Care to share on clothes and sewing pattern sizing??

Clothing sizes…. hmmm.

There’s a can of worms for you.  And a very emotive subject for many.

This is my understanding of an UK size 10… B-34″/ W-27.5″/ H-37″.

In Top Shop or H&M I can fit into a 10 but usually buy a 12 in tops because of how stuff shrinks in the wash and because I do actually need to move my arms occasionally*.

But in ‘Lady ‘ shops ( i.e. the ones supposedly more geared to my age group …yawn) I fit into an 8, even occasionally a 6. So what size do I wear ? I dunno, seemingly a  6/8/10/12?  

*Fit and cut are different problems and ones I have even bigger issues with than sizing. My biggest gripe in that area is universally poorly fitted shoulder/armholes.  Unless doing a Royal wave I can’t hail a friend or a taxi; see how HRH’s elbow isn’t raised above shoulder height? Why can’t high-street brands seem to cut a jacket you can actually raise your arms in?? Looks nice with arms down but raise your arms? Ha!

The reason I’m banging on about all this is because I’ve spent the last few days doing an extra bit of research on sizing
and came across a couple of blog posts I found particularly interesting:  Fashion Incubator » Blog Archive » The myth of vanity sizing. Down at paragraph 7 or so she talks about sizing pre 1960’s and how it was arrived at. Something I did not know! I also liked her The Birth Of Size 10? post. Some really great pattern alteration/sewing tutorials there too. The link on a single-strip sleeve placket  alone was worth spending my morning online.

Which brings me next to commercial sewing-pattern sizing and proportions. Now my head starts to really hurt!  Looking at the Vogue/McCall Misses’& Misses’ Petite chart I’m a medium, somewhere in-between a 12 & 14. Ok, but I’m really wondering why the back length for petite sizing  is 16 1/2″. On to the Womens’ Petite chart which says it’s aimed at heights of 5’2″-5’4″ the back length for the XSmall is also 16 1/2″. I know bodies come in many shapes and sizes -I make clothes and costumes in a huge variety of shapes and sizes; from my own daughter at 5’2″ and 31″/24″/34″ to yesterdays TV job for a 6’2″ man with a 67″ waist. But honestly as a 5’4″ woman, and having made many many garments for other similar height women I have found a back length of 16 1/2″ to be the exception rather than the rule. 15 to 15 1/2″ is more common in that height range. Surely the Big 4 didn’t only measure shorter women who have long backs and shorter legs? When I was cutting and fitting for a fashion company 16 1/2″ was the kind of back-waist measurement the 5’10″+ models had. Just feeling very bemused here.

And to top it off in vintage patterns I’m a 14 or sometimes 16.

How do the Big 4 do their size research? I haven’t worked from commercial patterns (other than pre-1950 vintage ones) for years and seeing those charts today was an eye opener. I’ve read on many blogs over the past months tons of complaints about the vague fit of many commercial patterns.

So far what my investigations have shown me is that you cannot please everybody all of the time, and definitely not if  you are a clothing manufacturer or pattern company.  Basically I just ignore the stated size on pattern envelopes and look at the body measurements. Same with clothes. When vintage and thrift shopping I have a tiny tape measure I take with me. When jeans and t-shirt shopping I just keep my fingers crossed and hope my trusted brands haven’t messed with their sizing or fit!

So Readers, I’d be very interested in any insights you have or rants you wish to share on the following things :

  • -What are your own hopes/expectations from patterns and what are your biggest disappointments when you buy and use a pattern whether it be vintage or contemporary?
  • -Do some pattern brands really fit better than others or do you find them all much of a muchness.
  • -Do you sew with how-to sewing books close by to refer to if needed or do you expect to pattern instructions to tell you everything you need to know?
  • -And why is everyone so keen on multi-sized patterns??  After all you can only wear one size….

And if you are passionate about sewing…and sewing better, I definitely recommend a trawl through the Fashion Incubator  blog.

Oh, and btw if you want to buy me clothes for Christmas I wear a 6 to a 16 🙂

15 thoughts on “Care to share on clothes and sewing pattern sizing??

  1. Coming in very late, but I just discovered this blog … and you mention one of my favorite sewing sites, Fashion Incubator.

