Auxiliary Reference Information | Test Garment Creation | 6. Fitting a Test Garment

Notice I placed this Unit with Creating a Test Garment because this is where we should be doing the majority of any fitting, on the Test Garment for either the Base Template, the Working Template or a Flexible Pattern. However there may be an occasion where you will need to refer to this Unit when sewing the final Garment because the design may warrant it for example if you have changed the Neckline substantially on the Front and Back on a Bodice. You should not be having to do too many alterations at the point of making the end garment unless it is a very unusual design far removed from the Working Template if you have been following the process or if you have a pattern that requires close matching.

If you are doing a fitting on a final garment then you will need to ensure that stay stitching has been done appropriately and also tack the garment on the sewing line to assemble it by hand or machine (use a 4mm stitch length) prior to the fitting. By tacking you are ensuring that if you need to make any changes that you can unpick and do them without much effort.

Just be mindful about fit on a final garment if you are changing the type of fabric drastically from the fabric you originally designed the pattern for, this can have an big impact on fit if the fabric is bulkier or less dense than the design calls for. For example bulkier fabric will take up more space when it is turned into a seam or folded, this space used is called the ‘Turn of the cloth and if you have not accounted for this in the design and pattern drafting then you may have a slight fit problem, on small pattern pieces like collars this could be an issue.

Back to the Test Garment, at this point you will have sewn up the Test Garment and be ready to fit it onto the body.

You are going to put the garment onto the Client to assess how well it fits and make marks in pen on the Test Garment. Decide what colour pen you would like to use, I usually go red with an initial fitting and then change colour if I make alterations then do a second fitting with the same Test Garment. Also ensure that your pen will make a mark on the garment so you don’t have to press too hard and also ensure that the ink does not go through the fabric and mark the Clients underwear permanently.

Other things you may do on the Test Garment during fitting is to open up seams or slash it to add extra fabric in places, or pin out any excess that we find, I simply mention this at this point just to get you used to the idea!

As you have been careful taking a multitude of measurements and careful drafting and sewing for the Test Garment then it should be a simple process to be able to fit the Test Garment to the body, because you have already done some of the hard work.

After an initial assessment with the Test Garment on the Client, they will take it off and each alteration is measured and marked for position, depth and length and these changes are detailed back to the Master Base Template draft to make sure they are all captured. Then the Test Garment is altered according to the confirmed changes methodically ticking off each alteration to ensure they have been done on both sides of the Test Garment and refitted to check what was done and to see if there is anything else to change.

If the Test Garment is too mashed up after substantial alterations after the fitting and it is sensible to create a fresh new Test Garment (i.e. a new cutting copy, and cutting fresh muslin, thread tracing and construction) to start a new fitting from this point, this does take time but this is what you should do. Too many alterations to a Test Garment can result in mistakes or reduce the accuracy of the fitting. There are some alterations I think that if needed should be done before continuing with a fitting because they would impact the rest of the fitting (altering the Bust Point Level may be one of those alterations to consider here) so by making those changes you create a new base line to start from. Also there is no maximum number of alterations that you can do in one fitting session it is really your judgement, is the garment looking too complex or has the client simply just had enough and needs a rest (some people feel dizzy or nauseous standing for long periods). So you can have any number of alterations and any number of Test Garments that you will need to mock up. My expectation is to do around 6 alterations per Test Garment, that’s enough to get your brain around in one session I think much more than this and it can start to get confusing, and I usually need to do 2-3 Test Garments, but if it takes you several fittings be happy with the fit then so be it. You need to get the Test Garment as good as you can and look on the plus side at least you are getting time to contemplate the construction order of any garment and also makes you more familiar with the pattern.

Fitting is really the most important step in the whole process so it’s important to take time over this. You have a chance now to get the fabric on the body and let the body and fabric speak to you, it is actually quite a creative process I think because you are going to make some design decisions and offer advice to the client.

Remember that your fitting is your saving grace, if you have made any previous errors in measurement or calculation or sewing or even in design then this is the step that you can use to put it all right. It is the step that is going to give you the final touches for a fabulous fit. Remember that all your garments are going to rely on the success and quality of the Base Template so you need to give this Test Garment extra attention.

