Monday, February 13, 2012

Couture Dress WIP: taming the ease

Readers, as you know, I am working on a couture dress in Susan Khalje's online class on I was really excited to be a reviewer for the class, and so I decided to document my work in progress for you. The recommended V8648 arrived this Saturday...

...and yesterday, while marking all the seamlines on the pattern, I discovered an obvious fact.

I am talking about garment ease. Most of you will know that garment ease is the difference between our body measurements and the measurements of the finished garment. Depending on the fabric, garment ease can vary. Logically, the ease would be larger for loose silhouettes; and for fitted clothes made of stretch fabrics the measurements of the finished garment are often even less than body measurements (negative ease).

We know the basics, right? But I rarely bother to check the ease on the pattern. I usually do pattern alterations on a muslin ( I know it's not a good habit, but I am really more of a draper, really. Patterns frustrate me). Well, anyway, yesterday for the first time I paid conscious attention to the measurements on the pattern envelope, and, oh horror!.. Measurements for size 12 were way too small! and I have ordered sizes 6 to 12.

See yourself - the measurements for size 12:
  • Bust: 34" (87cm)
  • Waist: 26 1/2" (67cm)
  • Hip: 36" (92cm)
I don't even remember when I was that slim!!!! High school?

I was horrified because I realized I need some 5 cm (2 inches) more circumference. Grading up would mean more work, and I didn't want to order another pattern - so I went on and measured it. What I found out was that the Size 12 would not only fit snuggly, but it will provide 1 1/2 to 2" ease. How is it possible? The garment is described as a fitted dress. The difference of almost 4" between body measurements and the finished garment is too much, don't you think so?

I wanted to be sure and so, I went to and checked their ease chart. Here it is:

Right, 4" ease for a fitted garment!? I don't know why they do it, but I am usually much better off with  less than a half of this (3 cm or so). So, Size 12 would work at the end, but I will need to make sure that all the seams are where they are supposed to be.

Now, readers, are you all more diligent than me? Do you make pattern alterations before you cut into muslin or fashion fabric? What is your 'ease' experience with commercial or indie patterns? Please, leave comments! As for me, I am off to cut my couture dress muslin.

By the way, if you haven't heard of Susan's Couture Dress class, read this post and consider signing up. was very generous to offer 50% discount to Frabjous Couture readers - don't miss it!


  1. I ran into that just the other day, so instead of just going with it, I've started measuring the pattern pieces from the sewing lines and then comparing that to my own measurements. I use that to pick a size instead of the back of the envelope. This gives me a whole lot more control over the end fit with included ease.

  2. i have been aggravated by this very problem! it's ridiculous and makes it very difficult to figure out where to start! i also sometimes measure pattern pieces to figure out what size to make. typically i go down 1-2 sizes to begin with, muslin then work it out from there. i'm about ready to give up entirely on the big pattern makers! the newer independent companies seem to be much truer to the sizing chart with a reasonable amount of ease.

  3. My pattern arrived today, but I can't even start working on the dress till April or may. Thanks for pointing this out. I will note it down so that when I start working on it I will know what to watch out for.

  4. Big 4 has ridiculous ease, IMHO. Case in point, my full bust is 36" and High bust is 33-34" and size 12 ends up too large on top (really I should go with a 10 and FBA). I do MUCH better with BurdaStyle when it comes to using my measurements to find the corresponding size that actually fits.

    When it comes to pattern alteration vs muslin alteration, there are a few I do on each. I'm tall and have a larger bottom than top, so I always add length to the pattern and transition btwn 2 sizes (top and bottom) before I cut muslin. But all the rest I do in the muslin phase.

  5. I'm actually going to buy this course because of your discount link, so thank you! I think I commented on another of your posts with regards to Vogue sizing. I am apparently between size 10 and 12 according to their measurement charts, the last vogue dress I made, I had to cut the bodice right down to the size 6 cutting lines before it fit me (and no FBA despite being an F cup!). As a result I have lost faith in their sizing and now find it really difficult to know what size collection to buy - especially when I fall between the two (i.e. it comes in 6 to 10 and 12 to 16). With your post and my experience in mind, I think I'll just take a gamble on a 10 each time. Its a shame they don't overlap size collections like some companies used to in the Seventies... I almost never make a commercial pattern without a muslin now unless I can afford to throw the project away and start over if it goes wrong. It feels like hassle but its always worth it in the end, especially when I like the pattern enough to reuse it.

