Here’s a topic that gets a lot of discussion, but I think the info bears repeating: ease in patterns. I’ve been making more contemporary patterns than usual, and also featuring them here. I’ll often get comments (virtually and in person, when I teach) warning me to watch out for the sizing on a certain pattern because it’s all off and it came out ginormous, etc.
So, here’s the thing: the sizing on a pattern doesn’t have to be a surprise. Actually, let me restate that: the EASE on a pattern doesn’t have to be a surprise. (Ease being the extra inches built into a pattern for wearing room.) It just takes a couple more steps in preparation than usual.
As traditional sewing wisdom would have you believe, all you have to do to get your correct size is measure yourself, check the size chart on that pattern, find the size that corresponds to your body, make that size, and ta-da! Your dress will fit you perfectly. Unfortunately, this is completely untrue.
The two most important pieces of information you can have when you start sewing a pattern are
1. Your preferred amount of ease in the style you’re making. So rather than measure my body, I’d be better off measuring a dress I have that fits me the way I want: provided it’s a similar style and fabric to the pattern I’m making. (You can’t compare a stretch woven dress to one that you’ll be making in a woven without stretch; you have to compare apples to apples.)
2. The pattern’s finished garment measurements. You can find this information a couple ways:
A. By looking on the tissue and finding the symbol that looks like a circle with a cross through it. There’s usually one at the bust, waist, and hips. The chart underneath will tell you the finished measurements at each of these points.
B. In the absence of the above, you can measure the flat pattern pieces at the bust, waist, and hips. Subtract any seam allowances and double the measurement (if necessary, i.e. the piece is cut on the fold or on a double layer). This is how big the piece will be when you sew it. So, you’ll have to measure the front and back bodice at the bust, and add them together to get the finished bust measurement, for instance.
So here’s a real world example. Let’s say I’m going to make a dress with a full skirt and fitted waist, and I’m sewing it up in a woven fabric without stretch. Let’s say it’s McCall’s 6503.
My measurements put me at a sewing pattern size 16. But if I made that size, I would be very unhappy with the fit, especially in the retro-style garments that I make. The first thing I’ll do is measure I dress I have that fits me well. I recently made Vogue 2960, and had to adjust the waist, but now I’m happy with the fit.
I measure the dress itself and find it’s 31” at the waist. When I look at the pattern tissue on McCall’s 6503, the finished size at the waist of the 16 is 32.5”. No good. The finished size on the size 14 is 30.5”. Close! I now know that I need to gain .5” in the waist to be happy with the fit. There are 4 seam allowances on the bodice (2 at each side seam). Divide .5” by 4 and I get 1.8”. So if I add just 1/8” at each side seam, I’ll get a finished waist measurement of 31”, just what I wanted.
I’ll repeat this process for the bust measurement, but not the hips. Since it’s a full-skirted dress, the hips will naturally have a lot of ease in them.
One thing you might be wondering is: if you’re on the cusp between two size groups (as I am), how do you decide which pattern size to buy? There’s usually one finished garment measurement on the back of the envelope, which will give you a preliminary idea of how much ease there is in the pattern.
Also, after you’ve sewn a few patterns, you’ll see a pattern. (Get it? Pattern!) And I can tell you that the pattern is usually this: you’ll wear one size smaller than the pattern companies tell you that you do. I don’t know why so much ease is added to sewing patterns, it just is. So be aware and be prepared!
Okay, readers. I’d love to hear your experiences with ease and pattern sizing. And tips, please!