Pop Quiz 477: Plus size grading

In retrospect, I wish I’d named this series, Why you really don’t want to use home sewing patterns for production. There’s a reason manufacturers don’t use them and this pattern is a good fairly typical example of why we don’t. Manufacturers are cheap. If they could get away with paying 1/10th the price for a pattern, believe me, they’d be all over it. But I digress.

Continuing from the first entry and the second, now I’ll show you some things you couldn’t possibly have seen, specifically, the grading of the pattern into plus sizes. I’m sure that even if you know nothing about grading, you’ll be as baffled as I am. Because there was so much to pick from in comparing the grading of pieces from size to size, I’ve limited the discussion to the center front panel. You know, that piece that joins the yoke from beneath? The reason also being, respondents said the sweep of the blouse in larger sizes was too small. Below is a screen cap of the size “7” (a plus size, representing sizes 16-18) on the left and on the right is size “4” (roughly equivalent to a size 10-12).

The first thing you may notice is that the size 4 pattern piece is much curvier than the size 7. I prefer to pass on arguing all day long but the fact remains, smaller sizes are curvier than larger ones -which really confuses me as to why plus sizes are called “curvy” but I’ll let that go (on second thought, I didn’t). At the pattern level, the smaller sizes are curvier. Now, as to whether the larger size on the left is an accurate grade up from the size 4 is a whole other animal because I’m not saying it was. By the way, each of these patterns were digitized and are in absolute proportion to each other.

Let’s compare the upper edge that sews to the yoke. The circle shows the point from which they’re lined up. The blue piece is the size 7.

The most glaring problem above is that there’s no take out for the “dart” formation at the top edge for the size 7 as there is for the size 4. Oops! Bye bye dart. Does the pattern designer thinks the larger ladies are less endowed than the thinner ones?

There’s a second glaring problem…the width of the pieces at the yoke edge are the same or nearly so; the size 4 is actually larger by a hair. How could this be? The size 7 is three sizes larger so there should minimally –minimally– be a grow of 1/8th inch per size. But nope, it’s not there. Front boobie measure is the same for size 4 and size 7.

Now let’s compare the sweep, the hem circumference of the two pieces below. Here, the size 4 is the blue piece.

Now this is really shocking. The size 4 is actually larger than the size 7! How much larger is the smaller size? My CAD program says 1.229″ larger (below).

Again, the size 7 should be a total of at least 3/8″ larger than the size 4. Have you had enough by now? And this was just comparing the grades of two pieces. Perhaps you can see why I didn’t feel the need to digitize the whole thing in two sizes just to make a point.

One last thing. One frequent complaint made by the ladies is that the back neck didn’t grade up in the larger sizes. Unfortunately, I was not able to corroborate this. I think they may have gotten that impression based on the presentation and layout of the nest (home patterns are nested together by size in case you’ve forgotten). I digitized the back necks in sizes 4 and seven and this is what I came up with, using the nesting point at the center back neck (below).

The difference in the two measures is over 3/8 but less than 1/2 so I wouldn’t consider this to be too great a problem. Again, we can argue the amount of grow to be greater than that but minimally, at least they aren’t the same size. A bigger problem I found was the depth of the back neck (below). This was nearly 1 5/8th inch in the smaller size. Not apropos for a style like this.

If you need a reminder of why this back neck drop can be a problem, see pgs. 164-165 of The Entrepreneur’s Guide.

Pop Quiz #477
Pop Quiz #477: Why the shirt fits badly

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  1. Nadine says:

    Kathleen, you are undeniably AWESOME – thank you for this series. But . . . I’m a home seamstress and everything you’ve taught me about the flaws in commercial patterns has now left me paralysed about making my own garments. I’m reduced to mending and alterations! Are ANY commercial patterns/companies worth my time/money/effort? Or do I have to draft patterns from existing clothes?

