Fitting Know How

Nothing brings students to class faster and keeps people sewing more than fitting and sewing a well fitted garment.  But there’s a catch in that fitting.  The catch is:  What if you don’t know what a good fit is?  How can you tell if you have one or not?

That sounds rather basic.  I mean, doesn’t everyone know what a good fit is?  And if you sew, you surely know what a good fit is – right?

Not always – it’s unfortunately not taught.  As a matter of fact it’s pretty much a lost art and trying to find out today what a good fit is runs that gamut from a stretch that is two-sizes too small, to something that would fit a pre-pubescent anorexic model.    What about the other 97% of the population who have real figures and real lives?  What are they supposed to wear?  What is a good fit for them?  Where can you see a good fit?

There’s the catch.

Back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s (and actually before), women had models everywhere for a good fit;  in ads, magazines, red carpets, runways – almost everyone knew what a good fit was, and the folks in stores knew and could help people get a good fit.


Ads and even pictures of society outings in magazines all had examples of well-fitted garments. It was a sign of your good taste and a sign of how well you paid attention to your looks.


Something like this (the middle angel of the original Charlie’s Angels), wore pants that were fitted, but this would be considered baggy today.

This is the catch.  For 25 years, there not only has been no good model for fitting, but nothing in stores, on the runways, on the red carpet and certainly nothing in the fashion magazines.


Here is a startling example from a pattern book of a pattern for a suit.  The picture on the left is the orignal picture.  These photographs in the pattern books are to not only help the sewist see how the pattern should look when it’s finished, but also give a good idea about the fit of the garment.  Most of the time when I show this garment picture to students they remark at how ill-fitting the jacket is – it’s too baggy?  Nothing is said about the skirt.

That shows the poor state of fitting that is modeled out there for the consumer to draw upon. The jacket above is actually fitted correctly because the wearer has to be able to move her arms and move them forward, which requires ease through the back.  As well if the jacket hem is too tight it will ride up and cause wrinkling around the waist.  It’s the skirt that is the problem.  The skirt fits too tightly around the fanny and cups it.  Cupping like this does nothing but exaggerate the fanny.  Additionally, the skirt also cups around the hips on the side.

So what happens when you correct this and make the skirt fit around the fanny and hips so that it doesn’t cup.  It makes the hips look much more in proportion and makes them look much smaller.  The corrected version is on the right.

That’s the purpose of a good fit.

I use several methods for my clients, students and subscribers to achieve this illusive fit, but the very first thing I teach is that it’s impossible to get a good fit, if you don’t know what a good fit from the start.  Fitting is just as much about proportion, scale, dimensions, positive/negative space (aka projecting/receding space), drape and hang of a garment as it is about darts, sewing curved seams and other sewing techniques.  It’s also about personal preferences.  Do you like a snug waist?…do you like a loose bust line?… do you like a strong shoulder?  And there are many other parts of the garment that you can choose to fit just the way you want.


Not only can you choose how you want a garment to fit, but how it will hang, which is as important as a great fit.  And garments are supposed to hang well.  Take a look at men’s tailoring (no drooling on the hunky bod!).

While the rest of the women’s fashion world was messing around with Grunge stuff, men’s tailoring was still doing well.  This is a modern suit on a modern guy – and granted he has a killer figure, but notice how well the suit hangs on him – see how his shoulder drapes well from the armscye to the collar.  Notice that there are not gaping or wrinkles of being too big or too small. This is how a garment is supposed to hang, but because there’s nothing even remotely close to this for women, we’re left out in the dark wondering what is a good fit.

There are guidelines to get you in the very close neighborhood of a good fit, but also what’s important to know is that you have to have worn enough clothes to determine the fine tuning on what a good fit is for you.  IOW, as a teacher I can teach you the sewing techniques, usage guidelines for garment fit and the proportional scale and adjustments to get you in the area of a good fit, but that last part comes from the sewist herself.

This does not mean this is insurmountable.  The good news is that a good fit can be had – it’s not some illusive vapor that’s odorless, tasteless, invisible, quiet and ethereal.  You actually can learn it.

But while you’re learning it, remember that you’re also learning what a good fit looks like, as well as how to accomplish it, so don’t be so hard on yourself if (while you are learning two things at once), you have more than a few falters along the way and most of all be gentle with yourself while you’re learning all this.







  1. Not very many women are built like Daniel Craig. Any reputable tailor would never draw an equivalency between a man’s build and a woman’s.

    • Well, the point here is that men as well as women require fitting. Also men get better fitting service than women, mostly because they expect it, and women don’t. That’s the reality of the market place. Anyone who would confuse a woman’s silhouette with a man’s or the fitting techniques required to know to fit the two, would be sorely misplaced in his/her position. Originally a person who sewed for a lady was known as a dressmaker, while a person who sewed for a man was know as a tailor. Such terms as drape, hang, ease, crush (or break) and other fitting terms all derived from men’s tailoring.

      In the fashion decades of the 20th century we had 3 periods of fashion which adopted a more androgynous look in which those terms formerly used for men only were used for both sexes so that tailoring has garnered a more bisexual meaning rather than simply men only. That was the purposed and intentional meaning of the movements which was as much to move away from a more feminine silhouette to a more gender neutral silhouette, signifying as much an anti-feminine as much as less of the roll any gender was relegated to. Therefore terms like hang, drape, ease, crush now apply as much to women’s wear as much as to men’s. The drape, hang, crush, ease and basic tailoring fitting terms apply as much to Daniel Craig as they do to women. Women’s fashion now strives to have that same excellent fit in drape, hang, ease, crush/break as do men even though the shapes are different and the techniques used to fit are different.

      Granted I’m more of a vive la différence person all my life. Women are women and their fashion is and should be totally different. Alas, fashion doesn’t agree. And although I understand the premise of the swing toward androgyny (sort of an anti-vive la différence), I don’t like it – never have and never will. The androgyny of the 20’s, 70’s and 90’s of the 20th century did bring about the glorious fashion of the 50’s, 80’s and we are currently moving away from the Grunge androgyny to a more feminine silhouette, which I’m loving.

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