We’ve all done it. You’re in a hurry to make something new. So you buy a pattern, cut it out, run it up on your machine, and then it doesn’t fit. It’s so frustrating. Those damn Pattern Companies! Why can’t they make a pattern that works?!
Well, as a pattern user and a pattern maker, let me tell you that it might not be the pattern’s fault. Matter of fact, it’s probably not the pattern’s fault at all.
I’ve been making and selling patterns for the better part of two decades now. Let me share with you a few small mistakes that we seamstresses make that can drastically alter how your pattern works.
You Cut Your “Usual” Size without Looking at the Size Chart
Always check the size chart on the back of the pattern. Pattern companies sizes can vary widely from brand to brand. At Reconstructing History, sometimes our sizes vary from line to line because of the particular fit required by a given time period of historical clothing. No matter whose patterns you are using, always check the back cover and make sure you’re cutting the right size.
It also wouldn’t hurt to measure yourself to be sure you’re cutting for the size you are currently. Face it: we all do a bit of wishful thinking when it comes to measurements.
Special Informational Note: Pattern sizes and dress store sizes are not the same. A US pattern size 22 is a 16 in dress store sizes. And a pattern size 12 is a 2 in the shops! And that’s only some stores. Other stores a pattern 22 is a 14 or an 18. Confused yet? Yeah, I know. But I shall put on my Clothing Historian hat and explain. You see, back in the 1970s, patternmakers and dressmakers used the same size charts. A 12 was a 12 was a 12. But then dressmakers found out that their customers would buy more dresses if the size numbers were smaller. So they shifted all the sizes down. Patternmakers did not. So now we have two sets of size charts in the US, and people get completely hung up on their “number.”
This is one of the reasons Reconstructing History Patterns changed our sizes from numbers to letters. No one says “But I’ve always been a size E!” Also it forces you to look up your size every single time. *wink*
You Were a Little Imprecise with Your Cutting
Everyone messes up sometime. Especially with slippery lining material. I mean, LOOK:
And to think I’m a professional!
That kind of variation can make your lining three or four sizes BIGGER than your outer material.
Now, that being said, I’m lining a wool coat with this lining material. And wool has a lot more give to it than taffeta. I may need that extra 1/4″-3/8″ in my lining.
But I’d be a liar if I tried to tell you I cut the lining larger with that intention in mind!
You Were a Little Imprecise with Your Sewing
Can you sew a straight line? It’s easy to get your seams all wonky if you sew very quickly. And starting a seam at 5/8″ wide and ending up 1/4″ wide (or 1″ wide) can really mess up the fit of your garment.
See those numbers on your sewing plate? Those represent seam allowance amounts. Most US machines are in 1/8″ increments. The long one is 5/8″ because that is the typical American seam allowance (or at least it was when my machine was made). Line your fabric up with those lines and keep your fabric lined up with those lines as you sew. That way, you will have a consistent seam allowance and your pattern will work better.
Paper Doesn’t Have a Grain. Fabric Does.
This goes back to “You Were a Little Imprecise with Your Cutting.” Paper patterns don’t stretch. But fabric does. Fabric also moves and wrinkles and folds back on itself. All of this often happens under the pattern piece before you cut. So make such that your fabric is pressed flat AND that you haven’t shifted it as you cut. I accidentally shift fabric all the time, and it has bitten me every time. It really pays to be extremely careful.
You Fit the Pattern in Muslin but You Didn’t Fit it Again in the Real Goods
It has happened to me so many times that I’ve put a warning in many of my patterns. Make a mock-up in cheap fabric. Sure. But then ALWAYS fit the garment again in your real goods. I violate this rule all the time. Recently I made a dress that fit me to a T in the muslin, but the bodice in the finished silk was sizes too big. Why? The muslin I used had very little stretch. But the silk crepe I used for the final garment stretched all over the place.
I’ve also made the same garment in two different fabrics and had the results vary wildly. I learn the “Fit Again in the Goods” lesson when I made a medieval cotehardie out of linen and then made another one out of wool. The wool garment was FOUR INCHES larger than the linen one, even though I had been precise in both my cutting and sewing. Different fabrics behave differently on the body. You have to take that into consideration when you sew. A pattern often lists many different types of fabric for the garment: wool, silk, linen, crepe. But each one of those fabrics moves, drapes, and behaves differently on the body. This is something a pattern cannot predict. Even two different pieces of the same type of wool can behave completely differently. So take this into consideration when you sew.
I cannot stress how important it is to fit your garment AGAIN in the fabric even if you made a perfectly-fitted muslin.
Bonus Reason: Historical Clothing Fits Differently
For people who sew modern clothing, this is always a stumbling block. Modern clothing has both wearing ease (the amount added to your measurements to make the garment able to move on a real human) and design ease (an extra amount added to make a garment fit a certain way). Historical clothing often has very little or even no ease. Until quite recently, clothing was made on the body. Clothing that was made using the preogenitor of patterns was still fitting closely to the body before finishing. To a modern seamstress, they would be far too tightly fitted. But every historical tailor knows that ill-fitted hosen rip the first time they are worn.
Also historical clothing was often fitted over corsets, stays, and padding with which modern seamstresses are not familiar. Often someone will try to make an 18th century dress without the stays, and if not entirely impossible, it is very, very difficult, and requires the stays’ shaping to be built into the dress elseways.
So don’t be so quick to blame the pattern. A pattern is just a starting place. Ultimately, your clothing must fit you, and unless you have a fitter living in your sewing room closet, you have to do that work yourself. No piece of tissue can do it for you.
So be careful, take your time, and fit and fit and fit again!