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Sewing vs. Ready-To-Wear

When people who sew are asked what the difference is between a ready-to-wear garment and one they've sewn, there are two answers that are standard. Fit and quality. "Oh, yawn," we hear you say, "another article on fitting patterns?" Yes, because the truth is, without a doubt, that "fit" is the most important part of sewing!

Measurements"Fit is more important than quality?", you ask. Yes! Why? Because, you may have a garment of the highest quality construction, and if it doesn't fit you well, it will look terrible. But, if you have a garment that fits perfectly it will look beautiful, even if some of the construction is not the best.

Many people have trouble with fit because they can't break the "ready-to-wear size" habit. What do we mean? It means you have to forget about what size you are in ready-to-wear, and reconcile yourself to the fact that your pattern size will be different. "I know I'm a size 12 so why can't I just buy a size 12 pattern and know it will fit?" You can't. Think about it honestly. The last time you went shopping for ready-to-wear clothes, did all the size 12 garments fit you exactly the same way? We're sure they didn't.

Simply put, when it comes to size, there is no consistency among ready-to-wear manufacturers. Butterick and Vogue patterns, however, are consistent. We always use the same basic body measurements to draft the corresponding pattern size, regardless of the fashion style or the designer logo that appears on the pattern. This means that once you have determined your Butterick or Vogue pattern size and know what pattern adjustments you need, making the necessary changes on the pattern tissue becomes an automatic and routine part of your sewing.

The beauty of sewing is that you end up with a garment that is custom made to fit your body. But, in order to achieve this you need to start out on the right foot and take the first steps to a perfect fit.

Measure Up

Resist the temptation to turn to the Standard Body Measurement chart printed on the pattern envelope or in the back of the catalog and select your size without taking your body measurements. Even if you think you know your personal measurements, this is a good time to begin anew with an up-to-date set of body measurements. The reason? Even without weight fluctuations, body contours can change, giving that tape measure a new reading.

To get started, you'll need a few helpers: a tape measure, a piece of narrow elastic, a full length mirror and a friend to assist you. If you tend to be self-conscious about your measurements, then go ahead and take the "around" waist and hip measurements yourself. However, when it comes to the back waist length and arm length measurements, not even a contortionist could take them accurately! And the act of raising your arms to hold the tape in place can create errors in your chest and bust measurements. Get help for these measurements.

Wear comfortable undergarments or a leotard. Be sure the bra you are wearing fits well and that the shoulder straps are properly adjusted. Tie the elastic around your waist and bend from side to side until it settles in at your natural waistline.

Stand comfortably, with your eyes straight ahead and your arms relaxed at your side. You are going to take ten simple measurements. The first four measurements are the keys to determining pattern size; the remaining six will help you determine if any length adjustments are needed and, if so, enable you to make them quickly and easily. As you take these measurements, record them on the Personal Body Measurement chart.

  • Chest - Around the body, under the arms above the fullest part of the bust (1).

  • Bust - Around the fullest part of the bust (2). Make sure the tape is straight across the back.

  • Waist - Around the body over the elastic (3).

  • Hips - Around the fullest part of the hip (4), or around the thighs if they are fuller than the hip. On Butterick and Vogue patterns, the distance from the waist to the full hip, called the hip length (5), is 9" (23cm) for Misses' sizes; 7" (18cm) for Misses' Petite sizes.

  • Back Waist Length - Lower your head to identify the prominent bone at the base of your neck. Measure down from this bone to the elastic at your waistline (6).

  • Arm Length - To locate the hinge, or bone, at the top of your arm, put your finger on the end of your shoulder and raise your arm. You'll be able to feel the bone. With your arm slightly bent, measure from this hinge to your elbow (7) and from your elbow to your wrist bone (8). Add these two together to determine your shoulder to wrist bone measurement (9). Arm length does not affect your choice of pattern size. However, if your arms are longer or shorter than those listed for your pattern size (see the Standard Body Measurement chart), it will be easy to make the necessary length adjustments later on, when you cut out your pattern.

