Learning to fit a plus-sized friend (Help?)

20 Sep

Recently I’ve come face to face with body-dislike, and the fears and humiliation that so often comes from having a body at all, let alone  a body nowhere close to what our western society tells us it should be. Not my body-dislike, but a friend’s. She’s plus-sized, and describes her body with a genuinely humourous grin as a ‘beach ball’. And she generally seems pretty ok about her body size and image overall.

So I was a dismayed when we started upsizing patterns for her, (there are very few patterns, even plus-sized, that don’t need adjusting upwards for her figure) that she – well she very determinedly didn’t disintegrate into tears. Eeek!

There’ve been a number of posts and conversations over the years in the sewing blogosphere that talk about the effect of sewing on body image. I’ve even chimed in on a few. Recently Karen of Did You Make That posting in The Guardian “Can sewing change your body image?” created a lot of discussion, The Colleterie has visited this issue. Gertie‘s visited it. From comments and posts generally, it seems some people have found sewing to have a negative effect on their body image. Most seem to have found it positive.

I particularly liked Julie’s Doodle Blog’s take on it, that fitting the things she sews is about resolving the differences between patterns and her body, as opposed to when she shops for rtw it becomes a list of ‘problems’ her body has. This is probably closest to how I personally feel about size, fit, and sewing. However I can’t tell you how I feel about rtw shopping because quite honestly I hardly ever do it. I sew, or op-shop, and the sizing in op-shops are all over the place, as are the styles, colours, fabrics, and quite often the clothes themselves! (Oh I ❤ op-shopping!)

And I can’t tell you how sewing has or has not affected my own body image because I’ve been making clothes for myself since I was 10, a year or two before my body started developing. I kinda have no ‘before’ and ‘after’ to compare! But I do know the freedom to create exactly what I wanted to wear – within the constraints of a typically small budget, and the fabric available in the local fabric shops or op-shops (no Spotlight in Darwin back then, for good or ill, and no Lincraft ever) has meant that my feelings about my body and clothing is simply another part of the creativeness that infuses the rest of my life.

Sewing aside, I also danced all through my teen years (Ok, ok I still do! I’ll dance on my deathbed!) and my dance teacher’s focus on the quality of movement rather than the shape or size of the body doing the movement probably had an overall far more positive effect on my feelings about my body than any other one thing in my entire life. (Thanks Mrs H! You’re a legend!)

Believe me, my generally healthy body image isn’t bullet-proof. I avoid reading woman’s magazines like the plague – they inevitably make me feel huge, ugly as hell, covered in acne and wrinkles and that my relationships with my partner, mother, daughter and all my friends are in tatters.

But… all in all, for me, the numbers on the tape measure are mostly just a (pretty useful!) fitting tool.

So here I am, not sure how to teach my friend to sew clothes that actually fit her without accidentally shredding her self esteem about her body, in my enthusiasm to teach her to sew clothes that fit and look good on her. I’m hoping the ‘looking good on her’ will win over the “OMG that pattern is HUGE, look at the vast expanse of fabric it takes to cover me” reactions. But getting to the hopefully positive end product may not help if she doesn’t survive the negative feelings fitting her properly is bringing up.

Any suggestions would be very much appreciated!

She’s visiting from Melbourne for a month, the day she left home it was raining and 5C *shivers* and she arrived to a balmy 30C here. Oddly enough she didn’t have many clothes suitable for the late dry-season weather we’re having, so we ran up a “pillow-case dress” in a gorgeous bright pink-and-orange hibiscus print. Looks great!. I’d LOVE to post a picture of the first dress we made but she’s not sure if she’s ok with it.

eta: she’s decided she is ok with me adding in her picture here! She’s one brave woman in a lot of ways, and facing her body-image fears is just one of them 🙂

17 Responses to “Learning to fit a plus-sized friend (Help?)”

  1. Katherine September 20, 2013 at 3:33 pm #

    That dress looks perfect for a tropical climate!


