Episode 41. Common Alterations

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In this week's episode, we asked our team for their most commonly made alterations and tips for altering sewing patterns. We talk about our personal experience altering patterns and our experience with RTW & handmade clothing. For show notes and a transcript of this episode, please see: https://asiansewistcollective.com/episode-41-common-alterations/ If you find our podcast informative and enjoy listening, you can support us by buying our limited edition merch, joining our monthly membership or making a one-time donation via Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective 


Patterns & Designers mentioned

Be Curious Dress, Ellie & Mac

S9379, Simplicity

S8908, Simplicity

Maynard Dress, Elbe Textiles

Designer Stitch

Fabric Stores mentioned

Nekoneko Fabric, Singapore-based, carries a large variety of Japanese and other fabrics


Four Essential Small Bust Adjustments, Seamwork

Top Down, Center Out: Practical Pants Fitting, by Ruth Collins for Threads Magazine

@ithacamaven, aka Ruth Collins, Instagram

Top Down Center Out with the Eve Trousers, The Crooked Hem

The Crooked Hem, YouTube

@thecrookedhem, aka Stacy, Instagram

Lengthen or Shorten a Sewing Pattern Tutorial, Maven Patterns

The Beginner’s Guide: Full Bust Adjustment, Curvy Sewing Collective

Tutorial: A Basic Swayback Adjustment, adjustment done on a bodice, Curvy Sewing Collective

Swayback Adjustment, adjustment done on pants, Colette Pattern Sewalongs

Using Sloper to Change Patterns, The Inspired Sewist

Marking Your Mock-Up, Sarah Veblen

Forward Head/Shoulder Adjustment, The Assembly Line Sewing Journal

How to Make a High Round Back & Forward Shoulder Adjustment, Sew Essential

Please note, we are a Bookshop.org affiliate, so we may make a small commission if you choose to purchase books via these links:

The Palmer Pletsch Complete Guide to Fitting, by Pati Palmer and Marta Alto

Show transcript

Ada: Nicole can just wear pants that go up to her bra.

Nicole: They’re hot! They’re a flannel toile, so the underboob sweat would get pretty intense.

Ada: Those are gonna be your winter pants?

Nicole: I’ve already given them away to a friend who will fill the, the hip part.

Ada: Are they like, six feet tall?

Ada: Welcome to the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. The Asian Sewist Collective is a group of Asian people from around the world brought together by our shared appreciation for fiber and textile arts, and our desire to see more Asian representation in the sewing community.

Nicole: In this podcast, we explore the intersection of our identities and our shared sewing practice as we create a space for Asian sewists and our allies.

Ada: I’m your co-host, Ada Chen, and I’m recording from Denver, Colorado. Denver is the traditional territory of the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. I’m a Taiwanese-American marketer turned entrepreneur and these days you’ll find me running my own natural skincare business called Chuan’s Promise – that’s C-H-U-A-N-apostrophe-S promise – and sharing my marketing tips on my blog. Most importantly, for this podcast, you can find my sewing at @i.hope.sew on Instagram.

Nicole: And I’m your co-host, Nicole. I’m based outside of Chicago, the original homelands of the Council of the Three Fires: the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Odawa people. I’m a Philippine-American woman, a lawyer by day and a sewing enthusiast the rest of the time. You can find me on Instagram at @nicoleangelinesews.

Ada: Before we dive into this week’s episode, Nicole, can you tell us about your current sewing project?

Nicole: I can. So we are going to Disney World in March. 

Ada: Woohoo!

Nicole: This will be my second time in less than six months going, which is definitely not a normal thing for me. I went last November for the…

Ada: The race!

Nicole: The race, yeah, it was a 10, I did the 10k and the half marathon. And then a couple of weeks ago, my sister was like, you know, I think I want to take Lana, her oldest daughter, to Disney World for her birthday. Just something fun. We would never have done that growing up. But it’s kind of like, the whole, we wouldn’t have had that, but we can do it now, let’s do it. And I was like, oh, that’s cool. And then later she said, do you wanna come with us? I was like, I’m pretty Disney-ed out, you know? Just went, and, you know, Disney World is expensive and we had an expensive end of the year. And then she’s like, mom said she’d pay for you. And I was like, wha? I was like, uhhh, say more about that. 

Ada: Subsidised…

Nicole: So, Lola wants to bring, to bring us all down there.

Ada: Make it a family trip.

Nicole: Yeah. And Michael’s not going because he’s Disney-ed out. Plus, he’s like, I’ll stay with Zizou, we’ll have guys time. And then my brother and his fiancée can’t go. So anyway, back to my project. My niece is really into rainbow anything, and that’s been the case for like, a couple of years. It just makes her happy to see like, rainbow colors. And my sister just needed to get away for a little bit yesterday. So she’s like, wanna gonna go to Joann’s? I’m like, yeah, sure, let’s go. And we were looking at fabric and we found a rainbow stripe quilting cotton, but instead of just solid stripes, the stripes were made from Mickey Mouse silhouette heads, like, so the iconic, like, three… Thing. And so what I am making is a dress I’ve made before from the designer, Ellie &  Mac. And it’s the Be Curious dress which is a woven dress that has f… Like, flounces on the sleeve, little ones. There’s the option for a long sleeve, I’ve not done that option. And it’s like a fitted-ish bodice. I mean, it’s a kids dress so nothing should be that fitted. And then a gathered skirt with an additional ruffle on the bottom. And it’s super easy to make. For her third birthday I made her a Trolls dress. 

