2-in-1 Sewalong: Pick Your Pattern Size

Today, we’ll have a chat about picking the correct pattern size for you. I’m pretty sure most of you all know how to do this, and if you’ve been sewing for any length of time, you’ll know what size fits you best. So let me just touch on a few things here.

Pick your bust size based on your upper bust measurement. What’s your upper bust measurement? It’s the measurement that’s pictured above – taken right across your upper bust, back and armpit. Why use this measurement? Because we ladies are all different cup sizes and if you take this measurement across your full bust, which would include your cup size – which may or may not be full – you might fall into a completely different bust pattern size range. When that happens, the bust area might fit you (probably won’t though) when you go to make up your pattern, but nothing else will, ie shoulders, waist, armscye, sleeves, etc. So best advice is definitely to start with your upper bust measurement ladies!

“Help! My measurements don’t fall into just one size (neither do mine, honey)! What do I do?” Pick the multisized pattern that includes all three main measurements (bust, waist & hip) and then blend your size just like this little tutorial I did for the Ginger Sewalong. For me, I have a 34″ upper bust, a 29″ waist and a 39″ hip. That’s pattern sizes 12 & 14 (though size 14 has a 1 inch smaller waist and hip measurement, but I’ll talk about that in a minute). So I take a red pencil and blend from my size 12 bust to my size 14 waist. Make sense?

Next, let’s talk about pattern ease. Gretchen posted a great article on this very subject, not too long ago. There is quite a bit of ease in today’s commercial patterns. I’m talking the Big 4 patterns here too, because its different with indie designer patterns. So instead of taking my pattern size 14 waist and hip – which is already 1″ smaller than my own measurements – I just go with a straight size 12 every time and even then, I usually end up taking a good chunk out of the waist and hip. It’s actually really crazy. Anyway, with all this crazy pattern ease, how do you know what to expect? Take a look at your pattern envelope back. At the bottom there’s “Finished Garment Measurements” and you can see the finished measurements for the dress bust, dress length and dress width – which btw is the finished measurement for the flare of the skirt. But take a look at that finished bust measurement – my size 12 has 4 1/2 inches of ease! That’s a pretty good chunk.

There’s another place to look for the finished measurements and that’s on the pattern pieces themselves. You can either measure the pattern pieces and subtract out the seam allowances for say something like your waist, and/or many times that finished measurement is written directly on the pieces.

How do you make sense of all these finished garment measurements though? Here’s my rundown of some general ease guidelines for your 3 basic measurements (btw, ease is the amount added to a pattern to make it wearable, you know so you can move in it):

To use these guidelines, you would tack on the amount above to your body measurement and then add the seam allowances you’ll need. These are all ease measurements that I’ve found in my sewing travels and for more fitted styles I go with less ease and for looser styles I go with more ease.

OK, hopefully this was a bit informational for you guys. How do you deal with picking your pattern size? Any guidelines you follow? Leave your tips in the comments! We would all love to know!

off to cut my pattern size, wish me luck!
Sunni

  • Janette - 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.
    Janette recently posted..Sadie Sunday–Happy Father’s Day!ReplyCancel

  • Claire (aka Seemane) - 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 :)
    Claire (aka Seemane) recently posted..PRIMA Magazine: How to Order Their Sewing PatternsReplyCancel

  • Erin Cumming - Thanks for this. Great reference.
    Erin Cumming recently posted..Vogue 1209 Review…finally.ReplyCancel

  • picpic - 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?ReplyCancel

    • Sassy T - 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.
      Sassy T recently posted..It’s All About Tutes . . .ReplyCancel

  • Phoebe - 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?ReplyCancel

    • LinB - 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.ReplyCancel

      • Sunni - I definitely could not have said this any better! Thank you LinB!ReplyCancel

  • Sallie - 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.
    Sallie recently posted..mmmmmmarfaReplyCancel

  • Crystal - 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!ReplyCancel

  • LinB - 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.ReplyCancel

  • Tiffany - 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!!
    Tiffany recently posted..BFSC aggaiinnn…Bodycon time (sort of)!ReplyCancel

    • Linda, bathtub fabric queen - 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…
      Linda, bathtub fabric queen recently posted..To wrap or shirt… oh, the trauma…ReplyCancel

    • Ryan - 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.
      Ryan recently posted..below freezing, but ready for outdoor entertainingReplyCancel

      • Sunni - 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!ReplyCancel

    • Charlene - 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
      Charlene recently posted..I Won!ReplyCancel

      • Sunni - 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!ReplyCancel

        • Charlene - 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
          Charlene recently posted..I Won!ReplyCancel

  • Risa - 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.ReplyCancel

  • Sassy T - 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.
    Sassy T recently posted..It’s All About Tutes . . .ReplyCancel

  • Kerry - Thanks Sunni, some really hepful advice here.
    Kerry recently posted..ReflectingReplyCancel

  • Stef - 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!
    Stef recently posted..Sunday round-up: 17.06.2012ReplyCancel

  • Kim - 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!ReplyCancel

  • Michelle - 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?
    Michelle recently posted..Simplicity 2172 – Coat (Part 1)ReplyCancel

    • Sunni - 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?ReplyCancel

      • Michelle - 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!ReplyCancel

        • Vicki Kate - 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!
          Vicki Kate recently posted..Dress No 2: Harry’s DressReplyCancel

          • Sunni - Thank you Vicki!

          • Michelle - Thank you Vicki! I’m sure I’ll be picking your brain! Do you have any tutorials or links to favorite methods?

  • Yen - 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.” :-)
    Yen recently posted..Accessories make the outfitReplyCancel

    • LinB - 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.ReplyCancel

      • Yen - 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.
        Yen recently posted..Accessories make the outfitReplyCancel

        • Sunni - 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.ReplyCancel

    • Linda, bathtub fabric queen - 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.
      Linda, bathtub fabric queen recently posted..To wrap or shirt… oh, the trauma…ReplyCancel

      • Sunni - 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.ReplyCancel

  • Jacqueline - 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.ReplyCancel

  • Sigrid - 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.
    Sigrid recently posted..Hey, that’s me!ReplyCancel

  • fatima_bird - 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!ReplyCancel

    • Lynn - 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!
      Lynn recently posted..Renfrew #2ReplyCancel

  • Lynn - 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!)
    Lynn recently posted..Renfrew #2ReplyCancel

  • How’s the dress? It’s positively voile! « School of Moxie - [...] then learned about properly picking and adjusting pattern size from Sunni at A Fashionable [...]ReplyCancel

  • Heidi - 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.

    HeidiReplyCancel

  • How’s the dress? It’s positively toile! : School of Moxie - [...] then learned about properly picking and adjusting pattern size from Sunni at A Fashionable [...]ReplyCancel

  • EmilyM - 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.ReplyCancel