Patterns must grow longer based on girth

Lots of people believe a pattern should not increase in length just because one’s girth has increased but it should and I’ll prove that to you today. We’ve debated it before but I can’t find it now (probably owing to well known tendency for comments to disappear on word press blogs). The particular context I recall is a discussion of trunk grading in European jackets so if you know where that is, let me know. The topic came up today in a discussion with a client who said her linings never fit well until she followed the “how to draft lining patterns” section in my book (pgs 154-157) -which illustrates this same principle. I meant to follow up long before now. I even bought the stuff to do it with.

For a crude proof, I bought two balls as props. You have no idea how long it took me to find balls that met the specifications I had. Namely, that each ball had to measure the same length from tip to tip. We can call this total absolute height. Each ball measures 8.25″ in length (thanks to Jennifer for the edit). Larger images are here and here.


Each ball also had to differ -hopefully dramatically- in girth. With the child’s football and soccer ball above, that is readily apparent.

So, we have the same height (absolute length) measure for each ball. This compares the height of a person and has nothing to do with girth. The girth or circumference of each ball -which relates to one’s waist, hip or chest size- is going to be dramatically different when I compare the results of using the measuring tape directly on the surface of the ball. We would call this the tape-on lengthwise grow or direct length as opposed to absolute. In the case of the football, the tape-on length from tip to tip is 10.375″. The soccer ball is 13″. Do click through for those photos.

Conclusion: the length grade for a size 16 (or whatever) should be longer, sometimes dramatically, than that of a size 2, even if both women are the same height. If the garment is fitted close to the body, the differences will be greater than something like a muu-muu that stands away or apart from the figure but even the latter will be longer for larger sizes.

You can replicate this experiment at home or the cheapie solution is to take your rulers to the dollar store and measure balls there. I didn’t have the nerve to do that so I paid on the order of $13 and some odd change for the privilege of writing this post (accordingly, I will be annoyed if I read a re-hash of it on someone else’s site or in a magazine without attribution as is increasingly happening if you’re wondering why I’m not posting as much lately).

Questions? Discussion? Will we continue to debate the necessity of grading length into larger girth patterns? Inquiring minds want to know. Hope your weekend is dandy. Cooler too.

Grading for height when you know nothing about grading
Pop Quiz #482 pt.2

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  1. Renee says:

    I love the props. Hope your dogs will have some fun with those now that they’ve served their intended purpose.

  2. Pepper says:

    One would merely have to… say… gain 30 lbs or so…then try on their favourite t-shirt from university and see just how much of their new found belly they want to show off! Not that I am talking from experience or anything….

  3. Jennifer says:

    I’m not sure what the device is you’ve used to measure the balls, but you’ve read it wrong. The measuring stick starts at 1″ so you need to subtract that and the marker seems to rest at 1/4″ not a 1/2″. This checks out for the soccer ball–for a sphere of height 8.25″ (i.e. diameter), the girth would be pi x 8.25″ = 25.9″, and the “tape on length” would be half that, 13″ as you have measured. (I do realize your point was to find two things of the same height not the specific height but for sake of argument I need to know the actual height.)

    I didn’t go to the store, but suppose I had a can that was also 8.25″ in height but 4.7″ in diameter. Then the girth of the can would be 4.7″ x pi = 14.8″. Which is again much smaller than the girth of the ball. But I calculate the “tape on length” would be exactly the same as the soccer ball, 13″. [The can has a vertical cross section that is a rectangle 8.25″ high and 4.7″ wide. If you take the perimeter of that rectangle and divide by two, you get the “tape on length” = 4.7″ + 8.25″ = 13″.]

    So you’ve found an example of objects with the same height but different girth and “tape on length” which means a longer pattern is SOMETIMES needed (assuming this applies to patterns as you argue.)

    Yet I’ve found two objects with the same height and different girth with identical “tape on length.” Meaning in my case a longer pattern is NOT needed. This contradicts your statement that “patterns MUST grow longer based on girth.”

