How To Adjust A Toile And Pattern Pieces

Show anyone this photo and I will hunt you down.

So the toile of my Butterick B5605 dress is finished. Yeah – it’s running big. Actually, this has been my most interesting toile experience to date. What did I learn?

  • How to sew a kimono sleeve. Accurately and patiently. (More details in another post.)
  • That Melissa of Fehr Trade was right when she suggested that the bow detail on the back might be OTT. It was.
  • That I enjoyed the process of construction on these three quarter length sleeves, but that I’m going to go for a short sleeve in the final version.
  • That the bodice is waaaay big.

You know the routine by now. Once my toile is complete, my tutor swoops in like Sewing Superwoman and starts making adjustments.

Bearing in mind my past issues with a narrow upper chest, that’s where we started. Ten plus dart adjustments later, we had a dress that looked less like a sack. Here’s a glimpse of some of the front bodice darts and just how much ease we were taking out:

As you can see, we don’t necessarily adjust at seam lines. Gillian is a big fan of tweaking and pinching wherever feels right. Once we were happy with these adjustments, I climbed out of the dress and began transferring these changes to my pattern pieces. I’ve given you a glimpse of this before, but here’s a more detailed step-by-step. (All the photos don’t follow the very same dart because, well, I’m a bit crap! But you’ll get the idea.)

1. Take a pencil and mark dashes down either side of the dart adjustment, following the line of the pins:

2. Once you’re happy with your markings, take the pins out and open up your new dart:

3. Lay your original pattern piece over this section  and trace the markings:

4. Now pinch out this ease from your paper pattern:

5. And use masking tape to seal your adjusted pattern! (Masking tape can be peeled away without tearing the paper, should you make a mistake.)

That’s your lot! I’ve cut a second set of bodice pieces using my adjusted pattern and am going to make second bodice toile. These adjustments are so numerous and significant that I want to be absolutely sure before slicing into the rose cotton.

One last thought: a petticoat is definitely in order with this full skirt. To buy one or make one, to buy one or make one… If you know of any good petticoat patterns, do point me in the right direction!

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41 Responses to How To Adjust A Toile And Pattern Pieces

  1. Jane says:

    Thank you for passing on what you are learning about toiles, and the masking tape tip is great, I’ve been using it and it’s much much better than sellotape!

    Here are a few of links to petticoat making that I’ve got bookmarked – ready for when I’ve made a full skirted dress and need a petticoat lol.

    Looking forward to seeing your rose dress. The fabric is beautiful by the way and is going to look spectacular.

  2. PinQueen says:

    Fab post, thank you. Your dress is looking good, and agree that the short sleeves will probably look better with a summery print.
    You could use your dress skirt pattern (taking in a little on the side seams) for the petticoat and add 2 double layers of net to the lower edges for the extra poof you’re looking for. Alternatively, I think(?!), possibly (?!) there may be a tutorial coming up in the next issue of Sew Today – Gertie mentioned it in a post late last week…..
    Looking forward to seeing your progress

  3. Sandy says:

    Personally I’d buy a petticoat…I tried to make one on the cheap and it just didn’t have the pouff…then I worked out the cost of making one with the right amount of pouff and it was nearing £100! So I’d say buy…I got mine for £45 (+P&P) from here and they were super nice!
    (I went for the STP835…1st column, 4th down!!)

    You’re much more patient than me in the sewing stakes…I’m terrible for bothering to fit a toille properly….must be why I never feel comfy in my own made dresses and just stick to skirts! LOL!

  4. Alessa says:

    That sure looks like a laborious process but I bet it’s well worth the work!
    Concerning the petticoat, I think you don’t actually need a pattern, you can work with body measurements. Tanit-Isis made a cute one a while ago ( and recommended a tutorial ( Hope that helps! 🙂

  5. Gertie mentioned that there’s a tutorial in the new ‘Vogue Patterns’ magazine 🙂
    But that tute Alessa posted looks pretty darn good too !

