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).
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:
|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:
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:
Naturally any adjustments you make to a front pattern piece you must make to a back pattern piece.
TOPIC SPOTLIGHT: FITTING
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!
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:
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?
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.
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.
I first saw the pivot and slide method of fitting in the excellent books by Edna Bryte Bishop published in the 1960s. If you get a chance to check them out look for the Bishop Method of Clothing Construction and Fashion Sewing by the Bishop Method. A lot of sewing methods we now take for granted were introduced by her.
I’ve never heard of this! I’ve got more stuff to borrow from the library! Yay!
Does a person need to add seam allowances after doing the pivot?
I am also needing to do a lowered bust dart. I have Nancy’s old book packed away somewhere. Ill find it. Does the new book address lowing a dart? even doing a Full Bust Adjustment?
Hi, Joanne! I’ve got answers for you.
1.) If the pattern piece already has a SA, you shouldn’t need to add a SA after the pivot.
2.) Yes, there’s info in Pattern Fitting with Confidence (affiliate link – I get a teeny-tiny commission should you buy anything at Amazon through that link) about how to lower a bust dart.
3.) Yes, there’s a how-to on increasing the bustline.
Thanks for reading!
Thanks! It’s great to feel like I’ve made headway!
This new muslin definitely looks like the fit is on a much better track. I’m excited to see the finished dress.
Thank you for sharing your fitting struggles. I’m new to making pattern fitting changes and I’m encouraged by seeing that I’m not alone in not getting all the correct changes on the first try. I’m an impatient sewer, though., I feel like i’m wasting time making the same garment over and over and….
Hey, Diane! Thanks for reading! I’m excited to FINALLY make this dress.
Yeah, fitting can be a beast. I struggle with the same feelings – guilt/anxiety over wasting time and materials.
The thing is, though, that every step is progress, even the steps that feel like they’re taking you backward! I swear! I try to reframe my missteps as little lessons in what didn’t work. And knowing what didn’t work lets you move toward what’s going to work.
You’re not alone. Give yourself a lot of grace and heaps of credit for going for it! And when you’re feeling frustrated, leave a comment somewhere where other sewists can lift you up! I got you, girl! The sewing community has your back. Keep at it; we’ve ALL been there!
Great post. I have bought Nancy’s book and am confused over the right size measurement. If 14” = Size 14 is that a US 14 and a European Size 10?
I would bet my bottom dollar it’s US 14 because Nancy was based in the U.S. When I’ve used this technique, I’ve assumed it’s U.S. sizes and it’s worked fine. Good luck!
OMG, I’ve been sewing over 40 years and like you, when I went to my bookshelf while trying to fit a jacket muslin, I finally read Nancy’s measuring instructions, what a revelation! Me, a size 8??? I have shoulders like a linebacker! I’ve always used size 12 and, come to think of it, yes, the neck, sleeve area is usually too big. Instead of the pivot method, I’m going to try just using the multi-size pattern lines and cut a 12 in the hips, 10 in the waist and 8 at the top of the jacket. Thank you Nancy! RIP!
Thanks for reading, Nancy! This book and technique are game changing, for sure. I think sewists get hung up on the idea that it’s better to make garments that are too big, because you always can take them in. BUT – when you’re in the very first stages of making a garment, starting small and adding width and length is SO MUCH EASIER than the opposite.
Does this pivot method work regardless of how much difference there is in pattern measurement and body measurement? My “correct size” is 14, yet my full bust measurement is 9″ larger than the pattern envelope indicates for a size 14.
Hey, Anna! Thanks for reading. Nine inches is a big difference. The thing about the pivot method is that the excess is divided across the number of seam allowances with which you’re working. So, for your bust, if you’re working with four seam allowances (two on the left side and two on the right side)… 9/4 = 2.25 inches. Which seems more reasonable.
