learning, learning, learning, and some thoughts

Wordy post alert! You'll need at least one cup of coffee and a few minutes of time...

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I was taking a 'Master Fitting Class' at the Stitchery, led by Cassandra. We are working on a fitting dress pattern designed by Cassandra for her new independent pattern company, Storybook Patterns. I'll add a link once the first pattern is released but in the meantime, you can find information about the Storybook Patterns on the Stitchery blog. I am looking forward to the release of Cassandra's first pattern, hopefully soon. The fitting pattern is a simple bodice and skirt kind of dress, similar to the dress below, although ours has the shoulder darts on the back piece and a bust dart in the front. I am not sure if this type of dress has a name?
Find the image here

It is not quite my style of dress, it doesn't pass the 'comfortable for cycling test'. I also would be unable to climb trees, although of course I very rarely climb trees these days.

But this type of dress is a basis from which many other dress variations are derived and working with it is useful to not only learn about patten adjustments and garment fitting but also to learn about garment design and body shapes. The possibilities for making variations on a theme are endless. V-neck, scoop neck, separate top and skirt, sleeves, shift dress, even a dress with a flared skirt. And this is before you even consider replacing the darts with princess seams.

After we took measurements and analysed our body shapes we chose our sizes. Cassandra had each size sewn up as a toile for us to try so we had a head start. I made four different toiles for my bodice to get one that fits just right. It has more ease than one would normally have with a bodice like this, because I feel more comfortable with just a bit more freedom of movement. Still, the bodice follows my body shape nicely. I have learned a lot about my body shape and now understand why some of my sewing creations have ended up in the charity bag and not in my wardrobe.

I ended up grading my bodice across three sizes. I did a full bust adjustment, followed by a back adjustment because there was just a little too much fabric in my underarm area. I made a shoulder adjustment and I moved some darts around, too. The skirt seemed a bit simpler as essentially it needed to fit around the bum and to the top. It involved a bit of taking in and moving and resizing darts. I ended up taking in the back centre seam. Again, it is less fitted than other skirts in the class, for personal comfort. I don't have any photos because I need pinned in at the back and there is nobody to do this at home.

It was a good class and I am sad it is finished (although I am glad to have Tuesday evenings free). We have learned so much! Apart from making adjustments to fit garments to my own body, I have also learned to make other useful types of adjustments that I don't necessarily need myself, for example a sway back adjustment or a small bust adjustment. I feel quite confident that I can now adjust any bodice to fit me, with a little time and patience. Ok, lots of time and lots of patience, and probably some set backs. As our fitting dress does not have sleeves at the moment, we learned to to draft those based on our arm measurements, or how to adapt a sleeve from a different pattern. We learned how to convert a darted bodice into one with princess seams. Amazing stuff I tell you! We learned to draft different necklines and facings, too. In between learning and doing we chatted, a lot. We talked about pattern companies and how they develop their patterns. The big pattern companies use 'standard' bodies, Indie designers often their own to design patterns for. That's maybe why Tilly and the Buttons patterns would need more adjustments to fit me than Cashmerette or Colette patterns.

The course lasted eight weeks and I would really recommend it if you are local. To be honest with you, sometimes I felt a bit overwhelmed with all the the information and I would have liked the course to be two weeks longer to go at a slower pace but I guess over the coming few months I'll be practising some of these new skills. We'll also go back for a evening in July to finish our work.

With all that fitting and adjusting, it is probably not surprising that I have been thinking about my body shape a lot in the last few weeks.

I have had not always felt at ease with my body. I still don't always do, it depends on my mood. This unease dates back a long time. I wasn't a fat child but my weight must have been above average for the 1970s and early 1980s. I remember having to visit my GP as a child to loose weight. I don't think I was in my teens yet but I can't be sure. It was a humiliating experience and I don't like recalling it now. The only lasting effect was a negative body image and continued struggles with self confidence. Like so many I fell into the diet trap, putting on more weight as I moved through life. I have lost my current body weight at least once, and put it back on, plus a little more.

