Friday, February 4, 2011

McCall 5987 Coat Progress/ The Birth of a Muslin Pattern.......

I am currently working on my January coat and have been delayed due to a fitting issue. I had hoped to have it finished by last weekend but hit a roadblock. When it comes to fit I'm as stubborn as a mule and won't bulge with proceeding until I've perfected the fit. I know this may sound a little crazy, but there's nothing worst to me then an ill-fitting garment. If I wanted that then I could just go buy RTW (Ready to Wear) clothes. Fortunately I've resolved the issue and am working on another muslin to verify that and then I can cut and sew my coat. I will have it finished before this week's end so I can move on to making my February jacket.

My greatest challenge when fitting patterns is my back. I have a narrow back which cause huge vertical folds of fabric to cascade across my back. I'm also high-waisted, so my back is relatively short (for the record my other fit issues are having to lengthen everything because I'm tall, having a high derriere, and having borderline narrow shoulders). Ok, back to my narrow back issue. The drafting for the basic 4 pattern groups (Vogue, Butterick, etc..) pretty much makes altering for my small back a necessity at least 85% of the time. My small back is the main reason why I'd like to get a custom dressform. It would just be so much easier to do alterations instead of taking off and putting on a muslin over and over again to perfect the fit. I do love the fact that I don't ever have to make this adjustment in knits. Also,  I rarely hear about people having very narrow backs. Know of anyone? I mostly hear other sewers complain about having broad backs and shoulders.

To be honest adjusting for my narrow back can be a real pain.  For years I've struggled to find the information to deal with different garments. For one there's not a ton of info out there. Secondly, for the few adjustments that are out there the one you choose depends on what you're making. Sometimes a narrow back alteration can be different when making a dress or  a shirt. The idea is the same but it may have to be executed differently. All kinds of questions can arise. Do I alter for the narrow back above the waistline? What if I'm altering a dress, do I reduce circumference in the skirt? So many questions. Of course it depends on the design. And in short it just takes experience to sort it all. I feel I've finally go a good handle on this and I'm happy about it. I'm familiar with several ways to reduce my narrow back and attribute that to having great resources. My FAVORITE books on fitting are.....
Here's how the "Fitting & Pattern: A Multiple Method Approach" Alteration book recommends I alter my pattern....
I love that this book does show multiple ways to alter your pattern and muslin. Here's the page on the left up close. I love how it calls this the "narrow rib cage" fitting issue. To me, it's a narrow back but I can see somewhat what they mean.
 Here's how the Singer "Perfect Fit" book suggests I deal with my narrow back.....

I love how it shows you how to make minor and major flat pattern adjustments.

So armed with this info I proceeded with making my coat. For starters I picked a coat out a coat of my closet that fit me very well and I used those back adjustment to compare with the back adjustments of this pattern. I noticed the upper back was about 1" wider so I decided to take the inch out of the shoulder down to the mid back. This reduced the width of the shoulder would require me to ease in the front piece when I sewed it but that wouldn't be a big deal. After I finished up this alteration I decided to make up my test garment out of muslin and mark the waist and grainline.

Here's the muslin of my coat without the attached scarf. As you can see the front looks good, with the exception of me needing to lengthen the sleeve a couple of inches.

Now take a look at the back......
I was playing around with doing a tuck I read about in the "Fitting & Pattern: A Multiple Method Approach" book (above)and as you can see it didn't even help in removing half the wrinkles. So I knew I needed to do something a bit more drastic.

So to take it a step further I decided to  pinch out the excess fabric from the lower shoulder to the hem of the garment. I think I read about this alteration in a sewing magazine and decided to give it a try.
See how much better this works. The fit is perfect. 

This adjustment is great and doesn't change the grainline one bit. For me, it's too much work to try and translate this change onto a flat pattern. I think Peggy Sager's says it best in her Achieve great Fit through Muslin DVD (I highly recommend this and I own all but 2 of her DVD's)---she says, to paraphrase, that you can do whatever you need to in the muslin. Tuck, dart, whatever. If you make too many changes you can always use your muslin as your pattern. And in this case that's exactly what I'm gonna do.
So I've decided to add back the 1" I originally took out of the shoulder and upper back and instead create another muslin in which I just pinch out the excess fullness in the back. Then I'll just use that muslin as my new pattern. Remember the muslin will have grainlines drawn on it so it serves as a great pattern. I'm currently working on this right now.

