Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dealing with Pattern Ease


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.

via Simplicity.comhttp://www.simplicity.com/t-sewing-101-part2.aspx

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!


98 comments:

  1. I definately find this to be true as well. I hadn't sewn in about 10 yrs and I don't remember this being an issue for me before...but that was a lifetime ago. I started making clothes that fit the uniform black and white that I need to finish up my cosmotology school and lo and behold most of the patterns I've used and seen have alot of ease in them. This could just be my personal preference of wanting more slim fitting clothes. Or it could just be fashion right now. The latest dress measurement were like 57 inches in the bust...and my measurements are 40". For me thats too much...I pretty much figured out on trial and error how to fix that for my own preferences. OK Im done blabbing! LOL

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  2. I never understood why so much ease is added to patterns. When I drafted my block/sloper, my text book said to add 1/2" to the bust for wearing ease. This is 2" in total CIRCUMFERENCE! Am I going to do jumping jacks in it? Instead, I added 1/4" ease on front and back at bust, which would give me 1/2" in total circumference for ease. Plenty of room to move around comfortably in my opinion.

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  3. Agree. Commercial pattern companies have published the style ease on their patterns, in a prominent location, for many decades. It is not difficult to find, either on the back of the pattern envelope or on the pattern pieces themselves. And, commercial pattern companies are far more regular in their naming of sizes than is the rtw industry. They've only had to do a major overhaul two or three times in the past century, unlike rtw, which seems to fluctuate far more often (and which is entirely inconsistent across brands).

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  4. I follow the final measurement of the garment and not my pattern size too. I just wish all the pattern companies would print the garment measurements on the envelop.

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  5. Awesome! I'm so glad you wrote this! I am new to sewing and have only made handbags and a quilt so far. I've been too worried to spend my time on trying to make clothes and then have them not fit. I found a pattern for a dress that I loved the other day but I ended up putting it back because after comparing my measurements to the biggest size on it (which was a 20, I usually wear a 14-16), it said I wouldn't fit. I knew that there was probably some way to adjust it but I didn't know how. This helps! I might go but that pattern this weekend!

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  6. But...why am I a larger size in The Big Three patterns and a smaller size in Colette's? Does Colette correspond to dress sizes rather than traditional pattern sizes?

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  7. I'm so glad you wrote this! I'm making more clothes lately and the measurements are always off for me. It never occured to me to measure clothes I have that fits well. I'll be trying this next time!

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  8. I hadn't sewn for almost 10 years also and started again last summer. I find sizing very challenging. I've changed dramatically since I quit sewing clothing for myself and I think sizing has changed on patterns. The first thing I made, I carefully measured and looked at the back of the envelope (NOT one of the big four). From my measurements, I determined I would make a size 22. But then the little blurb said: we try to follow ready to wear sizing. Well, in RTW I wear an 18. Having purchased some seriously cheap fabric, I decided to follow the measurements, cut a 22 and boy is it huge on me. I haven't had time to do any other clothing sewing, but am hoping that I have learned. I have purchased several patterns from this particular designer and hope I can figure it all out!

    Thanks, for the tips, Gertie!

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  9. I think we also have to remember that fit has a lot to do with personal preference. Many of the dresses you make look lovely on you but I can also tell from the pictures that I would not be comfortable wearing them. I just prefer a bit more ease in my everyday clothes. That said I'm guess you would look at many of the things I make and think I should take them up a bit.

    I've also found that I must remember I have broad shoulders when making woven dresses. I tend to go ahead and make a 16 all over though my bust would call for a 14 (despite being a 34D) and my waist really fits into the 18 bracket. I think the big thing I wish more people got was that its not that the patterns are evil its that you have to figure out what works for you.

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  10. I've been told to buy patterns for tops and dresses based on your high bust measurement, because adjusting the shoulders is harder than other parts. That's worked reasonably well for pear-shaped me. But I agree that measuring a favorite garment in a similar fabric is the way to go. Am doing it now for a pair of pants! RTW is definitely vanity-sized. I have clothes every size from 2 to 16, and they all fit fine!

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  11. Hi there Gertie,

    Just fabulous, the blog I have been waiting for!!

    I have learned as your advice has told me, that I usually need to make up patterns 1 size smaller.

    It is so wonderfully refreshing and confidence boosting to learn from others and find that it coincides with what you are doing yourself............Yes, why is there such a huge amount of ease given in some patterns??

    From your lovely bombshell dress course I have learned that making a toile really is the best way to checking on the perfect fit; but your suggestion to check measurements from clothes that already fit really well and then compare to the pattern you are going to work on...........well, that makes a huge amount of sense.

    Thanks for a terrific blog today........