  2. Kathleen says:

    everything you’ve taught me about the flaws in commercial patterns has now left me paralysed about making my own garments… Are ANY commercial patterns/companies worth my time/money/effort? Or do I have to draft patterns from existing clothes?
    Ack! I certainly would hate to be culpable of stripping the joy out of sewing! How do you feel about Burda patterns? I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the integrity and accuracy of those. They’re more work; you often have to trace them off and add the seam allowance and make a couple of pieces (facings etc) but that’s not too bad (she says hopefully).

  3. Juliette says:

    I have often wondered what you thought of Burda patterns but was too shy to ask (I’m a lurking home sewer and usually don’t have anything useful to contribute to the discussions). Burda is my favourite pattern company for several reasons, and one is that even their complex garments seem to go together well. After reading your excellent book, I suspected their pattern making and grading were better and more *accurate* than the big 4. It’s interesting that you agree. I also enjoy their styles, but even the best styled pattern will fail if it is not well drafted.

  4. Gigi says:

    Oh, Kathleen, when I read these posts I just want to come and spend a year just observing you and your work! But then I guess that is what I love about sewing: the constant, never-ending learning.

  5. Nadine says:

    Thank you so much! Burda it is. (A little bit of drafting is perfectly fine – just don’t ask me to make a block!)

  6. Esther says:

    Burda patterns are marginally better than the big 4. At least I haven’t seen too many glaring problems – they do seem to be drafted better. Still, that last few items I have tried the patterns did not have enough wearing ease in either the hips or chest areas. Double check pattern measurements against your own to make sure you’ll be able to wear them.

  7. Oxanna says:

    Nadine – you can always buy a basic “sloper” (block) pattern from one of the Big 3 companies, fit it to yourself, and work off that. Drafting from scratch is much more of a pain than working from a well-fitted block.

  8. Carol in Denver says:

    I’m a home sewer too, who mostly lurks here for the GREAT info. Oxanna, I’ve gotta disagree about the usefulness of the “sloper” (block) patterns from the big 3. I’ve been down that route with each of them, and the problem is that their blocks are so wildly different from my body that trying to make the adjustments really is worse than drafting from scratch.
    I’m a big fan of Burda patterns, more from the magazine World of Fashion (WOF) where you have to do the tracing — but because my measurements cover four to five of their sizes, even that is no picnic.
    What I’ve finally come up with is a variant of Kathleen’s saran wrap method, which I use as my block for purposes of comparison with Burda patterns.

  9. LisaB says:

    Thank you for this series. I learn so much from hanging out here. I need to review some of the sections in your book as well.

    Kathleen, if you ever find yourself bored and with too much free time on your hands, I think that many of us in the home sewing community would welcome books, lessons, patterns, (anything!) from you. The more I hang out here, the harder it is for me to stomach some of the patterns and techniques used by enthusiasts. I have to re-think everything I do in the sewing room. Like Gigi, I wish I could hang out with you and soak it all up.

  10. Nanette says:

    Very interesting post…even though the technical details of patternmaking is my sister’s area (she’s the designer for Astarte), I just had to comment. Having been a plus-size hourglass (14/16) my adult life, and short on top of that, my experience is that most plus-size clothing is oddly skewed to giant shoulders and extra long arms as sizes increase, and quite frankly, extremely boxy and shapeless. Curviness is NOT limited to standard sizes. I couldn’t tell you how my sister grades our patterns (ranging from size 14/16 up through 30/32 — and now we’re adding a 5X, which is beyond that), she has identified that plus-size women are not unlike standard sizes in that there are two main groups from which you can then define a variety of subgroup shapes: 1) those with a defined waist (“curvy”) who suffer the most in trying to get a proper fit and 2) those with a straighter shape (who nonetheless would rather look “curvy” than like a large block), and the problem with fit is, as shown by this example, there is no fit to speak of in plus sizes, it just gets bigger and more shapeless. What a difference a dart (or extra seaming) makes! The problem may just be assuming you can grade from a standard size to a plus size. In our 17 years of testing patterns on a very wide variety of shapes of plus-size women, our basic blocks were from scratch, never from “standard sizes.” (One hint: Our first pattern was made from an existing piece that fit fairly well, then modified.) Anyway, my two cents for the day!

