When I first started sewing and needed to alter a pattern one of the ladies in my sewing class recommended the book The Perfect Fit (TPF) to me. Since then this has been my go-to book for doing required pattern alterations, and it has done well by me. However, since I started reading sewing blogs everyone talks about Fit for Real People (FFRP) by Pati Palmer and Maria Alto as the bible for fitting patterns so I decided I needed to get hold of a copy to have a look at earlier this year. Having used both books I thought it would be interesting and informative to do a book review comparing them – to be honest I don’t think I could review one now without using the other for comparison.
The first difference which I had not noticed until I looked at FFRP, is that FFRP has two named authors, who talk from a very personal viewpoint, while TPF has no named author and is written from a very removed viewpoint. Even researching on the title page, amazon page, and publishers website only produces the name ‘Editors of creative publishing’, so I presume this is some sort of collaboration. However, I don’t see this as a reason to dismiss the book – the hundreds of detailed photos are testimony that the authors know something about what they are talking about, and the work that went into the book.
Both books start with guides to taking your measurements, drawing a body chart, and the tools you need to make alterations. FFRP spends longer discussing this, particularly going into the history of sewing patterns and similarities in sizing between the major companies. This is very interesting, but it is not something you need to read more than once or twice to absorb, as it is background knowledge. It is worth saying early on that both books are equally dated in terms of fashion and styles.
Unsurprisingly as Pati is one of the creators of the Vogue/McColl basic fit patterns FFRP spends quite a bit of time discussing how to fit one of these to yourself so you know what alterations you want to make to any pattern. While I can see the point of this in principle I have never bothered to take the time to do a body map or fit a basic pattern to myself, and as I sew quite a few patterns from indie pattern companies who use different slopers I am not sure this would be a good use of my time – I think understanding the principles so they can be applied to any pattern is more relevant. FFRP also spends some time selling the method of fitting patterns using the paper pieces which the authors have developed – I am personally not sold on this as a massive advancement in pattern fitting – I do a lot of pattern fitting on my own so fitting a test muslin is much easier.
One of my favourite sections of TFP is the section at the beginning comparing photos of different bodies with fit variations e.g. an average waist, a thick waist, and a narrow waist. Personally I found this really helpful as someone who had never thought about fit before.
After this introduction the bulk of TPF is instructions for carrying out pattern alterations. This is laid out in a very clear way, with a photograph showing the issue on a body and then photos of the required pattern adjustments. The opposite alteration is always included next – I find this really useful for comparing the issues and understanding fit. The methods TPF uses are adding to the side seams for small alterations, and then spreading squared parts of the pattern and blending stitching lines for larger adjustments. This keeps the grain and style lines intact, which avoids many of the issues with the ‘slash and spread’ method, which can distort the style and grain lines. A part of TPF I really like, is that for many alterations it offers two different methods for minor and major alterations with quantified amounts the minor variation can be used for before the simpler method distorts the pattern.
FFRP takes a different approach, bookending the instructions about pattern alterations with examples of fitting patterns to real people with photographs of the fitting process. These are helpful reading, but I find it confuses the book – I always have trouble finding what I need to in FFRP. These are useful for considering the fitting process, but not a usefulf reference to dip in and out of. I also find the instructions for pattern alterations are laid out less clearly – they are written in a more conversational style that TPF, which is great for reading a whole chapter, but when you are just dipping in looking for something specific it is harder to find what you need – this is also because there is no standard layout for the alterations, even when I know what I am looking for it often takes me two or three readings to work out what I need to do. The pattern alterations are illustrated throughout, which I also find less clear than TPF’s photos. The methods FFRP uses are slash and spread methods, which I am slightly suspicious of, as I have had one or two dodgy experiences with large slash and spread alterations where they distort the style or grain lines.
Having explained my reservations about FFRP there are some great things about it when compared to TPF. Firstly, FFRP discusses more fit issues, and includes more discussion about alterations for different styles e.g. for shoulder adjustments after the basic alterations it includes a page summarising alterations for kimono, princess, extended, yoke, and raglan style sleeves. I think this is part of the reason I find it less easy to find the information I want – there is more information to sort through, whereas TPF provides fewer clearer instructions, which is fine until you have a fit issue or style not included. FFRP also includes instructions for grading patterns up and down, which is something I have never needed to do, but I can see how it could be really useful.
So in conclusion, I find both of these books helpful for different reasons. TFP is the first book I owned on pattern fitting, and it is still my go-to resource because of the clarity of its instructions and layout, and the excellent methods which preserve style and grain lines. However, FFRP is a great resource because of the depth and breadth of fitting alterations it covers, and therefore I use it to supplement TPF, however, the section I find useful in FFRP is probably less than half the actual book, and even this smaller section is hard to navigate.
Which would I recommend to a beginner pattern fitter? I think either could be great for a beginner – TPF is simple and clear, but FFRP includes more explanatory background and examples of fitting on real people. I suspect the main issue could be availability – I think TFP is more easily available in the UK, whereas FFRP is more available in the US (I had to get one sent from the US to get my mits on it). One final issue: if you think you may need to grade patterns up or down, I would go for FFRP.