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  12. I think that the pattern companies provide "average" ease, which will be too much for a slender or young/fit figure, but perfect for a more mature or flabbier one. Case in point: at 35 years of age and 110 pounds, I could sew a size 10 with barely any ease and it looked and felt great. Now older and heavier, I find that I need quite a bit more ease, which in most cases is the ease given by a standard pattern.
    My trick ? find my "spread ease". I sit with the tape measure around my hips... the new measurement will be my minimum wearing width. Same thing with flexing a biceps, or taking a really big breath. Makes sense ?
    Also, I find it important to start with a pattern which fits my size 10 frame.... that means drawing a larger size below the upper chest....

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  13. Thank you, I have been reading a lot on how to fit a pattern properly and your explanation really helped me understand it better.

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  14. Great post! I hadn't thought of retro ease vs. typical pattern company ease, but as soon as you say it I can see it makes sense. The major companies typically add way too much even for normal wear.

    A note, though -- I think you have a typo in the paragraph on dividing .5" by 4 -- should read 1/8" instead of 1.8".

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  15. The ridiculous amount of ease in patterns is something that drives me crazy. I do now always always check the finished measurements rather than just go with the recommended size, but it doesn't always work. For instance, in that McCall's pattern in your example, it looks like it's supposed to be a little blousy on top, what with the underbust gathers. But I don't always know how much ease will give me the right amount of "blousyness" and how much will just look baggy and too big. And if you don't have a similar style garment already in your closet, it still becomes a guessing game. Another gripe I have with too much ease, is that often when I size down in order to get the bust ease as I like it, the sleeves and/or armscyes are too tight. I have a small bust and like tops fitted, but I don't have little toothpick arms. Aaggh, this whole thing just makes me crazypants!

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  16. Thanks so very much for making this make sense to me. I shall look at my patterns in a different way now and hopefully get them to fit more easily.

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  17. I too routinely "size down" for contemporary Big 4 patterns. I occasionally wondered if it was just an odd quirk of my figure that made this necessary or if others did the same.

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  18. Thank you for this post!! My last few projects have been such a disappointment. This method for for figuring out size, I can do. Now I am excited to try again!

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  19. Wow Gertie! Thanks for this.

    I recently thrifted a 80's does 50's simplicity pattern (don't have the number on me as I am at work... lol), but it is about 2 sizes to large (one has one size it in). I have never graded a pattern to fit me before, so my question is this... can this math be done in reverse?

    If I know what waist and bust measurement I want, could I divide by 4 and subtract that from the 4 side seams?

    Thanks so much!

    ~ Nicole S.

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  20. I don't even read the suggested sizes on the pattern envelope anymore... I just go straight for the finished measurements on the tissue... and I have been known to pull the tissue out of the envelope & unfold it to find that magic number if I need to!

    At any rate, I've never understood why they put so much ease in patterns to begin with - especially with the envelope art/photo shows something close-fitting.

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  21. I think there are three basic reasons for the "ease" issue. The first is that the vanity sizing that hit the RTW industry has been less evident in the pattern industry, so that many people who know they wear a size 8 in RTW have been quite disappointed over the years to discover that they can't even wiggle a leg into a size 8 from any of the big 4 pattern-makers. I think blogs like yours that put proper emphasis on taking good measurements are helping sewists to get over the size on a pattern packet as a moral issue, but I also think that the big 4 up-sized a tiny bit about a decade ago, just to deal with this issue.

    The second issue is that many people do prefer more body ease than others. I don't wear any foundational garments, and tend to be a bit on the modest side, so I don't really want my clothes to cling. I also lead a rather active lifestyle, so a waist that doesn't allow me to bend and stretch isn't on the cards.

    The third issue is the aspect known as "design ease". It's usually listed on the pattern, and you can find charts that describe what it means when patterns describe garments as "close fitting," "loose fitting," and even "very loose fitting." These distinctions are an essential part of the style of the garment, so tinkering with them by going down a size may cause a disaster (for instance, something described as "very loose fitting" may still be fitted through the armscye, so that going down a size would make it bind there, even though it would be closer fitting elsewhere).

    In short, I agree with you that it's important to measure the garment and to know your fitting preferences. Still, it can be fun to step out of your rut from time to time to try a different style, even if it does have a different fit profile.

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  22. This post is so helpful! I'm sort of Tinkerbell shaped in that my hips/butt are a stark contrast to my small upper and this drives me away from many patterns. I'm afraid to adjust and end up wasting either fabric or the pattern itself. I've recently forced myself to get into tracing patterns to avoid losing the original, which helps ease my waste anxieties. This post cleared up many questions i had and didn't even know how to convey. thanks!

