First Disclaimer: I am making this up as I go along. This started as a vague concept, based on observations as I helped fit students in my classes. Over time, it became more concrete- to the point where I can actually present my thoughts in a clear manner. This is not definitive, this is an idea in progress.
Second Disclaimer: I do not care in the slightest what size or shape someone is. The shape of a body is a function of lifestyle and genetics, neither of which is any of my business. My business is making clothes to fit bodies and the personalities inside them. I don’t like fruity labels like “apple” or “banana” or “pear” and I don’t use them. I like clear, logical and descriptive words. I am trying to help in an objective way.
Upwards and Onwards-
The more I taught sewing and fitting, the more I noticed several trends the way commercial patterns fit normal bodies. I had petite students, average students, and plus students. In three and a bit years of fitting hundreds of women- twice I had a student who was a straight size and needed no alteration. Twice. Both were 10s.
Obviously, there’s something wrong with the sizing system. Much is said on the subject, but it seems like mostly no one knows what to do about it. Sigrid wrote a VERY interesting and well-researched post on the subject, complete with the original data. Yep, I pored over the survey. It’s laughable, but the fact is that most RTW and pattern sizing up to today is based in some way on this survey.
The thing that really kills me is that fitting issues put people off sewing- it’s tough enough to learn at first, but then to find out you have to learn to fit the clothes… It’s hard! And besides, too many people get a complex when the pattern doesn’t fit them and start calling themselves hideous names. (It doesn’t help that most pattern alteration books use some truly gruesome terms to describe various alterations.) It’s the pattern, it’s not you.
Top three problems with standard sizing:
- Many, many women are one size through the bust, a size larger through the waist, and one to two sizes larger through the hips.
- FBAs. Most patterns (excluding Colette and a few “choose your cup” big 4 patterns) are drafted with a B cup size in mind. The average is not a B. I don’t have the data, I can’t say conclusively but it’s not a B.
- Petites and Plus: From reading other sewing blogs and through observation, I can see that mostly petites have just as tough a time fitting their patterns as plus sizes. The proportions are often crazily out of whack. Why is that?
Grading. Aside from the ridiculous sizing standards we’re working with, grading is another problem. Basically, commercial grading works like this:
The patternmaker drafts a mid-size. The base varies somewhat from company to company, as do the precise measurements used. From there, the finished pattern is graded. It’s chopped apart along the lines in the picture and the cuts are spread apart or overlapped to produce larger and smaller sizes. Computer programs streamline the process, but the concept is the same.
Why is this a problem? Well, it’s not really, it’s an efficient way to create patterns a few sizes larger and smaller than the medium. But it doesn’t work for petites and plus, and when the graded pattern is based on the current sizing system, it doesn’t work very well for the rest of us either.
Some measurements are more or less consistent across sizes. These are bone structure measurements- like the “between the straps” or the “point of no return” measurements I asked for in my last post. Others vary wildly from person to person- like the full bust and bicep measurements. This is why grading doesn’t work well for plus and petites.
Last November, I wrote about fitting clothing as a combination of three things:
The same holds true for pattern making. I made a couple of charts to explain what’s going on in my head-
The left side represents the way most sizing systems work. Obviously, it makes the production process simpler for the manufacturer but ignores the way bodies change as they increase in size. The right side is closer to my own observations of real bodies. It’s rough and imperfect, but over the next few months I’ll fill in the blanks and refine it.
As Tanit-Isis pointed out, knits allow a lot of room for fudging the sizing anyway. The Edwardia blouses I’m working on are wovens, but they aren’t super fitted. They’re less fudgy, but still forgiving. Eventually, I want to make a couple of pants patterns but that’s a few months away yet.
I’m taking a few days off blogging to completely immerse myself in making patterns. I like working that way, it seems to help me produce better work. My list of patterns to make up keeps getting longer, so I want to knock a few out while I can. The 35-40 Sisters of Edwardia is nearly complete, with the other sizes in production so I can send them to my testers. I also have the large Kimono Wrap and a skirt pattern, not to mention this month’s hack. I like the work, every pattern is better than the last but I need to focus.
I’m still responsive via email, and I’ll be back over the weekend to show you some cool stuff I learned about linen, my plans for the bit of silk-lycra I found in a remnants bin, and of course April’s Hack. I’m super excited about her, and I have a new technique to show you!
Am I too hard on the fruit metaphor that proliferates in the fitting/style literature? I really do loathe it…