    I’m really not bickering with your supposition, just your claim at a proof. You have experience with these things and you are probably correct that for real body shapes and patterns increased girth implies increased length. But even if the soccer ball and foot ball support your claim there are also simple objects that contradict it.


  4. Helena says:

    The point here is that larger circumferences _can_ mean larger curves and there for more length, and when it comes to the human body it also should be true.

    However many sizing systems have an increase of, say 2 inches in every grith measurement. Since the clothes rarely go from the tip of the head to the bottom of the shoes, in theory the length shouldn’t really increase.
    If you look at the two pictures of each ball here the length between the two red lines isn’t any difference, as long as you keep to one of the shapes.

    The real issue here is whether a larger size should mean morphing, procentual increase or absolute increase. And when people go larger (but stay at the same height) they do not tend to add the same amount of inches all around the body.

  5. Renee says:

    Something that covers only a portion of the length of the body might indeed not grade in length, but a shirt or dress by necessity must grow longer, since there is a greater depth required at the shoulder. On a pair of pants, however, it’s the rise extension that should be taking most of the grade and certainly not the length of the leg or necessarily the depth of the rise, and yet conventional grading systems that I’ve learned do grade the depth of the rise as well.

    If I picture a tube top, the tube itself needn’t specifically grow in length, but the strap sure would.

  6. Eric H says:

    Jennifer, I don’t think this was intended as a mathematical proof; patternmaking is about human bodies, not abstract shapes. The point was to show that two **similar** objects would have the relationship claimed. Humans aren’t as different as cans and balls. You can picture what might happen if the football was fixed at the end and elastic enough in the middle to continue to blow it up: it would eventually morph into the soccer ball.

    I think that you don’t necessarily have to have different pattern lengths because a nice dress on the football (non-US translation: gridiron or rugby ball) would make a nice mini-skirt on the soccer ball (non-US translation: football, and I hope you are happy about the outcome of the Women’s World Cup, Teijo!).

  7. Mary in FL says:

    When comparing items having the same height, I would be less confused if the images looked like height was being compared, i.e., both images turned 90 degrees in the same direction. Unless there’s something I’m not seeing.

  8. Jennifer,

    The question is not “is there only one way to increase tape-on length?” The question is, “If I increase girth for a given height and shape, will my tape-on length stay the same?”

    The answer to the first question is No, as you point out. It’s why Kathleen is so staunchly opposed to standardized sizing.

    The answer to the second one is No as well, which Kathleen demonstated visually and which we can easily calculate from your cylinder example. If your cylinder stayed at a height of 8.25″ but grew from a girth of 4.7″ to 8.25″, then tape-on length would grow from 12.95″ to 16.5″.

    If you were able to find a way keep the height of a shape constant and increase the diameter *of that shape* without increasing tape-on length, that would be a cool trick.

  9. Kathleen says:

    So you’ve found an example of objects with the same height but different girth and “tape on length” which means a longer pattern is SOMETIMES needed (assuming this applies to patterns as you argue.)

    Yet I’ve found two objects with the same height and different girth with identical “tape on length.” Meaning in my case a longer pattern is NOT needed. This contradicts your statement that “patterns MUST grow longer based on girth.”

    I’m really not bickering with your supposition, just your claim at a proof. You have experience with these things and you are probably correct that for real body shapes and patterns increased girth implies increased length. But even if the soccer ball and foot ball support your claim there are also simple objects that contradict it.

    I think you are bickering with my point. DH says I should have set this up differently so people would understand and I will do that, probably Monday. Prepare to be amazed is all I can say; I’m surprised it seems to be so counter intuitive to others. In the meantime, instead of thinking of all the reasons I may be wrong, consider the potential that I may be right (less back peddling that way). Thanks for the correction btw, I made note of it in the entry.

