Wearing Ease

(Edited to add a comment/question written by Kara.  Thank you, Kara, great observations.)

I received an interesting phone call last week from the alterationist that I send folks to, Hsiao Fang. When I gave up a school account a year or so ago, she started taking the measurements for the new company as this was a long distance operation. I hear from her periodically when she calls to discuss altering ID dresses that I send her way.

This time, she called to ask me if I, as an ID dressmaker, add ease to my patterns and if so, how much. I said yes, and that I add 2 inches at the waist, 3 at the bust, and a bit in a couple of extra places. (My specific amounts come from Susan.) Hsiao Fang breathed a sigh of relief and went on a rant about how that was how she was trained (as a tailor), and about moving bodies, and about dresses coming in from this company with ABSOLUTELY (her emphatic emphasis) no ease at all, and that parents were coming to her to alter brand new dresses that could not be zipped when they arrived. The parents are complaining about this and about sleeves that do not allow any movement at all and are so tight at the armscye that the dancers get rubbed raw! The parents and the TC want Hsiao Fang to add ease when she takes the measurements, but I was in total agreement with her that that is not her job! She was in quite an understandable snit and last I heard was going to stop taking the measurements.

She asked me several questions about the company making the dresses…I really know nothing about them…but I was just as bewildered as she. She told me about her conversation with the dressmakers about how they did want exact measurements from her with no extra room added into them, and then her surprise when the dresses would come in with those exact measurements and sometimes smaller! She asked me if I thought they were using generic patterns, “…grabbing the one with the 36 inch bust measurement if that was the measurement sent with no thought to the other measurements or wearing ease!” The last straw was a dress just brought to her that had been made to the exact bust measurement with no attention to the large waist measurement, and this brand new dress had a 6 inch gap at the zipper at the waist…Hsiao Fang was beside herself because there was absolutely not that much fabric in the seams to let that out!

Most home sewers do not really think about wearing ease because it is built in (along with design ease) to the patterns that we buy at the store…could this company be employing a dressmaker who does not know about wearing ease?  Susan wrote the following on her website:

 A Note About Ease
Dress and pattern makers talk about two kinds of ease: “Fashion (or Design) Ease” and
“Wearing Ease.” “Fashion (or Design) Ease” is the first kind. This is the extra fabric that
the dress designer puts into a garment to achieve the desired look. Sweat pants have a lot
of fashion ease. A bathing suit does not. Fashion ease is what has traditionally made
determining a pattern size difficult for the consumer. You select a pattern based on your
body measurements and sometimes it fits you well. Other times you find the same sized
pattern is “too big” or “too small”. That’s because you really don’t know for sure how
“baggy” or how “tight” the fit has been designed.

The second kind of ease is “Wearing Ease.” You need your dress to be bigger than your
measurements so you can breathe, turn, sit, raise your arms. In the real world you’d want
to be able to tie your own shoes and comb your own hair. In Irish Dance dresses, you
need at least an inch in the waist and about 2” in the bust extra. You really do want to
keep the waist snug so that the weight of the skirt is carried on the hips rather than on the
shoulders. If the waist is too loose, the skirt collapses inward and won’t hang right. So,
no matter how much you want to leave some “extra for growth,” the waist isn’t the place
to do it.

Susan does not add any hidden ease into the Feisdress Pattern.  What does that mean?  If I get a pattern at the fabric store, the measurements on the back are actual body measurements, not pattern measurements.  So, if I buy a pattern that has 3 inches of ease in the bust, if I have a 36 inch bust, the measurement on the pattern envelope says 36 inches, not 39.  The measurements that Susan publishes for her pattern are PATTERN measurements which means you have to decide on the ease you want.  If you have a 36 inch bust and buy the pattern that has a 36 inch bust, you will not be able to breathe (if you can manage to get the bodice zipped in the first place) unless you add ease.

