Saturday, 3 November 2012

Book review: The Perfect Fit

Well garment sewing might not be my bread and butter, but when I do get on to it, oh what a joy it is to finally be able to make things that fit!

For me as a self-taught clothesmaker, with absolutely no background in fashion or design, learning about adjusting for fit/shape has been crucial to sewing success - not to mention totally enlightening. I honestly had no real idea what the problems were with badly fitting clothes - but no more! It's utterly ruined shopping, of course: ohmigod I would never buy anything with that kind of armhole gape, etc etc.

Anyway, in the interests of sharing the sewing goodness, I thought I'd do a review of this book from which I have leared everything I know about fitting clothes using patterns (because I ain't even thinking about blocks and draping yet, people). You never know, someone might find it useful, and that's what the sew-o-sphere is about, no?

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The starting point is obvious, really: commercial clothing patterns, just like ready to wear clothes, are drafted to fit as many people as possible using 'standard' shapes and sizes.

However, going from that piece of obviousness to actually making something that does fit, isn't obvious at all.

Of course, you can always google full bust adjustment or small bust adjustment or whatever. But how do you know which adjustments you need in the first place? Well, like this:

Illustrated diagnosis of poor fit, both in detailed sections (shoulders! neck! thighs! bum!), and with an overview:

The pictures are dated (and these colours weirdly resemble my daughter's dress), but it's extremely clear and helpful. I'll out myself as an instructions-reader before saying this, but it's really worth going through the whole book pretty thoroughly before you even start on your actual patterns. I could identify almost immediately from the pictures which my most common fit problems are and what I needed to do about them. The full bust I was aware of. The narrow back, not at all (I had been blaming my innocent shoulders). And to realise that armhole gape is typical between sizes and easily solved was a total revelation.

Becoming aware of all this has also been a factor in making better pattern choices for clothes that will actually suit me, or be easily adjustable to fit well. Though I must say that I read the introductory sections on body shapes and styles with scepticism.

As it's been put very well by others, don't tell me how to dress!

I also completely ignore the part about paper fitting the pattern first. I don't have five pairs of hands and I'd rather just get on with it. (I do make very quick muslims out of old sheets, though).

An exciting picture of the contents page:

You've got an introduction to fitting and then sections on "Understanding your figure", "Body measurements", "Pattern adjustments", and "Fine tuning". The pattern adjustments themselves are organised by area, i.e. fitting the back, shoulders, bust, waist, etc.

Each section is illustrated with yet more dated photos showing the potential fit problems, and illustrating in 2-4 steps how to adjust your pattern to solve them.

And then there are technique overviews, like this lowdown on fitting with darts:

Other things I particularly like about it:
  • Standard ease allowances are given for loose/medium/tight styles in each body area.
  • For each fitting problem, there's a minor adjustment and a major adjustment, with tips on which one you should use when.
  • For each adjustment, it gives figures for the maximum/minimum amount to take out or add to the pattern piece.
  • The adjustment steps are very easy to follow.
  • It's not hard to find or work out what changes might be needed to other pattern pieces as a result of fit changes to the rest of the pattern (e.g. making the sleeve piece smaller if you first made the armhole smaller to remove gaping).

My main query about this book and its approach is whether it's possible one could be so shaped as to be beyond its help.  Have I found it useful because my shape doesn't seem to vary that hugely from the standard catered for in commercial patterns, or would it really be useful for everyone, regardless?

That question aside, in the end my verdict on it can only be that in my experience as an intermediate-level home sewer of clothes for (mostly) myself - it's invaluable.  None of the clothes you see me wearing on this blog would have been possible without it!

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Do you have trouble making clothes that fit well? How do you handle it? Any other tips, ideas of good resources? Or do you find that standard patterns fit you well enough without adjusting? 

Also, if anyone's reading who actually knows how to draft their own 'real' pattern blocks, I would love to hear your opinions on a book like this. I bet it gives you a very different perspective!



  1. Thanks for the review. It looks like there are some things I really need to get on top of. My 'fitting' is hopeless and I have so many tops and dresses with great gaping arm holes. My lack of desire to sew a muslin is half the problem.
    Thanks for the link through to malepatternbolness. I'd never seen that site before and it looks great.

    1. Oh MPB is so great, it's one of my unmissable reads!

  2. That looks like a really helpful book! I always tell myself that I'm going to focus more on fitting properly... and then get halfway through a project and decide I don't care! Maybe a good reference book would help me figure out what was worth fixing. Hmmm...

    1. Obviously given the review I think it's worth it! I was just so fed up with getting to the end of sewing and finding I had a badly fitting garment that didn't feel right. It felt like such a waste! So for me it was totally worth investing a bit of time in working it out.

  3. Oh, so you found my favorite book too! However, I have an older printing but it apparently has the same pictures. I went out and got their Fitting Pants book because I liked this one so much. I have a feeling the whole series is good. I've had the Sewing for the Home one for years.

    1. ooh trousers/pants is something I haven't dared try yet - not even thinking about it! More considering only ever wearing skirts, to make my sewing life easier :-)


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