Grading machines and rulers

People have been asking about manual pattern grading rulers and pattern grading machines. One such tool is known as a “hinged grading ruler” (below)

The hinged grading rulers were wholesaled by the inventor (copyright 1977) Ms E.E.Davis from Monrovia CA. I even used to sell these. Unfortunately, I think Ms Davis is no longer with us, she was quite elderly when I last spoke to her about 5 years ago. I do not know what’s become of her company. If any of you wish to attempt to track her down, the last contact information I have for her is Couture Productions, 927 “A” S.Canyon Blvd, Monrovia CA 91016-3582. Now, because I am so nice to you, I’ve scanned the user instructions for the rulers, see pg.1 (1MB) and pg.2 (another MB). Please consider leaving a donation. Thanks.

Rather than the hinged grading ruler, I’ve taken to using a plastic grid I bought at an arts and crafts store for occasional use. I think these are pretty common. On the sheet shown below, there is no product ID number (boo-hiss) so I can only tell you the grid is broken into 8ths and it was made by Wrights, West Warren MA 01092.

As far as manual grading machines are concerned, there are two kinds. One is known as a Sunny Young and the other is the Dario Grad-O-Meter. I can’t find a Sunny Young. Ahearn’s says they’ll look it up (they used to sell them) to see if they can get some for special orders. According to Melita (from Australia, with whom I’ve been corresponding) Sunny Youngs are similar to a Swiss made machine known as a Variator. The Variator is no longer manufactured. Melita sent me a photo (below) and the flyer (174kb,pdf)

The Variator looks a lot like a Sunny Young. The salesman I spoke to at Ahearn’s says these are the better machine. I don’t know, I’ll have to take his word for it because I’ve never worked with a Sunny Young. I can tell you what I don’t like about grading machines in general and that is that they increment values via gears and teeth. I don’t like that. Too much slop. I wish they’d make a machine that used rack and pinion but the chances of that happening are zero.

The other machine is known as a Dario Grad-O-Meter (also available in metric). While not in every corner sewing shop, you can still find these. SouthStar Supply has them as well as other suppliers. I don’t have a list of suppliers. Below is a photo of a Dario Grad-O-Meter courtesy of SouthStar Supply. I have one of these machines but didn’t want to drag it out to take a picture of it myself.

This summarizes the current status of all known grading rulers and machines that I know of. With this post, you have everything I have so I couldn’t tell you anymore than this.

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  1. Marilyn says:

    I’ve used the Dario Grad-O-Meter in class and I think it’s more of a teaching tool for beginners to get the concept than a precision instrument. Beyond the gears you’ve mentioned, it’s easy to bump the equipment, or your paper slips, or the pattern slips or you get distracted and turn the wrong knob the wrong direction. After most of the class had used it for a while, we grasped the concept and started to grade manually. Also, it retails for $625 and I have never found one new or used anywhere for any less. For that amount of money, we could probably hire Kathleen for a private class.

  2. Marilyn says:

    Kathleen, as I understand it, the act of grading is not that difficult. It’s determining the grade rules and the distribution you choose for each that truly makes the difference. How would you know what system any of the rulers are using? Seems to me that one could save the money from the rulers and use it to send your patterns to a grading/marking service to do it for you using their generic grade.

  3. Jess Latham says:

    I have the Dario Gradometer that I bought a few years ago. Jesus, Daddy and the Spook, did I pay that much?! I must of blocked it out of my mind. How accurate are these things? Did I pay for a toy? heeee I haven’t graded anything yet and I’m kind of dreading it cause it seems complicated. In the end I may just have them graded by an expert.

  4. so… this was implied in Marilyn’s post, but if you send your patterns out to be graded (by all accounts the best choice), Are you stuck with “Standard” grading rules?

    Say, hypothetically, that I went to a lot of trouble to fit a couple of my blocks to several different sized women in my target market (because I’m obsessive about fit) –and I used that info to extrapolate some grading rules that I was ecstatic with,–would I be able to have a grading service grade all my future patterns from those rules? Or would I be SOL?

  5. Kathleen says:

    if you send your patterns out to be graded …Are you stuck with “Standard” grading rules?

    Absolutely not! Any decent pattern grader would prefer to get your grade rules! A pattern grader would be thrilled to get your grade rules, particularly if you marked them on the pattern where you wanted them. If you do this (not many do), many graders will give you a discount! In the opinion of many, transcribing those grade rules (presumably correctly) is the “grading” portion so they don’t have to figure that out which saves time.