Ada: Aww!

Nicole: She’s super into like, Trolls World Tour, like, the Trolls movies, the music, whether…

Ada: Yeah.

Nicole: She was Queen Barb, I think for one graph… One Halloween, she just wanted, she loves it. So I’m making that. It’s really simple. So I’ve cut it out and it should be pretty quick to put it together and she doesn’t know we’re going and my sister keeps going back and forth about like, when to surprise her. And my sister’s starting to learn that part of her personality is enjoying the planning process. 

Ada: Oh.

Nicole: So she started making like, invitations for her birthday… To nothing, there’s nothing planned. But like, she’s just, you know, she’s like, to Nina and Tito M, March 6, it’s my birthday. And like, that’s it. So she’s going to, with my mom there of course, and then she invited me to come over sometime this week and then we’re going to tell her so that she can like, enjoy in the planning and I’m hoping to finish the dress so that that can be part of like, the, “You’re going to Disney World!”, type of situation.

Ada: Aww! That’s so cute!

Nicole: So, it’s a, it’s a fun, fun make. What are you working on?

Ada: Well, I was gonna say, are you gonna… Did you get any extra yardage, are you gonna match?

Nicole: I did not get any extra yardage. I want her to be like, the star, you know? We’ll probably match for other things, and… But yeah. I think we talked about how her sister is gonna be three in May. And I was like, how do you think the littler one will feel about all this extra attention? And you know, do we, I don’t want to treat them as a package, I want to treat them as individuals, but also I don’t want her to see this, and then like…

Ada: Yeah. Yeah.

Nicole: And then her older sister getting stuff and then her to feel like, left out and my sisters like, so it was like, you know, I can make her something matching. And she’s like, no, she’s, she loves her older sister and is just genuinely excited and happy for her all the time, so it’ll be okay. But I’m actually going to make them matching bum bags as well out of princess fabric.

Ada: Oh my god.

Nicole: Picked up a yard of like, this princess fabric and like, I’m just gonna take… I’ve made, I think, three bum bags. So I’m like, I’m just gonna scale it down to tiny body size and it’ll just, but that, I have time for that one.

Ada: That’s adorable. I am not sewing anything as cute. Uh, let’s see. I’ve been sewing a lot. I sewed the second version of joggers for my partner because, I don’t know if you recall, I sewed the first pair and the crotch was like, up to his belly button, like, beyond. And he’s not like, a disproportional… I don’t think, first of all, I’m like, no one’s like, disproportional, but like, I was like, what is up with this crotch curve? Hello? And so then we measured it and I tried to tape down the pattern piece like, four inches, because that’s how much we had to take off. And really, it wasn’t like, we need to take four inches, it was like, we needed to take two because if you took off four, it’d be like, low rise.

Nicole: Mm.

Ada: So took two inches off the crotch curve, front and back. It was the Simplicity 9379 which I’ve talked about before. There are Asian people on the pattern package.

Nicole: Yeah.

Ada: And I had to change the pockets because they were so, really, they were just weird. And I just decided to put some side seam, regular side seam pockets in. And basically at this point, like, I guess I’m just borrowing the pant leg ones because I’ve just completely discarded the instructions. And…

Nicole: Fair.

Ada: Doing it my way, and…

Nicole: Yeah, I have a question about that, the alteration which you know, is, is relevant to what we’re talking about today. But, on a previous episode, I talked about how I was toile-ing joggers. Yes, listeners, I was toile-ing. And I haven’t gotten to the second phase of that yet, but one of the things I need to do is lower the rise, like, it goes out to my bra strap, it feels like, right now!

Ada: Whoa.

Nicole: Why? I don’t know, it doesn’t make any sense. So in my head, I’m like, well, if everything else is proportional – just to my body, like, the desired ease – can I just cut the top off and like, but… I was reading on adjusting the rise and everyone’s like, no, you gotta cut and slash and adjust. But I just wanna, I just wanna cut like, four inches, maybe it’s only two off the top. And did that work for you?

Ada: I think it depends on the grading of the pants pieces. And because these are quote-unquote unisex drafted pants, aka like, probably drafted on a men’s block is my guess,  I think, the curve in from waist to hip, like, the waist to hip ratio isn’t as drastic. And so when I just folded down the piece, yes, then I lost a bit of the actual like, waist curve. But I feel like for the Big 4 pattern, because the seam allowance was like, five eighths of an inch, like, all the way around, I was like fuck it, you know, we’re not really losing that much, I can probably kind of just eyeball it. And I had him try on the second pair and they worked out great. Like, they were the right length, they were the right place on his, like, midsection. And so I basically taped down those alterations and wrote down some notes and I cut out another pair following the same thing that I just did. If they are, if there’s more of a curve, I think you might have an issue with adjusting the rise. But there’s no reason you couldn’t, like, slash the pattern piece, tape it down, and then like, kind of smooth it out across the pieces.

Nicole: Well, there’s laziness.

Ada: Yeah, there’s that too.

Nicole: Well, and since it’s a jogger, the, the waist prior to installing the elastic is big.

Ada: Mmhmm.

Nicole: So I kind of figure like, maybe that’s a shortcut, but…

Ada: Yeah, oh, yeah. I mean, I ended up taking like, I think it was a half inch in. But that was after I sewed the waistband together, pinned it and then was like, oh, we’re about half an inch off, so gotta take that on a little bit more and that was fine.

