Spreading the bug.


I have a lovely friend here in town who is creative, crafty, and has one of those unique figures  that makes buying clothes off the rack an experience that ranges from frustrating to soul-destroyingly brutal. She is well-rounded,  busty, and very, very petite. Needless to say, it was glaringly obvious to me that she needed to start sewing.

Of course, persuading her (a busy puppy-mom with nowhere near enough hours in the day already) of this took a bit more work. In fact, it wasn’t until a month or so ago that I finally managed to get her to pick a thing to make, and we began the adventure of fitting her.


As I mentioned before, the pattern she picked was New Look 6789. This had lots of things going for it, from our perspective. Aside from being intensely cute to start with, it has princess seams, no waist seam (a feature she’s about as fond of as I am, with even better reason), and broad, bra-friendly straps.

The main downside is that the pattern only goes up to a size 16, and we really should’ve been starting with an 18, even before the FBA.

I started with measurements. Full bust, high bust, and back waist. To give you a small sense of what we were dealing with—standard Misses sizes are drafted with a back length of 16″ or so. Mine is around 15″, resulting in my standard, moderate petite alteration to the bodice.

My friend’s is 13″. If she’s standing tall.

What followed was not an elegant sequence of well-practiced fitting. Rather, it involved a lot of measurement, followed by pattern alteration, followed by trying on, followed by further tweaking, and that’s without going into all the stitching and unpicking and swearing. My friend did, far and away, the bulk of the work herself, while I directed. This worked pretty well for me, and hopefully for her.

Having determined based on measurements, roughly what we needed to add to the pattern, both all around and for FBA purposes, I put my slave labour friend to work tracing out her pattern. We added width. And I did a Y-type Full Bust Adjustment a la Debbie Cook, except with less precision.

Now, my dear friend, having picked an excellent pattern, had decided on a very cute, black with white polkadots knit for the fabric. Yes, you are absolutely right, this is a pattern for a woven. Ahem. Never one to be dissuaded, I figured that making it in a knit should make it possible to omit the zipper, so away we went. To start off, after she’d block fused a portion of fabric, we cut out the top yokes and straps, and did some quick test-fitting with these. All seemed well, so I set her to cutting out the rest of it. Which was not block-fused. Which was not fun in this fabric. Nor was it the kind of stuff that liked to be sewn. But she soldiered on, hampered mainly by the fact that our days off during a week don’t coincide, and she lives on the far side of the city (which is the better part of an hour’s drive even when traffic isn’t ridiculous). Obviously, it’s not perfect—some spots the angles are a little off, and in particular there’s some issues with the vertical seams where I should’ve had her use a stretchier stitch, and hemming the lining nearly drove her over the edge—but the fit, the fit.

Rear fit

I don’t think I can explain to you how triumphant I feel over this dress. It’s not perfect, by any means, but it’s leaps and bounds above anything off the rack.

It fits her bust.

It fits her back.

We could probably have shortened the waist even more (I wasn’t sure how much should come out below the armpit, as opposed to above it, which was easy to adjust with the straps.), but it’s much better than storebought.

With a little bit of princess-seam tweaking, we seem to have achieved skimming fit. Woot, woot!


So, bear with me while I wax philosophical here a moment. I’m a big fan of body acceptance. A fan of finding what’s beautiful about yourself, whatever your size or shape may be, and running with that.

And watching my friend go through the fitting process has been illuminating on so many levels—the physical challenge of fitting a body so different from mine, sure, but also the body-negativity she struggles with, having a body that not only isn’t the model ideal, but doesn’t even seem to be in the same universe, as dictated by the clothes on the rack. Like most of us, she knows what works for her and what doesn’t, but—like most non-stitchers—she doesn’t quite know the difference between what doesn’t work because it’s not flattering for her shape, and what doesn’t work because she’s never tried on a version that actually fit. (I have a similar problem with tailored shirts, frankly). And she’s still trying to digest that it’s not a problem with her—it’s a problem with the clothes, and the system that only caters to shapes within a certain standard deviation of average.

I hope she does absorb it. I hope she learns to tell the difference between a bad fit and a bad body. And I hope (maybe a little selfishly), that she’ll keep on sewing, even if it doesn’t become a major obsession hobby, and will have at least a few things that make the body that she has look as beautiful as it actually is.

And I think that she looks like a bombshell in this dress. 😀



Filed under Sewing

53 responses to “Spreading the bug.

