Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tips for giving and receiving online fitting advice

Have you ever taken the scary step of asking for fitting advice online, either on your blog or via a Pattern Review thread? I say "scary" because asking for fitting advice, usually involves posting pictures of yourself online wearing a muslin, and these usually aren't particularly flattering photos. 

From my experience, after you hit the Publish button, one of two things happens:
  • You get a ton of responses, and those responses are all over the map in their usefulness. Some responses will likely contradict each other, and you have to wade through those to try to figure out what alteration to make. I remember one time when I posted a request for fitting help, I was told by one poster that I had sloping shoulders and by another that I had square shoulders. 
  • You get...silence. Maybe you get a couple of posts with possible suggestions, if you're lucky. This certainly doesn't help your confidence level with what your next step should be after that muslin.
I love how helpful the online sewing community is...most of the time. Sometimes, though, I think that we can ask our questions in ways that will elicit more helpful responses. On a similar note, if you're taking the time to offer fitting advice, I think that there are a few things to consider to make sure that your feedback is helpful to the person requesting the help.

I've put together a list of my own suggested tips for both people asking for fitting advice and people giving fitting advice. If you've got your own suggestions, I'd love for you to post them in the comments section!

5 tips for asking for fitting advice

These are my suggestions on what to include in your post requesting fitting help. In a nutshell, including more information for fit helpers and focusing your request will increase the likelihood that you solve a particular fitting issue.

  • The fabric that you use for your muslins should be a solid, light color.

    If you're concerned enough about fit to post on the internet about it, I'll assume that you'll also be making a muslin or two for your project. Ideally, your muslin fabric should be a light color and should not be a print so that helpers can more easily see whatever wrinkles and drag lines pop up. Understand that if you wind up making significant changes to your pattern based on your first muslin, you might need to make a second muslin and another round of adjustments to fine-tune your fit before cutting into your "good" fabric.

  • Include pictures in your post.
    Diagnosing fitting problems is extremely difficult without a visual reference. The photos don't need to be of great quality, but they'll help your fitting helpers see what you're seeing. If you don't have anyone to take pictures for you, learn to use the self-timer on your camera or download a self-timer app for the camera on your phone. Take your photos with your arms at your side, and include at least one photo from the front, back, and side angles.

    So...many...wrinkles to read!
  • Be specific, if possible.

    Being specific will both help focus the people who help you and where to look, but should also help focus their advice. For example, posting "I know that I need a bigger FBA, but what's that weird drag line coming down from my shoulder" should hopefully elicit suggestions related to your shoulders and not a half dozen responses telling you that your garment is too tight across your bust or that you need a bigger FBA. Granted, sometimes the response will then be "When you increase your FBA, that drag line will go away."
  • In your post, include as many of your measurements as your are comfortable (if relevant).

    If you're asking for help fitting a top or bodice, include your high bust, full bust, and waist measurements. If you're asking for fitting help with pants or a skirt, include your waist, high hip and low hip measurements. These measurements can helpers zero in on what might be causing your fitting issue. Make sure to include your height and anything notable about your proportions (e.g. short-waisted). Fitting issues aren't just caused by your horizontal body space; they can be caused by your vertical body space, as well.
  •  Be open-minded but understand that you might need to take some advice with a grain of salt.
    Read through the responses to your request and take a few moments to process them before slicing and dicing your pattern. Understand that just because you've never needed an FBA or an SBA before, doesn't mean that you don't need one for this particular pattern, especially if it's a new-to-you pattern company.

    On the other hand, not everyone who responds to your post is likely to be a fitting expert for your particular body type. Some people zero in on a large bust and automatically think that you'll need an FBA or a larger FBA, when that might not be the case. (Hint: Having a very large bust can cause fitting issues outside of the arena of FBAs.)
Once you've made progress with your fitting, post an update with pictures! This is simply courtesy to those who helped you earlier and are curious as to how your project is going.  Additionally, "before" and "after" photos can be a helpful reference to someone who comes across your post at a later date with the same fitting problem.

