Sunday, 30 January 2011

Cutting out the right size pattern


When you cut out a pattern, how do you decide which size to go for? We all come in different shapes and sizes (is that a line from a Paul McCartney song or I have I made that up?) so it's unlikely you'll exactly match one standard pattern size. Moreover, most commercial pattern sizes come up large so their sizing chart can be misleading. In the past I've operated a trial and error policy, but for my Joan Holloway dress (aka V8413 - yes! I'm finally making it!) I thought I'd try a more systematic approach - measuring the pattern pieces and comparing them to my body measurements. I'm documenting it here to remind myself what I did, but hopefully you may find it useful too!

I start by taking my measurements - bust, waist, hips and back length. I tend to do this after lunch and practise Pranayama breathing to ensure I'm not going to suffocate in my finished garment!


If I believed the size chart on the back of the pattern, I'd think I was somewhere between a size 10 and 14. But I know that most commercial patterns come up large (just look at the frumpy illustrations!), so I start lower, with a size 8. If, like me, different parts of your body fall into different size columns, it's advisable to pick the right bust size as the other bits are easier to adjust.


What I do next is measure all the pattern pieces across the bust, waist and hip lines. These lines are usually indicated on the pattern pieces, either in writing or with a cross inside a circle. Then I subtract the seam allowances (usually 5/8" - it'll say on your pattern) and fabric folds (darts, pleats etc). My workings for the size 8 pattern are as follows:

Bust
- Front bodice piece (cut 1): 20.25" minus 2 x 5/8" seams = 19"
- Back bodice piece (cut 2): (10" minus 5/8" seam minus 5/8" zipper seam = 8.75") x 2 pieces = 17.5"
TOTAL = 36.5"

Waist
- Front bodice piece (cut 1): 14.25" minus 2 x 5/8" seams = 13"
- Back bodice piece (cut 2): (8.5" minus 5/8" seam minus 5/8" zipper seam minus 1" dart = 6.25") x 2 = 12.5"
TOTAL = 25.5"

Hips
- Skirt front (cut 1 on fold): (10.5" x 2) minus 2 x 5/8" seam allowances minus 2 x 1" pleats= 17.75"
- Skirt back (cut 2): (10.5" minus 2 x 5/8" seam allowances = 9.25") x 2 = 18.5"
TOTAL = 36.25"

Let's compare results:

Pattern size chart: 31.5" / 24" / 33.5"
Pattern piece measurements: 36.5" / 25.5" / 36.25"
My measurements: 33" / 26.5" / 37.25"

Now, I'm making my dress in a double knit jersey - for stretchy fabrics you don't need to add ease so I'm going to choose a close fitting size. If you're using a woven fabric, you'll want to add a little ease - it's up to you how close fitting you want it to be, and will depend on the type of garment you're making (ooh la la cocktail dress or a skirt you want to be able to run for the bus in?). You can add an inch or two here and there to accommodate breathing, sitting down etc.

Notice there is a 5" difference between the bust size on the chart and the pattern pieces. The pattern I'm using has a cowl neckline so the bust line will be loose fitting. 3.5" of cowl-ness sounds about right, so I'm going to go with a size 8 bust - and if it turns out to be too big, I can always take in the side seams later.


My waist and hips are 1" bigger than the pattern, so I'm going to cut these parts of the pattern one size larger. I mark a diagonal line in red from the size 8 bust line to the size 10 waist line - this will be my new cutting line for the bodice pieces. For the skirt pieces, I'll just cut out a size 10.


The bottom of the pattern indicates that the back length of the size 8, from the nape of your neck to the hem line, is 38.75" (watch out though, because back length can also mean nape to waist). As I'm little, I want mine to be 38", so I need to shorten the length by 3/4". I know that I have a smaller than average torso, so I'm going to shorten the length of the bodice. There is a line on the front and back bodice pieces which says "lengthen or shorten here". I fold over and tape the pattern paper to get rid of the excess length. Next I'll smooth out this disjointed line to create the new cutting line.


Now I'm ready to cut out my fabric. I often make a muslin version in Swedish tracing paper, but as I'm using double knit, which drapes in its own peculiar way, I'll just pin or baste the pieces together to check the fitting before stitching.

I hope that made sense... and I hope my calculations were correct! If in doubt, cut large. But if you can cut out the right size from the start, it's going to make your life a lot easier!

43 comments:

  1. Great post for beginners - all of those measurements can be confusing to start!

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  2. It's always a good idea to measure the flat pattern and compare. Less surprises that way. But are you sure the back measurement is neck to waist? Mine is about 15.75, so I'm thinking this is the full back length of the dress, not just neck to waist.