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  24. I am becoming quite proud of myself as far as basic pattern adjustments like adding to the waist, as well as being able to mix pattern sizes to get my proper fit. I always go by the ease because I am particular on how garments fit me, rather than rely on how the pattern company thinks it should fit me. I only realized to do so after I had made some tents that were supposed to be dresses!

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  25. Okay so this is the magic from my mom that I totally forgot!

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  26. Thank you for this! I am very new to sewing clothing from patterns and this very weekend I was cutting out a skirt pattern. I typically wear a size 2-4 in clothes from stores like J. Crew, Banana, Limited ect...but according to my measurements I needed a size 14 in the pattern. So I cut out the size 14 and just the front panel of the skirt could pretty much wrap almost all the way around me.

    So then I tried a different pattern and did what you suggested, measured the waist of the pattern to find the right size for me and it worked much better.

    Thanks!

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  27. Thanks this was very helpful!

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  28. This is one of the things that puts me off trying to make a garment. I can sew but not dress make, I would love to take a class but there is nothing even remotely near me. I also suffer from the numerical equivelant of dyslexia so anything with measuring and numbers etc confuses me and makes my eyes bleed! I'd need guidance through it. Doesn't matter how many books or articles I read I still come away with my head spinning.

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  29. The "it turned out ginormous"comments are probably from people like me who can remember sewing 10 or 20 years ago when you chose the size by the size charts and the finished garment had an appropriate amount of ease built in and fit properly. We should not have to mess about measuring pattern pieces to find our size.I don't know what the big 4 are up to with ease, but it must be very disconcerting to begineer sewers who go of the size chart and then have something that drowns them. Thank you Gertie for pointing out how to solve it, but really the pattern companies should get it right in the first place.

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  30. Desired ease is the gotchya, I think, because it's not just the garment shape and fit but also the fabric you use, and the detailing in the pattern. You might want a tighter fit when there is ruching or gathers that will obscure the little blips and bumps that many bodies and most undergarments introduce, while something flimsier and slinkier might benefit from a little ease so it flows over the body in a smooth line instead of bunching, gathering or clinging.

    I also had a surprise with a project I sewed the other day. I had an overall good fit but what I didn't expect was for the cross back to feel so constricting. I have wide broad shoulders but I'm fairly slim through the waist, so even though I ostensibly cut the right size, I could barely lift my arms when the jacket was buttoned. The garment had very little wearing ease and I underlined it which made the fabric a little thicker and it all conspired to throw everything off just enough to be uncomfortable.

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  31. I find that there is too much ease in modern patterns (and vintage reproductions as well). I usually have to choose one to two sizes below my measurements (on the Cynthia Steffe strapless dress I made earlier this year, I went three sizes smaller! I mean, how are you supposed to wear a strapless dress so huge?). I go with finished measurements now, and it's less of a surprise when I try the garment for the first time. By the way, I am doing the Starlet jacket course and I love it!

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  32. I'm right between pattern size groups as well. If I'm purchasing a pattern that I want to be close fitting, I will open up the pattern tissue and examine the finished garment measurements in the store prior to purchasing a pattern to figure out what size group to buy. And sometimes I do buy two patterns to get the correct fit. (If they're less than $2 a piece its worth it to me).

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  33. Great post! I wish all the Big Four patterns had finished measurements listed, beyond finished length. Printing finished bust, waist, and hip measurements for each size on the back of the envelope would go a long way to solve this guessing game. Beyond that, the Big Four marking where the bust, waist, and hip elevations are on each pattern piece would at least make measuring the pieces feasible. I've encountered Big Four *corset* patterns that only had the waist marked on the Center Front piece and no where else, with no other bust or hip lines either. Us short sewists (5'1" here) can't just measure up from the waist or down from the shoulders, as the pattern probably needs shortened as well. Oh, and that Big Four corset pattern had a couple of inches of ease too. Ease in a corset! Why??

    I am curious how much ease varies from contemporary patterns to vintage patterns, and how much of that variation is because the undergarments we wear have changed since those vintage patterns were printed. I would imagine that if you're wearing a well-fitting girdle (much less a full-on corset) under your clothes, you wouldn't need nearly as much ease. The way we dress and move has changed since hose vintage patterns were printed, and I think modern ease attempts to keep up with that. It's easier (heh) to just add gobs of ease than it is to design clothes that move well with the body.

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  34. Some of the comments almost seem to be defending the excessive ease in patterns calling it "wearing ease." But the last time I strictly followed the size recommendation on a pattern I had a strapless dress that fell to my waist. I had to take it in over 4 inches through then entire torso. That is not design ease.

    I agree that some clothes are supposed to be more loose fitting but fabric choice will only take you so far.

