Broad Backs

After my Pussy Bow Blouse post Jenny asked me how I did a broad back adjustment. I’m not much of an expert at fitting but there are a few techniques I have used in the past which might help.

I have a broad back and also broad shoulders and the adjustment I use depends on what sort of fit I am trying to get.

Option 1 – for the Pussy Bow Blouse I just added strip up the centre. The pattern had to be cut on the fold so I just laid the centre back of the pattern piece 2cm from the fold and cut round it as normal. Easy, no pattern adjustment required! I also had to adjust the length of the bow across the back neck and if your pattern has a facing, you would have to adjust that too. The downside of this adjustment is that the back neck is made wider but I was lucky, as it doesn’t seem to have produced any gaping.

img_2032Option 2 – As I have broad shoulders I have in the past just added a vertical strip starting mid shoulder (figure G). This is good in that it solves both fitting issues at once, however it does mean your waistline is also affected. For this adjustment you also need to adjust the shoulder line on your front bodice

Option 3 – This is probably the adjustment I use most often. It allows me to adjust for both my broad back and broad shoulders but does not affect the waist measurement. First you draw lines as show in figure B – the first is parallel to the grain from the mid-shoulder to the waist, the second is perpendicular to this and runs to just below the arm hole. Cut across the shorter perpendicular line and then up the vertical line to the shoulder, then slide the piece you have cut out so there is a gap equal to the amount you want to adjust by (figure D). Then you have to true up the side seam so it is the same length as the original (figure F). Don’t forget to also adjust the shoulder seam on your front bodice.

img_2027Option 4 – This is good if you don’t have to adjust your shoulder line. Firstly draw the same figure B lines as you had before. Then starting at the waistline you cut up to the shoulder leaving a small hinge at the top and across the perpendicular line leaving a small hinge at the side seam. Push the side seam out leaving a gap the size of the adjustment you need (figure C). You will then need to true up the waist seam so it matches the original (figure E)

img_2028I usually determine the size of the adjustments I need by comparing the pattern pieces to my block. If the pattern is for a fitted garment I find an adjustment of up to 4cm across the back and 2cm on each shoulder is required. For less fitted garments, which will have some design ease already added, the adjustment is usually smaller. I’m not sure why this is but adding in the full 4cm means I am swamped by the finished garment.

One problem I have not been able to resolve is that if I chose a fitted pattern using my bust measurement and then add 4cm at the back I find this makes the front a bit large. Some people advocate choosing your pattern size by using your upper bust measurement, but I find my upper bust measurement is the same as my full bust despite being a D cup – this is probably again because of the broad back – so this doesn’t really help me. If anyone has a suggestion as to how I can resolve this please let me know!




Jacket Toile

Last weekend I moved flat and spent most of the week unpacking and running backwards and forwards to Ikea. Funny, I’ve never had any problems with their products in the past but two items I bought this week had faulty components. Ikea furniture is great but their customer service is possibly the worst. Anyway most things have been unpacked now. I just need to work out how to fit all our pots and pans into our incredibly badly designed kitchen (large but with no storage or work space!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI took the opportunity of a few quiet hours this weekend to make a toile of my jacket. The
pattern I am using is Burda 102 03/2013. Thank you for all your useful suggestions from my last post particularly the link to the tailoring sew along. Having read through this I think I will follow her construction method as it’s my first jacket and it’s clear this is taking me into a whole new world of techniques.

Some thoughts occurred to me as a I made my toile;

Firstly, I should probably try to be more accurate when tracing Burda patterns. I originally started by trying to trace onto manilla parcel paper using tailors carbon paper and a wheel, however I didn’t find this very satisfactory. It’s difficult to get carbon paper of any size and if you move it as you trace you can knock your pattern out of kilter. Also the marks left are quite indistinct, I really need large sheets of dark coloured carbon paper for this to be successful but I’ve not found a source in London as yet.

A friend suggested a better (though slightly more destructive way) would be to use a spiked wheel. To do this I place a foam board on my kitchen work surface, then a layer of brown paper and lastly the pattern. The spiked wheel punctures through to the foam board which protects the work surface. I use the kitchen work surface rather than a table as its slightly higher so puts less strain on my back. This works very well and gives me a clear line. The problem is that I then go over the line free hand with a thickish felt pen. I think I need to rethink this step and use a finer pen and probably guide it with a ruler or French curve.

