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How-to: Choose Your Sewing Pattern Size

I’ve recently seen a lot of questions floating around social media regarding choosing a sewing pattern size.

This post will show you how to correctly measure yourself, and then choose a size from that information and finished garment measurements.

The main thing to remember, though, is that the size you end up making is highly unlikely to be the same size you buy ready made garments in store.

Welcome to the first in a series on patterns, fitting and adjustments. In this series I’ll take you through some of the more basic things you can do to make your handmade garments fit better; from blending between sizes to actual pattern adjustments. But first, you need to learn how to measure yourself correctly, and choose the best base size.

First things first: forget about your ready to wear (RTW) size. It is highly unlikely that you will make your own clothing the same size as what you would buy in the shops. I’m a UK 16-18 in RTW and have recently made clothing in pattern sizes 14, 16, 18, 20, and 22, as well as G and H. You’ll also have international sizing to contend with, so go by your measurements if you want your garments to fit. No more vanity sizing!

So, how do you correctly measure yourself?

It’s likely you’ll need the following measurements as standard, although some patterns call for others:

  • High Bust: Most patterns only call for full bust measurements, but you’ll need this if you have to do a Full Bust Adjustment or a Small Bust Adjustment.
  • Full Bust: The fullest part of your bust.
  • Waist: Your natural waist, where clothing would sit best.
  • Hips: Measure at the largest point of your hips.

Take a look at the image below to check where you should be measuring.

Choosing your size from pattern measurements:

To help you out, I’m going to show you how I would choose a size from the Maria Maxi Dress pattern below. With your measurements to hand, circle the bust, waist and hip measurements that best correspond with your own. If your exact measurements aren’t listed, I’d urge you to to pick the larger one.

As you can see, I selected 39″ bust, 38″ waist and 48″ hips, which is actually between sizes. I could, of course, just make the size 20, but realistically the finished garment would be two sizes too big at the chest, and would probably gape, being a wrap dress.

My pattern doesn’t have finished measurements to reference, but if your’s does, check the finished measurements against your measurements to see how it will fit once complete. If you want more ease, size up. If you prefer your garments to be more fitted, size down. But only if the finished garment measurements aren’t smaller than your own!

If you’re in a similar situation situation to me, where you can’t make a straight size, check the finished measurements on your pattern to see how far out the difference is when complete, and if it would be worth altering or not. It also depends on the style of garment and how fitted it is supposed to be.

As I don’t have the finished measurements, and I want to make sure the dress will fit well, I’ll need to blend the sizes from a 16 in the bust to a 20 at the waist and hips. All this requires is drawing a diagonal line from the 16 line at the bust to the 20 line at the waist, and then choosing 20 for the skirt piece. If you’re blending sizes on a paper pattern (not a printed PDF), I’d recommend tracing the pattern first so that you’ll have the original intact.

Other things to consider:

Something to be mindful of is that most patterns are created for a B cup bust. If you’re considerably larger (or smaller) than this, and are making something fitted, I’d recommend learning how to do a full or small bust adjustment, as the measurements on the pattern may fail you due to cup size.

Another thing to consider, when using a pattern from a company that has a “curvy” or “extended” size range; the larger pattern sizes may come in a separate file, but you’ll have the option of , for example, 0-18 and 14-30. If you’re over a size 16, I’d recommend choosing the “curvy” file. These are made from a different block (sloper) to the smaller sizes. It’s the same pattern, and you’ll achieve the same dress, but the block is more suited to a curvier frame. It will fit your shape better and be more flattering.

I hope this basic guide to choosing a pattern size helps, but if you still need more information, I’d recommend checking the website of the pattern company to see if they have specific help for their patterns.

You could also make a toile/muslin from cheap fabric similar to that of your final fabric, to check fit and make any adjustments on before making it up in your ‘good’ fabric.

Good luck!

P.S. There’s more info and how-tos coming in this series about some of the alterations and fitting techniques mentioned in this post. Stay tuned!

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