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Add Subtle Shaping to Straight Garments

Contoured seams, darts, or tucks can help improve fit

Many of us who make clothing usually follow the pattern based on the size needed. After we complete a garment, we often want to tweak the fit but aren’t sure how to go about it or where to start. This can also be an issue with ready-to-wear garments we purchase. Using fit devices, such as contoured seams, darts, or tucks, for subtle shaping may help.

Contoured seams

One of my customers needed her pants altered. The pants’ original seam had a curvy hip shape, but her hip is straight.

Closeup of a pants side seam, from the pants interior

Everything was fine at the waist of the pants, so I started the shaping below that point. This process is straightforward.

1. Pin vertically to follow the shape of the wearer’s hip and down the leg until the desired shape is achieved.
2. Chalk-mark along the pin line so that you can sew on the marks.
3. Sew on the chalk-marked line.
4. Press the seam as sewn from the wrong side, then press the allowances to the back. Turn the garment right side out and gently press along the seam again. Be sure to press over a seam stick, seam roll, or dowel to avoid creating impressions from the seam allowances.

For my client’s pants, this resulted in a straighter side seam shape. In her case, I did not need to remove any of the original seam. After pressing, there was no bulk. Whenever possible, I leave original seams intact, in case the garment is donated. This allows the next person to let the pants out if needed.

Ladies' gray dress trousers on a skirt hanger


A shirt from my collection, made from Kwik Sew 3555, needed subtle shaping.

Back of Kwik Sew 3555 shirt on dress formI used a pin-basting technique to add vertical, or fish-eye, darts to the back for a flattering result. Pins are easier to remove than thread.

Back of blue dress shirt on dress form, with two vertical darts pinned in place

1. Identify the garment’s center…

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