  1. Trish Carmody

    Omg, “tears” thabk yiu… This is me teary typing lol… You are such a wonderful friend. I dont think I express enough the love I have for you and your family. You you really have shown me how rewarding this sewing adventure is, and who would have thought a simple dress could help me begin to see my body in a different light 😉 I am very much looking forward to our next project… Even if is done long distance over Skype 😉

  2. Wow – she looks fantastic! I really hope she does keep sewing, it does wonders for your self esteem having clothes that fit you properly!

  3. lisa

    Let the voice of the Internet tell your friend: SHE LOOKS FANTASTIC. I can’t believe this is her first dress–it looks so stylish and flattering (my first dress was, essentially, a baggy pillowcase). She also looks really tall in the pics, and I think that might just be her natural proportions, with help from her amazing dress and your photography skills! Good job “converting” someone, hopefully she will make more beautiful dresses!

  4. Bombshell indeed. Your friend is a BEAUTY! She is rocking that polka dot dress like nobody’s bizness. Yay for sewing garments that actually fit our diverse and beautiful bodies! GO GIRLS!!!!

  5. SHE’S LOVELY! And what great legs, too! Wowzers, I’m impressed. If she’s not convinced yet send her links to all us similarly busty, hippy gals who sew and the amazing difference it makes in our lives.

  6. Nice dress, looks terrific on your friend. Thanks for documenting the fitting challenges too. I make for someone similarly lacking in rtw choices -its the only way to get a fitting dress for so many of us.

  7. That looks brilliant! I have two daughters with the same busty problem and in the process of making them both their first proper fitted dress in the hope of getting them on the sewing bug too. I can only hope their dresses turn out as well as this.

  8. kattheengineer

    I think your friend should be a part of the internet-sewing-community. There are people of all shapes and sizes, who look amazing in their own creations (as she does!).

    Your friend has good taste in patterns and fabric (and friends!). This dress looks wonderful, and I’m super-glad for her that she now knows that it’s possible to create something that fits and flatters.

    Personally, I’m shortish, a bit fat, and very busty. It’s still not easy for me to pick the right patterns or make them fit well, but I persist because the occasional ‘lightbulb moment’ makes it worthwhile.

  9. Katherine

    What a wonderful project! On so many levels. Woo Hoo!

  10. Sherry

    Yay – another sewer in the making. Let us know when she starts her blog…!

    You are so right, she looks bombshell in it. I’m a big believer in fit solving many body ‘issues’ – and your friend is proof! She looks neither short nor tall, large nor small, she looks perfect – because her dress FITS!

    And good on you for being a good sewing buddy!

  11. PendleStitches

    Congratulations to you both on a fabulous result. The dress is lovely and your friend looks absolutely gorgeous. I can’t wait to see what else she makes. You are a great friend.

  12. “And she’s still trying to digest that it’s not a problem with her—it’s a problem with the clothes, and the system that only caters to shapes within a certain standard deviation of average.”

    I am pretty sure wiser words have never been written about the women’s bodies and clothes. You know you really are smart. 😎

    Your friend looks amazing in her dress, I really really hope she continues sewing, because then she can look awesome whenever she wants.

  13. Oklahoma Mom

    Wow I really love this dress…

  14. Karen in VA

    She looks totally fantastic in that dress…. As another hard to fit person, I also have to keep telling myself, it isn’t me it’s the lousy choices in rtw that make us look bad….keep on sewing!!!! great job on your first project!!! And I love the shoes!!!

  15. She does look bombshellish in that dress. You guys did a wonderful job.

  16. Va va voom! Your friend looks fantastic!

    I could not agree more with your insights on body acceptance and RTW. When I learned to sew, it completely changed my perception of my body for the better. I hope your friend continues her journey! What a beautiful gift you’ve given her.

  17. Jodie

    I’ll add in with the crowd – your friend looks fantastic! And so true about the fit of clothes vs. your body. I’m lucky in that I’m petite and tiny…but I still have decided that I WILL NOT buy clothing that doesn’t fit. I’m able to sew/fit what I wish to – again lucky.
    You know – there are sewists in Alberta (myself being one) that would be happy to help your friend on her next project, esp. with your big move coming up. Pass my e-mail on if you like.
    You are a great friend – she’s lucky to have you!

  18. That’s awesome! I hope you converted her. She looks great!

  19. This is such a great post! Retaail makes us all feel so bad about not fitting perfectly in their little boxes- sewing is so liberating for your esteem adn sense of style. You’re a great friend.

