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Pattern sizes

Kathryn_Trombatore | Posted in Fitting on

The major pattern companies only give a few measurements per size as a guide to choosing a pattern size. Does anyone know if there’s a way to find out the rest of the measurements that a given size is based on? For instance, what’s the assumption about shoulder width for a size 12? How about biceps measurement or neck circumference? I’d love it if there’s a chart somewhere that shows this info.


  1. Elona_Masson | | #1

    Yeah, the real dimensions are a tricky and sort of mysterious thing. Of all that I'm familiar with, Burda has the most complete and numerous measurements--for example, Burda is the only one that actually gives neck measurements for all the sizes, suprisingly important to fit. I have found that writing to Vogue and ASKING for more extensive standard measurements for a size is successful, but it's kind of like pulling teeth. The book "Every Sewer's Guide to the Perfect Fit" by Morris and McCann gives side-by-side measurement charts for one size in each of the pattern companies, and that is fairly interesting, too.

    1. Elona_Masson | | #2

      *There are some detailed new postings, with charts, about this at http://www.sewingworld.com under "Patterns and Fitting."

      1. Gretchen_Hollingsworth | | #3

        *Hello. I have been out of the sewing world for a while and just started again. I have noticed that when I sew for my children if I choose their regular size it is too big. on the other hand I usually wear an 8/10. Today I bought a size 12 in Mccall's that gave the waist measurement a 26.5 and hip 36. This seems like I should maybe sew myself a size 14. What gives??? gretchen

        1. Elona_Masson | | #4

          *Gretchen, ready-to-wear sizes have NOTHING to do with sewing pattern sizes. The absolute key is your own real measurements. If the idea of sewing a 14 for yourself makes you feel a little faint, remember that 14 is only a number, and it has no more real meaning than the RTW size 8-10 (what does that refer to, anyway--your arm diameter, your age, your shoe size?). All other women wearing a RTW size 8 or 10 would be sewing the same size pattern as you.

          1. Joey | | #5

            *I am aware that Ready-To-Wear sizes do not correspond with pattern sizes, but has anyone had trouble with the pattern size still being to big? I usually wear a 3/4, but most patterns going by measurements claim I'm a 12. When the pattern is done, It's beyond huge. A friend has the same problem. According to the pattern envelope (pants) she should be a 14, but it's to big. A 10 fit her way better. the pants were not designed to be loose they were supposed to be fitted. Any suggestions?

          2. Evita_ | | #6

            *Joey, most people using American patterns will experience the same bad fit. It comes from their rather outdated sloper (the ideal young, flat body from the '40!) and the way the patterns are graded (changed to different sizes). But there are ways to go around it until the pattern companies wise-up and change their sloper.To choose the correct size, 2 methods will give you better results. The first one is to measure the upper chest (above the bust, under the armpits, tight) and use this number as the bust measurement. Most likely, you will be a size or two (or three) smaller, but will get a much better fit at the neckline, shoulder and upper chest. You will then alter the bust to fit your personal contour if larger than a B-cup, and maybe add to the sides to get comfortable ease.The second one is to take a ruler and measure your upper chest from one arm crease to another. If the measurement is 14 inches, the size is 14. Measuring in half inch increments, the following sizes are: 13.5 inch for size 12, 13 inches for size 10, 12.5 inches for size 8, etc. Usually, this gives the same size as method one, but if the body is "deep", method 2 gives better results. This is Nancy Zieman's method and it works very well for me (small frame, now rather fluffy: I sew with a size 8 pattern although my measurements are close to 14... and I wear 8-10 in RTW). For pants, Nancy suggests using the same pattern size as you are in RTW, and alter from there. Otherwise, the thighs are HUGE.As for general fit, Butterick and Vogue fit more closely than McCalls and Simplicity. Vogue's "Sandra Betzina" line features a totally different sizing, better suited to today's mature bodies.Burda, a german company, uses a different sloper and set of measurements. I love the fit, especially for pants, and I have less alterations to make. Kwik-Sew and Stretch-and-Sew fit pretty much like ready-to-wear.This may be more than you need to know... but I think that disappointments in getting a good fit is responsible for turning people off sewing.Evita

          3. Kikanza_Ramsey | | #7

            *What does the term "standard Size Chart" refer to? Is it industry ready to wear or what? When I compare the measurements that correspond to certain sizes they are much bigger than the measurements on patterns. I want to make multiples of a particular pattern in s, m, and l.

          4. Rhunna | | #8

            *Evita: you're absolutely right about people being turned off sewing by the inability to get something to fit. I wanted to learn, but I've been through one of each brand of pattern and I can't get a shirt that fits: if the neck and shoulders fit, it won't close across the bust; if I buy by bust measurement, the garment is huge everywhere else. Hasn't whoever designs patterns ever seen any women but supermodels?When I called two of the pattern companies to ask for suggestions, the people who answered said they had no idea how to alter for a 36DDD bust, and suggested I buy a bigger pattern. As far as sewing garments is concerned, count me out.Rhunna

          5. karen_morris_ | | #9

            *Rhunna, as Evita says above, you want to buy patterns that fit your neck and shoulders, since these areas are much harder to alter. Then alter the pattern at the bust to fit yourself. The Threads magazine Fitting department has included some wonderful information on altering for the fuller bust (there's a fitting department in every issue). You can find these articles in issues no. 45, p. 18, no. 57, p. 22, and no. 62, p. 20.Once you figure this out, you should be able to make patterns fit you much more easily. So I hope you'll try again, rather than give up on sewing garments altogether.I agree with you that fitting is the most difficult aspect of sewing garments.

          6. Nora | | #10

            *The best book I found for getting a good fit is Fitting & pattern Alteration by Elizabeth G. Liechty, Della N. Pottberg and Judith A. Rasband. It gives a multi- Method Approach.Nora

          7. WandaJ | | #11

            Evita, A little over 5 years after this post your advice sounds wonderful and encouraging. WandaJ

          8. Beth | | #12

            This is my sense of modern pattern sizes, too. My measurements best match a size 12 or 14 blouse. Made up, a size 10 fits better. I think a larger size (12) looks like it belonged to someone else. In older patterns from the big 4, sizes are reflected in the flat pattern measurements. So a size 12 in an old, 1970's pattern fits. In a modern pattern, I need a size 10.

            Beth in Northern California


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