Understanding Garment Ease

Hey, you!

Probably since the dawn of time, we humans have been seeking out ways to make our existence less difficult, more comfortable, and pain free.

In fact, we spend a good deal of our lives seeking out people and circumstances that put us at ease.

And if the self-help industry is any indication, we are consumed with the desire to feel at ease in our own skin and with our place in society.

Well, it might surprise you to know that ease is also an essential aspect in how comfortable we feel in the clothing we wear.

So if we are to sew clothing that we feel at ease in and love wearing, we need to understand what ease is and figure out what amount of ease makes us happy!

First, let’s define garment ease…

NOTE: If you’re ready to begin this journey and would like to buy my recommended tools and supplies, please click HERE!

Garment Ease Defined

When discussing clothing and ease, ease is simply the amount of space between our body and the garment at the bust, waist, and hips.

Sounds simple, right?!

And it is. Well, sort of.

Honestly, getting a grip on ease as it relates to commercial patterns can be a bit dicey. But we must. Because a failure to understand ease will result in garments that end up languishing in the back of our closet or in a trash bag headed to our local donation center or landfill.

So let’s start with…

Types of Garment Ease

There are three types of garment ease:

  1. Wearing (movement) ease
  2. Style (design or fashion) ease
  3. Fabric ease

If you want to know how much TOTAL ease is included in a pattern’s design. Subtract the standard bust, waist, or hip body measurements (BMs) from the Finished Garment Measurements (FGMs) for the same area. This will tell you the TOTAL amount of –wearing and style– ease included in the pattern.

calculating ease using standard body measurements and finished garment measurements

With the Big Four pattern companies–Butterick, McCalls, Simplicity, and Vogue, patterns will fall into one of the following five ease categories for garments:

  • Close fitting
  • Fitted
  • Semi-fitted
  • Loose fitting
  • Very loose fitting

You can Google “ease chart + the big 4 pattern company name” to get the included ease for that specific pattern company. But let me give you an idea of the typical amount of included ease at the bust area for a dress, blouse, top, or vest:

  • Close fitting: 0 to 2⅞ inches
  • Fitted: 3 to 4 inches
  • Semi-fitted: 4⅛ to 5 inches
  • Loose fitting: 5⅛ to 8 inches
  • Very loose fitting: over 8 inches

Also, keep in mind that the amount of ease at the hips will differ from that at the bust.

Further, style details can provide clues when it comes to ease. For example, the presence of a waist seam, darts, princess lines, or shaped inserts suggests a close fitting garment. While the presence of gathers, released tucks, unpressed pleats, flared inserts, or a A-line silhouette, suggests a looser fit.

Sew easy tip #1: You can also find the FGMs on the actual tissue pattern pieces.

Sew easy tip #2: Many times the back of the pattern envelope will provide a description that reveals the ease category the design belongs. This can be very helpful, so look for it.

Since ease is so critical to us loving our clothing, let’s explore the three types of ease a bit more…

Wearing Ease

If we were to sew a garment based just on our BMs without any added ease, we would move like a mummy. Because mummies don’t have to eat, move, breath, or sit.

But we do have to breathe, reach, sit, walk, and eat. So including the right amount of wearing ease when sewing our own clothes is essential if we are to sew garments that we love to wear and feel at home in.

There are general guidelines for minimum wearing ease, and they are:

  • bust, about 3 to 4 inches;
  • waist, about 1 to 1⅜ inches; and
  • hips, about 2 to 4 inches.

How much minimum ease is included depends on whether the pattern was drafted for a Misses, Misses Petite, or a Plus Size.

But do you want to know a secret?!

In the end, the right amount of wearing ease is all about our individual, personal preferences. Yes, YOU decide what makes you happy. And I decide what makes me happy.

Think of it this way…

preferred fit examples

Some women like their clothes to passionately “hug” their bodies.

Other women can’t bear the idea of their clothing even touching their bodies.

Me?!  I’m all about the skim, not the cling! I don’t want to my clothes to hug my curves, because it makes me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. And I don’t want them falling off me either, because life is just too short to feel frumpy, dumpy, and old.

If you’re saying to yourself, “Hmm, Janine, I don’t have any idea how much ease I prefer!”

Then get up, stroll into your closet, and study the clothing you reach for every time and how they fit. And BAM! Just like that you’ll know!

Sew easy tip: Keep in mind that the more fat a body carries, the more ease a body needs. Because as we sit fat spreads. Since muscle is dense and compact, it doesn’t spread.

Okay, now that we know our preferred ease, let’s learn about…

Style Ease

Style ease is the additional ease the designer has added on top of wearing ease to create a certain silhouette — think a body-conscious dress vs. a tent dress.

This is where the ride gets wild when it comes to The Big Four pattern companies. While they all draft patterns using the same standard body measurements, they can vary wildly in how much style and wearing ease they include for similar designs.

I know. Crazy!

But probably no crazier than the random, haphazard, vanity sizing of Ready-to-Wear (RTW). Seriously, I have sizes from different clothing manufacturers ranging from size 4 to size 10 in my closet and from small to large.

Finally, if a garment has negative ease that means its FGMs are less than the actual BMs. This is often the case with knits.

Now, let’s get a grasp on the last type of ease…

Fabric Ease

Finally, there is fabric ease. Yep, fabric has ease too.

And a fabric’s built-in ease plays a definite role in how the finished garment will fit. For example, stretchy knits and drapey chiffons have their own built-in ease, which means that we can include less wearing ease than we would with stiffer or heavier fabrics, such as denims and wools.

I hope this makes sense!

Bottom line:

Please do NOT disrespect fabric ease. Because if you do, you may end up sitting frustrated, angry, and defeated on a heap of failed projects! Just sayin’.

The End

Wait, that wasn’t so bad?!

Now, we know what ease is and that there are three types: (1) wearing, (2) style, and (3) fabric.

And we also know that how much wearing ease we include in the garments we make is a personal choice!

Okay, ready or not, it’s time to learn how to take accurate body measurements.

And remember…

Life is the ultimate red carpet event. Dress for it!

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