FITTING Knits:  I’m addressing fit now rather than later when you can baste pieces together because it is at the pattern stage that I do most fitting of all my clothing.


I’m not really sure I can help the total novice and I think the experienced sewist will be disappointed that I have no new brilliant advice beyond perhaps the first sentence.  I bumbled around for years without really knowing what my fit issues were.  The fitting advice I received was buy your pattern from your bust measurement and then diagnose the fit by the wrinkles.  Unfortunately the wrinkles tell you there is a problem somewhere but not necessarily where you see the wrinkle. Kathleen Frasenella did a post wherein she asked viewers to diagnose the fit of a shirt with many diagonal lines radiating from the shoulders.  One shoulder had more lines than the other.  Many guesses were made.  From the description I gave you, did you guess the armscye was too high?  Neither did I.  But she made the correction and she was spot-on.


I bumbled into discovering my fit issues.  My teacher pointed out that my back waist length was longer than the pattern. This makes sense when you realize that patterns are designed for the 5’5 or 6″ well proportioned woman while I am 5’3″ small on top with a narrow waist.  I always check the back waist length on the pattern and adjust by this amount.  My first teacher told me to just take it off at the hem.  One of my aunts kindly pointed out that I seemed “a bit short waisted, like me” (meaning herself). She suggested I might do better by removing at least half of the total difference from above the waist. I know of others who shorten through the armscye.  From their comments, I think they, too, bumbled into that specific correction. I remove enough above the waist to bring the waist-point marked on the pattern level with my physical waist. Usually, that’s the full difference between my backwaist length and the pattern’s backwaist length.


My other issue is a narrow shoulder.  Long ago, I was made aware that my shoulder was narrower than the standard block.  The solution given to me was “add a small shoulder pad”.  Now there are some real benefits to be had by adding a shoulder pad in most garments.  You don’t need a foot-ball pad.  Just a little 1/4″ pad or even a sleeve head will do the trick.  But the advice to add the shoulder pad, while filling out the shoulder, did nothing for my collapsing front, tight neck, and strained back areas.  Each required a separate alteration.  BTW, I was evaluated as having a hollow chest from sitting and bending forward so much at my desk job.  But that’s not the real correction(s) that I need, although those 3 corrections did create a nice fitting garment.  What I really needed was a narrow shoulder adjustment.  I was amazed the first time I did this.  All of a sudden, necklines lay where they were supposed to and there was no unintended excess fabric across the front.  Surprisingly the “broad back”  (presumably broadened by posture and age), just disappeared.


Point is:  fit is very personal.   The novice will have to do some sleuthing on her own.  My best advice is find a buddy to take measurements.  DH’s and boyfriends are good for this duty.  (But be prepared. They think you’ve invented a new doctor/patient game just for them and want to switch roles as well.)  Also measure your best fitting clothing at the same points.  BTW you may measure hips on a great fitting pair of pants, but waistline of your favorite dress or shoulder length of your perfect blouse.  What you’ll note here is the difference between your body and the garment you love, which gives you  your very own, personally, preferred ease.  Now compare measurements with your pattern. You don’t want your pattern to have the exact same numbers as your body measurements and maybe not even the same as your favorite garment measurements.  There are garments whose style lines demand – and will receive- a different measurement.   Now think this through.  If you are making a full skirt, gathered at the waist, you probably do want the hip measurement to be greater than the hip from your favorite pants but the waistband should fit close to your body. So the waistline measurement will probably equal or be just a little greater than your own waistline.  Likewise, if you are making a dance wear top, the bust measurement most likely will be the same or less than your own bust and certainly less than the bust measurement of your favorite dress.  You do have to use some discretionary judgement and compare between your body measurements, your favorite clothing measurements and the pattern measurements for the style you want to create.


Was that confusing?  That’s why I wrote I wasn’t sure I could help the novice.  To fit knits, you need to already know your fitting issues, what you want in the final garment, and how your fabric will behave.


