How Your Favorite Sewing Patterns Can Be a Smash Hit Today

By Anne Whalley

Be sure to check out this post and more on Anne’s blog and website –!

How can I be using the same patterns today that I sewed yesterday (over 40 years ago)?

The patterns I have aren’t my size anymore but I’m still sewing them!

(With apologies to John & Paul of Beatles fame)

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away

Now it looks as though they’re here to stay

I could sew a Vogue Size 12 and wear it every day

Oh, I believe in yesterday

Suddenly, I feel I’m twice the size I used to be

There’s a shadow hanging over me

… cos my body isn’t what it used to be and here are the reasons why:

  • having children = body changes

  • Worklife shift rosters, irregular hours

  • sitting in front of a computer

  • cafeteria food

  • eating on the run

The patterns I chose suited my body and they fit.

The battlefield of daily living and my body changes meant I had to find patterns for my larger body that suited my new plus size …. as making adjustments made me apprehensive

A body is “3 D” and patterns aren’t. My waist measurement is probably the same as someone else’s but they may not have a sway back.

Since I have had my Pants Block, I have saved a truckload of time and my precious fabric.

I’m a deadline sewist and I use my Pants Block as a template with commercial pants patterns. I love my size 12 Vogue Designer Patterns and I still use them. I haven’t stopped loving those design details that give me the vibe I’m after.

Double D is a reality in my Bodice Block. Measurements are a guideline but the final fit adjustments are what make the garment customized for my unique shape. Having a block gives me the confidence to cut my Fabric and Sew it up. I’ve got my “3D me” (my Block Pattern) that I can use as a template with my multi-sized Pattern Collection … giving me the look I’m after with the fit that works for my body.

I’m not sad about not being a size 12 anymore. I’m glad my body has stood the test of time and I’m not going to let it stop me from sewing and wearing the clothes I love to make. Shopping for RTW takes an eternity and there aren’t as many choices … colour or fabric wise … and I want to wear what I feel comfortable in. I’ve already got the fabric and the patterns. The money has been spent. I may as well Shop My Stash, sew it up and enjoy wearing it.

I’m teaching Three X Two Needle Classes at the Sewing & Stitchery Expo  Feb 27 – March 1st, 2020.

These three classes will help you see the importance of Using a Block Pattern, how to get more out of your Block Pattern with Commercial Patterns & how to choose the best fabric and patterns for your body shape, height, and lifestyle. When you see my presentations you will be able to apply what you have learned to your future sewing with the fabric you have .. for the outfits you want to Sew .. and love to Wear … when you get back to your sewing space. Your wardrobe will never be the same again!

About the Author: Anne Whalley, the Pattern Whisperer, is passionately focused on providing image makeover services with the highest levels of customer satisfaction. She has a background in sewing, fashion and styling. Check out her blog and website! You can also find Anne on social media. 

The Pinch Test: The Key to Understanding Fit in Clothing

By Susan Lazear

Sometimes the simplest things in life are the ones we don’t easily see. I would say this is true with sewers and knitters, and crocheters when it comes to understanding how much ease they like in their clothing. When I’m teaching patternmaking or fitting, and helping people create or edit patterns for themselves, I’ll often ask individuals how much ease they want in the style. And.. I’m often met with a questioning stare. There are some simple tactic, which I term “Understanding your Fit Preferences” and one of these involves an understanding of the ease you like in your garments.

What is Ease?

There are two types of ease: wearing and style. Wearing ease is what you need in a garment to breathe, sit, and move. On average, based on a size 10/12, one needs 2 inches at the bust and hips and 1 inch at the waist. This increases/decreases slightly if your body size is larger or smaller, respectively. Of course, if there is spandex in the fabric or you are working with a knit, you don’t need as much. Style ease is the added ease that helps define the style. An oversized boxy garment could have 32 inches of ease at bust/hip, and a fitted jacket might have simply the wearing ease of 2 inches at bust/hip.

If you are going to design or edit patterns for sewing, or fit commercial patterns prior to cutting them out, you need to develop a sense of how much ease you want in the garment. If you are going to knit or crochet, you need to take the time to understand the schematic of your pattern, and if it is not provided, you should make one based on stitches/rows and your gauge.  The best way to understand your personal ease preferences to make a date with your closet and use what I lovingly call the ‘Pinch Test’.