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  35. I am newer to sewing for myself and I have been doing what you described here. The first thing I made, I was really nervous because I didn't have time or desire to make a muslin and it came out perfectly. I was so thrilled. It was New Look 6000 which I modified to A-line and floor length for a black gown to sing in my choir. I was very proud to have made a gorgeous gown for around $30. I just wore it a second time at our spring concert last weekend:) Thanks for a great post. Before that project I was putting off sewing for me because I was worried about wasting time on things that wouldn't fit, but this method makes it all seem fairly simple to me.

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  36. Thank you SO much for this! I'm learning to sew a dress and it is going to be a super task. My measurements share sizes 14 & 16 so this post will help a lot ^_^

    I got Vintage Vogue 2902 (during the sale you mentioned!). I don't own a dress so this should ease me into wearing them again.

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  37. This is definitely one of those things that you start to realize with practice, is a necessity - I have found myself going straight to the finished garment measurements more often than not as I'm gaining experience with how finished garments fit me, and how much ease I'm comfortable with.

    It's still a tricky process, especially when you're a combination of two or more sizes plus an FBA and other adjustments LOL, but knowing where to start is a big help :)

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  38. I've ranted about this at length on my own blog lol - I think I've finally learned to check the finished garment size, and the ease, my favourite 'love to hate' patterns are New Look - no-one needs 5" of ease in a waist, or 7" in the bust for a fitted shirt, FFS!!!
    I'm also halfway between sizes - 18 and 20, and have found things work much better when I cut a 16 :D

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  39. While they don't have the wide assortment of patterns that the Big Four have, I really like Silhouette patterns for basic stuff. The measurements on the patterns are not body measurements. They are the measurements of the actual garment. You choose the size based on the amount of ease you want. The bonus is that every pattern also includes adjustments for different bra cup sizes. http://www.silhouettepatterns.com/

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  40. Wow, thank you for this! I knew I wasn't crazy - I actually was going to ask you about this because I was so confused. I've been making dresses mostly by Simplicity and New Look and the sizing normally says I'm a size 10 (in RTW I'm a 2 or 4), and my finished garments have always been huge! In fact, I actually made one pattern in a 4 without looking at the measurements and it was MUCH closer to my normal size.

    Anyways, thanks for helping me to finally understand! It should definitely help :)

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  41. Great timing! I'm contemplating simplicity 3673 and googled first and found your take on this dress back in 2009 and plenty of others on blogs saying that there are more than 4inches of ease in this dress and its a big bag. So now I'm fully armed to tackle a smaller size.
    Bummer is, I suppose, that you have to buy the pattern to find out because its on the tissue rather than the packet.
    Glad to have you back to 'proper' blogging again now the book's done!!
    lore

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  42. Pattern ease. GRRR!!!!!

    I wear my RTW clothes with hardly any ease. I've started to cut a 6, sometimes grading to an 8 wasit depending on what I'm making. This ease issue has put me off sewing fitted skirts.

    I made the V8511 dress in size 6, skirt was too small. So next time I sewed I was using V8603 skirt pattern, cut an 8, too big. WTH!!!!! Vogue!

    I also did what Gertie did and measured a RTW skirt I fitted well and compared measurements to the pattern pieces.

    I did it the hard way and added and subtracted and multiplied... now that I know to look for the circle with the cross through it", l"ife will be much easier. Thank you for that!

    I am lucky that I am a B cup and don't have to do FBA.

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  43. I think patterns lie. the fit is wrong if you make the size reccommended. They need to adjust or they will be discouraging new sewers from continuing sewing beyond a garment or two.

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  44. After sewing for myself for many, many years I recently have had a confidence crises re pattern sizes. I used to just make my dress size from RTW and it worked fine - but after thirty things "moved around" for me (same weight different proportions). Recently had a "Simplicity" disaster (even with doing a muslin!).... What gets my goat is what seems to be huge inconsistencies within each of big 4 patterns. Some "Simplicity" patterns have bust, hip, waist markings (that circle with a cross so you know the widest point), some have only a line. Some have lengthen and shorten lines some don't. I am sure I've noticed this within each of the big four. Gosh it pips me!

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  45. Totally agree with all the comments about what a pain the extra ease is. It's lead to tears I admit, as a beginner sewer, when I made a skirt, and it turned out so very large. I have also had similar disasters. What are they thinking?

    I think everyone should email the pattern companies and let them know. I'm going to email them and say "how about ya stop lying guys??" lol! I think sewers should make their voices heard!

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  46. You probably know about this but I thought I would pass along:



    http://www.vam.ac.uk/vastatic/microsites/1486_couture/create.php

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  47. This excessive ease is very annoying, I agree. I even wrote to McCall's customer service to ask why they put so much ease in the patterns-unfortunately the response was just as aggravating-basically they defined ease instead of answering my question. I expect it is to accommodate for many body shapes and sizes. I can also tell from fitting the patterns that their basic body form is a more mature figure which normally requires a bit more ease to be comfortable. Contemporary fashion is definitely more fitted.

