Fit, Fashion, Fabric

How can you be sure your new garment will look great on you? Simple: Accurate measurements, a realistic assessment of your figure, and your personal style are the three main components of good fit.With this knowledge you can pick the right pattern in the right size and use fabrics that complement you and work with your lifestyle.

Getting and Using Accurate Measurements

If you can, get a friend to help you take measurements– they will be more accurate. Generally, use the high bust measurement to determine pattern size.  Substituting your high bust measurement for your bust measurement when selecting a pattern size will help you purchase a pattern that will fit in the critical neck area. Because everything hangs from the neck and shoulders it is very important that garments fit correctly in that area. It makes sense to purchase a pattern that fits in the crucial, difficult to fit neck area and then make the easier bust alterations. Let the pattern companies do the tricky fitting.

Measure sleeve length from the bone at the base of the neck, across the shoulder and down a slightly bent arm to the wrist bone. Always use these measurements for determining finished sleeve length from neck to wrist because that measurement will include design details such as dropped shoulders. Measure the pattern pieces in the same manner and it will be easy to alter the sleeve length for any sleeve, shoulder or cuff type.

Wearing ease verses Design ease. There are many types of fit from close fitting to very loose fitting and all garments are so described on the backs of commercial pattern envelopes. These descriptions can be used to make alterations easier. For instance, in a close fitting garment you’d absolutely have to alter a pattern if your bust were two inches bigger than the pattern size. However, for a very loose fitting garment a two inch difference where there are fourteen inches of design ease is generally not worth the effort.

Ideal skirt lengths vary for different styles. It’s a good idea to find your ideal length for each style you wear and record it for future sewing projects. Most of us wear our skirt length from habit or from fashions dictates rather than from analyzing what looks best on us. A good way to be sure of the correct length for each style is to stand about eight feet from a full length mirror and hold various skirts or pieces of fabric at different heights starting at the ankle and working up. Don’t look at your face, it’s important to try to be neutral. Enlist the help of friends on this one, their opinions are more likely to be based on reality than yours is. A general rule of hems is that the fuller the skirt is the longer it should be (unless you have a cheerleader fantasy).Narrow skirts can be just about any length. So play with this one and keep an open mind.

Figure Out What Looks Good on You

Comfort is a big part of Fashion, Fabric and Fit. Comfort definitely means different things to different people so the challenge is to discover what it means to you and the best way to make comfort a part of your fashion sewing. Some factors that destroy comfort are: binding, riding up, pulling, gaping, scratchy fabrics, over heating or clamminess. What we want are fashionable, functional clothes that are comfortable. And, guess what? That’s NOT too much to ask!

Now that we’ve determined that fit and comfort are important, how can you determine what styles work on your body? Well, there’s some work involved here. We all have an emotional attraction to fabric and designs and once in a while the emotional choices work, but not often enough. The idea is to do a little home work so that our fabric and pattern choices work for us every time!

There are many fashion styles to choose from. The goal is to balance the desired fashion “look” with a realistic view of your figure type and lifestyle. For instance, a lacy Victorian dress is not the ideal garment for the raising of a two year old, but it can be adapted to any age or figure type or in the case of the two year old saved for special occasions. Some style options to think about are: Sporty/casual, Classic/tailored, Avant Garde, Dramatic, Country, Euro-style, Victorian/romantic, Town and Country (which is different than country), Artistic, and Ivy League. Add any other styles that you think of to this list and use them to help you define what goes with your life style and self image.

Certain looks and styles are easier to intermix than others, but with the right fabric and designs just about any combination can be worked out. This is where you can use your personal taste and emotional responses to fabrics and patterns to help determine the look you’d like to achieve. But, again, temper your choices with a realistic analysis of your figure type and life style.

An overall plan will help you make the choices that work for you. That leads us to The Closet. Everyone has a favorite outfit. You know the one, it’s always there for you when you need to look good. The idea here is to figure out why it looks and feels so good and to build on that knowledge.

Work Your Personal Style into the Picture

Select your three or four favorite outfits and try them on. A friend can really help with this part. Start from the neck and shoulder area and work down. What type of neckline does it have? Open? Closed? Collar? Type of collar? No collar, etc? What type of shoulder? Dropped? Raglan? Fitted? Shoulder pads?, Etc. What sleeve type? Long? Short? Kimono? Dolman? Puff? Shirt? ¾ length?, Etc. Look at the bodice. Is it Close fitting? Lose fitting? Layered? Surplice? What is the waist like? High? Dropped? Natural? Fitted? Belted and what kind of belt? Yoked?, Etc. Note the skirt style. Is it narrow? Full? Layered? Asymmetric? Pleated? Wrapped? Straight? Flared?, Etc. Analyze pants in the same manner as skirts. You should also note the lengths you like with the various styles.

Now analyze the fabrics. What is it that you’re drawn to? Is it as simple as the color? The design lines? The embellishments? The comfort factor? The fabric type? The weave? The drape? Write everything down and check for common denominators in these successful outfits. Even if you spot just one or two things, it’s a good start.

The back of the closet is just as important, if not more, than the front. Pull out three or four things that you never wear even though they are the right size. Try them on and write down everything that you don’t like about them. Work through the list you used in analyzing your favorites. This is where you learn to actually prevent mistakes! If you look absolutely awful in peasant blouses or wrap dresses, DON’T EVER buy those patterns no matter how great your best friend or the fashion models look in them!

General guidelines:

  • Use the measurements of well fitting garments as finished garment measurements when sewing.
  • Sew separates. A skirt and blouse are easier to fit than a dress is and you’ll get more wearing mileage out of them by mixing and matching with other items in your wardrobe.
  • If you have a pattern that fits wonderfully, use it as an alteration guide when working with new patterns AND learn to make easy design changes to achieve a variety of looks from one pattern. Examples: Add pockets and/or color inserts, change lengths and/or collar or lapel shapes, or delete a collar or cuff.

Once you have a group of working patterns you can relax and concentrate on using your great machine features and accessories to add some beautiful embellishments and design details, knowing that you’ll look absolutely wonderful!

Remember, except in very special cases, Don’t Over-Embellish! Spread your ideas around. Don’t feel that you need to use every technique possible on one garment.

And, YES YOU ARE creative! You don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time you sew. Make small changes or add one tiny detail to each garment and build on those details in future garments. If you can copy a designer, you can copy yourself. Repeat design details throughout your wardrobe. Make occasional small changes. This is how designers develop a “look”. Use tone on tone embellishments. Due to their subtly they may be mixed and matched and are great wardrobe expanders. Most of all, relax and have fun. You’ll look great!

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