Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Fitting post: Watch your Back!

For some months I have been searching for examples of a particular fitting problem and recently two examples have appeared. So I can finally write this post which has been rolling around in my brain with some nice pictures to show as well as tell.

Back Waist Length !

Do you look at that measurement on the pattern envelope and just say hmmm? It is important but I don't think the measurement given is all that helpful. Mostly because we all may be short, tall or in between but what really matters for fitting is where you are tall or short. Depending where your length is really determines what you need to do with the pattern. And many need to make different changes to both the front and the back. I want to's OK! Acknowledging the issue is the first step to a solution.  Eek that sound really self-help-y which I am not. But after all, we have to laugh at the pattern measurements. Who is that mythical person of the size charts and even then, what do they change faced with the crazy amount of ease on some patterns?  
Getting a little philosophical here and straying from my point, which is that many finished garments are too long in the back bodice which causes all kinds of issues.  I am going to leave off discussing the front which could be a book or at least a very long magazine article just for the bodice front in all its 3-dimensionality.
Now you are wondering where to adjust, how much, etc. If you make a muslin I bet it will be evident if you are looking for this. Take a look at this post, scroll down to see how to mark up your muslin to see where to attach the skirt.

Example time: Here is a dress belonging to my hairstylist Lia. Cute vintage style dress she bought in Las Vegas, has hardly worn because she said it is too big across the shoulders and didn't feel comfortable. Could I fix it? OK - I had her put it on and let me see what is going on. Looked very lovely in the front. 

Pink dress front

But look at the back. Way too long in the back bodice. I put the measuring tape so you could see the horizontal line where the waistband should be. So not too big in the shoulders, the problem is elsewhere.

                       Pink back view with tapePink side view with tape2

Below is what happens when she wears the dress. When she puts it on the waist band inset fits her and settles at her waist exactly where it should. it is the smallest part of the dress fitting her smallest part. I had to pin the dress on the sides a bit to make it fit my tiny form, but it really serves to show what happens when the waist fits but the back bodice is too long. 

Pink back wrinklespink side view wrinkles

I think sewers are inclined to make the waist fit and can feel there is extra fabric in the back, so they tighten the waist area, which is fine but that serves to make the excess fabric bunch up a bit. This is an extreme example but if the back bodice is just an inch too long, then that tightening makes a lot of horizontal lines which nobody wants.  If the waist is in the right place in the back then you can make the garment actually a bit bigger  - leaving about an inch (+ or -) and you will feel more comfortable and actually look smoother/smaller.

The solution is to take out length at the bottom of the back bodice where it attaches to the skirt. In this example I actually tapered the change past the side seams forward about 2 inches into each side of the front bodice. But of course most women need length in the front bodice (see this post for some info on that score). In the photo below I just have the excess tucked and pinned so I could see how much to take away. Better, huh? The whole thing hangs nicely from the shoulders, probably way more comfortable. To accomplish this I had to take out the zipper, detach the bodice from the waist, move it and then reinsert the zipper.

Pink back view shortened

All done, and I was taking this shot of the side and saw that the back was showing in the mirror. Hey I might have to try this one again!  By the way, my tiny dress form is wearing a padded strapless bra to fill her and this dress out. I stick all kinds of different bras on my forms, or wrap a towel around the waist to change the circumference. Whatever is at hand ;)

pink dress finished

The other example that appeared recently is a real life example. When I visited my friend Elizabeth of SEWN blog earlier this month she dove deep into her closet to show me some of her makes. This lovely dress appeared. She said she didn't really wear as she didn't like the fit. I said it was gorgeous - very luscious silk - and it only had one problem which she could easily fix and then it would be perfect. So on the left, too long in the back bodice and on the right, the excess tucked into the skirt and it is fantastic. I need to nag her and see if she did the fix! 

Back waist length example E
By the way her dress is New Look 6067 which is super cute. I have had this pattern for ages but so far not gotten to it. What do you think about stripes? Risky or just right?

NL6067 pattern envelope

Up next, I don't really know. I have been searching for some seersucker to make a summer jacket but not found anything. I think I will embark on some shorts making. 90 degrees here tomorrow and time for summer clothes, yeah!

Edit 5/1/14:  after reading the comments this morning I realize that I was a bit vague about the relationship between that back waist measurement on the pattern envelope and and adjusting the pattern. I don't find it all that useful and instead look at the torso in comparison to the "average". I guarantee that if you have a full bust you will rarely need to shorten the front but the back is likely to be too long. Also if you have very good posture and hold your body very upright (good for you if you do, see Elizabeth above, very nice posture) Most pattern companies' size charts are designed for a person who is 5' 5" to 5' 6" so if you are not in that range there may be adjustments needed. I am 5' 3 and am proportionally shorter in the top half of my body as compared to the patterns. So I need to shorten the back bodice and sometimes the front. But - I am longer in the bottom half of my torso - thus usually need an adjustment for location of hip and this explains why pants that are supposed to be "below waist" are more likely at bikini level! If I am shopping for jeans and see a pair with a short 3" zipper I know absolutely those will not work on me.  Everybody has these variations and quirks and you need to think about your proportions in length as well as circumference to make the proper adjustments. 

By the way, my latest post on the Craftsy Sewing blog appeared last week. If you would like to take a look here is the link:  Copycat Clothes: How to make a pattern from a piece of clothing. Not a definite guide but a few tips if you are trying this out. 

Today's SunnyGal garden photo, the pink jasmine along the back fence is almost done blooming but when it was in full bloom the smell wafting across the yard was fantastic.