  20. I have a figure like your friend’s… only I am heavier. Sewing is not optional – it is *necessary*.

    Fitting things perfectly when your curves are all so very close to one another is a pain in the rear, but having something perfect? It’s glorious, especially when RTW makes you feel like a pudgy hobbit.

  21. Lucy

    “the body-negativity she struggles with, having a body that not only isn’t the model ideal, but doesn’t even seem to be in the same universe, as dictated by the clothes on the rack”

    “it’s not a problem with her—it’s a problem with the clothes, and the system that only caters to shapes within a certain standard deviation of average”


  22. Shams

    You are an excellent friend, Tani-itis. I hope she finds blogs to read that show some of the work people have to do to fit their bodies and, when the clothing does fit, how fabulous they can look. And she looks fabulous in this dress. What a *great* post!!

  23. I’m also going to hop in and say she looks fantastic, and more to the point, it looks like she knows it — and that is hot. I find well fitted clothes can make one feel more confident and I hope she continues.

  24. Bri

    Your friend looks beautiful, a clear win for the both of you as it shows in her rocking these photos! It sounded like a trial for both of you when it came to fitting this dress, you having to always shorten patterns, myself having to always add length to patterns!
    I also find myself reminding people that they shouldn’t blame themselves for mass produced clothing not fitting them, it would be awfully dull if we all looked so similar also I think, as our differences are what makes us all so fabulous!

  25. She looks great!
    Obviously, I always applaud anyone trying to take up sewing but having a friend, like you, to help along the way is the best. That said, I would strictly forbid jersey for a first project (unless it’s a first project for serger practice, of course). That much stretch just causes too much drama under the sewing machine. I always recommend a nice, stable woven cotton for a first projects. It’s easy to work with and avaible in a lot of different ‘looks’ and weights. Even versions with a tiny bit of stretch are fine.

    And as for body issues, I keep telling people the problem is in the RTW system. Most brands do all their fitting on one size only. This is usually a 36 or 38 (that’s in European sizing, like Burda’s) by a height of 1,70m (differs based on the assumed average height of the target audience) with a B cup for the appropriate underbust circumference. Anyone who deviates from that norm may have a hard time buying clothes and in the larger sizes, the issues often multiply thanks to linear grading (if you are wider, you have to be taller…)

    I’ve worked as a alteration seamstress for bridal dresses for a while and I can’t tell you how many perfectly lovely ladies I’ve met who were themselves very surprised when their carefully fitted wedding gowns revealed luscious hourglass figures… Being larger sized/ petite / large busted they had never had a glimpse of that when shopping for regular clothes!

  26. I can relate to her, I have a 13.5″ back length, and yes, RTW can be a nightmare of freaky proportions. I hadn’t met anyone else as short up top as me, so it’s kind of cool to know that others exist! 🙂

    I think her first dress project is AMAZING! She should be so proud, and hopefully, she’ll want to keep it up! 🙂

  27. Bombshell indeed! BOOM! And I love what you said near the end about the difference between a bad fit and a bad body. Bad fit = bad clothes, great fit = gorgeous body! Great job, spread the sewing bug, let’s infect everyone 🙂

  28. Wowza, she looks great. I would never guess from the fit that your friend has any issues at all.

  29. So your friends are as gorgeous as you! What a terrific dress. You should be thrilled with the fitting you’ve done. She’s obviously entirely in love with it!

  30. AAAHH your friend looks smoking in that dress! It hugs her curves beautifully. Good job, the both of you on a well made dress! And Tanit-Isis, you’re a fantastic friend for helping her out and showing her that it’s not a bad body but bad clothes. You said it in about the best way that I’ve ever read, and you’re so right. I hope she keeps sewing, because I know that it’s helped me and many others accept our bodies for the way they are.

  31. What an inspiring post! I am so glad she loves the dress. It looks amazing on her.

  32. Well done, Tanit! Successfully sharing the bug can be a challenge! I share a lot of your friend’s fitting issues, and it is amazing to see a garment fit so well! Love her comment on this post: having proper fitting clothes DOES change one’s perspective. Bravissima to both of you!

  33. Well done, both of you 🙂

    I’ve been altering some clothes recently, which reminded me of advice I’ve heard on What Not to Wear and style blogs: chances are that you have to get clothes altered to fit you properly. At the same time, they tend to roll their eyes and wonder why people are so dense as to not realise this.