How do you trace your Burda patterns? Have you found a good source of carbon paper in the UK?

Secondly, I need to get a grips with sewing notched collars. I did this one late at night using a mixture of Burda’s instructions and my own intuition. It didn’t really help that I had obviously missed the mark on the pattern piece where the notch was supposed to go. This morning I looked it up in my DK Sewing Book and found a much simpler method of making them.

20130304-133851.jpgThirdly, the dart is quite tricky on this jacket and incorporates a horizontal seam which runs at right angle to the bottom of the dart legs. If I do make a mess of this the pocket pieces will hide the worst of it, but for myown satisfaction I’d like to get it right.

Lastly, I really need to spend some time practising sleeves. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. I have a feeling the difference is to do with the amount of ease in a sleeve (but on this jacket I seem to have one sort of ok and the other really bad so that doesn’t apply here). I’m also really bad at working out which is the front and which is the back of a sleeve

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo what do you think of the fit on this toile (apart from the fact that I am so lopsided)? I find it difficult to tell given that the calico I’m using is very light and drapey and I intend to make the jacket in a medium weight wool.  I think it would be more flattering if it were a bit more fitted around the waist, maybe starting with a smaller size might help.

I’ve got a curved wrinkle that runs from the armscye over the top of my breast, on the pictures it only came out on one side but it’s apparent on both when I stand in front of the mirror.  I probably need to pinch that out, but I need to be careful of not taking fabric out across my bust as it fits quite well there. Have you any suggestions as to how I fix this?

I’ve also got a bit of dragging under the bust where I think it’s being pulled from the back, I have a broad back so I may be able to fix this by letting out a bit on the arm/side seams.

Lastly, the back looks too big to me.  Almost as if I could do with a smaller size. Again it’s difficult to tell in the calico as the added structure of a firmer fabric might help.

Tracing Patterns


I found this tip in the latest edition of Threads magazine. If you draw over your pattern lines with a wax crayon and then place the pattern over a clean piece of paper and iron, the wax will transfer onto the new paper along with all your pattern markings.

I was keen to try this out so I drew myself a little pattern and transferred it to the brown paper above. The crayon had to be applied quite thickly and as you can see the transferred markings aren’t completely clear, but they are enough to give some guidelines to cut or draw over.

What do you think? Are they accurate enough to use for copying Burda patterns?

Incidentally, I use a similar technique to remove split wax from table cloths (always seems to happen at Christmas). I place some brown paper on the cloth and iron it. The wax transfers to the paper leaving just a small greasy stain which can be washed out.

Fitting Books

One of the reasons I like to make my own clothes is that I can get a better fit for my body than I can buying a garment.  Having said that achieving a good fit is proving very difficult. I’m lucky in that I’m average height and a fairly slim build and can usually find clothes that sort of fit me, but I want more than that I want a really good fit; one that is flattering and comfortable.

Being an inveterate book buyer I have bought three books on the subject and I thought it would be worth giving a quick review of them here.

The first book I bought was one that a lot of bloggers seem to mention; Fit for Real People by Palmer, Alto and Schilling. This book goes though the main alterations required for a pattern using a group of women with different fitting issues. It recommends using the tissue fitting system whereby you in the pattern tissue to the person you are fitting in order to detect fitting issues.

Personally I found this book too difficult. The tissue fitting system is not simple and can’t be done on yourself. I know it’s best to get someone to help you but my sewing buddy lives the other side of the country so I’m on my own most of the time. Having Dolly does make it easier but even so I don’t find pattern tissue as malleable as these ladies imply. Also patterns printed from the Internet or traced from Burda magazines are on stiff paper which just won’t bend around your body to give an idea of the fit.

The book covers a lot of fit issues but I found that it was too complicated to use practically. Every time I have tried to use it to make an alteration I have found myself putting it back on the shelf and referring to one of my other books or making it up as I go along.  Having said that a lot of people seem to swear by this book and there are some fabulous reviews on Amazon so maybe I will find it useful once I am more experienced.

The second book I have is the Busy Women’s Fitting Book by Nancy Zieman. This was published in the 80’s and I bought it second hand along with the Busy Women’s Sewing Book, both books are fairly short but packed full of useful tips. The fit book is very straight forward and recommends using pivot and slide techniques.   It’s very easy to make the adjustments recommended once you understand where you have fitting problems, but I didn’t find the “Prepare to Fit” chapter which outlines how to determine where to make adjustments helped me understand the issues I was having.

