Thursday, August 2, 2012

Analysis Paralysis - through sewing.

Gosh I love sewing. I cannot imagine life without it. It infiltrates everything I am and do. It has derailed my corporate career, even! (No great loss to either side, that)
I get a huge kick out of meeting people interested in learning to sew, whether they are still trying to work out how to operate the sewing machine, or are up to drafting and adjusting patterns. If I can pass on some skills, or pick some up, I'm a happy person!
There is one aspect of the sewing/blogging community however that concerns me. It's the assumption that learning technical skills as if by rote, is the way to go. It's been on my mind for a while, and then a recent post or two on Gertie's Blog really brought it home to me. Gertie has made a perfectly sensible call on adjusting the muslin for her latest make, and is sharing the process. But reading the comments, the confusion seems to be rife. Much of it seems to be based upon adhering to 'rules' out of books about drafting patterns.
Patterns, schmatterns. They are 2 dimensional bits of paper or whatever, and their primary purpose is to make cutting out the fabric simpler- they provide a secondary role only in fitting. IMHO.
Making all of one's adjustments to the pattern, as is often taught in books and courses, is so counter intuitive to the learning process. I feel strongly that the natural way to learn is to try things on, tweak and play and see what works. If you're going to make a muslin anyway, why not make it do most of the work?
Here are my tips on how to take a bunch of the analysis paralysis out of fitting, and free up some of that intelligent solution finding we sewists have in abundance! I'm using as an example a fitted bodice with sleeves, but the principles apply to any garment.
1. Check the pattern (if it's a bought one) for ease. Measure the bust and hips (most patterns have a spot on the centre front panel) Actually, I'm not going to explain it here because Gertie did an excellent post explaining it here!
2. Cut out a muslin (toile/mock up, call it what you will) and draw all the darts, dots etc onto it with an easy to see pen. Forget about facings, you don't face a muslin using this method. You can even. trim off the seam allowances on the neckline, to see how it will lie in the finished piece, if you like
3. Baste it together by hand - this I cannot stress enough. Baste in any darts. Join bodices at side seams and princess seams (if appropriate), but just pin the centre back and shoulder seams. DO NOT ADD SLEEVES. (I'm using caps because these points are ones that are often not noticed!)
4. Put any ease or gathers into the sleeve head, and sew one only sleeve up on the machine with a long stitch. DO NOT ADD TO BODICE. Am I making sense? You are building the separate components of  your bodice, using easy to remove stitching, and leaving off finishing details like facings and bindings.
5. Now, try it on INSIDE OUT. This means that you can easily get at the seams to repin them, rip the stitching out and slide them sideways a bit, that kind of thing. This freedom is essential for getting the most out of a muslin. The pinned shoulder thing is because one of the most common adjustments I have found is the shoulder seam, and this makes it super easy to do anything you have to do.(I can't tell you in a blogpost how to know what to do here, but this is where the learning about fitting happens!)
6. If your dress has sleeves,  pull the single muslin sleeve on and pin it into the armscye in just a couple of places. All you want to know is, is it wide enough, deep enough etc. and whether to adjust the armscye.
7. Now, use your pen to write on, mark etc all the adjustments. Then you can quickly press the whole thing, flatten it out and transfer the adjustments to the pattern.

Look I know this is a bit "It's all very well!," but if you are a careful musliner and struggling to get the adjustments you need into the flat pattern, do try this. It frees up your mind to use the knowledge that you have, and put it into a practical context!
Lastly, a good tip for saving time is to baste the muslin sleeve into the bodice of the actual dress and check for fit. Then you can adjust the sleeve pattern if needed. Saves making another muslin when extensive adjustments needed to be made to the first muslin.
Well, there you go. Next time I get my hands on a muslin, I'll get some pics. I just didn't want to wait until then to get this info out there!


  1. Yes, it really can be paralysing and overwhelming when you're online and there seem to be about 100 different opinions about the "right" way to do it!
    Thanks for these tips!
    One question, why is it so important to hand baste the garment together instead of by machine?

    I do need to get more confident and I think I need to get better at jumping in :)

    1. Hi Jo! Well, it's about making it easy to change. It takes three seconds to pull out some hand basting and repin a seam differently, but you have to take it off to unpick machine sewing. :)

  2. Thank you so much for all that information. I have so much trouble fitting as I don't have anyone around to help. Do you have any suggestions re making a dress form represent your actual body? I have bought Vogue fitting shell pattern and intend to try and make a muslin to fit my body exactly i.e. no ease. Then place it on my dress form and pad it out where necessary. Finally I will cover it with a slippery jersey to allow garments to slide on and off. Do you think that will work?

    1. Hiya,
      Well firstly I'd go all out to find a sewing buddy, as there's nothing like the real thing. A dress form can definitely help, but it is so hard to judge the right amount of ease and such. But I think your idea is a very good one! Just make sure that you maintain your horizontal shape when doing it - some of us are flat and wide, some even all around, and you don't want to accidentally distort it. I reckon it would be awesome to have some kind of scanner that can build a dress form from discs of foam measured off a body. I am sure it can be done but probably costs way more than we would be able to pay! :)

    2. I think that's called 3D printing. Probably is prohibitively expensive though.
      I've like some scanner that would scan me and print out the perfect fitting pattern.

    3. Exactly! And howwibly expensive it is too. Maybe one day...

  3. You are so right and I need to go with the feel of the thing more. You talked about this the other week at the shop and I have been mulling it more and more. Even started to put it into practice, a little anyway. Thanks MrsC

  4. I don't typically make muslins because I tend to think of it as a waste of time. (I'm sure one day I'll really come to regret that though!) Regardless, I still do have to make adjustments and things to my projects, and your comments are so helpful! I especially love the idea of trying items on inside out so you can get to the seams and pinch and pull wherever. It seems so common sense, but something I just never thought about. Thanks for these great ideas!

    1. Good point Kika - this works just as well on the actual garment. :)