Pattern available in a 36" bust from ZipZapKap. You can re-size it to fit you!
This is one of the topics I get the most e-mails and questions about, so I figured it was time for a post on the subject! Vintage patterns get a bad rap for being extremely difficult to fit, but they're really no worse than modern patterns, I think. The big differences are 1) patterns were not multi-sized (there's only one size per pattern envelope) so you can't grade between sizes, 2) lack of availability, especially on the larger end of the sizing spectrum, 3) and changes in fashion silhouette that affect ease. But don't let this discourage you from trying vintage patterns!
Here's my low-down of tips to keep in mind:
- As with modern patterns, it's best to order based on your high bust measurement. This measurement is taken underneath your armpits, but above your breasts. The reasoning here is that this measurement is the best reflection of the size of your frame, while your bust measurement doesn't necessarily tell you much other than your bustiness factor. My high bust measurement is 36", but my full bust is 38". So my ideal pattern size is 36".
- BUT! Just because this pattern fits my high bust certainly does not mean it's going to fit the rest of my body. But I can be pretty much assured that I'll get a nice fit throughout the shoulders, and I can add more width where needed elsewhere. Another personal example: My waist measurement is currently 31". But a bust 36" pattern is meant to fit a 28" waist. This means I need an extra 3" around the waist. Divide that number by 4 (for each quadrant of your upper body) and you get 3/4". So I need to add 3/4" to each of my side seams, tapering down from the armpit. Make sense? This won't affect the fit of the armholes, sleeves, or the shoulders.
- Repeat the above process if needed for the hips.
- Just as with modern patterns, if you're bigger or smaller than a B cup, expect to have to make bust alterations. Learn how to do an FBA (full bust adjustment) or SBA (small bust adjustment) by reading a fitting book like Fit for Real People or Fast Fit.
- Because ease can vary on vintage patterns just like it does on contemporary ones, it's always a good idea to measure each pattern piece to figure out what the finished garment measurement will be. This will also help you decide how much width you need to add (or subtract).
- Because vintage patterns are available in limited sizes, you need to decide how much resizing you're willing to do. I personally feel comfortable going one size up or one size down from my high bust measurement - meaning that I'll order a 34", 36", or 38" bust pattern and feel confident that I can resize it fairly easily.
- For one size up or one size down from your high bust measurement, you can generally resize just by adding or subtracting width, as in my waistline example above. You might also need to move darts in or out, but this is easy to do in a muslin.
- Once you get more than one size away up or down from your high bust measurement, you're looking at a more complicated resizing process. I've had success slashing and spreading a pattern piece in equal increments to add my needed width in a balanced way. If you haven't read Sense & Sensibility's guide on this method, do so now!
- With vintage patterns, it's especially helpful to make a muslin. Even if you've addressed all your major fitting issues by working with the flat pattern, you may be in for some surprises in muslin. Silhouettes naturally change from decade to decade. For instance, I've found some 50s patterns to be incredibly long-waisted, perhaps due to longline bras of the era and bodices that were sometimes worn in a blousier way. A muslin will help you confront these issues head on!