Keep reading for a high-level overview of Nancy Zieman's pivot-and-slide method for pattern fitting.

After my last post on working with McCall’s M6696 shirtdress (affiliate link), I checked out some sewing books on pattern fitting. (I also investigated in-person fitting guidance, and I’m yet to make a decision on that.)

One of my library books is “Pattern Fitting with Confidence” (affiliate link) by longtime public television sewing educator, Nancy Zieman. I just happened to start with her book first, and I haven’t looked back. Her fitting technique made a world of sense to me, and I don’t understand why I haven’t seen it in other places.

From a high level, Nancy Z.’s fitting method has two parts:

1.) Start with the right size.
2.) Pivot and slide to customize.

RELATED: Favorite Sewing Books: Lurk My Library

Finding the right size

Zieman instructs sewists take a keystone measurement — across the upper chest from where the arm meets the torso (it’s about in the middle of the front armscye).

The pivot-and-slide method for pattern fitting starts with identifying the correct size for your measurements.

Using this width measurement, Zieman gives guidance on how to select the correct size of a Big 4 pattern. If you measure 14 inches, you’d sew a size 14. The sizes go up and down with every half inch. For example, I measured 12 1/2 inches, so I sewed an 8. RELATED: Here’s a time I sewed another Big 4 dress and faced size-choosing issues — Butterick B6051 Dress, Times Two.

The bust-waist-hip pattern measurements for size 8 were smaller than my body measurements (which put me at a size 12 per the pattern envelope). But Zieman says increasing the bust is easier than decreasing the neck and shoulders.

RELATED: Flat Pattern Measuring for Fit Adjustments

Adjusting for your measurements

The right size is most of the battle. The next thing you do to pattern fit with confidence is apply your measurements to the pattern pieces. And, in my opinion, this is slick stuff.

Zieman calls it the pivot-and-slide method. This technique lets you preserve original pattern pieces by tracing AROUND them. There’s no slashing and spreading.

To pivot and slide, you need your bust, waist, and hip measurements. Next find the difference between your measurements and the bust, waist, and hip of the “right” size as established by your keystone measurement.

For example, here’s what I calculated:

Bust Waist Hip
Me 34 26 3/4 37
Pattern (Size 8) 31 1/2 24 33 1/2
Change +2 1/2 +2 3/4 +3 1/2

Divide the change by the number of cut edges. For example, for the bust, I added 5/8 to the front and back bodice pattern pieces (2 1/2 ÷ 4 = 5/8).

RELATED: Pattern Fitting Tips for Woven Jogger Pants (Pivot-and-Slide Method)

Increasing (or decreasing) width is where pivoting comes into play. You mark the additional width, place a pin at the seam intersection, pivot the pattern piece, and trace. Here’s an illustration of how to increase the bust:

Use the pivot-and-slide method of pattern fitting to increase the bust.

What’s cool about pivoting is that you don’t change the LENGTH of the armscye, neck, or shoulder.

Increasing (or decreasing) length is where sliding comes into play. You slide the pattern piece along the grainline and trace. Here’s an illustration of how to lengthen a dress:

Use the pivot-and-slide method of pattern fitting to increase the length of a dress.

Naturally any adjustments you make to a front pattern piece you must make to a back pattern piece.


How to Make a Full Bust Adjustment on T-Shirts (No Darts)

Sewing Pants, Part 1: The Measurements You Need for Success

Sewing Pants, Part 2: Altering Pants Pattern Pieces

Sewing Pants, Part 3: A Completed Pair of Hampshire Trousers

My body type analysis (aka, me in my underwear)

Pivot-and-slide method resources

I don’t want to share huge sections of Zieman’s book, because it’s copyrighted material and she deserves to be compensated for her work.

But I CAN share all the pivot-and-slide resources I’ve utilized!

Book: Pattern Fitting with Confidence (affiliate link). I recommend giving it a test drive through your local library!
Video: Pattern Fitting with Confidence DVD (affiliate link). The vid companion to the book. I also got this from my library.
Videos: Solving the Pattern Fitting Puzzle, Part One and Solving the Pattern Fitting Puzzle, Part Two. These are full episodes from “Sewing with Nancy” on PBS. They cover most of the same stuff as the DVD, except the DVD (barely) gets into pants fitting. BTW, the PBS app and website have seasons and seasons of “Sewing with Nancy” for your viewing pleasure!

Cass T-shirt call to action

Pivot and slide vs. M6696

So the pivot-and-slide method seems like a panacea, right? Well… sort of.

My M6696 shirtdress has been a humdinger of a place to start learning this technique. Here’s why:

Waist adjustments

Adding waist width to the size 8 pattern pieces by pivoting was easy peasy. I, however, forgot about the waistband and added extra waist width to the top of the skirt.

The top edge of the skirt DOES NOT sit at the waist. The WAISTBAND sits at the waist. D’oh! Guess who won’t make that mistake again?

Back gathers

The “Pattern Fitting with Confidence” book explicitly recommends avoiding “excessive gathering, tucking, or pleating on … the body” of your first fitting project.

Stick with something basic, Zieman says.


Short story long, I pinched out excess width at the back waist and adjusted the pattern pieces to reflect that subtraction.

The latest on M6696

I’m sick of making muslins for this pattern. I’m starting to feel like Sisyphus. WHEN WILL IT END?

Actually, it ends now.

Here's where I'm at with fitting McCall's M6696 shirtdress.

My final M6696 needs a swayback adjustment, and I also need bring the side seams back together again (the result of a fabric-ectomy gone sideways). I made these changes to the paper pattern pieces, and I’m skipping making them on fabric.

I’m going to keep working on this particular muslin, because I want to see how the button placket impacts ease and I also want to practice the collar before I get to the fashion fabric.

I’m trying to focus on how rad this pattern will be once I have the fit in a corner. But right now, I feel like I’m in the middle of a dark tunnel looking for a pinhole of light.

No use turning around now.

P.S. ICYMI, here’s my first M6696 post: The agony and the ecstasy of fitting McCall’s M6696. As you can see from this pic, I’m doing A LOT better with fitting now.

P.P.S. Here’s my latest post: Mom status: Effortlessly cool in a Megan Nielsen Briar top.

P.P.P.S. If you’re particularly interested in shirtdresses, this article on popular fabrics for shirtdresses might wind your bobbin: Is Rayon Better Than Cotton? Fabric Guide for Sewists.

P.P.P.P.S. Here’s the original Nancy Zieman image. I had this vision of doing a Nancy illustration with her wearing lots of gold chains and me declaring her the original sewing gangster. Alas, my Photoshop skills are not so advanced.