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Let's Talk About Ease, Bay-bee

Sometimes, too much knowledge can be a BAD thing....

I know lots of people might say, "But you went to fashion design school! How can you make a mistake like that!?"

Well folks, it happens. And because one of my main goals in life is to help people out and provide tips and tricks I want you all out there in TV Land to learn from my failures.

Here's another tale about the importance of ease. This time, the tale is told from a commercial pattern standpoint. (Also, deal with my phone camera photos on this one, peeps! My new phone is just about as good as my 5-year-old SLR at this point anyhow.)

Here is a photo of me excited about my work before I figured out my huge mistake. 

My idea was to use a commercial pattern I had bought for $3 for this tunic top which turned into a dress (because Lord knows I don't need any more dresses!). But I had the fabric and I went ahead and cut fabric for a dress anyhow. 

Being less well-versed in commercial pattern usage since I have been making all my own for 10 years now, I was confused at which measurements I would need to go by on my commercial pattern.

Maybe it's obvious for everyone out there, but the fact that there were "Body Measurements" versus "Finished Garment Measurements" confused me. After all, almost any pattern I've ever used has told me only one set of measurements and said, "Alright, you're good!"

At this point in my life, my bust is about 33 1/2", waist is 26 1/2" and hips are 35". (For additional reference, I am 5 feet tall.) 

I can't remember what the hell I was reading one day, but it said to always pick your commercial pattern based on bust measurement. Not sure why, but it did. So I went for the one that said 33 1/2"..... in "finished garment measurements".

My mannequin lady is (now) a teensy bit smaller than me, and this is my result when I decided to quit.

And then I realized my fatal error: I had used the wrong set of measurements. Yargh!

At first I was mad, but then I decided to learn from it. I was annoyed that a pattern would be so convoluted, but then I came to the conclusion that no, wait.... this was actually a GOOD thing!

Many commercial patterns I've recently used only give you one set of measurements. The "finished garment" measurements can actually be helpful if you are into knowing how much ease a pattern has been given.

Ease is not something that had been talked about much (or at all?) in my schooling. The only "easing" I learned about was basting stitches on a sleeve cap to ease it into a garment. Seriously, that's it. My garment blocks I've had for YEARS actually has the ease built in, so I rarely if ever worried about it and I had no idea how much ease was included in them.

Again, what is ease? 

This is my absolute favorite quick reference manual for ease. (Yes, I am borrowing the picture.)

There is both wearing ease and design ease

In this case, I'm looking for wearing ease which is the minimum amount of extra room you need to move in a garment. We are not a dressform, so we do need to move. Unless you want to suck in all day, then that's your deal. 

If you refer to the differences between Body Measurements and Finished Garment Measurements on the McCall's pattern, you can determine the amount of ease very quickly: The bust has 3" of ease. (And I guess the waist/hips don't matter on here because they don't even care to list it!) This is super helpful if you're a lady that needs to do a full bust adjustment or even if you have a smaller chest -- you will know exactly how much to take away/add and how much extra your pattern should measure. This also helps you determine if you know you have a preference if 2" of ease in the bust or even if you want your bust to be looser by an inch. 

 I particularly like the "Fitting Ease" chart in all of this and I have it printed for reference in my sewing room. 

After this debacle, I went ahead and decided I needed to once and for all adjust my sewing blocks the correct way, not just winging it on my dressform like I have been. (I'm a lazy designer, apparently.) I needed to learn about ease even more in order to make both commercial and my own patterns work well. 

My original blocks are designed from my pattern making book and for some reason with the measurements of a 35" bust, 25" waist, and 36 hips.

 Here I am, tracing off my blocks from school onto pattern paper for editing. 

Now, I don't know who the hell is those original measurements: Were people in 1995 (the time of original publishing of my book) busty with small waists or was this based on a Barbie doll? I may never know. But what I do know is that these measurements aren't even based on ASTM standards which is ridiculous. So I'm convinced the book just wants to make everyone mad when designing well-fitting garments based on the book measurements. 