I'm sure it's all of our dreams for the the patterns to fit perfectly right out of the envelope. Sometimes making pattern adjustments  it seems like alot of work especially when working on such a simple pattern as this one, but of course it's a necessity. But we do what we have to do to create the perfect fit and it's SO worth it!

 I'm currently working on another quick coat muslin and hope to have this baby complete this weekend. On top of that I have some client alterations to do (I'm hemming a 4 layer Ball Gown) ---- so I'm pretty busy. I'm running behind schedule but I hope to catch up. But before I go, let me ask you---what alteration do you normally have to do that is or used to be "a pain to do"?


  1. I also have a narrow back, and I agree it's hard to get good info on fixing it! I sometimes do what they call an "erect posture" alteration - it looks the same as the alteration your Singer book shows. It works, but it can sometimes cause the shoulders to be too narrow (I'm not narrow in the shoulders, only the back!) I've never tried pinching out the excess on a muslin - I will have to try it the next time I make one!

  2. Yes! I have a narrow back too. And a full bust. I usually go a size down on top, and then add extra to the FBA, and it generally works out. And then shorten the waist by an inch or two, and then grade to about 3 sizes larger in the hips... I wish I didn't have to make so many adjustment!

  3. Hi, Victoria.... How do you use your muslin as a pattern? I often have to do so many things to get something to fit me right, especially when I'm grading something up. And transferring these changes to a paper pattern can be so challenging. Do you just unstitch the muslin and use it as a pattern? Thanks!

  4. I always have to lengthen sleeves by at least two to three inches, which is no big deal. The one that bugs me is that I have to split the bodice of every.single.pattern and lengthen it usually by at least an inch for my height. I hate doing that! I don't know why because it doesn't take too very long, but it's tedious. Your muslin looks perfect, I'd be super happy with that!

  5. You're doing a wonderful job, figuring out the alterations that you have to do. It will be worth it in the end. It's certainly not easy doing it on yourself!

  6. Marybeth, you got it! That's exactly what I do. I just bought basting thread from Atlanta Thread Supply co. which will make ripping those muslins apart to use as patterns alot easier than with regular thread. I may even handstitch them. Yeah, converting changes from 3D muslin to 2D pattern can be pretty tedious.

  7. Thanks Irene and you're so right---it isn't so easy! As you know there's alot of trial in error involved in resolving fit issues. It's nice that I'm figuring out what works for me.

  8. I always have to lengthen a bodice (easy enough). But the alteration that still vexes me is the front and back crotch adjustment for pants. My big round booty causes me so much trouble with fitting pants. Fitting the crotch so I don't have pull lines or droopiness is a problem. I'm slowly but surely getting better. I think the Pants for Real People book has been most helpful there.

  9. I've sewed mostly for broad backs :-), but can testify that the Singer book is an excellent one.
    But something else - have you considered simply starting off with a smaller size in the back? You'd still have to do some butt adjustments probably, but you could spare yourself a lot of other stuff.

  10. Marie-Christine,
    I wish I could do that but I would add to the problem by shrinking the armhole, shoulder, etc. It would just throw everything else off balance. I have a high rear, but it doesn't really cause a problem unless I'm wearing something very fitted. In that case then I just tuck out the excess fabric on top of it. So to answer your question I use the right size pattern dictated by my upper bust measurement and just remove the excess lower back fabric. It seems like alot but it's really not that bad.

  11. When making tops and dresses I have to cut the bodice in a larger size and tapering down one size for the torso because I am large on top. For skirts I have to remove excess from the hip area because of my narrow hips. Pants, I ended up using a good fitting rtw pants, but didn't like capri style and used it as a template against a pants pattern.