  • Height - No shoes, please! Stand naturally with your back against a wall or door frame. Place a flat ruler so it extends from the top of your head to the wall and is parallel to the floor. Mark the point on the wall with pencil or a piece of masking tape. Measure from the mark to the floor (10).

Size It Up

Now you're ready to determine your pattern size. The process is easy. Once you've done it, you can confidently purchase the same size pattern every time you sew.

Review your body measurements at least once a year. Changes in weight and shape can occur without us even noticing them!

Since almost no one is a perfect pattern match, and because it is usually easier to increase or decrease body circumference in the waist and hip area, use your upper body measurements to determine pattern size.

Butterick patterns are designed for the B cup figure. To determine your cup size, subtract your chest measurement from your bust measurement. Here's what the difference means:

1" (2.5cm) or less = A cup
1 1/4" to 2" (3.2cm to 5cm) = B cup
2 1/4" to 3" (5.7cm to 7.5cm) = C cup
3 1/4" to 4" (8.2cm to 10cm) = D cup
4 1/4" (10.7cm) or more = larger than a D cup

Now consult the Standard Body Measurement Chart to determine your pattern size.

  • If you are an A or B cup, select your pattern size according to your bust measurement.
  • If you are a C cup or larger, select your pattern size according to your chest measurement. This ensures a good fit in those hard-to-adjust areas - shoulders, neckline, chest and upper back. If necessary, you can alter the bust area to accommodate a larger cup size.
  • If your bust or chest measurement falls between two pattern sizes, your bone structure will be the determining factor. Choose the smaller size if you are small boned; choose the larger size if you are large boned.

If the Multi-Size grouping for your pattern includes the pattern size you need for waist and hip area, pattern adjustments can be kept to a minimum. Simply choose the appropriate cutting line in each fitting area. Merge the sizes by drawing new lines that gradually blend the different cutting lines.

Lengthy Matter

"Okay," we hear some of you say, "this is fine for the so-called average person, but I'm short / tall so patterns don't fit me."

This might sound like a big problem, but it really isn't. Length adjustments are easy to make - and, once determined, adding them to your patterns will become an automatic process that only takes a few minutes.

Misses' size Butterick and Vogue patterns are designed for a person who is approximately 5'5" to 5'6" (1.65m to 1.68m) tall. You may be a Misses' size with a longer or shorter back waist length measurement. In that case, you will need to adjust your pattern along the Lengthen/ Shorten line that is printed on the pattern above the waistline. Use the Personal Body Measurements chart to determine if, and how much adjustment is required.



The Shorter Figure
Misses' Petite patterns are designed for the person that is approximately 5'2" to 5'4" (1.57m to 1.63m) tall and has a back waist length that is 1" (2.5cm) shorter than the Misses' figure. The distance between waistline and full hip is 7" (18cm). By making a quick comparison between your personal length measurements and those on the Standard Body Measurement chart, you'll know if you qualify as a Misses' Petite. As a rule, the Misses' Petite figure also has shorter shoulder-to-elbow and elbow-to-wrist measurements.

If you were to simply shorten the back waist for this figure, the garment's length proportions would be all wrong. To circumvent this problem, and increase the number of styles available for the Misses' Petite figure, about 30% of Butterick and Vogue's Misses'-sized patterns are marked "Misses'/Misses' Petite." These patterns include strategically placed fold lines so that the garment can be shortened proportionately.

The Taller Figure
Suppose you have the opposite problem - you are much taller than the Misses' standard. This, too, is easy to resolve.

If you are much taller and have a back waist length that is at least 1" (2.5cm) longer than the standard for your Misses' size, the Misses'/Misses' Petite patterns can help you, too. Compare all your length measurements to the Standard Body Measurement chart. This will tell you how much extra length you need and how this length is distributed on your body.

Draw your personal adjustment line midway between, and parallel to, the Misses' Petite fold lines on the pattern tissue. Cut and spread the pattern the required amount (C).

Now that you've determined your correct pattern size and analyzed you length adjustments, you can concentrate on the part of sewing that's really fun: picking patterns and fabrics that you love.


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