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Jan 27, 2011

Further dealings with fit + YOUR favorite fit resources!

I spent a lot of time yesterday measuring shirt yokes.   Following David Coffin's instructions for fitting the back of a shirt with a drape method, I cut a yoke from a shirt pattern whose yoke fit best -- in this case it was the TNT Butterick 4712 pattern -- pinned it to a tee shirt, and then attached (draped) a large rectangle of fabric from this, marking the ends of the yoke on the fabric, and then matching these edges to the pattern and tracing in the sides as drafted -- does that makes sense? I'm in of a bit of a rush this morning.

Of course, I just ended up with the exact same back piece that I would if I'd followed the pattern directly and why wasn't this obvious to me earlier?  The problem isn't the width at the shoulder.  It's the fullness that remains where my back narrows below (that's the back piece on the dress form below, not on me, btw).

Now I'm thinking, if I want a narrower back piece, I should just cut 1/2 inch off the sides of either end, below the armscye.  There's a bit about this in my Singer book, The Perfect Fit.  I'll explore this further later to today.  I don't think darts are what I want.  David Coffin thinks that darts are "merely evidence of ill-cut side seams" (p. 21)  Hmm....

I measured the yokes of all my shirt patterns for the first time.  For my shoulders, the yoke shouldn't be more than 17 inches from shoulder to shoulder, a little under is even better.

But many of my patterns have yokes wider than that; I'd never even thought about it before.

I even took a peek at Negroni....whoa.

Willy didn't know what to make of all this.

Some of you have suggested that perhaps I am at high risk of overfitting.  Possibly but I don't think I'm at that stage yet though I'll admit it's a slippery slope.

Wise readers and sewists of differing skill levels, what are your favorite resources regarding fit?  Along with too many encyclopedic sewing guides, I have the aforementioned Singer The Perfect Fit and yesterday ordered an old edition of Fit for Real People on Amazon, though it doesn't specifically address men's bodies.  A shoulder is a shoulder, right?  And I'm a real person, sort of.

Anyway, I'd love to hear what resources you have been using successfully and what you'd recommend for others.  David Coffin's book is helpful when it comes to men's shirts but it left me with a few unanswered questions.  I'll bring these with me to my session next Tuesday morning with Celebrity Sewing Guru.  I can hardly wait.

Any must have resources out there?  I know Fit for Real People has a lot of enthusiastic support.  Are people really doing those pattern pin-fits?  Are they easier than making a muslin and transferring the changes back onto the pattern?

Some of you have been dealing with this for decades.  I want to hear from you!

Have a great day everybody!


  1. I'm currently fitting a pattern for the first time (for my first 2 dresses I jumped right, of course they fit awfully). I'm using the Fit for real people method of tissue fitting, and its really helped. I have to get my OH to help with the back, but other than that its great. I haven't just relied on the tissue fitting though, I made a muslin too with my altered pieces. I'm glad I did, as it helped me tweak the height of the darts that were too low after an FBA. But all in all, its great :D I'm about to make up the entire dress in muslin. I think it's ok, but I want to make sure :)
    Ashley x

  2. I use some of the methods of pattern alteration mentioned in FFRP, but I don't (and have never) believe in chopping into a perfectly good master pattern and taping or pinning it to your body.

    As for darts being the sign of an ill-fitting side seam, I have to disagree. At least on women's clothing, darts take in fullness beneath and above where it's needed. I can't cut a piece of fabric wide enough to cover my bust and take it in at the waist side seams and expect it to fit. It won't fit.

    Your back curves in the middle of your back in ways it doesn't at the side seams. It's really a question of how closely you want your shirt back to fit...

    For overfitting, I try to keep one hand on the pattern envelope as I mess with the pattern, or else keep one hand on my inspiration photo. Then I don't over fit (which I take to mean making it tighter or closer fitting than is strictly necessary.).

  3. FFRP is by far my favorite - and I own them all! I've been tissue-fitting and then pin-fitting my patterns for about 20 years. My ex-husband used to make fun of me but it really does work. Yes, it takes time but I have a closet full of well-fitting garments that I love to wear!

  4. This morning I took the David P. Coffin book with me in the car to review during our hour long drive home and refresh my memory. I also grabbed the Threads magazine issue on shirtmaking.

    Beside's David Coffin's book, I also have Fit For Real People, Pattern Fitting With Confidence by Nancy Zieman and a couple of old Singer books. I have read the first three cover to cover but when it came to fitting for myself, nothing seemed to work, I always have excess fabric -- wrinkles -- where the bust and arm pit meet. I've tried the forward shoulder adjustment, rounded back adjustment, etc... Nothing worked. I'm a freak.

