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Fitting dread and endless muslins

2013 October 23
by elizabeth_admin

Folks, I muslined the Grainline Archer shirt yesterday.  I can tell it’s a great pattern already; it’s drafted really well, and I just love View B with the gathered back section.  But I gotta say that each time I muslin a new pattern, I feel this sense of dread and foreboding.  I think that’s why I procrastinated so long making this pattern and pretty much just about any new pattern I want to sew.

I think about how I will have to make an FBA in every pattern and how that’s not a guarantee that it will fit.  I think about how many muslins it will take to get the fit right.  I think about how long it will take to get the fit right.  And once you think you get it right, there’s always the wearing it for a day test.  My Burda linen shirts (here) failed that test ultimately; I hardly ever wear them now.  The FBA’s were successful on those shirts, but the back and arms were impossibly tight if my arms weren’t kept down at my sides at all times.  I obviously didn’t raise my arms at all when I was fitting that shirt last year.  Ugh.  So my beautiful purple linen shirt just taunts me every time I walk into the closet.

But back to the muslin of the Archer shirt.  Yes, I did manage to make one.  I traced and cut out a size 8 based on my upper bust measurement.  I thought that size, combined with a 1/2 inch FBA (total of 1 inch increase) and the largish ease of the shirt, I was sure to have a winner right off the bat.  Surely my muslin with FBA included would fit perfectly and I could cut out my beloved purple buffalo plaid shirting immediately after.


Having learned my hard-earned lesson of raising your arms when checking fit, I learned that the size 8 was too small, even with my FBA.  *sigh*







NOTES:  I made up the muslin without the gathered back bottom or collar and cuffs.  I didn’t think they were necessary to check fit.  Oh one more thing, I sewed up both of my sleeves for this muslin for a reason.  I know some people only sew up one sleeve on muslins, but having had issues with sleeve and back tightness before, I wanted to be sure that I could raise my arms, both of them, in the muslin.  One sleeve wouldn’t have ensured that.

I sent these pictures to a couple of sewing friends and they confirmed what I suspected.  I should probably go up a size and maybe increase the FBA, but keep the shoulders the same.

So guess what I’m doing today?  Yep, making another muslin.  I can feel the dread creeping in already.  In fact, I’m procrastinating right now by writing this post instead of tracing out the new pattern.  Hah!

Now I want to reiterate that my fitting woes have nothing to do with the pattern.  I would have these problems with any pattern when you take my middle aged body (lack of defined waist) and D cup boobage into consideration.  That’s what gets me down.  I know fitting is a huge learning curve, but I’m just a little tired of it all at this stage.  I just want to be able to sew something without endless muslins.  I realize that eventually I will have a few TNT patterns, but the process of getting there is just so painful and slow.

I don’t mean to be a debbie downer here.  I am just a little frustrated with all this fitting angst.  Ok, enough procrastination, I’m off to sew up another muslin.

Wish me luck!

29 Responses leave one →
  1. Harriet permalink
    October 23, 2013

    I can so empathize with this! I love to sew but constantly avoid doing it because of the fitting thing. I share your fitting issues, too (lack of defined waist, fuller bust). Sometimes I think I should just sew and not try to get things fitting perfectly, but when I have tried that in the past, I end up with a wasted hunk of fabric that ends up in the donation bag or the trash, plus the time I have spent on it is gone. I wish I knew the answer.

  2. October 23, 2013

    I’m a new reader to your blog (where have I been?!). I really appreciate you sharing your fitting woes. I am lazy, so I hate sewing muslins, but I know they are necessary. My problem is that once I have a muslin and realize that things are not quite right, I am at a loss as to how to fix them! So it sort of seems pointless to make a muslin at all! Ha! Maybe a draping class would be helpful … Anyway, good luck with your muslin making, and you know it will all pay off in the end!

  3. Karla permalink
    October 23, 2013

    I found that the shirt is so well-drafted that I could go up – WAY up- in size (close to my full bust measurement!) without having the neck opening and shoulders look gigantic. Make life easier: go up more than one size. Or go up one size, then widen the front by adding gathers or pleats to the upper front, where it attaches to the yoke.