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  48. Thank you for that great article. That will help me a lot for my next dress, I always have to reduce the waist size.
    I am about to finish to sew a nice dress, the bust ease was about 4" !!! That's completely crazy !

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  49. I agree with what you wrote (in fact, I haven't sewn from patterns in a long time and I'm now making a dress from a vintage pattern and coming across some of the same old fitting issues I almost forgot) but there is more to it.
    Of example: forget looking at height measurements at your peril. You may do all the work to get the bust and waist circumference right, but the dress won't fit right and will look awful if the waistlength and/or bust height are off.
    It is also important to be careful with and to try to find out about the amount of ease in equally important and personal but much harder to check areas like the shoulders. In my personal experience, my shoulder width is usually a size up from my bust circumference, so changing a pattern the way you suggested could make me end up with an unwearable dress.
    Both shoulders and length measurements can be nearly impossible to measure on the pattern tissue due to style elements like the neckline shape, so you need to rely on the charts for waistlength (and mind about any added ease there as well) and build experience on the subject of 'additional measurements.

    And one final point I'd like to make: whenever people start talking about pattern ease, it's always about how there's way too much off it. This seems to lead some people to go for a size in which the finished measurements match their own. That is wrong. We all need some ease and some styles need more than than others. I know that's why you tell to measure a garment, rather than go from body measurements but I guess I just thought it can't be said too often.

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  50. That was a good advice! Thanks!

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  51. Yep. I always end up going one size down in Butterick, Vogue, McCalls and Simplicity. In stretch fabric, as much as 2 sizes down sometimes. The only company that I can cut the size that corresponds to the back-of-the-envelope measurements is Burda.

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  52. I started sewing this year and for my first few garments I had to completely resize them despite being almost a perfect 14(according to the charts). So on one of my more recent projects I decided to follow your tissue fitting vlogs and the adjustments post cutting out were a lot less dramatic than I have had with any other project which also meant it was SO much neater on the inside than anything else I have made! I think it realy makes a difference doing a little extra prep with something you know you want to be more fitted. Thank you!

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  53. Useful info for when I get the courage up to actually try and make something from a pattern! I do love reading your blog. Thank you. :o)

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  54. Great Tips - My biggest issue is actually getting sleeves to fit at the bicep, for some reason they always 'catch' at the underside of my arm.. any ideas?

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  55. Thank you for this post. I am a beginner, making my first dress at the moment. It's really helpful to have this advice in a clearly written blog post. Looking forward to your book!

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  56. When I made up the muslin of my colette skirt from the handbook I found it to be super huge even though I had measured very carefully and used the figures at the size chart at the back (as it said to in the instructions). I then looked at the finished garment measurements. I ended up going down 4 sizes and doing a slight waist adjustment to add half an inch!!

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  57. My current vintage (1953) sundress pattern is unexpectedly generous. As it's vintage 16 - 34, 28,37 - I thought I would need to scale it up. I got the tape out and it actually runs to 38-30-39 on the flat tissue. I have fitted the muslin bodice and yes it's pretty much perfect. To anyone who has never used a vintage pattern I would say always measure the flat tissue at the bust waist etc, there are plenty of on line guides for grading or scaling up patterns, it's simple if you have a calculator. And make a muslin. It really isn't a waste of time as it can be used again and again (well this one will be!)

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  58. This isn't a new problem. I made a Simplicity dress in 1970; I was skinny UK size 10 in RTW then, and the dress just overwhelmed me. I had to take it in all over. I still think Simplicity has too much ease.

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  59. Excellent post as always, Gertie! Thanks for showing people the ropes!
    I typically find that I go "down one size".
    I write notes directly on my pattern envelope so I do not forget. "Too much ease", "hangs nicely", etc.
    If I am using a pattern that will be used again and again (scrub tops for my husband), I make new working patterns with all of his adjustments using butcher paper. Then I don't have to think so hard each time. haha
    I also construct costumes differently so that I can take in and let out easily and often. But that is not what I want in clothing for my family!!

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  60. This is a great post! It's something I know, but seem to always forget. Since getting my dressform a few months back much of my fitting issues have been resolved. If I'm unsure of how a pattern will fit I cut out the largest reasonable size for me, then I pin the darts/pleats/gathers and pin that to my dressform. This works like a charm and makes my muslin fitting more accurate. Anyway, thanks for posting this. You have a such a good way of explaining sewing concepts.