  6. Jenny says:

    When I first clicked on the post and scrolled down just far enough to see the picture I stopped there quite a while wondering how you could take in the extra fabric above the bust on a kimono sleeve ( I know I only had to scroll down further to find out!). After a few mintutes I scrolled down and saw the caption – and burst out laughing. Yes funny caption but I actually hadn’t even thought of the picture like that I’d just been concentrating on the garment from a sewists viewpoint.
    Very interesting and helpfull information too. I am always a bit scared to attempt pattern alterations but this makes it look logical and straight forward. The masking tape is a useful tip too, thanks.

    • Yes, it looks and feels intimidating but I was surprised at how painless it was to transfer all the adjustments to my paper pattern. Just take it one step at a time…

  7. Kirsty says:

    Fantastic post, Karen! Very helpful and informative.

  8. Roobeedoo says:

    Well …duh! I am feeling stupid. I thought you would transfer the darts to the paper pattern and have extra darts on the final dress and I was thinking “ooh…ok… I don’t think I like that…” But NO that’s not what happens at all! You tape the pattern and then cut the fabric flat. DUH! Maybe making a dress is not so hard after all…?!

  9. shivani says:

    ah, thanks for this Karen. I’d heard about transferring adjustments to pattern pieces but (perhaps being a bit dense about it) couldn’t quite figure out what to do. It’s all v clear now. thanks!

  10. julia says:

    Thanks for sharing that. It still seems daunting to do it on your own, a second person definitely helps. I am still very much afraid of dresses, I know I will have sooo many adjustments to make (I conclude that from not ever fitting into any commercially made dress).

  11. Clare S says:

    Aah, that makes sense! Thank you, that’s a very clear post!

    As well as the tiered tutorial Gertie has mentioned, she also has a tutorial for a low-poof petticoat –
    You could probably make it more poofy by having an extra tier (so the tiers start higher) and using net or tulle for the tiers (except for the top one, I’ve found it’s better to keep that as a softer fabric, like a lining fabric or something like that – you don’t want the poofyness to start too high). I keep meaning to use that tutorial to make a day-time petticoat – some skirts/dresses just don’t work without a bit of poof!

  12. ooobop says:

    Karen, this is very valuable. Thank you so much for posting. I had no idea you could adjust the pattern like this. I always thought you adjusted pieces at the seams or the darts. I have only got used to making one toille per garment and so the changes made are only ever minimal ones… at the seams! I might have to gather some patience because I’m sure its all worth it. So excited to see your finished dress x

  13. Eugenia says:

    I am very intrigued that a sewing tutor has allowed you to use the pinch and smoosh alteration method! I sometimes do it myself but I had always thought that it wasn’t really allowed – even though it works! Your dress is going to fit perfectly – I’m looking forward to following your progress.

  14. Alex says:

    I plan on making this pattern this summer (although, realistically, I don’t know if I’ll get to it) and I also have a narrow upper chest and shoulders. I had never really noticed it as a major problem with RTW clothes, but it’s been a pain in the butt since I started sewing! I find adjusting that area pretty difficult (although I recently discovered that it’s much easier with princess seams!), so I am trying out a new strategy of cutting the smallest size I think I can get away with and grading to a larger size at the armpits/apex of the bust. I’ve only done it once so far, but it worked quite well.

    I’m excited to see your progress on this dress! Mine is also going to be made up in a girly floral. I’m a little worried about it being too juvenile, so I decided against the bow. I also want to be able to wear a cardigan (damn office air conditioning!) without having a lumpy back!

  15. melissa says:

    TEN dart adjustments?! My oh my, you’ve got patience!

  16. Rita says:

    I think you need a fuller petticoat than the one that sugardale’s tutorial (which is great) will produce so recommend the Alice Lon tutorial on pettipond:

    I have made up this petticoat just a little smaller: ie: not as much fabric. I have also made up the sugardale petticoat which is nice but is not very full at all. It really depends on what you want. I like my 50 dresses to have the fullness they were designed for so have upgraded to a fuller petticoat.

    The only problem is that making petticoats, regardless of the size, are just so time consuming.