    Renee: I will be positioning the balls up right and putting a muu-muu on them. You’ll see that even a free flowing “gown” that does not skim a body tightly will still need more pattern length to travel the same distance.

    Pepper’s comment was short, sweet and right on target. Perhaps many don’t understand this because they haven’t experienced a large weight gain.

  10. Doris W. in TN says:

    Home sewer here and I completely agree with Kathleen’s point . Anyone who has done a FBA (full bust adjustment) knows the front of a garment has to be lengthened in order for the hem to hang properly. I often buy RTW outerwear jackets in a larger size, just to get the longer sleeve length. Someone obviously believes that larger girth means longer arms. ;-)

  11. Kathleen is quite right. Here’s an example from real life.

    This woman’s back is almost flat. She carries almost all of her extra weight forward of her side seam. Obviously she needs more fabric to go around her body.

    Here are the pattern adjustments needed to fit her. These are quick sketches, but mirror proportionately the changes in her real pattern.

  12. All this makes sense to me. I have to add length to patterns when I do a full bust adjustment for larger cup sizes. Also, gaining as little as 5 lbs. will make a difference in fit. I’ve seen this in tankini tops. Pepper is right on.

  13. sahara says:


    I totally understand what you’re saying. In fact, I thought of emailing this post to a former employer. She had the girth, particularly at the bustline, but darn near FIRED me for even SUGGESTING that sweaters be graded for length. The small (32″ bust) had a length of 23″‘; so did the large (40″ bust). And this wasn’t cut and sew–the company’s sweaters were hand-knitted in China. The returns on the larger sizes? They went to a discounter, so the company still made money.

    Consumer knitting patterns are ALWAYS graded for length, as many garments (especially those using complicated stitch patterns) don’t include darts, due to the skill level of many hand-knitters. A large bust will make the sweater ride up in the front. Often, many women will knit the front and back from 2 different sizes to make up for this.

    Why is it that designers for home sewers and knitters seem to have more fit sense sometimes than designers in the garment industry? And it’s not always a matter of cost either.

  14. Jennifer says:

    This is really a 2-D question at least you’re talking about linear measurements and you’re modeling it with symmetric objects which you could look at in cross section to without loss of generality. You’re talking about changing a body contour and does the “tape on length” necessarily increase as the girth increases. I say in this simplified setting, no, not necessarily.

    Draw a semicircle of diameter 8.25″ and set a shoelace along the contour. Thumb tack it in place at top and bottom. Then play around with how you can manipulate the shoe lace while staying within the original height. You can make many undulating curves which might approximate a body but which have smaller girth than the original circle. The height is fixed and the tape on length is fixed as represented by the shoe lace length. These could represent two figures or parts of figures which have different average girth but the same “tape on length.” A circle is actually the shortest line which can enclose a given area which is why they occur in nature.

    I still say I’m not necessarily bickering with your statement you may be right that for real bodies and real patterns a close fitting pattern needs to add length any time girth increases. But your simple model is just one example where your statement is true–that is not a proof even crudely. How do we know it is true for all figures, you said MUST. I do know that a woman who is nine months pregnant wearing even a muumuu will find her front hem too short. But finding one example or many examples does not prove the statement in general. Yet finding one counter example disproves the statement. I maintain there is some undulating figure and some ball like figure out there that have the same “tape on length” and the same height but different girths.

    And you need to decide if you are trying to fit a loose fitting garment or a close fitting one as it muddles the thinking. I suspect there are counter examples for both cases but they would not be the same.

    I just don’t think looking at a foot ball and a soccer ball is instructive.

  15. Susan Wright says:

    I am slim and fit but I have had 2 babies and I am on the “wrong” side 60 so I have a small belly that just doesn’t go away (no matter how many core exercises I do). Most people wouldn’t even notice it.

    So even that small “protrusion” requires me to add a 1/2 inch of length to the centre front at the waist of a skirt. If I don’t, the skirt will constantly ride up over my belly and the hem will sway out in front at the bottom. I have to make an adjustment for tops and dresses too for the same reason.

