Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sew-Along Prep: Cutting vs. Tracing, Picking a Size, and Bust Adjustments

Hey, Sew-Alongers! Tuesday's post on muslin prepping made me realize there were a few things still needing addressing before we begin our test garments.

The first is how to handle your pattern: you'll want think about whether you want to cut out your pattern or trace it. This is a purely subjective matter that most sewists feel pretty strongly about either way—just look at all the responses to Carolyn's post on the subject! I usually cut out my patterns. (Unless they're vintage . . . but even then sometimes I cut. Don't rat me out to the vintage police, okay?) A lot of people like to trace their patterns so the original sizes are retained for future use, a perfectly understandable route. If you're in this camp, just be sure to have some pattern paper (or Swedish tracing paper or whatever it is you prefer) on hand for next week.

Secondly, let's talk about sizing. Women are often (rightly) perplexed by how to handle the fact that their body doesn't fit into one clear pattern size. For example, I got this question by e-mail earlier this week and it's a great one:

Before I start buying cloth all willy-nilly, I'd like your input on sizing.  Based on my measurements, my bust falls between 14 and 16 and waist and hips are between 10 and 12 (I'm sure you can imagine how well off-the rack (*snort * - not intended) works for me, so honing my sewing skills would be a HUGE blessing). So which would probably be easier - starting this as a size 16 and taking in like mad on the muslin, or going as a 12 with large seam allowances and taking out where needed?

First off, you're not alone! It is very rare for women to fit into one ready-to-wear size. I have a similar problem, with my hips being a size larger than my bust and waist. But there's an easy solution: with multi-size patterns like the one we're using, you can just transition between sizes where needed. So, as an example: if I need a size 10 in the waist and a 12 in the hips, I'll just take out a handy red pen and a ruler, and taper my size 10 out to a size 12 in the hips. It really couldn't be easier!

For the question above, the sewist in question will probably want to start out with a 16 in the bust, and use her red pen to taper down to a 12 in the waist. The other option is to take a high bust measurement, use this as your bust measurement, and then do an FBA on the pattern in advance to accommodate the bust. This is a good way to go if you have a relatively small frame with a large bust. (Because if you go with your true bust measurement, it might fit in the bust, only to be huge in the shoulders and upper chest.) Here's a great FBA tutorial. The method shown is taken from Fit for Real People, an excellent resource on pattern adjustments.

For an SBA (small bust adjustment), I've found that just taking in the garment along the princess seams works well.

Lastly, I wanted to say: don't stress too much about the whole muslin weight thing. As long as you're not using a super light weight muslin for a heavy weight fashion fabric (or vice versa) you should be fine. Just get the best thing you can find in your area, and go for it. I think that's it for today, sew-alongers. Oh, and make sure you've joined the Sew-Along Flickr Pool! 


  1. cool, I am all ready to do all my muslins. I am still freaking a little about the muslin weight. My biggest issue is the weight of the wool melton. I have some expensive but left over home interior fabric. I think I will do the muslin in that, at least for my husbands coat. I couldn't find a men's pea coat pattern so I made my own. I have never drafted a men's coat, I am feeling nervous about it. The wool is expensive and I do not want to mess it up.

  2. I always learn so much from sew-alongs even when I don't participate.

  3. I usually take a high bust measurment then do an FBA but this pattern fits my measurements exactly. So pleased abou this.

    I ordered my muslin today but accidently ordered the wrong amount (not enough) so am desperatly waiting for them to get back to me about fixing that. I really hope my material arrives in time for starting the sew along!

  4. Hey there! I just wanted to add my 2 cents since I always have to do a FBA. I have a 45" bust measurement and a 38" high bust measurement. I usually use the Fit For Real People method that Gertie linked to.

    When you do a FBA on a princess seam, you will add width to the waist and hip area as well - you can see that in the photos on the sew mama sew post that gertie linked to. The gap that you cut to add to the bust extends all the way to the bottom of the pattern piece, which usually covers at least the waist (like in the tank that sew mama sew uses as an example), if not the waist and hip (like if you were altering a dress pattern). Yay! kill 3 birds with one stone!

