Fitting a sewing pattern by yourself ain’t a cakewalk.
There’s tons of shimmying in and out of clothes, stabbing yourself with pins, and contorting your body in a way that makes you feel like you’re chasing your own tail (maybe that’s just me?).
When PatternReview.com offered an online class on solo pattern fitting tips from fitting expert Sarah Veblen, you know I enrolled post haste. (Veblen wrote “The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting.”) The seminar was well worth my time and money, and I came away with tons of tips to try the next time I’m fitting a sewing pattern by myself.
Here are 10 next-level pieces of advice offered by Veblen for making fitting sewing patterns a more enjoyable and productive experience.
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1.) Establish a Stress-Free Situation
Veblen said at the top of the class that fitting by yourself is not easy. It could take 4-5 muslins to get the fit you want, and a multi-dart bodice, for example, will take DAYS to refine.
To enjoy the fitting process, Veblen recommended:
- Working at your best brain time. She said she’s freshest in the morning and never works after dinner.
- Eating something. Hanger (hunger + anger) is REAL, y’all. Be satiated before you start.
- Using the restroom. Again, basic body maintenance stuff.
2.) Have Your Equipment Ready
Having the right equipment set up dovetails nicely with establishing a no-stress fitting sitch. Veblen’s solo-fitting tools include:
- Framed mirror. One of those cheap-o “dorm” mirrors you can get at a big-box store — about 1 foot by 4 feet. This kind of mirror is easy to move around, and the frame provides protection against breakage should it be bumped and hit the floor.
- Large hand mirror. Stand with your back toward the framed mirror and use a hand mirror to check out your back.
- Smartphone (or digital camera) with a timer. Relax your body and capture shots of what the muslin REALLY looks like.
- Tripod. For best results, you need something to hold your camera. Veblen uses a ring light with a phone holder. A selfie stick could work. And, if you’re all about that analog life, a stack of books is passable, too.
3.) Pins Make a Difference
Veblen’s favorite pins for fitting are Japanese steel pins, one-and-three-eighths inches long, with glass heads. (I also recommend pins with glass heads because you can iron with them in fabric and they won’t melt.)
Retire pins with bends and burrs. (Store them in an old pill bottle with a tight cap.) Pins used for fitting should slide easily into fabric to make changes as small as one-sixteenth of an inch. Good pins = greater accuracy = better-fitting garments.
Veblen also suggests using a wrist pin cushion to keep your pins close by at your work. I second this motion and am deeply in love with my magnetic wrist pincushion.
4.) Mark Your Muslin
Veblen had three amazing suggestions for reference marks on a fitting muslin. Make these marks on the muslin BEFORE trying it on:
Draw a one-inch grid with colored pencils (Veblen suggested Prismacolor pencils) or markers in the area you’re fitting. That way, when you look at your photos, you can use the grid as a location guide for making adjustments.
For example, if you saw a drag line below the yellow line and right of the purple line (but left of the green line), you’ve now got a specific starting point for changes once the garment is off your body. No more guessing WHERE the issue is!
To ensure sure the the left and right fronts match across the center, draw registration lines across the break to match once the muslin is on your body. It’s often hard to see if pattern pieces are properly aligned when you’re pinning them on yourself.
Right Side and Left Side
If you’re doing a lot of fitting in front of a mirror, it’s easy to get confused over which side is right and which side is left. Go ahead and write “right” and “left” on the garment and save yourself the head scratching when reviewing photos.
I do something similar to this when I’m sewing with muslin fabric. The right and wrong sides of muslin are identical, so I write “RS” and “WS” on the pattern pieces to prevent confusion.
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5.) Enter in the Front
The center front of a garment is the easiest point of ingress and egress when fitting solo. You can see what you’re doing (vs. struggling with a back opening), and the center front is equidistant from both hands (vs. an opening on one side).
Even if the design of your garment calls for a back or side opening, Veblen said to shift it to the front for fitting ease. (Obvs you’ll need to add a center front seam and seam allowances.)
6.) Stand at Ease
This might take you by surprise, but it’s best to stand in your everyday stance when fitting. Don’t pull back your shoulders and erect your neck (unless that’s how you naturally stand).
If you stand super-straight ONLY for fitting, your garment won’t fit correctly — or be comfortable to wear — when you don it for real life.
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7.) Solve No More Than 2-3 Problems at a Time
Hearing Veblen talk candidly about the difficulty of pattern fitting kinda blew my mind. She said the best you can do during a pattern fitting session is to solve two to three problems, MAX.
There are two reasons for this:
- You can make 2-3 changes that work together.
More than three changes at a time probably will throw off fit in another part of the garment. Veblen recommends making 2-3 changes to Muslin No. 1, transferring those changes to pattern pieces, and sewing Muslin No. 2 with the updated pattern pieces. (Then make 2-3 changes on Muslin No. 2, etc.)
- Too many changes at a time is confusing.
Limiting the number of changes forces you to focus on the 2-3 issues in front of your face. No scope creep, please.
And she emphatically proclaimed that you should be PROUD of yourself when you make these 2-3 changes! That’s good, hard work!
8.) Take Good Notes
As you make rounds of changes, make note of WHAT you did and HOW it felt. Trust me, it’s easy to make alterations, step away for a few days, and return to the fitting project not knowing where to pick up.
I like making notes on pattern pieces and including the date. That way, I can reconstruct a timeline of adjustments.
9.) Know When to Take a Break
Veblen was passionate about knowing when to call it during a fitting sesh. If you feel tired, frustrated, or hungry, you should be done fitting (for now).
Another good time to pause is when you’ve made a few changes to the muslin and need to transfer them to the paper pattern pieces. Basically, stop while you’re ahead.
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10.) Train a Fitting Assistant
Your partner, roommate, and even children (!) can be trained to help with pattern fitting. Veblen said she successfully trained her grade-school-aged daughters back in the day to properly pin and read drag lines.
When you’re fitting, two sets of eyes are better than one set, and Veblen insisted that the people who care about you will be eager to help you with your hobby if you ask.
Think of it this way — you’re the fitting “brain,” explaining where (e.g., at drag lines) and how (e.g., horizontally, vertically) to pin, and your helper is the “hands.” We all need an extra set of hands sometimes.
Final Thoughts on Solo Sewing Pattern Fitting
The No. 1 thing I walked away with from this online class was that it’s important to pace yourself while fitting by yourself. This is a difficult skill in which to gain proficiency, and it’s physically challenging when you’re alone.
Veblen emphasized that it’s crucial to take your time and be willing to experiment. And, your comfort in a me-made garment is more important than perfect fit.
Over to you: What’s your favorite fitting resource? What’s your experience fitting sewing patterns all by your lonesome? Have any hot tips to share with your fellow sewists? Please sound off in comments! Thanks for reading.
P.S. Should you have an opportunity to take a sewing class with Veblen, take it! She’s a wealth of knowledge, warm and friendly, and eager to answer student questions. You can check out her website to book virtual one-on-one meetings.
P.P.S. PatternReview.com has a good selection of online classes from other teachers, too!
Best fitting tip I ever read: fit pictures are only good if you plan to stand still in the garment. If you’re planning to move around in it, make videos!
YES! Good call. Seeing a garment in motion, too, can help you connect what FEELS weird with what LOOKS weird.
Hi! I see the colored grid on the shoulder. Could the grid be placed in another spot where there are fitting issues? Hope this is not a dumb question. Thanks.
Hi, Sherrill! Thanks for reading.
This is not a dumb question. The grid could ABSOLUTELY be placed in a different spot.
It’s just good to focus on one fitting area at a time.