Learning how to fit, part 1: Butterick 5638 Muslin

Butterick 5638
Butterick 5638

I am finally ready to learn how to properly fit garments!  I am using The Perfect Fit: The Classic Guide to Altering Patterns as my guide to identifying and fixing problems. I am starting out with Butterick 5638, a fitted dress that uses princess seams instead of darts to hug the body.

B5638 lets you chose your proper size based on your measurements, but also your bust size.   I started with a size 12. The difference between my high bust and bust is about two inches.  I seem to be on the borderline between using the  A/B cup pattern piece and the C cup pattern piece.  Figuring I was probably unconsciously inflating the numbers, I decided to use the A/B cup piece. This pattern has shortening lines for petites, which I used.

The first problem I encountered was a misprint on the pattern- the center front piece (piece 1, 3 or 5, depending on your cup size) doesn’t have the arrows indicating that you’re supposed to cut on the fold. Hmm. At least I was using cheap muslin fabric instead of real fabric.  Undeterred, I cut out another front piece along the fold and basted my muslin together.

At this point in the project, I am still focusing on basic fit, so these pictures are of my unhemmed muslin, without any front or arm facings.

B5638 Muslin Front View
B5638 Muslin Front View

At first glance, the dress was pretty good. Anything that looks like a dress is good! Once I got over my self-satisfaction, I was ready to stop ignoring problems and start fixing them.

In this picture, you can see that the waist is a little high, and that there are diagonal wrinkles on the front of the dress.  But, it gives me some curves, and it isn’t outrageously big. The bust seems to hit where it should.

I was tempted to end my scrutiny there, but I fought my laziness and continued taking pictures.  In order to identify fitting problems, you need to look at the sides and back of the garment too!




B5638 Side View
B5638 Side View

Ah! Looking at the side view, the fitting problems become much more obvious.  There are strong diagonal wrinkles running from the bust to the hips and butt.  Instead of lying smoothly, the fabric on the upper back is baggy and wrinkled.

Instead of going straight down, the side seams are pulled forward under the butt.  I think this contributes to the fold of fabric you can see at the bottom right corner in the above picture.






B5638 Back View
Heavy wrinkling between armpits and waist

First of all, huh, I never knew my shoulders sloped at different angles.  That brings up a whole other category of fitting issues, but I’m not advanced enough to deal with those yet.

More important for my purposes right now is the terrible wrinkles and bagginess above the waist and below the armpits.

The waist seems to be hitting where it should.  I’m pretty happy with the fit of the lower half- it seems to give a little curve to my butt- yay for optical illusions!  I might like the skirt to be a touch more narrow in the lower half, but that can wait until the fitting problems in the torso have been fixed.

Fixing the problems

Based on the my muslin pictures and the info in The Perfect Fit: The Classic Guide to Altering Patterns, here is what I think the problems and there solutions are:

Full Bust: The waist is hitting at the right spot in back,  but is pulled up in front.  The bust seems to be hitting at the right spot (I think), so a high bust is not the problem here. Combined with the diagonal wrinkles running from the bust to the butt, this makes me suspect that bust fullness is the problem here.  Luckily, there is an easy solution for this dress!  I just need to try again with the C cup variation. If there wasn’t any cup variations in this pattern, I might be in trouble.  There are no darts to deepen or modify in this pattern.

Short waist: The other major problem is the bagginess at the back.  I don’t have a particularly small waist, so that’s not the issue.  I don’t think I have a narrow back either, so I don’t think that is the problem. I am short-waisted, so I think I will try to fix this problem by shortening the back waist length in my next muslin. If this doesn’t work, I’ll have to  re-exam my back width assessment.

So, my next muslin will be made in what is hopefully the correct size, with a shorter back length.

I’m a very new novice to fitting, so my analysis could be wrong.  What do you guys think? Are these the correct problems and solutions?


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