The Confident Stitch
Pati Palmer helped me select this great animal print for my Style Arc Slip on Suziewrap dress. I love the fabric! I have never made anything in an animal print before, but this is subtle and it has great colors for me. Because I don’t usually need to do a full-bust adjustment on Style Arc patterns, I just cut the fabric and sewed it up (with some fit-as-you-sew going on in the mirror). I love the dress, but I think I will figure out how to do a full-bust adjustment before I make it again. As you can see, there is some pulling on the sides because the wrap part has to go a little to far to make it all the way.
I also made the Style Arc
. I made it out of stretch linen, which I did not know existed until Pati Palmer wore a cardigan made out of it to our class one day. It’s gorgeous and flow-y. According to the Style Arc website, the cardigan has a slimming silhouette and a cascading front. I must agree. The cardigan turned out just like the picture. I made no changes.
Ever since I saw Sunni’s version of this dress while I was lurking on her site, A Fashionable Stitch, I have wanted to sew it up for myself. It’s Simplicity 2724, a Project Runway pattern. I love the high waist and the illusion of the skirt + shirt combo, even though I’m not a secretary, and I’m rarely naughty.
I was originally planning to completely emulate Sunni and make a classic wool skirt on the bottom with a floral on the top. When I started searching the Fabric Depot, however, I found a beautiful navy blue velvet for the skirt! I also found a light-blue floral lawn for the top in the “Fancy Cottons” section. The bodice could possibly be Liberty of London, but it’s not. It’s just “Fancy.”
I have never made a top with a pleated neckline, so I’m glad I made this dress with the assistance of Pati and Marta. Here are the changes I made to the bodice:
The skirt pretty much fit without changes. I love that about skirts! The skirt is great, but it’s different than I thought it would be. It’s similar to Colette’s Beignet Skirt, without the buttons.
During my Palmer/Pletsch Pants class, Pati helped me perfect the fit for McCall’s 6440, center-back-seam pants. I drove her crazy, because I couldn’t decide where I wanted the waistline of my pants. Every time I went to her for a fit adjustment, I moved my waist-marking elastic up or down, depending on my mood. She could not figure out how to alter the tissue so my waist and crotch would fit.
The truth is, I’m not sure where I want my pants to sit. I think I want them to be below my navel. On my late-40’s figure, however, I’m not sure low is the way to go. But, high-waisted is not cool, is it? I must have moved the elastic up for the final fitting on these pants because they are quite high-waisted.
I do adore the fit. Thank you Pati Palmer. You are the master!
The first pair of pants I made when I got home from Portland was McCall’s 5716 (an out-of-print McCall’s pattern that is still available through the Palmer/Pletsch website). I made them out of a dark brown wool crepe from Fabric Depot.
Here is the secret to easy pants fitting: cut out at least one size bigger than your measurements indicate. Marta Alto once taught a pants-fitting class all by herself. She felt overwhelmed by the prospect of tweaking paper patterns for all of the participants, so she just told everyone to cut out one size bigger. The alterations were so much easier.
Here are the back and the front of my pants pattern pieces. As you can see, it was easy to make them fit. We shortened the crotch, narrowed the back, and added a lot to the leg length. Et viola! They fit.
Many people make muslins before they cut out their fashion fabric. Marta and Pati advocate fitting the pattern tissue to your body by altering it, and cutting out your fashion fabric (with one-inch wide side seams and inseams). They advise to then pin the garment wrong-sides together and check the fit. Checking the fit in the front is no problem, but checking the fit in the back poses technical difficulties, even with mirrors. Since I am not a school-bus driver with eyes in the back of my head, I enlist the help of my loved ones. When I’m making pants, I can frequently be found walking around in pinned-together pants with my camera, asking anyone who is not obviously busy to, “take a picture of my butt.” I get a lot of important information from these photos:
How do you fit-as-you-sew?
After the Fit class and Fit Teacher Training, I decided to stay for one more class with Pati and Marta – Pants. I have been trying to fit pants for quite awhile. After enlisting assistance from both Sunni of A Fashionable Stitch and Steph of 3 Hours Past, I was still struggling with fitting pants. They are difficult!
