How to fit garments on yourself – My 5 top tips.

Making clothes for yourself gives you total style freedom. With oodles of choice on colours, prints and fabric types your wardrobe can be exactly what you want it to be.

Learning to make your own clothes has never been more accessible. There are a great choice of sewing classes around as well as magazines, books and online resources to help you along the way. However if you are learning this skill from a book or have some skills but are working alone it can be a bit tricky to check and alter the fit of your garment without anyone to help pop pins in the right place.

Buying an adjustable tailors dummy might be a good idea if you are going to be making a lot of your own clothes and if you have the budget and space to keep it.  However a tailors dummy doesn’t generally have arms or legs therefore they don’t offer a solution for trousers and sleeves. They don’t necessarily have the lumps and bumps in the same places as us either.

I have read about people using molding materials to create their body replica which can then be used as a personal tailors dummy. This isn’t something I’ve tried so I can’t really comment. At the end of the day I think the best test and check of fit is to try it on your real body.

These are my top five tips for fitting garments on yourself without a tailors dummy.

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1. Make a toile – A toile is a mock up garment made in a cheap fabric such as calico, the fabric needs to be similar in weight and properties to what you plan to make the real garment in. I always recommend making a toile whether you have help with fitting or not. My dressmaking course includes a piece of calico to make one because I am passionate about making toiles. Not only can you test the fit of the garment but also the style. Sometimes a dress might look great on the pattern envelope but the proportions might need tweaking to suit you. You can gauge straight away if you are going to need to do further work on the fit. Its not important to put as much effort and finish into the toile as you will do for the final garment.

bobbins

There is no need to use matching thread. I take the opportunity to use up the bobbins in obscure colours that have been lying around since the time you made that project. No need to finish seams or add embellishments. The main thing you really need to focus on is making sure the garment is cut out accurately and that you use accurate seam allowances. I very rarely insert a zip or any other type of fastening into my toiles.

2. Change the opening location – This brings me nicely onto this tip. If you are making a dress or top with a centre back zip it will be tricky to try this on without the help of a friend to pin you in or actually inserting a zip in the toile. If you want to be truly thorough I would insert a zip and check the fit, however you may find you need to remove the zip if the centre back seam is not fitting properly. I like to stitch the centre back seam closed and leave an opening in the side seam which is easier to pin yourself, its quick and if you see a problem with the back seam you wont need to unpick a zip!

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3. Draw on your toile – Take your time standing in front of the mirror and assessing how the garment looks as well as fits. This is the time when you can make the changes necessary on both fit and design. I tend to start with any glaring fit issues, until these are sorted out I think its difficult to assess if you are truly happy with the style proportions. The toile is a tool, a map of what needs to happen to make the real thing work so draw lines on it. If you think a neckline needs re-shaping or lowering, draw a line while standing in front of the mirror. It may not be the most accurate line but you can take the garment off and draw it more clearly and try it back on. You can put marks where you think a side seam needs to be taken in or let out or a bust point that needs adjusting. Make a few notes before you take it off and pin these amendments according to your judgement before trying on again. It might take a few tries to get this right but it will be worth it in the long run.

4, Work inside out – This is a good trick for simple alterations like taking a side seam in or reshaping the side seam. Turn the garment inside out and pin as best you can where you think you want the new line of stitching. Pinning on yourself will always be a bit tricky, but if you can get a rough idea before taking the garment off you can then measure and repin so both sides are equal. Tack before turning through and trying on to check you are happy with the fit.

5. Try on in the way you are going to wear it – Sometimes you can put on a garment and know straight away that you love it and imagine it with your fav shoes. Other times might not be so clear. When this happens if you are happy with the general fit try the garment on with what you plan to wear it with. The right shoes and accessories can give you a clearer picture if the proportions are right for you.

It might feel a bit boring and tedious to put effort into making something that you will never actually wear but the end results will be well worth waiting for. There is much less change of completing your beautiful handmade garment only to find it doesn’t fit!! Or that after all that work the style doesn’t suit you.

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Julia Claridge

I was about 6 or 7 years old when I had my first go on a sewing machine, it was an old hand crank machine that my mum used with her patients, she was an occupational therapist. I still vividly remember watching with amazement as the tiny perfectly formed stitches were created as I turned the handle. I Grew up in the 70’s and 80’s when buying clothes was less affordable and dressmaking was an answer to updating your wardrobe more regularly. My own mother was a talented dressmaker who made most of my clothes and my sisters clothes as well as a many for herself. I soon got involved with making my clothes, I loved the whole experience of picking out fabrics, trims and a pattern to create a new outfit, then going home to make a new garment or outfit. When it came to leaving school I visited a careers advisor who asked what I wanted to do next. My answer was ..Sew! Read more...

3 Comments

  1. Sarah Ayushi on October 10, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    Hi Julia Claridge !

    Its a great lesson to fit garments on himself. It is also a freedom work for anybody. I will follow these tips. Thank you .

  2. Julia Parlett on June 18, 2021 at 11:44 pm

    How do you transfer the changes you make to the toile back to the pattern?

    • Julia Claridge on June 21, 2021 at 2:14 pm

      If you’ve pinned areas that need unpinning when you take the garment off I usually unpin carefully putting the pin back where it was so I can measure the distance between the pin and the seam. Then you can use these measurements to alter the pattern. If you are unsure about the alterations I would trace your pattern piece and alter the traced version so you can go back to the original if needed. Hope this helps.

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