How To Achieve the Perfect Fit: Dressmaking Masterclass
Claire-Louise Hardie shares her expert tips for adjusting dressmaking patterns to perfectly fit your bust, back and height
Before we begin, it's important to remember that each sewist is unique. Bodies are infinitely varied, and all equally worthy of well-fitting clothes. Dressmaking patterns are created to fit an average set of proportions, but it's very rare for any individual person to precisely match those proportions, so don't be disheartened if your measurements don't match those on a pattern.
In ready-to-wear clothing, you have to take what you're given, but when you make your own clothes you have the opportunity to create a much better fit which will be more comfortable and more flattering.
How much adjustment is needed?
First, you need to work out how much additional space you require around the bust or what you’d like to remove.
Adding extra space is a "full bust adjustment" (FBA) and removing space is a "small bust adjustment" (SBA).
Here is a helpful chart to work out the amount:
Full Bust Adjustment
- Lay the tissue pattern against yourself to establish where your bust point is. Mark onto the pattern with a cross.
- Using a ruler and pencil, draw a vertical line from the marked point to the hem. Make sure the line is parallel to the grainline on the pattern.
- From this line, draw a second line up towards the armhole, hitting the lower third of the armhole. Together, these lines are called Line 1.
- Draw a second line horizontally through the middle of the bust dart, meeting Line 1 at the bust point.
- Draw a third horizontal line a little above the hem between Line 1 and the centre front of the pattern.
- Cut along Line 1 from the hem to the armhole, making sure not to cut all the way through the armhole. Leave a hinge so you can pivot the paper. The point of the dart has now swung away from its original position.
- Cut through the line in the middle of the dart, again leave a little hinge at the
- tip of the dart so you can pivot.
- Line up the cut edges of Line 1 so they’ve been spread apart by the amount of your FBA. The edges should be parallel. You’ll notice that your dart has now spread apart too and become bigger.
- The lower edge of your hem no longer meets at the bottom, as the side that has been adjusted is now longer. Cut the third line you drew and spread apart until your hem is level.
- Fill in the spaces created with tracing paper and stick into place.
Small Bust Adjustment
- Draw in the lines as per an FBA adjustment. This is essentially the same process in reverse.
- Swing the darted side of the pattern across the other side by the desired SBA amount.
- The lower edge of the hem no longer meets at the bottom, as the side that has been adjusted is now shorter. Cut the third line you drew and overlap until your hem is level.
Some patterns will come with an adjustment line for a narrow or broad back drawn on. If your pattern doesn’t, you can easily do this yourself.
Narrow Back Adjustment
- Draw a vertical line down from the shoulder, 3cm from the armhole, to just below the bottom of the armhole. Draw a second line at a right angle from this point.
- Cut along the two lines, and slide the armhole side overlapping the paper. Stick in place. A small ¼" adjustment is often enough. Play around with this amount as you develop your fitting skills.
- Use a ruler and pencil to true up and re-draw the side seam and shoulder seam. Because we have only adjusted the upper back, the fit should remain the same around the waist. (See the orange lines on Fig B.)
- You’ll now need to make the front shoulder width a little shorter. Line up the notches on the shoulder ensuring the neckline is lined up. The front width will be a little longer than the newly adjusted back shoulder. Draw a new, narrower line from the back around the front, trimming a little of the front armhole away. Don’t forget to make sure your new curved line is smooth at the shoulder.
Broad Back Adjustment
- Start in the same way as a narrow back adjustment, drawing the two lines and cutting along them.
- Instead of overlapping the cut pattern pieces, spread them. As before, there are no hard and fast rules, but with a broad back a ¼-½" adjustment is about right. Fill in the space with some tracing paper and stick together.
- Use a ruler and a pencil to true up and re-draw the side seam and shoulder seam. (See the orange lines on Fig D.)
- This time you’ll need to make the front shoulder a little longer. As with the narrow adjustment, line up the shoulder seams, ensuring the neckline is aligned. Draw a curved line from the back shoulder down towards the front armhole, adding a sliver to the front shoulder and armhole. Check that you’ve drawn a smooth line over the shoulder.
Adjust for Height
Shorten a Pattern
Working at 90˚ to the grain, make corresponding tucks across the front and back bodice, at bust and below armhole. Make corresponding tucks across the front and back of skirt below the hips. For sleeves, shorten above and below the elbow, avoiding the sleeve head curve.
Lengthening a Pattern
Working at 90˚ to the grain, cut across the front and back bodice, at bust and below armhole. Cut across the front and back of skirt below the hips. For sleeves, cut above and below the elbow, avoiding the sleeve head curve. Spread the pattern pieces as required and fill the spaces with scrap paper
Below the Hip Adjustments
To decrease the width, make a graduated tuck from the waist to the hem, tapering to nothing at the waist, indicated by the dotted line.
To increase the width, cut the pattern piece through the waist to the hem, place over scrap paper and spread to the required size.