June 17, 2012

2-in-1 Sew-Along: Determining Pattern Size & Making a Muslin

Today's post is long, but hopefully informational and useful.

Determining Pattern Size
Today, I'll go over picking the correct pattern size. It's likely that you already know how to do this, but this information never gets old. Fitting is the hardest part about sewing apparel.
Which measurements to take? The three main measurements you'll need to determine your pattern size are: high bust (or upper bust), waist and hip. These may not be in the places you think, so let me give you more information and some "whys" about those measurements.
High Bust - this measurement is taken above your full bust. Let the measuring tape slide up the bust while keeping the back level. Why this measurement? This measurement gives you a much more accurate neck, shoulder and armhole size. I think I heard Nancy Zieman once say that this is the hardest place on the body to fit, which makes perfect sense because there are a lot of moving parts - your neck and two arms.
Waist - this measurement is taken at the narrowest point between your bust and your hip. It may or may not coincide with your belly button. As you age, sometimes this measurement becomes much harder to pinpoint in which case, pick the section below the bust and above the hip that gives you equal proportion and this will be more pleasing to the eye.
Hip - this measurement should be taken at the widest point below the waist for this particular pattern. For some, this measurement may or may not be at the actual hip bone (where you bend to sit down or stand up). Sometimes ladies have curvier thighs below the hip bone, so take the measurement at that point.

Select your pattern size from your measurements - High bust = bust, waist = waist, hip = hip. Sometimes you are several different pattern sizes, in which case you can blend each of the sizes together. From your bust, blend to the waist and from the waist blend to the hip. Please note that the skirt on this pattern sits a little higher and the waistline is marked on it, so keep that in mind of if you are blending sizes. Pick the corresponding sleeve and collar according to your bust.

If you're in between pattern sizes, I recommend going to the closest pattern size. I don't want to get into this too much, but I usually cut a size 14 in Big 4 sewing patterns, of which Simplicity is one. However, my measurements put me squarely in the middle of a 14 and a 16, so I usually size down. After making a 14 muslin in this pattern, I determined that a 16 would be easier to work with on the fitting front. I recommend sizing up in this pattern if you are in between sizes.

Making a Muslin
I recommend tracing off your pattern onto some sort of paper. I personally use medical exam paper (the kind you find in a doctor's office) because it's see through for tracing and doesn't roll up on itself, takes tape and pencil too. I recommend this only because I've changed sizes before and have gone back to make a pattern I've made before and found that I had cut up the pattern and altered it significantly and most times I want to start the fitting process all over anyway. When you've taped up and cut your original pattern, you can't really do this. Just some thoughts, but definitely do what you prefer.
Definitely take a moment to iron your pattern pieces whatever you choose to do, whether that be tracing them off or cutting them directly. One of the most important steps in a well made garment is a precise cut job. Ironing out your pattern, on a medium setting, with no steam will aid in the cutting process.
Please take note that there are corresponding front shoulder yokes for each dress style (shirt and wrap). The back shoulder yoke is the same for both dress styles. This is something I thought I would mention since it's something I missed when I was prepping the pattern pieces. Also, be careful attaching the yokes - I've already done them backwards and upside down and I hate unpicking a muslin.
Please carefully consider where the waistline is actually located for this pattern. It is approximately 3/4" down on the skirt from the seamline that attaches the skirt to the bodice. This indicates to me the idea that a belt or sash/tie sit right in that area. Just be aware that this could affect where the waist on the bodice muslin is hitting you. If you want to stay true to the pattern, you'll want to keep the waistline at the point it is marked on the skirt, which means your bodice will sit higher. If you prefer, you can adjust the waistline to sit where the skirt meets the bodice.

I've come to the point in the fitting process where I just make a muslin from the raw pattern instead of making any sort of adjustments to it. I've been surprised by patterns before and found that it's just as easy to make a muslin and then make all the changes as not. In this case, you'll only need to make a muslin of the bodice unless you foresee serious problems with the skirt. I think the skirt should fit just about anyone, but you may know differently from personal experience. I'm not going to bother going into pattern ease and what not. I think the best thing to do is make the muslin and then analyze it from the top down. You don't need to fiddle with facings, but you do need to thread trace neckline seam allowance, waistline seam allowance and sleeve hems. I would advise putting one piece of the collar on for the shirt dress and also thread tracing seam allowances for that as well. Here's what my three versions look like to give you a better idea:

What to watch for in the muslin? Here's my rundown with corresponding tutorials that I've found useful for altering the pattern if needed:

  1. Shoulder slope - this can throw the whole bodice off. Above you see the images of what to look for if you have sloping (top) or square (bottom) shoulders. Here is the BEST tutorial on how to fix this problem for both. 
  2. Bodice length - this is the easiest thing to fix, you just need to determine if the bodice is too long or too short for you. Lengthen or shorten where you need. Please note that you'll need to create your own lengthen/shorten line which is easily done. Create your own by drawing in a line that is perpendicular to the grainline in the corresponding section to where you need length. Be sure to keep in mind of this affects another pattern piece. 
  3. Sway back - sometimes your back is shorter than your front and you have a pooling of fabric in the lower back. Here is my favorite tutorial for how to fix that.
  4. Full bust, small bust - You'll know if you need either of these I think. This pattern is basic enough that this tutorial will work for altering for a full bust, and this tutorial will work for altering a small bust. Note - there are no darts in Simplicity 1880, which can make it easier to adjust.
  5. Raising the wrap dress neckline - For those of you who would like a more modest neckline on the wrap dress, consider this tutorial and this one too. Please note, you may have to make adjustments to the facings too.
  6. Upper back - My upper back is full/broad and I can't reasonably move my arms if I don't make some sort of adjustment. You may have the opposite problem. I do two adjustments - broaden out the back (do the opposite if you have a narrow upper back) and a full upper bicep to the sleeve. 
  7. Waistline - Is the waistline too narrow or too full? Add or subtract equal amounts from the side seams and be sure to adjust the skirt side seams too. 
  8. Sleeve length - Be sure the sleeve on the style you have selected is hitting you in the right spot. Adjust if necessary.
  9. Armhole depth - Check if the depth of the armhole is OK. If it's too high, you'll feel the armhole cutting into your armpit when your arm is at rest. If too low, your range of motion will be severely limited. Here's an article on fixing that.  
  10. Skirt length - Pin the skirt tissue to your muslin to see where it falls. Add or subtract length to or from the hemline of the skirt pattern pieces. 
Please take special note to consider any pattern pieces you adjust and what that adjustment will affect. If you lengthen the front bodice, you'll need to lengthen the back bodice at the side seam so that the two can sew together. It's always a good idea to walk your seamlines when you're done altering your pattern.

When I'm in the process of fitting, I start at the shoulder and work my way down the bodice looking at the problems I see. I write these things down in a notebook and then begin my adjusting process. I have a busy work schedule and sometimes have to leave and come back to a project, so writing down all the adjustments and alterations I need to make help me remember to do them all. 

I hope this process helps you. I know that selecting the correct size and making a muslin can seem like obstacles in your path for a new frock, but I will say that they eliminate a lot of wasted fabric. I've never regretted a muslin. I have however, regretted not making a muslin when I should have.

For more 2-in-1 Sew-Along posts, click here!

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46 comments

  1. Sunni - thanks so much for the ease chart! I really appreciate you sharing your ease guidleines. I am very much a beginner and have been frustrated lately by my projects because everything has too much ease. I've been trying to use the finished garment measurements to determine pattern size but often don't have a similar piece to compare it to in order to know what my preferred amount would be. Anyway, thanks for hosting this! Plus we have basically the same measurements (TMI?) and it's so helpful to see your adjustments!
    Take care.

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  2. Great post Sunni! And my pattern came last Friday too - so I can join in the fun. Will measure myself up tonight and compare to the pattern :)

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  3. Thanks for this. Great reference.

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  4. Forgive me, but I'm not sure I understand about the bust measurement. If my overbust is 36" but my full bust is 38", is that going to fit into the 36" without pattern adjustments?

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  5. So this is something I've always wondered about -- in your diagram of how to take the upper bust measurement, the tape measure is angled a bit towards the front. I would imagine you would get a very different measurement depending on how much you angled it, so how do you know how far down the back and how far above the bust to hold the tape measure?

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  6. thanks sunni! i always find it most helpful when there are measurements printed on the pattern. i got my 1880 pattern yesterday and traced a straight size 10 based off of the waist measurement which was a 1/2 bigger than my own. i figured since the top of the pattern was rather unfitted (and i don't usually have to make many adjustments for bust) that I was most concerned that it would fit in the waist.