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  61. This is one thing that took a long time for me to learn -- My clothes were always too big -- except in the bust where they were inches too small. Now with the combined knowledge that I must do a large FBA and go down a size of what the pattern says I should need, I'm much happier. Seriously I helped fit a pair of pants for my mom that had 8 inches of ease in each pant leg!

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  62. Thanks for the fitting tips in this posting. I used to wonder about fit, but rather in an abstract sort of way, because I was lucky enough to get good fit using patterns as they were printed. 3 kids took their toll on my figure, and now I have to make all kinds of adjustments, and I'm still learning. The MOST important thing I have learned is that measuring the "bust" is done above the full bust line unless one is a A-cup. This is not how I was taught by my mother years ago (though she has since learned this too) Using that high-bust measurement will usually give the proper neck/shoulder fit, and the rest of the measurements can be adjusted from there.

    In my opinion, insisting that the pattern companies change what they are doing wouldn't help anyone. We all have unique shapes, so there's just no way that a pattern company could make patterns that would fit everyone right out of the envelope This is especially so when other factors will contribute to how the finished garment will fit, including the fabric used and what fashion trends are dictating as the fashionable amount of ease to be worn during the season the pattern was created. There's just no substitute for careful preparation and ongoing fitting along with lots of practice.

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  63. Gertie - this is the best post yet! I need this info - thank you so much.
    Dana in California

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  64. I learned this one the hard way. I have def taken to measuring my pattern pieces if the finished garment size isn't printed anywhere. On the otherhand, it's a bit of a blessing for me because I'm a curvier girl and sometimes patterns don't come in a size big enough but the ease lets me get away with it. :)

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  65. As a woman with a mature figure, I'm constantly having to make a muslin for fit. I'm a size 12 in the shoulders and well that's the only place that is true! I find it rather amusing I wear 18-20's in the Big 4 companies, but a size 14/16 in RTW. I'm currently playing with how to alter in the waist and stomach area. I'm going to try my aunt's suggestion to make the front waist/stomach area a size larger.

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  66. Excited about your book!

    I haven't seen the original Vogue book, but isn't that a bit of a boondoggle, selling the book without the patterns? I can say that now without stepping on any toes, right?

    It now runs at about $250 on abebooks. Is that because you have created a buzz?

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  67. P.S. This is a really interesting post. When I actually suck it up and try to sew, I think it will be very useful.

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  68. This is what I love about your post - you always have such useful information. I am getting ready to cut out a dress and I will be mindful of all your comments. That is my biggest frustration with sewing is getting the right pattern and right fit.

    Do you ever have weekend workshops? I would love to do something with you along with my 16 year old daughter and her friend.

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  69. I totally agree with you! Very important to measure the different pattern pieces and add them to get the total circular measure, then decide if you give or take having fabric and design into consideration.
    I follow a different method to cut, mark and baste the pattern (http://mertxeshomesewing.blogspot.com.es/2012/05/pink-polar-fleeze-jacket-step-by-step.html), and for me the first fitting -basted pieces- is crucial to decide on this.
    Yes, most comercial patterns become too big, but do not always blindly trust this, because sometimes it can be the opposite and if you did not foresee it (big seam allowances), you are screwed!
    On the other hand, I learned today the meaning of the cross inside the circle! I am currently working in an American Vogue pattern and I was wondering about the meaning of these symbols!
    Thanks, Gertie, very useful post!

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  70. Very good explanation on how to adjust a pattern to your personal measurements!
    There is a small error though.
    "Divide .5” by 4 and I get 1.8”."
    should be:
    "Divide .5” by 4 and I get .125”."
    Which, as you correctly write, means "just add 1/8” at each side seam."

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  71. I love this post! I have had this issue a lot lately and finally decided to go a size down - I'm happy to hear I did the right thing. Thanks for the insight.

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  72. I found this super helpful :) Thanks!

    cat

    www.catgotdressed.blogspot.com

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  73. Gertie,
    I had no idea about any of this! I'm a beginning seamstress and I could never figure out why everything was so big when I finished sewing it!? This really clears some things up and gives me a precise plan before I cut. All the advice you give is really great for people who are teaching themselves how to sew and sew amazing well fitted garments. I really love reading! Thanks for the excellent tips!

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  74. I love this simpler way of explaining things. It really helps to start noticing a pattern in certain pattern companies, which takes experience! I sewed a lot of the big 4 patterns in the 80s and I think at the time what we now think is larger ease was very normal. Clothes were just blousier! (I also have several patternmaking textbooks, and it seems to me that some of the blocks are just older and haven't been updated in at least a decade--not as modern as the fit we want now. And some of these books are still the main textbooks in schools.)

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  75. As others have said , a very interesting topic, and one I've pondered over many times. I think I must be by far the oldest poster on here - won't say how old! And I don't have any problems with "ease " of patterns now. I'm a 12- 14.
    But I wish the pattern-makers would make it clearer if there are seam allowances or not.

