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?

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Taking Measurements

We have created a post over on the Feisdress blog for measuring for the Feisdress pattern. The post includes directions and pics for identifying the points on the body from which to measure to fill out the measuring chart which can be downloaded here…you have to be a member of the IDDressmakers group to view it, so join.