Nicole: Mmkay. So… Sorry, this has turned your section of your work into me, about me. Are you working on anything else?

Ada: I’m working on so many other things too!

Nicole: So many.

Ada: I still have that cut out quilt that I haven’t gotten any progress on because I also… I asked you about this one, which was another Big 4 simplicity, 8908. I have had this pattern, I want to say, for probably a few years. Like, I probably bought it at the very beginning when I starting to sew because I was like, inspired and I just sat on it and sat on it. And remember when we talked to Aims for an earlier episode last season about cutting the good fabric?

Nicole: Oh, yeah.

Ada: And you sent me a link to Neko Neko, which is a, I think, Singaporean based fabric store, and I was like, I don’t need to go in on an order with you. I have so much fabric, I actually have all this fabric from my last order with them, including this beautiful cotton jacquard. And it’s reversible, and it’s kind of cute, and I sent you a picture and I was like, ooh, this person like, did both sides and I was like, I have a pattern like, exactly like that. What… Do you think this would work? And you’re like, yes, go for it. And I did and guess what?

Nicole: It worked.

Ada: It is working. I still have four buttonholes to hand bind because I’m doing like a cool metallic thread for it for a cool finish. And the pocket, I have to decide if I want a pocket and bulk but it does approximately fit, I did shorten it, and I cut the good fabric but here’s the thing. I didn’t realize that when I originally bought the fabric I bought five meters of it. Even though it is a narrower kind of fabric, like, 44 inches. I still have like two and a half metres left!

Nicole: I was gonna say, what do you, what, what’s your matching set gonna look like?

Ada: I have no idea. We will see. I might make it into like, a nice jacket. But once I finish the second pair of joggers and that dress, which are going to be really quick, quick sews, I need to figure out what I’m wearing for the trade show that I’m doing in two weeks which by the time this episode is out will have happened but requires going back to New York and having three kind of elevated hipster looks for three days and I don’t want to be showing up in like my skinny jeans and kind of, you know… I want to feel nice and I want to feel confident and I do think that sewing up something new will make me feel that way. I might wear that dress with the fabric, but… I don’t know. I’m… I just cut out a Maynard dress from Elbe Textiles which is a zero waste pattern in a black linen and then I think I want to make some black linen pants but I don’t know which pattern yet.

Nicole: Okay, all that sounds like elevated hipster clothing. So…

Ada: Hahaha… Black linen.

Nicole: You’ll fit, you’ll fit right in. The Maynard dress is the one I’d been wanting to try. And I think, I can’t remember what my reason was for not going for it yet. So… But I’m curious and I’m looking forward to see your final product there because zero waste is something that I’m still trying to get into.

Ada: I’ll let you know. It’s the fastest cutting process.

Ada: Hey, podcast listeners, looking for a way to support the Asian Sewist Collective? Well, we have a great way for you to do that now and we are excited to announce our first set of merch. We’ve launched a limited edition set of woven labels on our Ko-fi page – so, K-O-dash-F-I-dot com-slash-asian sewist collective – and you can get a pack of five woven labels custom designed by our very own producer Mariko with some cute things from seasons one through three, like, “This was a panic sew”, “Forgot to prewash”, or, “Made with fabric purchased while traveling”. And they all have really cute designs on them that you should definitely go check out on our Instagram and on our Ko-fi page. And to get your very own set of five labels, you will be supporting the podcast and helping us bring you new content and new guests week after week. So head to K-O-dash-F-I-dot com-slash-asian sewist collective.

Nicole: Welcome back to another episode of the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. Today we’re talking about common alterations in garment sewing. However, we’re shaking things up a little bit. There are plenty of resources out there that will teach you how to make pants fit or do a full bust adjustment, you know, books, websites, podcasts, free and paid, you name it.

Ada: So we’re not going to teach you the how-tos for popular techniques in this episode. And so, for links to those resources, check out our show notes, we’ll have them there. Instead what we’re going to do is share the Collective’s take on garment alterations. That is, basically, we surveyed a few of the members of our team who told us all about the body types they sew for and how they go about altering a garment to fit said body types.

Nicole: Let’s kick the discussion off with how you and I go around with this process. So, Ada, could you tell our listeners about how you go about sewing and fitting garments?

