Pattern Sizing: Your Beef Here

image via Threads Magazine

As I’m finishing up writing my new book, the last of the major tasks is to finalize the patterns.  That means taking each pattern that I’ve developed that requires a paper pattern–there are eight of those in this book of 25 projects–and grading them to include multiple sizes.  Patterns are developed in a single size, then modified beyond that to fit a whole range of sizes in addition to that initial one.

It’s a somewhat complicated process, and I don’t mind telling you that this time around, I’ve asked a professional to help me with it, rather than me tackling it all by myself.  There’s still plenty of pattern-testing to be done, minor changes here and there, and the nail-biting that goes along with hoping every dot and every notch is just right, but it takes a load off my mind to know that I won’t be going it alone.

What I’m wondering, though, is what it is that all of us are looking for when it comes to pattern sizing.  I think when I first started sewing what I most wanted was less ease–which is to say, I wanted the patternmakers to stop assuming I was an octogenarian who wanted sixteen extra inches of fabric around my body regardless of the style of the garment.  To a certain degree, I think we’ve seen that happen in patterns over the past ten years: there seem to be more fitted styles and more accuracy in the sizing than there used to be.

What else, though?  Will you guys help me out with this one?  Tell me what it is YOU’RE looking for in pattern sizes when you purchase a sewing pattern.  Are you looking for more sizes per envelope?  Or fewer (less paper to fold back up)?  Do you want a wider range of sizes, from tiny to plus-sized?  For pattern sizes to be closer to off-the-rack sizes (rather than couture sizes, which they usually are, meaning that while you might wear a size 4 in store-bought clothing you wear a size 10/12 in sewing patterns)?  Would you prefer all your patterns to come one-size-per-envelope, or do you really like that you can get multiple sizes in one package?  I’d really love to hear–because I think I know what you’ll say, but I’m not sure, so I’m hoping I’m right.  And if I’m wrong, I’d love to hear that BEFORE these new patterns are published!

You Might Also Like

  • Laura Brown
    April 30, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    New to sewing personally, but an old hat in picking patterns and fabric (my mom sewed a lot in years gone by), I love it when patterns come in a wide range of sizes. I generally refuse to buy books that include patterns that don’t go up to plus sizes, mostly because I am a plus size (always have been and always will be). I am sure I am in a minority, but I would rather have more sizes than less. When I sit down to a project, most of the time, I don’t want to do all the math to increase it. I do math all the time at work, and in other crafts; sometimes I like a mental break. 🙂

    • Miquela
      May 1, 2012 at 11:17 am

      I totally agree with you!! I have a few patterns that I have to re-size because I am a plus size and I just haven’t had the desire to do the math either!

  • Camille
    April 30, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    Unlike with children’s clothing, I will likely only make a garment for myself in one or two sizes. That said, I prefer fewer sizes per envelope for adult projects, because if there is one thing I HATE about sewing, it’s managing that enormous piece of flimsy paper. I prefer minimum ease, because I could make myself a paper sack dress without spending money on a pattern. 🙂 And as long as the sizes are clearly delineated with body measurements, I don’t care if I’m labeled a 4 or a 10.

    I can’t wait for the new book; I was drooling over the dress sample in the shop recently!

  • Belinda
    April 30, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    Show me, on the pattern, where the body measurements & ease are. Especially front & back bust line,waist line & hip line. And show me the finished garment measurement at those points. Show me as many finished garment measurements as possible.
    Knowing the cup size upon which the bodice is drafted is also helpful for many sewers.
    I like have all the major sizes in one package. For commercial patters, I often need sizes in two different pkgs ( ie I might need the 10 in a 6-10 pkg and the 12 from the 12-16 pkg)
    It doesn’t bother me if sizes on patterns are different than ready to wear but it might be nice to have a chart somewhere to compare the two.
    I would like to see all the same information, if it’s appropriate, for children’s sizes.
    Thanks for asking 🙂

    • Sarah
      May 9, 2012 at 9:49 am

      Yes, yes yes! I love it when the waist and bustline are marked, because then it makes it easier to adjust if needed. Also, if it is better to lengthen the pattern at a particular point, such as a dress that should perhaps be lengthened above or below the hipline of the skirt, depending on the design, mark that, too.

  • Clover
    April 30, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    Hi, I want the clothes to fit like store bought if not better. I want the measurements given to really reflectthefinished garments measurements. I don’t care about the range of sizes but I do prefer thicker paper. I hate that tissue paper stuff.

