Get Threads magazine!

Give a Gift

Making Sense of Pattern Grading

Photo: Scott Phillips

by Terry Horlamus
Excerpted from Threads #101, pp. 66-70

Pattern Grading 101

The term pattern grading may initially conjure up visions of complicated measurements and fancy rulers, but once the basic concept is understood, the actual process of grading is easy, especially using the method I outline here. This means that you-the home sewer, custom dressmaker, or independent designer-can do just as good a job as Vogue, Burda, Calvin, or Donna.

Don't miss sewing tips and techniques like this one by ordering a subscription of Threads magazine. Print subscriptions come with FREE access to our tablet editions.

Why grade?
  Why grade? The purpose of grading is to proportionally increase or decrease the size of a pattern, while maintaining shape, fit, balance, and scale of style details (dress, original design).

I'll explain the thought process behind grading and touch upon the three different methods used in the industry today. Then I'll take you step-by-step through a simple cut-and-spread grading method and provide the measurements and formulas you'll need to get started. So whether you want to take a beloved pattern up (or down) a size or two or you want to create a small line of clothing, pattern grading is an important tool. Once you understand it, you'll be able to take your sewing to the next level.

The basic concept
Historically, the science of grading went hand-in-hand with the advent of commercial patterns and the mass-production of pattern-built clothing some 150 years ago. To properly fit a pattern to a range of sizes, each pattern piece needed to be graded, or systematically increased or decreased. Today, pattern companies and apparel manufacturers take a middle-sized pattern (typically a size 12) and grade it up for larger sizes and grade it down for smaller sizes (see One pattern, three sizes).

  One pattern, three sizes
  Size 12   Size 16   Size 6
  A base size 12 pattern (left) can be graded up to a size 16 (center) using the cut-and-spread method, and similarly graded down to a size 6 (right)  by cutting and overlapping along specified cut lines.

Methods of grading
There are three basic methods of grading: cut and spread, pattern shifting, and computer grading. No one method is technically superior and all are equally capable of producing a correct grade.

Cut-and-spread method
Cut-and-spread method: The easiest method, which is the basis of the other two methods, is to cut the pattern and spread the pieces by a specific amount to grade up, or overlap them to grade down. No special training or tools are required-just scissors, a pencil, tape, and a ruler that breaks 1 in. down to 1/64.

Pattern shifting
Pattern shifting: Pattern shifting is the process of increasing the overall dimensions of a pattern by moving it a measured distance up and down and left and right, (using a specially designed ruler) and redrawing the outline, to produce the same results as the cut-and-spread method.

1 | 2 | 3 > View all

Comments (21)

MaryamWasim MaryamWasim writes: Stunning..
Posted: 6:27 am on May 30th

urbanremedyasia urbanremedyasia writes: I really like it.
Posted: 5:00 am on December 1st

Angelawilliams Angelawilliams writes: Thanks really interesting.
Posted: 12:56 am on November 7th

JennyRichards1 JennyRichards1 writes: Great tips.
Posted: 2:26 am on May 16th

KathJ KathJ writes: Inspiring and clever. Thank you.
Posted: 5:17 am on February 25th

CindyTullivan CindyTullivan writes: Smart and interesting technique
Posted: 1:53 am on January 27th

ErinGoodwin ErinGoodwin writes: There are a lot of patterns in the Internet, but I guess it's never too late to make some unique ones for yourself.
Posted: 7:59 am on September 11th

FrankoBaldWin FrankoBaldWin writes: Bookmarked! Thanks.
Posted: 4:04 am on September 8th

siama63 siama63 writes: Nice info , however what about us who are a large plus size . There are many of us who are a size 30/32 . Help
Posted: 2:04 pm on September 2nd

GutterCleaner GutterCleaner writes: I always struggled with the paternmaking. Thanks for this article!
Posted: 8:32 am on August 3rd

MollieJ MollieJ writes: Clever and interesting technique.
Posted: 9:55 am on July 9th

creativeone13 creativeone13 writes: Does this method work for grading on jersey blocks or is it just for woven/non stretch garments?
Posted: 6:17 am on April 10th

CheleM CheleM writes: Good information!

I am a professional patternmaker. I have been creating designs and patterns for a variety of items for women, men, and children since 1990. I just created a discussion list on LinkedIn for Patternmakers and Graders. I hope all of you join!
Posted: 12:55 pm on March 15th

Vmpyrchik Vmpyrchik writes: I just would like to get one of those FiDM Pattern Grading Scale rulers in the second photo.
Posted: 4:41 pm on February 10th

Vmpyrchik Vmpyrchik writes: Wouldn't mind getting a hold of one of those FiDM Pattern Making Scales she has.
Posted: 4:29 pm on February 10th

customessay customessay writes: seems to me everything is clear! I read in one custom essay about this technique and it is the same!
Posted: 12:39 am on August 19th

sheetu sheetu writes: plz give more information abt grading...i want know abt nested grading

Posted: 1:51 am on June 23rd

sewdatmamma sewdatmamma writes: This has helped me out alot
Posted: 11:47 am on May 29th

gina68 gina68 writes: Please,Please,Please do a youtube video of this, I have read it but want to see it done!It would be so helpful to hear and watch the process for me. Thanks!!!!!
Posted: 7:21 am on October 26th

Caol Caol writes: Thanks I am making bridemaids dresses in sereral sizes. great help!!!!
Posted: 11:48 am on February 2nd

camilaustral camilaustral writes: interesting, i'm boolmarking to read it well when i have time :)
Posted: 8:40 pm on April 6th

Log in or create a free account to post a comment.