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  7. PicPic--After picking up Pattern Fitting With Confidence earlier this month, I've only just realized that I've been using the wrong pattern size! Since I started sewing in February of this year, I've been choosing a 14 or 16 based on my full bust measurement. Why? because I thought that's what I remembered about sewing back in Jr/High school. Using the high bust measurement, I'm a 12. No wonder everything I've made this spring has been plagued with fit issues beyond my skill set to figure out. I was so excited about the size revelation that I couldn't wait and worked up my muslin this weekend. I cut a straight 12 and because I'm sort of on the cusp between B&C cup, I made a small adjustment to increase the bust (and a little for my thicker waist). The result fits better than anything else I've made so far. I can't wait to start sewing in my fashion fabric!

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  8. I look at the measurements listed under each size on the chart on pattern back, and aim for the one that comes closest to my actual measurements -- knowing that I will have to tweak for full bust whichever I choose. I don't worry about the extra chart that lists lengths for each pattern piece, since I know that I will always always always have to make adjustments to fit my long torso and deep rise. I NEVER equate rtw sizes to pattern sizes, since rtw allows manufacturers to assign numbers however they want, for vanity sizing. Thus, I might fit anywhere from a 10 to an 18 in rtw, but I usually end up around 16 on top, 22 on bottom in pattern sizes. Not flattering to my vanity(!) but at least my clothes fit well.

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  9. What you are aiming for with the upper bust measurement is a measurement from underarm-to-underarm across the back added to under-arm-to-underarm across the front. Therefore, you'll be fairly straight across and parallel to the floor in the back, and tilted a bit (or a lot, depending on your rib cage and bosom) across the front. You'll tuck the measuring tape snugly under your arm, just at the bend where your arm meets your torso. (On many bodies, the back measurement is significantly greater or less than, the front measurement. You shouldn't simply divide the upper bust measurement by two to get a proper fit in the upper torso.) The underbust measurement helps find the proper pattern size to fit your shoulders and upper chest. The full bust measurement goes around the fullest part of your bust as close as possible to parallel to the floor. The difference between upper and full bust measurements is used to make adjustments for a full or less-than-full bust. Sounds tedious, but meticulous measuring of your particular body is what makes personal dressmaking such a wonderful thing.

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  10. I definitely could not have said this any better! Thank you LinB!

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  11. Hi Sunni!

    Great tips thanks!

    My measurements NEVER match up with the patterns (I don't know if my fat conforms to the clothing to make something beautiful or what).

    Theoretically speaking this pattern is 2 sizes too small for me...any links/tips for grading (I'm going to end up making at least 2 mockups for this dress--one to see what parts actually fit and the second to fix the 99% that don't...feel free to send me labor intensive tips). Many thanks!!

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  12. Oh thank you thank you! That confirms my thoughts for some time now. I have a much clearer idea of what to do for the "in-between sizes". I suppose I should look into some sort of ruler or something to help with drafting lines from one size to another. Don't think my rotary ruler will do. Thank you for the ease chart! This will be good to have on hand. I find it shocking how different the pattern sizes is compared to the RTW sizes.

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  13. You would do what they refer to as a full bust adjustment (FBA) to account for the fullness in the bust. I have not done one yet but there are a lot of sources on the internet. Sunni may refer you to one in particular.

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  14. Sunni this is a fantastic intro and I am so excited as to what is to come. As a beginner I know I will learn enough to give me confidence to move onto tops and dresses. Thank you.

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  15. Thanks Sunni, some really hepful advice here.

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  16. Hi Sunni and readers of the blog,
    I was hoping someone could help me because I feel I am missing a simple but essential step in this process and you seem very knowledgeable.

    It says to use my upper bust measurement to pick the pattern size, but there is no UBM on the pattern envelope, so do they just refer to the Bust measurement?
    IE if my UBM is 40 inches I cut a size 18, which is the one with the 40-inches bust on the envelope?

    I am guessing this is what I do but I am not 100% sure and feel a little bit dense, but thought I'd ask anyway.

    Thanks!

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  17. Really, no questions are silly! Yes, you are exactly right. You would use your upper bust measurement and match it up with the bust measurement on the envelope back.

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  18. Thanks for that! Much appreciated :)

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  19. Hi!
    I just started sewing a couple of months ago and am joining in with this sew along! I am a bit of an impatient seamstress but am keen to get this one right and not skip steps. One thing I have skipped is proper measuring as I did not know how, but thanks to your post I understand the guidelines now and look forward to tracing and cutting my pattern pieces for the shirt dress! :) I am so excited!

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  20. Hi, I'm actually using Vogue 8784 for a wrap dress. (a)- I'm pretty cheap and didn't feel like buying the Simplicity. (b)- I'm concerned about size ranges. (c) I usually look better in a straighter skirt style in a dress. Sunni mentioned in a different post that this dress should work with the sew along, and you can check it out at my blog post...