If you have been accurate with your measurements and your drafting and your sewing you should be nearly there with the fit for the Base Template Test Garment and subsequent tests for the Working Template and the Flexible Patterns. Although it is worth checking with the client to see if they have lots or gained weight documented on the original measurement sheet.

As I previously stated we are aiming for an 80% fit, so we are not expecting this Test Garment to be a perfect fit at this stage. You could expect a better fit at Working template and consequent Flexible Pattern stage and sometimes I might even skip a Test Garment for a Flexible Pattern if the design is very close to a Working Template (but don’t tell anyone!).

You are never going to get a perfect fit so don’t aim for that, there are just too many moving variables. What you are aiming for with a Base Template is a good snug smooth fit all over, where all horizontal guidelines are parallel to the floor and where all vertical guidelines are perpendicular to the floor, and all seam lines are in the correct positions or where you and the client agree that they should be. I actually think that fitting a Base Template Test Garment is the easiest to fit as you are simply getting the fabric close and snug to the body with the side seams and shoulder in the desired position and the neckline and armhole at the correct position, there are few other design requirements.

For me to explain fitting to you is quite a challenge because by no means have I fitted every body shape possible, or every garment shape and design that exists in the world. There are going to be lots of things that you come across that I may not have dealt with. It is also difficult to see what is going on in a photo, it is easier to do this in person so I would recommend coming on one of my courses to help you to progress through this section.

Due to the fact that everyone is a different size and shape there is no real order to do a fitting, and changing one area can affect another area on the body and there are millions of combinations of everything. I will however be pointing out what things to look out for as there are key elements to consider and what to do about them and give you an overall feel for the process. You can use these basics in a similar way for most garment so we can get on with nailing the basics here. You will need to spend time getting a feel for the whole process, reviewing the notes below, looking at the Test Garment on the client, assessing, unpicking, smoothing, pinching, pinning and trying out different things to get to the final result.

Also because you have created the drafts purposely for the Client alterations are different somewhat to what you would need to make on a manufactured pattern, they are not going to be as complicated as you won’t be altering sizes or bust adjustments to the same degree.

As the knowledgebase grows I will certainly be adding more details and samples photos for fitting into this section with an aim to helping you with this minefield.

Because of the involvedness and intricacy of fitting it is recommended to read through the whole fitting unit from this point on before having a go with your own fitting, this will help give you a better feel for what you are about to do, don’t worry about understanding all of it, it all should get clearer when you are actually doing it.

Keep in mind when fitting for a Flexible Pattern especially that you are also checking for the overall silhouette and design and proportion and also if the garment is flattering for the Client.

The Baseline for a great fit

As I said earlier you can use these notes to fit any draft – the Base Template, Working Template or the Flexible Pattern and final garment. The following sample photos and supporting text really places the focus on the Base Template.

Remember with a Base Template being the Mother of all patterns we need to get the best fit possible, that way the wearer is going to be more comfortable, less fidgety and in the end more confident in all subsequent garments made. Anything you do now will be inherited into everything else like genetics! Don’t forget that the Working Template will be adding in any wearing ease at a later stage so will obviously be looser and Flexible Patterns can be made from those with design ease to create looser garments and more casual feel.

By looking closely at the Base Template you can see that you have a multitude of lines all over the body that you can use to help with fitting both horizontally and vertically and also a number of Darts have been used (even though you cannot see all of them in the Test Garment they are there in the pattern waiting patiently in the seams). You have no other complication of design elements in play so this is a great baseline to work from. You are simply finalising the moulding with the fitting, smoothing the shaping over all of the curves with your guidelines already there to help you map out key positions.

Review your draft and remember where all of the Darts are located, you have manipulated some of these Darts out of the Test Garment and so may not see any stitch lines for them, if it helps you draw them onto the Test Garment just to remind you where they are, for example draw a line from the armhole to the Bust Point to give you an approximate position. Also if it helps label the guidelines, especially if this is your first time fitting, use anything you can to help your orientate yourself.

If you have made any observations during drafting then it is a good idea to transfer them onto the Test Garment or circle particular areas of interest to remind you to review those points, just write them on in pen prior to the fitting. When marking alterations back to the draft you can see if your original thoughts were valid, I think this is a great thing to do to improve your self-confidence with drafting and fitting. You may even decide to start drafting differently if you see the same issue arising time and time again.Once the Test Garment is fitted correctly there should be not no;

  • Pulling or straining of fabric across a mound – which indicates that the muslin is too small in that area (usually where the drag lines are pointing to, or emanating from).

