Elsie Sewalong: Measuring and Cutting

This Elsie Dress Sewalong is all about prep! With any dressmaking project there's always a little bit of work to do before you start with the actual sewing, and today we're going to be covering:

  • measuring your body to determine your size

  • choosing a paper pattern vs a PDF pattern

  • tracing and cutting the pattern

  • preparing your fabric and cutting out your pieces

It's a bit of a long one so stick with us! (If you're not already joining in, grab your pattern and come sew along with us!)

Measuring your body
Let's begin with arguably the most important step when it comes to making your own clothes: measuring your body. Finding out your bust, waist and hip measurements allow you to work out which size you need to make. If you've made any clothes before you know the drill. Start off by removing anything bulky – for most accurate results you might like to do this step in just your underwear. Remember to wear the same bra you intend to wear with your dress once it’s finished, as depending on whether they're underwired, padded, plunge or push-up, different bras can affect the fit.

When you hold the tape measure around yourself, make sure it's snug against your body. Holding it too tight or too loose will give you an inaccurate measurement. If you can fit a couple of fingers between your body and the tape (but nothing more), you know you've got it right. Stand up straight and don't be tempted to breathe in, as you could end up with distorted bust and waist measurements. Remember, you need your finished Elsie Dress to fit your actual body!

Elsie Dress Sewalong: Measuring and Cutting

To find your bust measurement hold the tape measure around the fullest part of your bust – usually this is around the nipples! Make sure the tape measure is horizontal all the way around your back. If it dips down or is up too high your measurement will be wrong and you could end up cutting a bigger size than you need to. We recommend standing next to a mirror so you can check.

Your waist is usually the smallest part of your torso, and the point from which you can bend sideways. Hold the tape measure around yourself, have a little wiggle, and it should find its way into the right spot. Remember, no breathing in!

As the Elsie Skirt is so full, hip measurements aren't too important. But we'll take it anyway, just in case. Hold the tape measure around the fullest part of your bottom. This is sometimes, but not necessarily the fullest part of your thighs when looking at yourself from the front, so it’s a good idea to stand sideways next to the mirror to see if you are holding the tape measure in the right place.

Choosing your size
Using your three measurements and the size chart on the back of the pattern, work out your size. As we're all different shapes and sizes, it's rare that all your measurements will fall into one size. If this is the case, you may need to grade between sizes. If you are pear-shaped and it's your hips that are falling outside of the size bracket you've chosen, you probably won't need to make any adjustments as the skirt is so full. You can always check the finished measurements chart just to make sure.

If you're finding that your bust measurement falls into a larger or smaller size bracket than your waist and hip, you might like to make an adjustment to the pattern. Sew Over It patterns are drafted for a B/C cup bust. If you are either side of these cup sizes, you might like to make a Full Bust Adjustment (FBA) or Small Bust Adjustment (SBA) to your pattern. To double check, take your high bust measurement. Start at the same point in the centre of your back, bringing the tape measure under your arms to the top of your bust (just above the soft part!).

Elsie Dress Sewalong: Measuring and Cutting

Signs you will need to make a Full Bust Adjustment:

  • Your bust measures more than 2" larger than your high bust

  • Your bust measurement falls into a larger size than your waist measurement

  • The bust is often tighter, or pulls, on RTW clothing

Signs you will need to make a Small Bust Adjustment:

  • Your bust measures less than 2" larger than your high bust

  • Your bust measurement falls into a smaller size than your waist measurement

  • RTW clothes gape or are too loose around the bust

Think you might need to do a bust adjustment? We'll be covering FBAs and SBAs in our next posts, so get those bodice pieces traced, and remember to tune in later this week.

Making a toile
As Elsie is quite fitted, if you're not sure whether you'll need to make any adjustments or if you've never used a Sew Over It pattern before, we recommend making a toile (or muslin) of the bodice before sewing up your final version. Don't worry, sewing toiles needn't take ages! You just need to make a quick shell of the bodice, with no need for facings or linings. We do recommend you insert a zip though, so you can fasten it up properly.

Assembling your pattern
The Elsie Dress comes in three different formats: standard tissue pattern (the printed paper pattern we ship to you), and the tiled print-at-home option and copyshop versions (which are part of the digital PDF pattern you download from our shop).

I'm sure you all know how a standard tissue pattern works by now, but we know not everyone is familiar with the digital downloads. So a quick explainer!

Elsie Dress Sewalong: Measuring and Cutting

Tiled print-at-home
This format is your traditional PDF pattern, which you print out on your printer at home on A4 or US Letter sized paper. You then attach these pieces of paper together in a grid to form the final pattern, which you then cut out as normal. If you're stuck with your PDF pattern or don't know where to begin, see our Guide to Assembling PDF Patterns.

We're still quite new to copyshop, but oh how life-changing it has been! Digital copyshop files are large-scale AO documents which can be printed by a professional printer. Having your pattern printed in this way means you don't have to do any of the cutting and sticking that the tiled print-at-home version requires. You just cut it out as if it's a normal tissue pattern. The Elsie Dress is made up of three A0 sheets.

Why choose a PDF pattern?
PDF patterns have many benefits over printed tissue versions. They are instantly downloadable, which means you pay no postage costs, and after a little bit of prep, you can get sewing the very same day. PDFs are also fantastic as you can print them multiple times. This is super useful if your body is changing, or if you'd like to make the pattern for someone else. And big final plus, PDF patterns are generally cheaper than standard tissue patterns anywhere you go. We're sold!

Tracing your pattern
Once you have your pattern ready to go, you can choose to cut into it straight away, or trace it off onto another sheet of paper. We feel this is a good idea if you have the tissue version, as it means you can keep your original tissue version intact - great if you think you might like to make it in another size in the future. Additionally, if you're someone who typically has to make adjustments to the paper pattern, having a duplicated version to work on is always a good idea. If you think you might have to make a Full Bust or Small Bust Adjustment, you'll find tracing off at least the bodice and linings at this stage will be very useful.

Elsie Dress Sewalong: Measuring and Cutting

If you have never traced a pattern before and would like some help, you can refer to our How to Trace Your Sewing Patterns guide.

Once you have all your pattern pieces cut out, it’s time to lay them all out on the fabric.

Cutting your fabric (for those with no adjustments to make)
Quick nag! Before you even think about cutting into your fabric, have you pre-washed it? Don't skip this stage otherwise you might end up with a finished dress that shrinks after the first wash.

Pin the patterns to the fabric, paying attention to fold lines and grainlines. Follow the layplans in the booklet, remembering that in order to accommodate the width of the skirt, the fabric is folded on the cross-grain. Once you've got all your pieces pinned, cut out your fabric, taking nice long snips and keeping the bottom blade of your scissors in constant contact with the table.

Elsie Dress Sewalong: Measuring and Cutting

Before you remove the pattern from your fabric pieces, make sure to snip all the notches. Notches are the little triangular marks around the edges of the pattern pieces and they are important because they help you line up the pieces correctly when it comes to sewing them together. Just make a little snip down the centre of each triangle – there is no need to cut out the whole triangle. Make sure you don’t snip too far into the fabric – the cut should be no longer than 0.5cm into the seam allowance.

Elsie Dress Sewalong: Measuring and Cutting

A big congratulations to everyone who's made it this far - it was a whopper! We'll be back to make a start on paper pattern adjustments! Happy measuring, tracing and cutting 'til then!
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