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Making Sense of Pattern Grading

Photo: Scott Phillips

The most recent development, computer grading, is the fastest method, but tends to be an investment only larger manufacturers can afford. However, sophisticated home computer software is becoming affordable.

  Grading vs. alteration: What's the difference?
Grading is used to increase or decrease a size, based on an average difference between sizes. Alteration is used to make a particular size conform to an individual's personal figure challenges.

It's important to remember that grading only makes a shape larger or smaller and isn't intended to change a shape. Grading also reflects the fact that individuals of different sizes are proportionately different, not uniformly different. When we grade up or down, we don't merely make everything equally larger or smaller. Instead, we take into account that different body parts increase at different and proportional amounts.

Pattern vs. body measurements
The first step in any grading exercise is to accurately measure your base pattern. Sometimes you can find the key measurements you need (bust, waist, and hip) on the pattern envelope. Or you can measure the pattern itself.

To determine the actual measurements of the sewn garment rather than the size of the paper pattern, keep two things in mind when measuring a pattern. First, account for all design details. If a garment has a bust dart that extends to the waist, then omit the dart area when you measure the waist; similarly, omit the volume given to pleats and gathers. Second, measure the pattern from seamline to seamline, not cutting line to cutting line.
Once you've gleaned the key measurements from the pattern, you can address the basic grading dilemma-the difference between the pattern measurements and body measurements. To establish your body's bust, waist, and hip measurements, you can measure yourself or refer to the Quick reference for cut-and-spread pattern grading. To measure yourself, wear undergarments that fit well, and hold a measuring tape snugly (but not tightly) around your waist, the fullest part of your bust, and at hip level (9 in. below the waist). Before you record your measurements, be sure to add the amount of ease the pattern includes (or the ease yo'd prefer for that style of garment).

Establish the grade
Once you have the bust, waist, and hip measurements from both the pattern and your body, you can address the basic grading dilemma: "How much do I grade up if the pattern is too small? Or, if it's too big, then how much do I grade down?" To establish the overall grade, or the total amount needed to make the pattern larger or smaller, simply calculate the difference between the pattern and the body measurements. There are two types of overall grades: an even grade and an uneven grade.

An even grade means that the bust, waist, and hip measurements change the same amount from one size to another. For example, if a pattern measures 35-27-37 and the body measures 37-29-39, then the difference between each measurement is 2 in. and the overall grade is an even 2 in. Sizes of commercial patterns and apparel always follow an even grade.

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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

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