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  3. Well spotted, Debbie! My nape to waist is 38 cm - I must've just seen that written down and assumed that's what the back length was referring to! Thanks for pointing that out. I'll amend my post now to avoid confusion...

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  4. I've just bought my first Colette patterns. I'd never really looked at the measurement chart before. All my measurements are in the same column!! I'm still going to muslin it though, I'm too cautious. I simply can't believe it can be that easy! lol
    Ashley x

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  5. Wow Tilly, thanks so much for this post! I have been pulling my hair out trying to work out how to make a dress to my sizings (you and are are pretty much the same size! hehe). This blog post really explains it clearly, silly me never thought to measure the pattern pieces. Thanks again for taking the time to write this post, I am looking forward to seeing the dress you create. Sam xox p.s Love the new profile pic :-)

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  6. This post is definitely going to go in my favourites! It's amazing how different the pattern sizing can be from what it says it is. Recently I had a pattern where I measured up as a size 16 (I'm usually a 12) but I decided to go for the 12 anyway and it still ended up too big! Your way of doing things is definitely more precise though and I think I'll do this for my next dress which I want to fit really well :)

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  7. Can't wait to see your version of this dress. I made version D from a double knit blue turquoise just about a month ago and love it. What version will you be doing?

    I'm lucky to have similar measurements in bust and hips, usually a size 6 or 8. My waist is usually a 10 but I alsways ignore this and cut smaller as I know patterns do run big. For this pattern I've cut the smaller size and still had to take side seams.

    I look forward to see your version made up :)

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  8. Thank you Tilly, this is a really helpful post! I always struggle with fitting issues, so I'll be referring to this very often I imagine!

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  11. Ahhh! Wish you could have posted this a couple days ago! I cut out a pattern and made a muslin yesterday and definitely cut at least two sizes too small. Not sure how that happened..... It was a noncommercial pattern on bond paper, so I dug my cut pieces out of the trash,taped them back on and cut out a bigger size. The 2nd muslin was much better.

    Sewing is sure making me realize that my (and everybody else's) bodies are so not normal.

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  12. Interesting post! Thanks! This would explain why the vintage repro Vogue pattern I made last week was so big even though I went by my measurements.

    And the bust must have been HEAPS larger because I cut for a 10 - which is a 31.5" bust...mine measuring exactly that or even a smidgen more - and yet the dress GAPED hugely. The darts on it take in quite a lot of fabric too - so next time I'm going to have to do some serious hacking to get the pattern to fit.

    It's a bit annoying that even (modern) sewing patterns have fallen victim to vanity sizing. At least with the experience I've had so far with vintage patterns, they run more true to size.

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  13. Great tips! Getting the right fit is so tricky, I'll definitely be using your suggestions. Looking forward to seeing your progress on the 8413 dress!

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  14. This is the way I was taught by an experienced dressmaker. She insisted that flat measurements and then adding in the ease was a sure way to do it. And it has never failed me. Makes sense doesn't it! I can't wait to see your dress!!

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  15. And there I was, naively thinking I could expect patterns to run true to the size chart! Thanks very much for this post; I'll make sure to measure the pieces next time I use a pattern.

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  16. Just used this technique to check some pattern pieces I've just cut out, Tilly. Thank you!

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  17. Great post ! I usually have to make a FBA and some other adjustments to a pattern to get it to fit so I trace all of my patterns onto "pattern ease"- a non woven lightweight textile that feels like a sew-in interfacing but has the advantage of being 45" across. This way, I can refold my patterns and make another size later. It also makes grading beyween sizes a lot easier (and making other adjustments) as the PE is easier to work with than the lightweight tissue that the pattern comes on.

    I love your blog! You inspired me to run out to get the Colette Patterns "Beignet" pattern yesterday -hopefully it turns out okay!

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  18. This is extremely helpful. I have a pattern much like this one that I to rethink and recut the pattern.

    I love your blog. You definitely have inspired me to sew more.

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  19. My grandmother showed me this method and I've just started putting it to use. She also said I don't need to make a muslin - just measure the flat pattern and baste the fashion fabric to check for fitting adjustments. Maybe as I get more experienced (she's a professional seamstress), but for now I like using the muslin as a test before cutting in to my pricey fabric!

    Great post! It's nice to see others using this method as well.

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  20. Thanks for the great post! I hadn't considered the flat measurements and wearing ease - I'll definitely try this method on my next project. Usually my measurements are all over the place (modest of bosom, average of waist, generous of hip), so this post is very handy!

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  21. Thanks Tilly! I'll definitely try this technique - at first I thought it might be a bit fiddly but you've laid it out so clearly, it seems very straightforward.

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  22. Hi Tilly, I'm so glad you posted this - I will definitely be using this method to size new patterns in the future. I never thought of measuring the paper pattern and comparing to my measurements. Thanks! Cxx

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  23. Have to try this measuring method, thanks!