    My point is that it doesn’t take much of a increase in girth to require an increase in length.

  16. Kate Rawlinson says:

    In all my pattern drafting books, especially the really old ones, sizes always increase in length as they increase in girth. I don’t really understand why this has disappeared. I can only imagine it’s because the garment industry used to assume that if you were bigger it was because you were taller, and now they just think you’re wider (and don’t take into account your beautifully illustrated point!)?

    I know this discussion relates to increasing length to account for increases in width, but as an aside, the tendency not to grade the length makes buying RTW really irritating for us taller people – the size charts in my circa 1900 drafting books come much closer to my actual measurements than modern ones, because they assumed back then that my height and girth were in proportion.

    On an even more tangential (?) point, I AM curious as to why the shoulders of garments get so much wider in larger sizes, in a way that seems disproportionate (to me) to what actually happens in human beings. Added girth doesn’t particularly (IMO – although please tell me I’m wrong!) equate to an increase in shoulder WIDTH, at least horizontally across the body – although the depth of the body (front to back) at the shoulders is an increase I can understand.

  17. Re: shoulder width increasing

    This has been a great mystery for some time. It’s absolutely wrong on women’s garments. Does it work on men’s? As pattern grading was established for garments for them, did it get slapped over?

  18. Renee says:

    I will enjoy seeing your muu-muus; I agree they will need to be different lengths. I’m just saying that if you make them skirts as well those would be the same length. :-)

  19. Quincunx says:

    We just don’t think about side views of the human body, is all. Ok, maybe it’s also that if even if we have the fortitude to look long and hard at the diagonal slopes of our side view, many of us haven’t got the ability to rotate the mental image two ways. Sure we can sort of flatten out each slope and lay it horizontally flat and add to the flat pattern width, making it subconsciously into a triangle and measuring one of the shorter sides, but we can’t always compare the diagonal slope to the vertical and see that there is vertical length (the third side of the triangle) to add to the flat pattern as well.

    Jennifer’s not wholly wrong and Kathleen isn’t wholly wrong. Jennifer is measuring exactly what was written, and Kathleen knows that the length measurement has to begin and end at the central axis of every object or there will be uncovered parts of the object. Eric, sir, you are on editorial duties for part 2. Find us some cans of equal height and unequal diameters, pop the same height drawstring sleeve on both, and photograph the difference in exposed can-end.

  20. Betsy says:

    While I agree that in the vast majority of cases a person of greater girth requires a longer garment, I also immediately started to think of exceptions. If I were to make matching fitted strapless dresses for two 5’6″ tall women where one measured 38,24,38 and the other measured 40,40,40, there is a good chance that my pattern would need to be longer for the thinner woman. If I were making them matching muu-muus then the larger woman would have a longer pattern as fits Kathleen’s example.

  21. Trish says:

    I always teach this principle in my pattern making classes. Unfortunately for me, I can prove it with my own sweet belly. Also when I lose weight, my skirts get too long (not that I use this as an excuse to eat!!). I think the industry does not bother adding length when grading because it helps to save on fabric and thus money.

  22. Marie-Christine says:

    Love the props :-). Can’t wait for the muumuus :-). Of course you’re totally right. On a smaller scale, every single thing I’ve ever read about adjusting for a large bust makes the point that you must adjust the length as well as the width. Every D-cup woman stuck in a B-cup shirt that boings up at the front has experienced this. The same applies when it’s the entire body that goes up in size, especially given that human bodies do not make angles as they grow but get more rotund, a euphemism that describes reality well in this case. Pepper is completely right.

    Of course the caveat is that if you’re adjusting your own pattern by only a size or two, you can often ignore the length element. It won’t be as much of a difference as the stretch in a knit will provide for instance. But that’s not true if you’re a DE and designing for a significant size range, there you have to listen to Kathleen..

