Adjusting patterns – fitting the back

Hi, I hope you’re enjoying your summer – or whatever season is happening in your part of the world! We’ve had some warm weather this month in California, too warm in some parts of the state but great weather for sleeveless dresses and strappy sandals.

Earlier this month, I had a lot of fun at a Bay Area Sewists meetup on adjusting patterns. We met in the spacious, well-lit classroom space of Lacis in Berkeley. We were fortunate to have in attendance a member, Kathleen (a technical designer for Old Navy), who enjoys fitting and adjusting patterns for herself and her friends. She explained to us how we should always look at how each change affects the overall balance of a garment.

Adjust patterns - Lacis - Bay Area Sewists -

The pattern changes I usually make are a small bust adjustment, wide shoulder adjustment, and grading up in the hips. What pattern adjustments do you usually make?

I admit that I don’t usually pay much attention to the back. But I did make a pattern adjustment to the back of the sleeveless dress I made for Spring for Cotton. It was gaping a little in the back neckline so I had to bring it in slightly. I just happened to notice the gaping in the mirror when I tried on my muslin.

Kathleen made me realize how important it is to make incremental pattern adjustments. I saw first-hand how adjustments to the back can affect the front.

I brought the muslin I made several months ago for this vintage Vogue pattern. I searched my blog to figure out when I started this muslin. I think I made the muslin last December and I traced the pattern in October. Wow – how time flies!

Vintage Vogue 8343 dress patter -

This is a dress for knit fabrics and I have some lovely wool jersey from Britex Fabrics to make it. I used this brown synthetic jersey fabric I had in my stash. I think I got it at Discount Fabrics in Berkeley about four or five years ago with the intention of making an Alabama Chanin garment.

This pattern has princess seams so my automatic response was, oh, I can make the bust fit better by bringing in the princess seams – an easy adjustment. There are four pattern pieces for the front – two front center and two side front. The back has two side back and two center back pieces. I’m going to color block this dress using a rose and a black wool jersey.

Here’s a photo I took at the end of Dec. It’s a bit loose in the bust area. The only adjustment I made to the pattern was to lower the armholes, which seemed a bit high.

Knit muslin - princess seams -

Kathleen’s first adjustments to my muslin were to the back. This pattern has a center back zip – try to ignore the sloppy construction – I installed the zip but didn’t bother stabilizing it (lazy!). I confess I didn’t really look at the back when I sewed this up. As you can see, Kathleen pinned two areas on the back. The top adjustment was quite small 1/8 inch at the zip and taping off into the shoulder area. The mid-back adjustment goes across two pattern pieces – center back and side back.

Adjusting back - knit dress - Bay Area Sewists -

And voila! The front left (my right) fits perfectly as a result of the back adjustment. This was like magic.  Then I’ll add to the front what was subtracted from the back.

Front view - knit muslin - Bay Area Sewists -

Kathleen transferred the adjustments to the pattern. She likes to fold the pattern – as opposed to cutting it – to make these adjustments. I like this idea because you can easily undo the adjustment. Just remove the tape. In the photo below, she folded the pattern for the top adjustment near the neck.

Transfer pattern adjustments - Bay Area Sewists -

Here’s Kathleen pinning adjustments to someone else’s garment…

Adjusting patterns - fitting the back - Bay Area Sewists -

… and transferring them to the pattern pieces.

If you don’t have anyone handy to pin your garment or someone who really wouldn’t know what to do with a pin other than poke you, Kathleen suggests asking them to take photos of you wearing your muslin. Take photos of the front, back, and sides. Then you can at least look at the photos and see where you can make adjustments. If you don’t have a friend or partner handy, you can always use the timer on your camera  😉 As you make your adjustments, take photos of all sides to see how they affect the garment overall.

While we were at Lacis, Jules Kliot, the owner of Lacis, stopped by and invited us to have a sneak preview of Lacis’s beautiful September exhibit on netting and filet lace. It’s quite stunning. The netting on view are works of art created by netting and embroidery on the netting, which is created by knots similar to the technique used to create fish nets (read more about filet lace here).

You can see a slide show of the exhibit here. The show opens on Sept. 26 and will be on view until Sept. 3, 2016 – nearly a year so if you live in the Bay Area you’ll have plenty of time to check it out.

Lacis exhibit -Netting -

Happy sewing!



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10 Responses to “Adjusting patterns – fitting the back”

  1. Sarah
    October 27, 2017 at 12:27 am #

    I need a Kathleen!

    • October 27, 2017 at 2:39 pm #

      Yes! We all need a fitting assistant!

  2. September 30, 2015 at 4:02 am #

    Great trick there about folding the pattern instead of cutting it! It actually makes a lot of sense because it is easy to “go back” rather than redo the whole thing!

  3. Jeanne
    August 28, 2015 at 9:48 pm #

    I was so happy to have help from Kathleen to adjust my muslin and pattern. The upper back adjustment is one I will likely make to other patterns now that I understand it. Thank you for organizing the Meetup!

    • August 28, 2015 at 10:50 pm #

      Yay! So glad you came and found an adjustment you can use. Kathleen was great.

  4. August 25, 2015 at 7:46 pm #

    Fitting the back (including how the sleeve joins to the back) is so important! I’ve done a lot of analyzing photos my husband takes of the back of my mockups, but it’s still tricky when you can’t stand behind yourself. I think I finally cracked the code for fitting my back – I’ve always had trouble with things being too tight across the shoulder blades. It only took 2 or 3 coworkers over the course of a few lunch time fittings to finally help me figure it out.

    • August 25, 2015 at 7:49 pm #

      You’re so right! I really hadn’t considered how much the back affects the front. Now I realize that it’s possible that I don’t always need an SBA if I adjust the back. Who knew?

  5. Amy
    August 24, 2015 at 6:13 pm #

    Great post, thank you! I’m struggling worth back fitting issues. I wish we had a great sewing group like you do, looks like y’all learn a lot and have a great time.

    • August 24, 2015 at 6:34 pm #

      You’re welcome! I’m so glad it was helpful. Good luck with your fitting!


  1. Body measurements, fitting, and sewing projects - C Sews - October 24, 2016

    […] We’ve had two fitting meetups since then. Last year we were fortunate to have Kathleen, a member with a lot of fitting experience help us out. She works as a technical designer for Old Navy. We kept her really busy! I blogged about that meetup, too and discussed making pattern adjustments. […]

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