  4. Burke permalink
    October 23, 2013

    Having a rather ample bosom myself, I have had a lot of luck with Colette patterns (no FBA needed most of the time) and the big 4 patterns with pieces for different cup sizes. I have never done an FBA that I felt fit perfectly – I think I add too much? But, I’ve had great success with these cup sized patterns (Simplicity has Amazing Fit, my fave is McCall’s 5827 OOP). It can be discouraging always dealing with fit issues, so I like to fall back on some of these patterns that I know fit really well.

    Did you choose your Archer based on the finished measurements? This might help:

  5. LindaC permalink
    October 23, 2013

    Something I found helpful was a suggestion from Peggy Sagers (Silhouette Patterns). Measure something in your closet or something at the store that fits you the way you like. Then measure the pattern and make it those dimensions that you know fit you already. Many people skip measuring the pattern and just assume the measurements that are given by the pattern companies are accurate. I wouldn’t recommend that.

    • elizabeth_admin permalink*
      October 23, 2013

      That would work if I ever had a well fitting shirt in my closet. Never have. And don’t own any RTW shirts at all currently. So alas, nothing to compare against.

  6. October 23, 2013

    Oh, I hear you. BTW, I suspect the primary issue here (as you encounter it reasonably often) might be about the back armscye and how the armscye fits in general. My fitting friend (totally diff shape than you) has the same problem and had not yet been able to resolve it – and she thinks about the issue constantly. She only makes muslins! I suspect that suits her nature better than yours 🙂 I’ve never had luck with the standard FBA. I’ll do one on princess seams but I’ve yet to try one the standard way that didn’t turn my garment into a mess. My philosophy, currently, is that success depends on shape intersection, not merely one fit issue as a separate concept from another. I barely ever wear a woven fabric top (though I have lived the mega-muslin experience with suit jackets). I believe this is why God invented beautiful knit fabric.

  7. October 23, 2013

    I hear you on fit frustrations – especially when it comes to shirts! I tried several shirt patterns last year and never got past the muslin stage. I am almost thinking that it is time to try drafting a basic sloper and using that to alter patterns before a first muslin. I like the idea of having a good set of TNT patterns, but I don’t seem to have anything with a perfected fit at the moment. I totally understand how it kills the sewing mojo as well. It was almost easier when I didn’t know what I was doing because fit problems didn’t bother me as much. The problem is that because I think so much about fit I can’t even buy RTW anymore. I found this awesome jacket, but my swayback caused major fit problems over my behind. It looked cute on my sister though, because she doesn’t have the same fit problems that I do. And I suppose if I am not willing to buy clothes I need to buckle down and get my muslins done. Even if it makes me really frustrated to need to do several muslins for ever pattern.

    (Has anyone else noticed all the riffs on the “Keep Calm and Carry On” popping up on t-shirts lately? Maybe we all need one for when we are dealing with fittings: Keep Calm and Sew On.)

  8. October 23, 2013

    You are a stronger woman than me!

  9. October 23, 2013

    I feel your pain. Totally. Sewists of the past 2 generations of my family seemed to produce beautifully fitted garments on a regular basis (sans knits!). –and the tailors here in Asia produce AMAZING garments–with taking measurements once and one trial fitting (of the actual garment, not a muslin). What are we missing?!

  10. Nancy permalink
    October 23, 2013

    I have been following your blog for a while…it was one of the inspirations to return to sewing. So thank you for that.

    While I don’t have your bust fit issues, I have always had problems with sleeves feeling like they are too tight and pull across the back when I raise my arms – they cut across my bicep and I can’t lift my arms up. I thought I needed to add to the width of the sleeve, because I’m a little girthy there. But after years of frustration, and with some research and reading, I determined that the armscye on the big pattern cos. are too long for me (Burda especially, in my experience.) Now I generally shorten the armscye and sleeve cap by 1/2″ to start. I wonder if that could help, since the shirt(s) seems to fit everywhere else?

