Common Pattern Adjustments: Torso Length

Adjusting the torso length of a pattern prior to cutting out said pattern is a fairly common thing for sewists to do. Being that almost every pattern designer uses a different block standard (i.e. a base set of measurements/ garment that is then used to draft ALL other patterns from said base), it just makes sense that adjusting the length of a garment is fairly common practice. 

For me, in patterns other than my own, I generally have to lengthen my garments to accommodate my longer than average torso. If I didn't, I’d run the risk of having jumpsuits ride up my bum, tops being of the cropped variety, and dresses hitting me at the widest part of my rib cage rather than my natural waist. 

This is the pattern I will be altering for today’s tutorial

You might be wondering just how it is you go about altering your pattern to actually match your unique torso length measurement. Or how to even go about obtaining your torso measurement! That is what I aim to help you work through today! I will be going through not only the steps involved in finding your specific torso length, but also how to apply that to your pattern pieces and adjust accordingly. I will be working through both a woven example and a knit example, as both require a slightly different approach when making your adjustments. 

Now, I can’t possibly cover EVERY single scenario or pattern application in this post, as much as I would love to! It would simply be too long of a post (possibly verging on the length of a short novel!), so I will be focusing on making adjustments to basic bodice blocks. Feel free to test these concepts out on your own in muslin or scrap fabric you have at your disposal! Take your time and get used to the idea of how your torso measurements might affect how you need to adjust future patterns before diving head first into adjusting your favorite patterns and cutting them out of your expensive materials (I have done this and have lost quite a number of garments to silly little measurement errors!). 

Are you ready to dive in?

Let’s Get Started!

FINDING TORSO LENGTH

I did briefly go over how to find your Bodice Length (aka Torso Length) in my blog post, A Quick Guide to Measuring Yourself. However, I will post those steps again here, and in greater detail, so that you can easily refer back to the entire process anytime you find yourself at a crossroads with regards to making torso length adjustments.

The first thing you'll want to do is strip down to your undergarments! That, or find the closest fitting garments you own. A pair of leggings and a tank top will work, or even a bodysuit. We just need to be in something that hugs our figure closely so that we can get the most accurate measurements of our bodies as they currently are.

I don’t own any leggings, so I am just going to make due with a bralette and my PJ bottoms.  

It's also really important to wear the same undergarments you intend to wear with your future me made item. This may mean that you need to take multiple measurements with yourself depending on how many different bras you might own! Each bra will affect your bust measurements, so it's important to know what your measurements are in each before starting a project!

For this measurement, you’ll need to find both your front torso and back torso length. Before grabbing your measuring tape, take a piece of long, thin fabric (or elastic) and wrap it around your natural waist. Pin it in place either along your tight fitting clothing or overlap the end pieces and pin those together. 

For the front torso length, you will take your measuring tape and place it at your HPS (High Point Shoulder) which is located around the shoulder bone. Then, you will need to bring your measuring tape over the fullest point of your bust and down to your natural waist, which is being marked by your scrap fabric or elastic. It's important to include your bust in this measurement as the fullness of the breasts tends to lift bodice patterns up higher than when they are simply two-dimensional pieces of fabric. 

For the back torso length, you will repeat these same steps, but you won't have a bust to contend with. Simply line your measuring tape up perpendicularly to the floor, starting at your HPS and ending at your natural waist. You may need to have access to a mirror or a friend to inform you of what your measurement is to hold your measuring tape in the proper location.

You'll want to try to stand as straight as possible for this to get the most accurate measurements.

Once you have both of your measurements, write those down and place them somewhere safe. If you need to take multiple front torso length measurements because you own a variety of bras, feel free to do that now and place each measurement with a quick description of your bra next to it. That way, when you go to make any garment, you can easily find the torso measurements you might need as they correspond to the bra you plan to wear!

ADJUSTING TORSO LENGTH

Typically, when working with a pattern and adjusting it’s length, many sewists will head straight to the lengthen/ shorten line to make their adjustments. Generally, this is a great place to start! However, it isn’t the only place to start, and sometimes, it is not the most accurate. 

