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I have a confession to make. When it comes to sewing I am impatient and I hate fitting. This is kind of a bad combination, since part of the fun of sewing is producing something unique and beautiful that actually fits you. Before I learned much about fitting, I had some interesting results.  My first major project by myself, when I was about 14, was a shimmery blue formal dress, of the standard empire waist-with-sleeves look. Very nice, lots of good sewing practice…and rather over-sized.  I did wear it several times (for piano recitals, etc), but I always kind of appeared to be swimming in it. What I eventually learned is that, for some unknown reason, the large pattern companies add a vast amount of unnecessary ease to their patterns, so you end up with things that look like maternity wear if you’re not careful.

Another time I made a gored skirt and thought I would outwit the fiends at Simplicity by simply cutting a size smaller…alas, that pattern was actually true to size. Fortunately, we had enough fabric that I was able to re-do it, and my mom and I just had matching skirts (she’s smaller than me).

I’m lucky. My body is pretty evenly proportioned, so I don’t have any standard alterations for things like a short torso or large bust or anything like that. Most of the time (particularly if using a Simplicity pattern), I can just cut a size smaller than the size that matches my measurements, and if necessary I take things in or let them out a bit. Actually taking the time (and fabric) to make a muslin of something and then fitting it properly is a task for which I am generally too lazy!

Over the last several years, though, my sewing knowledge has grown exponentially. Through reading the forums at Sense & Sensibility, checking out sewing blogs, and perusing my Reader’s Digest Guide to Sewing, I have learned a ton. I still think fitting is a pain in the rear (hello, I want to get on with actually making something pretty, dangit!), but I have a better idea of how to do it so that it works the first time. Key to this process is making a muslin, which is essentially just a test-version on which to do all your fitting changes before cutting into the real fabric.

I’ve been eagerly planning to sew my Cambie dress for a few months now, and with two spring concerts upcoming, I thought it would be a good occasion for something fun to wear.  More than anything, I want this dress to be just right. For one thing, it’s a lot of work to do a fully-lined dress with a big gathered skirt and pockets and not have it turn out just right! For another, I just love the fabric I chose and I’d hate to see it wasted.

Remember this? Flamingos just make me happy.

Remember this? Flamingos make me happy.

I knew a muslin would be necessary. The dress is fully lined, so it wouldn’t be easy to just take it in at the side seams if it didn’t fit quite right. Also, I had a feeling the Sewaholic pattern sizes don’t match me exactly. I cut my Hollyburn Skirt at a size 12 and it was a little big, but according to my measurements size 10 was too small. So I decided to cut a 12 and take it in from there.

I followed these excellent instructions from Tasia at Sewaholic for making a musilin of a dress bodice. (I didn’t think it was necessary to bother with all that fabric for the skirt; gathered skirts are very forgiving in terms of fit!)

Muslin pieces, all cut and labeled.

Muslin pieces, all cut and labeled.


I followed the directions to a T, even basting around all the seam lines to make it obvious where they will hit. The big “lightbulb” moment was pinning in a zipper…previously when trying things on, I’ve always just tried to pin them closed, which is super awkward and hard to get the correct placement. This made it so easy, and much more accurate.


Zipper pinned in for fitting…genius!

Fortunately for me, my mom was here overnight so she helped with pinning and un-pinning the bodice so I could make adjustments (I told my husband he’s lucky, it could have been him! How do people fit things who live alone…and don’t have a dress form??) I ended up taking in 1/4″ on each side seam:

Conveniently, the alterations were done in different colored thread so they're easier to see!

Conveniently, the alterations were done in different colored thread so they’re easier to see!

…deepening the darts by about 1/8″ at the bottom…


…and taking up the shoulder seams about 1/2″:


I suppose I could have somehow transferred those changes to the pattern pieces themselves and re-shaped the pattern pieces, but I chose to just cut it as-is and then make those adjustments as I sewed.

Next up…the real dress!