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Choose the Correct Pattern Size

Learn how to choose the correct pattern size for a well-fitting garment.
Personal measurement chart
Learn how to choose the correct pattern size for a well-fitting garment.

Learn how to choose the correct pattern size for a well-fitting garment.

by Susan Andriks
from Threads #86, pp. 14, 16

The first step to making a garment that fits well is to choose the correct pattern size. This may seem obvious, but it's surprising how many sewers start with the wrong size, then end up making a lot of adjustments to get a good fit.

Measurements are key
When choosing a pattern size, you need to know some basic body measurements (see Personal measurement chart). I'll tell you how to use these measurements in a moment, but first let me explain why you can't simply rely on your ready-to-wear size when it comes to choosing patterns.

Choose the right pattern size
  Compare your measurements to those on the back of the pattern envelope. Each pattern company bases sizing on a standard set of body measurements.
 

As I'm sure you're aware, sizing in the ready-to-wear industry is not consistent and most of us fit into a wide range of sizes, depending on the designer or manufacturer. Designers frequently use what's called vanity sizing, which adds inches to each size. What might have been a size 16 a few years ago, for example, is labeled a size 10 or 12 today.

Among the major pattern companies (see Pattern companies online), however, sizing is based on a standard set of body measurements, which are provided on each pattern envelope and at the back of the pattern catalogs. Once you've determined your pattern size by comparing your measurements with these standards, you can purchase that size for any of the company's patterns. But because very few figures will match a pattern company's standard measurements exactly, below are some guidelines for choosing a pattern size.

ThreadsMagazine Threads Magazine, editor
Posted on Nov 16th, 2008 in fitting, measuring, pattern, ease, tip-trick

Comments (13)

user-3254300 user-3254300 writes: Apparently I have the opposite problem of everyone else. Every pattern I make turns out too small although my measurements correspond to what's on the pattern envelope. My experience is that when I actually measure the pattern pieces, they are always smaller than the stated finished garment measurements. When I sewed years ago, this was never a problem.
Posted: 8:10 pm on March 6th

iris68 iris68 writes: I was horrified to learn that according to the chart I am size 18! Then I measured myself and the paper pattern - it was really huge for me.
There are some patterns that are true-to-the-size and some that you need to take upper bust measurements and adjust the bust line later.
Would anybody know the list of those pattern-makers?
Posted: 2:09 pm on January 30th

Gryeyes Gryeyes writes: I am trying to alter a pattern to fit a 2 year old. She is tiny and the 2yr old pattern is too big. I see all the advice on how to alter a pattern by measurements, cutting, redrafting, etc. Why can't you just take the pattern to a copy store and resize on the copier to a smaller size?
Thank you
Posted: 12:44 pm on August 30th

as110 as110 writes: I was wondering if anyone was answering these questions. I bought a pattern that said size 6-8-10 on the cover. Body measurements were not listed on the back, the chart was inside the package. I wear size 8 and the chart says I am size 16. I was looking for information on how to alter the pattern to make it size 16. I found these posts with the same question and I was surprised to see that the finished project was always huge and needed to be cut down. My pattern states that 1.5cm seam allowance is built into the pattern. So before I adjust the pattern I laid it out and measured the waist because there was an obvious waist line on every piece. It is exactly 12cm longer than my waist measurement. (4 pieces x 1.5cm is 12cm) So if I cut out the pattern right on the edge without seam allowance it is exactly the right size I need. I don't have to adjust the pattern to be size 16 after all. Maybe this will help someone.
Posted: 1:30 am on May 22nd

HeidiMichelle HeidiMichelle writes: http://sensibility.com/tips/how-to-resize-a-pattern/ This is a wonderful website for resizing information! Please check it out!!
Posted: 8:35 am on February 17th

ObiMomKenobi ObiMomKenobi writes: Recently we purchased an It's So Easy pattern to make a simple skirt for my daughter's first sewing project. She normally wears a size 10. The measurements for this pattern put her at a size 18. I figured it was best to go with the pattern measurements, so we cut for an 18. Once we had the side seams sewed, I had her try it on and it was ridiculously huge! I ended up taking up two full inches off the waist, and it still is quite loose. We may be taking it in again after we put the zipper in.
It is one thing to have the sizes be so different from store bought clothing. It is unforgivable that the pattern does not conform to the measurements listed on it. In a more complicated pattern, it may have been extremely difficult to take in.
I am just frustrated, and so is my daughter. I wanted her first sewing experience to be a good one.
Posted: 11:56 pm on January 12th

dwese dwese writes: At 40+ i embarked on first attempt to sew from a pattern ! i wear a UK size 16, i got a simplicity pattern in the range 10-20.