    For my measurements - I usually add 6" to a size 18 from the big 4 pattern companies (vogue-butterick-maccalls-simplicity, they use standard sizing), 8 inches to the waist and 9" to the hips. A lot of times the added width from the FBA is enough because there's enough design ease to 'fudge' the needed extra width for the waist and hips, if that makes sense. Or you can do the grading using the multi-size lines that Gertie recommends, which I always forget to do and would make my life easier!

    If you have to add more than a couple of inches (I think they say more than 3") to the bust, there is an alternate method to do the FBA that Gertie linked to - it's in the Fit For Real People book - it's almost the same, but there's an additional cut that extends to the shoulder so the width is added a little more smoothly and doesn't skew the arm area as much. I took photos of this method on my blog, but I HIGHLY RECOMMEND the book, because I am a maniac who should probably have my digital camera taken away! And possibly my rainbow-colored collection of Sharpies.

    Finally, If you do an FBA and add width to the front pattern piece, you will also have to add the same amount of width to any pattern piece that attaches to it - so I'm guessing that will be the case with this coat onaccounta the peplum piece attaching to the front bodice piece. I just line 'em up, cut the peplum piece in the same place, slide over the peplum piece to line up with the other cut edge on the bodice piece and fill in with tissue. I haven't gotten my pattern in the mail, though, so I might be jumping the gun!!

    I hope that's helpful, not confusing, and not jumping the gun!

  5. I would always recommend picking a pattern based on your high bust measurement. That way the shoulders should fit reasonably well and I swear, they're the hardest thing to tweak if they're not right. Getting the hang of the FBA if you need it (and often just lowering the bust point helps) is the next hardest thing and then pretty much everything else, width-wise, is just adding or subtracting in side seams.

    Getting into more vertical proportions (short v. long waisted, swayback, etc) can be a bit trickier, but as for picking a size, go with high bust. Every time.

    I always trace my patterns, mostly because it's how my mamma taught me and so that no matter how many changes and tweaks I make, I know I have the original there to go back to.

    My pattern is all traced out now and I'm off to the market tomorrow for some cheap stuff for the muslin. I'm still sending off for samples willy-nilly and I really, really hope the right fabric and the right fur are out there somewhere. And that that somewhere isn't charging £30 a metre for it.

  6. Like Emmy, I trace because I like the security of knowing the original is still there if I need to go down or up a size after making my muslin! Although there are a bunch of options out there, I really like the Swedish tracing paper for this purpose-sturdy enough to write on easily and flexible enough to pin fit if necessary.

  7. I just wanted to say how excited I am for this sew along. I am not planning on participating but I am reading every post and mentally building a new coat. I may change my mind about that. I am not sold on the pattern but have some great wool to use. If I can find a pattern I am in love with I may jump in. But either way I am soaking up every word and learning things already. So excited!!!

  8. I usually don't trace my patterns. Shh! Don't tell on me either.

    I love all of the tips in this post.


  9. I bought my fabric--a water-repellant home decor fabric (!) from Jo-Ann's with a really nice hand & drape. I'm pretty excited about it. Doing my muslin in a heavy-handed polyester flat sheet. :) Now I just need some rad silky lining fabric.

    I'd love to use my high bust measurement to select the size on commercial patterns. (I have very slight shoulders with very big boobs.) Which measurement on the pattern size chart corresponds with my high bust measurement? (Big 4 pattern company don't include high-bust or shoulder measurements in their size charts.)

  10. So, I have decided to jump in this, finally!!! I am in the flickr group and I showed my fabrics. I am really sorry for not using the same pattern... It is simply a question of budget! But I promise, next time, I will use the same one ;)
    I am going to read what I have so far (in my library) about tailoring.
    So far, I have cut my pattern and the muslin! Yeah me!

  11. Schrodinger's Cat - Measure your high bust and then pick the pattern size that has that measurement (or the closest to it) as their bust measurement.

  12. Thanks for the helpful information. I can't wait to get started on this project! Thanks for putting it together.

  13. On Fitting...

    I know that Sarai drafts for bigger cups in her dresses and tops. Is this true for the coat also?

    I have a 6" difference between HB and FB and always need an FBA. The FFRP FBA often adds too much width at the waist and too much length in the upper chest. I know, right? What kind of craziness is that?!

    Does anyone have any suggestions on how to remedy all the extra waist width?

    On Fabric Choices...

