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 free of pain.

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…

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.

And yet, 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.

So let’s please get a handle on ease…

Types of Garment Ease

There are three types of ease:

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

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

If we were to sew a garment based just on our body measurements (BMs) without any added ease, we would move like a mummy. Because mummies don’t have to eat, move, breath, or sit, this really isn’t such a big deal for them.

But we do have to breathe, move, sit, 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:

  • bust, about 3 or 4 inches;
  • waist, about 1 or 1-3/8 inches; and
  • hips, about 2 or 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, 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!

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

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

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

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

Anyhoo, with the Big Four pattern companies, patterns will fall into one of the following categories for dresses:

  • Close fitting (about 0 to 3 inches of ease; think body conscious dress)
  • Fitted (about 3 to 4 inches of ease)
  • Semi-fitted (about 4 to 5 inches of ease)
  • Loose fitting (about 5 to 8 inches of ease)
  • Very loose fitting (over 8 inches of ease; think tent or swing dress)

garment ease comparison: close fitting vs. very loose fitting

By the way, if a garment has negative ease that means its Finished Garment Measurements (FGMs) are less that the actual body measurements. This is often the case for knits.

Pro tip #1:  If you want to know how much ease is included in a pattern’s design. Subtract the standard bust, waist, or hip body measurements from the FGMs for the same area. This will tell you the total amount of –wearing and style– ease is included in the pattern.

Finished Garment Measurements minus Standard Body Measurements equals Total Ease

calculating ease using standard body measurements and finished garment measurements

Pro tip #2: You can also find the finished garment measurements on the actual tissue pattern pieces.

Now, let’s get a grasp on the last type of 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, drapey chiffons, and stretch wovens have their own built-in ease, so we can include less wearing ease than we would with stiff or heavier fabrics, such as denim, wools, and satins.

Make sense?!

The End

Wait, that wasn’t so bad?!

Now, we know what ease is and that there are three types of ease: (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 assess our bodies for fit.

And remember…

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

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