Sewing Dilemma: Tween/Teen Girls Pt. 1

I’ve been asked a few times over the years, as a sewist and a mother, what advice I have for sewing Tween/Teen patterns for female-gendered bodies.

For many of us, the gateway to sewing was creating something simple. Making that pillowcase, simple elastic-waist skirt, doll dress, or baby shirt is such a satisfying win, we keep going. We slowly put more punches in our “sewing skill card.” The thing that the pillowcase, simple skirt, doll dress, or baby shirt all have in common? You’re basically fitting a tube.

Baby girl in the grass on a sunny day wearing a pink bonnet hat & floral dress sewn by author
Baby sewing: Hat + dress in basic tube shapes

Fitting a tube is pretty easy, right? There are no full-bust-adjustments, no forward shoulders, no crotch curves. Later we graduate to more complicated patterns for ourselves, such as princess seams and invisible zippers, but what do we do for those in the middle? Specifically, our tween/teen biologically-female-bodies? There aren’t a ton of tween/teen specific patterns.

New Look teen pattern of knits - not a whole lot of style but a set of dress/shirt and pants patterns made for sweatshirt fleece

Big 4 puts a few Tween/Teen sizes out here and there if you’re in the USA, but if you’ve been sewing awhile, you’ll know they don’t stay in print for very long, and the results can be hit & miss. Not to be negative, but a lot of Tween/Teen model examples I see are still very “tube shaped” – like a graded-up toddler suit.

Burda has a few options, Megan Nielsen goes up to size 12, as does Chalk & Notch, and Jalie puts sizes from child to women’s sizes in the same pattern. I’ve tried Jalie with varying results in the past, but I’d be willing to give it another go for the pure economy of having to buy something only once. There are others out there, but today we’re going to focus on that last bit: the economy part of it. Tween/Teen happens for a few short years, and in those years, there are some pivotal changes. What works for ages 10/11/12 doesn’t work for 15/16/17.

My daughter Hazel has agreed we could use her as an example for this article, and here she is above at age 10. I did a lot of experimentation. She was already over 5 feet tall. I tried a lot of the “grading between sizes” trick back then, which I almost never advise to do now. There was a Jalie swimsuit… it worked for the toddler, but not so much for the Tween, and my adult version didn’t ever see the light of day. Shown above is Hazel in her Colette Laurel dress, on which I should really have made a small bust adjustment, and I would now advise to remove the dart at this stage of Tweendom. Instead all I did was grade in/out based on size measurements on the envelope. Same with the Colette Sorbetto (original pattern release, not updated version.) The t-shirt was a basic unisex craft store shirt I modified. It shows her shape at the time pretty well, so you can see what I was trying to fit. While these were noble efforts, they didn’t quite work as one might hope.

This is Hazel, age 15. She’s now 5 feet and 7 inches tall. She’s also spent 8 years in Brazilian Jujitsu and is on the rowing team. She’s muscular and prefers a somewhat androgynous look, although she does identify female at this time. So, in just 5 years, she has again completely changed physically and in preferred style, and I expect before another 5 years are up, she’ll change again.

The point is, it’s not really economical to keep buying patterns every 5 years in addition to your own patterns, and first up we’ll focus on patterns you may want to try, and I encourage you to add your own to the comments so we can have a resource for others in the same boat.

First. Elastic pants. Hazel LOVES the Sew House 7 Free Range Slacks, and you could likely get the same effect from the Arenite, the Pietra, or the many others in the same realm. Bonus: I got Hazel to sew both her pairs. Elastic and stretchy pants will do a few things: they’re move with trends with a simple change of fabric, they’re modular on the body and can navigate the changing landscape, and lastly, they’re still kids. Pants are a good bet for gym classes, random stair-rail-sliding, and getting shoved into a mud puddle on the way home by their brother… twice.

I’d also look into True Bias Hudson pants for women. Hazel has a pair of True Bias Landers she really likes as well. True Bias only has about an 8 inch difference between their waist and hip measurements, as opposed to the usual 10 inch difference, so using patterns drafted at a lower hip/waist ratio change may prove to work out better for your Tween/Teen.

Another really good starting point may be men’s/boys’ patterns. Yeah. I know. The raglan t-shirt is the Thread Theory Sayward raglan and I made zero adjustments. If your kid has the ramrod-straight shoulders still, but isn’t super busty or curvy, try some Thread Theory. We made this men’s pattern 100% Hazel with some sparkly fabric on the arms. The fabric can really change the look!

Now, on the other end of the spectrum, there are some girls that develop more of a bust or curves, and you’ll want patterns in the other direction. Deer & Doe is known for her “pear” shaped bottoms, as is the old standby of Sewholic patterns. I love Pipe Dream Patterns as they start at a C/D cup, but if you’re sewing for a Tween/Teen, you have the added bonus that Pipe Dream Patterns generally have the bust sitting up pretty high — I often drop the bust in her patterns about an inch for my more ‘mature’ body. Itch to Stitch has optional cup sizes with the bust points drafted pretty high up in my experience. Again, having the bust set high on a pattern generally works to your advantage when sewing for Tweens/Teens. In Part 2 of this series, we’ll delve a bit more into bust point and how to maybe decrease the accentuation of developing girls so they feel more comfortable.

I’ve been a Seamwork member since the start, and find them to be economical way to pad the pattern stash and easy to adjust. The tie-dye tank in the mock body suit above is the Seamwork Gretta tank pattern.

And lastly, I’m going to do a plug here for Small Bobbins and her Free Bralette pattern review YouTube series. She has left no detail left unturned. If you’re looking to whip up some bralettes for your Tween/Teen and need to know the least frustrating options out there, she’s going to know all the details.

In the next post, which will go live next Friday (a week from today), we’ll get into a few bust pattern adjustments you can make to your adult patterns, complete with diagrams. Please, add below, all your favorite Tween/Teen resources and patterns to share. What about knitting Tween/Teen resources?

Author & Editor Becky Jo can be found on Instagram.