After comparing my pattern block to the measurements stated, I ended up figuring out that these particular blocks have 3" of ease in the bust, about an inch of ease in the waist, and about 2 1/2" of ease in the hips. Perfect!

From there, I ended up doing a series of adjustments that are combined with grading as well as addressing an uneven grade which many may refer to just a pattern alteration.

I'm sure I've referred to this before, but this page from Threads is essential with any pattern grading. Not only will it spell out for you the difference between sizes, but it will break down all the lines for you based on how much you need to shift the pattern!

From my original blocks, I needed to grade down the bust from 35" to 33" yet needed to adjust the 25" waist to 26 1/2" plus an inch of wearing ease. (Waist ease may be determined by your preference and mine is 1".) I also needed to decrease the hips measurement by 1 1/2". 

I also used an old Singer Sewing Book I have from 1972 and it had a wealth of useful pattern adjustments! I love it. This combined with the grading reference completely fixed my blocks. 

By the end here, my actual pattern blocks measure 36" in the bust (3" of ease), 27 1/2" in the waist (1" of ease) and about 36 1/2" in the hips (1 1/2" of ease). 

One thing I also edited because I had been having a hard time --- my torso length, aka "shoulder slope" in my pattern book. This book has it at almost 17" for the shoulder slope (which measures from end of shoulder to center front waist) and my own measurement (with the help of my dear boyfriend) is a mere 15". A WHOLE 2" DIFFERENCE! 

For shoulder slope, that is a pretty incredible difference since you don't need ease at all for that measurement. That just means that I am that small. That's what I get for being 5 feet tall.

In the end, all this cutting, slashing/spreading, and delving deep into the world of ease made all the difference. I went ahead and made a full muslin this time to check my work and I am super pleased with the result. I don't think my blocks have ever fit me this well, ever!

 In this photo, I hadn't taken into account that I would indeed need to adjust the hips so that is now adjusted for a slightly tighter fit on my actual blocks. 


My point is, take the time to measure out your own body. Take the time to understand grading no matter how daunting it is, and take into account the amount of ease in your garments. 

From this point, I am going to actually be drafting a torso block (basically bodice/skirt combo with no seamline) as well as determining what my knit blocks should look like. Knit blocks in general will actually have negative ease but that will have to be another blog post entirely once I play with those again. 

I'll likely download my pants blocks from Burda since pants can be a nightmare to draft (especially with weird this ol' book) but I'll likely have to make a few adjustments there. 

And if you want to give it a go on your own without buying a giant, expensive pattern drafting book to draft your blocks, head over to to download blocks to adjust perfectly to yourself! Even though you can find most pattern manipulation how-tos online now, I actually do highly suggest having a book as a pattern reference manual. My pattern drafting book teaches you anything you ever would want to do.... except give you the correct measurements for an actual lady's figure. 

But look at that! I took those lemons and I made them into lemonade. 


  1. I love the idea of having blocks that fit and doing all the fancy staying drafting from that starting point. One day! It's amazing how perfect that fit you obtained is. I'm super impressed!

    1. Oh Tanith. If only you knew how long it took for me to do this the right way! Haha. I've been jankily hacking my blocks the ways that "made sense" to me for at least 4 years now instead of just using grade rules and ease.

      Design school is far different in garment creation than real life. I'm not sure why. But I've had to learn a TON on my own. And those edits didn't take very long. I know you're mathematically inclined so you will also have no problem understanding pattern grading principles! I just let it scare me for a long time because lots of other people around me. But they weren't necessarily mathematically inclined, sooo...

    2. Side note, the blocks I made for you and your dress were hand-drafted from your measurements and with the corresponding measurements in the book. So your blocks also had built in ease.

      I guess I did it this way because I didn't trust the measurements in my book but knew what I liked about the fit of the blocks from school/size 8 of that book already.


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