12 October 2015

Sewing Orla: Fitting Part 1 - Sizing and Length

Fitting the Orla sewing pattern - Tilly and the Buttons

Making the Orla sewing pattern? Vanessa here today to talk about how to choose your size and make some simple pattern adjustments to fit your body.

I know it can be very tempting to skip this step and jump straight to the fun sewing part. But since a pattern is essentially a template and our bodies come in different shapes, you'll often need to make some tweaks to tailor a garment to your body – particularly for tops like Orla that you want to drape elegantly over your lady curves.

Today we're going to talk about choosing your size, lengthening or shortening the pattern, and combining sizes to get the proportions right. Then in the next post we'll cover making adjustments to the bust, back and shoulders. Whatever changes you do or don't make, it's always a good idea to make a toile (or "muslin") of styles such as this - a practice version in cheap fabric of a similar drape and weight to your lovely, had-to-have-it final fabric - so you can tweak the fit to your body before cutting into your real fabric. To save time, don’t worry about sewing the facings or zip on your toile – just cut a slit down the back so you can get it over your head.

Tilly's written a post all about when, why and how to make a toile if you want to know more.

Fitting the Orla sewing pattern - Tilly and the Buttons
Fitting the Orla sewing pattern - Tilly and the Buttons

Choosing your size

First up is choosing the right size for your measurements. Use a tape measure to find the circumference of your bust, waist and hips, by which we mean:

  • Bust – the fullest part of your bust, ie. around your nipples
  • Waist – the point at which you bend to the side
  • Hips – the fullest part of your hips - it helps to turn to the side and look in a mirror to see where this is

Keep the tape measure parallel to the floor. Don't hold it too tightly around your body, as tempting as that may be! Don't hold it too loose either - there is extra room or "ease" added to the pattern so you can breathe, move and eat your dinner.

Fitting the Orla sewing pattern - Tilly and the Buttons

Circle your measurements in the ‘body measurements’ chart in the instructions. Don't be tempted to choose a smaller size - the top isn't designed to be tight fitting and, as the zip opening is relatively short, if you go with a smaller size than your measurements you might struggle to get it on!

If your measurement falls in between a size (for example, if it's 27in rather than 26in or 28in) it’s nearly always better to choose the larger size, as it’s easier to take the dress in at the pinning stage if it’s too big than to let it out if it’s too small.

If your bust, waist and hip measurements all fall into one pattern size – fantastic! That’s your size! There’s a key on the pattern sheets that shows a particular style of solid or dashed line for your size – that’s the one to use when you cut your fabric.

Don’t worry however if your bust, waist and hip measurements span 2 or 3 different sizes – since our bodies are different proportions, this is very common and just calls for a bit of mix and matching. See ‘how to combine pattern sizes’ below...

To lengthen the pattern:

The pattern booklet includes a finished measurements chart telling you the length the top will bein your size. If you're particularly tall or mini and would like to change the length, this is very simple to do. To keep the shaped hem intact, and to ensure the facings match it, a lengthening/shortening line has been included on the front and back bodice pattern pieces.

Fitting the Orla sewing pattern - Tilly and the Buttons

First, on a bit of paper, draw two parallel lines, the width between them being the amount you want to lengthen the pattern by. Draw a vertical line at right angle to these lines on one side. Repeat this on a second piece of paper so you have one for the back and one for the front.

Fitting the Orla sewing pattern - Tilly and the Buttons

On the front bodice pattern piece, cut along one of the lines marked "Lengthen or shorten here". Place the paper strip underneath, lining up the two parallel lines with the cut edges, and lining up the vertical line with the ‘Place on fold’ line. Tape or glue them in place. Draw a straight line to join up the split side seam lines.

Repeat the process for the back bodice pattern piece.

To shorten the pattern:

Fitting the Orla sewing pattern - Tilly and the Buttons

Draw a parallel line above the ‘Lengthen or shorten here’ line on both the front and back bodice pattern pieces. The distance between the two should be how much you want to shorten the pattern by.

Fitting the Orla sewing pattern - Tilly and the Buttons

Fold the paper - or cut and overlap it - so that the ‘Lengthen or shorten here’ line meets the one above it. Tape or glue in place. Redraw the side seam to smooth it out.

Do this process on both the front and back bodice pieces.

Fitting the Orla sewing pattern - Tilly and the Buttons

How to combine pattern sizes

If your measurements don’t match one pattern size – for example, if you’re a size 4 at the bust, size 3 at the waist and size 5 at the hips – you can mix and match sizes to get the right proportion for you. This is really useful if you find shop-bought clothing fits you on top but is super tight on the bum, or vice versa.

If your bust measurement is particularly larger or smaller than the other two measurements, you might want to try a small or full bust adjustment instead of or as well as combining sizes - we'll cover that in more detail in the next post.

Fitting the Orla sewing pattern - Tilly and the Buttons

To combine sizes, re-draw the side seam on the back bodice so that it gradually tapers from one size to another. The green line in the photo above shows a side seam that tapers from a size 4 at the bust to a size 3 at the waist, then a size 5 at the hips (which is at the bottom of the side seam). The red line shows a side seam adjusted for a size 3 bust, a size 4 waist, and a size 6 hips.

Fitting the Orla sewing pattern - Tilly and the Buttons

Repeat the process for the front bodice. The above photo shows the same pattern combinations as the back bodice in red and green pen. It helps to trace over the back bodice – start at the top of the side seam, then pivot the piece once you reach the gap of the dart.

You might be wondering what to do with the darts if you're combining sizes. Drawing a new curved bust dart between sizes can get a bit complicated as you’d need to also move the notches and measure the stitching lines to check the seams match up. It’s easier to simply go with the darts that match your waist measurement, and adjust the position when you get to the toiling stage if you think you need to.

Fitting the Orla sewing pattern - Tilly and the Buttons

If you changed the side seam at the hip, you’ll also need to change the hem facing piece to match. Lay the front hem facing over the front bodice piece, matching up the notches. Redraw the side seam on the hem facing to match the bodice. Repeat for the back facing piece.

Fitting the Orla sewing pattern - Tilly and the Buttons

To neaten up the seam allowances on the redrawn hem facing so they don't stick out at weird places, draw a parallel line 15mm (5/8in) away from the new side seam on your facing – this is where the seam will be. Fold the paper along this line and, using a tracing wheel or pen, trace the top line of the facing where the seam allowance is folded underneath it.

That’s quite enough information for today! Stay tuned for the next post coming this Wednesday, where we’ll look at adjusting the bust, back and shoulders. In the meantime, I hope you found this helpful :)

This post is part of the Orla sewalong that you can follow here on the blog over the next few weeks, or catch up with later at a time that suits you. If you haven't got your pattern yet, you can order it here!


  1. Hi!

    Could you tell me the finished garment measurements please? I'm apple-shaped so need to make sure there's enough ease for my tum!

    Thanks very much x

    1. Hello Hayley!

      Yes, of course - you can find the body measurement size chart here:


      You can work out final garment measurements by adding 3 inches to bust, 5 inches to the waist, and 2.5 inches to the hip.

      I hope this is helpful!

    2. Thanks! I'll be on the hunt for the perfect fabric this weekend :)


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