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The Reality Check When Your Sewing Doesn’t Fit

Being a seamstress takes some guts.

All the skilled stitching that goes into a project is an absolute labor of love. But in order to be successful, it also requires a good, hard look at geometry and the physical dimensions of a person. Sewing fit that can be achieved with a tape ruler, muslin fabric, and time. It all contributes to improving confidence when you wear out that new dress. Yet to get there, you have to be absolutely honest with the number on the measuring tape and when the sewing doesn’t fit. And that part really sucks, especially when you’ve spent so much time on it.

Add to that, the emotional blow when a sewing pattern says you should fit into a size 16, but last you were at the mall, you fit into a size 8 ready-to-wear (RTW.)

Sewing Fit Reality Check, What do you do when your sewing doesn't fit? Watercolor Tape Measure Illustration, 2015 | @vintageontap

Vanity sizing and its effects all over the garment industry and has been a topic on style blogs, newspapers, and editorials since it has become rampantly obvious over the years. I can only imagine how frustrating it is for someone who doesn’t sew and relies solely on what’s available in stores, not understanding the reasoning behind it, let alone the history of clothing sizes.

The Atlantic featured an article titled “Rightsize Me really hits the nail on the head about the issue, from the perspective of someone who buys RTW:

Clothing sizes reflect a classic modern dilemma, a conflict between human heterogeneity and mass production. Standardized sizes made inexpensive, off-the-rack garments economically feasible.

For a home sewer, vanity sizing is side stepped by picking up a measuring tape, some pattern paper, and getting to work.
But that doesn’t mean that size and weight are never an issue to a seamstress. As much as body confidence is important and an amazing quality to cultivate, spending a dozen hours on a hand sewn frock, only to try it on and realize that it doesn’t fit can leave the home sewer puzzled, confused, aggravated, and upset. Body confidence and body acceptance is important and necessary- but that doesn’t take away the hurt from trying on something you’ve made to overcome some number and it doesn’t fit.
But don’t forget, there can be a lot of reasons why that skirt is bursting at the seam, so don’t fret! Any of the below could have lead to sewing that doesn’t fit:
  • Mis-measuring a pattern wrong along some step of the way
  • Cutting fabric incorrectly (bias versus straight grain)
  • Picking the wrong materials for the task at hand
  • Not treating the materials properly (not preshrinking, etc.)
  • Not sewing with the correct thread

Or sometimes, just sometimes, it can be that a little bit of extra weight could have been packed on since the last time body measurements were taken. Weight is not a bad thing (no value judgement here; personal note- I’ve gained a lot of weight since I’ve started this blog- some of the pieces I made years ago no longer fit)- weight changes and fluctuates throughout the month and throughout the years. But the “loss” of a great garment and a great sewing fit achieved through hours of invested work over a matter of 10 pounds… well, that sucks.

What do you do when your sewing doesn't fit? Watercolor Dressing Illustration, 2015 | @vintageontap

How do we overcome when our sewing doesn’t fit?

For me personally, something I spent so much time sewing means infinitely more than something RTW– and when that piece no longer fits me, I’m more than miffed!

There are ways around it: adding a bigger seam allowance to clothing so it can be taken in and out as the body changes, using materials with more stretch, sewing on the bias, and even the most direct, losing the weight. There are plenty of resources online to pour into and play around with when it comes to all the previous list.

Whatever the decision, it still takes the little reality check that dimensions change over time and that’s ok. As a seamstress to counter the change, it simply takes an adjustment to either a number on the pattern tissue or a workflow.

Always remember, there is definitely no reason to let weight or body dimension change how we feel about ourselves, especially when we have infinitely more control over the fit of our pieces than anything we might pick up off the rack. Just because your sewing doesn’t fit doesn’t mean we don’t have the power and ability to overcome it in clever, beautiful ways.


  1. Jen Jen

    Definitely agree that spending time on a garment and having it not fit means a lot more than a RTW garment. But then, I shop for clothes a lot less now. And, what is an 8 in one shop or clothing line, is a 12 in another so these days, I don’t pay a lot of attention to RTW sizes. This can also be true for sewing patterns though; a size is not just variable between different pattern companies, but even within the same pattern company as the ease or shape of the garments vary. Great post!

    • Thanks for commenting, Jen!

      At a certain point I just started buying RTW for pieces that would be too difficult to reproduce at home or would take too long on a time crunch!

      And as for ease on pattern companies, I have to agree! I recently made a blouse with a 4″ ease on something that should have been a fitted piece and I was shocked– that much ease and I would have been swimming in it!

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Vintage on Tap started in 2013

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