  • Drag Lines – can also indicate that there is excess fabric that needs to be pinched out.

  • Folds in the fabric – folds showing up where they are not required horizontally, vertically or diagonally usually indicates that there is too much fabric in that area.

  • Flaring of fabric away from the body that is not in the design - Can also indicate that seams may not be in the correct position or that some excess fabric needs to be pinched out and possible in an adjacent pattern piece.

There should be;

  • All horizontal guidelines should be parallel to the floor and at the same level all the way around the garment.

  • The position of seams should be where we feel we need them to be.

  • Vertical seams, for example Centre Front and Centre Back and Side seams should be hanging straight down in a straight line and you can use your Plumb line to check this.

  • Armhole positions and curves should be where we need them to be with good coverage especially on a larger body.

  • Neckline positions and curves should be where we need them to be.

If the Test Garment is for a Flexible Pattern you will also be checking the overall feel of the design and if it is similar to the intended look, and also if any swap out pattern pieces will work with the same garment for example different straps or pockets, or different Front or Back pieces etc.

So if this is the baseline you now know what you are aiming for as an end result.

Keep in mind that you are going for a closer fit on a Base Template so some of the following fitting points may not be relevant for a Working Template where you are simple adding in ease or fitting for a skirt or trousers or a Flexible Pattern where you may be fitting sleeves or have design ease.

Just to throw in another complexity, any alteration can affect fit in another adjacent pattern piece or another part of the garment. If you like logic puzzles then you are going to love fitting and alterations

Test Garment Assessment

Preliminary Guidance

You will need a red pen to hand, your pins, sewing scissors, and some off cuts of muslin just in case you need to add any extra fabric, which is a good way to use up some of your bits and pieces.

You will need to mark both sides of the Test Garment during the fitting process, left and right.

You will draw the change on both sides or pin both sides etc. However in the sample photos I have only done one side to illustrate the alteration and what it looks like as opposed to not doing it.

When reflecting any changes back to the draft the average measurements are determined from both sides and this figure will be used unless you have some other ideas around balancing the garment and perhaps need to take the largest measurement. If this is the first time that you are fitting don’t worry so much about how to transfer everything back to the draft just concentrate on looking at what needs altering for now as you fit.

As you mark any alterations onto the Test Garment give the alteration a number by writing the number on the Test Garment next to the area you have just worked on, it helps to circle this number so that you don’t get it confused as a measurement. I do this so that I can track my alterations just in case, it is also going to help you work methodically through each alteration when you check the change back to the draft. Sometimes you make a decision and then choose to back track on a different fitting so it can help to keep track of each change and when you made it.

Sometimes you may fit one area and then change your mind or realise that you should have started in a different place. This is fine, it is all part of the process and it is good to experiment to get the best results so try out things have a play and then step back and access what you have done and what it means. Stay positive because it is all part of the learning process.

If during the process you end up with multiple lines draw because sometimes you have to alter a seam for different reasons and this can happen especially on the Shoulder seam, then this can confusing, draw a small circle on the lines that you want to settle for – this way you know which lines you are going to use when writing back to the draft.

Look at this photo for example, the small red circles on the red line is my shorthand to confirm which line I should use. The large circle was added prior to the fitting because I did think that this would be an area that I would need to have a look at during fitting. The number 4 is my alteration number.

Try to focus on one alteration at once, changing one alteration can help with another issue or remove it altogether.

This is a fluid process that you will be doing on the body so you need to let the fabric speak.

If you allow it the fabric can tell you where it needs to go if you release it to do so which is going to give you a better result than trying to force it into a certain position, so don’t be afraid to open up the seams – you do have your pins to help you out. Smoothing your hands across the fabric to get rid of the wrinkles and following the shape of the body can help you work out what needs to be done as any excess will come along for the journey. Use your judgement to work out what looks right, and this will get better with more practice.