Looking back at photos of my younger self it is difficult to understand why I didn't like myself the way I was. Since then, my body has not been getting trimmer or more toned or more shapely, instead it is slowly loosing contours and different areas of my body morph into each other. The waistline in particular is less well defined. Still, I am quite happy with myself. Still, there is shape left, I realise this now after seeing my body shape analysis photo.

Nevertheless, I have been loosing weight slowly for health reasons. Type 2 diabetes runs on the maternal side of my family and is something I would like to avoid. I also find exercising more difficult, some yoga positions are tricky because the belly is in the way, and running with a lighter body is definitely less strenuous. But I am not trying to loose weight because I don't like who I am or because I feel unattractive, which I think is an essential requirement for success.

Going back to sewing, I have grand plans for this summer. I have now a plain simple bodice and skirt, which fits me well. I am making a card stock of the bodice at least to make tracing quicker and I am going to make a variation of a shift dress with a flared skirt I think, to accommodate cycling legs. I am not actually feeling as confident about making this as it may read here but the toile is my new best friend and I have some old sheets that will be just perfect to have a go.

In the shorter term, I have two tops to finish. I hope to show you them soon, once I have a chance to take a photo or two. And yes, I did think about the fit and made toiles and adjustments. I'll leave you to guess which of the fabrics I am going to use. xx

P. S. Who is watching the Great British Sewing Bee? I am a bit disappointed with this years edition, I can't quite say why.


  1. How you do everything you do, Christina, I will never know! I wish I could find a local class to undertake the kind of learning you have just done as I have given up making clothes due to lack of ability to fit them. I also am disappointed by The Sewing Bee despite Patrick saying it's the best class ever. I think my problem is the rushing to get finished and so the end garments are sometimes roughly done. Happy sewing. Catriona

  2. I wish I had your patience for all the fitting and adjusting of patterns Christina. I have always struggled with body image and hate my legs, even though I realise I have been relatively slim all my life. Now as I am starting to gain a little weight I can't see what bothered me all these years. There isn't anyone who really stands out in this year's sewing bee... In fact none of them seem very good at all.

  3. I do wish there was a local class, I never wear anything I make for myself due to it not fitting properly. I am short 4' 11" so everything is difficult for me, it would be nice to know the best way forward to alter the pattern. I haven't been enthralled with the Sewing Bee this time either, but I can't put my finger on why...

  4. I was quite thin in my younger years weighing about 90 lbs. when I got married. I was also a smoker. When I quit smoking I began gaining weight. I exercise because it feels good, not to lose weight.

  5. It sounds like an inspiring course to go on. I've googled to see if there is anything similar in my locality and have found a dress making class which I think will do. I just need to make sure I have the time to attend all the way through. It does seem a little lack lustre this years sewing bee. Perhaps its a case of same old same old. I was impressed with the sari makeover though. xx

  6. A very interesting post, especially since I like to sew. You have inspired me to look around for a similar class in my part of the world. "Body Issues"...I think most of us probably have a few. I know I certainly have my share. Enjoyed your post...

  7. It sounds like a really brilliant class with a very knowledgeable tutor. Glad you enjoyed it so much and learned a lot too. I need to lose a little weight. Not managing it so far though. Just ate peanuts AND a cookie. I deserved them. CJ xx

  8. Wow, this sounds like a wonderful class!! So glad that you learned so much and found out so much. I am sure that you will make great use of your new skills!

  9. I never ride a bike or climb trees but I do still like my clothes to allow me to do so if I ever wanted to! However the thought of learning to fit thing better is appealing, sounds intense though.
    I'm enjoying Sewing Bee but I've not got a favourite like I usually do, (Lauren, Chinelo, Deborah) but it's still better than your average programme and I'm liking Patrick being the "good cop" to Esme's super strict "bad cop" !

  10. I envy you your opportunity to take this class, Christina. The only thing I'm brave enough to adjust in a pattern is the length. Truth be told, I think most of us suffered from poor body image when we were young. And many of us still do. In my case it wasn't about my weight, but rather about my complexion. I look forward to seeing your sewing creations over the summer!

