|Welcome to the dress fitting demo.
There are many more photos of the process that have not been included
here. The full complement of photos can be found at my photo gallery. Click on each image on this
page for a larger version. For optimal printing, set page on landscape
and use IE 4 or higher.
This demo was recorded in 2003. Since then, I have tweaked my process
slightly, but the basics are the same. Dress fitting is very intuitive.
Start out by following the process outlined here, then start playing to
find something that works for you. It can take practice, but along the
way, you will likely still be able to create supportive mockups.
I would like to thank several people. First of all, Tasha McGann, who
taught me this method, and who has an outline of her own at La Cotte Simple.
L. Getty took the photos. Kim Richer was my
A note on patterns: When you use a pattern, you cut out the dress the
same every time. When you are making a self-supportive gown, the fit
depends quite a bit on the stretch and tension of the fabric. Each one
will fit differently, and will need to be adjusted a little bit each
time. The final adjustment is key; without it, it’s often difficult to
get a supportive fit. When you take a “pattern” from your mockup, it’s
really only a starting point. You should fit each dress directly to
your body, to the best of your ability. Of course, this is easier to do
with help from a friend, but eventually you’ll get an idea of where the
changes generally need to be made, and you can do some creative pinning
You will need:
- Measuring tape
- Markers or chalk
- Seam ripper
- Approximately 2 yards of fabric for the mockup, more for
I used muslin in the demo. Since then, I have started using
the linen that will be the actual lining of the dress for the fittings.
Before I construct the dress, I take a pattern from it. A dress made
with a lining fit directly on the body should fit perfectly, with no
Tear or cut your fabric into four equal pieces. The pieces should be
long enough to cover a couple of inches above the shoulder, to below
hip level, and wide enough to cover a quarter of the body, plus several
inches on either side. For your first fitting, start with more fabric
than you think you need, as it always tends to shift more than you
expect. Eventually, experiment with using one piece in the front, and
one in back, or just one large piece slung over the body with a hole
cut for the head.
Pin two pieces together over one shoulder. I often put
in a few pins at a slight slope, then place the fabric over the
shoulder. The model can still be wearing a bra, though later in the
fitting, it is important to fit with no undergarments.
Use placeholder pins in the bra and/or pants to hold the panels in
place while working.
Pin two pieces over the other shoulder. Put a placeholder pin in the
front and back, to hold the fabric on the body.
Pin the back, keeping the fabric as close to on grain as possible. Try
to keep this seam straight down the back. Pin from the nape of the neck
to just below the small of the back.
Pin the back piece to the pants and bra of the model to help keep it in
line. The blue line shows where the grain of the fabric should be after
Pin under the arms. I find it helps to start pinning at the point right
under the bust, and move up and down from there. Have the model hold
the front piece straight with their opposite hand. Again, keep the
fabric on grain during this pinning.
When pinning the side seams, fit close up into the armpit. You don’t
want a large armhole on the dress, or the sleeve becomes more difficult
Check your seams as you go along. When I pinned the side seam, the
front panel ended up crooked.
Simply unpin the seam, readjust the fabric, and have the subject hold
the panel straight. Fixing problems as you go along will save work down
Pin the front, starting under the bust and moving up and down. The most
important grain line is that under the bust. It must be straight across
under the bust and around the chest. If there is any bias on this
horizontal line, the fabric will eventually stretch, and you’ll lose
support throughout the day.
The finished front seam.
You don’t have to get a tight and supportive fit at this point. Focus
on making the fabric follow the lines of the body, while keeping the
grain aligned properly.
Once you get the body pinned, shoulders, back, sides, front, go back
and check the grain. Often you will find that the fabric has shifted.
Go back and adjust if necessary. Don’t worry! It will happen, and
happens to the best of us.
Also check the placement of the seams. Does the back seam go straight
down the back? Is the front seam straight down the front? Do the
shoulder seams match? Do the side seams match? Often, I find that my
side seams have strayed way towards the back. Adjust, if necessary. You
may have to adjust several times to get it straight.
Once everything is straight, you have the option of going back and
achieving a closer fit. This is not necessary, but does make the
following steps faster. With the bodice well-pinned on all seams, pull
the front and back seams in a bit. Here, you’re beginning to make the
fabric shape the body, instead of the body shaping the fabric. It is
possible with practice, especially with a slender wearer, to achieve a
finished fit with the pinning step alone.
When you’re happy with the pin fit, mark all of the seams with a marker
or chalk. I like to make a dotted line for the preliminary fit, and a
solid line when I’m complete. Make sure you get every seam, on both
Have you ever used a modern pattern, and noticed the little diamonds
marking where seams go together? Using the same theory, draw a line
perpendicular to the seam, on each seam, so you can match how the
pieces go back together. Mark each pattern piece, LF (left front), RF,
RB, and LB. If you’re fitting for a crowd, it helps to mark the
wearer’s initials on each piece.