    • Tropical Threads September 20, 2013 at 6:54 pm #

      Yes, I got the idea from Pinterest for these ‘pillowcase’ dresses, and made one myself a few months ago. It’s very easy and breezy to wear – it gets a lot of use. So has my friend’s dress!


  2. Josie Brady September 20, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

    Apart from being divinely cool and comfortable the fabric is very pretty. I’m sure she must have found it comfortable to wear.


    • Tropical Threads September 20, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

      Yes, it’s had some very heavy wear! I’m actually glad I finally found a nice use for that fabric. It IS lovely but I could never find a use for it personally. Must have been waiting for her!


  3. Mary Beth September 20, 2013 at 9:37 pm #

    Hello! I hesitate to respond because I don’t know how much research you have had time to do. I bought Barbara Deckert’s book, Sewing for Plus Sizes: Creating Clothes That Fit & Flatter, many years ago and have found that at that time is was the very best modern book on pattern alterations available, no matter what size you are working. And now Connie Crawford has published her line of patterns and drafting books, which are wonderful. I have sewn her patterns and find that (mostly) they are just right. There are a couple of reviews lately on my blog. I hope I have helped in some way!


    • Tropical Threads September 20, 2013 at 9:59 pm #

      I’ve been looking online for a while, knowing my friend was coming to visit, but I haven’t found a lot. Another friend gave me a book about drafting for “outsizes” from scratch, but it was formulaic using their sizes, I couldn’t figure out how to use my friend’s measurements to draft the things in it.

      I’ll definitely have a look at that book you recommend, and on your blog for those book and patter reviews. Thanks a lot! Should be of great help 🙂


      • Mary Beth September 21, 2013 at 7:48 am #

        And, I just recently subscribed to this blog: http://katrinakaycreations.com/ AKA “Sewing, Alterations for Plus Sized Women” Wow, I haven’t read the whole blog yet, but I’ll bet there’s something good in there for you all. 🙂


      • Tropical Threads September 21, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

        O_O wow, that’s an awesome-looking blog. I’ve gotta read it and memorise the whole lot, I think! Thankyou SO much for your help, this whole undertaking to teach my friend to sew is looking a lot more do-able now!


  4. Gwyneth September 21, 2013 at 6:26 am #

    That floral is rocking. It is a bold pattern to carry off, but it looks like it suits your friend. If she can wear it, she is definitely braver than me.

    Personally, whenever I have to talk about body image and being positive (just did yesterday, with a student), I get out my Gok Wan book. He is so OTT, but the way he puts things about looking good and loving yourself really resonates, for some reason. Oh, and the first time I make something for someone, I hide the measurements until I am done. I think sometimes it’s the actual number that causes the first reaction, and after the first time is a success, the number is less important.


  5. BeaJay September 24, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

    I would say that your friend is much my shape and size. When I first started sewing (almost 2 years ago now) I thought that I can make all of these wonderful clothes that fit and look great on me without thinking too much about shape. I thought any outfit would look great as I can make it “in my size”. I soon learnt that – geeze – if the shape doesn’t look good on me in RTW – making it in my size (ie not too tight) then all would be good. First thing I would say is to look at the shapes of the clothes that suit her already. As for the shock of the size of the pattern – yes that is hard to get over. The first StyleArc pattern I purchased almost had me in tears as it is cut as one shape – ie – not cut on fold. I had to tell myself that it included lots of seam allowances and wearing ease. Having your photo taken can also be quite confronting but I would really encourage your friend to do this with all of her clothes as then you can really see what flatters and what doesn’t.

    For example you can see how bad the top looks on me on this post:


    In comparison to one taken the next day with another top


    By the way. I have some StyleArc patterns that your friend may be interested in. If she doesn’t mind me knowing her measurements. I took some time to get the right sized pattern and have some in several sizes (StyleArc only comes in one size so you have to get it right). .I am happy to post some up if she is interested and I have ones her size.


