Fitting Help for Miss Petite

By Jennie Chancey

If you are usually a size 0 or 2 in off-the-rack sizes and have a petite frame (particularly if you are narrow through the shoulders with a measurement of less than 15″ from shoulder to shoulder), you will need to make some adjustments to your bodice pattern pieces to obtain a perfect fit. If you go by your bustline measurement when choosing a size, you are likely to end up with a gown that either gapes badly in the front neckline or that slips off one shoulder.

This section is here to help you alter any pattern to give you a beautiful fit every time. [Note: Illustrations on this page show the Regency Gown bodice, but the steps given will work on any bodice. If you’re making a bodice with darts rather than gathers, you’ll just check the fit by pinning in the darts rather than pulling up basting stitches to gather.

Making a Toile

I cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of making a toile for a try-on before you cut out your fashion fabric. A toile is simply a garment or partial garment constructed from muslin or another inexpensive material. In this case, you’ll need to make a bodice for your fittingóno need to add sleeves or anything else. Baste together the pieces, then enlist the aid of a helper to pin the bodice closed in back (the overlap should be 1″ to allow for the seam allowance and overlap on the final gown). Do note that it is vital that you try on your toile over the undergarments you intend to wear beneath your gown!

But What About My Size?

My general rule of thumb for Miss Petite is this: If your bustline measurement indicates that you need a size 10, you should make your toile in a size 8. Just go a size down from whatever your bustline measurement indicates and create your toile from that size. Then you can proceed to the step-by-step instructions for fitting your toile. This will help you circumvent many narrow shoulder fitting issues from the get-go.

Fitting and Making Adjustments

  1. Once your toile is basted together, put it on over your undergarments and have a helper pin it closed in back as explained above. Standing in front of a mirror, check to make sure the side seams of the bodice come directly below the underarm (if you are wearing a set of stays or a petticoat beneath, you can actually pin the side seam of the toile to the side seam of the undergarment to anchor it). Also check to make sure the armholes are comfortable (keeping in mind theyíll be larger once the sleeves are sewn in). Going down a size may mean you need to trim out a wee bit at the bottom of your armhole. If you do cut down the armholes, be sure to use a sleeve in the next size up.
  2. Now take a good look at the shoulders of the bodice. The outside edge should extend past your shoulders by 5/8î (the seam allowance for the sleeve). If the shoulders are drooping or falling down, youíll need to adjust them by bringing them in closer to the neckline. For now, just write down how far toward your neck the shoulders need to move. When you are ready to make the change to your master pattern, you will create an ìLî-shaped slash like the one shown in ìAî below, then move the entire armhole area in toward the neckline to take up the amount youíve noted (ìBî). Repeat this step for the bodice back piece. (Making these changes will also take up any slack in the neckline if you have gaping issues there.)
  3. Before you check the fit of the bustline, it is best to go ahead and make a new toile with the changed shoulder area. If you didnít have to make any changes to the shoulder, then just continue on. Pull up the basting stitches below the bustline on each side to take in the fullness that will be gathered into the skirt front when you make your gown. Now check to make sure there is room enough in the bodice to accommodate your bosom. Essentially, there should be no pulling horizontally across the bust, and the bodice should be long enough so that the bottom hits you below the bustline, leaving enough room for your seam allowance and a comfortable fit. If there is any pulling or binding horizontally, you will add to your side seam as shown in ìAî below. If the bodice seems too short, note down how much length you need to add to it (this is also true for ladies with a low bust point, by the way). Change your master pattern as shown below.
  4. Finally, take a good look at your neckline to make sure you like where it is hitting you. Do keep in mind that you will ìloseî 5/8î all the way around the neckline of your gown when it is sewn to the lining. You can make changes to the neckline of your master pattern by simply following the curve line indicated, marking it either higher or lower, depending on your own needs:
  5. Once youíve got your master pattern marked and adjusted, go ahead and cut out the lining of your gown and sew it together. Use this as your final toile to check the fit one last time. If youíre happy with what you see, congratulations! Youíre ready to start on your gown. If you find youíre still running into some fitting concerns, be sure to visit Why Doesn’t This Look Like the Pattern Cover? for additional fitting helps for ladies of all shapes and sizes. No one has a ìstandardî body, so fitting a toile to create a master pattern is a big accomplishment that will guarantee success in all your sewing endeavors!

