Monday, 26 June 2017

Personal fitting challenge: Butterick 4443, part one

So back in December I made a fitting-based resolution, felt very virtuous, and then ignored it, because fitting is hard. But I've had a couple of mishaps lately, and I need to start making fitting a bigger part of my sewing routine. With that in mind, I decided to set myself a challenge: to get one woven dress pattern to fit perfectly.

The pattern I've decided to use is Butterick 4443, aka the very first dress pattern I ever used. I made three versions one after the other, and they all fit badly in very different ways: version one was pushed and pulled and hacked at and randomly sewn down to within an inch of its life and the inside was a somewhat uncomfortable fitting war zone; version two (the only one that still survives in my wardrobe) was way too big but also made of viscose so it was less of an issue, and version three was so big in the shoulders that it practically fell off and I never wore it outside my back garden. I thought returning to that pattern and trying to get a good fit would be a nice way of demonstrating to myself how much I've learnt.

Spoiler: fitting is hard.

Before we get to that, I made another version that I never got around to blogging:

I made this using the same sizing as my previous attempts because I get a lot of wear out of that orange viscose one. I cut the back pieces on the fold to make it a pullover dress, and I really like it. It looks good, it's comfortable, it's a summery floral dress that isn't overly girly, and it's one of my go-to dresses when it's hot out.

It's also enormous.

Look at the back of that. I could be smuggling oranges.

Here is version five, or my first proper fitting attempt:

You will note that is definitely not a perfect fit, and also that the neckline seems to have risen several inches. We will get to that. But you will also note that there is no orange smuggling and I am not wearing a box anymore.

I bought a second version of the pattern and traced it off like a sensible person. I traced a 16; my previous versions were all somewhere between a 20 and a 22. My measurements when I first started sewing put me into the size 20, but I was terrified of my first dress not fitting so I sized up. In a big 4 pattern. It's fine, you can laugh.

I did an FBA of an inch and a quarter on the 16. Quite naively, I thought that once I'd done that, most of my fitting issues would be solved. I got my boyfriend to pin me into the dress before I put the zip in because I often have gaping at the back neckline, and sewing the zip with a 4cm seam allowance at the top tapering into the regular seam allowance at the bottom. Having done that, I did indeed have room for my boobs and no back neckline gape. However, I also discovered the following:

- the 16 was still too big a size for my shoulders, and since I'm working from the 16-22 pattern I'll need to grade it down
- my waist is higher than the pattern's waist, which I hadn't noticed before because the waistline was being hoicked up by my boobs
- I still had a ton of excess fabric in the back (not smuggling oranges, but still noticeable bagginess)
- the neckline was doing this weird cowl neck-looking thing that my orange one also has, but because of the way that fits it looks deliberate, whereas this didn't
- there was excess fabric between my bust and my waist, creating some awkward blousing

Some of this was fixable. I really like this fabric (the same fabric as my Eve dress in another colourway) and I wanted a wearable dress, so I did what I could. By taking in the back princess seams I got the back to lie flat, and by taking a bigger seam allowance at the waist I got that sitting in more or less the right place. I also got most of the blousing out of the front by taking the front seams in a bit.

It was less easy to fix the shoulders, and basically impossible to fix the neckline. It's now much higher than it should be because I had to take it up at the shoulders, and it's still doing a tiny bit of the weird cowl thing. I'm guessing it's because the neckline is too big a size for my high bust, but I'm not completely sure. There's also still a bit of weirdness going on across the bust; I couldn't find a way to get rid of the excess fabric in the centre without making it slightly too tight. More research needed.

All this aside, I have a finished dress that I'm totally happy to wear. The waist is right, I have zero underarm gape (which is a novelty), and after about six alterations the back now fits beautifully. I'm going to have a few more goes at the same pattern, and by the end I want to have a flat pattern that I can make up into a well-fitting dress. Phase two is to try the same thing on a different pattern, and phase three is to attempt something with sleeves. Erk.

For my second go at fitting this pattern, I'm going to try the following:

Making the dress in cotton/other less drapey material to see if I can work out what that neckline thing was
Grading the pattern down a size or two at the shoulders
Either a narrow back adjustment or cutting the back pieces in a smaller size
Taking the waistline up

Not perfect, but a pretty good start.

Note: The number one goal of this series of posts is for me to learn and improve. If anybody has advice or suggestions, has spotted an issue I haven't spotted, or anything else which would help me get a better fit, I would welcome it gratefully.

I won't be posting next week because Patrick and I are going to Portugal. It's our third anniversary on the Tuesday, which is definitely why we're going on holiday and not because we just booked our next free week and then remembered we were having an anniversary. We're going to eat seafood, sit on a balcony, and drink a lot of port. I am very excited.


  1. All right, sorry if you already know this, but re: shoulder fit. Most designer draft for a B-cup, which means they're drafting for a high bust about 5cm smaller than the bust measurement on the envelope. If the difference between your high & full bust is more than that, you'll have to compensate. Let's say your high bust is 10cm smaller than your full bust. You'd estimate which pattern size would best fit your high bust measurement if you were a B-cup by adding 5cm to your high bust measurement & cutting that bust size. Then do an FBA to add in the extra 5cm you need to accommodate your real full bust measurement.

    Does that make sense? Again, sorry if you already know this. I had such a conundrum working out my shoulder/bust fit when I first started sewing. If it was big enough for my bust, my shoulders were swathed in extra fabric, & if it fit in the shoulders, it was too tight at the bust. I didn't realize that it wasn't just about picking the right measurement off a chart, but the difference between measurements, you know? The pattern envelope doesn't tell you that, & even advice like "choose your size based on your high bust" can be useless if you don't realize that you also have to consider cup size. I hope this helps!

  2. Echoing the above; I think the cup sized piece of fitting is a bit of a misnomer. And it's moreso difference between high and full bust. Bra sizing is difference between underbust and full bust.

    There's a method that has you choose size based on measurement from armpit to armpit across the front and then there's choosing by high bust. Both these methods result in me choosing a 14 to start. I then make FBA, sometimes I STILL need a narrow shoulder adjustment, I'm averaged height but often need to shorten the back length and do a swayback...

    Some of this I "solve" by being consistent in pattern choices (Big4 and Burda). Some is solved by taking extensive body measurements and doing flat pattern measurements on new patterns (e.g. I have a butt but not hips and now I cut a 16 front and 18 back in skirts and it's pretty much always perfect).

    So I think the best advice is
    1) know your measurements
    2) try to discern how much ease YOU like in certain garment styles
    3) flat pattern measure and/or stick with pattern lines where you've worked out the fit

    I really like the dress and totally thought it was a cowl.

  3. Always buy the pattern that will fit your shoulders and high bust area, the rest is much easier to grade up. I think it is Sunny Gal or Gorgeous Fabrics (or both) that says the shoulders should fit as the rest hangs off them. I always get that gape at the front and back of a dress...meaning I need to make a size 6 or 8 for my shoulders/high bust and the rest gets graded up.

  4. Oh meant to say I love your sewing journey. I really enjoy your blog.

  5. I like your idea of making it again in a different, stiffer cotton fabric; I agree that that will help pinpoint the problems. Definitely try it in a solid insyead of a print, everything will show clearer (especially in photos).

    I'm not sure of your exact fittig goals, but have you thought about making a block from your measurements and then sewing dresses from that? I think if you're going to all that work of fitting something to perfection, a well-fitted block would be more useful than a single well-fitted dress.

  6. Proper fitting is seriously hard work; I admire your determination!