  23. Kathleen says:

    I wouldn’t be so quick to assert that it is RTW manufacturers who are more likely to be unaware of the necessity of this practice. Based on objections to what I’ve said here, it seems to be evenly split between home sewers and RTW. In real life tho, I would think that more RTW people know of its necessity.

    Betsy: I see what you’re saying but this isn’t a comparison we can use unless we had both bodies at hand (why we really don’t know) because we were discussing key concepts rather than specificity governing areas of suppression (harkens to the points I made in Curvy does not mean plus sized) because shaping is pivotal in your example. A more useful comparison is to gauge differences btwn a 30-30-30 (or a 35-35-35 or whatever) and the 40-40-40 and you’d see the larger girth dimensions would result in a longer length grow. Which is why grade rules can vary so much btwn manufacturers based on the dimensions of given sizes beyond the midpoint of the size spread.

  24. Jen Rocket says:

    A great debate here. I recently studied pattern grading and whenever we graded to a larger size on a bodice we added length and width,but in different increments. For example a 4 to 6 we added 1/8 in length and side seam width,and 1/16 in shoulder width. Also the ready made patterns reflect this somewhat too, so I thought that you always had to add length with girth. However think that shoulder width should be a small change as reflected above if the garment is to be a fitted one. As a side note, I tend to make my skirts/dresses a tad longer in the back since I have a Jlo-butt!
    Thanks to Carol kimball for her sketches on the scrub top. As also noted by Quincunx, I have found that looking at the center line of a person from the side and taking into account where there is more need for coverage due to girth in the back or front always makes for a much better fitting first pattern.

  25. Thanks for the kind words, Jen.

    For more ancient history, here are side views.

    Accommodating where a person carries their weight – in this case, in front or behind the side of the body – is a subset of an already difficult marketing niche. And that’s a subject for another thread.

  26. gabrielle says:

    I’m a home sewer and I sometimes need to make an SBA. Recently I’ve had success in using a horizontal dart in the bust area to remove length – so your post above makes complete sense to me. If you think of the body as a 3d shape it just makes sense that if your body is flat you’ll need less distance or length of fabric to reach the same distance above the ground that you would if the fabric had to go over some hills or bumps. I have also experienced the other side of it as for a while I had to add length to accommodate a belly…. and of course maternity wear is always longer to account for more belly sticking out.

  27. dosfashionistas says:

    I don’t see how we can argue that one would not need to use length to accommodate part of the girth when grading to a larger size on a person. It is part of the art of patternmaking. The pattern is two dimensional; bodies are three-dimensional. And they morph.

    The mastery is in knowing how to add length and width to comfortably fit, and if you are working in the industry it is how to fit the most people possible that are in your company’s demographics. Some of the industry standards work, some don’t. We have already mentioned shoulder widths. I have long held the theory that larger people tend to grow more in depth than they do in width, partly because of the bone frame that the body mass sits on. And I would be happy to hear comments about that.

  28. dosfashionistas, re:
    I have long held the theory that larger people tend to grow more in depth [front to back] than they do in width [side to side] , partly because of the bone frame that the body mass sits on.

    This has been my experience, but I’d never gotten to the obvious correlation with the skeleton, and am sitting here with jaw-dropping astonishment at your insight.

  29. Laura says:

    Makes sense. I can feel that this is true by the way my clothes fit. When I gained weight, pants were not only tighter in the waist, but the crotch needed to be longer and deeper to account for extra flesh in the buttocks and tummy. Since I’ve lost some weight, my shirts and blouses seem longer although I haven’t lost a lot through the abdomen. I have lost some in the upper torso, most noticeably a reduction in “back titties.” They’ve almost disappeared. At first I was a little unhappy, thinking my bust was shrinking. It did, a little, but my clothes fit much more comfortably and look better.

  30. Cindy says:

    Thank you for this post. I like that you’ve used a physical example here. Simple. Easily understood. Common sense. Thank you.

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