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Fit Issues: How To Assess Your Body

In this world we live in – the one made up of women and men who want to make their own clothes for various reasons – there are many struggles that are experienced. The one I am contacted about the most, usually as a reply to my welcome series of emails, is fitting issues and how to alter patterns to accommodate the various fit issues we humans have to deal with.

Reasons For Fit Issues

You’ve heard me say this so many times, and I’m going to say it again. The reason we have fit issues is because we are human, and each of us is unique.

Life takes it’s toll on our body, and as we get older, experience life, have children, deal with illness and injury and deal with hormonal changes, our body adapts accordingly.

These ‘life tolls’ work to shape and mould our bodies, often into something unrecognisable from our younger years. And that’s ok, because we are human, and that is nature.

White kimono worn by young lady with pink bikini underneath

Fit Issues With Commercial Sewing Patterns

The problem then is that people who sew their own clothes seem to think that the sewing pattern they have purchased is wrong when it doesn’t fit straight away. They often forget that sewing pattern companies use their ‘ideal’ to create their patterns, and if you are not in that target audience, their patterns will not fit you right out the packet or printer.

Of course, these ‘ideals’ are unlikely to have a bust bigger than a B-cup, a sway back or a dowager’s hump (awful term!). Because, those body fit issues aren’t ‘ideal’ right?

So, much like how when you go to the store to buy a jacket and it doesn’t fit you because of various reasons, the same is true of sewing patterns. Your options are to buy the garment and then pay to have it altered or buy the pattern and learn how to alter it yourself.

Side note: when I make fashion collections I make multiple toiles / muslins per garment. I do this to test for fit issues as well as to evaluate the overall silhouette, proportion and balance of the design.

This is something that should be done with any commercial sewing pattern too, because very few patterns will ever fit perfectly from the get go.

Assessing For Fit Issues

So, how do we work out what fit issues we have in order to buy or adapt patterns accordingly? I created a workbook for my upcoming course Your Perfect Pattern, and several of my beta test students said that the process of using the workbook to assess their body was eye opening and startling.

Rose Tinted Glasses

The reason for this is because we do see ourselves with a type of rose-tinted glasses syndrome. When I look in the mirror I see a tall skinny woman with a flat tummy and toned arms. But when I take off those glasses and REALLY look in the mirror, I see someone with some fat deposited under her chin, boobs that aren’t as perky as they were a few years back, a rounded tummy that wobbles more than I am happy with, a bum that droops slightly, arms that wobble when held aloft and rather chunky calves too. I don’t like that version looking back at me, so I see something more acceptable to me when I take that first glance with my lovely rose-tinted glasses.

That’s probably a reaction shared by many of us?!? That said, there are sometimes things we can see with both our rose-tinted glasses and our real eyes.

The only thing I can see with both my rose-tinted glasses and my actual eyes is my waist. I have a waist. 😮

Seeing With Our Eyes

Using our eyes to see our body fit issues is very important if we want to create our own clothes that flatter and enhance our figure, as well as fit us properly.

To be able to really assess your body for fit issues you need to have notes on the following:

  1. Straight on
  2. Side view
  3. Back view
  4. 3/4 view
  5. Natural posture
  6. Body proportions

Recording The Information

It is REALLY important that you remember that these need to be completed while you are in a natural body position and wearing clothing that isn’t too loose. Don’t force yourself to stand up straight and push your shoulders back and boobs out… If that isn’t your natural posture, you’re going to be recording information that isn’t going to help us with the fit issues. We want realistic responses to work with, not what we wish we were!

Have a friend or family member help out by taking photos of you in these positions. If it’s tricky, use a mirror and your camera phone.

You could also sketch, but remember that we sometimes draw not what we can see, but what we THINK we see. So, photos are the more reliable option!

The Straight On Photo

Photos of the front of our body will show us if there are any non-symmetrical areas in our body that may face fit issues. You can use a mirror or have a friend or family member help out with this.

The Side View Photo

This photo will show the posture of the body. We will see how curved our shoulders are, whether our bust or bellies protrude further than we think.

The Photo From The Back

This photo will show potential symmetry fit issues from the back of the body.

The 3/4 View Photo

My beta testers were confused with this one, and I can see why, so I shall go into more description here. This 3/4 view photo is of our body turned more than the side view but not as much as the back view. Does that make sense?

Natural Posture

A great way to check our natural posture is to lean our back against a wall, with your weight evenly distributed through your feet. ’Good posture’ is when only your bum, shoulder blades and the back of your head touch the wall.

More of my upper back touches the wall than would be ‘good’ and I have a natural gap at the back of my waist, and can fit a whole hand into this space easily. So my posture is good, but could be better. I shall blame the amount of time I spend leaning over my computer and sewing table! 😉

To have a record of your posture, you should have someone take a photo of you leaning against the wall naturally – the photo should be from the side, so we can see the hollows between out body and the wall.

Body Proportions

We took a thorough look at assessing and understanding our body proportions previously, so please do feel free to pop back to that to refresh your memory.

We are looking to see how our body’s proportions line up. In the above mentioned post we discovered that I have a longer torso than is usual. This means I have to modify any commercial patterns between the waist and bust lines in order to not feel squished up.

