Friday, January 23, 2009

The importance of being fit

I am still in the twixt land between the builder coming in to measure up the shelves, and the shelves being installed. In other words, sewing is still a chaotic affair, even with kind, friendly fabric.  So I'm working through things on my sewing "to do" list, which don't require any sewing, as such.

One such thing is interfacing my Palmer/Pletsch slopers so that they can hang on the wall for easy reference. The body provided by the interfacing will protect them from general wear and tear, and make them easier to handle.

Fit has always been an issue for me because of my full bust. With a full bust, you have several options in RTW. You can buy the mostly correctly size and never do up the top buttons. That's what Susannah, of Trinny and Susannah fame, does.  Or you can learn to be a good sewer and adjust your patterns, like I do.  

With sewing your own clothes there are also several fit options. I did it the hard way first, by formally training in pattern design. I studied part time for a year, in a course that was 2 hours per week. In the first term we drafted our slopers from our own measurements - and we made so many! We made the standard bodice, skirt, sleeve and trousers. Then we made a dress block, a coat block and a kimono block.  It was in fact a very useful exercise in understanding the ratios and proportions of how things are spaced, and that knowledge still serves me well. 

In the second term we learnt how to draft facings, collars, lapels, stands, pockets, yolks. We learned how to manipulate darts and manage ease.  

In the third term we drafted our own patterns. I dropped out half way through, because I was in the middle of my university degree and had to prepare for exams. I still drafted several skirts and several pairs of trousers with varying degrees of success. 

The biggest drawback of this method is that you have to have an awful lot of construction knowledge behind you. I simply did not have the experience to know how to put the pieces together once I'd drafted them!  Secondly, slopers are skin measurements. You have to know how much wearable ease it is necessary to add to enable you to walk, or move your arms, or get in and out of a car.  I often made garments that were far too tight.

Also, successful design looks effortless but requires taste and experience. I would like to create original garments but I have to purchase my good taste from a well drafted pattern.

So the second, and much easier way to get good fit is to learn how to adjust patterns to your body. That's why I love the Palmer/Pletsch method. It is all done without tape measures, simply fitting the tissue to your body and seeing where it falls. With this method, you can see exactly where you body differs from the standard block that most companies draft from. 

Look at my skirt pattern for example. My waist drops 2 inches centre front (the red line) eliminating the need for any darts on the front. This would not show up on a self drafted sloper but can only be seen on the body itself.  

I'm just amazed at the many differences between myself and Joan Bloggs, not just the obvious bust line. Once you know what the differences are, its just a matter of adapting every pattern, every time you feel like it. It takes me quite a while to prepare my patterns but I never begrudge the time when the garment is successful. 

You can buy the Palmer/Pletsch fitting slopers from McCalls but it would be quite hard to fit yourself. Much better to do a weekend course. Here in New Zealand it is run by Carol Mill (email: who is the loveliest sewing teacher. It takes a full weekend, and costs around $400 NZD, and she is Auckland based. People come from all over the country and make a weekend of it. But so, so worth it if you love sewing and want to get a good fit using any pattern. There is a maximum of 4 people in the class, so you will get slopers meticulously fit to your body. 

For those in the rest of the world if you google Palmer/Pletsch you'll find an instructor in your area. 

Disclaimer: Palmer/Pletsch design and make clothes appropriate to their age and social group. (I hope you are reading PLENTY between the lines here)  You probably won't want to sew any of their designs, but when it comes to fit, they know their stuff.


  1. Okay, I held my breath the whole time I read your post. I know what you mean with Palmer/Pletsch, but unfortunately, I sent all my P/P books to a friend in Japan. As for drafting, may we talk? May I send you love letters?

  2. thanks maryanna I am about to email that lady now and book myself a space in her next class. Cant wait. MArg

  3. I think pattern drafting is my favourite part of sewing...I have done very little in real life, but plenty in my head. Perhaps I just like making use of that engineering degree. One day, perhaps when my children have left home, I will do a PP then, I'll probably be ready for the PP designs as well.

  4. I think you are some kind of sewing genius.

  5. Myself, I always go with the "Wing it" style of pattern alteration. It usually doesn't work. Perhaps there is method in this "P/P" madness after all.

  6. Like Katherine, I've done little pattern drafting in real life but plenty in my dreams. Ummm, Mary Nana, have you read the comment posted by Antoinette in my blog about drafting trousers? Ummm, [looking sheepish, pushing Legos with toes] would you mind so much, lending your expertise on drafting and fit if this sew-along ever takes off?