Fitting part 3: finding your pattern size

Ah, pattern sizes. How can something that sounds so simple be so tricksy?

You’re more than just a number

Although most of us talk about ourselves in terms of one clothes size, the reality is that most of us are a combination of sizes. I’m going to explain how to decide which size you’ll need to go for, but chances are that you’ll be different sizes across different pattern companies, different garments, and probably even different parts of the same garment. And it’s quite possible that none of these sizes will match the labels in your RTW clothes.

For skirts that are fitted at the hips, or for trousers

For these, you should choose the pattern size that best matches your hip measurement. Your hip measurement is the widest part of your derriere – probably somewhere between 7 and 10 inches below your waistline. If you’re between sizes, then go with the larger size. If the garment ends up too big, it’s much easier to take it in than let it out. Don’t worry if your waist measurement puts you in another size – it’s easier to adjust the waistline than the hips.

I recently made the Simplicity 2290 pyjama bottoms, and my 42″ hip measurement put me between the M and L adult sizes so I made an L-size toile to check the fit.

For skirts that are fitted at the waist, but not at the hip

Fairly obviously, you should choose the pattern size that best matches your waist measurement. Again, if you’re between sizes, then go larger rather than smaller.

For tops

For children and chaps, this is easy – pick the size that most closely matches your chest measurement.

For ladies, boobs can cause a few issues here.  99% of commercial patterns (and RTW clothes) are made to fit a B cup*, so actually they fit very few of us – given that Ms UK Average is apparently now a D cup.

To find your size you’ll need:

  1. Your full bust measurement – this is around the fullest part of your bust which is usually where your nipples are. Keep the tape measure horizontal.
  2. Your high bust measurement. To take this, hold the tape measure under your armpits, as high as you can get it whilst keeping it horizontal.
  3. Your bra cup size, just for good measure.

If your full bust and high bust measurements are within 2″ of each other, then you can go right ahead and select your pattern size using your full bust measurement. Lucky you.

If they’re more than 2″ different, then you’ll need to choose your pattern size like this:

  1. Take your high bust measurement.
  2. Add 2″ to this.
  3. Choose the pattern size whose bust measurement best matches that number.
  4. You’ll need to adjust the the bust on the pattern (before cutting out your fabric) to get it to fit your chest properly.

One word of warning. If you find that RTW necklines are often quite low on you and bust darts are often below your nipples then your boobs are probably also positioned fairly high on your chest. If this is the case, then you’ll struggle to get an accurate high bust measurement, so your bra cup size might be a better guide. If you’re an A, B or C cup then you can choose your pattern size using your full bust measurement. If you’re a D cup, then use your full bust measurement minus 2″, for a DD use your full bust minus 3″ and so on. It’s taken me ages to work out that I needed to do this but all my bodices are now fitting much better. There are a fair few alterations involved – you’ll need to raise the bust point and do a full bust alteration. And you’ll almost always need to make a toile. But you will get a top that fits across the shoulders, under the arms and across the chest.

For dresses and other full length garments

You’re usually best off choosing your pattern size by your top half and then making adjustments to the bottom half to get the best fit. You can even combine two sizes, say a 12 on top and a 14 below. Most patterns these days are multi-sized – they have several sizes printed on one sheet, so if possible try to buy one that covers both the sizes you need. Vintage patterns are often only in one size, so you’ll have some tweaking to do. And it’s almost always easier to tweak the bottom half.

Done. You can now buy your pattern in the correct size, and – if you’re keen – run up a toile.

* Update: Colette Patterns use a C cup as their standard fit so if you’re cutting a Colette top or dress, the sizing and adjustments will be slightly different. If you’re a B, C or D cup, you can probably get away without a bust adjustment on a Colette Pattern and just choose your size by your full bust measurement. 

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