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.
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.
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!
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.