January 30, 2006

Fitting Frustrations

Sitting in one of my pattern drafting classes in design school, my professor tried to explain common fitting dilemmas.

"No one is a perfect pattern size!" said Dr. S, referring to the measurements on the back of a pattern envelope from one of the big pattern companies.

And yet, I was an exception. I could pull out a pattern and a tape measure and my measurements would match up exactly with one of the sizes. I did not pay too much attention to my measurements because I could make up any pattern and have it fit relatively well. I only paid half attention to what Dr. S. said. After all, I "was" a perfect pattern size.

That was until ten years later. After frustration and disappointment, I have had to rediscover patternmaking and proper fit. I can no longer just make up a pattern and have it fit properly. Seams do not lay straight, hems are uneven, darts are in the wrong place. It has almost been enough to stop making clothes for myself.

Working in the fashion industry, I could rely on standard size patterns and dress forms. What’s more, I have been designing children’s clothing. Children’s bodies are relatively straight. No need to worry about bulges and curves. I could whip out a pattern and sew up a sample in an afternoon. Tweak and grade it a couple of hours later. It was a breeze.

Now I am attempting to sew for myself again. It is amazing that I could even find the occasional hour to re-explore a personal hobby. But somehow my body has changed. I am relatively fit and thin and have been most of my life. And yet, I have more curves. My clothes fit differently. I have gained and lost the typical weight that comes with the holidays. A few wrinkles and gray hairs later, I have realized that I am a different person.

I should have realized this when I have had to go shopping for jeans. I used to be able to try on one pair of jeans, just about anywhere, and have it fit. Now I have to travel to about 8 stores and try on several pairs of jeans. The discount stores never carry my size - the jeans are usually too short for my tall frame or are sized for thin teenagers. The department stores either sell out of my size or want $150. It is a hit or miss with catalogs, but I have had more success ordering pants that are long enough. Yes, I am a different person.

Now I face a sewing dilemma. If I make something for myself, using my time and money, it has to look good, fit, and last a long time. That means I can’t gain or lose weight. Curves have to stay where they are. What if I have a baby and my body shape changes again? What if by some miracle I motivate myself to start my exercise regime and my body changes shape again? And so goes the debate about sewing for myself.

As I pull out Dr. S’s book on fitting and pattern alteration, I admit I am a fitting neophyte. With trepidation, I am relearning and refining a lost skill. Things I had learned in theory actually have direct application to me. With my measurements falling all over the map, I realize I am no longer a "perfect" pattern size. And yet, all of this is a "perfect" motivation to keep on stitching (and fitting!).

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