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The Foundation of Fit


In her first guest piece for WhichPLM, Kathleen M Berry (PhD, MMSc) explores the issues of well-fitting garments, in particular for female consumers. Kathleen is the Founder of the Pattern Making Academy (PMA), which teaches the foundational principles of pattern making / pattern engineering systems with an emphasis on fitting.

One of the major challenges confronting the fashion industry is the production of well-fitting garments, and of acceptable fit requirements in particular for female consumers. The massive return rates of ill-fitting garments, which subsequently end up in landfill, has presented the industry with additional environmental, sustainable and contractual issues, combined with increasing Government regulation and oversight.

Early artisans in the mid-1800s were dedicated and passionate about garment fit. Initially they were highly intuitive and skilled in matching pre-existing pattern shapes to different body dimensions. Eventually they developed methods of cutting that used tried, tested and well trusted traditional skills – some of which were based on known scientific principles.

As time has progressed developers and suppliers have moved into the area of innovative technologies to assist with producing better fitting garments, more efficiently, and cost effectively.

Researchers from various training facilities have partnered with industry groups and developed 3D body scanning: an amazing tool that plays a major role in obtaining data extraction [body measurements], as well as body shapes [avatars].

With so many amazing new technologies available, and so much research that has been conducted over recent decades, the following two questions require consideration:

  • Why are there still so many challenges in relation to producing well-fitting female garments?
  • What are the solutions for obtaining better-fitting garments?

I believe that fitting issues can be minimized by using trusted, time-honoured, scientific knowledge and skills combined with emerging technologies. The benefits of using scientific principles are that they provide technicians with a solid foundation / framework to work from, as well as: enabling them to gain further knowledge and skills; become more intuitive; minimize guesswork and assist in decision making and problem solving.

Some of these time-honoured principles are what I refer to as essential elements or missing links, as they provide a sound and solid foundation in relation to the production of well-fitting garments. The missing links are: anatomy, morphology, and anthropometry.


Some may ask why is it necessary to visit the science of anatomy for garment production? A study of anatomy [external structure] provides knowledge of the skeletal framework of the human body.

The bony skeletal structure serves as the basis for locating and identifying exact locations of anatomical points, as well as locating landmarks [also referred to reference points] on the body. These reference points are vital as they are used in conjunction with applied anthropometry and pattern engineering systems.

Knowing the exact position that measurements are taken on the human body is essential, and just as equally important is how and where they are taken.


Morphology is the scientific term for form, shape and structure, used to describe the external shape, and the size of the body, as well as categorising different body shapes.

Morphology is not a new phenomenon. Different body shapes within and between cultures has been studied in fields such as medicine, by artists and sculptors, and artisans such as master tailors and dressmakers, for many decades.

Morphological changes in female body size and shape have changed dramatically over the past five decades. These changes I believe, have had a major impact on the production and fit of female garments.

Recognition and acceptance of human variation, is essential for anyone involved in the production of female garments. During a study of the evolving shape of the human female body I identified five predominant body shapes using photographs combined with applied anthropometry [manual measurements]. I was not specifically looking for body shapes at the time, but for some statistical data to use in relation to a pattern engineering system I wanted to develop and document.

As a result of the research, I discovered broader implications of morphology and human variation, and the role they played in producing better fitting garments for a variety of figure types. Garments produced using a one-dimensional body shape and grading from this shape for the other sizes in a range, narrow the field of producing garments for a variety of female body shapes. Could this process also contribute to the return of a garment due to poor fit?

The five morphological shapes, are termed Figure Types.


Anthropometry is a scientific tool for measuring the human body. In the field of pattern engineering, anthropometry is considered to be an essential component and requires the use of well trusted scientific principles to achieve well-fitting garments.

Applying scientific principles when taking manual measurements ensures the development of technical skills with a high level of accuracy and precision as well as minimizing technical errors and inconsistency.

The scientific model for applied anthropometry provides established and well tested principles, which are illustrated in the diagram and supported with the following definitions:

Relevant: What are the measurements for? Are they relevant to a master block or anthropometric study? What measurements are required?

Definable: Are the measurements clearly identified and defined? What measurements are to be taken? Where, and how are they taken?

Accurate: Are the measurements taken at the correct location on the body? Are they taken accurately as defined and described in predetermined specifications?

Valid (validation): Is the outcome the same when the measurement is repeated by the same person?

Repeatable: Can the measurements be replicated by another person using the same procedure?


Can the new array of novel digital technology be combined with traditional knowledge and skills? I believe, they can and should be combined. Whilst tried and tested traditional tools should, in my view, be combined with emerging technologies, I also believe that substantial improvement in the results would be achieved particularly, in relation to obtaining better fitting garments.

More than two decades ago, an experienced industry researcher with 3D body scanning and data extraction experience stated that “there will always be the need for [the use of] a tape measure”.

This statement continues to be supported by other researchers, as well as the following comments:

  • 3D body scanning has some limitations as specific parts of the body cannot be scanned completely.
  • Scanned measurements may be distorted by variations in fat deposits or muscle mass on the body.
  • A sound basis for retaining hands-on measuring skills [where needed] is that, direct observation of an individual body shape, and measurement, leads to an intuitive understanding of figure type variations that may be relevant to the fit of garments.
  • Moreover, as well as measurement skills, manual pattern making and engineering knowledge and skills are equally necessary.
  • Pattern engineering systems are not all the same. Research has shown that using the same measurements with different pattern engineering systems produce a markedly different pattern shape as well as different fitting outcomes!
  • Various studies have raised concerns that the differences between body dimensions taken manually and scanned data exists. It could be argued that the scanned data may fit the avatar but not the physical fit model.
  • The provision of more information via metadata and the use of AI suggests that 3D scanning will eventually become an acceptable source for the extraction of most body measurements.


The current and ongoing technological explosion has delivered many benefits to the apparel production industry. However, the cost of progress has been the gradual sacrifice of traditional skills and practices. Many traditionalists would claim that sacrificing these skills has contributed to the continuation of ill-fitting female garments.

I commend those in the fashion industry who are being faced every day with new and exciting challenges in their quest to satisfy the sartorial needs of the present-day consumer.

The amount of information and data that can now be collected using AI is absolutely amazing as it is much more than the human brain is able to absorb. A downfall, however, is that AI is not intuitive, whereas the human brain can apply intuition particularly in relation to garment fit issues. However, having said that, it may be the case that AI will one day have the appropriate algorithms to assist in the long-term issues of garment fit.

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for eight years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like our PLM Project Pack, or our Annual Publications, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.