    Looking forward to the weekend, I'm going to trace my Colette pattern, it's too expensive to cut!

  5. Sewsister, this might be a silly question, but have you tried a fba? The wrinkles you describe sound like the wrinkles I used to get that an FBA fixes. FBAs change the shape of the armscythe in addition to giving more length and width...

  6. @Steph: No, I haven't tried a FBA as the girls always seem to be in the right place but maybe I'm missing something! Thanks so much for the tip, I'll try that next time!!!

  7. You're not overfitting. Yet. ;-) My comment yesterday was because once we sewers start analyzing fit, we can get a bit overzealous. As you said, it's a slippery slope to where we forget that we need ease to move and not all wrinkles/folds are fitting issues. One cannot stand still in their clothing their entire lives.

    I like the Palmer/Pletsch (FFRP) methods except for pants. But I don't really tissue fit, except to hold up a pattern tissue across my front to see how much of an FBA I'll need. I prefer to make a fast muslin so I can try on the whole garment and not have to wrestle wrapping half of myself in fragile tissue.

    I have pretty much every fitting book I've come across and they all seem to have at least one gem. My regular go-to's are: FFRP, Fast Fit, The Perfect Fit, the Multi-Method book (brain fade and can't remember the exact full title), and a cross of Minott and Betzina for pants. I prefer slash/spread to pivot/slide.

    About your "whoa" for the Negroni yoke - you do realize you've included the seam allowance, right?

    I also agree with Steph that reducing (or adding) width at a sideseam isn't always the best solution, for the reasons she gave. I.e., if one has a particularly perky tush, one is going to need back waist darts or a CB seam which incorporates the darts where they're needed.

    I'll pull out DPC book, pg 21 (thanks) today. I was distracted yesterday by the arrival of my RenFaire patterns.

  8. I usually have to grade patterns up AND do an FBA, so my normal method is to tissue fit, muslin #1 (the first one is usually awful, and just fits around me, nothing more fancy!), then another muslin or two for fine tuning. I don't find tissue fitting super helpful apart from figuring out is something is going to fit AROUND you or be the right length - you know, for those Simplicity patterns with 10 inches of ease built in, or the indie designers whose slopers I'm not familiar with (anyone jump in with the correct grammar here!)

    I find info on fitting/sewing for men SUPER hard to come by! And not to put on the pressure or anything... but when doing projects for my man, this blog has been a first stop! I think you and Dan are close to the same size/build, so I just copy your projects! He doesn't get why I keep making him jumpsuits and burda tunics, but he trusts me...

    As for fitting books - everyone's mentioned the go-to books I use. I usually use Fit For RP for above the belt and Nancy Z's pivot and slide book (the confidence one?) for trousers... I have the Fit For Real People trouser book, but I didn't find it super-helpful, I can't really remember why! I also have the Creative Publishing "The Perfect Fit" book that's a good one to flip through - I honestly use Fit For RP the most, though. Oh! AND - Kenneth King articles in any Threads magazine - not only are the specific techniques great, but there's something about the way he goes through the process that makes it easy to apply the techniques to different fitting issues.

  9. For someone who can't seem to fit herself well no matter what she does, this discussion is wonderful. I like hearing what you guys are doing. Thanks Peter for doing this. And one day I'll make a shirt for my DH who is also hard to fit? Sometimes a wonder who these patterns are cut for?

  10. I rely on Fit for Real People and Pants for Real People and have found them useful, but the tissue-fitting really is a pain if you're working by yourself. And you're right - there isn't much info on fitting for men in it.

    And I have another book called "Fitting and Pattern Alteration." It is a huge book with very good illustrations showing fitting analysis of myriad issues, including some that I would never have thought of (flat shoulder blades! prominent collar bone! flaring lower ribs! Yikes!). Then it gives the pattern fixes using different methods (slash or pivot). But you know what? I find it a little overwhelming. And clinical. I use "F&P Alteration" to try and figure out my problem and then go back to FFRP to see what they have to say, in their much friendlier, accessible way.

    I have the Coffin book and have looked at the yoke draping instructions. Will have to give it a try this week.

  11. Hi, guys. My morning has eased up a bit, thankfully. Re Coffin and darts, he was referring to back darts and men's shirts. Obviously a woman with a prominent bust will need darts if she wants her shirt to fit her curves, though some women may not.

    Thanks for the great recommendations. I eagerly await the arrival of FFRP.