Ada: I am pretty lucky in that my measurements are very close to a lot of pattern designers’ straight size blocks. So my patterns that I gravitate to are usually indies, although I know I talked about a lot of Big 4s today. And my measurements, which are also on my Instagram, are that I’m 5’ 4” and my chest is about 36 inches and then 29 inches waist, although that fluctuates anywhere between 28 and 30. So 29 is the average. And then my hips are 39 inches. It’s definitely easier for me, when my body fluctuates, to put on more muscle than it is to lose muscle or to lose fat. And I’ve noticed that I tend to actually have very broad shoulders compared to my waist. So sometimes if I buy ready-to-wear, for example, I will buy like, a size 8, or a size 10 in like a suit top or top. And then the matching top, I’ll have to buy like two sizes smaller, which I’m a joy to shop for in suits in that way, for example. But the alterations that I usually make are a few, one is a shortening pretty much anything because I’m 5’ 4”. And a lot of patterns provide their blocks for 5’ 6”, 5 8”, 5’ 10”. And they do usually have instructions for and lines for on the pattern, like, a lengthen-shorten line, and so that one’s pretty easy for me. I’ve also just done a lot of shortening to my own ready-to-wear garments before. And so I will be cutting off anywhere from two to four inches usually, and/or hemming. And sometimes because of the difference between my shoulder and my waist measurements, I will also print different sizes and grade in for my shoulder to my waist or my chest to my waist because I find that my shoulders, which are a different measurement from my bust, tend to just be a little bit wider than a standard block. So that’s kind of like, where I deviate a little bit. And so that one is interesting, it’s less of an issue on knits, I find, and more of like, where does the shoulder seam fall on a woven. Or if I buy ready-to-wear, for example, the sweater I’m wearing today, the shoulders fit great, but the length is like, about six inches too long for me. So it’s almost, it’s past my butt, like, the end of the sweater. I could basically, if I throw on tights, it’d be a dress. And then the last one that I do usually is a small bust adjustment, or I’ll move the darts, which I learned to do from a lot of reading and Googling because what I find is that I know a lot of these patterns that are assuming a B cup or drafted for a B cup – it’s a real perky B cup? I think we talked about this on the bra episode, but like, I’m, I’m not very old and not very young, I’m somewhere in the middle, you know, thirty, you… They’re not very perky, they’re not very large, so, gotta move them. And so I do a lot of kind of toile-ing around that whenever I see that on a woven, usually… Top pattern or anything with bust darts or where any sort of bodice starts. And surprisingly, I haven’t found that a lot of YouTube resources were helpful in that. Because a lot of the tutorials that I’ve seen, were either just doing it on the pattern and don’t show you the actual result on the garment or didn’t explain it in a way that was clear to me. I have multiple pattern books, and I can’t… They have described the methods in varying levels of success. And so the way that I’ve done it, or I’ve learned it, is both from other folks in the Collective and just experimentation and trial and error.

Nicole: And for those of you who don’t know what a small bust adjustment is, it’s a method of altering a patter piece [sic], a pattern piece, rather, to reduce volume in the bust area. We have a Seamwork article in our show notes to explain how this is done.

Ada: Yes, thank you, Nicole. The last thing I wanted to share is like when I make the alterations, if I know that the pattern is going to be ridiculously long, or it’s not gonna fit, I will make the adjustments when I cut it out. Like, I don’t even bother making the toile and then doing it because I know that the pants are going to be too long, for example. And if I’m not sure, like, with the bust adjustments, I will usually try to make a toile and adjust it. But a lot of the times, you know, adjusting is not the sexiest part of sewing so I kinda get stuck. And I recommend that if you’re going to be doing this, that you put on the toile and move around in it, like, actually like, test it out. So I do tend to default to a wearable toile, because when you move around in it, that will change the shape of the garment, that will change how it wears on you and where the wrinkles and the gaps are. So it might mean that you could end up, if you just do it, like, standing in a mirror – when you make all these adjustments and then you have an unwearable garment or something you can’t move in because you’ve made all these adjustments just for purely when you’re standing in the mirror. Also, not every fabric is going to behave the same when you do this so make sure you’re toile-ing on something that’s similar to what you will be making. Yeah, I think that’s all my disclaimers on bust adjustments. What about you, Nicole? What are your common alterations?

Nicole: So, I think I have what people might consider a more athletic build. So describing my body top to bottom, my shoulders are broad as well, and my chest is broad, but a B cup, which is again, fairly standard for a lot of the straight-size size bands for, at least, indie patterns. So with both indie and Big 5 patterns – ‘cause I consider Know Me a fifth Big 5…

Ada: Oh, yeah!

Nicole: My measurements typically fall across two or three sizes. Right now my measurements are 42” [producer note: Nicole’s 42” measurement corresponds to her bust]… 37” waist, 44” hip. And the 37” waist, 44” hip, that fluctuates up and down between like 36” to 38”, and then 44” to 45”. So typically, my chest and hip measurements fall within the same size range, but I have to grade my waist up one or two sizes. And it’s not like, I’m a, like, a rectangle, there’s still like, a, a decent amount where there’s like, shape in the middle. But it’s, it’s usually one or two sizes up. But I’ll only do this for fitted garments – so I don’t wear a lot of, I have not made a lot of fitted wovens. But with knits, what I’ll do, you’d mentioned you print out the two sizes, I would just print out, you know, if I need to, I did this the other day, a 14 and 16 waist, I would print out the size, the sizes layered for both. And then I would, on the pattern, you know, go from the, like, the chest down to the waist down to the hips again. And I only do this again, for fitted garments, typically knits, because a lot of what I make works just fine without me changing the waist size, because of the way that the ease works. Like, if it’s less fitted, or even if it is, what I’ll do is I’ll check to see what the ease is and what the final measurements are on the waist and, sort of, decide whether I think that it’s enough space for me. And early on, like, the first few months that I started sewing garments, I would grade my waist every time but it’s really not necessary.

Ada: Oof.

Nicole: Yeah, I… Like, it’s not necessary all the time and sometimes it ends up to be too big, especially with the Big 4, Big 5 patterns, so I just stopped doing that. I’m also 5’ 7”-ish, think like, 5’ 6 ¾”, but I call that a 5’ 7”?

Ada: We round up, we round up.

Nicole: Yeah. And so with the B cup, I am, you know, fortunate that a lot of my height and my cup measurement is fairly standard for most patterns, for a lot of the patterns that I end up encountering, so I rarely adjust for length. I just eyeball it from the pattern. Like you said, you hold it up and see if it’ll work, and if you don’t think it does, you know, maybe add a couple of extra inches because you can always take it up, can’t really grow the fabric back.

