Understanding Garment Ease

In this article, you will learn the definition of ease; the three types of garment ease; and the minimum amount of required ease. You will also learn at the end of the day, on the subject of ease, you decide.

Probably since the dawn of time, we humans have been seeking out ways to make our existence less difficult, more comfortable, and pain-free.

In fact, we spend a good deal of our lives seeking out people and circumstances that put us at ease.

And if the self-help industry is any indication, we are consumed with the desire to feel at ease in our own skin and with our place in society.

Well, it might surprise you to know that ease is also an essential aspect in how comfortable we feel in the clothing we wear.

So if we are to sew clothing that we feel at “ease” in and love wearing, we need to understand what ease is and figure out what amount of ease makes us happy!

First, let’s define garment ease…

Garment Ease Defined

When discussing clothing and ease, ease is simply the amount of space between our body and the garment at the bust, waist, and hips.

Sounds simple, right?!

And it is.

Well, sort of.

Honestly, getting a grip on ease as it relates to commercial patterns can be a bit dicey. But we must. Because a failure to understand ease will result in garments that end up languishing in the back of our closet or in a trash bag headed to our local donation center or landfill.

So let’s start with…

Types of Garment Ease

There are three types of garment ease:

  1. Wearing (movement) ease
  2. Style (design or fashion) ease
  3. Fabric ease

If you want to know how much TOTAL ease is included in a pattern’s design. Subtract the standard bust, waist, or hip body measurements (BMs) from the Finished Garment Measurements (FGMs) for the same area. This will tell you the TOTAL amount of –wearing and style– ease included in the pattern.

Understanding Garment Ease

With the Big Four pattern companies–Butterick, McCalls, Simplicity, and Vogue, patterns will fall into one of the following five ease categories for garments:

  • Close-fitting
  • Fitted
  • Semi-fitted
  • Loose-fitting
  • Very loose-fitting

When looking for clues on ease, check out the style details. For example, the presence of a waist seam, darts, princess lines, or shaped inserts suggests a close-fitting garment. While the presence of gathers, released tucks, unpressed pleats, flared inserts, or an A-line silhouette suggests a looser fit.

While The Big Four pattern companies all draft patterns using the same standard BMs, they can vary wildly in how much ease they include for similar designs.

I know. Crazy!

But probably no crazier than the random, haphazard, vanity sizing of Ready-to-Wear (RTW). Seriously, I have sizes from different clothing manufacturers ranging from size 4 to size 10 in my closet and from small to large.

Sew easy tip: Many times the back of the pattern envelope will provide a description, such as “loose-fitting pullover dress,” that reveals the ease category the design belongs to. This can be very helpful, so look for it.

Since ease is so critical to us loving our clothing, let’s explore the three types of ease a bit more…

Wearing or Movement Ease

If we were to sew a garment based just on our BMs without any added ease, we would move like a mummy.  So the lack of wearing ease isn’t a problem for a mummy, because mummies don’t have to eat, move, breath, or sit.

BUT it sure as heck would be for us because we do have to breathe, reach, sit, walk, and eat! So including the right amount of wearing ease when sewing our own clothes is essential if we are to sew garments that we love to wear and feel at home in.

But do you want to know a secret?!

In the end, the right amount of wearing ease is all about our individual, personal preferences. Yes, YOU decide what makes you happy. And I decide what makes me happy.

Think of it this way…

Some women like their clothes to passionately “hug” their bodies.

Other women can’t bear the idea of their clothing even touching their bodies. (This style is so cute and comfortable though.)

Understanding Garment Ease

Me?!  I’m all about the skim, not the cling! I don’t want to my clothes to hug my curves, because it makes me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. 

But I don’t want them falling off me either, because life is just too short to feel frumpy, dumpy, and old.

If you’re saying to yourself, “Hmm, Janine, I don’t have any idea how much ease I prefer!”

Then get up, stroll into your closet, and study the clothing you reach for every time and how they fit. Measure them at the bust, waist, and hips, and BAM! Just like that, you’ll know!

But as a point of reference, let me give you an idea of the minimum amount of wearing ease included for a close-fitting dress:

  • Bust: 2 to 3 inches
  • Waist: 1 inch
  • Hips: 2 inches

Sew easy tip: Keep in mind that the more fat a body carries, the more ease a body needs. Because as we sit fat spreads. Since muscle is dense and compact, it doesn’t spread.

Okay, now that we know our preferred ease, let’s learn about…

Style (Design) Ease

Style ease is the additional ease the designer has added on top of wearing ease to create a certain silhouette — think a body-conscious dress vs. a tent dress.

And if a garment has negative ease that means its FGMs are less than the actual BMs. This is often the case with knits.

If you want to know how much ease is included for the bust, waist, or hip, look for the FGMs on the back of the pattern envelope and/or the actual tissue pattern pieces. Then, subtract the standard BM listed on the back of the pattern envelope from the FGMs.

This will give you the TOTAL amount of minimum wearing and design ease for that area of the body.

That is…

Finished Garment Measurements – Body Measurements = TOTAL Ease

For example, let’s say that the standard BM for the bust is 34 inches and the FGM is 37 inches. If you subtract 34 from 37, you get a difference of 3 inches. This means that the finished garment will have 3 inches of extra room at the bust. These 3 inches includes both wearing and design ease.

Now, let’s get a grasp on the last type of ease…

Fabric Ease

Finally, there is fabric ease. Yep, fabric has ease too.

And a fabric’s built-in ease plays a definite role in how the finished garment will fit.

Here’s the thing…

Different fabrics drape and fit differently. For example, stretchy knits or drapey chiffons have their own built-in ease, which means that we can include less wearing ease than we would with stiffer or heavier fabrics, such as denims or wools.

I hope this makes sense!

Bottom line:

Please do NOT disrespect fabric ease. Because if you do, you may end up sitting frustrated, angry, and defeated on a heap of failed projects! Just sayin’.

The End

Wait, that wasn’t so bad?!

Now, we know what ease is and that there are three types:

  1. wearing or movement,
  2. style or design, and
  3. fabric.

And we also know that how much wearing ease we include in the garments we make is a personal choice!

Okay, ready or not, it’s time to learn how to take accurate body measurements.

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!