Monday, 14 December 2009

It is all about the fit

I have spent a lot of time in the last few months thinking about fit and measurements and sizes and patterns and shapes. Widespread dissatisfaction with the way commercially made clothes and patterns fit is by no means new and a big part of why I buy so few clothes and use so few commercial patterns.

As I have been designing patterns for myself, and now ones for sale I have been thinking through how you solve this problem. There is a set of standard sizing measurements and even if they did reflect the average or majority of people, pattern makers also add their unique take on 'ease' - that's the amount of extra room you add to a person's measurement to make a garment comfortable. Some designers add more ease if they like a relaxed looking and feeling garment, other less if they want a more formal, fitted look. So we can start with the same set of measurements and through variations in ease turn out patterns and garments that fit really differently.

But wait there's even more to it than that. Measurements are one thing, but shape is another. Along with those standard measurements come standard interpretations of how they work - this size bust means this size waist, what percentage is out front, what's in the back, how far down a leg the knee is, how far from the waist the hips are and so on. But you don't have to look far to realise people come in wildly different shapes. I might be a size 10 bust and a size 14 hip, and those hips might be wide on the side to side or the front to back and for all of these variations a standard set of measures and shapes might be hopelessly inadequate.

Maybe all this is really obvious and you are wondering why the hell I am writing it all down. Well it's because as I look at taking my patterns out of the small kid range and up into the larger sizes - including, maybe, gulp, adult sizes - I am trying to get my head around how I can improve on a standard approach to making patterns based on the mythical average size and shape. Somehow I want to include in each pattern all the things I have learned about fit as I have made clothes and patterns over the last couple of decades. In fact I want to include all the things I have learned and more!

But my aim here is to make simple accessible patterns - patterns beginners can approach with confidence. For little kids clothes this is really so much easier. Afterall, most kids are pretty shapeless and happy to wear loose and forgiving clothes. But now I am taking measurements for girls where the difference between their hips and waists are getting to be much greater as puberty reshapes their bodies. Making clothes for more complexly shaped bodies, with all manner of sticky out bits is by its nature a more complicated task. There's a lot more angles in the adult human body than the child version and getting clothes around all these bits with a minimum of bulk and discomfort requires some nifty engineering. Like going from 2D to 3D.

Worse still, this process happens with such an enormous variation in timing that where one 13 year old can happily be in an upsized version of the everyday skirt, for others this simple pull on style is just way wrong for their shape. More hippy girls really need zips or other kinds of closures to allow them to get a big enough opening to get the skirt over their hips, but to close it up when on so they don't have masses of bulky gathers at the waist. Zips seem to scare some people so it would be good to avoid them in patterns designed not to scare people! But a simpler closure like a button or velcro or snaps can be uncomfortable or bulky or gapey - all things a self conscious teenage girl really doesn't want.

I am sure most of us can remember incidents of embarrassment and confusion when confronted with the reality of our bodies in stark contrast to someone's expectation of how it should be, whether friends or parents or clothing sizes or construction. Wishing to god we didn't have boobs or that we did have boobs or the our tummies were flatter or that we were taller or that the front didn't open up like that every time we reached for something or whatever. I so don't want some poor hapless mum or aunt whipping up a garment their eager teenage daughter tries on only to feel completely wrong in it. Like it is too childlike, or like their bodies haven't matured fast enough to fill out the thing that is designed for their 'size' or 'age'.

And while as adults we may have left some or all of our body issues behind, we can still be bitterly disappointed when a designer has made a garment we love the look of on the packet but which clearly just wasn't made with us in mind. The frustrating part for me is knowing that getting that garment to fit may not be a big deal at all - a few cm here and a few there can dramatically alter the shape and fit of something - but that is very hard to capture in a pattern.

So I'm interested to hear what you think about this. Take for example the everyday top or a basic A-line skirt. If you were to buy a pattern would you rather:
  1. a standard style multisize pattern where you could make something that approximated your measurements and take the chance that it would work out to fit you (or that you could fiddle it enough to make it so), or
  2. a basic pattern outline with an explanation of how to make it fit you. This would involve the pattern coming with a picture of the garment on a model, you knowing the model's measurements and how much ease was added to the garment. You would have to take your own measurements and then draw up the pattern using step by step instructions so that you ended up with a pattern designed specifically for you with the same amount of ease as pictured.
It strikes me that option 2 is great for someone who not only wants a garment that fits them better (especially is you are less like an 'average' than some) but who also wants to learn more about about how it all works and how patterns are made and altered.