    Debbie, I didn't forget about the 5/8" seam allowances on the Negroni but I think the width of that yoke alone warrants a "whoa." ;)

  12. I've seen some of my fellow beginner sewers get very frustrated with the initial fit of the Colette Crepe bodice, during Gertie's sew-along. It freaked me out -- some folks have pumped out 3+ muslins for a pattern described as "beginner". There will inherently be a wrinkle issue around the arm area, because the sleeve and the bodice are all cut onto the same pieces, but there's been a lot of folks working really hard to eliminate the wrinkles, then bust adjustments, tucks, dart maneuvering/shortening, etc. Very overwhelming! Mercifully, my first muslin wasn't too bad. I've been slow to work on my second muslin because my frugal landlord has been providing paltry heat during a very cold NYC winter, and I don't feel like sewing when my feet are ice cubes. :( I'm kinda lazy (and cold!), so I don't think I'll be overfitting anytime soon.

  13. I'm another fan of FFRP as well as fast fit. I will admit that a lot of my fit issues have been resolved by both those books and trial and error. I'm a fairly intuitive sewist when it comes to fitting my body or my DD's (since that's who I mostly sew for), still those books are great resources as it comparison to other well-fitting garments you already have.

  14. I'm reading the fitting parts of the DPC book now. I don't think you should've ended up with the same back piece by draping vs. cutting from the pattern. Did you do the step of lifting the corner of the fabric to the yoke edge (Step 6, 2nd para)? That will give you a custom fitted shoulder slope. Well, I suppose you could end up with exactly the same shape as the pattern if your shoulder slope matches the pattern, in which case use that pattern ALL the time.

  15. I'm an FFRP fanatic. It revolutionized my sewing and I LOVE not having to make muslins, which (to me) are money-wasters. I DO pin fit the pattern and have no problem doing it all by myself. I highly recommend it!

  16. Still reading. ;-)

    Peter: "Re Coffin and darts, he was referring to back darts and men's shirts."

    Understood. But what we commenters were saying is that most backs are not straight up and down. They curve inward at the waist and outward at the tush. Shaping the sideseam will not fully allow for that valley because the side torso is not where the valley is located.

    I also think DPC is talking about classic/basic shirts that will be tucked in and usually worn with a tie and under a jacket, and he has sprinkled the commentary with own personal preferences (See "tirade" and "the traditional and tasteful shirt back is simple, functional and otherwise unadorned" (pg 21)). Styles change and there are now plenty of men who wear their UNtraditional shirts untucked and w/o tie and jacket, and/or who want a more body conscious fit. Darts, princess seams (really just darts that are shaped seams) or a CB seam is the only way to pull the fabric in where the body is concave.

    Not my own tirade. Just a different opinion.

  17. Debbie, you're right. As far as draping the back, Michael was doing it and yes, I think he accurately traced the edge onto the fabric. Any difference (remember how narrow that yoke is) would be minimal since the yoke fits the span of my shoulders.

    How about the idea of just pivoting the back pattern piece in a bit (say, 1/2") and tracing?

  18. Pivoting how? So that the lower edge of the pattern is past the fold of the fabric? But then it might not fit over the hips.

    When you get your FFRP, look at their solution for a swayback alteration for cutting on the fold. I know I zapped this alteration in a previous comment, but that was for using it for the wrong problem. Here, it would shape the CB seam somewhat w/o using a dart or sewn seam. Still not as good as an actual dart, though.

    I think it really just comes down to preference. I was looking at Michael's Liberty shirt pics again and noticed you actually did sew the darts and they are invisible in the final shirt. In a solid fabric, they wouldn't be. Would that matter to you? If it does, consider leaving them out of solids but keeping them in prints where they aren't noticeable. Every shirt doesn't have to be the same and this is where the slippery slope begins. Viva la difference! ;-)

  19. There is usually a hidden dart in the shoulder region on a shirt. It is enclosed in the back yoke seam towards the outer edge, and shapes the shirt over your back shoulder - just like a shoulder dart coming from the neck, but it is coming from the armhole. Being aware of this may help in fitting the upper back.
    I prefer the fit of my husbands shirts that have back waist darts - they are only 6mm darts, reducing a total of 1" across the back waist, but make all the difference. The side seams taper to the waist and then are straight to the hem.

  20. I'm following this adventure with much interest since I really should sew The Hubby a dress shirt. Nothing fits him quite right, and I don't blame the clothes!

    The yokes on his dress shirts strain to fit, and they're 18" across. He certainly has the shoulders of a football player. But then he has a 29" waist, so the shirt just hangs. To imagine it better he is 5'8" and 125 lbs.

