Size, Size, Everywhere a Size

( I love the secretly saucy cut of many vintage blouses. I have so many that look prim as can be until I move a certain way.)

I spent an interesting afternoon altering the pattern for my Simplicity 4044 blazer. This is a vintage revival pattern, made to fit “modern” size charts.

Problem: I don’t know my modern size. Neither for patterns nor for RTW.  For circa 1930-1965 I sew a 16 with mods:

(Simplicity, c.1952)

My standard alterations, in order of importance:
  • 34″ high bust, 37″-39″ full bust, 28″waist, 39″ hips.
  • .75″-1.25″ FBA (though for 1950’s I usually just lower the bust darts, maybe a .5″ FBA)
  • nip in the waist slightly (for some reason I have a little more room, maybe somehow extra spillover from the FBA. It’s a mystery.)
  • 3/8″-1/2″ shortwaist
  • 5/8″ sway back
  • 3/8″ narrow shoulder
  • For a 1930’s fitted sleeve, I do a FBiA.

With practice, a list of standard alterations becomes quick and painless. I know when I finish, the size isn’t a number anymore. It’s size Steph, and is perfect.

When I faced this:

I had absolutely no idea where to start. A fit newbie all over again. I thought I’d give a “quick” overview of how to effectively bend a pattern to your will.

Modern size 16- automatic pass.
Modern size 14- fit my waist, but not my high bust.
Modern size 12- fit my high bust, but not my waist. I could have sucked in and pulled the tape measure tight and fantasized that I have a 26 1/2″ waist, but why?

I don’t need to fantasize. I love how clothes look on my shape but I did not always feel that way. It took me a while to get accustomed to having a 28″ waist. I’ve always been slimmer. Then I had a baby. I’m fit, I’m strong, I’m healthy and my husband thinks I’m smokin’. Once I realized that, I gave up caring that my waist was a good 3″ bigger than it had been.

Besides, a well-fitting garment makes you look:

  • Rich- you can afford custom made clothing
  • Clever- you made it yourself, and it fits like a second skin

No matter your measurements, it is never ever a bad thing to look rich or clever.

Returning to the process:

Of course, you fit your bust by a high bust measure rather than a full bust because pattern companies draft off a B-cup size. High bust ensures that the shoulders and back fits as well.  Because the bust size for 14 was closer to my own full bust measure, and because I alter the back anyway, I decided to do a 14 with a smaller FBA.

I traced off the 14 and began my series of flat pattern measuring, starting with the back.

I drew lines where I measured:

  • 4″ below my back neckline
  • across the width of my back from underarm to underarm, at side seam.
  • Down the CB to the waist, along the seam line.

My back measurements dictated I had to do a LOT of altering. And the shoulder seam was much too long. Something wrong with the pattern.

New plan: Retrace size 12 for the shoulders down, tapering to a 14 at the waist.

I drew a line perpendicular to the grainline at the waist and chopped my pattern piece in half. I like to do that because I find it easier to play with the pattern above the waist. I took a 1.5cm tuck in the back from the waist up, parallel to the grainline, based on my measurements and ease calculations. The upper shoulder could have more taken out, and I probably will when I’m sewing it. That will be easy because I have a center back seam. I allowed myself 1″ of ease across my back.

Printed on the pattern was 5.5″ ease for the bust. Size 12= 34″ bust, 39.5″ finished.

My full bust is 39″. Add 5.5″ for 44.5″. I should add 5″ of ease.

I had 1″ ease across the back, I just needed another 4″. I hate doing more than a 1.5″ FBA (distorts things nastily sometimes) so I decided my semi-fitted jacket would be slightly more fitted. I won’t line it, which will reduce bulk.

I chopped my piece in half at the waist and only worked with the top portion to perform my 1.5″ FBA. I also chopped out the area of the bust dart and repositioned it.

AFTER the FBA, I measured the front waist. I measured again and again and again, somehow it was exactly right. I re-attached the bottom half of the pattern piece and graded the side seam.

I measured down the center back to the waist, compared that to my own, and took out a 3cm wedge, tapering to nothing at the side seam. Re-attached the bottom half of the piece, trued up the seams. The back seam looks weird.

Basted the whole thing together, tried it on, fit like a dream. Size Steph.

Sorry for the switching back and forth to metric, I find it easier to do my alterations metrically because seam allowances are 1.5cm.


  1. Learning to be honest about your body is key to successful fitting. If you are more than a b cup, you just can't get away with sizing by your bust measurement. In the long run it is just easier to make that one alteration than the multiples you need to make if you use the larger size! As for your size, when you only see prepubescent models its a lot harder to learn to love your curves.

  2. 2 thoughts – first, modern patterns = AAAAGH! I tried working with a recent (women's) pattern last week and it just about drove me nuts. Compared to the vintage patterns I've been handling, it was just awful, from the nasty grey tissue to the bizarro fit. You did a great job wrangling yours.second, it's so true that you need to learn (and embrace!) your new size as you change, whether it's from age or pregnancy — I think it's hard on a lot of people! There needs to be more discussion of this, I think. I feel like people are in a permanent state of "I'm still not back to normal" after they have a kid. (All the celebrities who are magically back to their tiny selves weeks after giving birth certainly don't help matters.) Things I think about: how do you know when you have settled at your new size? And what do you do while you're settling?

  3. I'm very envious! Haven't had a 26.5 waist since I was 12. I still love my body though.And I find it fascinating how you adjust the patterns. You are so mathematical in your process, I cut on feel and intuition, and 90% of the time it works. I don't talk about the other 10%!

  4. My math doesn't always work out, either. That post is the result of a LOT of trial and error. I just can't do the whole "tissue fitting" thing because I can't reach my back. It works better for me this way.Sarah, I like your questions, I might ponder and post a reply sometime when I'm less inclined to post about sewing. :)

  5. Pingback: Finished Object: 40′s Sun Jacket « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  6. Pingback: Ease and Pattern Alteration- The Art of Being Lazy « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

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