    But I always, really always, trace my patterns.
    Like this, a good pattern can be used for many years as I keep the original for retracing.

    Friends can borrow it and use their size (tracing only!). And as I'm getting older, my shape is changing. But not my favourite patterns.
    Tracing is even more important when using delicate vintage patterns.

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  24. im glad you posted it too!! Ive just printed out my first sewing patterns from burda and i have to make adjustments for for my height anyway but havent measured myself yet. I might do it tomorrow after breakfast when Im alone and can stand comfortably in my pants with noone around haha! Thank you!! I shall be linking this post for my new Sew with heart feature as its a great resource!!

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  25. Thanks Tilly - will try to do this on my next pattern. Makes sense to get the measurements right, up front. Sometimes I'm impatient and want to get right into sewing - have to train the brain!!

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  26. How do you find Swedish tracing paper to work as a muslin in general? I've been using it to cut my pattern pieces for Casey's swing dress sew-along and was tempted to use it for my muslin as well since I know you can sew through it, but haven't tried it yet. I'm especially tempted now as I'm running low on actual muslin since I've been having fit issues that I'm still working through. :P

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  27. This is so useful! I've been eyeing a dress pattern for a while that I really, really want to make, but am somewhat intimidated by. I love how you've broken it down here, especially since I have similar measurements to you and so will need similar alterations.

    Thanks :)

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  28. I just wrote up a post similar! Qwinky Dink! Albeit yours is incredibly clearer than mine to read and understand! I'm going to alter mine to link here! LOLZ

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  29. this is soooo helpful! Thank you

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  30. I thought all commercial patterns (except costume patterns, for some reason) had the finished measurements printed on the pattern and/or on the envelope/guide sheet? I know a vintage pattern wouldn't have it, but most modern patterns should. Is it not that way in the UK?

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  31. Thanks so much for this informative post. Having just followed my very first dress pattern, I found the sizing the most difficult part. The dress started off too big and is now too tight. Hey ho - at least it was a practice run. I'm going to try this on my next pattern attempt.

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  32. This is so helpful. Thank you!

    I usually just blindly follow the pattern and end up with a saggy mess so I have a possible idiot question: where you removed the 3/4" from the length and folded your paper, you have a little step at the side seam. How do you cut that line?

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  33. Great Post! This is what I do, too! Saves a lot of woe later on!

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  34. Whistlepeaknits - I just snipped that bit into a diagonal line.

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  35. You are a genius. I love the way this is written. So down to earth. Going to share it with my Mum and sewing friend and on my Peak Princess page. Best wishes, Lissa

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  36. Thanks for this post Tilly! Definitely helpful. I always find that the finished garments are too big on me, especially on the bust and back.

    Great post.

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  37. Thank you for this useful post. When you measure your bust do you use your actual bust measurement or your upper bust measurement?

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  38. Thank you for this post. It helps immeasurably. When I was sewing in my younger years (long before the internet and bloggers like you were here to help & teach), everything I made just looked like I had sewn it for someone much bigger than I am. Sewing this time around is so much more fun! Thanks.

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  39. Fabulous post, am a beginner and revel in these tutes.

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  40. Very helpful! Thank you, I will stay tuned for more.

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  41. This is a great post - but it should be noted that you shouldn't always go with your bust measurement, especially if you are larger than a C cup. I usually wear a G cup bra and that puts me way into the plus-sized category, usually in the size 22 or 24 range! My body, however, is not that size. In Colette patterns, for example, I wear a 16 with an FBA. Sometimes, depending on the ease necessary, I can cut a 14. Additionally, my waist is a size 14, while my hips are an 18. I find it easier to use the high bust measurement to get a more accurate size relative to my shoulder width and torso and adjust from there. For skirts and pants it's often better to go with the waist measurement or 1 size up, and then adjust for larger hips, though again it depends on the amount of ease in the garment.

    Of course, measuring is always key to fine-tuning the fit, but cutting the size according to the usual bust size can put you into a size that is not only too big in the bust due to ease, but also one that is too large in the shoulders and has an armscye that is far too deep and which can't always be corrected by taking in the side seams once it's cut out - something I figured out by accident when sewing for myself while pregnant. :)

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  42. I came to your blog via Pinterest and I am making my first garment using a Vogue pattern. In the past, I would draft my own (only for skirts) but never tried making a dress or anything to do with the upper bodice. I was sooooo confused with the measurements because I do have a larger bust. Not only that, I am a size 0 when buying from stores. On the Vogue pattern, I am a size 14, going by my bust measurement. I have already cut everything on muslin and now seen this but I will keep it in mind for my next project. Thank you so much!

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