  12. I think you are very wise to take time to perfect the fit before starting to sew - especially for something that is so time-consuming as a coat. Personally I have to make a lot of alterations and I much prefer to do this before cutting the fabric. I enjoy the sewing process more that way. Like you, however, I do often get puzzled about the best way to make the necessary alterations for different garments.

  13. I have the same exact problem a narrow back. log waisted in the back and short waisted in the front and I have a swayback. Also my shoulder are narrow- the front is 4-3/4" and the back is 5". I spend a lot of time altering patterns. Kenneth King wrote an article for Threads maazine regarding how to remove fullness. Once I read that article I saw the light at end of the tunnel. I fully understand what you mean.

    I also want to make a comment regarding the title of your blog and the book that inspired the title. I did not understand the meaning of 10,000 hours until I saw my co-worker reading Outliers. She love the author of the book and said it was a great book.I knew that the book was on the NY Times best seller list in 2008. I was in the library when I saw the book on CD. I borrowed the CD and OMG all of a sudden I understood why you were inspired to name your blog 10,000. I am going to purchase the book because it is a book that in my opinion I need to read it slowly and assimilate the information slowly.

  14. I definitely deal with a very narrow back. I would alter depending on the pattern and available fit opportunities in the seams. Now I am addicted to shoulder princess seams and a waistline seam in blouses and jackets. My latest project is a perfect example of this.

    I have: used different size patterns front and back, made a box and moved it in, carved a small amount off of the back shoulder seam, put in shoulder pads, and pinched out, not all on the same garment, LOL!. Sometimes I have even combined a few of these techniques.

    Are you using shoulder pads? A thin one would give a bit more structure to the coat and also make a difference in those wrinkles. I would give it a try. I admire your determination to do it right!

  15. Alethia, I have the book "Outliers" and am guilty of reading just the 10,000 Hours chapter. I need to read the rest of the book!

    Bunny, you are so right! I prefer princess seamed garments because it makes it so much easier to adjust for my narrow back.
    I also plan to use shoulder pads in my coat. I agree with you---they will add more structure and pull away some of those wrinkles.

  16. The most tedious alteration I do is a FBA and lengthening on a lined jacket. You have to do a FBA on the shell AND the lining. And ALL of the pieces have to be lengthened. My waist is longer than most pattern pieces by at least an inch.

  17. Hang in there. You are absolutely right about the purpose of sewing your own is for the superior fit or we could just wear RTW. I have a narrow back too and am short-waisted, but your's seems more narrow than mine.

    I was slow on the uptake too about the name of your blog. Then I had an "Ah ha" moment and realized where you were going with it. I have the book on my nightstand now on loan from my husband to read.

  18. Congrats on getting the fit you wanted! I've been fitting a dress pattern for two weekends.

  19. I have the Judith Rasband Multi-Method Fitting book next to my machine I refer to it so often. You are right to use the muslin as your pattern. It will be much less hassle in the end than transferring such an involved custom alteration to the flat tissue pattern. The tucks you made really shaped up the jacke.t

  20. I have a really narrow upper back too! My projects always used to blouse out at the upper back and look puffy, like I have a hunchback. If there's a CB zipper I take some width off of the upper back (I just taper it), and if there isn't any I modify the pattern so the excess width is taken out at CB. I switched to sewing exclusively from vintage patterns about a year ago. They draft for narrower backs and seem to fit me better.

  21. I have a narrow back, too! I'm so glad to find I'm not the only one. I got The Perfect Fit for Christmas and I'm looking forward to learning how to adjust for it. Up until now it's just been trial and error with my muslins! Check out my fitting muslin pics in this post:
    I ended up taking the extra fabric out of the center back seam (which ended up curved instead of the straight seam of the original pattern).

  22. Victoria-You are gorgeous and your sewing projects are gorgeous. The people that you sew for are so lucky! I admire you and the amazing goals you have set for yourself. I join your followers in cheering you on! (I have read the preview and, wow, I sound so formal! I mainly wanted to say "You GO Girl!")


Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment and for following me on my 10,000 Hour Sewing Challenge:)


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