Since we are all proportioned differently, two people with the exact same torso length measurements are unlikely to have that length distributed in the exact same way. One sewist might have all their length from their HPS to their bust, whereas another sewist might have a long bust to waist length instead. Because of this, each sewist will need to adjust their pattern in a slightly different way to achieve the proper fit. 

To determine where you need to make your changes, I always find it best to place the pattern piece directly on the body (this applies only to wovens and knits that have positive ease built in. For any knits with negative ease, you will have to rely solely on measurements to make your adjustments). This gives you a really nice visual on where your length may or may not be placed along your body. 

Make sure you are wearing something close fitting, like a bodysuit, for this part so that you can pin your pattern piece along any important seamlines, such as the shoulder seam. This will help you achieve the most accurate fit. 

With your pattern on you, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is the waistline of my pattern hitting me at my natural waist? If not, is it higher (need to add length) or lower (need to remove length) than my natural waist?
  2. Is the apex of this pattern hitting my bust properly? Is it higher or lower than my actual apex? 
  3. Where is my apex hitting me in comparison to my waistline?
  4. Is there any other gaping or pulling that is noticeable right off the bat with this pattern pinned to me? Does the armhole feel too high/ low? How about the neckline?
  5. How does the back of my pattern look while on? Does it fit properly? Do I perhaps need to perform an FBA or SBA before fiddling with the length?

You will want to answer each of these questions as honestly as possible and without judgement. It’s all just facts on where your body lines up in comparison to the pattern pieces. Depending on your answers, you may need to adjust different parts of your pattern, lengthening/ shortening in areas. You may even need to do a little of each to get the pattern properly placed on you! Let’s use my pattern as an example. 

For me, my bodice pattern’s waistline is hitting me above my natural waist. That tells me that I definitely need some length added to my garment. 

Marking my actual apex point directly onto the pattern for future reference. 

The apex point is sitting a bit higher than my actual apex which suggests that I need to add length somewhere between my HPS and bust point. This would also help to fix how high the underarm of this pattern is hitting me. 

Taking a measuring tape, I can see that the waist is exactly 3” (7,5 cm)  too high, and the apex is approximately 2” (5 cm) above my own apex. That means that I need to lengthen my bodice between my HPS and Apex by 2” (5 cm) and from my apex to my waist by 1” (2,5 cm). 

To check that this is indeed correct, you can lay your pattern on a flat surface in front of you and measure from the HPS to the natural waist of the pattern, making sure that you pass over the apex. Also, make sure that you have marked out your seam allowance before taking this measurement!

Make sure that all the measurements you are taking are within your seam allowances. This may mean you need to draw your seam allowances in place. 

Compare this measurement with your torso length measurement - what is the difference? For me, my front torso length is 18.5” (47 cm) and the pattern’s torso length is 14.5” (37 cm). That gives me a difference of 4” (10 cm) which is 1” (2,5 cm) off from what I measured with my pattern directly on my body! That’s pretty close, so I have the option of splitting the difference and adjusting my pattern by 3.5” (9 cm), keeping it at 3” (7,5 cm), or going with 4” (10 cm). I decided to stay with 3” (7,5 cm) and make further adjustments later if necessary.

 To make these changes, you will need to add your own lengthen/ shorten lines to your pattern in the places that you will be making your adjustments. For any adjustments being made between the HPS and the apex, I suggest going about ⅓ of the way up and creating your line. 

For any adjustments between the apex and the natural waist, I suggest going 2-3” (5-7,5 cm) up from the natural waist and creating your line. 

Once you have your lines set, take a pair of paper scissors and start cutting along those lines! 

You will then be adjusting your pattern based on the information you gathered earlier. For me, that means lengthening my first line by 2” (5 cm) and my second line by 1” (2,5 cm). 

I would then true my lines, making sure that the major points in my pattern are connecting to one another. 

You will want to go ahead and compare your pattern’s new apex point to your apex point to see if you need to make further adjustments. For myself, my apex point is 11” (28 cm) from my HPS. 

When measuring my pattern’s adjusted apex point (which I found by intersecting the center of each of the bust darts) I found that it was 10” (25,5 cm) from the HPS. This meant that I needed to drop my darts down an additional 1” (2,5 cm) in order for them to hit me in the correct spot. 