Fitting a Base Template Test Garment has an element of fitting and an element of designing, you fit up close to pinch out fabric but you design from a distance for example when determining where a seamline might go you would be designing so would usually step back to have a look at the whole effect. As opposed to alterations when fitting a Flexible Pattern you would also be checking for proportion and balance so lots of stepping back for assessment as you are more confident of a fit because you have already gone through the Base Template and Working Template fittings.

As you will be removing any excess fabric where needed or adding in fabric if you need more it makes sense just to explain how you would do this at a basic level and then when you need to do it on an area on the body you will be able to do this whenever or wherever you like.

Adding Fabric

It is harder to add fabric than it is to pinch it out to take it away, but having said this on the Base Template you usually (depending on what you choose to do) have approximately 1” seam allowances on every seam and also Darts that you can open up too so that is something to play with. However you may need to add in fabric in areas where there are no seams for example across the chest or across the shoulder blades, and don’t forget that you may need extra space vertically too and the shapes of the extra space needed could be like strips or wedges. With the process that we have gone through to this point we would hope that you should not have to add in too much fabric if any at all.

Now there is a reason why I placed Adding in Fabric above Removing Fabric in this unit and that is because I believe that if you have strain in a Test Garment anywhere then you should be considering dealing with this issue initially. If you add in the fabric that you may need then you are coming from a better starting point with a Test Garment that has enough room in it.

Let me give you an interesting example for this reasoning. When you first look at the Test Garment on the body you may think that the shoulder seams are too far backwards and the Bust Point is too high on the front, but when you look at the back you see straining across the shoulder blades and drag lines emanating from them. This would suggest that the back is too small in some way and by slashing across the back shoulders from side to side may open up a space for extra fabric to be placed and relax the neckline up thereby repositioning the shoulder seam and dropping down the Bust Point. If you had not spotted the straining you may have already adjusted the shoulder and the Bust Point unnecessarily.

So look very carefully to see if you have any strain particularly horizontally across the shoulders and the bust and vertically over the hips or around the armhole. Typically you will see the drag lines emanating from these areas. However drag lines can be caused by too much fabric that needs to be removed so make an assessment is it too little fabric or does fabric simply need pinching out around the mound.

There is a simple way to test this in some cases and that is to open up the seam a little in that area and see what happens, if the fabric relaxes and a gap appears then you no doubt will need to add in fabric as you have just released the strain.

Here is an example of unpicking a seam and the fabric deciding where it needs to go.

You should open out the seam even further in both directions until you are happy that you have released all of the strain. Sometimes you will need to release a perpendicular seam if you are still not sure and then smooth the fabric back into position, the fabric will define where it needs to go then you can re-pin opened seams and if there is not enough fabric with the seam allowance to use you can cut a strip of spare muslin longer and wider than the gap you have made and pin it on the inside to one side of the gap and then smoothing down the garment on the other side in order to get the position to pin that side down.

Fabric Strips to use, cut larger than the length of the gap and the wider that the width of the gap. ​​

The strips are pinned into the gap sitting on the inside of the Test Garment.

​​Here it is pinned on the other side.

You would use the same technique if you are testing whether a horizontal strip is required but if there is no seam for example across the back at the shoulder blades from side to side then you would cut the fabric in a slash. It is better not to cut all the way across leaving a little fabric at the armhole will ensure that the whole garment does not fall down, and see if the gap appears. It’s not going to look pretty and you will feel like a real dress maker when you do that first slash! You are working on muslin and this is a Test Garment to try things out, play with it little.

If you need to add in a wedge of fabric from the edge of the garment inwards for example in the back armhole cut from the edge towards the top of the dragline the fabric will relax and open up and then you can add in a wedge of fabric behind pinning it in place to create the extra fabric needed.

Obviously if after unpicking and slashing no gap appears then you probably don’t really have strain at that point so you can re-pin everything back together where it was (you could use a strip of fabric in the back to do this and support both sides pinning all the way down both sides to get everything back to as it was.

When you pin a seam back down it does help to fold one seam over the top of the over flattened out seam and pin flat from the front rather than trying to reach inside to pin the two seams together and stab the client.

It can take some experimentation to get the garment laying how you like it.

Whatever you change remember to do this on both sides. When transferring the relevant measurements of the new fabric wedge which we will look at later you will need to access whether you use the largest measurements rather than the average of the two sides to ensure a good and balanced fit.

