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Why Don’t You . . . ? Ease Into Fitting

I often think about the differences between individuals at the beginning of their sewing journey and the stitchers with more experience. At just over a baker’s dozen years of stitching, where I fall in that range depends on the experience of the beholder. But there are certain things I’ve learned to ease up on. One of them is, in fact, ease.

In her Harper’s Bazaar “Why Don’t You . . . ?” column, Diana Vreeland challenged her audience simply when she asked, “Why don’t you . . .  fit your clothes easily?”

Vreeland was talking about store-bought—and likely designer-labeled, custom-tailored—garments. But yes, why don’t we? We can, of course, work our magic to the point of a garment being painted on when that’s the intended goal. But why don’t we fit our clothes more easily? We’ve all gone through that beginner stage of overfitting. It’s a tough stage to leave, for some (*raises hand*).

The allure of fitting

In my first months of sewing, I would take my measurements, cut out a pattern, then sew it up nose-to-tail, without trying it on once during the process. I wanted the result to be like a magic trick, with the final reveal a total, perfect surprise. It was a surprise, for sure.

Woman wearing a bold print wrap top with a pair of jeans

But that moment you realize you can pinch and pull a seam in process and make a pool of fabric disappear, that’s magic. In my first year of sewing, after that handful of  “surprises,” I began to throw on my garments inside out, maybe once or twice in the process, pinning up a seam here and there. Each little adjustment was a mini enchantment. With every new sew, the amount of time spent at the machine in my underwear increased. I was throwing that jammy on inside out on every seam, it seemed. It’s a dangerous power to wield. One little pinch at the shoulders that raises the waistline to a better height, magically erasing a pool of wrinkles at center back, opens up Pandora’s box.

Too many tricks up my sleeve

Suddenly, I could manipulate fabric and make it hug the landscape of my body in a way that ready-to-wear garments never did. No more forcing my squared, broad shoulders, wide yet demure bosom, and ample derrière into a “petite” dress that hugged my short waist properly, and nothing else. I could wrap every inch of my body, like a sports car. I had the power to bend fabric to my will.

Learning the trick of the lengthen/shorten line came next. Suddenly, I was overfitting and overkilling my short waist, raising it to a full inch and a half above my actual waist.

Marcy Harriell wearing a sleeveless fit-and-flare dress with shortened waistline

Marcy Harriell wearing a fit-and-flare, short-sleeve dress with slightly raised waist seam

What other little issues can I spirit away? The thought set up shop in my brain and became all-consuming. I was fitting princess seams, adding darts, cinching crotch curves, pegging skirts, and erasing inches of built-in ease into unmanageable garments.

Marcy Harriell wearing a fuschia-colored princess-seamed sheath with gathered cap sleeves and little ease

Marcy Harriell wearing pencil skirt with little ease and gathering at the back hem

Leveling up

I wouldn’t categorize myself as a beginner sewist anymore, but overcoming overfitting has been a long time coming. The real shift happened for me recently. Sure, over the past 13 years, here and there, I’d make a mental note to leave myself a little “living” room in my next garment. This note usually occurred when walking about in the real world, as opposed to prancing in front of my bedroom mirror in a victory dance. I’d be out to dinner (my eyes do, indeed, match the great desires of my stomach), in front of a camera (trying to look professional while rocking a fabric wedgie), or even onstage (in front of a watchful audience), and I’d be pulling at the uncomfortable areas of my latest magic trick.

Marcy Harriell wearing a fitted strapless green gown that has little ease

In my 13th year of stitching, I still hadn’t really learned my lesson: On New Year’s Eve, ringing the unexpected 2020 into being, I wiggled onstage in handmade dresses that were absolutely impossible to move in. At the end of a two-set night, I had to take a fairly graceless acrobatic leap down from the stage of Zinc Jazz Bar, because my knees couldn’t bend far enough for anything past a demi plié.

Reflection is everything

That little hop did it, but only thanks to the reflection that the time warp we’ve been living in has bestowed upon us. This year (and a half, almost) of living solely offstage didn’t change my penchant to play dress-up, but it has changed my desire to live with a little less overfitting, and a little more ease. My last “upholstery fabric” gown is fitted, but not so much that I can’t perform in it.

Marcy Harriell wearing a star-print maxidress with ease

That 2020 overfitted, over-the-moon evening was such a hit, it became the fuse for a tour of jazz concerts with, of course, a handmade gown for each stop. Now that we’re gearing up for the new normal, those upcoming gowns will give me room to breathe when hitting those high notes. Not to mention, exiting the stage with grace and ease.

Ease in garments, ease in life. They sound like goals to me.

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  1. user-7052553 | | #1

    Great post Marcy! I have finally arrived at that place in my sewing journey too. My wake up call was realizing I don't have to rush to "just complete" a garment, but I can take my time and make the necessary adjustments AND I was getting tired of wasting my beautifull (at times, pricey) fabric. :) So now, I make the adjustments but will make sure I add the "ease" factor in as well. Thanks for sharing, and I love the dresses...I'm a dress girl, lol. Can you share some of the patterns used for the dresses.

    1. User avater
      marcyharriell | | #4

      Ooooo, lemme dust the cobwebs off! I know the floral wrap top is the Desira pattern from Burdastyle, the orange skirt is the By Hand London Charlotte skirt, and several of the dresses are Simplicity patterns. They're earlier in my sewing career, so they may be out of print, but I have a handy section on my blog where you can search my "online closet," and several of these overfit babies are in there:

      The last two dresses are my own design-- guess which one I can still fit into 😂

  2. user-6183249 | | #2

    Words to live by, Marcy! Thank you for sharing this retrospective. I've been struggling with over-fitting for the past 2 years. I get so tangled up trying to perfect things. Your post is a helpful and encouraging reminder that sewing is a journey and a process, which includes learning from mistakes (and actively choosing not to be frozen in place by them).

    1. User avater
      marcyharriell | | #3

      Thank you! Yes, mistakes are wonderful as long as we learn from them ;)

  3. betsyformpike | | #5

    Always love seeing your brilliant makes. I guess sewing is like gardening. It has a somewhat predictable learning arc too. Most people get lured into gardening by colorful annuals. With more experience they move to perennials which come back year after year and learn what plants work with their climate and sunlight, but really experienced gardeners focus on texture: trees and shrubs that set the tone, make the large statement that lets the color accents pop. Like sewing and ease its a matter of refining ones skills with experience, self knowledge, and more cultivated taste. I think you must have been born with a “sewer’s thumb”, but time and experience have refined your considerable gifts.

    1. User avater
      marcyharriell | | #6

      Thank you so much, Betsey! I love that analogy. My mom is a master gardener, and I lament not inheriting her green thumb. But I’ll take a sewist’s thumb!

      While we were down south, the garden came into bloom in the spring, and it was like watching a magic trick. I always want to plant things in full bloom, but I finally understood what gardeners love about watching it all happen.

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