TNT’s (tried and trusted (or true)) patterns are a big help.  If you lucked out and have a garment you like from one of your patterns, put that pattern  to use.  I routinely dig out my TNT T-shirt and compare with every knit-top pattern. I can see at a glance that the shoulder is too large, the garment too long and the waist of the pattern is much lower than my TNT. And yes, I make pattern alterations with just this comparison.


Generally at this point in sewing knits (i.e. I’ve chosen a knit fabric to be used with the chosen pattern-designed-for-knit-fabrics), I make 2 standard  adjustments.  I

1) remove 1″ from the back waist length above the waist

2) remove 1″ wedge from the shoulder both front and back pattern pieces.


Usually, if I compare with my TNT T-shirt (we are talking knits here), I’ll find that the pattern pieces match up very closely.  I might check a few things that look odd.  A really small looking sleeve will prompt me to reconsider the stretch.  Currently most top patterns are drafted 1-2″ too short for me.  Once I’m sure the waist is correctly placed, I’ll add to the bottom.


I do have an immensely useful and helpful dressform.  When first purchased, I spent two weeks fitting her.  A year later padding seem to have shifted and I had lost more weight.  I remeasured and refit my dressform, Mimie.  Mimie is good for photographs and pinning things on, but my real favorite use is tissue fitting.  After I’ve made my standard adjustments, I pin the pattern tissue together on the seam lines and pin onto Mimie.  Mimie is more than just equal padding to my own and owner of my favorite best fitting bra.  Over the weeks, months and years that I’ve been working with her, I’ve added lines with a black Sharpie.  I noted the lowest and the highest I want my necklines.  Same with armscyes.  Because I used a “fitting pattern” (Butterick 5746 no longer available), my waistline, hipline and bust points are indicated right on Mimie.  I can pin the tissue onto Mimie and see immediately if:

  •   The neckline is going to be too low.
  •   The bust points line up
  •   There is not enough ease across the hip
  •   The hip line matches or doesn’t match
  •   There is too much ease in the waist or not enough
  •   The shoulder straps are placed beyond my shoulder point or
  •   The shoulders are too wide
  •   and most of the other fitting issues that will occur with this pattern.

You can tissue fit without a dressform. I can’t help you. I tend to shred my pattern during the process and miss important issues (like not enough ease in the hip). Good luck. It can be done. I’m tissue-fit challenged. You could be a real Star.


Even after tissue fitting, there can be issues that can’t and won’t be detected until the garment is worn or at least basted together.  I couldn’t tell for instance that the turtle neck on one pattern would stack just below my nostrils, no matter what I did; and I didn’t detect this issue until the first day I wore it all day. (10 hours is a long time; long, l—o—n—g, time to fight with a collar.) Let’s face it: 3% lycra is going to react different from 8% lycra and different from a tissue pattern. Some will lift your bust points up to those on the pattern. Others will only squash what you have into nothing or down your rib cage into your waist. I do stop and make any adjustments indicated from the tissue fit, fully knowing and accepting that I will need to tweak the fit later.


For me, personally, my procedure when fitting is:

  1. Choose a pattern appropriate for my fabric and it’s stretch.
  2. Choose my pattern size by bust measurement for tops or hip measurement for bottoms. (Careful here. Burda uses finished measurements while most others pattern companies show hip measurement and have already accounted for ease. This is not the same as the finished measurement.
  3. Make my standard alterations to backwaist length and shoulder width (I do support the theory that lengths should be adjusted before widths because I’ve had more success moving the waist and hip portions of the pattern into place before changing the width.)
  4. Compare with a TNT – this is usually when I tweak where the hem should fall
  5. Tissue fit on Mimie
  6. Take a deep breath, layout the pattern and cut away.

I’ve written a lot. But I haven’t scratched the surface of the fit topic. There are thousands of books published on the fit concept; from every point of view i.e. the home sewist, RTW, even bespoke. I have an impressive collection of books on fit. It should be a given and forgiven that I didn’t and couldn’t address your specific issues. That is your journey. Go ahead enjoy it.