Learning how to sew is a long and enjoyable road of new discoveries that can last a lifetime. There are 101 ways to achieve the same effect and very few of them are wrong. For students learning to sew professionally this can sometimes be a frustrating thing, as they prefer a straight answer to the question “How do I do this?” For home sewers there can be an additional hurdle of learning from instructions but not from a person. You often learn all the right skills, but you are not necessarily sure why and when you need to apply them.
So today let’s break down the hows and whys of garment ease. Enjoy!
Garment ease is vital to create a well fitting garment. The term ‘ease’ essentially means the extra room you have to move within your garment. So a close fitting garment would have less ease than a floaty garment, for example. The main thing to remember is that every garment has ease, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to move, breathe, work and eat. With no ease you would have made a body suit! Ease that is purely there to make a garment wearable is called wearing ease, and ease that is tied to a certain shape is called design ease.
Finished Garment Measurements
When you buy a sewing pattern, the amount of ease is visible in the “finished garment” measurements. Let’s have a look!
In our own size chart, this is the body measurement for the size 14 waist: 78 centimetres. The body measurement chart is where you look to find which size is closest to your size within a company’s range. Every company is slightly different, but these measurements are your measurements as measured with a tape measure (so no ease here).
The finished garment measurements for this specific pattern in a size 14 are as follows: 84 centimetres if you make the dress and 80.5 centimetres if you make the skirt. So you can see there is 6 centimetres ease (dress) and 2.5 centimetres ease (skirt) respectively.
You can see that the finished measurements are different depending on whether you have chosen to make a skirt or a dress. There is a different amount of ease for the two, as a skirt is a garment that you want to stay in place on your waist, so it has a bit less ease (but enough to move and be comfortable, so this is wearing ease), whereas a dress is a type of garment that is an all-in-one: the waist rises up when you lift your arms because the bodice and skirt are attached. The same goes for a jumpsuit pattern. For this reason, the finished dress in the chart above has more ease in in the waist than the skirt does.
So a finished garment measurement chart is a really good indication of how much ease is in a pattern, and that way you can guess the fit and also choose the appropriate size if you are in between sizes. An A-line garment would show up with lots of ease around the waist (design ease), for example, whereas a close fitting top would have much less so.
Negative Ease in Stretch Garments
If you were to sew a garment with no ease, you would end up with an exact replica of your body in fabric form, and that’s not very conducive to any kind of movement, let alone breathing! A close fitting garment in a stretch fabric, like a leotard, obviously has no ease because the material is stretchy, and actually the pattern is slightly smaller than your body measurements, depending on the amount of stretch. A typical dance wear pattern for anything made in lycra is 10% smaller than the wearer’s body measurement. We call this negative ease.
If there is ease in a certain area of a pattern, it means that two pieces that are meant to go together as a seam aren’t exactly the same size, so you need to ‘ease’ one onto the other. The most common area where this happens is sleeves. A sleeve head will always need to be eased into an armhole. The finished seam will not end up looking gathered, and yet there will be more sleeve head than armhole when you finish. This is to allow movement in our arms. When distributing ease to insert a sleeve it can help to run a gathering thread across the sleeve head to help you navigate the amount of ease. This won’t show up as gathers, it will simply help you control the extra fabric without creating tucks when you sew. Sleeve ease is always distributed around the sleeve head, and slightly more towards the back of the sleeve pitch (where your sleeve joins the shoulder seam) than the front, as we have more arm on the back: we have shoulder blades to think of and we are more likely to move our arms forwards than backwards. If you had a sleeve that measured exactly the same as your armhole, your movement would be quite constricted.
Ease can also show up around the centre front area of attaching a tight skirt to a waistband, or attaching a tight skirt to a bodice to create a dress. Because of where our organs are situated, us humans have a slightly rounded waist under our belly buttons in comparison to quite a flat waist across our backs. By easing the front part of a close fitting skirt, we avoid the fabric straining across our tummies at the front. Wrinkly fabric across your tummy? That’s not necessarily a big lunch; it can also be lack of ease in a pattern!
TOP TIP: For patterns with a princess line bust seam (a bust seam that runs from the armhole to the waist) you can add ease to create more room for a bigger bust. Leave the front bodice pattern as it is, but slash into the side bodice pattern horizontally to open up a small wedge of extra space. This is now your new pattern and you will have to ease the side bodice onto the front bodice, this way creating more space towards the side of the bust where women’s busts are the fullest. You are welcome!