Unpin the front, and remove the mockup from the wearer. Don’t forget to
take the placeholder pins out of the bra and pants! Baste all of the
seams, making sure to match your seam markers. Don’t sew the front
closed. Trim off excess material, leaving a couple of inches at each
seam and armhole.
Put the mockup back on the wearer, and baste up the front. Since doing
the photo demo, I’ve found it helps to aim for a snug fit right away
with the front seam, so lay the subject down, pin, and baste. You don’t
need to go for supportive, but you want it to be nicely fitted. I like
to use a back stitch for extra security.
Have the wearer lay on her stomach. Her arms should be down at her
side, if that can be comfortably accomplished. Pull any additional play
or ease that there might be in the fabric, and baste. I like to pin
first, to make this a little easier. Don’t worry about going much
further than the small of the back.
Remember, a cat will always help with a sewing project.
Have the wearer turn over and lay on her back. Pull in at the sides,
usually just under the bust. You’re aiming at having the fit quite snug
for a band about two inches wide just under the bust. The dress is not
actually very tight at the bust, only underneath. Below that band, the
fit should just skim the body. Above, it should hold the bust at a
supported, but not constricting, level. Again, I like to pin before I
baste. Be careful to pull evenly at each side, so as to not pull the
front off center.
The front seam is what gives the bust the shape. A straighter front
seam gives a more corset-like fit, while a curved front seam creates a
more gentle support, allowing for a rounded bosom.
Have the wearer stand up, and pinch in under the bust as much as you
can. Make a mark with the sharpie or chalk. Lay the wearer down, and
attempt to pin and baste on this mark. Often, you can pull in more
while the wearer is standing – don’t worry much about this, just pull
it as snug as possible.
Let the wearer stand up, and check the shape of the bust. Often, there
will be a tight line across the bosom right at the armpit level. If
this is the case, let out the side seam a bit just under the arm.
If the bosoms are drooping a bit too much, try pulling up on the
shoulder seams. Often that will help.
If there’s too much fabric gaping at the armpit on a mockup that won’t
eventually become a lining, you can put a temporary dart in for fitting
purposes. There’s no evidence that this is period, but you can use it
to help with the fit, if you are making a mockup out of fabric that you
won't be using for the final dress. When copying the mockup onto the
good fabric, leave the pins in the dart and lay the mockup as flat as
Don’t worry about a little gaping. Attaching the sleeve will help with
most of it. The darts are placed here simply for illustration, but
these sleeves are well within the acceptable limits.
Choose and cut a neckline, and remember to leave a seam allowance!
Mark the armhole. At the top of the shoulder, feel where the point, or
very top, is. Just outside of this point is a joint. Place the seam in
this joint. Feel for the shoulder joint in the front and the back.
Place your fingers on the joint, and have the wearer move her arms.
Your fingers should not move (much). The seam should go right at the
joint for maximum mobility.
Pick a point on the body, below the widest point of the hips, and draw
a line parallel to the floor all the way around the wearer. Measure the
distance of this line to the floor, and mark it on the mockup. This
will assist in determining skirt length, without storing a “pattern”
that reaches the floor.
Mark the placement of the gores/flare. In the front, I like to insert
the gore where the belly starts coming out a bit to allow for a front
curve. In the back, I like to insert the gore in the small of the back.
At the side, the gores should flare from the hips where the hips start
to flare. Here you see the front of the finished mockup. Compare the
front seam to the line of her body to compensate for the slight camera
angle. It is completely vertical.
Gore and flare placement can be used to change the look for different
body types. Heavier women and apple-shaped women will often benefit
from higher gores. With proper gore placement and skirt flare, this
dress can look flattering on almost any body.
You may be tempted to even out the right and left sides. Most people
are not symmetrical, and the mockup you make will not be either. As
long as the seams looked straight when the mockup was on the body, the
seams on the final dress will look fine too. It’s best to treat the
“pattern” as 4 pieces, not as two.
Since completing the photo demo, I have started to leave the waist a
little looser, only skimming the body instead of shaping it. I
generally leave a very tight band about and inch or two wide under the
bust. Skimming the body below this gives the most flattering fit. When
fitting for a difficult figure, it can help to leave a little extra
room below the supportive band.
To keep a copy of the mockup for future use, trace each piece to paper
(in the image, I’m using muslin). Paper is better than muslin, as
fabric will stretch after a few uses. When making future gowns, add
extra seam allowance, and treat the copy as a starting point, not as a
pattern. All fabric stretches differently, so plan on doing a little
tweaking to the fit on each gown.
Use each mockup piece to make a panel for a four panel gown. Be sure
that you use the grain of the fabric the same way you did for your
mockup. You can put gores in the sides, front, and back, or flare the
fabric to get the right drape of dress. For a dress with a waist seam,
simply exclude any part of the mockup that is below the waist. You can
experiment with the curve of the bust and with different necklines to
make a create a look specific to a certain decade. For more information
on cutting out the pattern and completing the dress, visit the
Dress Fitting and Construction page.
Copyright ©2006 Charlotte Johnson.