    See, just like designers always tell a pattern maker to cut in a “size 10″, every single designer has a different idea of what a size 10 is. Every single one. The same with grading. A designer will say ‘give me a 2” grade’ but they never mean the same thing by it! It’s very frustrating. So, the answer to your question is that not only are custom rules not a problem, making up your own grade rules is a great way to win friends and influence people.

  6. Amy says:

    Just happened to find this blog when I typed in “Sunny Young Grading machine” I have one from back in the 80’s and early 90’s when I was a freelance pattern grader in San Franciso. I used it for 7 years and became very fast and efficient on it. I didn’t have any problems. I’m keeping it for training purposes, it is a great way to grasp the concept of grading very quickly. And also, yes I did do custom grades and its always best for the customer to provide the grade.

  7. Ellen says:

    1) Yes hinged grading rulers have a hinge- you need to be able to flip them back at times to mark your pattern pc. as you grade

    2)I’ve worked as a Contract grader for years using a Dario as my main machine. It has been customized by its former owner by drilling a hole at each end of the cast iron plate (the mechanism is mounted on the plate) and inserting two short screws with pointed ends thru it so the screws plus the weight of the plate will hold the machine in place as you work. Yes it marks your table but as you can lift the machine around (Sunny Youngs and Variators screw to the edge of the table) you save a lot of paper (money) On the topic of machines that screw to the table, always give them a shove with your hip to make sure they are firmly in place otherwise you are wasting your time and the work won’t be accurate. Sunny Youngs have a longer rech than a Dario so they do have their uses and I do own one

    3) Sunny youngs are better than variators as it’s a)easier to open the mechanism to put the pattern pc. in and b) you can have the arm that extends on the variator bump into the mechanism and you then can”t complete your move (pain in the butt)

    4)You can get screw on metric plates for Sunny Youngs

    5) The rulers do not have a system they like the machines are a tool the person operating the tool should know grading- See the Handford book advertised in the sidebar. There are at least a half dozen grading books around (Fairchild publishing has a good beginer one) If you are in Toronto go look in the Ryerson University Library they have all of them Imperial and Metric

    6) The hinged grading ruler is an imitation of the Sunny Young machine it has the same reach either side of zero. It is better than the grid

    7)Using a machine is more accurate than a ruler I can be accurate to 1/32 of an inch with a machine

    8)there are Darios for sale on e-bay for good prices just pray they have been treated well and not dropped (if the mechanism has been knocked off square then the machine is useless). If you live in a City that has the Garment trade try the machine suppliers tell them you are looking for a used machine leave your name and number and check back with them something will pop up eventually

    9) Everyone tweaks the grade rules to suit themselves I have binders of them. Once upon a time grading was the entry position for would be pattern makers (you learn a lot-what pcs should look like, notching, labeling and alterations start to make sense).

  8. Nan says:

    Hi There,
    Just needed some info on computer aided software grading.I see that there is a grading or growth increment which i am assuming is got by the working sizes that you are working with.For eg:
    You have sizes 3,6,9,12,14,16,18 which are categorized into xs,s,m,l and xl and the growth increment is 1″ 1.5″ M 1.5″ 2″ my question is that,was the growth increment got by what the company wants for their sizes or do you have to establish this on your own just based on the size difference and if based on the sizes how do you arrive at this specific growth increment.


  9. Lou says:

    I used Sunny Young grader for 22 years and bought another one because the old one was getting hard to slide thru the gears.
    Used the second one for 2 more years.Worked as a designer, pattern maker, grader for a company that grossed 14 million in 1979. I Still have the second grader and wouldn’t part with it for all the tea in China. It’s a great machine if you know how to use it. It could grade and shape any size garment you could think of from size 6 to 60.

  10. Ely says:

    I have my own business which specialises in design, pattern making and grading… everything i do is manual… by hand, i don’t use any machine, just a pencil, eraser & simple grading ruler which is 2″ wide and 18″ long and is marked with 1/8 of an inch grid all over. Very simple and affective in grading anything! I do evening wear to t-shirts, mens suits even hats!

  11. Sonia Lyne says:

    I have The Variator grading machine which was given to me by my grandfather. It is still in excellent working order but it also well used and well loved. I am wanting to sell it. Does anyone know how I should go aout this?
    Kind regards

  12. Berlinda Cole says:

    I am part of a team doing a grading presentation at my company. We will be demonstrating three methods of grading. One method being the manual grading machine. I own a Sunny-Young accurate Speed-Grader. Patent NO. 3,783,517. I am looking for some history on the company or the invention of the machine. Can anyone help me?

