the fitting room: lyndsey’s fira dress

I love the simple silhouette of the Fira Dress, and I’m always on the lookout for dress patterns
that have a one-piece dress front. With a one-piece front, I can showcase amazing prints
without interrupting the printed design with seams. I’m going to share how I got to the perfect fit for the Fira Dress.

How to fit a dress sewing pattern.

My measurements are high bust 37”, full bust 41”, waist 35.5” and hips 44”. A 4″ difference between my high bust and full bust put me at the D cup sizing. With a 37” high bust, I would typically select a 10D, but since my hip measurement put me at a size 16, I thought the difference would be too extreme.

The Fira dress has a relaxed silhouette so I didn’t need a very fitted bodice. I looked at the silhouette in the line drawings and pictures of Liesl in the dress and noticed that the lines were only slightly flared on the side seam. I decided to start with my hip measurement (my widest measurement) and work backwards a size or two for the bodice. I started by making a size 14 muslin without any adjustments to decide what changes I would need to make.

First, as is typical for my shape, I needed a 1/2” forward shoulder adjustment. The shoulder seam should hit in the middle of your shoulder joint, but in my muslin the shoulder seam fell behind the midpoint of my shoulder. To make the forward shoulder adjustment I added 1/2” to the back yoke shoulder seam and subtracted 1/2” from the front yoke shoulder seam.

Second, I saw that the bust darts were too high for my shape. The darts should point towards the fullness of your breast, but the darts on the muslin pointed above the fullness on my breast.

Before and after pics: Moving the bust dart.
On the left, muslin #1. On the right, muslin #2 post-adjustments.

For the adjustment, I lowered the bust darts 1” and pulled the bust point back (towards the side seam) 1/2”. Notice what lowering the bust dart did to the side seam. To true up the side seam, I needed to “straighten” the curve at my waist.

How to move a bust dart on a pattern piece.
Adjustment to lower bust dart and true up side seam.

Third, I already knew that that the hips were likely to need a width adjustment and the muslin showed that to be the case. The horizontal pull lines across my abdomen are a tell-tale sign that more width is needed. I checked the finished measurements on the size 16 pattern and found that it allowed 4 3/4” of ease at the hips (49 1/4” – 44 1/2” = 4 3/4”). My hips measured 44”, so to get the intended ease I would need a finished hip measurement of 48 3/4”. The size 14 pattern had a finished measurement of 47 1/4”, indicating that I needed at least 1 1/2” additional inches. I decided to make it easy on myself and just added 1/2” to the side seams on both the front and back pattern pieces.

Widening the hips on the Fira Dress.

Fourth, I decided the armholes were too low for my taste. In the muslin I could see a peek of my bra when my arm was raised. This was not a “necessary” change, just something I knew would make me happier when I wore the dress. I raised the curve on the arm hole by 1” on both the front and back pattern pieces. It wasn’t exact; I just eyeballed it!

Raising the armhole, before and after.
On the left, muslin #1. On the right, muslin #2 post-adjustments.

Fifth, I noticed a lot of fullness in the back of the dress. I usually take a sway back adjustment, but I was indecisive about whether to do that on this pattern. The silhouette of the dress is relaxed and does have gathers on the center back, so I knew there would be some fullness in my back. However, I noticed that my back hemline did not fall parallel to the ground and was longer at the center back than it was at the side seam. When I pinned up about an inch of fabric at my waist, the hemline straightened and the dress laid better. I decided to do a 1” sway back which I split into two 1/2” sway back tucks on the dress back pattern piece.

Sway back adjustment before and after.
Muslin #1 on the left, muslin #2 on the right.

With these five adjustments completed on my size 14 pattern, I sewed a second muslin. I don’t always sew a second muslin, but I had selected an investment fabric for this dress and wanted to be really sure I would be happy with the fit before I cut my fashion fabric.

Photos of the muslin stage pre- and post-fitting adjustments.
Muslin #1 on the left, muslin #2 on the right.

The adjustments really made an impact. The dress hung better from my shoulders with the forward shoulder adjustment.

How to take a sway back adjustment. Lyndsey shows off her perfect fit Fira Dress.

The bust darts pointed to the right place and created better shaping.

How to do a forward shoulder adjustment. Lyndsey shows how she did it on her Fira Dress.

The ease in the hips was much better. (It’s funny how adding width actually makes you look slimmer.)

How to move a bust dart. Lyndsey shows how she did it on her Fira Dress.

The armhole was at a good height for my preference.

Lyndsey talks about the sewing pattern adjustments she made to get the perfect fit.

And I liked the amount of ease in the back of the dress after taking the sway back adjustment.

Lyndsey talks about the sewing pattern adjustments she made to get the perfect fit.

The dress fit perfectly!

If you are new to pattern fitting, it may seem like I had to make a lot of adjustments. But four of the five adjustments I made on this dress (forward shoulder, bust dart height, hip ease and sway back) are typical adjustments I make on nearly every pattern I sew. I’ve done them so many times I can make the adjustments quickly.

Lyndsey talks about the sewing pattern adjustments she made to get the perfect fit.

Fitting gets better with practice, and even a tiny bit of adjustment will often make the garment fit better than a ready-to-wear piece. With a few adjustments and fantastic fabric, the Fira is my new favorite dress!



 

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11 Comments

  1. Erica

    What a stunning dress! And, thank you for sharing all your adjustments. It is very helpful to see what an improvement can be made with these alterations. It is well worth the effort!

    1. Lyndsey

      Thanks Erica! It was so worth it!

  2. Lisa

    Thank you for your detailed and really informative post. I’ve sewn up quite a bit for my kids, and have been intimidated about making more of my own clothes because of the additional work required, and the fact that fabric for a size 16 woman is a lot more money than for a child. But your note at the end, about getting used to making the changes you need for yourself really made the point that once I get into the habit of making a muslin, it’s not a huge deal. Thanks!

    1. Lyndsey

      Thanks, Lisa! Learning to fit does feel like a lot at first, but it is so worth it. I highly recommend the Palmer/Pletsch fit books. I am pretty conservative about when I will cut into my final fabric. I like to be 100% sure I’ve got the fit right first!

  3. Thanks so much for the information- I always hold my breath when I start the adjustment process, but your clear details are wonderfully outlined! I’ve been investing more time in making toiles (especially for either a new pattern/company as well as those investment fabrics!) and they are well worth the time.
    I hadn’t thought about dresses with a one-piece front as an avenue for showcasing fabrics but that is a fantastic tip!

    1. Lyndsey

      Glad it was helpful! I always tell myself: even if my adjustments aren’t perfect, they are still better than I would get from Ready to Wear!

  4. Nancy

    Great fit! Great dress!
    Thanks for helpful, clear photos.

  5. Ava

    This was so helpful to see the muslin before the adjustment. I hope you continue to share those images on future projects. The fabric and dress are stunning on you.

  6. Eleanor

    Your dress is gorgeous! Thank you so much for this post – it was incredibly helpful. I found the photos and descriptions of how you know something needed to be adjusted to be super helpful. Now I know what to look for when I make this for myself!

  7. Kathy Higgs

    Thank you, Lyndsey, for this informative post. The pictures of the muslin and the pattern changes really helped to show the effects of the alterations. You’ve chosen gorgeous fabric to create a beautiful dress. Very inspiring.

  8. Really helpful to see the steps in this process – thank you for sharing. And I *love* the fabric you chose!

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