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The Queen of Sew

The Semi-Fitted Dress
By Shirley Cunningham, For the Fit of It

(The Queen of Sew is a fictional character created by Shirley Cunningham. She calls upon the Court Fitter  to provide answers to her sewing problems. If you would like the court fitter to address your particular sewing or fitting problem, contact For the Fit of It.)


What is the best kind of pattern for woman that is small-busted, small-boned and likes a semi-fitted dress? One with sewn darts, gathers, or princess seams? I do not want something showy. I like the princess seams, but they seem to be showy. Is there a way to remedy that? SIGNED: HOOTOWL


By pattern I assume you are referring to cut. The commercial pattern offers you two different cuts from which to choose -- flat or contoured. The commercial pattern offers you different amounts of design ease described as fitted, semi-fitted, loose-fitted, very loosely-fitted. The semi-fitted cut on an average gives you 3 to 1 inches of bust and hip ease.

The semi-fitted pattern with the flat cut provides for the shape of the bust line but allows the fabric to remain flat on the body. To accomplish this the designer pivots the standard side contouring bust dart to the armhole and does not sew it into the fabric. This gives you a cut with a deeper armhole resulting in a looser sleeve and a longer shoulder with a looser fitting bodice through the upper chest. This cut is recognized in a pattern with no visible darts. The side seam is straight from armhole to hemline or is curved from the armhole into the waist.

The semi-fitted contoured pattern provides for the shape of the bust through the use of darts. The dart is easily recognized in a design but can also exist in gathers or princess seaming.

To recognize the dart in princess seaming is a little tricky. You can not tell the cut of princess seaming by simply looking at the fashion drawing. To discover if a dart is present in the princess seam, place the stitching lines of the matching princess seams together at the bust line. Pivot the center front panel until the grainlines of each princess section are parallel with the stitching lines meeting at the bust. If the stitching lines separate from the bust to the shoulder or bust to the armhole you have a contoured cut, shaping the fabric to the bustline.

If the stitching lines do not separate but lie on top of each other you have a princess line but not a fitted princess cut. The princess seaming is not shaping the fabric, simply adding a vertical line to the dressing, allowing the fabric to remain flat on the body. The fit for the bust is an unstitched dart in the armhole as described above.

If the princess seams separate from the bust to the hipline, the cut is fitted through the waist. The greater the separation the closer the cut. (More showy!)

If you are looking for semi-fit you will be looking for a pattern that gives you 3 to 4 inches of ease through the bust and hipline. This ease is gained when the designer adds width to the size of the basic cut from the armhole to the hemline. A semi-fit cut can occur in both the flat (no darts, princess seams with no contour) or the contoured cut (darts, princess seams reflecting darts ).

When you refer to liking the princess cut but not something showy, I presume you want a shaped cut but with 3 to 4 inches of ease through the bust and hipline. If you want a closer fit with no show, you will look for design with less bust ease, 2 inches or less, a princess design with little or no curve into the waist form the bust to the hipline.

I hope this gives you some insight into princess seaming and you will be able to choose the cut you are desiring.


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