Removing Fabric

Usually you will need to pinch out fabric when you see vertical, horizontal or diagonal folds because this is suggesting that there is too much fabric in the area.

If you smooth out the fabric to where it is bunching up in the folds on both sides of the area you can pinch the excess out to see the amount that may need to be removed.

You would then pin along the pinched line through both thicknesses of fabric to determine what that would look like if you made the alteration. So obviously some experimentation is required.

A common example of this is if you need to pinch out across the back because fabric is pooling at the waist seam due to there being too much fabric in the upper bodice length. You may have pinched out the same amount all the way across the width of the Back or you may have pinched out more at the Centre Back than at the sides.

You need to be mindful of adjoining seams whenever you pinch and pin, to determine how you have affected another area of the Test Garment. This is especially true with the last example because if you pinched out the same amount across the whole of the back from the centre back out to the sides you now have affected the side length and have given yourself something to think about regarding what to do about the fact that the front side length is now longer than the back side length. Incidentally a fix here is to consider the bust shaping and if extra shaping is required on the side Dart this extra measurement can be simply shifted into the Dart to reduce the front side length by the same amount that you took out of the back, and in this case you would extend the pinning into the Dart by smoothing the extra fabric into it to merge the excess into the current Dart to the Dart Point.

If you pinched more in the centre going to nothing at the side i.e. a wedge shape then you will not be affecting the side length but you may need to consider what shape you draw in for the Waist Shaping on the Back Draft because a sway back will need a different shaped waist shaping to the one we drafted in the Base Template. Pinching out the excess will determine what you will need to do. Ensure that you keep the Waist Guideline parallel to the floor in this instance and obvious for all alterations be mindful of your guidelines.

This is a good example of how one change is going to affect another area.

When you locate an area of fabric to pinch out, see if you can smooth this fabric along the body until you meet a seam or a Dart that can take up the excess. You may need to unpick a seam in a location close to the area in order to release it to allow you to smooth the fabric along then you would pin out the pinched excess and then re-pin the seam that was opened.

If you are pinching out excess in an area where you already have a Dart for example the armhole ensure it points to the mound and then this Dart excess will be placed into the nearest Dart when you transfer the information into the pattern.

Sometimes you will need to pinch out excess fabric where there are no seams or Darts currently for example in the back armhole or back neck. Firstly undo seams (in these cases the side seam or the shoulder seam) and try to smooth this excess into the area where you know you have a Dart on the pattern then pin out the Dart and re-pin the seam, you will usually find out that this resolves the issue. If you have ended up with a pinned out Dart where you don’t have one on the pattern you can manipulate Darts around manually on the pattern but it is easier to just do this while it is on the body.

If you are removing extra fabric from a seam, for example the side seam then open up the seam and allow the fabric to settle using gravity, if you smooth it the fabric will soon show you where it needs to go – this is always a better option that trying to push the fabric where you think it needs to be. Remember you are using the body and the fabric to guide you.

So when pinning be mindful of adjoining seams and merge the wedge that you have pinned out into the seam if you can. Or pinch out the excess fabric into an existing Dart or seam by smoothing the fabric along the body until you meet a seam.

Typical places where you may need to pinch out extra fabric on the Base Template Test Garment is vertically under the bust if it is a larger cup size. Below the Shoulder vertically in the princess seam, along the armholes if there is any gaping, on the hips to get a better shaping, armhole dart area and in the back at the waist.

Whatever you change remember to do it on both sides.

This photo shows excess fabric that has been pinned out on a seam at the Back Waist and the second photo is excess fabric that has been pinned out and smoothed into position approximately where I know that I have an armhole dart.

The Fitting

If we focus on the fit of a Base Template Test Garment as this is where you will no doubt be doing the majority of the fitting you can look at how we make the assessment.

Prior to putting the Test Garment onto the client pin the shoulder seams on the outside by folding over the front shoulder seam with the seam allowance folded to the back then laying it on top of the back shoulder seam, lining up the Princess seam and the two sewing lines end to end. This allows you quick access to change this seam if you need to whilst being able to clearly see the position of the seam from all angles.

This photo shows the Front and Back shoulder seams.

Here they are lined up ready to pin.