Fitting: Sway back on a Colette Laurel (Pt I)

In many ways this post is kinda redundant from my perspective. Even as I type, this project has been shelved.  Again.  I bought the Colette Laurel as soon as it was released. Which was what? Like 3 years ago?? At that point I made two toiles. When I cut the  recommended size 12. It was huuuuge! So I regrouped and cut an 8. (I am NEVER an 8! Not complaining!) Then ended up grading down even further at the hips because the hip shaping on me (I have a very low hip/waist ratio),  looked like comical jodphurs.  I also had to lower the bust dart by 3 cm . That is where my boredom kicked in and my patience ran out 3 years ago and my Laurel was shelved for the first time…colette laurel sway back adjustment

Fast forward 3 years and I felt I’d forgiven this pattern enough to give it another try. I knew from last time that there were still some fit issues to fix. So I armed myself with an old kingsize duvet cover, anticipating, and prepared to make, multiple toiles. (I do question how bizarre my proportions must be to require such gritty determination!) My toile count is now at 5 for this pattern, and I’ve decided enough is enough. I really shouldn’t have to work this hard to get a simple shift dress to hang right. End of. So I have conceded defeat and concluded that this pattern and me….we just don’t work. Which is a shame.

BUT, it is a good opportunity to show you a sway back adjustment! Every cloud and all that! I covered this adjustment a few years back over on my old blog. But when I made the migration from Blogger to WordPress  a few posts were lost. This being among them. So now seemed a good opportunity to revisit it. It’s quite long; and I’ve taken alot of photos along the way. So this will be split into 2 posts. This being Pt 1…not just because of the adjustment itself….but also because, although I know this adjustment works… I haven’t quite gotten my head around why. There’s elements of it that are quite counterintuitive; and I wanted to open up the discussion a bit and hear from you on the subject. I am NOT a fitting expert. I’m still learning; so help a girl out if you have some insight here 🙂

For anyone that doesn’t yet know what a sway back  is,  (or indeed whether you have one ) it’s an above average (whatever that is!) inward curve in the spine. An arched back basically. If you have a sway back you may have noticed that alot of RTW clothes (and sewing patterns) will sit as they do in the left hand picture below. That is, an excess of fabric “pooling” or bunching in the lower back. This is because that “curve” in your back is essentially shortening the distance between your shoulders and your backside. Basically meaning that the CB on a sewing pattern will be longer than you need it. (It’s worth noting that there are other fit issues that can cause this effect in back ((such as being too snug at the hips )). But because these horizontal wrinkles stop at the side seams, and my side seams are hanging freely, I know the problem is in the back. Savvy?) If that bunchy fabric at the back bugs you, then a sway back adjustment takes care of that and allows the back to hang smooth. Like the picture on the right! colette laurel sway back adjustment

It does this by means of removing horizontal tucks/wedges from the CB and redistributing them, among other places, at the hem.  Usually it’s only a small amount.  My back curve it seems…is quite extreme.  I began by taking out that tuck at the top of my lower back; and when it didn’t quite fix the issue, I took that second tuck out at my lower back. From what I’ve seen this is relatively unusual. Usually it’s just the one tuck, and much smaller at that. It may be related to the fact that my upper back/shoulders are rounded which will also have an effect on the way the CB hangs on me; and it’s worth noting here that I have an 8″ long  2″ wide dart basted out at the CB neck to fix that. But in any case…I’ve always been taught that it’s a case of interpreting what the fabric is telling you when it comes to pattern adjustments…and you can see that the double tucks have removed that pooling fabric and allowed the CB to hang straight.colette laurel sway back adjustment

You can also see in the far right pic above that the back is overall, tighter than it was. That’s fine because when I make the adjustment to the pattern I’ll be redistributing that fullness elsewhere which will take care of that. Soooo…

colette laurel sway back adjustment

Above is what the back looks like from the right side with those tucks taken out. Turns out that squared fabric was quite useful in that it really highlights how that tuck is re-orientating the back. Notice that the CB is still straight.

Below you can see the effect it has on the hem. I’ve basically pulled up that hem at the centre by pinching out that length further up. This gets fixed on the paper pattern later…colette laurel sway back adjustment

 

colette laurel sway back adjustment

So here it is inside out and you can see those tucks in all their glory. Essentially it’s a French dart turned on it’s side.  I stitched them during the fitting process so I could get a better idea of  how the final adjustment would look. Plus it’s flippin’ hard to fit the back on your own. With pins. Ouch! I took a chalk pencil and drew over all my stitching lines and also marked the fold of each tuck at the CB.colette laurel sway back adjustment

Once I seam ripped all my basting and pressed it flat this is what the back piece looked like. You can see the tucks (AKA what I need to remove) clearly marked. Widest at the CB and tapering to nothing at the side seams.colette laurel sway back adjustment