    I’m just a bit larger than you, Jeanne, so I expect your patterns will fit me ok with minor adjustments … except I have what used to be called an “ample bosom”. Small shoulders, though.

    RTW seems to be made for sticks … thick sticks or thin, but the word curvy should never be used! My waist to hip ratio isn’t what it was when I was younger, I’m only about 10-11″ different these days, but I still can’t find a RTW pencil skirt that fits.

    In sewing patterns, the Big 4 leave much to be desired … Vogue is the best but still not great. Burda is much better, but their magazine is almost impossible to get in the USA. I’m starting to get into digital download patterns, and have higher hopes.

    I always sew with a stack of method books nearby … I’m a sewing geek that way. My “big fat sewing book” is the 1970 Vogue book, I also use the Fashion Incubator book (and blog tutorials, they’re incredible) and Betzina’s Power Sewing. I’m always looking for the most efficient method to sew something.

    As to your last question on multi-sized patterns, I think it’s an economy move on the pattern companies. It’s nice to be easily able to move from a (US) size 10 shoulder to a 14 bust to a 12 waist, but I miss all the extra instructions printed on 1970s era single size patterns.

    Off to examine my stash to see what I have that’s suitable for a French Knickers toile!

    1. Hi Liz and thank you for chiming in. It’s nice to know some of my older posts do still get read.
      Since writing that post my own shape has up-sized a little (though I’m still no taller) and RTW seems to fit me more badly than ever. As a keen observer of how other peoples clothes fit it looks to me like much of the population regardless of size has given up and or just has to put up with mass market poor fit. It was on Fashion Incubator that I’m pretty sure I read about how some manufactures have moved side seams so garments fold better on shop shelves even if this has done nothing for and is possibly a bit detrimental to the fit. That just depressed me.
      Sewing ones own seems to me more and more the only way to go for those of us with the inclination.
      I hope the French Knicker pattern works well for you… do let me know!

  2. Each company has a fit model they use to size all of their clothes on. They choose their models not only based on the models’ measurements but also on their lifestyles. For example, a sportswear store might choose a very athletic model, and a more trendy store might choose someone very young and slim. Even if they’re the same basic measurements, factors like those can have a big impact on the way the clothes fit.

    Since the companies choose models with lifestyles they believe to be similar to the that of their target customer, the easiest way to find clothes that fit well is to buy from stores where you fit the target customer profile.Then again, those might not always be the clothes you want!

    My teacher said that when she was working in the industry, if for example, they found they needed more small sizes than mediums at the last minute and didn’t have enough, they might change out some of the labels in the mediums to smalls and ship them out like that! She also mentioned that it may come down to whoever sewed the garment – if they sewed it even 1/8″ off that could make a big difference, so one garment might be a bit bigger than the one hanging next to it, even though they’re in the same store, of the same style, and meant to be the same size.

    What it all boils down to is that oftentimes, if your usual size isn’t fitting you right, it might really be the garment and not you! The best thing is just to try a few sizes (or even a few of the “same” size), or to practice “eyeballing” the size of a garment to judge whether it will fit.

  3. I don’t buy much clothes from shops anymore. They just don’t fit me. I don’t use readymade patterns that much either. They don’t fit me. I make atleast half of my clothes myself and I also draft my own patterns. That way it is much easier to get fitting clothes. Most of my ready-made clothes I buy from thrift shops because I most likely need to alter them anyway.
    I think the sizing and cutting on the clothes nowaways (especially the cheaper brands) comes down to saving money. They don’t bother spending time or money on skilled tailoring for patterns. They just get something cheap. One time I even saw some jersey pants in shop that actually didn’t have much curve on the backseam. The seam was almost straight. That kind of clothing doesn’t fit anybody because we all have butts.
    Ease on the clothing comes down to the fashion. Now everything seems to be skinny skinny and skinny. Except for jersey or knit tops that might be extra-extra-extra large. Some time ago I bought H&M jersey top from thrift shop. It was XS. My normal european size is 44-46 (UK16-18 / US 14-16) according to the standard Finnish size chart. And even so the top was very very loose on me. However when I look at the sizing charts of most clothing shops my size goes all the way to 48 or even 50.
    My issues with modern clothes are that they only have one type of sizing. In “Ladies” shops you can get different sizing for long, short, busty or full bottom women etc. That is what we all need, everywhere around the world. But for moneymaking big companies it is too expensive to do that. They just want to get as much money as little cost as possible. Other problem is that there isn’t really any global binding standards for sizing. As we all know they vary even inside one clothing company, depending where they get their garments from (producst often come from different factories which might have different sizing charts).
    There would be so much things to say about this issue, but now I have to rush to work 😉