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  21. Since I don't have the pattern in front of me I'm using the photos in this post as a reference. That said, the waist measurement listed on the envelope for 1880 is 26 1/2" but the finished measurement 29" (in fact there is a note right below the numbers indicating that the waist ease in the pattern is 2.5").

    Using the ease chart that Sunni posted, this may be 1-2" MORE ease than needed.

    All this to say that you might not need to do much grading up from the largest pattern size to fit your body. But this also depends on how much ease you prefer in a finished garment.

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  22. Ok, reading this got me a little scared. According to my upper bust measurement, it's a size 16. However, there's a 6 inch difference between my bust and upperbust measurements. I get the whole concept of doing a full bust adjustment though I've never done one before. I certainly am looking forward to learning how to do one. The big worry is my waist and hips. Those measurements are no where near the size 16 for the pattern, even with ease included. If anything they are closer to the size 20, though according to the pattern, with ease I think the waist measurement is still 2 inches smaller than what I need. What do you do for this?

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  23. I still say go with your upper bust measurement and then for your bottom half use the size that is closest to your measurements. I have the same problem and like I stated in the post, you can blend your sizes using the tutorial I showed from the Ginger Sewalong. If you still need more width in the bottom half of your pattern, take the skirt, slash it down the middle and add the amount you need. If you need 2 more inches than the size 20, keep in mind that you'll cut 4 pieces for the skirt section of the dress, so you'll take the 2 inches that you need to add and divide that by 4 (because of the 4 pieces) which equals a 1/2 inch - so you would only add 1/2" to the skirt width. Make sense?

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  24. I agree! I only posted the ease chart that I personally prefer from my sewing experience. You are welcome to use it as a reference, but remember, you might like more or less and that's totally up to you!

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  25. Makes perfect sense! I did the math and it comes out to needing 3/4" to each skirt piece. I'm still a little worried about the bodice, but there's a lot of ease built into the pattern, so I'm sure it'll work out. Thank you!

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  26. Wow, I never realized that the bust measurement is the UPPER bust measurement! That explains a lot of the fit problems I've had. I guess it makes perfect sense when you think about different cup sizes. Definitely something I wish I'd learned earlier. By the way, pattern sizes always depress me. I'm usually a 4 off the rack, but an 8 or 10 or 12 even on the pattern. I guess I'm used to "vanity sizing." :-)

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  27. Hi Michelle
    When you do the FBA it usually adds width to the waist too. My FBA is 5" (2.5" on each side) so this adds 5" to the waist at the front. I'm using a 14 with a FBA and reducing the ease across the bust to 2" as there's enough up there with out adding loads of fabric! If the alteration means the waist is too big I then either add a vertical dart or increase the depth or as in this case I'd pin it out at the side seams.
    FBAs are a constant in my life (38" upper bust, 46" full bust) and if I can be any help drop me a line!

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  28. Sunni,
    As a petite, excessive pattern ease is the bane of my life, so it's nice to have a guideline, that looks realistic. You've made me realise that I am still accounting for too much ease in my garments (I have a fear of making things too small, which is ironic, as my homemades are often too big). You've convinced me to join along, at least for the muslin stage, would be nice to learn something.

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  29. Yen, don't be depressed! Size is just a number -- and an arbitrarily assigned number, at that. I prefer to think of my size as "My Size": if anyone trying to help me look for rtw asks what my size is, I just say "I am my size. Let me try on this style in a 12, a 14, and a 16. If they don't work, we'll either go smaller or larger." Hahaha! Who am I kidding? I almost never shop for rtw anymore.

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  30. Thanks so much for this vital information. Especially for us small busted women, the amount of ease in so many of these patterns leads to a lot of frustration with poor fit.

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  31. Thanks, LinB. It's so hard to get those numbers out of my head, but I guess I'd rather look good in something that fits me than try to squeeze into something that's too tight.

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  32. There's no way I'm getting around not grading up this pattern. Unless I'm measuring wrong, my waist is 46 inches. Is this too much to grade up for this pattern? If I did so, I would have to add 10 inches to each piece at the waist. Is this realistic? Also, would I grade up the bodice, skirt, or both. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    Trying desperately not to give up on this,
    Charlene

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  33. Yen, I'm totally with you on feeling (what's the right word?) demoralized (?) by my pattern size. I know these size numbers (pattern or RTW) are basically random and meaningless for anything other than a rough guideline that makes making or buying clothes somewhat more convenient (you at least have a vague idea of where to start). I lost over 100 pounds so going from a 26 (and occasionally 28) pant RTW to an 18 was a huge victory. To go back to a higher size was crushing. Probably one of the reasons why I don't sew pants...