Here’s the CB. If you think of this as a dart just for a moment, I’ve now got the centre point marked, and the dart legs either side of it…colette laurel sway back adjustment

I separated my toile at the CB and took one half to use as my new pattern. (You can see the massive dart I had to take out of the neckline too.) Then using all those points I’d marked I smoothed out my lines with a ruler, drawing directly onto my fabric, and making sure that the centre line of those tuck was square to the CB line. Make sense?colette laurel sway back adjustment

Here’s a close up….colette laurel sway back adjustment

So from here, the next step is to transfer those marks to, and make the adjustment on, the paper pattern. Then of course…test it with a second toile. That post will be up later this week. But in the meantime….if you have any insight into a sway back adjustment, have anything to add, tips for improvement etc (or if you just want to rant about fit issues and how annoying they are!) please feel free to chime in!

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33 Comments

  1. Babs February 9, 2016

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I gave up on commercial sewing patterns a while ago because it always ends in so much adjusting for me that it feels easier to just make my own pattern. I have a very low hip to waist ratio, too. I keep hoping some pattern designer will emerge who has the same body type. I have recently taken an online class to learn how to draft patterns for my own measurements. It’s going to take a while but I think in the end it will have been worth the effort. Your story just reminded me of why I’m staying away from ready-made patterns. I hope you’ll have more luck with another shift dress!

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie February 10, 2016

      I hear you on every count Babs! Seriously!

      Reply
  2. Deborah Jones February 9, 2016

    Thank you so much for this post Portia. I’ve been doing sway back adjustments for a while but I never really understood the mechanics of how they worked. After reading your post I have a much clearer understanding. Looking forward to your follow up post.

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie February 10, 2016

      You’re welcome Deborah. The mechanics of it kinda mess with the mind a bit don’t they?!

      Reply
  3. Brenda Cupryna February 9, 2016

    a size 12 US is a 16 UK so that is a possible reason , it was huge on you.
    Thank you for the information on adjusting for a sway back

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie February 10, 2016

      Well yes. At the time I WAS a uk 14/16 in rtw and going on my body measurements it was what the pattern told me was my size. Of course I’m wiser now and know to ignore the instructions and look at the finished measurements. But that does bug me about some pattern lines. It can really throw the confidence of a beginner which is who the pattern is aimed at. Know what I mean?

      Reply
  4. Hélène February 9, 2016

    Same problems here! I have a very average figure and always require a small sway back adustment, but with this pattern everything was out of proportions: gaping neckline , pulling shoulders, extremely high bust darts, etc. I gave up after numerous muslins, which was very frustrating since I saw so many beautiful Laurels everywhere on the Web! Thanks for this tutorial – your demonstration is excellent, as always!

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie February 10, 2016

      Wow Helene! Sounds identical to my issues! I feel a bit better knowing I’m not alone…but bad for you because it is sooooo annoying isn’t it? Not least because you end up wondering what you’ve done wrong or that our shape must be abnormal. Which of course it’s not.

      Reply
  5. Anne February 9, 2016

    Thank you for this! I have known about my need for sway back adjustments for a while now, but have so far refused to deal with it. – think with your post(s) I might be ready to tackle it! And on another note, although I love Colette’s designs, I too have so many adjustments (lower darts, back neck, FBA, etc) that I just have to admire other people’s Colette makes from afar. Not worth the hassle!

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie February 10, 2016

      I think you and I could be body doubles by the sound of it Anne! Frustrating isn’t it though?!

      Reply
  6. Rozt February 9, 2016

    I am new to sewing and have the same sway back problem. I can totally understand what you have done so far. Thanks for posting looking forward to the second part.

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie February 10, 2016

      Ah so glad Rozst! You’re very welcome:)

      Reply
  7. kalimak February 9, 2016

    Hi Portia. I’m the person from IG who was thinking about your sway back adjustment on Laurel and the fisheye darts “all day” that one time 😉

    I’m sorry the Laurel didn’t work for you again this time around. It looks like you really conquered the back fitting issue with a brilliant result, so what didn’t work out? Any chance some communal brainstorming could help?

    I have an emotional investment in this dress pattern that I can’t quite explain. I love it, I’ve made it twice (and a half — one in progress) as a dress and, oh, three times as a top. I keep working on it and tweaking it. And I would love — if that’s possible and makes sense — to offer help so you can enjoy a Laurel, too, after all the work you’ve put into muslining/toiling it.

    Laurel was my first ever finished dress and I still remember the frustration and tears while making it. I had no clue how muslins worked back then, so I ended up dealing with a lot of adjustments on the actual dress. Looking back, my method could be described as almost but not quite random pinching out, narrowing, etc. on the basis of what I could google about people’s adjustments to the pattern. It was unsystematic and difficult… but I still wear that first dress. It ended up working out okay.