    So, please please please figure out this whole "men's fit" thing. Pretty please? I'm thinking the only way I can take care of this IS with darts or a princess seam.

  21. Peter, I've never sewn a shirt for a man and probably I never will, but on RTW shirts my husband often finds that issue with some of them and prefers the ones that are "fitted". Perhaps, you should take a trip to some store and try on one of those "fitted" shirts to compare with yours and take a look at how they are made? Would that help?

  22. I have FFRP and I do love it as a good fitting resource. Though, I'll admit, the tissue fitting method has never worked for me. I'm a muslin person. That's that.

    My first book on fitting was Adele Margolis' book "How to Make Clothes that Fit and Flatter." Geared towards womens fit, though I do so love that book. Ms. Margolis' wit is superb and I always find myself consulting that book first before any other as I've found that it's solutions are geared towards the home seamstress. It also fixes problems from the point of view of a muslin as opposed to just the tissue fitting method. Still both books have great and somewhat different ideas on fit.

    Overfitting? Who ever heard of such a thing?

  23. Peter - Good advise already posted here, so nothing to add. However, the Roberto Cabrera/ Patricia Flaherty Myers book "Classic Tailoring Techniques"
    doesn't deal with shirts, but if you can find this book and give it a quick browse, you may want to add it to your resources stash. It has some basic fit/pattern alterations for tailored jackets & pants. I bought my copy after it was discussed on a sewing "list."

  24. I think I'm with Willy and hiding under a blanket with this fitting discussion. I really don't have too many requests where a shirt is concerned. I want the neck to be comfortable when buttoned, long enough to keep tucked in and sleeves the right length. I have no interest in anything resembling yesterday's red and white striped number. Ugh! Today I redrafted my pattern's back for a center box pleat and made a pattern for french cuffs a la DPC's book. Can't wait for the official start!

  25. Duane, I afraid that, as a result of your having started before February 1, I must disqualify you from the Sew-Along.

    Please put you pattern down and hand over all shirt-related fabric. Your buttons will be confiscated. Anything you say in your defense will be held against you in a court of law.

  26. I'm with Debbie.

    I think Coffin is a little off target when it comes to "back darts=ill cut side seams." The most fitted mens garments have darts whether it be front or back. Think of tailored vests and the darts in tailored jackets whether they be sewn darts or translated into a seam.

    Just the simple anatomy of the spine shows a curvature so once translated to clothing how should you fit it? A dart of course.

    If I'm remembering correctly, Coffin is no pattern making genius. He's more skilled on the detailing of construction that many other books overlook. I would definitely take the advice of FFRP over Coffin when it comes to fit. It almost seems as if Coffin thinks of the body as a 2D form rather than a 3d form. Curved side seams will only take the fit in a certain amount fitting the side curve but doing nothing for the curve of the spine.

  27. Onda, my duct tape dress firm is my BFF when it comes to fitting. After I made slopers from her, my brain is on auto pilot when it comes to personal fitting.

    A dress form and slopers are the best, most accurate, and easiest thing Ive ever done to fit myself.

  28. Peter, it's hard to tell from your picture, but it appears that your back piece was cut with a straight seam, judging from the fact that all the pin stripes are perpendicular to the yoke. If you don't mind some asymmetry there, consider trying some curvature in the back piece seam. This will reduce the two large vertical folds along the sides. If doing so removes too much ease in the upper back, you can add a box pleat, or two pleats at the shoulders.

  29. Not the best examples, but still entertaining. Read the comments too.

    The Sartorialist on men's back darts

  30. Thanks for all these super detailed shirt posts Peter I've really enjoyed reading them!

    When making my husband a shirt recently I was stuck for resources & ended up using/adapting the information in FFRP as best I could. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out in the end.

    My husband is fairly skinny & has quite a narrow waist. For the last couple of shirts I made him I just tapered the side seams down to the next size down. These shirts are still relatively loose on him (compared with those he normally wears) but don't look oversized. However as per everyone's comments here to go any further down the fitted path, I'd probably be looking to adding back darts rather than taking more out of the side seams.

    Having said all of that, to add back darts you'd probably need to eliminate any pleats under the yoke right? I'm really not sure how that would impact the ease of the shirt & if that would lead to further issues. Maybe someone else out there knows the answer to this??

  31. My favorite fitting book is "Fitting & Pattern Alteration: A Multi-Method Approach" covers all of the various methods, which is really useful. The illustrations are clear and easy to understand and even though they show womens styles the same principals apply to mens clothes. Every type of garment and fitting issue is addressed. It's on Amazon and its pricey for a paperback (I think because it's a textbook) but its very very comprehensive:


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