Book review: Fit for real people by Palmer and Alto

May 9, 2017 14 Comments

Book review: Fit for real people by Palmer and Alto

May 9, 2017 14 Comments

Fit for Real People: Sew Great Clothes Using ANY Pattern

This is a review of the book Fit for Real People, but first a little back story:  I spent my first 15 sewing years being absolutely clueless about fit – and fitting my sewing patterns in particular. I didn’t even realize that I needed to adjust my patterns for being petite. So on fitted garments the waist always ended up on my widest part of my upper body, i.e. my tummy. And I couldn’t figure out why! So I just tried pattern after pattern, repeating the same mistake but thinking I would get a better result. Isn’t that the definition of insanity?

These days, with all the info available in an easy to understand format, I suspect that beginner sewists much sooner catch on the importance of fitting the patterns. Because expecting that a pattern will fit straight out of an envelope is not really realistic as every body is unique.

Anyways, the single best source of learning fitting sewing patterns for me has been the book Fit for Real People by Pati Palmer and Marta Alto (Amazon affiliate link). It covers EVERYTHING about fit (except trousers, there is a separate Pants for Real people book for that).

Fit for Real People: Sew Great Clothes Using ANY Pattern

You can start by measuring the body, to give you a base line for the fit process. This step is not necessary though, because Palmer/Alto uses pattern tissue fitting, which means fitting the paper tissue on the body. I do recommend getting your measurements done (by someone else ideally). I got all my measurements done when I took a pattern making class and I still consult that sheet regularly.


Fit for Real People: Sew Great Clothes Using ANY Pattern


This is how the tissue fitting process looks like. I used this method for my red wool dress and I would say that that dress is one of the best fitting structured garment that I own.

Fit for Real People: Sew Great Clothes Using ANY Pattern

Clear graphs show how the alterations should be done on tissue and how you adapt the patter after the fitting. I also love how they really go deep on each body part, for instance they have three alteration levels for rounded backs and so many versions for bust alterations. Also they true to their claim and fit their garments on real people – the book has models of all kind of sizes and body shapes and seeing how well you can make garments fit on any body type is a very empowering message.


The only “risk” with this book is that you may get overly obsessed with fit, so I think the best approach is to settle for a few chosen key points and not do everything, at least not on casual clothes. For me those key alterations are: petite, round back, small waist/round tummy, sway back and forward shoulders. If I nail these I’m usually more than satisfied with the result.


So if you are struggling with fitting your garments and also want to feel positive about your body I highly recommend Fit for real people by Palmer and Alto. I have owned this book for over 10 years and still learn new things from it!


Have you tried this book to or any other book on fitting patterns? And have you too had fitting revelations that changed the way you approach sewing and fitting your patterns?



Johanna Lundström

All posts


  • PsychicSewerKathleen May 9, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    I bought this book I think on an earlier recommendation of yours and YES I second your viewpoint that it is excellent for getting you to a point where you can actually figure out WHAT your issues really are but attending an in person class on fit was actually my best and I’ve gone to several! (You should teach an in person sewing class Johanna on fit – I think you would do a fabulous job of it and really help a lot of newbie (and likely experienced ones as well! achieve a better fit in their me-mades. Fit is critical! If you don’t get a good fit, why sew? It’s the most challenging aspect but also the most satisfying when you get it right. I refer to a number of video classes I’ve taken on fit (Kathleen Cheetham and Sarah Alm are especially good) and refer to them still often.

    • Johanna May 10, 2017 at 8:49 am

      Yes I agree having someone in person is the best way. I was able to get some help fitting when I took a pattern making class and we drafted slopers and fitted them to our bodies. And I still use that sloper as guide when sewing constructed clothes with darts. Because as you say fit is a really important part of sewing. Since I’m short and curvy around my waist/tummy I have a very hard time getting RTW clothes to fit, since most Swedish fashion companies drafts for a taller flatter body type. And getting better with fitting garments has also made me even more critical of how RTW clothes fits me, so I hardly buy anything these days, except like down jackets and other complicated garments.

  • Kathy May 9, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    Can you tissue fit by yourself? I would like to try it, but I don’t know if I can do it by myself.

    • Johanna May 10, 2017 at 8:51 am

      I have done it many times, in front of a mirror. And it has worked well. Sometimes I ask a family member to do some pinning in the back and such, but I can do it on myself too. But obviously getting help would be even better!