I recently lost 3 stone (was a size 22) imagine my horror to find according to Simplicity i am indeed still a size 22 !! (I have a 37" waist) i am very confused that they can be so wildly different. I cannot use my pattern as it only goes up to size 20 it seems !!


Posted: 7:01 am on August 11th

olittlebird olittlebird writes: try this site for resizing.
http://www.sensibility.com/pattern/resizepattern.htm
and read
http://www.fashion-incubator.com/archive/drafting-to-measure-pattern-book-recommendations/
"Learning to grade is easier than learning to make patterns. The more important point is that it is less work to grade a pattern than it is to create an entirely new draft for another size. They’re looking for a book to draft in all the various sizes when their time is better spent in learning how to grade. Put more to the point, drafting takes much longer, grading is 1/10th the time (estimated)."



Posted: 2:29 pm on February 4th

acadiagirl acadiagirl writes: I am totally frustrated with this pattern. I'm a tall woman (5'9") and my weight is withing normal limits (155). I don't look fat or out of proportion. However, according to my measurements, I would be a size 10 on the hips and a size 18+ on the waist. My waist does not look huge or weird, so what's the deal. Do I really cut a skirt to try to match these huge discrepancies? I always wear a size 12 in commercial clothes, and the waist is never too small. Am I the only person with this problem?
Posted: 1:04 pm on January 12th

snr snr writes: I totally agree with germanmom. I have sewn for years, had my own business for 15+, and have always struggled with sizing. I am getting ready to make a coat for my daughter for Christmas, and am really hesitant to start for fear of ruining the fabric. She wears a size 6-8 in ready-to-wear and according to pattern sizing, I would sew a 14-16. I am not as interested in the numbers as I am the continuity and reliability of the sizing/fitting. It is very frustrating, to say the least.
Posted: 11:15 am on December 6th

PresleyP PresleyP writes: I have a question too...I got a Simplicity pattern for pants that comes with Slim, Average, and Curvy fits for each size. My measurements were between a 14 and 16, so I went with the 16. Then, to choose the right fit, I measured my crotch length and back crotch length. They were both way too big for my size, even for a Curvy fit, but I just made a 16 Curvy. The pants are too big all over. I'm suspicious of the mismatched crotch length measurement. I measured the total length to and from my natural waist, and the back length from where the seams meet in a pair of pants to my natural waist, all while standing. Does any of that sound wrong? And is it better to choose the smaller size when you're between two pants sizes?
Posted: 7:12 pm on July 3rd

Peady Peady writes: Having worked in a fabric store, your complaint is familiar. It sounds about right that your measurements really are closer to size 6, when you purchase a 2.

One part of a pattern envelope that's frequently overlooked is the part that charts the actual garment measurements. The chart usually is on the back of the envelope, beneath the yardage requirements. If it's not there, it should be on the first page of your instruction sheet. I've faced that sizing frustration many times -- I haven't been able to figure out why commercial manufacturers and pattern companies can't coordinate their standards.

When you're selecting a pattern size, choose first (but don't buy it yet!!) on the basis of your body measurements. If they fall in different sizes, keep in mind that the bust measurement is the hardest to alter, so choose what's closest to your measurement. Loose-fit, semi-fitted, etc. affects the actual garment size. Once you've chosen a pattern size, look at the actual garment measurements and change your size accordingly. Check this Threads article again for ease standards -- the actual pattern size you need may be closer to the measurements of a purchased garment.

Each pattern company uses slightly different slopers (original basic patterns from which they create the new designs). For example, I've found Butterick has a relatively high bust point -- they gear their patterns for younger, slenderer (if that's a word!) bodies. That's good news -- lets you know how you need to adjust the pattern if you absolutely fall in love with one of their designs.

I hope this helps! It's made a big difference for me.
Posted: 11:16 am on June 25th

germanmom germanmom writes: A question if I may. The sizing of patterns is really getting to me! According to my measurements I would wear a size 12. I am 5'2", apparently that's called petite. Now, I generally wear a size 2, so it's odd that the pattern would put me in a 12. However, when I cut it out and baste the body parts together it's HUGE! The amount I wind up having to adjust would take it down to a size 6. Could someone help me understand how all this works? I have been sewing for many years and it seems to be worse now than when I was a teenager (I'm in my 50's). Do each of the pattern makers do their sizes differently? Hoping to hear from you!!!
Thank-you.
Posted: 3:49 pm on June 5th

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