An important message we heard over and over was, “Everyone has to alter the pattern.” It would be impossible for clothing companies or pattern companies to make clothes or patterns that fit everyone. People who wear the same size have curves in different parts of their bodies.
For instance, Darlene and I made the same size of McCall’s 6571 – no-side-seam pants. She shortened, I lengthened, she added darts, I removed darts, and we both ended up with perfect-fitting pants. It was amazing! Take a look.
In addition to learning great fit techniques during the Palmer/Pletsch Fit class, the class was a powerful time of change and transformation for many of us.
One of my Fit classmates is an engineer. She came to the class because she needed to interview for a new job. She had been frustrated in her search for professional clothes that fit her. When she told Pati and Marta her story, they said, “You will leave this class with clothes that fit and flatter and are ready to sew.” Pati took her to the fabric nirvana area on the first day and selected fabrics that match her skin tone and will skim her body in a flattering way. My fellow student then got to work. Under the tutelage of two great masters, she pin-fit a gorgeous dress and jacket that make her look like the young, smart, beautiful woman she is. When Pati slipped the final pin in the dress to make it fit perfectly, she burst into tears of joy. She looked fantastic, even though the dress was inside out with the seam allowances flapping in the wind. The rest of us cried, too.
Rebecca is a law professor in New York State. She needs to be an authority figure for her students, and a peer to powerful men. Of course, she has been wearing black to assert her authority. Because many of our classmates were getting their colors done, Rebecca decided to get her colors done with Ethel Harms, who works with Pati and Marta. Getting your “colors done” means finding out which colors look best on you, given your hair, eye and skin tones. Rebecca returned incredulous from her session with Ethel. She looked best in camel, beige and coral, not black! What was she going to do? How could she assert herself as a power figure with such drab colors? I went out to the fabric nirvana area with Rebecca and Ethel and saw how amazing and POWERFUL Rebecca looks in camel and coral. She will look like the kick-butt lawyer she is when she starts wearing the colors that suit her.
Next came Fit teacher training. Six of us stayed on to learn how to teach “Fit.” First, we measured each other’s “high bust” to confirm we were measuring correctly. It took me a few tries, but I was able to figure out how tightly to pull the measuring tape. After the measuring, we paired up to alter darted bodices. My partner was the beautiful and tiny Vanna of Brisbane, Australia (Sewing Intuition). After a few easy alterations, the paper fit her!
My partner for princess seams was Janet, who wanted an armhole-princess jacket to fit. With much assistance from both Janet and Pati, I altered the tissue in a way I thought would work. Janet, like me, is full-busted, and an armhole-princess seam needs a lot of alteration to fit her. After much slashing and taping, I pinned together the pieces of tissue and tried the jacket on Janet. It did not fit. The apex was in the wrong place. Sigh. Pati suggested I may want to buy Janet a new pattern and start over again. I am much too stubborn for that!
I cut out all of my tissue alterations, moved the apex, moved everything else to match the new apex, re-taped, re-pinned, and 10 hours after teacher training started, draped the tissue on Janet again. It fit! There was more fill-in tissue than regular tissue, and there was almost an entire roll of ½” Scotch Tape holding it together, but it fit!!!
I was exhausted.
I just returned from a transformational trip to Portland, Oregon. I was on a Palmer/Pletsch “Sewing Vacation” at Portland’s Fabric Depot.
My Sewing Vacation guides were Marta Alto and Pati Palmer, the brains behind the Palmer/Pletsch method of sewing. Marta and Pati have been teaching and perfecting their methods of teaching fit since the early 1970’s. They are amazing artists and scientists who know how to spread their wisdom with flourish.
If you love to sew clothes but have not heard of Marta and Pati, check out their books: “Fit for Real People” is the best one to start with.
Meeting Marta and Pati on the first day was like meeting celebrities. Half of my classmates screamed at the site of our lovely teachers.