But of course option 2 is way more work! I figure lots of people, especially beginners and people who have less problems getting a good fit from standard style patterns won't want that hassle, and may be really put off by the process.

What do you think?


One Flew Over said...

As standard generally suits me I would opt for number 1. Also because I am pretty bloody lazy!

innercitygarden said...

Well as someone who has to make so many alterations to a standard pattern that she may as well draft a new one, I say option two. That way I get the instructions for doing the alterations. There are millions of patterns following option 1 already available.

Erica Spinks said...

Interesting questions, Sooz. I would love to have clothes that fit me, but I know I wouldn't be bothered with your second option because it would take more time than I'm prepared to spend. I envy bodies that can wear a 'simple A line skirt' because I just can't. That shape doesn't suit me because the size of my stomach is out of proportion with the rest of me. I agree that children's straight up and down body shapes are much easier. I look forward to seeing how you proceed with this dilemma.

Paisley said...

As someone with a "non-standard-ratios" shape, I think option 2 sounds really interesting - especially on a relatively simple pattern like the everyday top or a-line skirt.
For items with more complicated construction (and more than 4 or 5 pattern pieces) I think that option 1 would probably be more marketable. The more there is to alter, the more there is for the pattern user to get wrong! Of course you might also see that as a challenge to create a fool-proof set of instructions/guidelines!

Anonymous said...

The idea of making to really fit sounds very scary, but in a good way. A simple-ish skirt would make for a great start for those of us whose dress-making skills are fairly basic.
I trust you..make the pattern and I'll buy it!

Claire said...

I have a large bust, and would love a pattern to tell me how to adjust it to make it work :-)

I have plans for doing a full bust adjustment soon... but until recently I didn't even know that such a thing was possible!

Sophie said...

i don't have an answer for your dilemma. i just wanted to say that i found this post fascinating, and really well-expressed/explained. in fact, all your posts about making your own patterns, and the problems with fit have been very interesting -- and i am a beginner sewer, too intimidated to make clothing for myself at the moment!

Gina said...

Good post, good questions.

Is there any possibility of providing options one AND two?
(I know, I'm asking a lot...). So you could have your bog-standard patterns, and then a kind of attached 'crash course' in how to adjust a standard measurement for better fit (like where and when to add length, width, darts).

I guess that is possibly the job of certain books that are out there on the market. But it would be so great if patterns came with this sort of help.

Anonymous said...

I'd buy a standard pattern and try and make it fit. The thought of draughting a pattern scares the bejesus out of me.
Just because I'm needing a bigger size though, doesn't mean I want a shoulder seam hanging down to my elbow, or a waistline on my hip. Or a skin tight fit round my middle bits - they don't ever seem to realize that people that are a bit larger don't want to show off all their wobbly bits, but they do want something classy and pretty. So it's a touch question, and I don't know the way round - but I hope you do!!!

sooz said...

Thanks for all the comments - much to think about here!
Gina you are right that getting the best of both worlds would be good and in fact many commercial patterns come with detailed info on measurements and a series of fit lines to show you where to alter them for things like torso, leg or arm length. Some even have instructions about doing this. But the problem is it is actually harder (psychologically at least) to alter a pattern than actually draw one - to alter it you need to understand it, and the best way to do this is to draw it. But you wouldn't be drawing it from just word instructions - there would be a full size pattern drawn, just not multi sized. So it might say something like the distance between point a and point b (on the pattern) is the length of your leg from your wait to your knee. On this pattern that measurement is xcm. If your measurement is greater, add the extra length above point a, if your measurement is smaller subtract this from point it wouldn't be drafting as such. More like copying an existing pattern but sort of morphe it as you go....

Elisabeth said...

HI Soozs,
For what it's worth...
I wouldn't rule out zips. They're actually more accessible to make than buttonholes (assuming people don't necessarily have a whizz bang new machine that does automatic buttonholes). And very useful. And as you say, they work wonders for the fit.
With the right instructions - detailed instructions - ta lapped zip is possible. An invisible zip.. hmmm.... you'd want to get the specific foot rather than that plastic crap you get at the big sewing stores.

Ashley said...

Really interesting subject - one I've been trying to explain to people for years since I learnt patternmaking! (and one that has forced be to de-lurk). People get so angry about clothes off the rack not fitting them, but their are so many critical measurements on a woman's body - its not just fashion designers trying to destroy people's self confidence!

