What if patterns had different kinds of flowers as their sizes? Maybe you’d be a daisy size or a rose. Would you be OK with it if you were an iris instead? We’ve become so hung up on numbers picking a pattern size is a traumatic experience for too many women. Here’s the unvarnished truth. No matter what the number says on the pattern, it takes the same amount of fabric and the same size pattern pieces to cover your body and give you room to breathe, walk, sit, and bend over in the style you’ve chosen. If one company says that’s a size 12 and another a size 14, you aren’t smaller in the size 12 pattern. It hurts, I know. It gets a little easier if you start thinking, “I am 38″ around my full bustline.” At least that number has some basis in reality.
One of the real perks of sewing for yourself is your clothes become “my size”. There’s no number that needs to be attached. You can custom fit every part of what you make to your unique body shape. No more too tight waistbands because you don’t want your pants too baggy at your hips. You don’t have to live in elastic waistbands unless you really do prefer them. You can be tall-sized above the waist and petite below and not have to live in separates. But first you have to discard your notions of what size you wear and figure out the best place to start to develop “my size”.
When you take a class in personal pattern designing, one of the first things you do is create a “sloper” that is uniquely you. It’s basically a fitted sheath dress with a waist seam and hip darts. It has a jewel neckline and long, fitted sleeves. You work on the fit of the sloper until it’s perfect. You can make your own. Most pattern companies offer a fitting shell pattern. Then you create one for pants. With those two slopers you can design anything you want for yourself, and it will fit you perfectly, too. Pattern companies also work with slopers. They have them for every size pattern they sell. Their slopers are designed based on measurements they’ve chosen for each size, and all of their patterns conform to those measurements. The idea that large pattern companies’ sizes are all over the place is just not true. They may vary from company to company, but within a company their patterns are “true to size”. It just may not be your size. Independent pattern designers use slopers, too, or “blocks”, which are basic pattern styles you use as jumping off points. Carla Crim has a book with slopers and basic blocks for children’s patterns.
When a pattern is made from a sloper, either by a pattern company or by you, there are two other measurements you need before you start. One is the amount of “wearing ease” a design needs to have to be worn comfortably. We all need to be able to breathe, walk, and sit down. Even if you like to wear your clothes “skin tight”, you still need to be able to do those things. A knit garment with some stretch needs less wearing ease than a woven fabric, but it still needs some. While a design can use some of the stretch in the fabric as wearing ease, you can’t comfortably wear a garment that is stretched to full capacity when you’re standing still holding your breath. You need some “reserve stretch” so you can inhale and exhale. This is an example of a dress with some wearing ease.
This dress can have less wearing ease because it’s made from a stretch knit.
The other kind of ease is called “design ease”. That’s the difference between what you need to live comfortably in a garment and how much bigger the garment is because of its style. A loose baggy shirt has a lot of design ease.
A bustier has only wearing ease. A lot of women buy a smaller size pattern and rely on the design ease to give them the extra fabric they need to cover their bodies. The problem with that is the finished garment on them bears little resemblance to the picture on the pattern envelope because they’ve used too much of the design ease as wearing ease. You can steal a little when there’s a lot, but it’s better to start with the bigger pattern size. The propensity to steal design ease is also why a lot of people think pattern sizes aren’t standardized. They “fit into” a smaller size when there’s lot of ease, but then need a larger size when there’s not.
When a pattern gives you both the body measurements for the pattern size and the finished garment measurements, the difference between the two numbers is the “ease”. If the pattern doesn’t give you the finished garment measurements, you can measure the pattern itself, subtract the seam allowances, and then use that number to figure out the ease. (That’s one of the reasons I like patterns w/o seam allowances.)
A few pattern companies, like this one, only give you the finished garment measurements.
Then you have to decide how much wearing ease you’d like the finished garment to have. Add the ease to your body measurements and choose the size based on the finished garment measurements either from the chart or by measuring the pattern pieces. If you aren’t sure, you can measure a garment you already have and like. While this is a pattern company I love, it makes it harder to try a new style because I might have to guess how much ease I want.
A lot of women who sew absolutely exquisite clothing for children refuse to sew for themselves. They obviously have the sewing skills to do it. Fitting a body with curves does provide some challenges, but when you know how designers use ease to create their “look”, it’s not so hard to do it yourself. I love sewing for kids, but making my own clothes is more satisfying in the long run. I wear them longer, invest in more luxurious fabrics, and enjoy the comfort of clothes that fit well. You can call it “selfish sewing” or “self-care sewing”. I call it “smart sewing”.