  • Megan
    April 30, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    I’m with Belinda, above — show me as many measurements and exact location of measurements as possible, so that I know if I generally fit into size xx but need to increase length in the torso by an inch or two, for example, or add a few inches to the hips (I speak from experience in both cases, haha). Don’t care about size number as long as measurements are clearly indicated, but a conversion chart to store bought sizes could be nice as well. I also like having a wide range of sizes in one envelope! Thanks for asking 🙂

  • Hannah
    April 30, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    I’m really curious to hear what other people have to say about this topic! Personally, I’d love it if pattern sizes were closer to off-the-rack clothing sizes, but as long as there are plenty of measurements, it’s not a huge deal that they are how they are. Also, I’d HATE it if patterns came one size to an envelope (unless they were much, much cheaper). I don’t want to have to buy multiple copies of a pattern just because my measurements fall between two sizes and I’m not sure which one will fit best, or because I’m one size on top and another on the bottom for example. Also, I hate how gigantic pattern sheets are. I wish they would print fewer pattern pieces per sheet and let us have smaller sheets to work with.

  • Jennifer O.
    April 30, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    I would really like both finished measurements of the garment and what body measurements correspond to what size to choose. I make a lot more children’s clothes than adult clothes (7 nieces and nephews) and it really frustrates me when I don’t have any sort of measurement to go with a size (either body measurement or finished garment would work, I would love both). For instance, I have a tiny 5-year-old niece who can typically wear a 3T, but if I don’t have a measurement I have to guess which size to make.

  • Fiber of All Sorts {H2Ogirl}
    April 30, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    I’m constantly amazed that people don’t make things in plus size. The few patterns that I’ve sewn up aren’t really for plus size, it’s just blown up from a size XS – so it looks even worse!

    I’ve been taught to never go by the sizes listed on the pattern as they are never the same as how they fit. I would personally LOVE to start as my size and then adjust as needed. The way general patterns are now, I have to mix and match 3 different sizes depending on the maker and options they provide. With that said, I want and need multiple sizes per pattern. If it doesn’t have that option I’m not sophisticated enough to alter it without help.

    I would love to pick up more patterns and more books that have multiple sizes that actually work on a baby, teen, and myself. When you love something you stick with it.. ohhh to find that.

  • Alyson
    April 30, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    What I’d really like is straight foward method on how to fit a pattern just to me. I know it’s a dream. But everyone’s bodies are totally different and it’s rare to find someone who is a perfect size 10 bust, waist, hips and height.

  • Chris C.
    April 30, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    Good question! The first thing I’ll say is that I pretty strongly prefer that all the sizes come in a single envelope (or, at most, there are two options — one with all the regular sizes, one with plus sizes). I find that when patterns are divided into different envelopes with a range of sizes in each, I often fall in the middle. What I mean is, I could need the bottom size of one option or the top size of the other, depending on how much ease is built in, the style, etc. It’s VERY frustrating to choose one size and then realize I should have gotten the other after making a muslin. I also really like it when patterns give a lot of detail — like, here’s the base body measurement we started with for this size, and here’s the ease at the bust, waist, hip, etc. Knowing what ease is built in can help me decide whether to go up or down a size, if I’m on the fence, and also helps me understand how a garment is meant to fit. I also prefer thicker paper for my patterns — it’s more durable and easier to handle all-around — although I recognize that thicker paper and all the sizes in a single envelope don’t necessarily go together very well 🙂

  • KC
    April 30, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    I add my votes for lots of measurements on the pattern, especially finished measurements, and for all sizes including plus in one envelope. If the sizes have to be split, an overlap of several sizes between the two.

    Thanks for asking!

  • Kim
    April 30, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    Building on what Alyson said, I wish for really good advice on the pattern and instructions on how and where to adjust the pattern for a size 10 bust, size 12 waist, size 14 butt, etc., etc. Sometimes when I cut a graduated line from one size at the waist to another at the hip, I just don’t graduate it correctly — it’s still too big at the top or too tight too soon … know what I mean?

  • Heather
    April 30, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    I agree with the measurements explained, less “ease”, and especially better paper. I’ll pay more for a pattern if the paper is durable. I trace my patterns so I can re-use the original if I need it in a different size. The tissue is so thin and cheap that the pattern lines are barely viewable. It’s sometimes impossible for me to trace properly so I have to just cut it out and end up with one size only on bad tissue that’s like moth wings.

    Having fewer pattern pieces per paper and more paper is a great idea. But I don’t know that I’d want more of a range of size per envelope than what the Big 4 typically offer. I can’t imagine the mess of patterns that would be and generally I’m only looking for my normal size and the size on either side for adjustment.

  • Tiphaine
    April 30, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    I am the same concerning the paper of the pattern, it drives me crazy to try to manage this thin thin thing that is moving all the time like it’s alive…but as the others said up there, it doesn’t go well with the multi size package. I know it….
    What I am curious about with patterns is exactly what some said too : how to manage the size from one part of the pattern and switch to another size for another part (lI have a between 10/12 waist size, a fairly 12 going on 14 for lower part…etc…) So indications oh yes, a lot, please Deborah…I don’t graduate it well either….
    I also dream to jnow to adjust : where to increae/emlarge….for growing up pattern as for children….
    Thanks for asking Deborah and I can’t wait to see the book !!!