Thinking back to when I drafted my first patterns, I think I had the opposite reaction to you! I found it much simpler to take a block pattern for the nearest size and alter it than to draft a pattern from scratch with the whole A-B = this measurement etc. For that reason I would suggest going with graded sizes plus guidelines for alterations.

Having said that, I do know what you mean about people struggling to alter a pattern. I know whenever people ask me how to alter a pattern their perception of how it would be done is far more complex than what's often involved. When I learnt patternmaking I was quite surprised at how simple it was - when my waist was bigger than the pattern but not the hip I was amazed that it was as simple as reducing the darts or adding the extra onto the waist and redrawing the side seam to the same hip point.

I suspect you'll find that some people would find the idea of alterable patterns too complex, while others would LOVE the being able to grasp some fundamental patternmaking skills.

Seems to me like you should be writing a book rather than individual patterns!

(btw I am addicted to your lebanese green beans - love love love)

Ren said...

I can follow simple patterns and have a few times, but I end up making the dress on the pattern, and they never, ever fit me just right. So I vote for option 2. Option 2 is exactly what I need.

Great idea Sooz. You're a clever one!

Anonymous said...

And - can anyone EVER find a dress pattern that doesn't fit tight, tight, tight in the waist, or have no or short,short sleeves, or strappy straps, but that doesn't look like a sack???

froginthepond said...

I'd go for option 2. I think your design style of clean lines and uncluttered design is amenable to guided pattern alteration. And don't forget that the patterns available can very in complexity - from an A-line skirt to a shift dress to a blouse - and this might be a way in to pattern alteration for some sewers.

Leonie Guld said...

EKKKKKK BIG QUESTIONS!!! I understand where you are coming from...The big question is Who's your market? The majority of people want it easy, simple and slim line as possible. Take my business for example. I offer 3 options:
1) People can provide there own fabric
2) People provide there own feature fabric
3) I provide all the fabric, they are seen made up the CLICK CLICK AND BUY.

Number 3 puts food on the table, the others are super rare and I think people find it confronting.

I guess I am trying to say...Keep is as simple as possible, add in your "increase here" "decrease here" markers and write the instructions out like you are talking to some one who has never held fabric in there hands before. Then your patterns will be loved, enjoyed and used over and over again.

Untimely its your decision, I wish you the very best of luck as your patterns look BRILLIANT!!

habitual said...

Option 2..... totally.

Kate said...

2 for sure. I like the idea of a basic pattern and then how to make it fit. This is how I do my A-line skirts. Cut out a basic pattern and then add darts when needed then cut a facing.
I agree with whoever said don't rule out zips, I definitely need them. One of the first things I taught myself at 13 was a zip you just need to see it done step by step.

ILoveTheNow1208 said...

I think option two would be awesome! As a very oddly shaped person who loves to sew, I definitely think that learning how it works would be great.

travellersyarn said...

I'm a a totally non-representative sample (unless there are heaps of lapsed sewers out there who were instructed on their mother's knee in how to alter a paper pattern); but I would prefer 1.
I've been thinking about my completely different approaches to sewing and knitting, and I think that I rely way too much on patterns, and spend excessive time cutting out out. But, the precision can be comforting, and I know how to adjust a paper pattern to fit me.

LissyLouLou said...

Option 2 please. I can any ordinary multi-sized pattern but knowing how to tweak it to fit me... that's what I'd pay for.

jamsandwich said...

I think you should invent a pattern making booth. You stand inside it and it scans your body then prints out the pattern you have chosen in exactly the right size. Failing that I'd go option 2 but I have been sewing for years, it may scare off a newbie.

laurachicken said...

I'd love #2. I mostly buy my clothes but if I am going to take the time and effort to make something, I'd like to be able to make changes easily. I also have one of the 'multi-size' bodies you speak of (I think most women do?) as my bust is quite large, my waist is smallish, my hips are large. Ready to wear clothes are nearly impossible to find, especially dresses.

I really would love patterns with CLEAR directions on how to alter them. Better yet, I'd love a good book on pattern drafting. I've yet to find one.

Fe said...

Option 2 for me! I only ever fit the standard for baggy pants. Everything else is always hit and miss.


Corrie said...

for me, even though I've studied patternmaking and really should be using my own pattern block I'd say for some weekend sewing I'd go for 1 when I want a nice outfit, easy to make and not to tricky. However, if I'm wanting to make something and learn the process at the same time and don't have 3 small children waiting for me to finish sewing then option 2. But at the moment I'm an option 1

kids clothes and patterns are soooo much easier! I'm a pear shape and everything is too big on the top and too tight on the bottom!

great idea!