  13. Laura says:

    Hi, was googling to find more info on grading patterns. I do not live in a city with a big tailor or sewing industry where can where can I purchase the hinged grading ruler?

  14. Renee Uliana says:

    I am so excited about finding this web site. I have a small children’s clothing manufacturing business and have been looking for a hinged grading ruler for a long time. My knowledge in grading is minimal but had the opportunity to borrow and use this particular ruler and loved it. All my seaching has been friutless! Where can I find this ruler?

  15. Paulette Fein says:

    I have a Sunny-Young “Accurate Speed-Grader MODEL P”
    It is for sale……… please contact me if still interested.

    Paulette Fein

    • Dorrys Okpohs says:

      hello paulette,
      I just came across this site your mail. Am a fashion designer and pattern maker from Africa. Am intrested in buying in buying an accurate grading machine. please do you have any for sale or do you know of any company or supplier I can order from?

  16. sewiknittoo says:

    Any idea of where I could locate a hinged grading ruler?? If I was to use plastic grid (which I cannot find either by the way) how would I go about grading my patterns with it?

  17. steve Y. says:

    I used the Grad-o-meter for some years in LA in my shop. Got it from a man, was in business for 20 years. got it for $250 on payment. I loved it . It came with grading charts. It`s up to the designer on his or her grade strategy. fit varys
    From company to company.A 2 inch grade is 2 inches is added to make larger.

  18. I lost a friend’s vintage (pre 1950) brass patternmaking tool. It is in the shape of a bodice. It was made of adjustable brass strips with markings on the strips. i don’t know what it is called or who manufactured it. Any suggestions?

  19. Brina says:


    You must be talking about the McDowell Garment Drafting Machine, although this would be a lot earlier than pre-1950. I think the last version was made about 1915, based on the model developed in 1879. They show up on ebay quite often.
    Here’s some images:

    There have been a lot of drafting machines over the years, at least since the late 1800’s–some paper, some plastic, some metal, some wood. Anyone who wants to know more about early drafting machines and dressmaking in general should read: “The female economy: the millinery and dressmaking trades, 1860-1930” by Wendy Gamber. “Cutting a Fashionable Fit” by Claudia Kidwell is also good. Kidwell is head curator of the Costume Division of the Smithsonian Institution Museum of American History.

    I have a drafting machine made of tin, The Buddington Improved Dress Cutting Machine, similar to the McDowell, that I would like to sell, if anyone is interested. It’s complete with all the pieces of the bodice and sleeve and instructions, although the box is worse for wear–I bought it like that though. I haven’t use it or the McDowell, but heard from a costumer that the McDowell makes great custom bodice patterns from a person’s measurements.

    In any case, drafting machines are not the same as grading machines, in that the drafting machines are designed to make patterns to fit a particular body, where the grading machines, if it’s not already obvious, are to create a range of sizes of a particular garment for ready to wear manufacture.

  20. Kathleen says:

    Brina, I wasn’t aware of Gamber’s book, I like Kidwell’s book very much. Btw, if anyone plans on doing any research at the Library of Congress, be sure to bring Kidwell’s book as a guide to source material.

    I have a McDowell machine, bought it as a curiosity. I thought of writing an entry about it for fun. Maybe I will this week. It has one very unusual feature that I’ve long harped about. I also have a paper form, it is quite exemplary in it’s detail and engineering.

    All: I’ve asked Brina about her Buddington, she says she’ll get me photos and pricing on Wednesday.

  21. Karen says:

    My grandmother gave me a dario grad-o-meter, she was a pattern grader for over 25 years. She was this every day in the factory. She has taught me to use it. I’m afraid I still have to really think about it when I use it (which has been a while), Where even today, my grandmother who is almost 90 and has been retired for many years can grade without much thought. She’s amazing! I’m lucky to have the machine and all that goes with it.

  22. paulina says:

    we like to have more information about the fashion grading machines and rules. and now, i live in bali. so how can we get the fashion grading machines and rules in Indonesia ? or maybe in other country ?? if you have that machines in indonesia’s company, can you please tell us, so we can references because we want to order that machines. Thank you for your attention.

  23. MARY says:


    We are manufacturers in Melbourne Australia and we are looking for some-one that sells grading machines. I emailed Southstar USA a few days ago but have not had a response.