  6. My pattern arrived today so look forward to start working on it. My experience with patterns is that if I go by the measurements on the pattern envelope I end up with a size way too big. I now just ignore it and eye ball it.(usually for me it means the smallest size from the pattern. However I do know how size charts can be complicated. Not sure if you notice on my blog but I decided to venture and start a small pattern line. The size charts and finals measurement gave me many headaches and I'm yet not sure I have final ones.

  7. I trace the pattern onto Swedish Tracing Paper, blending in between sizes when necessary for the waist and hips. Then I transfer the pattern onto muslin for fitting, later retracing with changes onto tracing paper, etc. I assume a commercial pattern won't fit without work (the same thing happened with a Colette Patterns free pattern).

    I've been told that using the muslin as a pattern is fine, but it won't last and is likely to stretch.

    As I have neither a friend who can help me fit nor a dress form, I'd like to make a sloper to adapt patterns or from which I could derive a pattern that looked similar.

    Is it possible that the large amount of ease is intended to factor in different types of fabric (among the recommended types, of course).

    Thanks for blogging about the class.

    One last question: Does Vogue have Misses Petites sizes? There was a reference to them on their sizing chart, but none came up when I did a search on the site.

  8. Looks like the excessive amount of ease has saved the day! I agree - it's inherently frustrating to check the recommended size chart, knowing I also need to check the finished garment measurements and work from there. I'm still trying to figure out what is the right amount of ease for my own comfort, but hopefully once I've got those magical figures nailed it will make selecting a size that much easier!

  9. I found the same when making up my first close fitting bodice block - I made it up and it was HUGE. 10 cm ease was way too much, so I adjusted and used a size smaller (but not for my hips) and was pleasantly surprised when the fit was perfect! I rely more now on my bodice block and use it as a guide for fitting patterns. I still make a muslin though!

  10. Once again, this is a great discussion to have because it is so often misunderstood. Many people give up sewing clothes because of frustration with pattern sizing and fitting.

    What I teach my students about ease is this.
    1. Everyone has different ease amounts they find comfortable
    2. The most reliable way to figure this out is by measuring clothes you already own, figuring the ease amounts and keeping a record. ( the step they balk at the most)
    3. Fabrication matters, so ease amounts are always suggestions.
    4. Always use your above bust measurement and compare that to the bust measurement on the big 4 size charts. This way the garment will fit your frame. Do a bust adjustment accordingly.
    5. Add your preferred ease amounts to your body measurements,compare to the pattern and adjust accordingly. (I have a worksheet for this process which helps this step enormously)
    6. Never go by your ready to wear sizing...the two have nothing in common with each other.

    These steps will get you much closer to your goal fit. I do recommend muslins for most garments, but once you become familiar with a particular company you may find that you will not always need to take this step.

  11. Many people recommend finding your pattern size by the high bust measurement, esp. with the big 4 patterns and then doing an fba if you have to (or in my case an sba). For most people this would take them down at least one size. In general though my sizing places me between a 12 and 14, I often sew a 10. I sewed a lot from Vogue and McCall's in the 80s and early 90s and it seems like their fit/basic blocks haven't changed much since then... what was "fitted" then seems loose by today's styles. I'd love to try this class sometime just out of curiosity for the couture techniques which I haven't delved in yet. I just like reading about it on others' blogs! ;)

  12. I like clothes with some ease, that way it doesn't wrap my not too flattering body contour for the world to see ;) The amount of ease preferred can be quite subjective. I've not got my pattern yet. I think it may take some more time. Nevertheless I've decided to go with another pattern (SIM1914) and incorporate Susan's couture techniques.

    I find that I need to always add a 1" length to my bodice, so I adjust the pattern pieces before cutting the muslin / fashion fabric.