  11. Carolyn permalink
    October 23, 2013

    My advice is to make one up in the larger size to insure that you have enough ease in the shirt. Don’t use your beloved buffalo plaid but another fabric that approximates it. Wear it around and note the things that you do and don’t like, then transfer those things to your pattern.

    I wore a lot of garments that were just okay while getting the fit perfected. Also make sure that you don’t sacrifice wearing ease while searching for a great fit. I know this is challenging but once you get this worked out you’ll be able to make a multitude of well fitted shirts.

  12. Rachael K permalink
    October 23, 2013

    I’ve long admired your makes and I know you’ll end up with something beautiful in the end.

    I wonder if it would work to make just the upper back or the back piece one size up? Some sewers seem to do that as a standard adjustment. . .

    Good luck and remember all the times you’ve persevered and succeeded!

  13. Lynn permalink
    October 23, 2013

    I have a G cup and have yet to fit a woven button-front top successfully. In the many, many muslins I’ve made over the years, I realized that how the sleeves fit in the bicep can contribute to how the shirt binds across the back. Think about it. If the bicep is too tight, then the sleeve will try to borrow fabric from any place it can to try and make up for what it’s missing. Your armhole may also be too low. Try shortening the distance between the shoulder and bust. You’ll need to do this on both the bodice and sleeve. When you adjust the sleeve, add the amount subtracted back to the top of the sleeve cap to keep the seam length the same.

    Maybe something here can be helpful.

  14. Sherri permalink
    October 23, 2013

    Too bad about the purple shirt. It’s pretty. I too have shirts in my closet that I never wear. Maybe someone should organize a muslin swap. I sew the same patterns over and over so I don’t have to worry about fitting new patterns. It gets boring sewing the same thing all the time.

  15. October 24, 2013

    It is way easier to measure yourself on the real bust line, not high bust, add 3-4 inches for ease and then measure the paper pattern or go by the printed finished measurements on that paper pattern if they give them. On my blog I try to encourage women to do this as otherwise you are sewing blind. For years students and other sewers come to me and say they pick smaller sizes so the shoulders are narrow enough and then spend all their time on FBA. Why not just narrow a shoulder instead, add a little to the sleeve cap and pick the correct bust size? As we age we need more fabric everywhere except the shoulders. Our busts droop and we need to measure the bust points on the paper pattern as well and mark those. If you could find a willing friend in your draping class who would drape you a basic sloper then that can be used to lay on top of all new patterns to actually “see” where your body fits into the new shape and go from there. If you email me privately, I can help.

    • elizabeth_admin permalink*
      October 24, 2013

      I have always read that it’s easier to make the FBA than to futz with the neckline/shoulders.

    • jjosiejo permalink
      February 2, 2014

      I have tried this approach (being an F cup) and the reason I find it doesn’t work is that patterns divide your bust circumference equally between front and back bodice. If I take the size based on my full bust then the side seams are distorted and back too tight as the extra is all needed up front. Hence an FBA adds fabric where I actually need it, and also adds the extra length in the front bodice required to go over the bust. Going up a size (or several) doesn’t address the problem correctly to my mind.

  16. October 24, 2013

    First off, give away or toss the purple shirt. Nothing should be in your closet that will either taunt you or never be worn. Get over it. Second, you’re beautiful and need to stop this self-abuse of saying that there’s a problem with you because you have a ‘middle-aged body’ and need to alter your patterns every time you sew. The bottom line is that NO ONE can use a pattern straight out of the envelope if they’re looking for an optimum fit. We are, all of us, DIFFERENT; not IMPERFECT. Third. I love that shirt, I love your perseverance, I love you. Now put it all away for a few days, get the hell out of the house and focus on something else for a bit – then get right back on the horse! xoxoxos

    • elizabeth_admin permalink*
      October 24, 2013

      Love you too toots. And I reserve the right to self-deprecate myself into a depression at all times!

