Friday, July 15, 2011

Fitting Shells Q&A

Enough of Muslingate! In this post, I only want to follow up on some comments regarding fitting shells. But, before I proceed, readers, here are my Miranda rights: I have the right to talk ;-), nothing I say here can be used or held against me anywhere in the blogosphere! This is my opinion and feel free to agree or disagree by leaving a comment (or quoting on your blogs). I am an avid fan of your comments, positive or else!!!

Ok, back to fitting shells. Some commenters on Burdastyle suggested using a fitting shell instead of making a muslin, some wanted to know more about them. So, here is some info and further reading, if you want to yield to yet another step in fitting commercial patterns. 

I say commercial patterns (or patterns made to fit some abstract body) because those patterns don't take into account your unique measurements and figure. If you use custom-made patterns, which are based on your personal sloper (or pattern template) or a draped design, you can skip this fitting-shell step altogether. 

Q: So, what is a (commercial) ‘fitting shell’?

A: Essentially, it’s a template pattern with seam allowances, which the pattern company uses to create all other patterns from. So, ideally, once you fitted the company’s fitting shell you should be able to easily fit all the other patterns from the same company. In other words, once you put the original fitting shell on a pattern from the same company you should be able to see the amount of design ease, dart manipulation or other design elements that were added to that pattern.

Q: So how does this fitting shell help me if it is based on some abstract measurements determined by a pattern company?

A: As such, it doesn't - you will still need to try it on and fit it!

Q: Are fitting shells from different companies the same?

A: No, they may differ depending on the company's target group. Theoretically, as an example, a fitting shell for a younger woman may have higher apex placement than a shell for an older woman. 

Q.: Does every company publish a fitting shell?

A: No. However, here a few ones that do:

Vogue Patterns for example has a dress fitting shell...

Here is the McCall’s version:

I am not sure if Burda has a fitting shell. They definitely had one, which was discontinued at some point.

Q: What about out-of-print (OOP) fitting shells?

You can still buy old ones on eBay or elsewhere, but the company's template pattern may have been updated since then. Does it matter? I don't really think so, since at the end you will be fitting the shell anyway. So, you may be better off making you own sloper / fitting shell (= a sloper with seam allowances)

Q: Can I make my own fitting shell?

A: With some patternmaking or draping skills, you can. Essentially, what you will be making is a personal sloper (a fitting shell without seam allowances), then adding seam allowances and fitting to refine the fit. Check out some resources and recommendations for you below.

Q: Do I still need a commercial fitting shell?

A: If you can make your own, you don't, unless you want to examine the relationship between the company’s ideal/fitting shell and their patterns. Design changes and decisions are more obvious when compared to the original shell, and this can be an interesting learning experience, but at the end what you need is a sloper that fits you.

Q: How do I adjust a commercial pattern with the help of a fitting shell?

A: By aligning center front and center back on both, as a start; by pivoting darts to line them up with the pattern shaping; by checking the correct position of the waistline, bustline, hips – these are just some steps. For more details check out my suggestions at the end of this post. 

Q: After I made adjustments on the pattern, do I still need to make a muslin?

A: I would, to fine-tune the fit, especially, if I am working with a fitted garment or expensive fabric, or fabric that requires matching. Whether you use a fitting shell, or not, learning how to adjust patterns before you make a muslin will often help you avoid several muslin fittings. Has it ever happened to you? I hate it, especially with pants or jackets.

Q: Where can I find information on how to fit a shell?

A: Threads Magazine had a great article on a fitted basic shell printed in October/November 1998 issue of the magazine, which also appeared on their website ten years later: The Merits of the Basic Fitting Pattern.

If it’s still confusing, check out this great discussion on fitting shells on 

Q: Where can I find information on how to create a sloper myself:

A: My favorite is a book by Suzy Furrer, “Building Patterns: The architecture of Women’s Clothing”. It contains a lot of information on how to create slopers and a moulage (a mold of the upper body from the neck to the hip).

Patternmaking and fitting e-books by Kenneth D.King are another excellent option, but be prepared to buy several books to cover all types of garments. 

Some people also recommend Fit for Real People by Palmer Pletsch, however, I am not familiar with the book myself.

Now, do I use a fitting shell? Hardly, I had a sloper for pants before pregnancy – and it was very useful. I now need to make a new one, because my figure has changed making pants fitting even more challenging. Apparently, according to one smart fitting book, I got ‘flat buttocks’. This comes from blogging, readers - I am sure! I should be exercising instead, right?!!!

What about you? Do you think fitting shells are useful? Have you attempted/ would you attempt to make your own sloper?


  1. Nice, I didn't know there are "sloper versions" of the commercial patterns! Both muslins and slopers are things I've started using only recently - before I used to make a new paper pattern for each piece of clothing from scratch - which is a good test of skills actually:))

  2. I'm retweeting this post of yours. I don't think enough sewers know about these very handy shell patterns. I've made my own slopers and I have to say that they really take a lot of the guesswork out of fitting, and if I'm using a commercial pattern I usually have to make more adjustments than I dare list here. Thanks for the post!

  3. I have Pati's book and I can vouch its great tool for adjustment and fittings but I never though about doing a shell and I don’t intend to. In theory if you make adjustments in one pattern you should need those in others... Ps. I got the seam allowance guide today. It’s so great! Thank you both again! xx

  4. Thanks for this post! I definitely had never heard of "fitting shells" before, though I have attempted to draft a sloper with limited success. I might have to try one of the patterns you suggested.

  5. I have these fitting shells too and haven't used them because every pattern still has its own issues and eases bulit in and I'm not sure how I am supposed to put this sloper over a completely new design and have it work. I just do a muslin for my bodices. Maybe I will give it a go! Thanks for the interesting article. I enjoyed your Burdastyle post. Did you see the one I wrote about Madame Vionnet?

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  7. I'm making a new sloper at this very moment. OK, when I get off the computer.

    But, yes, I've tried Vogue fitting shell to figure out what adjustments I'd need to make to my collection of Vogue patterns.

    I've just started collecting Burda magazines, and was hoping to do the same. But it seems like they don't have a fitting shell. I wonder if they use slopers / blocks when they develop their patterns, or just start from scratch every time.

    I don't do muslims often. But I'm starting to do some. Becuase most of my fabrics are expensive (from NYC). And because the interesting patterns are sometimes just too weird to adjust on paper - like many of the Donna Karan Vogue patterns.

    But back to slopers...I want to use these to draft my own patterns. Most of my sewing inspirations come from fashion magazines, not pattern companies. Plus I like the idea of having a set of flatterning pattern blocks as short cuts for both my own patterns and to evaluate the fit - and proportion - of commercial patterns.

    Now I must go finish my new sloper. After I catch up on Muslimgate that is!



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