    I really want to use wool for the coat, but I am concerned about the fabric weight. The recommendation is to use something light in weight. Will using a wool melton or wool coating be too heavy?



  14. I bought a totally clearance coudoroy for my muslin, so I have everything now. I love the FBA advice because... well I am not embarassed or anything but I am very small boned and upon my divorce did something for me for once and got me some enhanced girls.... so my bust is big for a small framed girl so I guess the FBA is the way to go.

  15. Hi, really excited about watching the sew-along. I will make my own Lady Grey someday...

    Just a note about fitting, I highly recommend Nancy Zieman's pivot technique found in this book.

    I have made clothes for a friend who has a 53" bust and about a 33" waist. Princess seams are the easiest but the technique works for other types too and her clothes have always fit perfectly, with no fitting or alterations. It would work really well on the Lady Grey panels.

  16. Thet Traveling QuilterSeptember 9, 2010 at 10:44 PM

    I am looking for a pattern for the wedding dress on Glee to make for my daughter's Senior Ball. If you have any idea of where I could get the pattern, or any useful ideas, we would be grateful.

  17. I also learn alot just from reading.... really a wonderful blog!

  18. does anyone know where to buy swedish tracing paper online? Preferably someplace that will ship to canada

  19. Happily I found some grafted pattern tracing paper at a yard sale a couple of weeks ago--two full rolls so that should help the next time I try to fix a pattern. I also found a few other sewing goodies there too. Love those kinds of sales!

  20. Natasha,

    Swedish tracing paper can be found here:

    And also at the site recommended by Ann at Gorgeous Fabrics:

  21. I'm not ready to participate in sew along, but I'll definitely be watching.
    Thanks for bringing up the tracing vs. cutting discussion. When I was little and followed my mom in sewing, she always traced Burda patterns. Living in a different country now, I can not find the same tracing paper and the marked pattern paper which was a common thing to buy for us. So, I'm struggling a lot with tracing. Does anybody know where to get the tracing paper in the US?
    On the sizes, I found that matching finished garment measurements and my body measurements work the best for me.

  22. My pattern arrived in the post today - I'm so excited!

    I'm going to start tracing right, wait...I'll measure myself first!

  23. I just read the cutting and tracing post you mentioned--hilarious! I didn't even know one could trace until about 2 years ago. I just assumed as a teenage sewer way back when that you whacked away. But now, oh now, I never cut the right size right away. Case in point is this coat. If I go by the bust, I'm a 0, if by the waist, I'm a 6. I've never seen this difference in a pattern before, and I have the opposite problem of many people. My main concern is always my arms, which are quite large for my size and fitted sleeves rarely fit me. I've often thought I needed a custom sleeve before I attempted a jacket, but I really want to try this anyway. It's the first 2-piece sleeve I've ever done! I'm super excited--I just got my fabric today and it is amazing.

  24. Natasha I buy my swedish tracing paper on ebay

  25. So I drove myself to the store (minor victory for me - recovering from a broken ankle) and while at JoAnn's I found tracing paper by the yard in with the interfacing. Sadly, my receipt ran away, so I don't recall how much I paid for it, probably about $1.99 a yard. Still waiting on my fashion fabric, but I have received the catalog and order form for my buttons from Pat's Custom Buttons and Belts! Getting really excited now!

  26. Still waiting on my fabric from fabric mart. I got the stuff I am goign to use for muslin and a lining.

  27. Hi Gertie,
    I looooooove your blog! I'm just picking up sewing again and you've been invaluable to me.
    I have a quick question I hope you can answer for me - I've been reading and reading on FBA's, and I can't find anything to let me know whether I should be doing a FBA or transitioning between sizes. Is it just trial and error? I've already wrecked a few projects after slaving away for hours!
    I'm a size 6-8 everywhere (Australian) but a 10dd in the bust.
    Waist 61cm, hips 88-90cm and full bust 90cm with a high bust 32 inches...

    If you see this and you have the time to even give me two second reply on FBA vs transitioning for my size differentials I'd be sooooooo grateful! I haven't yet tried a FBA but it seems that doing so would only expand the waist....

    Thanking you in advance - and keep up the fantastic blog! Looking fed to your book.

    My email is in case you or any other sewing gurus want to guide this novice!


    C. Xxx


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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