Saturday, February 24, 2018

title pic Week 1 of the 50s Dress Sewalong – How to Fit Your Pattern

Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on August 15, 2011

Week One of the 1950s Walkaway Dress Sew-Along – How to Fit Butterick Pattern 4790



Hello Ladies!   I hope you are all ready to sew some 1950s dresses!  Today we will look at how to fit your pattern, and you can cut out your fabrics any time after that.  If you do not yet have your material ready, don’t fret as the next step (sewing the darts and shoulder seams) will not come until approximately August 22nd.   Make sure you do not cut out your fabrics until you have tried on all the tissue pattern pieces to ensure it will fit properly! 

So let’s get started!  As I shared earlier, my method for fitting this dress comes in part from the advice of McCalls Patterns Fit Expert, Pati Palmer.  If you are interested in learning more about fitting your patterns (which any seamstress ought to be skilled at!) I highly recommend her excellent books on the subject. 

If you have never fitted a pattern before, the instructions may look a bit daunting, but don’t be intimidated by the extra steps in fitting!  The time you invest now to fit your pattern will help you achieve a fit that never could have happened otherwise for your dress!  And trying on your pattern pieces beforehand gives you a “sneak peek” at how the finished dress will look.  This is an invaluable skill to know, and is well worth every minute!  And as always I am happy to answer questions, so make sure you don’t skip the fitting. : ) 

To properly fit your pattern,  make sure you wear the exact undergarments that you will wear under your 1950s walkaway dress.  If you plan to wear a corset or body shaper, be sure you use that as well.  Finally, wear a camisole to pin your pattern pieces into (even if you will not be wearing a camisole under the dress.)      


1. We will start by cutting out the easiest pieces first.  Take your waist measurement over your corset (if you plan to wear one) and cut out the skirt piece accordingly.  The skirt will not need to be altered, so you can set that aside until you are ready to cut the fabric.

2. Now take your high bust measurement as shown in the photographs.  Bring the measuring tape around your chest until it fit snugly just under your arms.  In the back, the tape should fit snugly and come down to where your bra would end in the back.  (For your information, this was actually the correct way to take the bust measurement back in the late Victorian and Edwardian era!  I’ve included a photograph from the 1905 book Dressmaking, Up to Date by Butterick.) 


3. Whatever your high bust measurement is, (34″, for instance), substitute that number for the regular bust measurement and cut out your pattern pieces accordingly.  So if your high bust is 34″, you will cut out a size 12 in the dress front and back pieces.  You are probably thinking, “But that is two sizes too small – my waist measurement is nowhere near a size 12!”  And if you didn’t alter it, you would be right!   But since this dress has far too much room in the bodice and is actually quite ill-fitted on most figures, just follow the instructions exactly and it will all work out.  (You can see pictures here.)

4. Wearing your proper foundation garments, try on the back pattern piece.  (Before putting it on, pin in the dart as marked on the pattern piece.)  First of all, match the center back edge of the pattern piece exactly with your spine and pin the pattern to your camisole down this line.  At the top of the pattern piece, make sure the shoulder starts 5/8″ beyond where your actual shoulder seam would normally be to allow for the seam allowance. 

5. Bring the back piece around to the front until it fits snugly and pin in place.  Note that the front of the pattern piece is not supposed to come to the center front yet.  Measure the distance from the front edge of the pattern to the center front of your body.  (For example, 2 inches.)  Add 3/8″ to this number, and keep in mind for how much tissue paper you will add.   Now mark a straight line with a pencil down the side of the pattern piece at exactly where your side seam would be.

6.  Unpin the pattern piece from your camisole and lay on a flat surface.  On the line you marked for the imaginary side seam, cut all the way through and spread the two pieces apart.  Now comes the fun part!  Take a strip of tissue paper and place underneath these two pieces so they are exactly the same distance apart the whole way.  You are just adding the necessary width to your pattern piece, so however much was necessary to bring the front edge to the center front is how much you need to add.   Tape in place, and you have just fitted your first pattern piece! 

The picture shows the wraparound curve redrawn, which will be done in step 7.

7. So now the back piece fits you in the width, but I recommend redrawing your wraparound curve so it doesn’t hit you so low in the front bodice.  This step is very simple to complete, and you can see the photo illustrations for that here.   

8. Just as you did with the back piece, pin in the darts (all three of them!) on your front pattern piece.  Now put this on over your foundation garments, again leaving 5/8″ at the top for the seam allowance.  This time, you will pin the front edge of your pattern piece to the center front of your camisole. 

9. Bring the piece around snugly to the back and pin in place.  Since it does not come to the center back, measure the distance between the pattern edge and and your center back.  Add 3/8″ to this measurement to determine how much tissue paper you will add.  Note that this pattern piece is only supposed to come to the center back at the very top of it – it is not supposed to even come close to closing through the hip area and below, so this makes fitting it fairly easy. 

10. As you did with the back piece, mark the side seam with a pencil down the side of the pattern.  Now take your pattern off, unpin all the darts, and lay on a flat surface.  Slash the pattern down the pencil marked line and spread the pieces apart over tissue paper.  Measure the distance between them to make sure you add exactly the number you found in step 9, and tape the pattern to the added tissue paper. 

You can see that I've cut the darts out, but I don't recommend doing that until you read my dart tutorial next week.

Optional: If you want a little more coverage at the shoulder, you can add a strip of tissue paper to both front and back shoulder edges and redraw the shoulder curve freehand or with a French curve tool.

Congratulations!  You have just fitted your pattern!  If you like you can pin the front and back together at the shoulder seams and try it on to make sure it fits perfectly after the adjustments you’ve made.  (Darts would need to be pinned in place as well.)  You don’t want really any “ease” at all in the tissue paper pattern, because the fabric will have much more give to it than the paper does, and Pati Palmer says that a dress will “grow” once you get it out of tissue paper and into fabric.  This has always been my experience as well, though if you accidentally made your pattern too big you could still take in some extra fabric in the darts and at the front opening. 

Now that your pattern is properly fitted, you can layout the pieces according to the pattern instructions and cut out the material whenever you like.  Next week will sew the darts, shoulder seams, and possibly the skirt as well.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask them!  I will be away from my computer on August 16th and 17th, but as soon as I can I will answer any questions you may have.

I would like to hear what fabrics everyone has chosen!  For this version of Butterick 4790, I am going to sew a two-toned version!  The front panel will be a lovely matte satin print with antique looking roses all over it, and the skirt and wraparound piece will be a drapey pink rayon which I found for $2.50 a yard!  This dress will definitely be more “evening” than daywear, so I’m sure I’ll have to add some bows and dainty trims to finish it off.  What has everyone else planned?