3 Methods to Fitting a Sewing Pattern

In this article, you will learn three of the best approaches to adjusting commercial sewing patterns. This knowledge will add another layer of understanding when you fit sewing patterns.

I’ve heard that this is a “universal” truth: There is more than one way to skin a cat.

I don’t know a thing about skinning cats. But I do know that there are several ways one can approach pattern adjustments.

And since fitting sewing patterns is probably the #1 thing that keeps so many of us from sewing our own clothes, I think it may be very helpful to know what those ways are and the general steps each one entails.

So if you’re ready, here we go…

3 Approaches to Pattern Adjustments

The methods discussed below are for a simple dress with only two side seams (SS). For more complex garments, the directions may vary slightly.

Trial Garment Method

This one is really basic. You sew a trial (sample) garment, or muslin, from your UNALTERED pattern.

You don’t start with any measurements.

You simply need muslin fabric. I hate muslin fabric! I prefer to use an inexpensive fabric with a similar drape to the fabric I will be using in the final garment.

3 Fitting Methods for Sewing Patterns
This image is of the cover of a book by Sara Alm.
  1. Layout, cut, and mark your main pattern pieces out of muslin.
  2. Sew darts, pleats, tucks, shoulder seams of main pieces together using a basting stitch for easy removal. (You can also pin baste if you prefer.)
  3. Try on the trial garment.
  4. Adjust the fit on your body.
  5. Remove the trial garment and transfer the adjustments to your sewing pattern.
  6. Use your adjusted pattern to layout, cut, and mark your fashion fabric.
  7. Sew your fashion garment, leaving both SS unsewn.
  8. Pin fit the SS to the contours of your body.
  9. Finish your garment.

#1 Pro: Body measurements (BMs) are not required. YAY! And you can “read” the fabric to see what alterations may be required.

#1 Con: You have to make a muslin — and depending on the complexity of the adjustments, maybe more than one!

Alright. Let’s move onwards to the…

Measure & Compare Method

With this method, you simply take key length and width measurements on your body and then compare them to the tissue pattern in those same key areas.

3 Fitting Methods for Sewing Patterns

Here’s a general overview of the measure & compare method…

  1. Measure your body — you need both length and width measurements.
  2. Then, measure your sewing pattern in those key areas.
  3. Adjust your sewing pattern as needed.
  4. Layout, cut, and mark your muslin or fashion fabric (if you had very minor changes).
  5. Sew your muslin or garment, but leave both SS unsewn.
  6. Try on the muslin or garment, fine-tune the overall fit, and pin fit both SS to the contours of your body.
  7. Finish your garment.

#1 Pro: By making preliminary changes based on your measurement comparisons, you can potentially reduce the number of muslins you have to make to perfect the fit.

#1 Con: You have to face your BMs! YIKES!

Okay, finally, the…

Tissue Fitting Method

This method was developed by Pati Palmer and Susan Pletsch. With the tissue fitting method, you use the actual tissue paper pattern as your muslin! And then, you adjust the fit of your tissue pattern in three stages.

3 Fitting Methods for Sewing Patterns

Here’s the general overview of tissue fitting…

  1. Take only two body measurements — high bust and full hip — to choose your starting pattern size.
  2. Prep the tissue pattern pieces.
  3. Pin darts, pleats, tucks, shoulder seam, and side seam, so they are on the outside of your unaltered tissue paper pattern. This makes it easy for you to adjust the tissue.
  4. Try on the tissue pattern on the right side (RS) of your body and check for fit issues.
  5. Adjust the tissue pattern on your body.
  6. Layout, cut, and mark your fashion fabric.
  7. Then, fabric fit:
    • Staystitch the neckline and armholes.
    • Pin baste the main sections of the garment with the wrong sides together (WST). You want to pin the darts, shoulder seams, side seams, and sleeves so that they are on the outside of your body. This will allow you to mark any final adjustments to the wrong side (WS) of the garment.
    • Try on the garment and pin fit both SS to the contours of your body and fine-tune the fit at the shoulders and the bust area.
  8. Commit! Sew your garment.

Pros: (1) No muslin is required. The tissue pattern is your “muslin” — and you “read” the tissue paper to see what alterations are required. (2) You only need two measurements to begin.

Cons: (1) Tissue paper is not fabric and it is rather fragile. (2) If you have asymmetries, you may not be able to get away with just fitting the RS of your body.

The End


That’s it. These are the three ways to approach pattern adjustments that I am aware of…

  • Trial or Sample Garment Method
  • Measure & Compare Method
  • Tissue Fitting Method

I hope that by sharing these methods with you, you gain a deeper understanding of how you can achieve a good fit.

I encourage you to play around with each method and determine which one — or even a combination — is the best “fit” for you.

And remember…

Life is the ultimate red carpet event. Dress for it!

RELATED: Click¬†HERE if you’re ready to unleash your dressmaking superpowers and learn how to sew a simple dress! Warning: This is a MEGA 5-part series!