This is a YT vid where she talks about the technique: https://youtu.be/bfmleCst2rE. Maybe it will help? Her book, Pattern Fitting with Confidence, is great and covers the technique, too. I got it from my library before I decided to buy it.
The best thing you could do is make a muslin using the technique. Then you’ll have some information to make decisions with. Good luck! 😀
I’ve just come across this technique. My back at my high bust is wide and at my fullbust narrow. I normally need to do wide back adjustment on upper back, while reducing back width from the bust down. The difference between my high bust and full bust on just my front is 7″. As compered with a base 11″ chest. That’s a 3½” increase on each front side seam. The extra length I need from high bust to underbust over apex vs front side seam is 4″.
A conventional 3½” FBA changes the shape of the armhole a lot to go around the curve of the bust.
I haven’t seen enough information to be confident this technique will work at this scale, and patterns from designers who use slip and slide techniques to create full bust fronts don’t work for me.
Hey, Karey! Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.
TBH I am not sure how pivot & slide is going to work for your body. The reason I think it might not work great is because P&S assumes a full bust that has a greater circumference vs. the high bust, and, if I’m understanding this correctly, your high bust circumference is greater than your full bust circumference, and most of the greater high bust circumference comes from a wide back.
(I just wanted to restate to help me understand what’s going on.)
OK, just kinda turning this over in my brain…
Adding 3.5 inches to each front side seam is A LOT, and I’m concerned it’s going to make the shape of the front pattern piece go all wonky. I’m less concerned about the 4 inches additional length.
RE: FBAs – Yeah, you want to change the armhole as little as possible. A long time ago I found an FBA tutorial for ppl who need bigger-than-average adjustments (I’m going to say adjustments over 2 inches) where the armhole slash is pushed up the armhole toward the shoulder – maybe sitting at the top 1/3 of the armhole (vs. the average slash at the lower 1/3 of the armhole).
The armhole slash then comes over more of the front-top of the chest vs. out of the side. It’s kinda more like a princess seam, which is GREAT GREAT GREAT for sewists who need greater-than-average bust adjustments to get the front pattern pieces to accommodate body volume.
Actually, I recommend turning your dart situation into a princess seam. That way you could spread more of that front pattern piece circumference increase across more seams, and it would put the increase over where you really need it most – at the bust apex – vs. at the side of the shirt.
I hope this is making sense!
I guess this is how I’d approach what you’ve got going on here:
-Try following the Nancy Zieman pivot and slide as directed (use this video: https://youtu.be/bfmleCst2rE). If it works, cool, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Test and see!
-Measure the width of your BACK at upper bust, full bust, waist, high hip, and the length from your back neck to desired shirt length. Compare these measurements to the back pattern piece flat measurements (use this post as a guide: Flat Pattern Measuring for Fit Adjustments. Make adjustments to your back pattern piece. My thought is that if you can get the easy (because it’s relatively flat) back fitting well, you can move on to the front.
THEN I would try the Zieman pivot and slide on the FRONT pattern piece and see what happens. Make sure your front and back side seams and front and back shoulder seams match!
-If pivot and slide still is a bust for the front pattern piece, I would try a conventional FBA (slashes at armhole, side dart, bottom hem) putting the armhole slash in the upper third of the armhole (as described above).
-If that is a fail for the front, I would try some sort of dart conversion to a princess dart for the front pattern piece (as mentioned above).
-If that’s a fail, I would look into a pattern that does a better job accommodating your unique body volume. Because, there comes a point when adjustments can get kinda bizarre and the intent of the pattern designer is just kinda lost.
I took this class with sewing educator Sarah Veblen (https://sewing.patternreview.com/cgi-bin/sewingclasses/class.pl?id=237) about sewing for a rounded tummy, and it got into some REALLY good tips and ways of thinking about princess seams. Even if you don’t have a body volume in the tum area, this class is worthwhile, because it covers WHY princess seams are so good – they let you put extra width/circumference right where you need it vs. putting it at a side seam where it’s distributed more generally. I hope this makes sense.
