Sizing up a Pattern
The pattern I want does not come in my size, how do I make it fit?
Most costume patterns only go to a pattern-size 20, which is smaller than a retail-size 20 by a goodish bit. I usually figure about two full sizes different, so if you buy up to a 16 or so in ready-to-wear, you're probably okay with, say, the ever-popular Simplicity 9198. If you take larger than that, you'll have to do some additional work.
First of all, look in the back of the pattern catalogue, and figure your pattern-size by your measurements, not the size number. Be honest about your measurements.
While there is some variation between patterns in the amount of ease (how much bigger the dress is than you are - and it has to be bigger if you're planning on moving at all... 8-). It's best not to rely on having any extra. As my mother told me years ago: "You can always cut it off, but there's no way to put it back on." (Well, there is, but it's a lot harder, and tends to show; let's not go there.)
Look at the dress you want to reproduce, and define its basic characteristics. Does it have princess seams? Is it pull-over or zipped (pullover will have to fit more loosely)? Is the skirt straight or flared? Things like necklines, waist seams, collars, drapey things, and long, flowing sleeves can be worked; look for the 'silhouette', the underlying construction of the thing, not the details.
You will not find every feature you're interested in in any one pattern. You will have to adjust, adapt, combine, and generally mess with your patterns. You are not in any way unique; none of the smaller patterns is quite right, either.
Now look in the 'larger sizes' section of the catalogue. There won't be a lot of patterns in there, but there are sufficient for our purposes. Find a pattern that has the features you decided were important.
Simplicity has a princess-seamed evening/wedding dress, 7163, which is what I'm using. It's a little tricky, because the upper bodice is seamed into the lower, princess part, but I pinned the lower part and the solid yokes together, held it up to me, had my mom draw an new, rounded neckline (which I then smoothed out and adjusted), removing the yoke seams.
Simplicity 9516 looks to have possibilities; it has an empire (raised) waist and both a four-gore and six-gore skirt. Every one of the major pattern companies has at least one princess-seamed evening top and skirt pattern (e.g. Simplicity 5973, McCall's 3114, Butterick 6413); Simplicity has several. If you stick the top and skirt together at the waist, you should have a good place to start for many elf costumes.
The Simplicity jumper pattern is 9295; it has darts, but I can see it as a place to begin for Eowyn's brown or Arwen's Blood Red - Blue/Grey/Requiem - Lime Green overdresses. (McCalls has a princess jumper, I think, but I couldn't find it quickly on-line.) I think I could make approximately the male?/female? elf extra silver robe out of Sim 7168, by lengthening everything, spitting the collared dress up the front, trimming back the curve on the lower part of the opening, and putting the skirt or the uncollared dress under it.
Now, for your details, start with the suggestions on ACS and here; they work the same for us as for the smaller ladies. Adapt the pattern you have (e.g., Sim 7163 has 'flutter' sleeves which could be lengthened), or you can also get, say, Sim 9198 and scale the collar or sleeve pieces up to match your size. ('Grading', or scaling a pattern to a different size, isn't nearly as difficult as it sounds; once you know the general shape of a particular detail, you just make it the same shape only larger. I once drafted a costume for myself - pattern-size 26 - by looking at a "Barbie doll" pattern, believe it or not...
Make a muslin to test your adjustments
Where do I adjust the pattern if I'm sizing up?
You may wish to do some flat pattern adjustments before you start making your muslin.
Figure out based on the pattern measurements how many inches you need to add at waist, hips and bust.
How many seam allowances do you have? Divide the extra inches you need to add by the number of pattern pieces times 4.
Yes, the front, even though cut as one on a fold needs to have allowance added in the center.
Mark the amounts you're adding to each pattern piece and draw lines between the three marks.
The next part is trickier. If you are already marking on a pattern that has multiple sizes on it, you're going to see how the shoulder and neckline only size up a tiny bit for each 2" in size. As a rule of thumb, it's going to be approximately 1/3 inch for each two inches in on the bust. Your shoulder strap with lengthen more in front when the bust is large.