  13. Re:

    "Do you make pattern alterations before you cut into muslin or fashion fabric?"

    I always make preliminary alterations, yep. My hips are disproportionately large, so if I use a pattern out of the envelope, it will _always_ (always always) be far too big in the shoulders or far too small in the hips - there is no hope whatsoever of a decent fit if I use all one size. So I always trace. I pick a size based on my bust (or sometimes a size lower; I agree that patterns tend to be oversized) and trace that from shoulders through just below the bust, then blend up to a size with enough room for my hips.

    I say "a size with enough room for my hips" because I tend to blend up to a hip size smaller than that recommended by the measurement chart, and therefore end up with less design ease than the pattern intends. Blending all the way up to the "right" hip size is such a large change in such a small area that I don't know how to accomplish it smoothly, especially if I want my waist to fit and therefore I need to blend up in the tiny area from natural waist to hips. I think that I actually need to redraft the pattern, and I don't have that skill yet.

  14. In the big four patterns I always go by high bust measurements and make adjustments from there. Usually an FBA but on the not really form fitting stuff its sometimes hardly necessary. Like the McCall's shirt dress I have planned? Where I would normally need to add three to four, maybe one to one and a half inches. (Being a DDD and all)

  15. For some time I believed my waist measurement was considerably smaller than it is because I know what size in Vogue patterns fits me and assumed my measurements must match! Then I discovered Burda, where the ease is much less. These days I always check the finished garment measurements in Vogue befire cutting and if I'm between two size ranges when buying a pattern I pick the smaller. Ridiculous but it works.

  16. I was extremely puzzled when ordering my pattern for the course. I never used any of the Big 4 patterns before. I took the measurements then read the ease...and ordered a size 14 in the end. From what you say, it may end up being too big and will have to grade it down. Looking forward to receiving my pattern in any case

  17. I've been astounded lately at the amount of ease built in, even on fitted garments. So now I measure the flat pattern and choose my size from there, which is always one or two sizes smaller than the envelope suggestion. This is annoying when I reach for a pattern I bought a while ago, and now realize it's going to drown me and is out of print!

  18. I find this so frustrating, too! What I tend to do is measure the actual pattern size at the waist and bust and choose which size I'm using instead of looking at the chart. Also I find that pattern sizes differ greatly to normal clothes sizes, which I'm more used to. In Burda patterns I'm usually a 12, whereas in clothes stores I'm an 8/xs. I'm so looking forward to seeing your progress with the dress!

  19. I really struggle with finding the right pattern size, every thing I make ends up being about 3 inches too big for me, regardless of how many times I measure the pattern and attempt to work it all, cut the size I think is right for me, try it and start to cry - yup, 3 inches too big. Again. I'm getting to the point where I'm going to skip commercial patterns (especially modern ones) and just make my own patterns, I actually think it'll be easier!

  20. sarah_from_fashion_brick_roadFebruary 16, 2012 at 11:15 AM

    I get this all the time,  if i go by the envelope measurements then It tells me to make a size 12 or 14 (u.k size) which turns out way too big, so I generally go for the size I would by clothes in  (8-10) and this usually fits fine, it also works out with the finished garment size on the pattern envelope too.

    although I'm mostly making my own patterns these days so I can add as much or as little ease as I want. 
     interestingly the two pattern drafting books I work from both usees indusrty sizing measurements that comply with the standards industry. ease for these patterns is recommended at between 2-5cm for most patterns and 0-3cm for stretch material. it makes me wonder what commercial patterns are working to to have such a gap between body measurements and finished sizes. it's no wonder there are so many independent pattern lines poping up with better sizing.

  21. I am actually still in high school and considered by many to be tiny as in very tiny. A year back when I had only been sewing for a short while, I cut out a simple sleeveless princess line dress pattern from Vogue in the smallest size corresponding to my bust measurement and figured the waistline could be let out. Well lo and behold when I sewed up the major seams for a fitting and the bust is tight and the waist is too big. I found Burda patterns a few months later and I'm still somewhat wary of big four patterns.



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