  17. Lucy says:

    I think this makes sense, but the one thing that I’ll a little concerned about is how a 3-D dart converts to a 2-D pattern. Do you ever find that after pinching and taping you pattern piece just doesn’t want to lie flat?

    • You definitely have to gently ease out the point of the pattern dart on the paper pattern. I don’t know how this will translate, Lucy – we’ll see when I make my second bodice toile!

  18. Sarah says:

    Oooh, thanks for showing us that, that is really, really useful!!

    What kind of course are you doing? Is it an evening class or full time?

    If you decide to buy a petticoat check out – they have the most beautiful cotton full petticoats that add fullness without being too OTT and also look just gorgeous peeping out under a less full skirt or dress.

    As for that ripple blanket over at mine, the pattern is super, super easy – definitely an absolute beginner would manage it so I think you’ll have no probs!!

    S x

  19. Donna says:

    I have made the petticoat from the Sugardale tutorial and it was fantastic, but time consuming. It also cost me a lot more than buying one.
    I have purchased two from this website and they are fantastic!

  20. Molly says:

    Great idea for a tutorial, will enjoy seeing this come together. I made a petticoat from a simplicity pattern, needn’t have bothered, its a series of rectangles, for the netting/taffetta/whatever and for the yoke.

    If you want to go that route, email me the size you want and I’ll email back the size of the rectangles you need to cut. It’s kinda mid-way poof without being too much or too little. You can add fullness by adding tiers. Cutting and sewing was quick (I actually serged it, huzzah) but the gathering was a pain in the tushy and took two and half hours (while watching Blackadder). Of course you could use taffeta, organdy, cotton, organza instead, which would all be easier to gather than net tulle.

    My fullest petticoat is really frothy, I think it has three tiers each finished with double gathered lace trim and its very full, it kind of “springs” when I sit down or stand up. I bought it from ebay years ago for about £25.

    Finally don’t forget the horsebraid tape in the hem to help it stand out a little more on its own. Again, I get mine off ebay at a good price and Gertie has blogged about it, I’m pretty sure she did a tutorial.

  21. muddledstyle says:

    Hi, this is Anwen, I started a sewing blog, hence new WP ID…

    Anyway! Ooh, I didn’t notice the pattern had kimono sleeves, even more tempted to get it, now. I got a pinker version of the rose fabric, see icon – I looked at the black background version, and the printing seemed much less vivid in colour. I also got some pink muslin to line the bodice of whatever I end up making (I’m dithering between a fitted sheath or a fitted bodice with a soft-pleated skirt) and found the haberdashery section of the shop I got it in (can’t remember the name, but it’s the one right next to the market entrance) – only took me a couple of years to spot!

  22. Jane says:

    This is a really helpful post Karen, thanks so much. It’s another lightbulb moment for me too, I thought there was some strange dressmaking law stating that you can only adjust from the dart or the seam! I say buy a petticoat – you’ll be spending so much of your time making your dress perfect you won’t have any left for petticoat making! x

  23. Molly says:

    Reading Gertie’s crinoline thread from earlier in the week and thought I’d share a comment posted on it which I found useful.

    From a first-time full skirt wearer of the early 60s, she wrote that they had to wear 3 or more petticoats to get the fullness. She didn’t say if they were single tier though – my vintage 50s one is a single tier of soft net and provides no oomph just a little lift. This makes complete sense to me as I’ve noticed in the movies they often had multiple colours of fluff under their skirts, which is a look I love.

    From a historical point of view its also interesting because pre-20th century woman also used to wear several full-length petticoats under their dresses for warmth and shape. In the past I’ve put actresses into as many as 5 petticoats before their skirts have reached the desired silhouette. How easy we have it now!

  24. Marie says:

    Thanks for sharing this Karen, it’s so helpful!!!

  25. Ali says:

    Thank you, very helpful!

  26. romney says:

    Incredibly useful detail there. Just what I needed!

  27. Portia says:

    Great post. I need a pocket version of my tutor that I can just keep in a drawer and let her out for when I need some fitting done at home. That’s a bit sinister isn’t it….or a genius business idea…….hmmmm…

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