  • JenL May 9, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    Other than youtube videos, my resource for fitting questions is vintage sewing textbooks. I have a few from when my mother was a home-ec studies major in the early sixties. My books are from the late 50s mostly and they have very clear diagrams and such – especially for fitting the bust. There is a lot of information that is just not in modern books, and they were made for students, so they are usually very simple and clear. I’m not sure how easy it is to find them, but I would suggest looking in used bookstores. I have not used the FFRP book, but I ran into a bit of a roadblock with the pants fitting book. (Was not able to solve my pants fitting issues with the methods in that book). I have heard good things about the FFRP book though.

    • Johanna May 10, 2017 at 8:55 am

      The Pants fitting book is not as good as the FFRP I think. It is still a good book with excellent trouser sewing tutorials, but FFRP is just way more through and helpful. I will review the pants books in the future too, once I used it for a second trouser project so that I can give through review. I agree about vintage sewing books being way more serious about fit, I have several too and they really emphasis fit in a way that many modern sewing books just skim over. That irks me since fit is so crucial when it comes to project satisfaction.

  • Sarah May 10, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    I’ve not got this one but I have their pants book. It was somewhat helpful but I find limited as it gives no advice on fitting trousers that are very slim fitting or with stretch like say skinny jeans – probably more a sign of how fashions have changed since it was written! I made a paper tape dressform of my own body which makes tissue fitting for the torso at least so much easier!

    • Johanna May 10, 2017 at 1:21 pm

      Yes the pant fitting books is not nearly as thorough as the Fit for real people book. The pant book is like 50% pants sewing tips (but really great ones I think) and as you say doesn’t cover modern shapes as much . I am envious of your paper tape dress form, in the end that must be the best way to go about fitting! And something I hope to do one day too. Was it hard?

  • Sarah May 17, 2017 at 5:38 am

    No just a bit of a fiddle. I bought a tight fitting turtleneck top from an op shop, and my husband taped me up one warm night. There’s a couple of tutorials on line, took maybe 3 hours for me to dry! But worth it!

  • Naomi May 18, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    I just got this book a month or so ago but haven’t even opened it yet – it looks jam packed and I feel like I need a good chunk of time to start reading. I previous had ‘ The complete photo guide to perfect fitting’ which I really didn’t like. I couldn’t get my head around the way the fit-issues and instructions were organised.
    I am lucky that I often fit patterns well with little adjustment, however my biggest issue (broad upper back) is not that common so it’s hard to find information about it and I tend to avoid sleeved garments as a result 🙂

  • helen May 29, 2017 at 9:44 am

    I’m happy to make whatever changes to the paper pattern are necessary but don’t know what they are. I need someone to identify my sloping shoulders or sway back or ???!

  • DebJules July 18, 2017 at 8:43 am

    I have been sewing for years but like you never knew how to fit patterns or even what alterations I needed. In my teens I always ended up sewing garments that didn’t really fit me and so became disillusioned with sewing for myself and stopped. I spent the next 30 years sewing for my children and the home and studying stitched textiles. A couple of years ago someone told me about Craftsy classes online. I took one and have been hooked ever since! I learned so much about fitting and sewing techniques and it has given me the confidence to start sewing for myself again. I have even tackled a tailored jacket using Alison Smith’s classes, which is something that I would not even have considered before. I also have this book and it has helped me a lot with my many fitting issues.

    • Johanna July 19, 2017 at 2:06 pm

      I love hearing from someone with a similar journey, it can be demoralizing for sure when things doesn’t look right, but you have no idea why. And it’s especially hard with our own makes because we put so much time and effort into them and then not loving the end result, no fun! I’m happy to hear that you are on a roll now with fitting, sometimes all it takes is the right teacher! And a tailored jacket is on my bucket list too, I might need to check Alison’s classes out. I do wish that fit was something that was more talked about in the current younger sewing boom. In my older sewing books, fit was addressed quite thoroughly but I’ve seen several newer trendy books where fit isn’t addressed at all!

      • DebJules July 19, 2017 at 11:11 pm

        Thank you! I agree with you that some newer sewing books don’t mention fitting issues and make it all look so easy. Its the same with some sewing blogs where some bloggers seem to be able to whip up a dress in a couple of hours with no problems or alterations needed. That’s why I’m glad I’ve found your blog. I enjoy your honest assessment of your makes and the admission that not everything goes to plan, even when you have years of experience! But the things you make are lovely and fit beautifully so all your hard work pays off 😊

    Leave a Reply