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  76. I've been sewing for over 50 years, and as I've gotten older my bust has gotten larger, but my shoulders and neck haven't. Pattern makers seem to believe that if one has a 36DD bust, one must naturally have also grown some huge shoulders and a football player's neck. I start with a size 8 pattern for my neck and upper chest, size out to a 10 or 12
    for shoulder width, and do a full bust adjustment. I always make a muslin (often using old fabric out of my stash, because muslin won't drape like chiffon!) and tweak the muslin until I'm happy. When I was young, I fit perfectly into a Vogue size 10 -- nowadays, you just can't tell. You just have to experiment.

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  77. Thanks for the post. I completely forgot about the ease. I'll definitely be paying more attention to the pattern to note the size of what the finished product would be.

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  78. when i started sewing i caught on to the fact that huge amounts of ease were added to patterns, so i always bought a smaller size, now i draft my own patterns i am amazed at how little ease i include beyond my actual body measurements, clothes are more body conscious now not like the late 80's early 90's when everything was boxy and oversized, this is why i learned to draft patterns, now my clothes always fit.

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  79. Thanks for this post, Gertie. It's very refreshing. I've never considered this to be a "problem." I really don't understand why people are mystified or surprised by this issue. On many patterns, they print the actual amount of ease they add to the pattern, and it's usually 5 or 6 inches, (even if they don't have the finished measurements), it's not like they are trying to hide it.

    The problem is completely eliminated by simply tissue fitting before you cut out your fabric. I sometimes do a basic tissue fit before I even cut out the size I'm going to use, just to figure out what size I need. It's not hard, and I suspect that back when the knowledge was passed down more thoroughly, everyone did this as a matter of course.

    But in general, I have no patience for this as a complaint (as an observation, I have no problem). If you do any research at all, read any books at all they always talk about fit, how to tissue fit, how to flat measure, and how to choose your pattern size before you go "whack, whack" into your fabric ;). And in general, I'd rather there was more ease than less, because you can make a garment smaller if you sew it too big, but not bigger if you sew it too small.

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  80. I always go by finished measurements. The problem I run into, however, is comparing my measurements to finished garment measurements while taking into account that I will need to do a FBA.

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  81. I think a lot of ease is built in to most patterns to supposedly fit a range of figures so no one can complain that it is too small, but I think they shoot themselves in the foot by offering numeric sizes instead of SML. Seeing numeric automatically makes me think that it should fit even closer to my actual size. Less specificity is better.
    The best thing you can do is go by finished garment measurements and compare that to a RTW item that you own that it similar cut and most importantly- fabrication.
    Sizing is so wonky these days that there really is no "right" answer for what size you are. Sizing has become part of the designers point of view rather than industry standards.
    When you purchase a pattern you should only go by your hips and bust as these are the widest point. All other points should be considered detail

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  82. So glad you wrote about this! I'm fairly new to sewing garments and have been mostly relying on trial and error. Very helpful advice!!

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  83. The way I understood it, it's that the Big 4 pattern companies haven't changed the sizing on their envelopes since the 50's (ish) but instead they've just added more ease to the patterns to make them fit modern bodies.

    According to the measurements on most pattern envelopes, I should be wearing an AUS 16 with 18 hips. However, when I actually cut out the patterns, I'm generally a 10-12. Which is a truckload of ease (especially when these are fitted patterns, like boned bodices!). I pretty much ignore the pattern envelope measurements these days and go strictly by the 'finished measurements' listed on the pattern pieces.

    It's utterly ridiculous and really frustrating for beginner sewists! No wonder so many beginners are put off!

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  84. Great tips.
    I've sewn few burda paterns (skirts mainly) and didn't consider the "ease issue" at all.
    Now, I don't know if the german brand doesn't have all the ease the american pattern companies have.Or simply I just choose a smaller size ,and probably gained few cm reducing the seam allowances.
    now it's all clear!
    I've bought vogue 2960 a wile ago and am planning to make it.
    Iìll try to work out which size suits me better!
    Grazie Laura

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  85. But in general, I have no patience for this as a complaint (as an observation, I have no problem). If you do any research at all, read any books at all they always talk about fit, how to tissue fit, how to flat measure, and how to choose your pattern size before you go "whack, whack" into your fabric ;). And in general, I'd rather there was more ease than less, because you can make a garment smaller if you sew it too big, but not bigger if you sew it too small.