Pink jasmine 2014 1


  1. THANK YOU for such an informative and useful post! While I am tall (5' 9" and my height in the torso) and rarely have that problem with patterns as written - I have sometimes added too much back/waist length and ended up with some of the problems you just demonstrated so very well. I love learning about all kinds of fitting issues, please show more as they come up in your sewing. :)

  2. This is a great post Beth and well illustrated.

  3. I tried on a RTW dress recently that fitted exactly like this. At the time I thought it was because it was too tight around the waist, but thinking about it after reading this post it was actually too long in the back bodice. I'll definitely remember this for the future, whether it's for items I've made or RTW ones.

  4. This is really interesting. Do patterns give the back measurement or do you measure the pattern piece? I am relatively new to sewing for myself.

  5. Too much length in the back can also make me think that I need more room in the back hip. But when the waist is pulled up, the skirt magically has enough room to fit smoothly over my bottom. Congratulations on finding ways to illustrate the fitting problem--not easy, but very helpful!

  6. I too have thought that I needed more hip space when I had exactly the problem you illustrated. It sometimes means I need that center back seam to be added but the difference is amazing. This is such a good example of why we have to look for the length of various parts of the pattern before we worry about the circumference.

  7. The Jasmine is gorgeous! As are both your friends' dresses. Such a simple fix for an annoyingly regular problem... it seems to obvious when you clearly explain it like this, but I'll admit that fitting oneself is often a quick-sand pit with the instructions to get out in another language and no rosetta stone in sight. The more I muslin, the more I learn about fitting myself... I'll admit I thought I was ok at fitting until I went to fit two of my best friends (both with very different body shapes to me) as made them dresses to wear at my wedding. It was the most stressful thing! Practise really does make perfect.... eventually :)

  8. Thank you for a well illustrated lesson in fitting. As a petite, who fits her sewing solo, I appreciate learning this.

  9. Fitting is such a pain, but I've found it's also a necessary in order to truly understand clothing construction.

    I love the smell of jasmine, it makes me thinking of the jasmine bushes everywhere in Italy.

  10. Interesting! This is so informative. Thanks for sharing!

  11. This may be a question that is clear to everyone but me :) So I see how the fitting should work, but to get to that point how should you measure to get a basic idea of what the length was? Do you make the muslin first then adjust or measure first then do the adjustment and tweek it after it's sewed? Where do you start the measurement from the bone starting at the top of your back? I have sewed a long time but have taken to trying to have my stuff not so homemade looking. :)

  12. What a great post!!! do you think you could write one about what happens if the back is too short? As I think that is what happened to me with the black ruffle dress I made last year. I think I took too much out.
    Thank you as always for all of this free fitting advice!

  13. I have this problem all the time with patterns and ready-to-wear. I'm especially petite from shoulder to bottom of bust, so sometimes I can pull a bodice up at the shoulder and that will bring the bust darts and waist into line. But often, there's still excess fabric at the back. I do have a large bust like you mention, and I think it's especially interesting to note that though I have a large bust, I typically don't have to do an FBA because my bust size is pretty in line with the rest of me. I think that makes the problem particularly bad for me because many patterns have longer back bodice pieces as the sizes go up. Just this week I was muslining one of the Simplicity Amazing Fit patterns, and their measurement chart told me to use cup size D, which ended up being way too big in the bust but just right at the waist. The back was quite long. I used a pattern piece from another, well-fitting pattern instead of even bothering with Simplicity's pattern piece because I could tell it was going to be too long, even after doing the alteration the pattern recommends for shorter back waist length - much of the problem was likely that their shortest back waist length listed was still much longer than mine! The substitute back bodice was much shorter and had larger darts, because I think my back is also somewhat narrow in relation to my front. Even after all that, I discovered that I must have never properly fitted the substitute pattern piece because I still needed to pinch out about half an inch in the upper bodice between the shoulder seam and the bottom of the armhole. Once I did that, though, the fit was much better. I see people often discussing alterations for "swayback" when I think the real problem is what you describe here. Some recommended modifications I've seen for swayback will help the issue, but some others I've seen are unnecessarily complicated and leave people with excess fabric still pooling at the back waist.

  14. I have a long torso (19") and can not find a dress form that would extent to that length where I live. Any suggestion?

  15. I would think that it is hard to measure the back and figure out how it relates to the pattern since the neckline is rarely located in the same place. A muslin is obviously necessary if you need this adjustment especially if you don't have a waist seam. This is a great fix for after the fact alteration and certainly one that can be done easily on rtw with a waist seam.

    1. Thank you for the suggestion. I was trying to find a dress form on the net that would come close to my torso measurement but there does not to be any.

  16. Thanks Beth - this is such a wonderful post and an issue that I am dealing with right now! I have linked to your blog post in mine. Very much appreciated.

  17. I haven't altered the dress yet. I have no occasion to wear it, so it is very low on the priority list. It looks to NYC for this SoCal environment. ;)

  18. Hi Beth, I had to alter this very dress in sage green for a bridesmaid. It is from Betty Page and I did the same alteration and it looked great once all the excess was removed. Most gals do not want to tackle removing a zipper and re-attaching but so many problems can be handled that way from tightening and snugging up a bridal gown to casual clothes. Love your most informative blog!

  19. I have been having the same issue. My quilting neighbor helped pin me in and when I looked - it helped the back a lot but then ended up with some diagonal drag line at the side front. I have been playing around with a muslin and think I am about to try dividing up the 2+ " extra between the lower center back and some around the shoulder blade area.
    I am also going to add sooome vertical and horizontal line to the muslin - which should help keep things balanced and on grain. Wish me luck!!