Ada: Nope.

Nicole: Well, and also, the joggers that I’m toile-ing, like, they’re, they’re drafted for, I think, 5’ 8”, someone who’s 5’ 8”. But they’re ankle length? And I’m like, but it’s winter and my ankles get cold, like, why? So that’s one that I’m probably going to go ahead and lengthen when I get to my, you know, second, second toile. And I, usually, for this waist adjustment or any like ,slight adjustments, I just make it directly on the pattern before cutting it, and that’s usually enough for me. And so I’m creeping into pants, I think, I’ve been wanting to make pants for forever and I just haven’t really made the leap because I know there are a lot of adjustments and there are other things, I think, I would prefer to work on. So apart from the waist, I have what pattern drafters, pattern people call full thighs and full calves. I like to call them sporty or thicc with two Cs.

Ada: Oh yes.

Nicole: Something that I used to hate growing up, like, I used to hate my legs because they’re just genetically larger. But I mean I was an athlete, and now I’m very, you know, neutral about them. They’re fantastic. I guess that’s not neutral. But anyway. I did try the Top Down Center Out method and I think I mentioned this in a previous podcast.

Ada: Yep.

Nicole: And I can get the front to look nice with just, like, the adjustments to the pant leg and we’ll talk a little bit more about Top Down Center Out later, but something’s going on with the back. Like, I can’t get the back to look smooth and I think it has to do with the bulk of my thighs, both the front and the back and my calves. So there’s drag lines going on there.

Ada: Mmhmm.

Nicole: And what I’ll need to do what I’ll probably do is start with doing the full thigh and calf adjustment prior to doing the one leggy thing. But I will get there. I got other stuff I want to work on right now and I finally went on a thrifting slash buying spree to find pants that fit me ready-to-wear and I found a few good ones so it’s not as high in my priority. But listeners, if you have any good resources for full thigh and calf adjustments, send them my way. I’ve done a lot of reading but – you know, I have a general idea – but if there’s something that you think is like, a game changer, please do share.

Ada: I have full thighs and full calves too, and, you know, I think I’ve had a similar journey of like, what you… Did a lot of sports and activities growing up, was basically in pink tights and leotard half the time and so that’s gonna bring with it all sorts of feelings. And I still, to date, like, cannot find calf-length boots that zip all the way up.

Nicole: Yeah, no.

Ada: Like, that’s just not something that I can access and that’s also not something I have any interest in making. And so that’s just like not a fashion thing that I will be partaking in. And so I I deeply empathize and my solution is kind of like your solution where it’s like, I just don’t make pants that are tight. That’s my approach, find pants with ease around the whole length of my leg and then take them up a little bit. But now, we should get on to our Collective members and how they make adjustments in their garment sewing practices. So our producer for this episode, Mariko, who goes by @troubleshootingstitcher on Instagram, shared that she’s 5’ 3”, her bust is 35”, waist is 30” and hips are 38.5”, self-described as smaller up top, bigger below the waist with thicker quote, weightlifting legs, join the full thighs and full calves club. Her alterations in her words are fairly straightforward and she tends to shorten the sleeve length for most tops, depending on the length that she’s going for, increase or decrease the body length, shorten the pant leg length on pants and grade up one size or so in the hips, especially for non elasticated pants. Mariko also says that she does not like making toiles and tries to get the most of her alterations done while cutting out the pattern pieces. And she learned how to make these adjustments mostly through Instagram stories from other resourceful sewists or from pattern designers’ sewalong blog posts if there are for the pattern that she’s working on. And lastly, she does mention that she’s gotten into @ithacamaven, so Ruth’s, Top Down Center Out method for fitting pants which she learned how to do from @ithacamaven’s stories and @thecrookedhem’s YouTube videos. Mariko likes this method because she struggled with scooping, i.e., changing the crotch curve and she had to make another trawl every time she changed the crotch curve and make both legs every time, so this is just, sounds tedious. And like Mariko, has been through a lot of pants, or pants toiles, I guess.

Nicole: I’ll stick with culottes. No, that’s not true. I will get there eventually. And hopefully Top Down Center Out will get me there. So let’s tell you a little bit about what it is. So, TDCO, or Top Down Center Out is a method of fitting trousers based on the premise that since everything hangs from the waistband, you adjust that first, so top. Then, continue adjusting half a pant leg at the center crotch seam, and then working outward toward the seams. So hence, Top Down Center Out. And this method originated with Ruth Collins who is @ithacamaven, I-T-H-A-C-A-M-A-V-E-N, on Instagram. As Mariko mentioned, Ruth has a lot of helpful tips on her Instagram and runs a paid Zoom class to teach the method. She’s also written an article describing the method in a Threads Magazine article we’ve linked in the show notes. Stacy, aka @thecrookedhem on Instagram and YouTube, has videos and blog posts on TDCO as well. She puts this method to use against popular pants and jeans patterns, which you can check out if you’re also interested in tackling those patterns. So, like I said, I’ve tried Top Down Center Out, I think the method makes sense to me. And I think, I think it’ll work, I need to wrap my head around some of the pre-toile-ing adjustments like a full thigh and full full calf adjustment, just to see how that goes. But, I think I said this on the previous podcast, but I got frustrated the first time I tried it, I was like, hot, I was in my underwear with like one half pant leg and getting really frustrated. And, you know, that… I could get it to hang right on the front foot, like the drag lines look terrible on the back. And I abandoned that half toile and it’s actually still in my bedroom where I was trying to fit it because I can have two mirrors.