    • Tropical Threads September 24, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

      Wow yeah, you do look like your figure is similar to my friend’s shape. I’ve gotta read your entire blog and take notes! I’ll suggest my friend does so too.

      That’s really good advice about what looks good on her already. She was adamant for eg, that buttons down the front make her look like a watermelon, but crossover/wrap tops, empire-line and a straight-through look works for her. I tried drafting to her size a crossover top pattern but the muslin we made up was waaay outa proportion for her. We fixed it, but I’d put in way to much ease. I think that one goes down in history as my absolutely worst muslin attempt ever!

      Those photos you linked too pretty graphically illustrate the difference style makes, don’t they! Taking photos is something that’s also helped me. Seeing it on the blog here (Or some I think are so awful they don’t even make it to the blog!) and all of a sudden it’s like “uh, NOPE!”, or “Oh wow that works much better than I realised!” So I’ll definitely suggest that to her. (She’s gone back down to the freezing climes of Melbourne early spring now WAGH!!! I’m missing her!)
      And a cowl-neck top! That looks really nice on you. Flattering 🙂 I should sugest she tries one of those too!

      Part of the problem is that for her to go shopping and try on a whole lot of stuff to work out what looks good on her just doesn’t work. Most of the clothes that fit her retail-wise are “Granny dresses” And sacks. *shudders* NOT much help, and takes a terrible toll on her self-esteem.

      And thankyou for the very generous offer about the patterns. I’ll ask her how she feels about it. Also if Chloe from Style Arc is ok to draft some patterns up, that would be worth exploring. Or even if she’s prepared to talk me through re-sizing one of her patterns to fit my friend. (And yes, I know exactly what you mean about the tears when you saw the pattern laid out on the fabric 😦

      I’ve gotten the impression the Style Arc pattern instructions are well-written too? My friend has basic skills, so well-written instructions and a bit of skyping with me when she’s stuck means she can sew quite a few clothes styles.

      I’m figuring you’re down south in Australia somewhere from your “I am happy to post some up” comment kinda suggests that 😀

      Anyway thankyou SOOOOO much for these suggestions! They’ll help a lot, I think. So will reading your blog, which I didn’t realise existed, before 🙂


  6. BeaJay September 24, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    Forgot to mention – the sizes I have is 30 and Chole from StyleArc even drafted a couple in 32 for me. Check out the size charts on their website.


  7. BeaJay September 24, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    Unfortunately StyleArc instructions are not that great. More of an order of compilation so she will need some sewing classes. I thought my measurements would bring me to a 32 and emailed Chole to ask if they would consider extending their sizes one more and she said “if it is only one more size I will try drafting up for you one size” Great customer service. I have since found that I need to buy smaller sizes and do a full bust adjustment as my bust is a lot bigger. I don’t think your friend will have that problem.

    I am in Sydney and if your friend wants the patterns I am happy to post to her as I LOVE style arc as I only need to size up a little in the bust. I have always thought the ones I have purchased are wasted sitting in my stash. I will fish them out and let you know what I have.


    • Tropical Threads October 4, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

      I’ve talked to my friend and she’s keen to see what Style-Arc patterns you have that might fit her a bit better. I’ll email you with her measurements and you can let me know if it looks like you’ve got something good for her.

      Now I just have to work out how to email you!


  8. Africanaussie September 26, 2013 at 7:48 am #

    thanks for visiting my blog. That dress looks great on your friend. Lovely fabric. I also started sewing for myself when I was about 10, but rarely sew clothes these days as the fabric is so expensive.


    • Tropical Threads September 26, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

      I’ve been reading it for a while 🙂 I could write my own gardening blog, I love to garden so much, but in the end it was the sewing that won out in terms of wanting to write about it. However it’s really good to read about other gardeners in a similar climate to me.

      I’ll pass the complement onto my friend 🙂

      Oh dear, you must have better self-control than me! I buy fabric even though it’s expensive. But when I do go shopping, I see the prices of clothes and wonder why I sew. Although the recent fire in Bangladesh has explained some of the low prices 😦


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