How are your body proportions looking?

Types of Fit Issues

There are many types of fit issues that we encounter, the most common are usually related to the bust on women. Here’s a list of possible fit issues to consider – there are many more possible issues, but these are the most common:

  • Full bust
  • Small bust
  • Sway back
  • Sway front
  • Dowager’s hump
  • Square shoulders
  • Sloped shoulders
  • Rounded shoulders
  • Broad shoulders
  • Narrow shoulders
  • Narrow chest
  • Rounded chest
  • High bust
  • Low bust
  • Rounded back
  • Erect back
  • Large waist
  • Small waist
  • Full biceps
  • Full tummy
  • Small or flat tummy
  • Long lower torso (waist to hip)
  • Short lower torso (waist to hip)
  • Prominent calves
  • High bum
  • Big bum
  • Low bum
  • Small bum
  • Wide hips
  • Narrow hips
  • Long legs
  • Short legs
  • Large legs
  • Skinny legs

Phew… that’s an epic list right?

When you have your fit issues worked out, you can now use the notes to adjust patterns accordingly to accommodate those fit issues. You need to bear in mind when assessing fit of garments, that gravity plays a part.

Fabric hangs from the shoulders for the bodice, and then the waist or hips for anything below the waist. Starting a fit correction from this ‘hang’ area can often correct multiple fit issues at once. Something to think about!

Perfect Pattern Series

We’ve been covering more about pattern making in recent weeks and that is down to two reasons. Firstly, my audience seem to be loving the pattern making posts and emails more than the sewing ones – joys of having Google Analytics to see what is visited more! 😉

Secondly, because of all the confusion people have with pattern making and fitting issues, I am actually creating a paid course. I figure that the best way for YOU to know if it is something you’d be interested in is to fill in any gaps in your pattern making basics knowledge.

To help with that we have the Perfect Pattern Series of posts which this one is part of! Yay!

Want to read more?


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Saturday 10th of June 2017

I am so much looking forward to reading this series. I have been sewing for quite some time and have pretty good results in sewing for my children (both small, teen and the adults ones). But for me thats another story. I have sewn quite a bit, but happy with very few of the items, because i am so far from anything "standard" (one of the main reasons I sew for myself, because I have the same issues in RTW clothing) that I need lots of adjustments. I am on my way of being very close with a bodice sloper that I have been working on for over a year, but I want to learn everything there is about fit, so that I can finally make clothing for myself that would fit, wouldn't always take an eternity to sew (mainly because of the fitting) and I would be happy with them.

Eve Tokens

Wednesday 14th of June 2017

Hi Natalija! thank you for your comment! I really hope you find the series helpful. There's nothing more frustrating than wanting to sew for yourself but having fit issues! You'll find lesson 13 super helpful I suspect! :)


Friday 9th of June 2017

Thank you so much for this online course!!! I'm tickled pink!!!! I'm a newbie, and at times intimidated but, I am completely determined to be sewing my dresses, skirts, tops ect.... many thanks to you !!!!!

Eve Tokens

Wednesday 14th of June 2017

Oh Santita! I am so excited about YOUR excitement! I'm trying super hard to make it understandable for the newbie, so if you find it a struggle, please so email me or post in the Pattern Master Basics FB group! I can help clear up any confusion then! :)


Friday 9th of June 2017

Always love your posts Eve no matter what you're talking about - it always strikes me a relevant and enormously USEFUL :) I'm sort of appalled at the notion of making my own patterns since I have SO MANY already sitting in my stash. I do however sometimes need help with making them fit me. It never fails to amaze me how many videos I've watched, classes (both in person and online) I've taken, libraries I've read on fitting and I still can get it wrong! Just recently for example I learned I have narrow shoulders! Who knew? Not me :) so that means I've been cutting out patterns chronically too large with gaposis everywhere but especially in the upper chest (since I also have forward thrusting shoulders not atypical for a 62 yr old woman who is an avid reader and tech nerd) adding to the party. I have a large bust 36F ordinary waist - also 36 - and my hips are 41. I'm tall 5'8" with long slim legs. My fit adjustments sometimes work but often fall a little short of the mark to be honest. It's rather hit and miss. I've had the best luck with Cashmerette patterns and Custom Fit by Vogue not surprisingly but that limits my choices so I always end up with patterns that need a LOT of work! I look forward to reading your email course and thanks again for being so helpful and generous.

Eve Tokens

Wednesday 14th of June 2017

Kathleen, I think I may love you, despite not knowing you!! :) Thank you again for such lovely feedback! If you feel there is more I should add, please do let me know! Lesson 13 will be super helpful for you I suspect!

Karen Christensen

Friday 9th of June 2017

Thanks for the articles. I struggle with many of the fit issues you mentioned above. The older I get the more problems I have so I am open to any suggestions and tips for fitting.

Eve Tokens

Wednesday 14th of June 2017

Hi Karen.. It is amazing the toll age takes on the body? I am only now nearing 40 and in the last few years have seen my body change drastically, (and that is BEFORE I contemplate the effects that future potential motherhood could have)! Lesson 13 in the course will be right up your street. There are a lot of fitting tips covered inside it! :)