  11. Kerryn says:

    Wow, exactly who is getting jobs making patterns with these companies? How can anyone be encouraged to sew their own clothes when this is what they have to work with? Fabric is not cheap!


  12. Grace says:

    I can attest that smaller sizes are curvier than larger sizes. I sewed mommy and me Hawaiian shirts for my (then) toddler and myself.

    If you think about it, smaller spheres and cylinders need to be fitted by smaller, tighter curves. Draw concentric circles to approximate a neck and you can see the smaller size is curvier. In the mathematical sense, tighter curves have higher curvature (second derivative).

  13. carly mick says:

    In response to the ladies nervous about making blocks I would suggest a book called “Making patterns from finished clothes” which, although not perfect is a nice intro to making patterns that you know will fit you without having to actually take apart your favorite garment. You can then use your favorite patterns as your blocks. (Who uses those boxy blocks anyways?) I also think (as a pattern maker for an industrial design firm) that being able to lay something out and get a good start on how to make it is an under appreciated sewing skill.

  14. Katana says:

    Wow. I hate sewing with patterns, but I haven’t been able to find a good resource to learn to drape. So I’ve been doing skirts, little bags, and trifles (accessories and alterations).

    This makes me feel so much better about my aversion to patterns and I may even venture to look into some Burda patterns.

  15. Anita says:

    One thing I’m curious about… do you think pattern drafting at the major pattern companies was better in the past? I have a huge collection of vintage patterns and I’ve noticed that there tend to be more pieces in the older patterns and that the shapes tend to be different, not just because of the different fashions of the times, but because similar garments (like a plain blouse) have differences in the shapes of the pieces. The patterns seem more boxy in the newer patterns compared to the old.

    I’m not anything close to an expert in pattern making (more like a total newbie), though I’ve sewed with home patterns for years (altering the heck out of them so they actually fit), so I can’t really tell if the older patterns are better or not. It’s just something I noticed and have been wondering about.

  16. Sonia Levesque says:

    Burda patterns are the best commercial patterns by far.
    I’m using them all the time, since I find the grading and crotch lines to be the most accurate for plus sizes.

    I was completely baffled by your “size 4 vs size 7” example! OMG! How could one ever accept the width problem, just to begin… I’m just speechless.

    As for the bigger sizes being boxier and less curvy; I’ve got my answer on this. The industry don’t want (can’t?) to mess with too much fitting on larger women, since our unique bodies don’t grow bigger in the same fashion. Some get heavy chested, some get super sized booty (I’m one on those). Sometimes calves are a big issue, sometimes a curvy back with a hump is (a personal problem of mine too). Thing is, when the styles are boxy, the clothes just “hang there”, we can “get into them” and the “hide our undesirable shape”… Can you tell I’m not a big fan of larger boxy fit and those awfully dropped armholes that seem to be the norm in plus size ready to wear?

    I prefer starting from a Burda pattern I like as a base, adapt it to MY design, and fit it to my liking. I tell you, the armholes, neck lines and crotch are pretty well made.

  17. T in Pa says:

    As the above post refers to, I too am having difficulty getting that perfect fit in the armholes. I have tried diligently to alter and fit store bought patterns but still haven’t got it right. Can you stear me in the right direction?

  18. Marianne Sipe (Mari-Anne) says:

    As a home sewer for many years, just had to comment on the wonderful pattern collection I
    have been using since she first published. Nancy Erickson of the Fashion Sewing Group
    Pattern Collection. It is made up of a princess seamed jacket (magnificent fit and so easy to
    adjust); plus patterns of ‘add-ons’ for other jacket ideas. Last year she even did a ‘shirt jacket’
    from her main jacket pattern – totally awsome! Her slacks pattern is the best!!

    Kathleen, I truly appreciate any of your sewing/drafting tutorials because we as home sewers
    can also make good use of the info. Am lining up for your next book!!


  19. Thea A says:

    Please advise if you any information regarding Big sizes for MEN
    Thank you
    (are only working w/womens/ladies sizing?)

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