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Tips for accurate fitting

Accurate fitting

This guide to accurate fitting was written by sewing expert Lorna Knight who is the author of Complete Dressmaking Skills and teaches sewing workshops in Staffordshire and surrounding areas.


Tips for accurate fitting

Managing to get a perfect fit is probably the most common problem for people who make their own clothes.  No matter how well you can sew, if a garment doesn’t fit, you will not be happy with the result.

The best way to achieve good fitting clothes is to work through three basic stages:

1 Choose the most appropriate size

2 Make basic adjustments to the paper pattern

3 Make a toile and fine tune to fit


Step 1

Take accurate measurements and if possible find a good friend to do this for you. Consider using metric measurements rather than imperial – dividing by 10 can be easier than working in fractions of an inch and you may think you know better than the tape measure if you normally work in inches (you may find yourself pulling the tape measure to fit the 36” bust you ‘think’ you have!)

How to understand commercial sewing patterns

Step 2

Compare the size chart (sometimes printed on the envelope or on the tissue itself) with your own measurements. Find the size most appropriate for your body shape. This will probably not be the size you buy from high street shops and your bodice and skirt sizes may be different – few bodies are standard top and bottom.


Step 3

Cut out the ‘best size’ to fit your personal figure shape, making use of the multi-size pattern lines.  For example, your waist ‘best size’ may be 14 while your hip ‘best size’ may be 10 so make the most of the lines on the pattern and join the different sizes with a natural line.

Altering a sewing pattern to ensure a good fit

Step 4

Adjust the paper pattern to suit your figure. For example slice through the pattern to extend the leg length of trousers if you are tall or fold and tuck excess length in the bodice if you need to reduce the nape to waist length. Compare your personal measurements with the actual pattern pieces so that you know how much to alter the pattern to fit you.


Step 5

Make a ‘toile’ (a test garment to check the fit) by cutting out the pattern pieces in calico (or an old sheet).  1.5cm (5/8”) seam allowances are normally included in most patterns, however, it may be helpful to use a 2.5cm (1”) seam allowance when testing a pattern.


Step 6

Sew the pieces together with a long straight stitch (4mm long).  Leave a gap where the zip or buttons would normally be inserted.


Step 7

Press the seams open and try on the garment. Find a friend to pin you in where the zip should be and ask them to look at the fit with you. Pin the areas where there is excess fabric or release seams if too tight and pin the new line. It may be necessary to adjust the seams or the darts. Darts may be too long, too short or in the wrong position for your figure and a small adjustment may be all that is required for a much improved fit.


Accurate fitting

Step 8

Mark the new pin positions with a pencil or pen and sew any alterations then re-check the fit.

how to sew clothes that fit well

Step 9

When you are satisfied with how the toile fits you, transfer the changes back to the paper pattern.  This is your good-fitting pattern.  If you plan to use this pattern over and over again buy some iron-on Vilene interfacing and press this to the wrong side of the tissue to lengthen its life.


General hints and tips for fit


Wear good fitting under garments

Use a long straight stitch when making up a toile as seams and darts may need to be altered

Use a full length mirror so that you can check how well the garment fits you

If you don’t have someone to help with fitting, buy an adjustable tailor’s dummy.  This is not the whole answer but it will help

Don’t try clothes on inside out thinking that this makes it easier to pin alterations – few of us are perfectly symmetrical

Use a medium-weight, stable, woven cloth for toile making – calico is ideal

Best books on dressmaking
Dressmaking to Flatter your Shape (September 2012)

If you want to find out more about achieving good fitting clothes ‘Dressmaking to Flatter your Shape’ has advice on different figure types and common necessary adjustments.

Find out more about Lorna’s books and sewing courses by visiting

Why not read Lorna’s tailoring tips or guide to interlining next?