5 tips on giving fitting advice

If you're somewhat experienced with fitting (or at least with a few particular fitting issues), 
  • Keep it short and specific; concentrate on the question(s) asked.

    We all know that a person's body can deviate from a pattern draft in multiple ways. However, as a person asking for fitting help, it can be overwhelming to read a huge paragraph of text of all of the changes that someone is recommending that you make to a pattern. As someone who has been there, your eyes just sort of glaze over and you think, "Why am I even bothering with this pattern if this is what I have to do to make it work for me?" If the requester asked for help with a specific issue, help her with that issue and avoid the urge to comment on every single other wrinkle you see unless you suspect that they're related to the issue she's asking about.

    Besides, if you're experienced enough to post fitting help, you probably also know that a sewist should start making adjustments at the point that a garment hangs from, and then work her way down from there. Sometimes an adjustment to the shoulders can fix other issues further down the garment.

  • Take the poster's skill level and confidence level into account with your answer.

    A beginning seamstress might be ready to tackle a traditional slash-and-spread FBA, but unless she's really confident, she might not be ready to tackle that FBA and rotate darts. Consider mentioning a shortcut method along with the "correct" method for an alteration in this case.

    Additionally, if you suggest an alteration to a novice seamstress, give a line or two of description of what that alteration is and what it does. Even better, include a link to a tutorial, if you know of a good one. Not everyone owns a copy of Fit for Real People or has the text of that book memorized. Don't just tell her to extend her back crotch length, explain that she needs more length going over her bum, and here's how you add that length.
  • Keep body-shaming out of your advice. Don't tell a poster that a style is a bad choice; they chose that style for a reason.

    Trust me, every female sewist with a very large bust has been told to stick to princess seams at some point. While princess seams might be easier to fit well than a darted bodice, think about, wouldn't you like a little variety other than princess seamed garments in your closet?

    Where I do think it would be a service to say something, though, would be if you know of a pattern with similar details that might work better for the requester. For example, if a plus sized woman is struggling with grading up a Burda pattern that stops at a size 42, it could definitely potentially save her a headache to suggest a similar pattern from a company with a wider size range.

    If you do offer style advice, keep it general. For example, "Princess seams are easier to fit on a large bust" sounds a heck of a lot nicer than "You should stay away from darted bodices," doesn't it?
  • If you're not the first person to post a response, say whether you agree or disagree with the preceding poster(s) and explain why.

    When the person requesting help reads the responses that she receives, she's going to need to wade through the advice and figure out which adjustments to make next, and that can be confusing. Let's say that an earlier helper has already told her that she has sloping shoulders, but from reading her muslin wrinkles, you think that she has square shoulders. In your response, explain why her wrinkles are pointing to square shoulders, in your opinion. On top of that, if three other posters also told her that she has square shoulders, by agreeing with them and saying why, you're adding weight to that opinion.
  • Don't be shy about bringing up known issues with a particular pattern or pattern line.

    Not everyone reads every review or blog post about every pattern. However, for those of us who do read a lot of pattern reviews, we might be aware that certain patterns are known for certain issues. For example, a lot of women have had issues with the back neck gaping on the Colette Peony or that many women have trouble with the rear view of their pants fit from Big 4 patterns. If you're armed with this knowledge, you can decide how much work you want to continue putting into adjustments and muslins, or if you want to move on to try to find a similar pattern from another company.

    The infamous Lekala wadder
What do you all think? Have you ever asked for or given fitting advice online? How did the experience work for you?


  1. I think this is an awesome post. I am not to a point where I am confident enough to ask for or give advice with fitting issues but I like to read about how others resolve whatever issues they are having. Sometimes I will read responses from people thinking "are we even speaking the same language??" So I think your first point in giving the advice is spot on!

    1. Thanks! I know that people are only trying to help, which is very generous, but fitting is a lot less overwhelming when you're tackling 1-2 alterations at a time instead of a whole laundry list.

  2. These are awesome tips both for those asking the questions and those giving advice.

  3. Really great post Michelle!

    I remember my very firsts posts asking for fitting help and even though I can look back and assume most meant well; it was not helpful because it was either TOO high level or it was of the "choose a different style" variety.