The Pinch Test

The Pinch Test involves simply putting a garment on, and pinching out the ease at the appropriate places, typically the bust and/or hip. Pay attention to the weight and drape of the fabric as this plays a key role in the amount of ease used. Typically, garments made with soft fluid fabrics may have much more ease than garments made with stiffer fabrics. Measure the pinch and multiply it by four to calculate how much ease is in the garment. For example, if you get a two-inch pinch, you will have eight inches of ease in the garment in total (2” X4, which includes the left and right, front and back). The goal is to learn as much as you can about your favorite garments, and ease preferences is a key item.

So, grab a notebook, a measuring tape, and a handful of your favorite pieces. Begin by measuring your own body measurements to notate your bust, waist. and hip. Now, make a chart and create columns; Garment, Style, Fabric, Ease Pinch: Bust, Ease Pinch: Waist, Ease Pinch: Hip.

Put a garment on and pinch out the ease. It helps to hold the center of the garment in place, as you pinch at the side. Now, measure the depth of the pinch. Write it down. Continue through your group of garments, completing the chart as you go.


If you multiply the pinch depth by four and add it to your body measurement, you will know the circumference of the garment at that point.

Try a couple of different garments that have different fabrics, and levels of fit. My black top is fitted at the bust, but is an A-line, so less fitted at the hips. It has a 5/8” pinch at the bust which equals 2-1/2” total ease. (5/8” X 4). At the hips I get a 3” pinch which equates to 12 total inches of ease. If I add those two measurements to my body measurements (38” bust and 40” hip), then I can see that my pattern would need a total perimeter of 40-1/2” at the bust and 52” at the hip.

My print jacket is a semi-fitted double-knit which has some ‘body’ to the fabric. Both my bust and hip pinches are the same at 1-5/8”. Thus, the total ease at both the bust and hip is 6-1/2”.

My orange sweater is made with a firm knit, and it is a boxy style. The bust pinch is 3 inches and the hip pinch is 2-3/4 inches equaling a total of 12 inches ease at the bust and 11 inches of ease at the hip.

Not only is the information you gain from the pinch test handy; it is invaluable. Use it prior to scrutinizing a commercial pattern, prior to cutting your fabric, or to adding ease when you are drafting your own. You have just given yourself the ammunition you need to create or modify patterns so that there is no surprise or disappointment… and what about the elimination of muslin sample? Now, that is cool!

You can seem my notations in the chart I created in Excel. Eventually, this information will become ingrained, as it moves to knowledge as opposed to data.

Using What You Have Learned

There are many ways to use the knowledge you have just gained:

  • If I were working with commercial sewing patterns, I would lay the pattern flat on the table and measure its width at bust/waist/hip. Then, by subtracting your bust/waist/hip, you can easily calculate how much ease is built into the style and determine if it suits your fit preferences, given the choice of fabric. If it doesn’t modify the pattern.
  • If I were going to knit or crochet a pattern, I’d look at the schematic and compare it to my body + ease measurements to see if the pattern and its ease suit my taste and the hand/drape of the knit/crochet swatch I just made. If it doesn’t modify the pattern.
  • When I design patterns (by hand or on computer), I am beginning with my body and a style, and so I simply ensure that I have the desired ease.
  • Garment Designer software users can look at the ease easily when they create patterns, and if the Sloper is turned on, it is easy to see and measure the ease in any style. So, pinch test information can slide directly over to the pattern.

Over Time….

Keep adding to your chart; in fact, make it become a morning mantra to pinch out the ease on whatever garment you are wearing for the day. Always make a mental note of the style (fitted, semi-fitted, average, over-size, etc.), and the fabric.  Soon you won’t need to refer to the chart, and you will simply ‘know’.


The Pinch Test is a great tool to use in the dressing room when you are trying on clothing. I use it all the time to evaluate a style so I can recreate it at home. I’ve gotten pretty good at eyeing the depth of my pinch and determining how many inches it is.

Susan Lazear is a Professor at San Diego Community College and the owner of Cochenille Design Studio, a company that develops software for sewers, knitters, and other fiber crafts. She will be teaching a class at Sewing and Stitchery Expo called “Fit Preferences: Understanding How you Like Your Clothes to Fit”. There you will learn more about the Pinch Test and other helpful information.