  • Angela Lee
    April 30, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    I like a wide range of sizes. I don’t mind that the sizes don’t match what I buy in store, because I generally use measurements anyway. But that’s my big beef. The measurements don’t match what they say. I just made a skirt in a size 12 (I’m a size 2) based on the measurements on the package. I wound up taking it in more than an inch on both sides. Clearly, that size was way off. I also like seeing pictures along with instructions.

  • MJ
    April 30, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    I’m all over this question!! There are some of us that are size zeros, but pattern companies don’t cover anything close to that! The M/V/B and S/NL’s all are WAY too big for me. Even though I fall within the measurements on the back of the envelope (usually the smallest size but not always!), I always have to take out inches from all sides. I know some of that is just the Ease you mentioned in your post, but even the extremely close-fitting garments come out huge. Most pants if I make them the smallest pattern size, I can pull on and off without undoing the zipper/button/closure, which is very annoying – I want the clothes I make to fit better than the store bought stuff!

    It would also be helpful to have more tops specify what cup size they are intended for, again, I’m an A so most shirts are extremely large around the bust.

    I don’t care what size you call the patterns – 4, 12, zebra, or “D” as long as there are measurements to go with them. I don’t really care how many sizes are included either, since I cut all mine out to the smallest size and throw away the rest – Unless they are kids’ clothes, then I just trace what I need as they grow.
    Kids clothes definitely need to have measurements on them as well, they are all over place!

  • DEborah
    April 30, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    I want: multiple size patterns (easier to grade for me) that are closer to off the rack than couture. Options/tips for fitting the pattern. I am 5’10 with a small waist and an ample . . . .ahem . . . below the waist. I have the darnedest time fitting pants. ANd even when I get something like a Sandra Beztina pattern the instructions make no sense to me. Also, I’m a visual learner so it’s great to have pictures to accompany some of those tricky instructions for emphasis. Can’t wait for your new book : ).

  • beth lehman
    April 30, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    as long as i can figure out my size, i don’t care what size i am (storebought or otherwise). because i’ll make a “muslin” – i want to be able to trace a pattern easily – i don’t care for tissue paper – but i’m sure that’s more reasonable to produce. i just want a bold line i can see to trace!!

  • Jo
    May 1, 2012 at 1:29 am

    My pet hate with pattern sizing in books is when they come is small, medium and large and the large is most definitely not a large, more like a UK size 14 at a push, a large really should be a UK size 16/18, ugh hate that!

  • Susie
    May 1, 2012 at 4:53 am

    My beef is not so much about sizing but about fabric quantities and layouts. Why can’t pattern pieces sit next to each other on the fabric rather than inches apart? Why should I have to buy that extra fabric just to throw it away. And surely the layout differs for sizing so perhaps a bit more detail on what works for each size would be useful. I am forever juggling pattern pieces across my (usually stash rather than bought for purpose fabric) to work out if it will fit. Can’t wait for the book.

  • Emily
    May 1, 2012 at 10:58 am

    I’m torn, actually – I like having less paper, but I also often have to cross-size patterns to fit – using one size for the bust, another for the waist, so having multiple sizes on the same sheet of paper makes that a lot easier, rather than just winging it.

  • Joyce
    May 1, 2012 at 11:36 am

    Two things immediately came to my mind: (1) built in bust cup size adjustments. Few women are B-cup and that is what most patterns are designed for. It’s helpful for sewers to have A, C, D cup size options ( at least) to choose from. Most sewists are intimidated by full or small bust adjustments. (2) petite size patterns or at least clear instructions on how to make a standard pattern ‘petite-able’. I’ve taught sewing classes and there are more petite gals than I thought!
    Great question.


  • Theresa
    May 2, 2012 at 10:38 am

    It’s been mentioned a couple of times but I have to reiterate…where should I build in/reduce ease for the bust or hips? If the pattern had approx measurements for each finished garment that would help to know if I needed to make the XL (for my hips) and reduce/enlarge the bust. I hate making something in a size that *should* fit and it ends up being too large in one area and too small in another.

  • Tanja
    May 6, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    I like just a straightforward small, medium, and large, because I will have to adjust for size anyway. I also prefer the thicker paper patterns that I can trace so that the whole sheet remains in tact. In this case, it is also helpful
    to have color-coded patterns – a different color for each pattern so it is easier to trace and leaves out the step of me color coding with a highlighter. One of my favorite pattern books is Simple Modern Sewing. Even though I wear a size 14 or xl, the patterns were very easy to adjust. The only thing I would add is color coding.