Inspired by the knitters on my pattern drafting course, I’ve dug into some of my teaching materials to bring you this post. Once upon a time, PP (pre-pandemic), I taught advanced clothes making (alterations, fitting, construction). Although the focus is on woven fabrics, some of the fabric behaviour can also be seen in knits. On one hand, this makes sense: if a pattern doesn’t fit well, fabrication doesn’t matter and won’t save you. So I hope the info here can be appreciated by both knitters and sewists – particularly those who enjoy both crafts!
Five books to try
(ISBN codes are the 10-digit number at the end of each Amazon URL):
Kenneth D. King, Kenneth D. King’s Smart Fitting Solutions (2018)
Plenty of colour photographs and six completely different body shapes are fitted here. The book is organised according to chronology rather than one chapter per person, so you will have to flip back and forth to see the entire process of fitting one garment to an individual – but seeing this process is invaluable. This book focuses on the toile method of fitting and transferring information back to the paper pattern; King trained as a couturier, and the classic method there is to not alter the pattern at all, even pre-emptively.
He has also developed his own principles and method of fitting, although it has its roots in couture practice, but unlike other books you don’t see the final garment. Garment shapes used are basic or classic, focusing on bodice fitting – although King has said that his publisher will consider a second book on trouser fitting if there is consumer demand. Womenswear only.
Pati Palmer and Marta Alto, The Palmer/Pletsch Complete Guide to Fitting (2018)
The widest variety of body types and plenty of colour photographs. This book focuses exclusively on tissue fitting and slash and spread, so you can see how far it is possible to go with this technique. The authors have worked with pattern companies for several decades, so the book is pitched at the home sewing market (presumptions are made about the audience’s age and figure type, however) with plenty of reference to commercial patterns (Butterick, McCalls, Vogue et al) and their charm.
Alterations are referred to by ‘type’, e.g., high round back, full calves, so a modular rather than a holistic approach. The popularity of the FBA (full bust adjustment) no doubt stems from their influence over the years. Clarity and context are excellent – the authors are also teachers and there are plenty of case studies and tips along the way, so you can definitely plug into their way of thinking. Womenswear only.
Judith Rasband, Della Pottberg-Steineckert, Elizabeth Leichty, Fitting and Pattern Alteration (3rd edition, 2016)
The most comprehensive and academic discussion out there currently. The book is aimed at fashion students or industry professionals who might encounter any figure type possible. The authors cover four fitting techniques: toile, slash and spread, pivot and slide, and the seam method of fitting. The latter three all involve working on the pattern first.
The principles and elements of fashion design, fabric choice, and fitting standards are all discussed. If you are truly interested in pattern cutting in all its guises, fashion design, styling, and acutely detailed figure analysis, this is well worth the money. If not, it is worth borrowing from the library, if only to learn about the four techniques listed above. There are very few black and white photographs on real people, and contextual references to ‘ideal’ fashion figures. The illustrations are mainly line drawings and diagrams – but there are over 300 pages devoted to fitting analysis and correction. Womenswear only.
Sarah Veblen, The Complete Guide to Photo Fitting (2012)
An accessible choice, focusing on toile fitting and transferring information back to the pattern. LOTS and LOTS of colour photographs, as you might guess, and a very comprehensive and honest approach to the process – and by honest, I mean about the amount of time and toiles it can take to get a good fit, even for professionals!
Sarah Veblen writes as if she is speaking directly to you, and her instructions are very clear and thorough. She does not always refer to figure adjustments by ‘type’; rather, she encourages you to analyse the behaviour of the fabric and train your eye that way, and she also explains her thought process along the way, pointing out different ways of solving problems (although she does resort to creating seams, which isn’t possible on all styles or may not be wanted in any case). She covers slightly more styles than Kenneth King. Womenswear only.
Jenny Rushmore, Ahead of the Curve: Learn to Fit and Sew Amazing Clothes for Your Curves (2021)
Buy direct from jenny here
As far as I know, this is the first comprehensive book on fitting to be published by a pattern company. Jenny Rushmore, the founder of Cashmerette, has been a trailblazer for representation. Unlike the titles mentioned above, the alterations are discussed in relation to their catalogue. Although it’s not a problem to apply what you’ve learned about alterations to a pattern of your choice – let’s be honest, that’s the endgame! – many sewists appreciate the flow and cohesion when taught by the designer. Again, this book focuses on womenswear only.
Cashmerette has launched a Club membership since publishing Ahead of the Curve, and if you need more support or learn best in a group, the online meetups and tutorials are worth a look. You also have access to My Body Model, which allows you to draw croquis of your body shape. This is a fun experimental tool that allows you to see how different styles look before committing to a project. You can tell how deeply Jenny Rushmore understands the pain of not being able to enjoy sewing because you’re drowning in alterations. Her products and tutorials are immersive, supportive – and loved by many. On a personal note, I was delighted when they extended their size range (I fell just outside their original 12-32 range)!
Over to you!
If you can recommend any other resources for alterations and fitting, please share them below! I also have a weekly newsletter on clothes making, clothing design, and all the bits in between.