One of the big difficulties in sewing for yourself is fitting commercial patterns. It seems like each pattern you try is a shot in the dark with an unknown outcome. Sometimes you make alterations to patterns and they come out fine, and sometimes the same size comes out way off. You may wonder if the pattern companies are using any kind of standards at all when they size their patterns. How can you have a predictable outcome when everything seems like its up for grabs? Understanding "Ease" may help you get a better fit and reduce your frustration.
"Ease" is the difference between actual body measurements and the garment measurements. Unless you are using a stretch fabric, you need some "ease" to be able to move in your clothing and to prevent straining at the seams and damage to the fabric. There are two types of ease - "wearing ease" and "design ease"
The minimum difference between your body and garment is called "wearing ease". Standard wearing ease is your body measurements plus 2-3" for bust and hips and 1-2" at the waist. Slightly more ease may be added to larger sizes or plus sizes. If you have a full bustline or full seat you may want more wearing ease for comfort than a very slim or petite person needs. Also, consider your fabric - some crisp fabrics hang better if they have a little looser.
A designer may add more than wearing ease to different parts of the garment to create a certain look. The difference between your body measurements and the design is called "design ease". Gathers, tucks or pleats added to make a full skirt is a good example of design ease. A 50's swing coat the fits nicely at the shoulders, then bells out to the hem with full sleeves also demonstrates designed ease. Both of these examples fit closely where they need to and have added fullness where needed for the design.
Pattern envelopes use terms that tell how much ease the designer intends, as follows:
Closely Fitted = no ease or only wearing ease
Fitted = wearing ease + little or no design ease
Semi-fitted = up to 4" of total ease
Loosely Fitted = up to 8" of total ease
Very Loosely Fitted = more than 8" of total ease
By checking the description of the garment on the pattern envelope, you can determine if this garment is suitable for your purposes before you cut. Modern patterns also give actual garment dimensions on the pattern pieces. Check these dimensions against your measurements to see if this is adequate ease for your body type and comfort. If you are using a pattern that doesn't have finished size dimensions listed on the pattern, you can measure the pattern inside the seam allowances and compare this with your measurements.
It's easy to make adjustments to the side seams before you cut to allow for greater comfort and better fit. If in doubt, make wider side seam allowances (1-2" instead of 5/8") to allow for adjustments.
After you begin sewing, try on your garment and fine tune the fit by adjusting the side seams first. If you have chosen a pattern that fits your neck and shoulders, then made any needed adjustments to the side seams before you cut, your garment should be close to a good fit when you come to the try-on stage. Begin with a basic shape garment that suits your body type for your first project and learn how to fit, then go on to more difficult shapes. Once you understand "ease", you are one step closer to a perfect fit!
"Fit For Real People"
Pati Palmer & Marta Alto, 1998
(see pgs. 46-55 on "Ease")