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#053 BONUS: Making alterations for your body shape

with Elise Chase-Sinclair

Episode Summary

Do you ever find that when you try to buy clothes that they often fit one part of your body but not others? For example if buying trousers or jeans, you can get them to fit your hips but they are too tight or loose on the waist and too tight or loose on the thighs.

Or if you are trying to buy dresses, if you get the size to fit your bust it's too big on the shoulders or drowns your bottom half, but if you try the size on to fit your waist and hips, it's too tight across the bust?

You may have had the same experiences when making your own clothes and using the standard pattern sizing. And if you have tried to use the same size that you would buy from the shop, you may have found that it makes up to be a completely different size to what you were expecting.

Expert advice

Elise Chase-Sinclair
Elise Chase-Sinclair

I recently spoke to fitting and alterations expert Elise Chase-Sinclair about these problems. You can also listen to our chat in this bonus podcast episode.

Elise has made and altered clothes for actors, dancers, and opera singers and just regular people. She also worked as a garment technician where she's analyzed how garments fit on different bodies.

Through her work experience she's become an expert at what alteration and pattern drafting techniques get the best fit for different bodies.

Her mission is to help people feel good in their clothes by teaching them how to make their clothes fit their bodies, and not the other way around. Something that I'm definitely very passionate about as well.

Why is fit important?

Whether you have bought or made your clothes, if you they don't fit your unique proportions then they can feel uncomfortable and unflattering. When we are self-conscious about what we are wearing that can impact how we feel and how we interact with others.

But when understand how your own body differs from the standard templates you can start to make simple alterations that will make a big difference to how your clothes fit. With a few simple techniques you can pick the sizes that will make it easiest to apply the most flattering alterations. You can also apply these adjustments to patterns when making your own garments from scratch.

If you start your day wearing something that you feel good in, you're gonna have a better day than if you are trying to cram yourself into something that's uncomfortable.

What is a 'standard sizing block'?

Standard 'blocks' - size templates
Standard 'blocks' - size templates

In the fashion industry clothes are generally made to specific size charts that contain assumptions about our body proportions. They start from a range of standard 'blocks' that are templated sizes.

These blocks assume certain ratios between our bust size, our waist size and our hip size. Whilst they are evolving, many are still based on the 'average' proportions of women back in the 20th century.

In the case of some of the vintage patterns, they are also based on an assumption that you will be wearing some kind of supportive undergarments to create those proportions if they don't come naturally to you, such as corsets.

What's wrong with standard sizing?

If you are to go to your favorite shop and pull up their size chart online, have a look at where your measurements are and look at the difference between the waist and hip for a lot of the sizes.

It depends a bit by brand and a little bit if you're at the smaller size range or larger size range. Often it's around 9 or 10 inch difference between the waist and the hip for most of the sizes for example if the waist size is 30 inches, the hip is often around 40 inches.

Spoiler alert, we don't all have 9 or 10 inches difference between our waist and hip measurement. So if you don't then that is what makes jeans or pants or trousers not fit.

Jeans sizing

Let's just talk about jeans for a minute.

Elise: "I have a very sort of straight body between my hip and my waist. So most pants or jeans for my size are around nine inch difference between the waist and the hip. I have about five.

So things are either like squeezing me in the waist or they're baggy in the hip for the most part, and if it's a high rise style it's actually exaggerated .

I notice it more because my waist isn't as small as most people's waists are with my hip size, the higher you go up on the rise, the more that's exaggerated. So I actually have an easier time with low rise jeans, even though I'm a mom .

I know many moms who prefer a higher rise jeans, as they feel a bit more supported. But for me, I often can't even do them up if they fit me in the hip."

Standard cup sizes on tops and dresses

There are similar problems with tops. For a lot of brands, tops and dresses are designed for a B/C Cup.

More of the indie pattern companies are building in more cup size options but many of the patterns already out there are also based on a B/C Cup.

I don't think you need me to tell you that we aren't all a B or C cup.

So you might find you end up trying to buy to fit your bust, and then it's too big on the shoulders, too big on the back or doesn't fit around the waist and hip.

Tips for altering clothes you have bought

So what can you do if you don't have a body shape that meets the 'standard sizing' charts? Well social media might encourage you to try to change your body shape. I say forget that (I'd probably use stronger language in real life!).

Here are Elise's tips on how to change your clothes to fit your beautiful body:

  1. Understand your measurements - take your bust waist and hip measurements and see what your real ratios are i.e. the differences between each one. Compare this to standard sizing charts to see how close or far you are from sizes for different brands.

  2. Buy to fit the biggest body part - it's often easier to take in than to let out particularly with shop-bought clothes.

  3. Use darts and side seam shaping - if you have had to buy a size that it too big for one part of your body you can use darts and side seam adjustments to improve the fit

  4. Pick easy garments to start - if you are just starting with adjustments then perhaps avoid garments with more complicated construction such as linings and lots of top stitching.

  5. Try on inside out - when making adjustments it can help to try it on inside out, pin it and then try it again the right way out so you can get an idea of how it will look before you make the final adjustment

  6. Use safety pins - dressmaking pins are great but they can fall out and also stick into you when you are trying to make adjustments. Safety pins are more likely to stay in place and are less sharp when taking on and off.

  7. Get to know your body - we are all unique so depending on your proportions you may want to make adjustments in different places. If you are more curvy at the front and back (boobs and bum) then darts can help create a better fit. If you are more curvy at the sides then contouring the side seam can be a better option.

  8. Create side vents/splits - If your hips are your biggest part then an alternative to altering the shoulder area on tops, which can be challenging, is to buy to fit your top part and then to open the side seams to create vents or splits using facings or bias binding.

  9. Add cuffs and trims - if you are taller or you need to add length try adding cuffs, bands or trims to add length to sleeves, tops or dresses.

Tips for adjusting sewing patterns

I have used the tips above on garments that I have made that didn't fit as well as I had imagined so remember you can keep adjusting your made garments even after they are supposedly finished.

If you haven't made the final garment then here are some tips for getting a better fit with your patterns

  1. Use your real measurements - pattern sizes don't have any direct correlation to clothes you buy. Take your measurements and use the size charts to pick the size or sizes that match

  2. Blend between sizes - sewing patterns give you more options to be more than one size - you can pick the size for that body area and then blend between them. Mark the size you want in each area (circle the line on the pattern at the bust, waist, and hip for example) then draw a line between them. Use a bendy ruler/flexible curve or sketch freehand to smooth out any edges.

  3. It's just a guide - remember the pattern is just a template to start you off. Be bold and play with adjustments to suit your beautiful body.

For more discussion about sizing, fitting and alterations listen to the Sew Mindful podcast episode: 053 - Making alterations for your body shape with Elise Chase-Sinclair

For Elise's free PDF "Tailoring: What to Know Before you Start to Sew" for tips on being your own tailor click here:

Connect with Elise

Additional Links and resources mentioned

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Get in touch

I always love to hear about you trying out what you pick up from these episodes so do let me know:

Thank you so much for listening and for all your support. x

* this post contains affiliate links. This means if you use these links to buy something I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products I would/do use myself and all opinions expressed are my own. Read full privacy policy for more information.

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