The third book is Fitting & Pattern Alteration by Leichty, Rasband and Pottberg-Steineckert.  It was a horribly expensive book but has proved to be worth every penny.  The book describes every fit issue and technique to fit known to man, describing each problem a bit like a medical text book; I find terms like “bones may be smaller than average/ideal, there may be less weight deposit and/or muscle development than average/ideal” rather off-putting as if the person is horribly deformed in some way. It then explains what fitting problems these issues will give and provides a number of options for altering ready made garments, toiles and pattern pieces.  It is the only place I have found that explains the order you need to make alterations in.  For my Tova dress I needed to lengthen and widen the shoulder and add more to the bust.  This book was the only one that told me to adjust the shoulder length first before making any other adjustments.  Having done this I could immediately see the other adjustments I required were much smaller than I had originally thought.

One thing that this book does is to show which measurements you need to make on yourself and your pattern pieces to indicate in advance where you might have fitting problems.  All the books do this to a certain extent but this one is much more thorough. I haven’t tried using this yet but it looks like a useful feature and may reduce the number of toiles that have to be made.

I should also mention the Colette Sewing Handbook which has a chapter on fit.  Given that this is only one chapter in the book it is surprisingly comprehensive and very useful for simple alterations.  It didn’t help me with my long shoulder problem and the bust alteration described doesn’t go into details about how to adjust around an insert (like on the Tova dress) or how to adjust a princess seam.  I also didn’t find it much help in adjusting my Beignet skirt pattern which had a much deeper curve between the waist and hip than my body has.  Having said that if you have the fitting problems she describes I think this would be a really helpful book.

So what have I learned from all these books?

1)  The standard method for analysing whether you need to adjust your bust doesn’t work for me.  I have more or less the same upper bust measurement as my full bust but I am a D-cup and so will always need to add more into any pattern.

2) The order you make alterations in makes a difference and I need to alter my shoulder length before I consider any other fitting issues.

3)  The fabric you use for a toile needs to be as close as possible to the final fabric you are intending to use. I’ve been using some rather stiff calico and have found that most of my final garments need to be considerably smaller.  My first Tova dress was made out of a denim that has quite a lot of give.  The second (which I am struggling with at present) is being made out of linen and needs to be larger around the bust and across the back.

4)  There’s a certain amount of hit and miss with this stuff. Leaving a lot of seam allowance is important.

5)  I have loads and loads to learn!

Blue Peter Pattern Making

I often find that bodices don’t fit me very well due to my wide shoulders, low slung armpits and slightly larger than normal bust.  Fitting books almost always talk about bust adjustments but rarely about other adjustments needed around the shoulder area.  Recently, however, I came across “Fitting and Pattern Alteration” which is a very comprehensive book talking you through every possible fitting issue you could come across and giving you several techniques for resolving them.

For a first attempt I decided to down load the Scout Woven Tee pattern.  I could do with some casual tops and as this is a simple pattern with a very relaxed fit I thought I could use it to try out some of the techniques.  The pattern is actually a lot more simple than I expected and has no darts or bust shaping of any type.  By comparing it to Dolly and to the shirt I was wearing I could see that the armscye needed lengthening and the shoulders widening.  I wasn’t sure by how much but I made some crude guesses and put an additional 3cm into the armscye and 2.5cm across the shoulders.  I think these alterations will be much larger than I actually need and if that is the case I can reduce them later.

I chose to use the slash method of alteration which involved a lot of Blue Peter style gluing.  The next step is to make up the top – I have a pretty floral print which cost me next to nothing so if it doesn’t work out all will not be lost!

3 cm added in across the front avoiding changes to the neckline, plus pivot alteration for broad shoulders

3cm added across the back plus a pivot alteration for my broad shoulders

3cm added into the top of the sleeve

Flat Felled Seams

I’ve made my first flat felled seam!


The Ikea fabric for my Beignet skirt frayed a lot when I pre-washed it. Usually I pink seams when I sew on my Jones sewing machine but I was a bit worried that this approach would not be robust enough.  So, with a bit of research, I decided on flat felled seams using this tutorial from Colette.

I love how neat they are