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Confession - an obsession with pattern making and garment fitting

Updated: Jun 21, 2018

First of all, I must confess that I’ve had an obsession with pattern making and garment fitting for longer than I can remember. This obsession has led me on a very challenging journey; one I was hoping would have been completed many years ago. However, it’s still going on!


My journey started in 1975 and became more serious when I started teaching clothing industry-based courses. This prompted me to go further in developing and documenting a pattern making system which would provide a platform for people to extend from.


I needed some current data (measurements) to develop this system. The Australian Standard Size Coding Scheme for Women’s Clothing was outdated and had been for many years. It was later withdrawn in 1997. Even before this, ranging over the past 70 years in fact, there were many unsuccessful attempts to conduct a new scientific anthropometric survey of Australian women. Watch this space – I’ll be writing more about that in another blog.


So, in 1996, with the aim of getting current data, I started a Master’s Degree at The University of Adelaide. My thesis was titled The Changing Size and Shape of Australian Women. Even though I knew there had been significant changes in the size and shape of Australian women over the past 50 years, I needed the scientific research to back up my theory.


Many teenagers these days go to university straight from school to gain academic and other skills in their chosen profession. Others prefer to gain some life skills for a couple of years, before starting their studies. Then there’s a third group, who are unable to go on to study for many reasons. I was in the latter group and didn’t start university studies until what some would call “retirement age.” After all, if you don't use it, you loose it - so I might as well keep going, and to be honest, I love it - especially working on possibly my last eBook, which deals with research into current and future technology for the garment industry... but don't worry, I'll let you know when it's completed.


In 2000, I resumed my academic studies, this time it was a PhD, still at The University of Adelaide. My thesis topic was A Comparative Study of Pattern Engineering for the Current Size and Shape of Australian Women. The research and studies fuelled my obsession with patternmaking and garment fitting and led me further into my journey - a much broader and in-depth study of pattern engineering and garment fitting.


Whoa -  I did not expect this result!


Somewhat surprisingly, my research showed that not only had the size and shape of the female body changed, but the results identified five predominate female figure types, as shown in the diagram below.


I realise there are many more figure types, and that each female body has unique characteristics, however my research identified these five main figure types. If you find this hard to digest read on.


Many practitioners in the field of clothing are horrified at this concept! The questions I am now asked by lecturers, teachers, training providers, students etc. are “What size to make?” and “What measurements to use?” Incidentally, the same questions were also raised in the mid-1800’s soon after the start of the industrial revolution, when the opportunity to develop a “Ready-to-Wear” industry (mass production) was realised. But this fascinating topic will also be discussed later in another blog.


I must say, it is interesting that all I wanted from my research was to: [a] see if there was a significant change in the size and shape of the female body [b] obtain current data to use to document the pattern engineering system I had been working on for some time.

However, my findings also confirmed the extent to which the Australian Standards were outdated, and therefore of no use to me (or others in the same field).


The reality today is that female body size and shape has changed significantly, and this fact plays a major role in the production and fit of female garments - particularly those intended for the “Ready-to-Wear” industry. A comment made in 2005 by a spokesperson from JC Penny (the American department store chain with 850 locations in 49 U.S.States) is worth repeating: “it’s equally important to fit a person’s shape as [it is] to fit a person’s size”. In other words, SHAPE MATTERS when it comes to fit!


Where to from here?


Question: What do I do about the five main figure types my research identified?

Answer:The five figure types are now used extensively in PMA work where they are represented by letters of the alphabet (See Unit 1 Morphology section). Each figure type is colour coded for identification, and this format is used in all PMA publications and training materials.


Question: Can I use averaged data of the whole group when each figure type isn’t represented equally in the population? Or do I use the averaged data for each figure type?

Answer: I chose to use the averaged data for each figure type because of the percentage differences in the occurrence of each in the population. These are shown in table below.


Figure Type Percentages and Comparison of Five Figure Types (Berry 2001)

Body Size and Shape as opposed to Garment Size


As you have no doubt gathered by now, PMA is about Body Size and Shape as opposed to Garment Size. And here is my key point! The research evidence and data I have accumulated, is well supported by numerous overseas research and other studies, all of which show that the human female body has changed substantially over the past five decades. I believe this finding is a major contributing factor for poorly fitting ready-to-wear female garments - and the consumer and retail frustration that results! 


Just before I log off from this blog, if you don’t agree that garments require attention in relation to garment fit, do a little "people watching" (TV's a good place to start), and see if you get the gist of what I mean. 

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