    Why don’t people know this? Because most people don’t do it, so how are you supposed to know it’s even an option (other than when you’re getting fitted for a wedding dress)? Unless the issue is super-obvious, I suspect that the majority of people can’t identify when something doesn’t fit them properly – their eye hasn’t been trained for it. For those with overstuffed closets, the advice is don’t buy anything unless it’s perfect. Hello?! I’d be surprised if 10% of people could find something that was actually perfect for them.

    So there is this belief that the clothes in the stores are supposed to fit off the rack. If they don’t, it’s your fault somehow. There is such a variety of body shapes, but only one is regularly presented to us. The norm is variety, not uniformity. Not everyone can wear every shape, but everyone has shapes that will look good on them if they fit properly. See photos above. 🙂

  34. It looks great. I like it so much that it makes me want to make one exactly like it right now.

    As someone that has a short torso and huge bust, I can address the question regarding how much to take out above the bust versus below. Measure from the shoulder to the tip of the bust. I am 11 inches and make my FBA on a size 16. I end up taking 1 1/2 inches above the bust. I first take out 1 straight inch and then I end up taking anothe r1/2 inch because I have very straight shoulders. On a dress like this, I’d likely take the full 1 1/2 inches out to begin with. I hope that helps.

  35. Thank you everyone for your inspiring comments!

  36. Beautiful! I have the same issues with fit…generally a 14 but the shape! The shape is never right! Sloooowly learning alterations. And pics like yours are why! Great job ladies 🙂

  37. What a great first project! It sure is exciting to have an end product that actually fits. I find I’m much fussier with my clothing now that I have a better idea of what a good fit looks like. I suspect she will find the same and that is inspiration to sew again.

  38. brilliant, absolutely brilliant! cheers to a smashing new dress that fits beautifully, knowing that you can make another one and finally to having options when RTW fails you!

  39. This wins my vote for post-of-the-week! Great story and fanTAStic results! Bombshell indeed! I hope we hear more about her future sewing successes! Win win win on so many levels I can’t count them!

  40. Your friend looks da bomb. She will not look back if she starts to sew. Taking a couple of beginners courses is the best thing I have done. I was only thinking before that I wished I would have done it years ago, as there is so much to learn, and I am impatient.

  41. megthegrand

    She looks FABULOUS!! The dress is perfect on her and I just love the combination of polka dots with this pattern. It turned out amazing!! Well done on assisting via Skype – she’s a total bombshell!

  42. Not much to say that hasn’t already been said, but I must say how awesome she looks. what a gorgeous dress & how well it fits & shows off her beautiful curves. I hope she continues to sew too …I love the idea of spreading the joy of sewing 🙂

  43. What a wonderful post, and your friend looks beautiful! I’m sure so many of us were drawn to sewing because of the dreadful fit of RTW (*raises hand*) and sewing is such a magical way to learn to accept and even love our own unique shapes – kudos on introducing your friend to something so special ^___^

  44. LinB

    Oh, she is so beautiful! And you both coped beautifully with altering the pattern to a great fit! Even professional fitters do a lot of unpicking and re-cutting, when fitting to a live body. Using a knit for a first make was accidentally brilliant: No futzing about with a zipper. No need to finish seam allowances. And knits are usually very forgiving of even big deviations in seaming — learning to drive a sewing machine straight is just as tricky as learning to drive a car straight. You are a good friend indeed, to help her take control of her future wardrobe in a way she may never have considered.

  45. You’re a great friend. She is super cute. I love her dress.

  46. Paula

    I have been lurking here forever until I finished my phd. Well it’s submitted now and I just have to weigh in and say YES YES YES Trish you look fantastic and welcome to the sewing club. I am not petite in fact I always have to add at least a couple of inches to the overall length of hems and sleeves. But! My back neck to waist measurement is 14″, I have a narrow back, substantial assets in the front and a high waist. I honestly can’t remember the last time I bought a top. Or a dress – since i am at least two sizes larger on the bottom than the top. Sewing has made me feel so much better about myself. Well done TanitIsis – you are indeed a great friend! Down with waist seams, they are the devil’s work!

  47. Oh wow wow wow…this post was just beautiful in so many ways! I have a friend that has equally difficult time finding RTW, and I’ve sewn a couple pieces for her. I have yet to convince her to take up sewing for herself, but maybe I should show her this post! I think you nailed it with your statement about bad bodies vs. bad fit!

  48. Stunning!!! You are such a good friend!

  49. Pingback: Confessions of a (sewing) pusher | Tanit-Isis Sews

  50. I just re-read this. I Love you and miss your face. I need to come for a visit sometime in the near future. ❤

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