Grading is not morphing

I got a comment the other day that led me to believe that I still hadn’t done a decent enough job in explaining the parameters of what grading is or isn’t. I asked if I could quote her but I haven’t heard back from her. Still, she did post it to the blog so I guess I can quote her although I won’t mention her name. She wrote:

Specifically, I want to go from my size 14 to a line for sm, med, lg and in petite, regular, tall and obese sizes. I can use my creativity and make the designs and give them to a pro to redraw into the sizes I need for production. I do need to figure out the measurements so patterns can be graded.

In a nutshell, some differences are too great to be graded in. You can only grade sizes within a given sizing category. For example, children’s wear people seem to face this issue the most. Very often, they want one style to be graded from a 6mo infant all the way up to size 14 girls. This simply cannot be done (see pp. 170-171 of the Entrepreneur’s Guide). Not well anyway. The bodies are too different. You can’t grade in all of these differences and expect the design to execute well. Specifically regarding the comment above, you can’t grade a regular (or a tall or bbw or whatever) into small, medium, and large etc and then turn around and take the same pattern and regrade that regular into a tall with commensurate smalls, mediums, larges that apply to it. It just doesn’t work that way. Grading can only make an existing shape larger or smaller. You cannot change shapes with grading. Going from a petite to a bbw is changing shapes. Below are two sketches from pg. 170 (in pdf ) of The Entrepreneur’s Guide, perhaps these will explain it visually. Grading only makes an existing shape larger or smaller but it does not change the shape.

If one has their heart set on selling S-M-L-XL in petites, regulars, talls and bbw, this means four different body shapes (petites, regulars etc) with four sizes per category. One would need to develop each pattern for each body shape and then have each one graded. Grade rules are complex as it is and this is just way too much. Developing grade rules for sizes within whatever size category can take hours and adding the parameters of additional distances needed for other body shapes is beyond unwieldy. And that’s beside the point that some details just don’t translate well in both the smaller and larger sizes. It remains an issue of proportion. Rather, one must develop a pattern for each differently shaped body and then grade that given shape.

For another view of grading in applied detail, I’m sending you to Esther. Esther is a pattern maker (and retailer) who specializes in children’s wear. Luckily for you, she also blogs. Even better, she’s blogged about grading children’s wear. She has even blogged about the implications of sku management and sizing; what more could you ask for? Rather than summarize her fine work, I’ll leave you the links for further reading. Thanks for the links Esther!

Creating a grading standard
Creating a grading standard pt. 2

Get New Posts by Email


  1. Pat Lundin Friday Harbor, WA says:

    Hi Kathleen,
    Thank you for your reply to my question about turning my size 14 into other sizes. If I received an email from you that I did not recognize and deleted (I get alot of unwanted emails) I am sorry about that. Thank you for the tutorial about grading and the links to Esther’s blog. I will definately check that site out.
    What I was thinking in my previous post, though not too clear about, was that it occured to me that instead of trying to come up with all of those groups and grades myself, I could have a professional pattern maker take my design in Missy size 14 and re-draw it into the appropriate shapes for the regular, obese and petite groups and then grade it to sm, med, large sizes within those groups. So the grading they would do would occur within the different groups rather than between groups. My main question is can a professional pattern maker takae my Missy 14 and convert that to small, medium, large then redraw for both petite and obese without me figuring out ahead of time what the pattern dimensions should be and telling the pattern maker? Or can the pattern maker recommend the dimentions for each group then grade them. I have been under the impression that as the style designer I have to figure out the “grading rules” so they know how to grade them within the groups. I can see that I need to actually start working with someone so that I can figure out what I need to do verses what they can do for me and at what cost, however, I am wondering if anyone else has gone through this process before and can tell me how it worked out for them.
    Thank you again for your help on this one!

  2. Marnie says:


    It would benefit your business to stop using the term “obese” when referring to sizes larger than a 14. Kathleen gently corrected you in her post, referring to these sizes as “bbw”. “Plus” is another good term, and “curvy” is becoming more common. You used the industry-standard, socially acceptable term “petite” to refer to women shorter than 5’4″, and much in the same way that these women wouldn’t want to buy “midget” sized clothing, women larger than a size 14 don’t want to buy “obese” clothes. It’s important to be careful with words, especially around sensitive areas like size. Inadvertently insulting your customers won’t endear them to you.

  3. Sonia Levesque says:

    As Kathleen states (a few places, I’m sure) in this blog and in her book; if you want a professional pattern line AND good starting point for grading, you have to start working on the MEDIUM size in your intended market. Let’s say you begin concentrating on your s-m-l-xl regular line first… If you like your size 14 item on you, why don’t you get a fit model that fits a medium and rework the pattern for her silhouette. Same thing for your other markets… the kids, the petites, the bbw’s. Seems more logical.

    I’m reading the said book at the moment, and decided to look for a size 20 (my Plus Size Medium) fit model to build good blocks on. I already have a few designs in mind, and I definitely know what I love on my 4′ 11” size 22-24 body. And imagine that I thought I HAD to start my pattern line from a size 14 Plus – as this is the Plus Model Size in the window shops and for photo shoots… lol

    I’ve gotta tell you Pat, if you think about it, starting from “your size M” (whatever the market) is very logical. And don’t let anybody tell you what are the perfect measurements for your market, as you should be able to assess that yourself. I personally checked first with the biggest retailer in my market (online charts), then other companies and pattern makers too, and research your market any way you can… You have to work at it I guess, and make up your own mind.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.