So I take exact measurements (see Measuring for the Feisdress pattern & Measuring the Upper Chest & Troubleshooting Sleeve Issues ), plug them into my excel sheet which adds the ease that I want, and then decide which Feisdress pattern to start with (I alter this to make sure all measurements are as they should be).  I fit solo and school dresses differently in that the solo dresses fit closer.  For school dresses, unless a dancer has stopped growing, I actually make them a bit loose to begin with because parents want to see visible growing room when the dress is delivered!  I do admit that seeing the dress loose to begin with offends my dressmaker’s pride, but I totally understand the parents’ perspective.  I add ties inside the dress so that the waist fits snugly…any looseness in the back is hidden by the cape.  And, I make sure they also understand that there are huge seam allowances at the sides of the bodice and zipper, at the top of the skirt and at the bottom of the bodice so that the dress can be let out and down perhaps a couple of times…I actually add the same to solo dresses.

So fellow dressmakers, how do you deal with ease?  What do you add and where?  Do you fit school dresses differently than solos?  Do you build in large seam allowances for future alterations?  Would love to hear from you on this.

Kara wrote:

Since I have been making mostly off the rack dresses, exact fit to a particular body has not been an issue.  However, as I am selling these dresses and getting questions about fit, I’ve had a couple of thoughts and questions of my own.  Say I am selling a dress with a 32 chest measurement and a 27 waist measurement and someone emails me and says “I love the dress but the chest is too big for my 30″ daughter”  Am I correct in advising them that if the 30″ measurement is an exact chest measurement than this dress should fit fine in the chest?  An example that I just experienced was an OTR that was the exact measurements of a dancer.  She tried it on and of course it was way too small because the measurement the mom was going on were her daughters exact measurements not accounting for wearing ease.   So are there a bunch of people out there looking at used solo’s and rejecting them because they might seem too big because they are basing their decision on their daughters exact measurements and not allowing for movement and wearing ease?

I would say that yes, a 32″ measurement at the chest on the dress should fit a 30″ chest just fine.  As we all know, there are always posts on the boards about how to measure dresses, measure dancers, etc…have there been specific conversations about the need to be aware of ease when choosing a dress?  Since I do not do OTRs, I have not had to deal with this.  Dressmakers, how do you advise clients?

14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. cincysewer
    Apr 19, 2008 @ 12:09:27

    I have seen some major problems with a few BN dresses that had similar issues you described–the dresses I have seen almost appeared to have been made for a completely different dancer due to the sizing. However, a friend of mine recently got a new overseas made dress. She told me that she sent her child’s exact measurements and the dress was made with 2 inches of ease in the chest and hips, and 1 inch in the waist. The dress fits perfectly, with room for movement, and does not look loose or big. So I think that is the formula I will follow from now on-unless working with stretch fabrics.

  2. cincysewer
    Apr 19, 2008 @ 12:11:12

    forgot to mention-my friends new dress has about 1.5 inches in each side seam allowance of the bodice and an inch at the zipper.There is of course extra letdown room in the bodice and skirt.

  3. whatsupgovna
    Apr 19, 2008 @ 12:26:36

    Since I have been making mostly off the rack dresses, exact fit to a particular body has not been an issue. However, as I am selling these dresses and getting questions about fit, I’ve had a couple of thoughts and questions of my own. Say I am selling a dress with a 32 chest measurement and a 27 waist measurement and someone emails me and says “I love the dress but the chest is too big for my 30″ daughter” Am I correct in advising them that if the 30″ measurement is an exact chest measurement than this dress should fit fine in the chest? An example that I just experienced was an OTR that was the exact measurements of a dancer. She tried it on and of course it was way too small because the measurement the mom was going on were her daughters exact measurements not accounting for wearing ease. So are there a bunch of people out there looking at used solo’s and rejecting them because they might seem too big because they are basing their decision on their daughters exact measurements and not allowing for movementand wearing ease? This isn’t exactly addressing the post but I thought it had some correlations to the question of ease.
    I always build in extra seam allowance for future alterations. Having had to alter a few solo’s, I now make sure that the dresses I make are constructed with future alterations in mind.

  4. taoknitter
    Apr 19, 2008 @ 12:39:23

    Added your comment to the post, Kara. Thank you!

  5. jillsewsirish
    Apr 19, 2008 @ 12:53:01

    I have only done custom made dresses so far and they have been made for teenagers who are not likely to change shape. On that note they all want the tightest fit in the bodice they can get with ease in the arms. Therefore I am constructing dresses with no let out space. Anytime I have tried to add it they promptly ask me to remove it. So you think I should insist so that it will have alteration space for the next owner?