Ada: Ooh…

Nicole: I can see it every day. But I will get back to it because I think that the method is sound. Apart from just hearing, you know, a lot of people praise the method, just having read it and you know, it makes sense and it looks promising. I just need a little bit more time with it. Have you tried the Top Down Center Out method, Ada?

Ada: I have not, but I do follow Ruth on Instagram. And conceptually, I get it, like, I really enjoy reading these posts because it just makes your brain kind of think more about fitting. For me, it’s just that I tend to adjust the crotch curve first before moving on to the other pieces of the pattern. So by the time I get to that point, it’s not really something that I necessarily need in my own alterations or alterations practice. I also happen to benefit from like, I guess, my crotch curve is very similar to the crotch curve that is drafted on a lot of indie patterns, for example. And I know there’s like stereotypes about like, Asians have flat butts or whatever… Nah, your girl has a butt. Like, we do, we do deadlifts, we do squats, we do a lot of glute workouts, like, I had hip surgery, all I’ve been doing for months is glute workouts. So I feel like I don’t have that much of an issue given my size right now, my measurements right now. Maybe that will change in the future, and maybe we’ll have to spend more time on it. Who knows. Your body will fluctuate all the time, and through all stages of life, so I’m sure at some point, this will probably become more relevant for me.

Nicole: And it’ll always be there, though, you will have the resources. So this next part comes from Sareena who is also an editor on our team, who also joined us on the Halloween mini episode that aired last October. You can find her on Instagram at @dresslikeanonion, and Sareena is 5’ 2”, her measurements are… Her chest is 37”, waist is 27” and hips are 39”, and she sews and knits as well. Sareena usually needs to lengthen garments in the torso and shorten the legs, you know, which for sewing she does by using the lengthen and shorten lines in pattern before cutting each piece. So for listeners who are less familiar with garment sewing, there’s usually a line that the designer designates as where you split the pattern to lengthen or shorten it. Unless you’re like me, and you’re just like, chop the bottom off to shorten it, that’s not technically what you’re supposed to do. But, so there are lines that help decide, you know, where to lengthen or shorten things. And for knitting, Sareena adds three to four inches to the body as she knits that part of the garment. So she notes that she looks at selfies of herself in her me-mades to see where things pull or are too short, long or snug. After measuring her body multiple times, at different times, she understood that her body shape, what her body shape is like and how it fluctuates. Serena also recently learned about size charts and how they’re created, that they represent mathematical ranges and averages as opposed to actual bodies. And with these two key items, if there’s something in a size chart that is wildly different from the usual status quo, she knows immediately what she needs to change. And I think, you know, sewing in general, but, Sareena’s response, you know, to, to these questions reminds me that, you know, sewing has really helped me become more in tune and understand my body better in a way that is, was sort of revolutionary for me as an adult. Like, it’s just numbers. But, you know, Sareena said, like, she got familiar with how it moves and how it fluctuates and sort of a neutral, like, okay, I gotta adjust this, and adjust that. Instead of, for me, you know, I’d be like, oh my gosh, I can’t fit in these pants anymore, I gained weight, you know, blah, blah, blah. It’s just sewing has really, you know, emphasized the fact that you know, it’s not nothing wrong with our bodies, they just fluctuate and that we have the, the superpower, so to speak, to make these adjustments.

Ada: And I think that not seeing… I mean, you can put whatever number label or whatever label you want to put into your clothes. You should put one of our labels into your clothes.

Nicole: Truth. Especially if it’s a wearable toile, blah blah blah.

Ada: Especially if it’s a wearable toile. But I think that for me, not seeing the number associated with the label in my clothing every day has actually been very helpful. And not had me, allowed me to not be so hung up, I think, a little bit on fluctuating sizes or proportions changing or you know, different things happening with my body. I also, for some reason, thought that Sareena was taller than me because in her Instagram photos, she looks so tall. But this is a good reminder of it, Instagram can be deceptive and that angles are your friend. So before we move on to the next Collective members’ alterations, I did also want to share one last sentence of wisdom from Sareena who says, quote, like many people, I just assumed there was something wrong with my body. Once we get over that and realize the pattern isn’t drafted for us since the pattern drafter doesn’t know our individual body needs, it can be very empowering to grade as we need. As a grader myself, I try to accommodate this by suggesting where and when alterations can happen. End quote.

Nicole: Yeah, I mean, like I said, I totally agree with Sareena and at first I just had difficulty with pattern sizing. I’m like, I’m a size 12, so I’m a size 14, and you know, but I’m at least a 16 in most sewing patterns and definitely bought the wrong pattern size range very early on…

Ada: Oh no…

Nicole: And was devastated about it. But you know, once I realized that just like clothing, the pattern was drafted with a standard quote unquote in mind, I could just adjust it and really all of those insecurities about size really fell away. And sewing has just been a really empowering experience, both to get me comfortable with my body and to be proud of my skills and, you know, I’m always learning.