  4. It’s not just womens clothes husband is not a large but if he wants to be able to fasten a modern jacket and move his arms he has to look at extra large. Its ridiculous cos then the arms are too long and its baggy at the back! But if it fits arms etc he cant move his arms back without it looking to pop a zip. Who do they get the sizes off these days?!? (maybe if I read the articles I might find out but I had to comment already cos this subject gets me fired up…! Dont get me started on womens jeans!!!)

    1. Bunny, the articles I linked to won’t leave you any the wiser on how sizes are arrived at really, I just thought them interesting. Personally I think manufacturers just do what they can to keep fabric costs down at the expense of fit.
      Lol, and I agree, the less said about the fit of jeans the better!

  5. I learned to sew because RTW stuff just didn’t fit me as well as I’d like.I’ve found that clothes usually have a lower waist to hip difference than I need, and apparently women are getting straighter, so that doesn’t look set to change, but with 13″ difference between my waist and hips, trying on clothes in shops is tricky at best.
    It would be so much easier if things were more standardised and you could go into Next and try on the same size as you do in Jane Norman (particularly small usually!). That said, I do know some people who would probably shop most in whatever store they’re ‘smallest’ in just to feel good about themselves!

  6. hmm I hate to but buy modern clothes because of my measurements, 32″, 24″ 36″ – my bottom half is a modern eurosize 36 but my waist and top half is a 32 so I can’t buy dreses unless they’re too wide in the waist. I have the same problem with vintage reproduction firms like Tara Starlet too so I usually say I have a vintage size body – vintage allways sits much nicer on my body (they really knew how to make a womans body look it’s best).

    1. I whole heartedly agree … vintage clothes up through the 60’s fit me far better than most modern clothes do too.

  7. Honestly, I don’t expect anything to fit on top. My bust is a D and the bust point about two inches lower than patterns and ready to wear. I’m 5’9 1/2″ and my shoulders are a little wide. I defaulted to mostly sweaters with short or 3/4 sleeves years ago. Now that I’m back into garment sewing, I’m determined to make dresses and blouses that fit on top. What a luxury to be able to sew!

    1. Isn’t it just ! I wonder for what proportion of women the impetus to learn to sew actually comes purely from not being able to buy RTW that fits?

      Old patterns sometimes included an extra little ‘how-to’ section for a special trim idea or such. Nice perhaps if some basic alteration guides were included these days… most obvious being bigger bust and bigger behinds, especially as neither of those is very complicated to do if you’ve got a diagram showing how.

  8. Hi Nathalie, hope you find that site useful. Quite a mine of good info there I think… esp. a welted pocket method that may well change my whole opinion of those (and greatly better my results)

  9. This is a very interesting post. I’ve had to classify my thoughts, for clarity

    1) RTW:

    I mostly buy RTW when I travel to the US or CA on vacation. I’m a Small or 6 in theory. In practice, like you, I get (un)pleasant surprises all the time.

    I would say that the chain store with the most satisfying Petite selection is Reitmans in Canada.

    The rest of the time, it’s frustration and despair. No, really. I still do not understand WHY the Petite section is so small. In a perfect world ALL the garments, except the most unflattering because of the height issues, would be in Petite (or Tall) too.

    Instead, only a few boring basics. While that is not a problem for work attire (black pants, white shirt, pencil skirt etc.), why can’t I have that cute dress too?

    And, like you, I’m very confused by the sizing. I bought a maxi dress in 08 or 09 at Walmart that is XS and had to get a M at Gap (or Old Navy?) because there were stress lines in the knit tank tops I had tried on. And then the tank neckline is too low because I usually shorten pattern btw shoulder and bust. Add to that the disturbingly cheap and cheaper fabrics (my exchange rate is 41.25 currently). Ugh!