  6. spudsnsalsa
    Apr 19, 2008 @ 13:09:42

    My bust ease depends on degree of developement…1.5in for a young flat chested child and 2.5-3in for girls with breasts. I use a flat 1in for all waists.
    The catch-22 with fit these days is the inherent conflict between parents who want “growing room” and TC’s that want a second skin! I did have a terse/tense exchange with Phoebe at SR over a dress I had provided the measurements for that came in WAY off. She seriously told me that they had decided that my measurements “did not seem right” so they took the ‘liberty’ of ‘correcting’ them…guess their measuring tapes come in the several thousand mile long variety??? When I countered that the result was an indecently short skirt and a bound breast she responded, “That’s the style right now!” I now have a policy to never provide directly (or indirectly if possible) measurements to be sent to a BN.
    I’ve only done a few long distance arrangements with schools. One sent their ‘official seamstress’ up to me to get a hands on training in how I like costumes measured while the other was a trial and error period until we discovered that the dresses measured by the TC’s mother were consistently the most accurate…she was drafted after that point:) Both schools had a very flexible range for what was considered a ‘good fit’ since it really isn’t as noticeable in teams as it would be for a solo.
    Would tell Hsiao to make sure she has a contract that clearly states she will only alter dresses that come in made to her provided measurements….don’t let the BN’s or the parents use her as the scapegoat for their problems.
    Suzanne

  7. cincysewer
    Apr 19, 2008 @ 13:27:35

    Wow-SR is still doing that? I know of a few people to whom same thing happened. Incidently, the friend who ordered the dress I mentioned in my earlier post told me that when she sent the bodice/skirt length measurements along with the chest/waist-was told that the measurements seemed a bit off-but she emphasized that her child has a long torso, and wanted the dropped waist dress, so the dressmaker then accepted the measurements given-adding ease only to the 3 areas indicated(chest/waist/hips). As I stated-the dress fits so well and looks great. Now, if only everyone could have same experience. I will say that for all they hype and expense-almost all fitting problems I have heard about came from the BN companies-none of them are perfect.

  8. colmurph
    Apr 19, 2008 @ 21:53:14

    Interesting discussion. I know Moms who have shopped online for dresses and they only consider the ones with the exact measurements. Very sad when dress arrives so small that it can only be worn for a month(if that) and then it has to be sold. But they do enjoy the whole shopping process!

    For myself, since I use the feisdress pattern….I usually go with what I’ve read here. A few extra inches of ease in the waist and bust. I don’t typically add more than that. I see people when they shop for dresses wanting to purchase one that has never been altered. I have also suggested on occasion that a particular dress would not look the same once it was altered. I actually believe that most folks don’t like dealing with alterations to solo dresses at all. I’ve had Mom’s offer me lots of money just to fix zippers….they are terrified of messing with the dresses. So….sometimes I think all that extra room for growth is a safety net that many people want, but just as many will never actually use. Colleen

  9. cincysewer
    Apr 20, 2008 @ 08:45:22

    Now, this is going to sound quite ignorant(I’m still learning)but on all my daughter’s past custom dresses-when there was seam allowance in the bodice-the problem with letting it out was usually more of an issue in the waist-mainly where the skirt joined the bodice. From what I could see in the construction of the dress-there was no way to make the waist of the skirt bigger,without messing with the actual construction of the skirt(pleats,tucks etc).Was I missing something? I’ve concluded that there is no way to enlarge the skirt,unless somehow extra seam allowance is built into the zipper area??? But if letting it out there,does it change the overall look of the skirt in some way? Well as you must imagine,when my child grew and her waist got bigger-the dress had to go and a new one created.

  10. mendylady
    Apr 20, 2008 @ 12:29:55

    How silly can people be? Even “second skin” garments have ease, because flat fabric, no matter how stretchy, needs help to fit round bodies – and all bodies are round, no matter how skeletal.

    I actually come from a completely different angle on this. I tend to make my garments quite close-fitting, often with negative ease in certain areas, because I prefer how that feels, and in fact is generally more accurate to the look I’m aiming for. BUT I make things mostly for myself, out of fabrics that mold to the body as they’re worn (I heart linen!), and I have a set of toile patterns made from draping my body, which hasn’t changed its general shape in over a decade (despite adding a few mature curves here and there…*whistles innocently*). At eight months pregnant now, my body has changed shape, but astonishingly, I can still wear some of the garments I’ve made in the past – laces let out all the way in some cases, but that’s period as well. 😉 I can only wait and see what it will be after the baby arrives, but right now it looks like it’s going to go back pretty quickly to its former shape, although with breast changes! Nursing will do that. But I will probably need to make a new set of toile patterns after my body settles back into non-pregnancy, and I will definitely need to after I’m finished having children.