Ada: Shilyn is another member of our Collective who is also one of our producers. You can find her at @shilynsews on Instagram and YouTube. And she shared that she is also 5’ 3”, and curvier than previous members who’ve shared their stories and measurements. So Shilyn’s measurements are 46” bust, 36” waist, 46” hips, and her common go-tos are a full bust adjustment, a swayback adjustment and sometimes shortening the torso on all bodices. These alterations that she makes are made directly on the pattern after she pays attention to the finished overbust and full bust measurements after measuring the nape to waist measurement for the swayback. So, she learned how to do her full bust adjustments or FBAs from various blogs and YouTube videos and she also learned how to do that swayback adjustment and torso shortening from when she pattern tested for Ann of Designer Stitch. Shilyn says that most of her alterations usually involve some sort of cut and spread, or also known as cut and slash, or cut and close method to it. Once you understand that it can be really that simple, she says, fitting is a lot less stressful. A full bust adjustment, I should add, an FBA, is technically the opposite of an SBA or small bust adjustment that we explained earlier. So these are when adjustments are made to a pattern piece to increase the volume in the bust area, which is often done by slashing and spreading the pattern piece. So basically like cutting along the line and opening it up and adding that space for the volume, whereas an SBA is usually when you cut the piece and then overlap it to remove some of that volume.

Nicole: A swayback adjustment involves making a change to the pattern piece to accommodate the concavity of lower back, often diagnosed by seeing horizontal wrinkles over the lower back area. The excess fabric here can be pinned out and pattern pieces overlapped to reduce that excess fabric. I’d also like to share what Esther, another one of our producers in the Collective, usually tackles when she’s garment sewing. Esther is on Instagram, at @esthermakesadventures. She is 5’ 3”, with a 32” bust, 26” waist, 35” hips. She says that based on her measurements, she is pear shaped but feels like she is more rectangular. Her usual adjustments include shortening the legs, sleeves, back length, or a sway back. For this last part, for the sway back, it depends on the draft but sometimes she’ll either adjust bust to waist, or waist to hip. She will also do that small bust adjustment that Ada talked about and grade up at the waist, although she stopped doing this since she started to use the Top Down Center Out method. So it sounds like that method, you know, changed the way that she saw and you know, graded her patterns, I’m looking forward to, to trying it. Anyway, back to Esther. Shortening and small bust adjustments are something that she does before cutting out a toile although she funnily notes that she always forgets to do sway backs until she puts the actual toile on. Fair enough. She learned to draft slopers and use measurements from various landmarks on her body versus the pattern very early on, and then learned of garment ease and its importance. She also marks toiles with a fitting grid of horizontal lines, a method by Kenneth King and Sarah Veblen, which helps you see visually where you might need to make adjustments on a garment.

Ada: So if you don’t know what a sloper is, it’s also called the foundation pattern, blocks or a basic pattern. It’s basically a building block that most clothing items are built on or designed on. And I really like this part of Esther’s share because she says that there’s so many different ways that you can make adjustments, some might be better or more correct, quote unquote, but in the end, as long as you’re aware of the grainline direction, it’s probably okay, so like, don’t rotate the pattern piece 90 degrees and cut it out so that you know, your fabric doesn’t move the right way when you sew it up. She says that she’s okay with a good enough fit these days as opposed to getting a perfect one. She embraces a bit of the wrinkles so that she can actually get some movement in her me-mades and knowing how a garment hangs on your body and how altering a certain part can affect the entire garment, like what happens with Top Down Center Out, is helpful to know and comes with experience. Honestly, my personal approach is, if it fits the same as ready-to-wear or better, then it’s good enough for me because we’ve been, before sewing, you know, putting up with however that average of measurements in a size for ready-to-wear apply to you and just kind of living with it. And so, yeah, if you can kind of improve upon it or do a little bit better, then I’m pretty happy with it.

Nicole: Oh yeah, I’m totally good with imperfect fits. I’d love to nail down pants because I’ve never had, really, a great fitting pair of pants or jeans. But, you know, everything, as long as I like what I see in the mirror and I’m comfy, we’re, we’re good, we’re good.

Ada: Our researcher for this episode and a lot of previous episodes is Cindy and she also shared with us some of her garment sewing practice and adjustments. Cindy is @cationdesigns on Instagram, so C-A-T-I-O-N-designs with an S, plural. And Cindy is 5’ 6”, bust measurement 34”, waist measurement 27”, hips measurement 36”. She says she tends to do a small bust adjustment, widen the shoulders, narrowing or narrows the back, and hyper extends the calf area and pants although she noted that she hasn’t made fitted pants in years. So Nicole, I don’t know if you really have to. Cindy also says she does flat pattern manipulation from a sloper so she knows that she will have few modifications down the road. She’s going to, she says she sews the lining of a garment first – ooh, that’s a good tip – and uses that as a sort of wearable toile then makes adjustments on the pattern before cutting and sewing the outer layer. So because, you know, the lining goes on the outer layer on the other side, you can wear it inside out and it would be the same or very similar. She notes that she also rarely makes toile for the sake of fitting, only because she’s impatient, her words not mine, and working on limited time. Cindy says she picked up various techniques over the years by reading wrinkles and trial and error with pinning out excess and then putting the garments back on. And she used to read a lot of fitting books and blogs earlier in her sewing journey. Cindy’s key tip is to, well if you don’t have a fitting buddy, basically take pictures of yourself in the toile especially from the side and from behind. It’s best to have someone else take it for you if possible. And then studying the pictures is a lot easier than having to try to crane around your neck and look at your back in the mirror. I love this suggestion and your camera timer is your friend.