    Now, I don't ask as much online as I "phone a friend" as I like to call it -aka- send an email to a couple of people who I know have more fitting skills than I do but who aren't 'perfectionist sewing rule followers'. That isn't intended as snark, seriously. Just that my lifestyle is fairly casual-business casual dress. I don't need perfectly tailored everything in each project that I make, kwim?

    I RARELY give advice because I am barely figuring out what I need to do for my own body! If it's something I'm reasonably certain about and I have some type of relationship with the poster, I may give an "I *think* ___" like on Sewing Novice's post about her sleeve issue with her shirt. That was a sleeve cap issue and not her "fault".

    (ikatbag has the most helpful post ever on sleeves and I'd just read it a couple days before seeing CoaSN's blog post!)

    1. I'm completely with you on that--my own benchmark for fitting is "Is it better than RTW?" not "Is it completely lacking wrinkles?" I've made the mistake of overfitting a garment a couple of times, and while it looks great in photos then, it's not always comfortable to wear.

  4. This hits close to home! I asked for advice on patternreview this summer because the project I was working on had me stumped. I have to admit I hesitated before posting the pictures of me and the muslin... Anyways, I bit the bullet and I received pretty good advice, but in the end, my skills were not up to par. I decided to delay any modifications until I could aquire the necessary skills and not muck it up.

    And your post actually reminds me that I never updated that thread on Pattern Review: shame on me!

    1. I had the same thing happen to me when I was starting out, and obviously, the experience stuck with me.

  5. Great post. I agree with everything. I posted something on Pattern Review and I was very pleased with the comments I received and they resolved my fitting issue. As a new sewer having that resource was invaluable because I could not even begin to diagnose my problems. I was happy they were just putting names to the problems so I could go look it up in a book.

    1. Pattern Review can be a great resource--I can't think of anywhere else online where you can post a question and get a bunch of responses so quickly.

  6. I wonder if Deepika has a sticky post like this on PR? It would be very helpful to new members.
    One thing I wish is that more folks would included their measurements/body type in their profile. It may be a sensitive area for some, but heck, only PR members can see it. It can at least give a ballpark idea of what someone is shaped like when they ask and don't have any pics.
    I really do love PR and visit at least twice a day, half the time someone else has asked the question I was contemplating so I don't often have to ask a question. I also try and figure out which members are shaped like me and that often helps weed through discussions too.

    1. I can understand why people wouldn't include their measurements in their profile--I wouldn't--but it would be nice to have that as a template option for those who are willing to share. I do think that a "figure type" field (like Vogue's figure flattery icons) could be helpful to include in a profile and in pattern reviews.

  7. Are you familiar with Shams? Her blog is called Communing with Fabric. She is very accomplished with fitting. She calls herself "uber busty". So She might have some great tutorials that would be helpful.

    1. Shams is great--I've followed her blog for a while.

  8. One of the most helpful fitting tips I've ever received is to draw multiple grain lines on your muslin, both vertical and horizontal. It allows you to see what's off and is easier to tell when you're making it better or if you're making it worse.

    1. Ooh, that's awesome! I hadn't heard that one before, but I think it would be very helpful.

  9. This is a great post!! I have returned to sewing and I have retained most of my skills I haven't sewned a a lot lately but I would look for someone who shares my measurement range and their process. I have found "my real person double" on the Curvy Collective and with the same measurements and I end up being a size or two different. I am 5"6 and my measurement are 47-38-47 which is so funny to me. I have my favorite on Youtube as well. but I trust my instincts and refer back to Nancy Notions Pattern Fitting with Confidence. I love this book! It has helped me tremendously with my toile for my pants, that have yet to be sewed up.

    1. That's fantastic! I don't have Nancy's book (I learned fitting with a local community college instructor who was also a Palmer Pletsch instructor), but I've been wanting to check out her book and see how her methods compare to Palmer Pletsch. I know that both approaches have loyal followers and that for many people, one approach works better than the other.