My first 4-day class with Marta and Pati was called, simply, “Fit.” We learned to fit bodices with darts and bodices with princess seams. Each of us first made a sloper, which is a tightly fitted darted bodice. Marta and Pati took our high bust measurements to determine what size we would each start with. We then learned which alterations we would need to make the sloper fit us. Every one of us needed a Full Bust Adjustment – no surprise that women who suffer from gaposis want to learn to make shirts that fit. Almost all of us needed a High Round Back adjustment from years of working at computers and sewing machines! Other alterations included low round back, broad back, and waist length.
After we perfected our slopers in pattern tissue, we selected garment patterns and got help fitting them to our bodies. Marta and Pati helped me fit Simplicity 2724, which Sunni, the blogger behind, A Fashionable Stitch calls, “The Naughty Secretary Dress.” I altered the pattern, which needed fewer and smaller changes than my sloper (phew!). After I altered the paper pattern, I sauntered out to the Fabric Depot fabric nirvana area and selected a sweet floral cotton lawn for the bodice, and rich navy blue velveteen for the skirt. I cut out the altered pieces and pinned them together in fabric. Pati moved the pins around, gave me some tips, and the dress was ready to mark up for sewing! I will sew it up soon and post some pics.
My sewing vacation continued…. Next, we learned about princess seams. Princess seams can either extend from the shoulder in a vertical line to the bottom of the garment, or they can extend from the armhole in more of an arch down to the bottom of the garment. Princess seams are great for women with full busts. The shoulder princess is best if your bust is full. I love that Pati and Marta use terms like “full bust” instead of “big boobs,” and “flat derriere,” instead of “no butt.” (Guess what my alterations are!) They do a beautiful job with language to remove any judgment from their statements. In our culture, where no one feels that their body is perfect enough, being with Marta and Pati felt like being in an oasis of self-acceptance.
We all fitted McCall’s 6076 to our bodies. Pati and Marta call it the Oprah Shirt, because McCall’s sold a boatload of copies of the pattern after Oprah discussed the beauty of a princess seam on her show. I selected the shoulder princess and had to make only one-inch worth of bust adjustment to make it fit! I agree with Oprah about the princess seam!
Pati and Marta imparted loads of information, and we used it however we wanted. We each had our own gridded cardboard table on which to alter our paper patterns. There were also cutting mats available for cutting fabric. Plus, the class was at FABRIC DEPOT, which is a giant fabric store in southeast Portland. The Depot has massive amounts of wools, cottons, rayons, silks, lining fabrics, high-quality notions, books and patterns. Plus we got a THIRTY PERCENT discount on everything we bought while we were taking the class. Plus, the lovely, and perfectly put-together, Pati Palmer was willing to shop with me and put together outfits. As someone who only has a Jo-Ann’s in her town, I could barely breathe. Over the next few months, you will see all the lovely fabrics I bought sewn into well-fitting clothing for
I bought a few pieces of fabric to sew for my daughters. I’m not completely selfish.
I often feel the clothes we wear convey too much about us: where we live, how much we earn, how artistic we are, even how we feel about ourselves. And, simply donning pieces of fabric sewn into garments can be traumatic. Clothing can make us feel too big here, or too small there, when, really, we are just ourselves. For these reasons, I love Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Swan.” Clothing can be seen as bondage, but also as wings that carry us where we want to go. Beauty is a perfect commotion of silk and linen that helps us change our lives.
One year ago, I was at the quilting fabric shop selecting fabric for a baby blanket for my daughter’s teacher. I was drawn to an intriguing book with a turquoise and peach cover: The Colette Sewing Handbook, by Sarai Mitnick. I leafed through the book. It was full of information on how to alter paper patterns to fit anyone. The book also contained patterns to make captivating clothes with names like Licorice and Biegnet.
I loved sewing my own clothes in high school and college. Why had I stopped? I stopped because the process of buying nice fabric, sewing up a garment, and then trying it on led to ill-fitting, funny-looking, clearly handmade clothes. The Colette Sewing Handbook had instructions for assuring the garment fit properly before cutting the fashion fabric. I was instantly obsessed with learning how to manipulate patterns and fabric to fit.
One year, many books, and many garments later, I have learned much about myself, fit, women, and fashion. I have experienced the satisfaction of creating my own clothes. I have only just begun.
Join me on this journey to create a wardrobe that fits body and soul.