Nicole: Yeah, I hadn’t thought about doing that but it makes a lot of sense. I think I have everything I need to do that, tripod for it with a phone holder and an actual camera. But I also think it’d be nice to take those pictures and like, put them on a tablet or a computer and like really take a close look at all the details and taking your time with it as opposed to craning your neck back at the mirror or trying to figure out the angle for the double mirror and be like, okay, I think this is what I need to do. So I really like that. That’s cool. Last but not least, we’re passing on what Koss has to say about garment alterations and sewing. You can find Koss at @withorwithoutice on Instagram. Koss sews mostly for themselves, their partner or their sister. Koss is 5’ 4” with a big waist to hip ratio, so 32” waist, 44” hip. They note that their high bust measurement is the same as their full bust. The main alterations they make for garments for themselves are the forward shoulder adjustment, grading between sizes, sometimes grading between up to four sizes, shortening pant leg at the calf, and as of late, a round back adjustment. Their partner is 6’ 4”, so 6 feet 4 inches, so Koss adds length anywhere when sewing for them. Their sister fits most indie patterns perfectly so Koss makes no changes when sewing for her. Koss makes adjustments just after taping the pattern together so that they will end up cutting out the pattern pieces in the right shape. When changing the length and a garment, Koss will keep the pattern pieces as intended if possible, cut the pieces out in fabric and baste them together before deciding how much they need to shorten. Koss also does not make muslins – shout out! I… I liked Cindy’s comment about being impatient, same, same… Koss bought the Palmer Pletsch Complete Guide to Fitting book early when they started sewing and experimented with it a lot. For pants they can’t recommend Top Down Center Out enough particularly because it focuses on draping around your body and not on why your body is weird and why you can’t fit into a pattern.

Ada: I’m gonna say, that was my main issue with the Palmer Pletsch book which I, I also have, I did buy it. It is very dated as in both its approach to the body and its approach to patterns, and so, yeah. Can’t say it’s my favourite. Uh, it does have some practical tips that you can also find on the Internet. Koss also has a few useful tips to share with our listeners to finish us off. So first, when fitting bottoms, take your waist and hip measurement seated as well. Make sure that they’re under the finished measurements of the size that you choose, otherwise you won’t be able to sit in these pants. Makes sense.

Nicole: Sounds important.

Ada: Sounds very important. Also decide what your limit is with wrinkles, as most people, even other sewists, will not see them, which is key, right? Like, why fuss about it if it’s going to just cause you super, super, high amounts of stress.

Nicole: Right. 

Ada: Koss also says don’t stress too much about adjustments, what they’re called and how to make them. What matters is how you feel in the garment. If it’s too tight, add more ease. If the collar or neckline is cutting into your throat, recut it, move it. Nobody knows your body like you do. And nobody is going to run into your sewing room to scream at you for not following a book or a method to a T. And if they do, we’ve talked about gatekeeping in sewing before in Season 3, so you can go back and check out episode 33.

Nicole: I’m laughing because somebody in the comments might come for you. But that, that is gatekeeping and we’re not about that on our podcast, and I think a lot of our listeners share the same values and hopefully you know, we’ll think before doing something like that, too. Now before we close out the episode, I wanted to define two terms Koss used in their share with us. A forward shoulder adjustment is made when one’s shoulders naturally rest more toward the front of your body. If your shoulders are like this, you’ll find that when you wear an unadjusted garment, the neckline sits just a bit too high for comfort, and the back dips a bit low where the neckline should naturally sit on. If you have forward shoulders, you also tend to have a high round back and might want to make both sets of adjustments. A high round back adjustment is done if one has increased surface area at the top of your back and the fabric is struggling to cover it. Again, our show notes will include links and resources to the various adjustments we’ve discussed today. So if you want to learn more about fitting your garments to your liking, check out our notes on our website.

Ada: And that’s all we have for you today. We hope you enjoyed our unique take on garment fitting and hopefully our variety of fitting stories will help you figure out what to do, regardless of your body shape or size. And let us know how your next fitting session goes.

Nicole: Or if you do things differently, let us know too. I’d love to learn more about, you know, new fitting techniques to incorporate into my own sewing practice. Thank you for tuning in today, listeners, and also thank you to our Collective members for sharing your fitting methods and knowledge with us.

Ada: Thank you so much for joining us on this week’s episode of the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. If you like our show, please consider supporting us on Ko-fi by becoming a one time or monthly supporter or by buying our stickers and our very funny sewing labels. That’s right, we have merch. Buy the labels, they are hilarious. Your financial support helps us with overhead expenses and will allow us to give back to our all-volunteer team who work so hard to provide you with new content each week. The link to our Ko-fi page is ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective, and you can find the link in our show notes, on our website and on our Instagram account. 

Check us out on Instagram at @AsianSewistCollective, that’s one word, AsianSewistCollective, and you can also help us out by spreading the word and telling your friends. We would also appreciate it if you could rate, review and subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, PocketCasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Nicole: All of the links and resources mentioned in today’s episode will be in the show notes on our website, that’s asiansewistcollective.com. And we’d love to hear from you. Email us with your questions, comments or even voice messages if you want to be featured on future episodes at asiansewistcollective@gmail.com.

This episode was brought to you by your co-hosts Ada Chen and Nicole Angeline. This episode was researched by Cindy Chan, produced by Mariko Abe and edited by Clarissa Villondo and Henry Wong. Thank you so much to the other members of our collective for making this week’s episode a reality. This is the Asian Sewist Collective podcast and we’ll see you next week.