  17. Karla permalink
    October 24, 2013

    Elizabeth, do you use the pivot and slide alteration technique? It’s especially handy to know when you’re working with undarted styles, although it can be used with darts, gathers…anything, really. My Nancy Zieman fitting book, which describes this method, is “vintage”; she has newer versions out there, but I haven’t felt the need to buy one of those updated versions. The pivot and slide method makes it easy to maintain the correct neck, armhole and shoulder fit, while enlarging the bust, waist, etc. Amazon has some old copies available at prices that are ridiculously low…like 1 cent. This shirt would be a perfect candidate for pivot and slide.

    • elizabeth_admin permalink*
      October 24, 2013

      I have heard of that, but I haven’t used it yet. Will put it on the list to try!

  18. Sufiya permalink
    October 24, 2013

    Have you ever thought of HIRING someone to fit you? I ask you: how the h-e-l-l does ANYONE ‘fit themselves’? All that twisting and turning, this way and that, has GOT to mess up the fit!

    I’d say , with all the bust /back fitting issues you have, it would be a GOOD INVESTMENT to hire a competent seamstress to do the fitting of the muslin FOR you and make you up a shirt muslin as your “go-to” shirt pattern, and then you can use it to make the necessary alterations to any shirt pattern after that! Ask around at your local sewing store/fabric shop; maybe you can find one of those Asian seamstresses/tailors who can make everything fit right in one go!

  19. Meredith P permalink
    October 24, 2013

    And do remember that this is a classic SHIRT. It’s not supposed to be “fitted”. So maybe going up another size or two will help, along with the FBA. Have you considered if you have a broad back? Just a thought.

    I love the idea of having someone fit you. If you could find someone through the school…

  20. BeckyW permalink
    October 24, 2013

    You make me feel better. I see all the wonderful things you sew and am so super impressed. This issue that you are having with fit is exactly what I am fighting right now. Fitting my 48 year old body is taking quite a few tweaks. I am working on fitting the Vogue fitting pattern following the “Fast-track Fitting” class on Craftsy. I’m hoping that if I can get a good muslin of this fitting shell that maybe I an use that to judge what changes that I need to make to whatever pattern I am working on. I look forward to seeing your progress. I know you will conquer your fitting problems.

  21. M-C permalink
    October 24, 2013

    I think you’re making things more difficult for yourself than they need to be. Surely you have -one- shirt that fits pretty close to well? How about starting from that one, modifying a bit as you go for style only? Read fashion-incubator’s good advice about how once you have a good block you shouldn’t re-invent the wheel for every garment..

    And incidentally the arm problem comes most likely from the fact that you can have either dropped armholes or a fitted bodice, but not both. Raise your armholes and most likely you can raise your arms too :-).

  22. October 25, 2013

    Emerging from habitual lurkdom to extend sympathy. I have a huge pile of failed muslins that I’d like to get right but don’t know how to fix, and the prospect of more tweaking puts me off. These days I mostly make quilts (which come with their own headaches, but no FBAs) and knit tops, while hoping memories of deep discouragement fade enough to try again (pants and woven tops, I’m talking about you).

    I read your blog because of your perseverance (time outs allowed!) and honesty, and you inspire me not to give up completely on someday making a wider variety of well-fitting garments.

  23. Robin permalink
    October 31, 2013

    Hi Elizabeth,
    Long time no talk. If I were you I would try shortening from shoulder to bust on the front and back pieces as well as the sleeves. A few other people mentioned that you might have a broad back or fuller bicep to adjust- I think this might be the case but in a different way than they’ve said. I think it’s more an issue of the width not hitting you in the right spot as you are shorter than average (like myself.) Remember that you should always make length adjustments first, then deal with width. I know you are probably thinking that this fix will put the bust darts too high for your “middle aged body” (paging Debbie Downer!! You really need to stop being so hard on yourself -and all the rest of us for that matter!!) and you may need to tweak for that afterward, but humor me and try it.

    Text me!

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