  11. I think Sewing Bee Esme is super scary! Direct but fierce with it. I'd like to go on a course like yours, Christina. I'd like to make clothes that fit really well. Have a super weekend with more sunshine! xx

  12. You amaze me with all that you get done. Your sewing class really sounds fascinating. Let me just say I really don't know of anyone who is in love with their body, we all have our issues even now as adults. And as we change with age it just does not seem to get easier to accept the way things are. You have a very healthy attitude about it all.

  13. I think you are brilliant with all your sewing - I have recently given my sewing machine away to a refugee in a detention centre who was bored, as my sewing days are long behind me. I remember how time consuming sewing was and once my kids got to ages they had a say in what they wore, I lost motivation!!
    We should certainly see a photo of you in your cycling adapted frock!
    I have been watching the British Sewing bee, I really enjoyed it - we don't have it in Australia.... yet!

  14. Fascinating post. I would love to be more proactive in pattern fitting. Perhaps I will have to look out a course. I agree about sewing bee. I miss the previous lady judge. Her name alludes me at the moment, but she was lovely. Have a good weekend. B x

  15. Hey Christina,
    Firstly I am outraged at your treatment when you were a child. We are all of us different shapes and sizes, and there is no such thing as 'perfect' I was continually compared to my younger sister when I was a teen, and the poor body image it gave me has never left. The stupid thing was that I had a cracking figure. I was an athlete, so I was trim and toned. My sister has a more petite build, but has always obsessed with gaining weight. I am a stone heavier than when I found out that I was pregnant with Oliver. Sometimes it bugs me, sometimes it doesn't. It all depends on my mood (and where I am in my cycle ;)).
    It sounds as if this dress making course has had a really positive impact on how you view yourself. For the record, I think you have a figure like Marilyn Monroe, and let's face it she was smokin'!
    Leanne xx

  16. Good morning Christina, I did so enjoy reading this post. As a lady-of-a-certain-age, I am also aware of 'shape-shifting'. Where once was a defined waist, there is rather more of me. As I emerged from my winter torpor, I bravely climbed upon a set of scales and reeled back from the evidence that my clothes had not mysteriously 'shrunk in the wash' and trouser buttons had become spontaneously airborne. Humph. From a sitting start, I decided to get moving.....in the staff loo, there was a boxed-in pipe. So each time I paid a visit, I stepped up-down-up-down. 10 times, then 15 and 25. A quick whistle-round with the tape measure was revealing, also. That was then. So now? With the aid of the NHS 'Couch to 5k' and not cheating during the 5:2 'hungry' days, there is a loosening around my waistband rather more energy all round. Note to self: I can 'do' hungry and I can 'do' tired, but not both of them together. And now, further inspiration! Clothes can be made to fit the form, rather than the other way around. I have some material in a bag which might, conceivably become a skirt, or a blouse. I learned to sew at school, many moons and a whole continent ago so the mental exercise will be good. I am in agreement with you as regards the Sewing Bee. It seems to be on later (past the 9 o' clock watershed....there must be some strange perception about haberdashery in the offices of the BBC) and has not quite captured my interest. Yet. Maybe there will be a class in fitting clothes to the body, here in Angus, which may be more enjoyable that trying to fit the me to the clothes. A final thought, last summer, you wrote about making a psychedelic dress in a tricky fabric. The result was just lovely, and 'Pooh!' to model proportions, I hope it has had a further outing this year.

  17. That course sounds fascinating. I am sure anyone that makes clothes for themselves could benefit from such a course. I know it is one of the reasons I have been hesitant to make anything for myself, that and the fact that my mum made so many of my clothes as a child, a dress she made for me in my early twenties (a ball gown) she used knew what she was doing and managed to alter it to fit perfectly but I know she used about four different sizes to to do so!

  18. Gosh Christina I am so impressed by all your sewing and dressmaking. I agree about The Stitchery, I attended a 10 week quilting course there last Autumn and it was fanatstic. The tutor was Cassandra's mother in law who was brilliant, and extremely patient. (We were lucky to have her,as it was her last course there, though the courses are being taught now by someone else). Like you, I have a poor body image, and have had ever since I was a plump child. My weight has gone up and down over the years, and I am currently in the 'weight loss' part of a three yearly or so cycle, where I gain, and then lose weight. I have been losing and gaining the same two and a half stones for about 15 years X


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