Awakening My Design Eye

By Marlis Kuusela – Owner of Flair Designs

Laws of Attraction

When fabric patterns or designs catch my eye, an inner voice says, “I like that!” I usually get a warm feeling that accompanies the discovery, grateful for the chance to find a new treasure that makes my life richer. Many times, I go on without analyzing why I like it and place the experience to the back of my mind and wait for other things to follow. Over the years, customers have asked me, “How or where do you find the beautiful items you have for sale?” or, “How do you get your ideas for garments?” My answer to these questions is: “The items I have for sale and my design ideas find me without a conscious effort.” These special objects or solutions to problems always show up at the most unexpected times and places. I have taught art for many years, I know what I like in terms of design elements and I am open to seeing similarities and crossovers in different mediums. This awareness allows me to notice similar things in my environment. People that know why they like something are much more likely to attract and notice those things around them.

Awakening a Design Eye  

   So, how do you awaken your design eye if you are not sure of why you like or dislike something? All of us are capable of improving our sense of observation.

We must develop an awareness with purpose.

As you see something that strikes your fancy, analyze why you like it in terms of the elements of art. *

Better yet, write your thoughts down and take pictures to jog your memory. This intentional thought will hone your inner design sense and sharpen your awareness of the environment.  You will begin noticing more and more things that are similar, in short, they will offer more opportunity for you to be aware of your design eye. For example: this wallpaper design  was drawn by William Morris. The following analysis tells why I like the design. 

Analysis of William Morris Design

Color: It contains various values of low intensity colors and uses a limited palette. Ex. Light, Medium, Dark Olive Green-Light, Medium, Neutral Rose.

Shape: It uses intertwining wild rose vine in lattice and relies on perspective to create a 3D image on a flat surface.

Value: The shading is incomplete; some areas are colored while others are just line and the shading is reversed…see space below.

Space: Some positive space shaded (flowers), some negative space (behind the lattice).

Visual Texture: Thorns, wood grain…some textures left incomplete, while
others are detailed.

Line: Undulating curves are woven around straight lattice lines. There are many areas of detailed drawing vs. sketch which gives a feeling of selective focus.

Notice I tried to be as specific as I could in the element descriptions. For example, under color I tried to describe specific qualities of color, not just I like the color.

Art Elements

If you are unfamiliar with definitions of the art elements, the chart gives a basic description.  Elements may overlap, for example, colors contain value, and lines may have texture. Being able to pick out these qualities in design helps you zero in on what you like and just as importantly knowing what you do not like.

Seeing these Elements in your Environment

Once you have made note of these elements, you will begin to notice them in your surroundings.

As an example: the color scheme of muted pinks and greens was used in a book cover for a mail order catalog with sweatshirts to match. These colors remind me of the Morris Design.

   Nature is always a good place to find inspiration. Trees, leaves, or patterns on animals are endless. Catalogs like Sundance, Coldwater Creek, and Soft Surroundings, to name a few, are great places to look for design and frequently are inspired by nature. Remember, it is just as important to figure out why you don’t like a design, as like it. You learn just as much from your dislikes, as well as, your likes.

The Creative Stew

Letting your newly found likes and dislikes slow cook is part of the thinking process, so don’t rush yourself. You probably won’t use all of the ideas in one project. You might find you like and often use only a couple. Be open to changing plans as you work and welcome mistakes which drive us to new solutions. The following images show art elements in my previous projects which share qualities in the Morris design like: muted color, reversal of positive and negative space, undulating line, and visual/tactile texture. Notice how very different they look from his work, yet they share commonalities.

The throw vest above uses the olive-green muted value tones and reverses positive and negative space. Each vest side and trim are the exact opposite color of one another. The textural fringe on the lapels contrasts with the smooth chenille woven yardage.

Element analysis will make your design eye clearer. 

Finally, keep in mind there are no right or wrong design eyes. Be true to your thoughts. The more you practice this exercise, the more things will find you that relate to each other. This awareness will make your life richer and will make you a better designer as you awaken your design eye.

Intertwining line, undulating shapes, clear versus incomplete focus and reversal of light and dark are hallmarks of the wall hanging, necklace and jacket. Muted colors, asymmetrical piecing, and high value contrast are also standbys for my design eye.

Sushi Wall Hanging – Below


Jigsaw Airbrushed Necklace


Liberty Shirt with Flair


About the Author: Marlis Kuusela created Flair Designs in the early 1990’s to sell her airbrushed fabrics to quilters and garment makers. She continues to teach creative thinking and sell her fabrics to a loyal clientele nationally and internationally after 30 years. Check out Flair Designs on Facebook!