Designer Joi’s Truth About Pattern Ease: Part 1


Most of my students would tell me there is a certain amount of mystery in debunking the truth about ease when sewing a garment. Is this you?


Conflicting information can be confusing for one thing and we are busy so we don’t want to waste any valuable sewing time having to figure this out. Let’s clear this up and learn the truth about ease and how to apply it effectively in real life sewing.


Ease is any amount of measure in a garment that is above the body measurement. For example if the body measures 36 inches at the waist and the pattern measures 40 inches, then you will have 4 inches of ease or excess when placing the garment on the body. However, and that is a BIG however, there is more to ease than a generic amount based on a standard size chart, and certainly more to fitting than just adding excess in standard areas.

Joi’s Definitions

Wiggle Room Ease: the amount above the body measurement which allows for movement. This amount is necessary in areas like sleeves for bending the arm, pants for bending the legs and sitting.


Design Ease: the amount of excess above wiggle room ease which creates a style or silhouette or more room for movement.


NOTE: fabrics with stretch require less ease and tightly woven fabrics will require more ease in a garment as will garments meant to be worn over top of others. For example a camisole top will fit close to the body, a blouse will be a little bigger than the cami, a suit jacket will be larger than the blouse and a coat will have lots of ease to be worn over top of them all.

Click photos to enlarge.

What NOT to do . . .


Here are some common but incorrect ways that sewists are taught to apply ease in a pattern.


  • Don’t use the generic standard amount built into a pattern. Patterns overcompensate with excess so they can go around more body types. Just because it goes around you does not mean it fits or looks good.


  • Don’t add and divide ease amongst all seams in the pattern in order to distribute equally. By evenly distributing ease you are indeed mathematically adding excess, but most likely not adding in the correct place to fit your body.


  • Don’t add excess only at the sides seams or only adjust a pattern at the sides. You can only add or reduce so much at the sides before they hang funny or look bunchy under the arms.


  • Don’t get stuck on generic ease charts printed in commercial patterns – they are a guide only not law. Loose to you might be 2” while your neighbor might think 2” is tight fitting. Ease and comfort is in the eye of the beholder.


  • Don’t add ease everywhere. MYTHBUSTER!!! Not all areas on a pattern need ease. Areas like the shoulder to apex, apex to apex, waist to abdomen to name a few will need to match the body literally so that darts and things like the apex point will fit the body correctly.


If you are taking a basic flat pattern making class then you might apply ease in this fashion for commercial pattern development, but that is textbook and not custom fitting which is what is necessary to fit an individual body.

What TO do . . .


I teach my students to “Evaluate a Pattern”.


1.)  Evaluate the style of the pattern and where you DO want ease for body movement, comfort, style, and for illusion.


2.)  Evaluate the style and where on the pattern you do NOT want ease. Not all areas on a pattern need ease or need only a minimal amount.


3.)  Determine on your body where you do and do not want ease.  Take body measurements and compare areas of the body to the pattern and apply ease where needed.


4.)  Treat the front separate from the back. Just because you need to add 4 inches to the waist for example does not mean it all goes at the side, or that it is needed on the front and back.


5.)  What I like to do is scale my patterns to match my body exactly. If you have taken my Craftsy class Fast Track Fitting we go through a pattern and scale it to match the body exactly. Then after I know my pattern matches whomever I am sewing for, I then go in and add ease. Knowing that not all areas need ease, I can quickly add excess to where I want it.



Let’s say your back waist from one side to the other measures 20 inches and your front waist from side seam to side seam measures 24 inches. If you added them up the waist would be 44 inches around. The front waist is 4 inches bigger than the back (the front being bigger than the back is pretty common).


You might make your back pattern measure 21 inches (that one extra inch gives you wiggle room, but no excess since that would bunch at the back, add bulk and make you look fuller). On the other hand, you might want the pattern to measure 30 inches across the front giving you 6 extra inches in the front. Wow that is a lot of ease across the front, but maybe you want to camouflage a tummy or maybe you sit a lot and don’t want your buttons to pull across the front.


See how you can customize where you are adding ease to a pattern. I can then go to my front pattern pieces and decide where I am going to put that 6 inches whether it be the sides (small amounts of ease can just be added at the sides), the side front seam, do I add it within the side front pattern by slashing the pattern open and spreading it and so on.


Evaluate your pattern. By doing this you are customizing the patterns to match your body.

Click photo to enlarge.

Joi’s Tip


I always do a muslin fitting sample. When you are learning ease it is hard to know how much in the beginning. I have my students add a nice 2 inch wide seam allowance down the side seam front and back only after scaling the pattern. This is a standard amount used as a guide, but you will custom fit the garment.


Pin the side seams with the SA toward the outside. Then you can unpin, re-pin, reposition and adjust your ease and “wiggle room” during a live fitting. You might find that you take more off the back and use a lot of the excess in the front for example. This is usually more than enough to fit any garment.


Remember: scale the pattern vertically and horizontally first to your body then add ease. Ease has to be considered only after a pattern correctly matches the wearer.


Just because a pattern or garment goes around the body does NOT mean it fits or looks good. There are lots of artsy patterns that go around a lot of bodies, but do NOT look good at all, and Tailored does not mean tight fitting, but instead fitted correctly to your body for the best look, feel and fit custom to YOU!


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  • fMarie

    28.01.2016 at 12:28

    Excellent post! I am anxious to see more on this type of subject to achieve a much better fit. Thank you for your clear and detailed explanations, they are very helpful.


    • joi

      02.02.2016 at 19:58

      Thanks Marie! Be watching for more and more tips and tricks and please share with your friends.

  • Tracy Benton

    01.02.2016 at 21:12

    Very glad to have found your website! I look forward to reading your book.

    I’m hoping that in some future post you’ll talk about negative ease used in stretch garments. I’ve asked around, but nobody seems to “know” what a reasonable amount of negative ease is for athletic wear and close fitting knit garments. I abandoned one pattern totally when the finished garment bust measurement was 16% less than the full bust measurement — it just seemed like so much!

    • joi

      02.02.2016 at 19:57

      Thanks so much for reading. Negative ease is an excellent topic. I do have some great info on knits so I will add this to my cue. I have a lot ahead of this, but I will try to fit this in asap.

  • HW

    03.02.2016 at 04:03

    This is so helpful! Thank you!

  • Jeanette Hamilton

    09.02.2016 at 18:06

    Ah, I finally understand ease! Thank you Joi and love your site!

    • joi

      29.02.2016 at 15:54

      Wonderful! Of course there is so much more to talk about but this really is a good tutorial.

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