    Whenever I think of that, I give up on RTW and just sew…however sloooowly, LOL!

    2) Sleeve and/or magazine patterns:

    I don’t believe any one brand works the best for me. In Big 4, I’m a 10 or 12 on paper. I was supposed to be a firm 12 in Vogue, allegedly the one with the most fitted looks. Except I once bought this “fitted” dress with 11cm ease in the bodice!!! So I had to scour the net for another (more expensive) copy in the smaller range.

    Secondly, you have to go online to get a few more measurements like back length or bust depth. The sleeve themselves only feature 3 horizontal measurements: Bust, Waist, Hips. Fine, if you are a balance hourglass standard height woman with a B cup. But if you are not?

    Furthermore, some have alteration lines and finished measurements, others don’t. Or they alter, in pants for example, only in one or two points when logic would demand more.

    I completely agree with your back length remark.

    I was raised on Burda and I don’t think the quality of their draft can be questioned. When I discovered their Petite special issues as a teenager in the 90s, there was no going back. Not only do they list one of the most complete set of measurements out there (especially compared to the Big 4 of the US) but their alteration guide is as complete. Burda has you alter at 2 points in the bust, 1 point in the sleevecap and 3 points in the pant leg.

    I systematically alter for my narrow shoulders but am disappointed all the pattern magazines don’t give more precise measurements. I don’t know how to draft but have a few empirical notions but it would be much easier if they just listed more. Or gave a slopper of some sort.

    Italian La Mia Boutique has a very short back length and are cut slim on average. If only they didn’t stick to so many knits all the time. I’ve made two patterns so far, a knit and a bias woven and find them tight in the bust. I’m a B cup or nearly C (depends on the chocolate consumption, LOL) so a bit puzzled as to why both would give me frowns at the bustline.

    Patrones(ES) and Manequim (BR) I have hopes for in the pants category because they supposedly cut for a fuller (Black?) behind. Manequim, in particular, is about 2in curvier than Burda, from the size chart.

    As for the new independent brands, some have niche clients (Colette for FBA, Sewaholic for Pear etc.), other have gained a reputation so I haven’t really sewn them. Yet. (There’s also the issue that I can’t use Paypal or my int’l CC in a lot of cases so…)

    3) Hopes and aspirations

    Patrones lists the length of the arm to the elbow. As far as I know, they are the only magazine I’ve seen that does that.

    So, the most thorough size chart please!

    Also, a precise alteration guide to match. And alteration guidelines in all pertinent points.

    And an ease chart. Burda featured this once, in a special designer issue but never again. What does fitted mean? Is this the case here?

    I do like how Ottobre or KnipMode gives the strech percentile for knit garments. Very helpfull.

    4) Outside help

    I have a few sewing books but most don’t feature alterations or do so superficially. So a good alterations books is a must.

    I don’t feel they stress enough how to measure and WHAT to measure for in the books I’ve seen. You need your back lenghth but also the distance btw your nipples, for example. I say this because I bought a beige bra on my last trip to the US and the thing is torture because my breasts are squished together.

    I also bookmark blogs and sites with tutorials. Some I print but as I don’t have a printer at home, I have to pick and choose if I want to print at work.

    Ok, I think I’ve said a lot, LOL. Hope others chime in soon.

    1. I agree with you on so many points….especially that it would be wonderfully helpful if more patterns said how much ease was included and also gave more ideas on points to measure and alter.
      Have you ever looked at this book- ? It has a lot of good fitting information though I personally would do a toile and not just pin the tissue as the book suggests as I don’t think it accurate enough…but also pattern tissue just makes me crazy; I always accidentally tear it!

      Interesting to hear your views on European pattern companies, I’ve read about some of them but had heard no first-hand opinions before.

      Thank you so much!

  10. Very interesting and thank you for the links. Somehow I’m not surprised by what you’ve noticed with half size patterns. I’m 1m76 (so somewhere between 5’9” and 5’10” I think) and use vintage half size patterns quite regularly. I lengthen the skirts a good old bit but find the bodices are usually just fine (despite not being particularly short-waisted). In my early sewing days I would lengthen the bodices automatically, only to find I often had to trim it off again as the bodice would end up too long…

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