    Things I make for other people tend to have several inches of ease in the closest-fitting areas, just because I’m not as comfortable making clothing that snug on someone else. I can happily stab myself with pins, but not others. Also, the styles of garments I make when I sew for others are usually less snug-fitting than those I prefer for myself, and that makes a pretty big difference as well; one reason I choose those styles is that they’re easier and faster to make than those I prefer for myself – I detest making things for others!

    One of the best resources for building the styles I prefer for myself is http://www.cottesimple.com/index.html This has a lovely research paper on the history of the styles in period art, as well as links to photo essays describing a couple of styles of fitting very closely to the body. http://www.virtue.to/articles/tunic_worksheet.html is a how-to for the styles I prefer to make for others. See the differences in cut/fit?

  11. Ali
    Apr 20, 2008 @ 16:56:30

    This very problem hit me when I first started dancing. The biggest problem with dress selling sites, in my professional opinion as a scourer of used dresses, is that only the people who would know to do so (usually the small DMs, I’ve noticed) tell me if the measurements are the dress or the body wearing it when the dress fit. You have to assume that they are direct measurements of the outside of the dress, otherwise. Often, too, dresses are posted with inexact measurements because the current owner has not measured herself, but relied on the previous owner’s measurements.

    That was what happened with my first dress. Gorgeous garberdine, hand-embroidered. I really ought to have kept it and revamped it to sell, but I needed money for textbooks. I was, I believe, the fifth owner. It came from Australia, so there was no going back if it didn’t fit. The measurements pretty closely matched my own, and, naïve, I thought that they were the size the dress was intended to fit. I should have known it wouldn’t work when the bust measurement was 32-34″. It arrived, and luckily had let-out room, because it was a lovely tight fit…and I couldn’t breath to dance! Great posture, though. A local alterations place, after carefully explaining the skirt to them, agreed to let it out (and did a lovely job), and I did wear it for a few feiseanna before I went to college and gained weight. Looking back, I know better.

  12. trefemb
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 12:37:58

    I feel like I’ve got a foot in both camps. Buying lingerie for my daughter, I buy a 32B, she measures as 32 and I would call a dress made for her a 32. However, when making a dress for her, I would add 5cm (2″) of ease at the bust so the dress would end up as measuring 34. If I was therefore looking for a dress on a website, I would look for a 34. If at all possible, I would email to find out whether they are dress measurements or the dancer’s, also, I would check the across back measurement as my daughter is broad across the shoulders. Tricky!

    I make dresses to order, take my own measurements, add ease at bust waist and then create a calico toile which I can then fit as closely as is required (age and standard of dancer makes a differrence). If I were to make a dress for someone who couldn’t make it for this initial fitting, then I would send the toile to the dancer to make sure it fits before proceding. (I suspect this could be useful to people in the States/Australia where distances are so immense.

    One answer to the skirt question, you can make the skirt bigger by taking the waist seam down. You end up with a slightly shorter panel length, but as this is trendy at the moment you should get away with it as long as the embroidery works at the top of the skirt. (I usually work this into the design of a new dress).

  13. cincysewer
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 14:40:00

    thank you trefemb-I am thinking of doing such an alteration on a dress-all the meausrements will work except the waist diameter-and I was considering doing just what you explained. I feel much better now.

  14. catirish
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 21:58:41

    A dancer’s mother wants my help in taking the measurements for a BN dress. The instructions ask that the measurements be taken with the current dress on. I thought that was odd, especially because they ask for dropped waist measurement,etc. What if the current dress is not dropped at the waist? The measurement will include stiff parts of the skirt! They also want measurements of the dress itself, lying flat. I thought this was all very odd, but now I think they must be looking for a measurement that includes ease. ?? I can’t think of any other reason they would ask. Maybe I should steer clear of this request for help in order to avoid being blamed in case the dress doesn’t fit when it’s delivered – ha ha!

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