Enjoy Your New Creations!

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6 Comments on Fitting Help for Miss Petite

  1. Christine Krebs
    January 11, 2011 at 2:21 pm (3 years ago)

    I appreciate the tips you give, but I’d like to clear up a misconception on exactly what the term Miss Petite means when purchasing or altering patterns. The term petite in this context doesn’t mean “tiny” as in super-small sizes but that the lady in question has a shorter back-waist measurement and/or a narrower measurement across the shoulders (usually the back).

    I myself am a size 20 (in pattern sizes not OTR sizes) and my back-waist measurement is almost 3″ shorter than the standard pattern measurement. I also have a very narrow back despite being generously gifted by the “bosom-fairy”.

    I would suggest that ladies like myself make the bodice adjustment to the back and side pattern pieces only rather than change the front bodice pattern, or else they could end up being rather squashed.

    I definitely second the use of a toile for fitting. And you really need a friend who is patient and has good attention to detail to help you fit the toile.

    Thank you,

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      January 12, 2011 at 3:22 am (3 years ago)

      Yes! Excellent points, Christine. Thanks for posting. I am short-waisted and can often wear “petite” clothes, even though I’m not a “tiny” size (by any stretch!). One thing I noticed about the “big four” pattern companies is that their larger sizes almost always get wider and wider through the shoulders and back–what I call “linebacker syndrome.” :P No need for shoulders to go wider just because the bust or waist measurement is larger! It’s so important to fit a toile. Practice makes perfect!

      Reply
  2. Casey K
    March 14, 2011 at 9:10 pm (3 years ago)

    This is great. I was wondering why every time I make a pattern from the big four, it is always so big and gaping I the chest area. I thought that is was my small chest size. The last project I made I had to alter it quite a bit. I had to raise up the bust, take the sides of the bodice in, and it finally fit better. I think the wearing ease of those pattern is quite a bit larger than we really want out of a fitting garment.
    So I am going to make a matching one for my daughter using the double of her I made out of duct tape.
    Thanks for the tips, she is petite like me so this should help!

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      March 15, 2011 at 12:30 am (3 years ago)

      You are very right about wearing “ease,” Casey! It’s so ridiculous on some patterns I just have to shake my head. On some of the authentic Civil War costume patterns (which are supposed to have bodices fitted over snug corsets), the “ease” is FOUR INCHES! That’s like putting a tent on over a corset! Crazy. Have fun sewing!

      Reply
  3. Elisabeth
    April 10, 2011 at 8:24 pm (3 years ago)

    My 17-year-old daughter is very small framed–5 feet tall, about 103 pounds–and would take a “junior petite” size, which the big pattern companies have discontinued. (Vintage junior petite patterns sometimes appear on Ebay.) In ready-mades, she takes a 0-2 petite. She has a fairly short neck and correspondingly square shoulders (trapezius muscle has a nearly flat slope). I find it’s often easiest to buy a girl’s size 12 pattern and alter the front bodice to add vertical length and a corresponding bust dart. See instructions at:
    http://www.sewingconnection.com/darts.htm
    This saves having to drop the neckline, narrow the shoulders, narrow the upper torso, redraw the armscye, reposition the sleeve markings, and shorten the back-waist length. Narrowing the waistline on a girl’s pattern is a simple matter. When I must use a miss-size pattern, I prefer to use the seam method to alter the pattern. See:
    http://www.threadsmagazine.com/item/5053/the-seam-method-of-pattern-alteration
    Of course, I would scoop up any Sense & Sensibility patterns that you might decide to offer in junior petite sizing!

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      April 11, 2011 at 12:01 am (3 years ago)

      Thanks for sharing, Elisabeth! I own several junior petite vintage patterns and wonder why that sizing was discontinued as well. Appreciate these excellent tips!

      Reply

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