    Sunni, I really like the idea of coming up with a personal ease chart. If I may make a suggestion for those of us who aren't exactly thin and/or toned the functional ease (especially below the waist) should include some calculation for the, uh, spread that can occur, especially when sitting. This is more of an issue in pants, straight and pencil skirts than in a fuller skirt like this one. How much a person wants or needs to include is going to vary based on size and fleshiness. After losing weight, some parts of my thighs have more of an issue with the spread than before because I have so much excess skin. Even at my peak weight, I was an avid exerciser including weight lifting so I had and have fairly good muscular development. At my heaviest, my legs were very solid with both dense fat and muscle. They didn't spread that much, but my loose skin does. It really is something I need to consider for fitting and wearing, and I thought I'd put it out there as a reminder for anyone who is or sews for someone with a loose body-- whether its small or large.

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  34. I completely agree Linda! The ease chart measurements are from my own sewing travels and so they work well for me, but everyone is different and everyone likes different amounts of ease and so I think its a personal quest challenge for everyone to come up with their own. You can start with my chart if you like, but as you go along, change what you find doesn't work for you.

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  35. Charlene! Alright I admit that's alot, however I looked at the size 20 and it said that the waist was 34" and if you have a 46" waist that's a total of 12". Take 12" and divide it by 4 because there are 4 skirt pieces and you get 3 - so I think you would only need to add 3 inches to the width of the skirt piece and not 10. A much better number to work with, I think. Let me know what you think!

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  36. LinB said it best! The numbers mean absolutely nothing. In fact, what would make more sense is if they changed RTW to actually measurement numbers rather than stuck them in a class with one number. Like I could go into any store and look for 29" waist pants and the size was called 29. Something they tend to do for jeans, but that's about it really. The only numbers that mean anything are your actual measurements. So don't worry about it and definitely don't feel bad about it.

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  37. Thanks for the help Sunni. That definitely sounds better. Assuming that the bodice hits at the waist as well; would I also need to add 12 inches to the end of the bodice? Thanks again.

    There's help for me yet... I think,
    Charlene

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  38. Thank you Vicki! I'm sure I'll be picking your brain! Do you have any tutorials or links to favorite methods?

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  39. First, thanks Sunni for your great blog and for doing this sewalong! I had wanted to do some home sewing projects this summer, but I have never sewn without the guidance of a teacher. This is a perfect baby step for me!

    That said, I'm actually struggling with something that might be a little silly- in the pattern, I can't figure out which dress is Front A and which is Front B! Wrapdress and then shirtdress, or vice versa? I dont want to cut one and realize later I'm doing the wrong one!

    Thank you!

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  40. Fatima_bird, A is the shirt dress (notions call for buttons) and B is the wrap. It becomes more obvious when you read through the instructions, but it was a little tricky looking at just the envelope!

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  41. Sunni, I am really excited to join this sew along, and I finally measured this morning! I got 34" upper bust, 30" waist and 38" hip. I think I'll cut a size 12, and make a muslin (for the first time!)

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  42. [...] then learned about properly picking and adjusting pattern size from Sunni at A Fashionable [...]

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  43. Hi everyone - this site is awesome! I have had fitting problems FOREVER! I have the problem where I (a) measure my waist and hips, then (b) find my size on the pattern envelope. When I make my muslin, it is always WAY TOO BIG for me. For example, I just made a skirt where my size (according to the pattern envelope) was an 18. I even took a measuring tape and measured the pattern pieces and then held the pattern pieces up to my body. The size 18 looked right on. THEN I made the skirt and it was way too big. I took it in and it then matched the pattern size 12! But wait ... I finished the side seams and had to take it in even more. In the end, I would guess it's more like a size 10 (I couldn't tell for sure, because this pattern package included sizes 12 - 22.)

    Anyway, this happens no matter what pattern I use and no matter what manufacturer's pattern it is. I am wondering what is up with this.

    I am excited to see this site and look forward to learning - I have already learned a bunch just by reading all the posts so far.

    Heidi

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  44. [...] then learned about properly picking and adjusting pattern size from Sunni at A Fashionable [...]

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  45. Okay, so I'm NOT crazy or getting fatter by the minute. Off the rack, I'm a still size 2/4 petite, but because I have a 34" bust, I'm now making Vogue pattern clothing in a size 12.
    It's the first time I've felt buxom in my life! Vav va Voom! ;)

    BTW...Thanks for this blog.

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