If you’d like to do a vid call to talk about this, I’m game. I might do a better job orally explaining these fitting strategies vs. writing them here. LMK – firstname.lastname@example.org.
GOOD LUCK! You’re learning so much!
Yes, I’ve watched her YT video. Adding 2.25 inches to the side seam by the pivot method is just too much. It makes the armhole seam “wonky” and just doesn’t work. But my second muslin was done with the slide method and although I’m still tweaking for other issues, that seems to work better. However, I am still going to get Nancy’s book from my library. Thanks for your help.
Glad I could give you a little bit of an assist! 😀
Where has Nancy been all my life? LOL. i’ve been sewing off/on for 35 yrs….i just discovered Nancy and her right size fitting. anxious to try it out and see how it works. Seems like a long shot with me. evidently, I am a size 10 but these dang boobs are going to make me adjust for a total of 7.5″ (divided by 4). UGH.
I can’t wait to give this a try. Had planned on making a dress – B6446. However, i’m afraid the slide and pivot method might be complicated for me on this pattern (not a simple bodice) and decided to just try it out on a top. will be using test fabric on both projects though!
and can I just complain that evidently in the past 15 months my waist measurement has changed significantly…. i hate covid and i hate getting closer to 50 :(.
Hi, Melissa! Thanks for reading!
Nancy Zieman’s pattern adjustments are the best. She approaches fitting and mods in a way that doesn’t make me sweat, ya know?
RE: bust adjustment for a wrap dress – I did a touch of sleuthing, and it looks like an FBA for a wrap dress isn’t much different than an FBA for a regular, cut-on-the-fold bodice. I found this tute from Sew Over It: https://sewoverit.com/1940s-wrap-dress-sewalong-full-bust-adjustment-wrap-bodice/. You could have some “fun” (what’s fun to one sewist is masochism to another, HA) and compare a pivot-and-slide alteration to a traditional FBA alteration. I’d be curious to see how different the bodice pattern pieces look and how differently they fit.
Good luck! You got this!
Is the size you use the one on the back of the Pattern or the one on the pattern it self, do you know? Thanks
Hi, Debbie. I *think* you’re asking about how to choose a pattern size based on Zieman’s methodology.
She says to measure across your front chest (there’s an illustration in the blog post here). She puts Size 14 in the middle of the pattern sizes. From Size 14, Zieman instructs you to go down or up one size for every 0.5 inches from 14 inches.
For example, I measured 12.5 inches. From Size 14 (14 inches), 12.5 inches is three sizes smaller —>
12.5 (Size 8) \ 13 (Size 10) \ 13.5 (Size 12) \ 14 (Size 14)
Does this make sense?
You also can measure flat pattern pieces to help you choose a pattern. Here’s a post on that: Flat Pattern Measuring for Fit Adjustments.
A good shortcut, too is to measure you UPPER bust, compare it to the FULL bust measurement suggestions on the envelope, and pick the closest number. For example, if my UPPER bust measured 32.5 inches (and my full bust measured 34.5 inches), I would pick a Size 10 with a listed FULL bust of 32.5 (vs. a Size 12 with a listed 34.5 FULL bust). In other words, pretend you UPPER bust measurement is your FULL bust measurement (when picking a size). For the most part, it’s easier to size up than size down, esp. in the shoulders/upper chest zone.
I think the most fail-safe way to get your best size is flat pattern measuring.
I loved this post and I loved her! She is a “Rockstar” to me. ((I am old!))
Nancy is the best!
I like this method of fitting. I have a larger bust as well. I usually do an FBA to increase the cup size, then divide the remaining difference between the seam allowances. I find the bust seems to fit a bit better than adding the whole difference all the way around.
Good tip, Cindy! Adding to the overall circumference works good… until you get to those body spots with lots of curves and volume. FBA first, check!