    The second dress went much, much more smoothly. I learned enough to be able to do flat pattern adjustments and ended up with really minor adjustments to the side seams of the actual dress.

    What fabric were you thinking of for your Laurel? I’d recommend a drapey rayon for your first one. Or sizing down and making it up in a knit. Christine Haynes has a lovely piece about that in the Feb 2016 Seamwork.

    Your blog has been a major inspiration for me since I learned to sew because of how you approach refashioning and how thoughtful you are about the cost of sewing (for the sewer and for the environment). So I want to be your cheerleader with the Laurel.

    That said, people’s bodies, preferred styles, and fitting needs are so different. So please don’t feel bullied to persevere if you’ve given up on this pattern. Maybe the Sew Over It Ultimate Shift would be a better pattern? I’ve watched Lisa Comfort’s video about her 17 shift dresses a somewhat insane number of times, so I keep feeding my shift dress obsession.

    Anyhow, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that you get the shift dress of your dreams.
    Best wishes!

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie February 10, 2016

      Ah how lovely! Thanks so much. I really appreciate the sentiments 🙂 Truth is, I can probably work it out. But there are so many adjustments involved I may as well just draft my own. Which kinda defeats the point of buying a pattern. I think I’ll end up going down the self drafted route tbh. It’s an area where I want to hone and expand my skills…plus once I have a custom block…no more fba’s or sway backs needed!

      Reply
      • kalimak February 10, 2016

        Fantastic! I hope you write about the drafting process. I’m very intrigued by the deconstructed/reconstructed top you’ve posted about on IG.

        Reply
        • Portia Lawrie February 11, 2016

          I do indeed have a post planned on that! 🙂

          Reply
  8. lisa San Francisco Bay Area February 9, 2016

    I always have this problem with a plain backed dress or even a hip length jacket. I am thinking that this style doesn’t work if my shoulders are not in the same vertical plane as my butt. I seem to need a back yoke that gives the bottom half of my dress or shirt or jacket enough room to drape around my butt instead of hiking up on it. I would love more help with this puzzle!

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie February 10, 2016

      I find exactly the same Lisa. Yokes are our friends!

      Reply
  9. Trish February 9, 2016

    Thank you – I really needed help with the whole sway back adjustment, it was driving me cuckoo! I really appreciate this post(s).

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie February 10, 2016

      You’re welcome Trish 🙂 Hope the next one helps too! Px

      Reply
  10. Hannah February 10, 2016

    Ooh I am a different shape to you – big waist-hip ratio, but I have the same fitting issues in my back. I was very happy when I started sewing and realised I wouldn’t have to conquer the FBA, but then turned around and saw the state of the back of some of my dresses… I usually need a sway back, square / broad shoulder adjustment, and darts in the neckline. Sigh.
    I actually got around this for ages by making dresses with a waistline seam, so easier to take in at the waist, but am now starting to get more confident with adjusting patterns 🙂
    I hope you do make a Laurel – I’ve made a couple, and I love, love them. Good luck!

    Reply
  11. Angie O'Connor February 11, 2016

    Anything to with fitting draws me like a magnet!!,,,,,,( I too have the sway back, also FBA) Am planning to make a muslin with a fairly simple pattern, go to our local dressmaker (wait……) ask her to fit it on me, make the adjustments and then I will try and transfer the changes back to the paper pattern.
    This sounds extravagant and extreme but I have busted (haha) a gut trying to make so many different muslins and patterns I need to remove the pesismism I’m beginning to feel about making my own clothes ‘ever working out’.
    I have a few tops that worked but only by working on the actual garment and so many changes made, I had given up transferring them to the paper pattern…. I can make trousers though!
    But it’s dresses and tops I’m wantin’!! Here’s to celebrating the many differences in the basically-the-same-human body.
    You have inspired me to keep on keepin’ on. Thank You!

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie February 11, 2016

      Going to a local dressmaker to pin everything out sounds like an excellent idea to me! You can no doubt imagine the contortion involved in pinning those tucks out on my back! It really is frustrating the amount of alterations involved to get tops to sit right. I’m kinda thinking I may just draft my own by nailing a custom bodice block once and for all!

      Reply
  12. holly February 13, 2016

    i make those exact same adjustments from the start on pretty much every pattern before making my muslin. it usually works the first time. rtw always look ridiculous on me in the back because of so much sway.