    I do consider it a problem because if someone is following their instructions to choose a pattern size, they'll end up with the wrong size. Yes, ok, you can do the measurements, tissue fit etc but generally people buy patterns to minimise all of this mucking around. It's one thing to be making alterations to the pattern to fit your particular figure quirks, it's another to have to remove inches all over the shop to get it to vaguely resemble the fit on the envelope. If they just put "arbitrarily, picked out of the air measurements - do not use these as a reference" it would be much closer to the truth.
    It is quite obvious with the more fitted styles that the garment made for the model on the envelope could not have been made using their measurement system. I'm not even talking about FBA's and other figure irregularities. I really think that looking at the pic on the envelope should give you some idea of how that garment will fit you if you follow their measurement system, close, baggy etc. - isn't that what it's for? (well, apparently not)

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  86. I am also coming to that conclusion. I am on the bigger side of normal, but too small for plus sized patterns, and usually, the larger patterns are not stocked, or are all gone, so I will always buy the normal size patterns, and just add to them...except lately, I've noticed that my finished dresses are ALWAYS too big at the waist, and I didn't need to add the extra size on. I also find that I have to drastically alter the bust line, as my boobs are kinda huge in relation to the rest of me...so, busts almost never work for me, but I am almost always at least a size smaller than the pattern says I am everywhere else. I have never seen a finished garment size on a pattern; I wonder if I have never read it through? I will be looking for that in the future!

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  87. Thanks for this post, Gertie. It's very refreshing. I've never considered this to be a "problem." I really don't understand why people are mystified or surprised by this issue. On

    Elizabethe- I am totally in the same boat. I started sewing again last summer after many years out of the sew-boat - and started using Colette, Big Four, and others - whereas i grew up using Burda. I love the ease of having seam allowances built in, but before I even started sewing again I went through my old books and every time I received a new patter, I checked the finished measurements available, measured the patterns themselves, minusing seam allowances - and then picked the appropriate size.

    A lot of my vintage patterns actually tell you to tissue fit....

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  88. Thanks! This is great. Very clear and easy to use. I usually make my own patterns, but will try to replicate the measurements of a store-bought dress I like to re-make it.

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  89. I find ease confusing....it makes it so hard to find which pattern to choose. I just tend to pick the bigger size (reasoning its easier to take away than add) and hope for the best.

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  90. Thanks so much for posting this!! I've always been so confused by pattern sizes. I still have a lot to learn though since I have a thick waist and no hips :) I find that most patterns have a 10 inch waist-to-hip difference. Yep, I'm learning how to grade a pattern LOL! I've decided to start making muslins of all my patterns. I think that's the only way to truly know how something will fit.

    I do have one warning though. I just made a pencil skirt made by an independent pattern maker and it had absolutely no ease. So when I decided to make one size smaller...it really is one size smaller. It's a little too tight :(

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  91. Thank you so much for this! I'm new to sewing, and have been pulling my hair out in confusion over sizing charts... now I know how to easily find out what size I should be going for! Going to head into town tomorrow and pick up a pattern or two.

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  92. Maybe ppl "should" know how to flat measure, and tissue fit a pattern, but they don't! Even though I do know how, I don't want to do all that fiddling around before I can start cutting. So, I've had dresses too big, dresses too small...I'm now willing to fiddle! BUT, the finished measurements aren't on the envelopes most of the time, and sewing used to be economical, but it isn't anymore and to buy 2-3 patterns till I get the right one, is insane. I won't believe that they can't design patters that work like rtw because rtw clothes have been designed and they fit me just fine. Although it's important to have alterations skills as a sewist, it shouldn't be a prerequisite!

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  93. I normally wear a 6-8 in off-the-rack pants and a 10-12 in off the rack dresses. Every pattern I have ever made puts me at a size 20-22. Without fail, the results are an exeedingly voluminous garment. I just made a mock up for a very fitted Victorian jacket and followed the sizing chart carefully. The result was enormous; even without wearing my corset, I was drowning in the jacket. Is this a common problem?

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  94. Thank you! I've avoided Big 4 patterns for 10 years because of this. I've learned to sew vintage and from Japanese pattern books to get a good fit, now I'm giving Simplicity another try...

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  95. Thanks for this. I really struggle to get things to fit. I'm a novice, with an odd shape - 36" 37 39! No waist at all. I'm a brick - and it's soooo depressing to make something, only to find it just doesn't fit properly - always, always too tight around the missing waist, yet I'm not sure how to grade around that. Thanks again.

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  96. Hi Gertie, how fabulous to read this. I've had such difficulties with sizing. Body measurements put me at size 14-16, which results in garments that hang off me (in this case a dress which is meant to be well fitted at bust waist and hips) by inches. I've just looked at the final garment measurements on the pattern pieces and compared them to ready to wear dresses that fit me well - size 12!!!!!! which is what I buy ready to wear. How ridiculous. Thanks again,
    Caroline.

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Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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