Let’s chat pattern fitting books, but before that, I’m going to say something you need to hear.
There is no perfect pattern.
People search for it, buy 18 jeans patterns hoping for “the one” and turn up disappointed. Maybe you’ve heavily invested in pattern company P, Y or Q because of the promise of a better fit in one area.
While it’s absolutely true that pattern companies have come a LONG way in listening to their customers and trying to help fit as many bodies in as many ways as they can there is ultimately no perfect pattern.
Why? Because we’re all made uniquely and as such, we all have spots on us that create challenges for fitting. Sometimes those challenges are enough to turn a garment sewist into a quilter. I know. I’ve cried ugly tears over pants fitting too.
That’s where pattern fitting books can really help you. Just like there’s no perfect pattern, there’s no perfect pattern fitting book. Still, there are a treasure trove of fitting books out there that’ll help you start to understand how it is that you can adapt ANY pattern to work for your unique shape.
So let’s talk about some of the different pattern fitting books that are out there. We’ll talk about the unique advantages each book has and why you might want to check each one out.
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Pattern Fitting with Confidence
Pattern Fitting with Confidence by the late wonderful Nancy Zieman is a fantastic place for beginners to pattern fitting to start. There’s no complicated slashing and cutting up your pattern.
Instead, Nancy Zieman relies on her pivot-and-slide technique. It’s a simple way to get at a lot of fitting problems, and it’s one that’s easy to understand.
Fast Fit by Sandra Betzina
If I had to point you to one fitting book it would be Fast Fit by Sandra Betzina. I’ll out myself a Sandra Betzina fangirl. She’s such a thoughtful teacher with a great sense of humor and it comes across here. She presents various fitting challenges inside of Fast Fit. Within each named fitting challenge, she gives you several ways to tackle that problem.
I think this is such a balanced approach. Not every method will work for every person, so she gives you several options and leaves you to try things and see how they work for you. This kind of exploration mindset is exactly what you need when you start to get serious about learning about fitting. There truly are multiple ways to deal with the same problem.
Fitting methods can pit people against one another, planting a flag on the hill they’ll die on. THIS is the way to do an FBA, no THIS is the way etc.
Sandra Betzina is having none of that. She presents several options and trusts that you’re an intelligent person that can investigate the results for yourself. Not only that, she gives good information on how to diagnose the problems before you start cutting up your pattern.
This is not a fully comprehensive book, but it is a very friendly book that’ll help you deal with some of the major problems. I do wish there were more specifics on pants fitting in here. But overall, I love this book.
Create the Perfect Fit: Measuring and Pattern Fitting for Real Solutions
Create the Perfect Fit by Joi Mahon is an excellent book that’ll help you really understand how to measure your body. From there, Joi teaches you how to apply those measurements to commercial patterns. It’s not always clear or easy to understand how to measure yourself, and Joi demystifies and breaks down the process so you won’t be left confused.
Then she shows you how to create a muslin that you can use as the basis for comparing to all your future projects.
What’s a muslin? It’s a test garment in a similar fabric to the one that you’re going to use for your final project. I know a lot of people hate the idea of making a muslin, but they can save you a lot of heartache. When it comes to fitting, a muslin that represents the fit that you like can be a quick shortcut to pattern alterations. Got a weird sleeve in a pattern? Grab your tried and true muslin, use that sleeve instead. Not sure what length of skirt you like? Use your muslin.
This book has fantastic, clear easy to understand directions and photographs and it does a good job of showing a variety of body types and the kinds of alterations they need. Best of all, everything is presented in a positive, friendly way that’s not going to leave you frustrated or feeling bad about your body. This subject is clearly personal to Designer Joi and she truly cares about helping people feel their best in the clothes they create.
The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting
The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting by Sarah Veblen is another excellent choice among these pattern fitting books. Sarah Veblen with her couture and patternmaking experience walks you through how to take your test garment and improve the fit. Sarah is a precise, thoughtful teacher and the step by step photos inside this book are excellent.
It’s easy sometimes to see what’s happening in a test garment only to get lost in transferring the changes to your pattern. This book does a stellar job clearly showing you exactly what needs to happen to move those changes to your pattern quickly. I would recommend this book to anyone.
Smart Fitting Solutions by Kenneth D. King
If you want to really up your fitting game and you’ve been working on fitting yourself for a while, Smart Fitting Solutions by Kenneth D. King is a book for you. Kenneth D. King, besides being a professor, couturier, and patternmaker is a wonderful teacher and it shows here in spades.
You’ll learn how to make a muslin, evaluate the wrinkles that point to fit problems. After that, he’ll show you innovative ways to fix the problem to 35 different upper body issues. And you’ll pick up some “why didn’t I think of that” construction advice along the way. My favorite thing about this book is how Kenneth King shows you how fabric behaves and what that means. Learning to see how fabric behaves is more intuitive than I think a lot of pattern fitting books would lead us to believe. He does such an excellent job teaching you how to understand what it is that you’re looking at.
This is not a beginner’s guide to fitting patterns, but if you’ve got a little more experience, this book will rock your world in the best possible way.
Fitting and Pattern Alteration
Fitting and Pattern Alteration by Elizabeth Liechty, Judith Rasband, and Della Pottberg-Steineckert is really a textbook for fitting. It’s a comprehensive chunk of a book aimed at helping you tackle every possible fitting issue out there. I find the table of contents and the index really easy to navigate.
There’s a few editions of this one out there, so check around. Sometimes you can find a good deal.
This book relies on their seam method of pattern alteration. This technique has you clipping along seam lines at various points to add or remove space where you need it.
The idea here is that you only alter a pattern in the place you need to. Sometimes various pattern methods can create more problems as you alter patterns. This method is not about that. It tackles one problem at a time.
The diagrams in this book are excellent and I think they do a good job of naming a particular fit issue without making it sound like an exotic toe fungus.
I will say, that it’ll help you here to make a muslin so that you know what kind of alterations you might need. With so much information in this book, it might not be obvious where to start.
The Palmer Pletsch Complete Guide to Fitting
The Palmer Pletsch Complete Guide to Fitting by Pati Palmer and Marta Alto is an update of Palmer Pletsch’s Fit for Real People which seems to be out of print. Fit for Real People is a favorite book and you can still pick it up, though not for cheap (I saw prices on Ebay $60+!). As of writing this, the best price I saw was on Thrift Books for about $25.
Palmer Pletsch is unique in that they rely on their method of tissue fitting patterns in order to address various fit concerns. This method can be appealing to people that don’t want to make a muslin.
I’m going to say now (and you can disagree with me) that this book may not be for you. I know for me, having tried to follow some of the advice led me to a lot of confusion, and long drawn out fitting sessions that further confused matters. The eternal problem I have: how do you do a full bust adjustment that doesn’t add extra space at the waist? Not everyone needs that extra space (raises hand!). Sure you can “add a dart” but what if you don’t want to?
Do not let me sway you from Palmer Pletsch. They’ve been around a long time, helping a lot of women deal with their fit issues. This method could absolutely work for you. I’m sure that given time, I could understand better what they mean by some of the things that they do. My advice would be to check out Fit for Real People from the library or watch some of Palmer Pletsch’s videos, and see what you think of it. Practice some of the ideas and see if they work for you.
Overall, if you’re looking to understand more about how to alter patterns to fit you, this is a great collection of pattern fitting books. Pair this with an in-person class when you’re able, and you’re on your way to really understanding fit.
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Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.