It was easy enough to lower my bottom dart. I simply cut it out and shifted it down exactly 1” (2,5), basically recreating the original dart. 

For the underarm dart, I needed to do a little bit more. I started by drawing a box around the dart, making sure my lines went directly through the original apex point. 

I then shifted the entire dart down 1” (2,5 cm). 

Finally, I taped my dart into its new position and trued the side seam up (again!). 

Once all of that is done (I know - it was A LOT! Feel free to take a quick break if you need!), it will be time to repeat the entire process over again with the back pattern. Since there is no bust to contend with, it should be easier -- in theory -- to adjust. But since your back is also, uhm, behind you, it makes everything a bit more challenging. This is definitely a moment where having a sewing buddy might come in handy to help you determine where / how things are hitting you. You could also enlist the help from two mirrors. Just take your time and if you feel yourself getting frustrated, feel free to walk away for a moment. 

Based on my back bodice, I was able to determine that I needed to make adjustments in the same exact areas as I had on my front bodice. That made adjusting everything much easier. 

I would then repeat the same steps for lengthening/ shortening the different areas of my bodice as I had done in the front, even if I am needing to lengthen or shorten different areas. After truing the back bodice to itself, it is time to true it to the front bodice. This is to make sure that my pieces will actually fit together.

Both my front and back bodice pieces all adjusted and ready to go! It was a bit too messy for me with all the blue tape (it was all I had on hand), so I decided to re-trace both pieces onto clean paper prior to truing them to one another. 

If you find that one of your bodices is much longer or shorter than the other, you can do a few things. You can either:

  1. Pick whichever piece is longest and make your shorter piece match. Then sew up a toile to check the fit and to determine if the extra length bothers you in the area in which you had to add it.
  2. You can grade from your longer piece to your shorter piece. This will result in more of a curved waistline which is completely ok! 
  3. Further adjust your long pattern piece by taking out a dart of sorts in your pattern. This is a bit trickier to do and is best left as a last option. 

Luckily for me, the only issue I ran into was the underarms of my pattern pieces not matching. Since I didn’t really adjust my back underarm piece that much, I decided to make my front underarm curve match the back. Once I altered this curve, everything else matched up perfectly. 

Whew, we just made it through so. Much. stuff. I know I mentioned taking a break before, but I definitely think that now is a good time to take a breather if you haven’t already. 

Once you have come back from your break, it’s time to talk about next steps.

If you are working with a woven fabric, now would be the time to sew up a toile  or pin together your paper pattern to check the fit of your garment and make sure nothing is out-of-line now that you have adjusted your torso length. You would be surprised by how many random things might get shifted by making one little adjustment!

Those darts are hitting me perfectly now!

As you see, my front bodice is off a bit, yet my back bodice hits my waist perfectly. I can try to adjust this further by adding length only to the CF of my bodice and grading it towards the side eam if I would like, or I can leave the pattern as is and sew up a toile to see how it fits in a more flexible material.

If you are working with a knit, you can do the same thing. However, I must mention here that depending on what kind of knit pattern you are working with, you may find that further adjustments are going to be necessary. This is especially true for knits with negative ease (such as a bodysuit or snug fitting top) and knits that attach to a lower half (such as a skirt to form a dress or pants to form a jumpsuit.)

When working with negative ease, a pattern is generally drafted to work with a certain stretch percentage to ensure a snug fit. If you add/ subtract length to your garment to match your measurements without taking this stretch percentage into account, you may wind up with a garment that is simply too long or short! For more info on working with negative ease, feel free to check out this blog post!

If you are working with a knit that has a lower half, there is the issue of the weight of the lower half pulling your top down lower than you might have intended. This isn’t an issue with wovens as much because of the way wovens are well…. Woven! With a knit, there can be stretch in both directions, so every bit of additional weight to your garment will cause the entire piece to pull downward. This isn’t the case so much with structured knits, such as ponte, as it is with softer knits, like jersey. 

I know that this was a lot of information for me to have thrown at you, but I hope that you found it all incredibly informative! Is there a special way you like to find your torso length that I failed to mention? Or maybe some tips and tricks you’d like to share on getting the perfect adjustments on your pattern pieces? Feel free to share your tips below!

 

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