October 18, 2010

Making the Grade

My boyfriend jacket is a vintage 70's pattern and came one size too small for me. I could make the case that I could just go online and try to purchase one in my size, however, when you have patterns given to you like I did, for free, no strings attached its hard to justify getting the same pattern in a different size and paying money for it. Wouldn't you agree? I know. And what could be more fun that grading a pattern? I know, not that much. Maybe a giant root canal.

As I'm typing this, I'm currently grading Simplicity 5250. Can you believe that I'm nuts enough to actually grade the jacket here and not the pants? Me neither. But I am. I thought that it would be a good chance to practice grading. I needed just one size bigger. This is a 32 1/2 inch bust and I needed a 34 1/2 (or 35, but I went with 34 1/2 to make it easier) inch. So I thought I would do a post on grading. I've found this article on Threads to be most helpful and it goes into great detail about how to grade. I'm just filling you in on my experience.

Here I've done something that you probably shouldn't do but I did anyway. Alter the original pattern. If this had been an older pattern, predating the 70's and not a jacket with so many pieces I would have considered tracing the pattern and then using that to alter with. But I'm sticking to my guns on this one. I altered the original pattern, so there. You may not want to do this. That's up to you. And don't let anyone tell you different. It's your pattern.

Onto the grade. I started with the back lining piece as it most closely resembles one of the 5 main slopers on the chart from the Thread's article. I drew the lines in (accented here in red) and then figured the amount I needed to grade each line. The Thread's article will help you with that too. The graph in the article goes up to two inches, however, if you need to do a bigger grade, multiply the graph. I did a two inch grade here. But if I were to do a four inch grade, I would take the numbers given in the graph for a two inch grade and double them. Make sense?

To get a good and even grade, I drew the grading lines in the same places of origin. For example, the horizontal grade line in the middle of the armscye should match the grade line of the sleeve head and the front lining piece. You with me? Good. I did this part by laying the pattern pieces over each other, matching them all up. For example, as I graded my back lining piece, I also put the lines in for the yoke, the back pleated section, the belt, the peplum, the collar and the sleeve. All the pattern pieces must grade at the same points for the grade to work. In other words, you can't just pick random lines for grading, I've done that one before and its a real pain to figure out where you went wrong. Everything gets all wonky. Have the grade lines all originate from the same points.

Next I spliced and separated the pattern pieces one at a time. Added in the tissue and used my ruler to determine the amount of extra tissue I needed. If you are grading down, you obviously won't need the tissue. You'll be overlapping the pattern pieces instead. In the end, my piece looked graded, ha ha ha (A for effort, right?). Where needed, I neatened or blended the edges of the grading areas with my straight ruler or french curve. After that I went through all the pieces and matched them up again, laid them over each other, etc and made sure that the notches matched each other (otherwise, I remarked them) and that there wasn't a piece longer or shorter than each other. I find it easier to sew the garment if the notches and seams all match up. Who doesn't, right? Ha.

A few things to keep in mind. When grading a top or a dress, stick with your bust measurement. With bottoms, stick with your waist or hip measurement depending on which is bigger or harder to fit. Once you are finished grading a pattern, its a good idea to make a muslin, just to make sure that the grading worked and you don't have one piece longer or shorter than the other or something somewhere doesn't quite match up. That's up next, for me. Also, I wouldn't bother grading a pattern if you're only 1 to 1 1/2 inches off from the pattern. Instead I would make a muslin and fit from there. If you are 2 or more inches off, you'll need to grade.

Hopefully this makes sense. How do you normally grade a pattern? Any tips or tricks you've come by that helps?


  1. Nice work! It looks easy once it's all graded and finished doesn't it? What a cute jacket pattern!

  2. Thanks for sharing this and I wish you all the best with your project. The pattern is gorgeous, I'm sure you'll make an awesome job. I'll looking forward to following your next steps...

  3. Thanks for the great post! My next project is a vintage pattern that I have to grade. It will be my first time grading so I'm a bit nervous about it, but I guess that's what muslins are for. :)

  4. My mom, who sewed all the time in the 60's etc. told me I just need to add more fabric to the side seams to make it larger/smaller. I wasn't sure if I agreed with her statment. Do you know the pros/cons with adding to the side seams to make a garment larger vs. grading?

  5. Thank you SO much for this tutorial and the links. I just bought a vintage pattern on line that I'm in love with, but it's a bit small. I figured I either need to lose fifteen pounds or learn how to grade. The former might be the best idea, but I think the latter is more likely given the fast approach of baggy sweater weather!

  6. OMG! I made this jacket in 1974! I made it in mauve pinwale cordoroy. I used vintage gold buttons and made bound buttonholes. I loved that jacket! I made it again for a friend at my sister's office. I still have this pattern, also a size 10, somewhere in storage. Thanks for bringing back fond memories.

  7. Great post, cant wait to see the complete project. Pattern grading can be quite daunting so it's great to have it explained so well :-)

  8. Thanks for this (and the Threads link). I have several patterns that I love but no longer fit so I shall definitely be giving grading a go.

  9. Thank u very much for sharing this and I wish you great success with your project.... The pattern is gorgeous, I'm sure you'll make an awesome job. I'll looking forward to following your upcoming steps...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Th7hEvqX7CU Very Usefull!!!!

  10. Hi Liz,
    You bring up a very good point and one that when I did my first grading project I thought would be fine. OK here's the problem with just adding or decreasing inches to the side seam. The side seam can be let in or out depending on if the garment is too big in the bodice, but let's think about what this affects. If you localize the grade to this area you're only going to have more or less room to move your arm around in and more or less room in the bodice. The underarm will be thrown terribly off if you decide you need a 4 inch grade and only grade the side seams. And what about the sleeve? It will probably be too small for the armhole at that point. Also, what about the bust, shoulder and shoulder blades? Adding or subtracting inches to the side seam won't do anything for those areas. Does this make sense? Especially if you're doing a really big grade, you won't want to add inches just to the side seam, you'll want the piece to grade in all places. Think about when you buy a multisized pattern. If you notice, the pattern pieces tend to get larger or smaller in the same areas. That's what I'm trying to do here. Hopefully this makes some sense and gives you a better idea of why its important to grade in all areas and not just one. Thanks for a really great question!

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