. It’s like the sticky crack of the craft world! I use the stuff to tape ridiculous things like grocery lists. When I do, I swear that I remember all the things on the list even when I show up to the market without it. There’s something about making the mundane pretty that boosts its benefit.
My fitting process — which, in a time-lapse video would look like a violent struggle with hot flashes— still involves getting naked at my sewing machine to try on the 1.0 and 2.0 versions of my garments. But these Washi tape lines have really helped me to stop underestimating the silent, linty Sleepy Hollow character that also tries on my clothes. My next step is to verify the waistline with a level and tape-mark my preferred untucked and tucked blouse hemlines (at high and low hip).
How do you use your dress form for fitting? Or, if you don’t have one, what solo fitting techniques have you mastered?
True story: I made a top from a commercial pattern with NO alterations.
What? No way!
Yes way. And, I’ve been giddy like a school girl ever since I discovered how.
. A simple pattern for a woven tee with A through D-cup options. I sewed the D-cup top from view D with the 3/4 sleeves from view E: making the uncredited view F (my check from McCall’s is in the mail, I just know it).
I strategically bought the 8 to 16 multi-size range so I could try avoiding my usual petite alteration above the bust (narrow shoulder/chest) and requisite muslin.
What I’ve discovered is that I am actually a size 8 AND 16. My shoulders and back waist length are a size 6, while the rest of me is roughly a size 16. Now, that’s in Big 4 pattern sizing, but the same concept applies to multi-sized indie patterns not graded for petites (thank you SBCC
and Petite Plus
patterns for representin’). The smallest or near smallest size in the size range will likely fit my neck and shoulders best.
When I cut just a size 16, the shoulders are too wide, there’s too much length above the bust and the armhole fits wonky, so I always make a muslin to find out how much length and width to take out of a pattern above the bust (below the bust changes are easier to figure out with flat pattern measuring). This is in ADDITION to the full bust adjustment I require for B-cup drafted patterns and the extra length I usually have to take out below the waist. Since I’m 5 feet tall and most patterns are drafted for gals around 5 foot 6 inches, if I am making a dress, there could be up to 6 inches of extra length I have to remove!
My incentive for finding an alteration-free method of sewing is strong. Before my daughter was born, there was all the time in the world for hacking and slashing patterns and making 99 muslins for one dress. Nowadays, my opportunities to sew are nap time, after bedtime, or at the ass crack of dawn. So, when I take my chance to sew, I want to actually MAKE something vs. tinker with it for days and days.
For this woven tee, I opted to leave the extra length below the waist because I thought it would make for better tucking in. This decision, plus tracing the size 8 at the shoulders, neckline and blending to size 16 everywhere else made this an alteration-free sewing experience. Good times, y’all.
It’s been hard to contain my excitement about all this. I’ve pulled out every pattern I have with a size 6 to 16 size range, so I can repeat this. Though next time I make this pattern, I’ll let out the sleeves a tad (they’re a little snug) and go ahead and remove the extra 2 inches of length below the waist so the top is more proportional when untucked. Ultimately, to become a true go-to for me, the pattern will be altered.
For now, I’ll enjoy the time saved from that ninja tracing move and proudly add this peacock feathered, Alteration-Free Tee to my fall/winter wardrobe.
It’s been five years since I’ve attempted to sew a pair of pants. My first pair (wide legs, with an elastic waist) were fitted by following the guidelines in a comprehensive pants sewing reference book and the-most-awesome pattern alteration reference book from my library. I had a succesful pair of palazzo pants (which later proved to be a horribly pilly linen-blend fabric that ultimately made the pants unwearable) after only 1 night of pattern alterations and two muslin prototypes. I still have the original and altered pattern. But for some reason, I threw away 99% of my notes —perhaps a subconscious move of self-sabotage. Maybe I like re-learning things from scratch and have orchestrated things so I can experience life like that guy suffering from short-term memory loss in the movie, Memento…”Hey, look at that! I figured out the steps for making a pair of pants that fit!” Five years later…”Hey, I wish I knew how to make a pair of paints that fit.”
That’s kinda of what happened to me when it was time to conquer my second pair of pants for an upcoming challenge (to be revealed later)….I had only a piece of the map to the island where they buried the Treasure of Trouser Tailoring (sorry, I have a small addiction to alliterations I’m trying to shake off). The rest was lost during my years of intermittent, aimless sewing. So, back to square one I went. Reference books…check. Muslin yardage…check. Measurement tape…check. Measurement charts…check….Pants pattern…check. Pandora set to Jim Gaffigan radio station…check (cause I’d be needing EVERY ounce of my sense of humor).
I’ll be going into the weeds of the details later on, but for now let’s just say….I know now why I waited five years to make another pair of paints. I was probably still post-traumatic from the first time I was faced with nearly SIX different pattern alterations – not all of which are self-evident at first.
Here is the chart I filled out (click it for a closer look via PDF) while measuring myself vs. the pattern pieces and below is an illustration of all of the reference points I used for the flat-pattern measuring.
The first muslin took two days (my longest alteration-to-muslin interval all year!). The second and third took an evening each. Halfway through evaluating the second muslin, I got worried that my fitting issues were hopeless. Thankfully, my extra nerdy, overanalytical husband wouldn’t give up on his attempt to read my wrinkles and sherlock where on the pattern to make the correction. His scientific inquiries kept my gears turning and I ultimately remembered on what page in which book the key alteration was explained. We nerded on further to come up with more efficient ways of making the length and width adjustments to save time and reduce pattern distortion.
This whole adventure put me waaay behind schedule (when am I not these days). Which means I may have to opt out of next week’s challenge so I can do the chores I’ve been neglecting. Must I really choose between having a clean house and making another garment?