15. Dear Gabby: Picking a Pattern Size — Help!

Hi Sewcialists!

Welcome to the very first post of our advice column, Dear Gabby!

In today’s post, we hear from Chloe, an editor here at Sewcialists. She would like some help deciding where to start on a pattern, based on her actual body measurements and shapes, and the given measurements on the pattern envelope.

The question: Which measurement or body placements to use to pick a size?
Dear Gabby answers: 1. Measure the pattern! 2. Work from your shoulder measurement! 3. Cross check the new pattern with a tried-n-true!

After listening to Chloe’s dilemma, my take on her question is threefold:

1. I think she should definitely measure the pattern. Most Big 4 patterns (Butterick, McCalls, Simplicity, and Vogue) include a *lot* of wearing ease. It may be easier to measure the major points of the pattern (shoulders, bust, waist, and sweep) to decide what size to start from, and if she needs to grade in or out between, or make other adjustments. The body measurements given on the back of the pattern envelope don’t typically account for how much design and wearing ease has been engineered into the pattern, so it can definitely be a challenge to pick the right size.

2. My second thought, is that if Chloe has broad shoulders, it would be beneficial to choose her pattern size based on the one that matches closely to her at this point. My reasoning is simple: Armhole and sleeve adjustments are complex and time-consuming, especially if you are a beginner sewist, and full bust adjustments and bust/fisheye darts are easier corrections to make when fitting. This is probably the fastest and most pain-free option. Of course, she’ll want to make a muslin first and check that the armhole will work for her — to save time, she can easily cut just one side (front, back, and sleeve) to fit on body.

(Does this sound like you? This is how to check your across shoulder measurement, and this is how to measure it on a pattern. You’ll want to take into consideration fabrication and silhouette when choosing your size, as well.)

3. My third thought is that if Chloe has a tried-n-true pattern that she’s made before that is similar to this one, she can compare the two and see which one of the *new* sizes matches more closely to the TNT. If the styles are very similar (both wovens with a set-in sleeve and similar across shoulder measurements, for example), she can trace off any corrections she’s made to the TNT directly onto the new pattern, et, voila! … Oh, and don’t get me started on the benefits of making yourself a block library… 😉

Chloe brought up an excellent question while we were talking about this: what about the difference in cup sizes, between how the pattern was drafted, and herself? I find the difference between cup sizes in drafting usually means that if the original pattern was drafted on a B or a C cup, it doesn’t allow for enough bust projection from the armhole on the larger sizes, even if the grade is correct for the body circumference. You’ll typically see triangular shaped pulling from the sleeve/armhole to the apex of the bust, because the armhole wants to sit higher up on body, and the shape is no longer right. Armholes are graded to proportionally maintain their shape, but larger sizes require a different shape than smaller. I prefer smaller grading groups: for example, if you are fitting and grading from a women’s 8/10, stop at size 16/18, and then fit your next size range from an 18/20, to capture more accurate shapes. When things are graded out into too many sizes, you will see a lot more fit issues on the sizes on the outer edges of the range.

Here’s an excellent resource explaining patterns and cup sizes in more depth, from the eternally helpful Curvy Sewing Collective.

Got questions? I’ve got answers! And if I don’t, please allow me to google it for you…

How to submit:

Email gabby@starislandxo.com.

Send an explanation of your problem with a short video or set of photos, and your contact information. Your submission will be edited into a blog post, so please note that by sending an email, you are granting permission for your video/photos and sewing problem to be shared online. You are helping the community see all-bodied individuals! There is no shame or judgment — the end goal is to help you *make* clothing that feels great and that helps you *feel* the same way while wearing it.

See more here.

xo gabby

Gabby is a technical fashion designer, fit specialist, and prolific googler. She lives in Denver, raises tiny littles, reads, embroiders, makes, experiments, fails, learns, tries again. See her on instagram @ladygrift.