  24. Eduardo says:

    Hi. I’m from Melbourne Australia and I’m looking for the Sunny Young or the Variator grading machine. Can anyone help. Thanks

  25. Kathy says:

    Is there any chance that you could post an actual size image of this hinged ruler, particularly the grid on it? (Slap it down on a scanner.) I have access to CAD software and a laser cutter/etcher. If I had a good reference, I bet I could make my own ruler.

  26. Kathy: an explanation of how the hinge works is in comments above. It was just a piece of tape holding another piece of plastic which was itself intended to be taped down. Fwiw, I always took the hinge off and threw it away and taped the ruler to the table in a hinged fashion. The hinge was superfluous imo.

    I can’t scan the ruler full size because it is copyrighted (1977).

    FIDM was (is?) selling a version of the Davis ruler but I do not like it for three reasons. First, the plastic is thick which means that lines ghost (cause a shadow to fall) and you cannot tell the difference btwn a ghosted or a pencil line. Second, the plastic is shiny meaning there is glare so you can’t see and have to shift your head around all the time to see the markings clearly. Third, the lines are black, again making it difficult to see differences btwn pattern vs ruler lines. The original ruler was a very thin sheet, red ink with a matte finish. I’m sure people were thinking she did it like that because it was cheap but its design (considering later competing products) hasn’t been surpassed.

    Speaking of, Connie Crawford has designed a grading ruler. Her original prototype was thick plastic, black ink etc but I gave her a quick demonstration using the original Davis ruler for comparison so she quickly realized why the thick plastic was a big problem and changed her design. She also moved the zero centering point back closer to the user once I explained why putting it dead center was a problem. I don’t make any money recommending this product but am confident the worst of the bugs are worked out of it and it is better (and lower cost) than the competing FIDM grading ruler.

  27. Anir says:

    The FIDM ruler is $5 versus Connie’s $8. Although certainly if Connie Crawford’s a better design, a person would save a lot more than $3 by making more accurate lines/grades and having less aggravation. Thanx for explaining the problems with the FIDM ruler and the advantages of the Davis ruler.

  28. irene says:

    my one is even older then the one pictured above but it still works like a dream it is some 35 to 40 years old it is a magnificent piece of history very easy to use love how it makes grading quick and acurate beats computers any day hands down never lose info just love it
    variator is stil manufacured in a smaler verion it is more user frendly and it costs $595 for one in inches and $625 in centimeters
    also replacement arms are available as well as a carry case
    it is very useful little divice easy to use
    the swiss ones are the elite ones which are no longer manufacured but you may find one on the net ebay had one go for $150 a while ago
    i think they are priceles

  29. theresa says:

    I am a manual patternmaker and have used the Dario for 22 years. I could not do my work without it. It is absolutely accurate if the operator using it is. You must weight your base paper well and be sure you have taped your pattern securely to the arms. Grading is not difficult but requires a lot of focus and precision as well as an understanding of how the body grows and the market you are grading for. I can’t see the need for one if you are not working in the industry as a grading ruler should meet the needs of a home sewer. For that matter, most industrial grading is now done digitally but I still prefer my grading machine.

  30. Constance says:

    Ely’s comments has really inspired me. I do patterns , grading
    etc by hand with same ruler, pencil and eraser. I’ve been doing
    this professionally for 23yrs now.

  31. Afia Cayee says:

    I am reading Section 4: Production and the section on the Mechanics of Grading, pg 123 as I am embarking on the journey of being a Design Entrepreneur

    I purchased the pattern grading manual by Jack Handford. In grading there were several tools mentioned that can be used to grade. Including a Dario Grad-O-Meter, Sunny Young Accelerator, and a hinged grading ruler. However, I have not been able to locate a Sunny Young, Variator, or hinged grading ruler. I did however locate the manufacturer of the D400 Dario Grad-O-Meter. The Grad-O-Meter has changed in its appearance and now has white knobs and parts that were once black. I was confused at first and thought perhaps someone else was manufacturing them as a knock off. But, I spoke a woman that verified that she purchased the tooling for the machine from the owner and that the change in material is the latest version of the grad-o-meter. If you are looking for the one that looks like the photo above, it is no longer manufactured. However, the latest version is available for $500 plus postage. It’s not much less than what they are going for at the two online websites ($550 & $595) that I found. Nonetheless, I wonder if there is a discount for a minimum order. There are approximately 25 manufactured per year. She mentioned that she does ship them overseas to other fashion design programs. Well, I guess I will keep searching for the “Unicorn in the Haystack” in the mysterious land of pattern grading machines. Just passing the information along.

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