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie February 15, 2016

      I hear you Holly! 🙂 Px

      Reply
  13. Jen February 16, 2016

    This is so interesting, thanks! I’ve never seen this method explained before. There’s one thing I’m wondering though. When I started sewing I mentioned to an aquaintance who is a retired tailor and former lecturer at the London School of Fashion (we used to go to the same stitching group) that I had this issue with my back, and he told me to put two darts in vertically, one either side of the cb, and so this is what I’ve always done and it seems to work perfectly with no other adjustments necessary. So I’m wondering what the difference between the two methods is, in terms of final fit? I’m pretty lazy it has to be said and I usually just make the garment and then pinch out what I need to with it on. Works for me, though. With pins, having jabbed myself a few times too many, I now use quilters’ pins, like curved safety pins, much more comfy! Thanks again! Jen

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie February 16, 2016

      Hey if it works it works! My understanding would be that the vertical darts will take out width making it incrementally smaller/more fitted in style. The horizontal tucks of a sway back adjustment will take out length in the CB but not alter the overall size/style. If that makes sense??

      Reply
      • Jen February 17, 2016

        Ah, ok, yes that does make sense! I suppose usually I do prefer quite a fitted style, so for looser styles your well explained method will be very useful. Jen

        Reply
        • Lesley February 17, 2016

          I think fisheye darts may pull the lower portion of the back up and out slightly too. If you imagine grabbing a stiff curtain and creating that fisheye shape it will pull up and kick out more because the fisheye is an ellipse. Perhaps thats why the fisheye darts help?
          I’ll add my other thoughts below separately.

          Reply
  14. Francesca February 17, 2016

    First time visitor here:). Where are the back darts? Did you leave them out? I don’t have a real sway back, but I am a bit of a pear, and dresses without back darts – vertical fisheye darts – like Coco, say – pool terribly on me, even if I grade between sizes, which I always do – one size smaller on top. I fixed my Coco by putting in fisheye darts – which I copied directly from Laurel.

    I suppose I was lucky that this pattern fitted me pretty well considering I always have issues with the upper back of Colette patterns being too darn big. The only weird thing about it is the fit across the front chest – it feels tight across at just above the underarm curve – and I know from chainstitcher and many others that I’m not alone in this.

    One thing i would like to point out which I think is relevant to many of us is that this pattern does not have shoulder darts/ease or neck darts – like so many modern patterns, whether Big four or indie. The only big patternmaker that uses them is Burda. I think this is pure laziness in drafting as all my older /vintage patterns have neck darts or shoulder darts (don’t get me started about elbow darts and the difference they make to sleeves!) and when they do I never have to narrow the shoulders or adjust the centre back seam!

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie February 17, 2016

      Yes I omitted the back darts! Should’ve said that! This will have contributed to some of the fullness but not most of it as you can see its horizontal pooling and I already know I have an extreme sway back from previous patterns without back darts. But yes. With back darts I would probably have had to temove slightly less. And yesssss! This pattern is in dire need of neck darts and really snug under the arms! It’s funny how so many are having similar fit issues!

      Reply
  15. Lesley February 17, 2016

    I don’t have a sway back, but I do have enormous F cup chesticles and a relatively average waist. I definitely need to do sway back adjustments and I’ve always resented them being called sway back adjustments cos I’ve got pretty damned good posture after years of ballet!
    If I put a hessian sack on my body, my boobs will stick out and this will create diagonal lines emanating from the apex to the high hip. These are not caused by a sway back but the need to do an FBA. If someone with a smaller bust were to grab their apex – ladies please – and pull that outwards, they would then create these lines and require a sway back adjustment. So the true adjustment is somehow tweaking that balance between front length ( bust dart +/-) and back length (horizontal tucks +/-) to achieve some curved fit in the AP direction (antero posterior in X-ray speak)
    If you stand sideways in a mirror and draw a line from your apex through the middle of your mid section to the back of your hip, whether its the apex that protrudes or the buttocks that protrude you will still have a very curvy line which will need some horizontal tuck somewhere. That will be in the form of a bust dart sometimes or in the back at others.
    It makes sense to me that I always have to do a ‘sway back’ when I do an FBA because I’ve addressed the lack of vertical fabric over the bust but haven’t widened and shortened the back to balance the shape. I’m being as clear as mud now – sorry.
    I think essentially when you lift the tucks through the back horizontal, you are also expanding the back pattern piece horizontally because thats what shortening a triangle would do? Imagine pleating a triangle then redrawing – it becomes wider relative to its length.
    I think a great experiment would be to take your original shift and add a small FBA just to prove or disprove whether adding some length to your front pattern piece made the back relatively shorter.
    This is a great discussion Portia and I have to thank you for setting my brain on fire this morning!

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie February 18, 2016

      Yep I get those diagonal lines without having to grab em! 😉 That’s interesting….the relationship between the FBA and the back. I’m not entirely clear on the last couple of paragraphs you write Lesley, lol 😉 But yes, it’s an interesting discussion. Unfortunately I have thrown that toile out in a huff over other fit issues. I will revisit my fit issues but more likely on a custom block going forward. So will bear what you’ve said in mind! Thank you!

      Reply

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