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!



Newcastle Cardigan – Third Time’s a Charm!

Hi,  I hope you’re enjoying some warm weather wherever you are. Here in northern California it’s pretty warm, for March anyway. It may seem odd to write about a cardigan with the spring equinox coming at the end of the week, but I finally made a version of the Newcastle Cardigan that my husband really likes. In fact, he liked it so much he even volunteered to model it! We took photos a couple of weeks ago. This is my third attempt at making this Thread Theory pattern for my husband.

Newcastle Cardigan - Thread Theory - black fleece -

Why three? Well, way back in October 2013, I saw the version Ginger Makes made on her blog post Dude Sewing and I was excited to make one for my husband. I bought and downloaded the Newcastle PDF (you can also buy the tissue version).

Warning: This is a rather long post with info on my pattern adjustments. It took me two more tries to get all the pattern adjustments right: bicep, armhole, waist, back, and butt. Below you’ll see the various adjustments and mistakes I made as I attempted to figure out how to make this pattern fit my husband and still retain the design. If you want to make this pattern and your guy is bigger than the largest size, compare the pattern pieces against a cardigan that he fits him well. Then you’ll know right away how much you’ll need to adjust. I didn’t do that with my first one. Lesson learned!

The PDF was easy to put together. I like the little pointing hand at the end of the grainline marks.

Newcastle Cardigan PDF -

I made a muslin for size XL using double-sided black fleece I got on sale at Discount Fabrics in San Francisco. I quickly discovered that the Newcastle Cardigan is for slender guys. My man is 6′ 3″ (190.5 cm) and weighs more than 200 pounds (90 kg). On him, size XL was more like an L and was too tight everywhere. It’s a fitted pattern with not a whole lot of ease unless you are a svelte guy. My husband was disappointed and thought I could just whip up another one pronto. Uh, no.

I explained that it would take a lot of pattern adjustments and that I had zero experience adjusting patterns for men, let alone doing bicep, back, belly, etc. adjustments. Yikes. All my previous pattern adjustments had been fairly minor ones for myself: wide shoulder, small bust adjustment, adding ease to the hips,and that was it. I told him it would take me a while to figure out how to adjust the pattern for his figure. (I decided to keep the first one as an oversize cardi for me but it is still a UFO (unfinished object) because I felt obligated to first make and finish one that fit him. The UFO still needs button holes and hemming.)

A few months later, through trial and error and then actual help via email from Morgan Meredith of Thread Theory, I was able to figure out how to accommodate his broad upper back and large biceps (slash and spread!). I made my second Newcastle Cardi from blue fleece I had in my stash.

Here’s how I added width to the bicep area.

Newcastle Cardigan - sleeve adjustment -

I also decided to apply the same principle to the front and slash and spread to accommodate his not-so-flat waistline. BUT what I neglected to do was to true up the side seam. You see how the side seam at the bottom doesn’t go straight down from the armhole? It tapers in to the center. I should have straightened that line out. My man has a shapely bottom (OK, let’s be honest here, he has a nice ass!) and I needed more ease there, not less. But I didn’t notice this because all of this was new to me. It looks so obvious now. Go figure.

Newcastle Cardigan - front adjustment -

Meanwhile I consulted Sandra Betzina’s Fast Fit book (I got a used copy from Half Price Books. You can find buy it on her site here.) for additional tips. The sleeve was tight around the armhole so I needed to drop the armhole.

Fast Fit - Sandra Betzina -

I slashed through the top of the sleeve head to add about an inch and then did the same to the front and back pattern pieces. I also added an inch of width to the front pattern piece as you can (sort of) see below. The front had three adjustments: slash and spread for the waist, 1 inch longer to accommodate longer sleeve head, 1 inch wider for his broad shoulders and a looser fit.

Newcastle Cardigan - sleeve and front adjustment -

Before I cut my pattern pieces out I checked the front pattern piece front and button placket against a RTW cardigan sweater of his to see if it was wide enough. Check.

Newcastle Cardigan - front comparison -

I cut out my pattern pieces from the blue fleece fabric.

Newcastle Cardi pattern pieces cut -

… including some patch pockets, which I attached before I began sewing it up.

Patch pockets for Newcastle Cardigan -

Apologies for the blurry photo but I wanted to show you the grading and clipping of the collar.

Newcastle Collar graded-clipped -

Warning: When you sew on the collar, you’ll be sewing many layers – the body of the cardigan, two layers of collar and the facing – for a total of four layers of fabric! It’s super thick and broke a needle when I made it the first time with the double-sided black fleece. Here’s the body, the collar, and the facing being sewn.

Sewing Newcastle Cardigan - collar-facing -

Here’s what it looks like with the collar and cuffs attached and buttonholes done. I added a bit of ribbon – sewn through the facing and back – to keep the facing down. It’s slightly off-center. Oops!

Newcastle Cardigan button holes -

Here’s what version 2 looked like but as you can see the arms still needed more ease but the fit was much better. However, it turns out that he really wanted one in black and he wanted it to be a little longer. He was reluctant to tell me because he knew how much work I had put into sewing this one up. I also realized that my pattern adjustments still weren’t perfect. It didn’t fit well over the lower back/bottom – because I neglected to adjust the side seams after I did my slash and spread. It was too snug back there and it looked short.

Newcastle cardigan - Thread Theory - blue fleece -

Fast forward to December 2014, I had him try on the blue on again and made couple more pattern adjustments so I could make a third version – this time in black fleece. I fixed the front and back side seams, which should have been perpendicular to the bottom (see the extra paper added near the pink highlighter for the pattern notch?). This is why it didn’t fit well in the back.

Newcastle Cardigan - Front side pattern adjustment -

And here’s mistake number two – I thought if I curved the back down like this, it would accommodate his bottom. Uh, wrong! What was I thinking? All I needed to do was fix the side seam. I later cut this curving bit off – but not before I sewed it up.

Newcastle Cardi - Back pattern adjustment -

Here’s a side view of the third Newcastle Cardigan.

Newcastle Cardigan - Thread Theory - black fleece -

… and the back view.

Newcastle Cardigan - Thread Theory - black fleece -

See the band at the bottom? I added that because when I made my pattern adjustments, I forgot about adding length. And remember my pattern adjustment for the back wasn’t quite right. I didn’t need that bottom curving thing at all. My side seam fix was fine. Unfortunately, I had already added the band when I realized the curve looked funny. Sorry I didn’t take a photo of it before I cut it off (no way to unpick stitches from black fleece!). Yep, I removed that curving bit, made sure the back piece just went straight across, and added a new band at the bottom. I cut another strip of fleece folded it in half and attached it to the bottom.

Because I had to cut off the bottom, I lost my seam allowance and the bottom band is really close to the last button as you can see below.

Newcastle Cardigan - Thread Theory - black fleece -

At least it looks deliberate – matches the cuffs. If I make it again, I’ll just be sure to add length to the pattern overall. I’m so thrilled it’s done and he likes it! He’s proud to wear it out. Whew!

Have you sewn any menswear? Did you need to make any pattern adjustments? How’d it go?

Happy sewing!

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