If the outfit has darts, the darts are going to be modified to be more sever as well.
These are only very rough approximation. Once you're made this much adjustment on your flat pattern, it's time to make your muslin. The neckline and shoulder will almost always need adjustments.
But I need to size up a LOT of sizes
Look for patterns in your size that have the right lines, rather
than trying to size up a too-small pattern very far. One size (eg, 20 to
22) means about 2 inches difference in most measurements, and is do-able,
but if you have to go further it throws the relationships between garment
Of course, I also have a very long torso, so the extra length in larger sizes (pattern company assumption: if you're that much wider, you must also be taller) is actually good for me. But torso length and placement of darts/princess seam curves are harder for me than, say, adding a drapey sleeve.
I know whereof I speak: in patterns I'm now a 24, down - yeah! - from
28... I'm that 'Gondorian noblewoman' in a version of the Mourning Gown in
Garfiemao's line party pictures. That dress started as a jumper pattern:
lengthened, let out a bit (and taken back in again! 8-), neckline redrawn
about four times (one of them because I had taken it back in _too_ much 8-(
-- I hadn't intended to put the little contrast triangle there, but had to
for it to fit), the armscye and inner sleeve traced from another
As to letting things out a little (2-3 inches or so), figure out how many seams you have to spread it over (my dress had four - front, back, and two side seams - but a princess dress will have six or seven - two sides, two side front, two side back, and maybe a center back) and divide by that number. Then divide by two, because each seam has two pieces of fabric in it. (Eg: to add 3 inches to a pattern with four seams, you need to add 3/8 inch to every seam allowance.) Add the result beyond the cutting line, and draw gentle curves back to where the pattern does fit.
The 'slash and spread' technique (see Threads magazine almost every issue for examples; I believe they also have a fitting book out) is highly useful if you need more adjustment than can be spread out between the seams, or if you need to preserve something like the torso length.
Don't fail to make a muslin! I know we sound obsessive, but it's
experience talking; see note above about the neckline! 8-P HTH.
* A given pattern company will 'grade' their patterns using the same
'slopers' for all of them. Therefore, a sleeve from one Butterick pattern,
say, is usually pretty easy to transfer to another Butterick pattern of the
same size. I simply traced the armscye from a dress pattern on top of the
jumper pattern (which, of course, had a deeper arm opening and no
sleeves...). I then used the sleeve pattern that was supposed to go in that
I'm trying to size all the way up from a lay-out diagram / or book grid
This technique easier for dolls, than folks
I do this many times when making doll clothes patterns. I choose the layout picture of an old pattern - or the picture of the pattern pieces on the new pattern instructions - scan it into my computer and size it up accordingly for the doll size I am wanting to work with.
You must measure the pattern picture pieces carefully (something I do even for "people" patterns before cutting to see if the pattern will fit) then figure out the amount you need to enlarge.
Remember, each piece is usually only 1/2 of the garment (one back, 1/2 of the front, etc.) - so to get an accurate circumference you will have to double the final measured amount. I usually go with the bust measurement to start because the other areas are easier to adjust! Plus I always do a mock-up (or 2 or 3!! LOL) to do fine tuning on the pattern fit. Then I can just take apart the mock-up and use that as a pattern. This is a whole lot easier for dolls as there isn't as much fabric to work with (especially on these full elf/Rohan, etc. dresses). AND - you can get some wonderful design details (especially with vintage patterns) without going thru all of the drafting steps.
This can be done for people - but you would have to use some sort of grid because scanning and enlarging on a computer just wouldn't work! (You couldn't blow it up to a high enough scale and you must adjust do more adjustments from it's size to your size. -ed)
I have found many of the fashion dolls - especially Tonner dolls - are "taller" compared to a human scale (which is what makes them such lovely models). For example, they usually have longer arms and legs - and the bust point is usually higher. Plus I have found that they also have a "fuller" bust than the patterns allow - patterns are usually made for a B cup at the most! :) The lengthening is an easy adjustment to do - but if there are bust darts or princess lines, these will have to be adjusted as well.
This page was last updated 04/22/08