The Pitfalls of Plus Sizing

One of the reasons I’m enjoying sending the Blank Canvas Tee pattern out into the internets is simply to see what happens.  Soon I’ll be releasing some of the larger sizes, and to be honest that’s where my heart lies.

I don’t care to cover the social issues surrounding sizing in depth right here and now (but feel free to vent in the comments).   It’s a problem.  I have met far too many interesting, intelligent, funny and beautiful women who can’t find decent clothes to fit them.  It makes me mad, because the message to these women in the fitting room is clear: “You don’t fit.  Wear a sack.”  GAaaaarrrrrowl!

Fat Bottomed Girls, great blog on positive beauty standards

However, I’m unwilling to think that the lack of well-fitted and interesting clothing options for plus sizes is all a part of some conspiracy perpetuated by an elitist view of beauty projected by the fashion industry.  Not entirely, anyway.  Plus sizes bodies are proportioned differently to regular sizes, it’s a function of weight distribution.  Proportion and good fit are a lot trickier to pin down than simple measurements.

I have observed that plus sizes have some particular “fit” issues- the foremost being “narrow shoulders.”  This means that in order to achieve good fit through the bust width, a person must buy a shirt or a pattern that is several sizes too big through the shoulders.  How irritating.  And it’s a pain in the neck to alter.

Another issue is “average” cup size.  Most commercial patterns (including those used in Ready To Wear clothing) are drafted for B cup sizes.  Above a certain weight, it seems there’s a shift to C/D being around the average, depending on genetics.   Others have much larger busts, compounding the difficulty of fitting.  It’s tough!

As I add more t-shirt patterns and you all play with the pattern and tell me what to fix, I’m at work developing more patterns.  I’ll make them available to regular sizes, but it is particularly interesting to me to make nicely proportioned, easy-to-alter-if-necessary plus sized patterns.

So please let me know- what do you need?  Basics?  Quirky-chic work clothes?  Dramatic special occasion outfits? (I like to look at the HeyFatChick! tumblr, I can see that a larger figure can pull off *so* *much* *sartorial* *drama*)

Also- Unload your gripes about fit.  I have a few ideas from my own work and from the Pattern Alteratons- Let’s List and Vanquish Them post, but more input means a better pattern for you all.

(Used without permission, fingers crossed!)

And finally- If anyone who considers themselves “plus sized” would like to directly contribute to my problem-solving, I’m focusing at the moment on bust-waist ratios.  If you feel comfortable, please send me your bust-waist measurements (imperial or metric, I don’t care).  They go into an anonymous spreadsheet that helps me play with numbers.

Thank you!


  1. I’ve just downloaded your t-shirt pattern to make up next week – can’t wait!
    I consider myself plus-size (I fit between a 16-18-20 in RTW), measurements are 46-38-48. In fact ill fitting clothing was my main incentive to start sewing, normal sizing hardly ever fit and the basic plus size clothing range is awful, no fitting, no waist shaping unless you go to somewhere like City Chic, which is gorgeous, but I can’t afford or justify over $150 on a dress I can easily sew myself.
    I love the idea of quirky work clothing and special occasion patterns, honestly any patterns would be great!

  2. Oops – I forgot to mention fitting – I do a FBA, add back width and upper arm width now on nearly every pattern for tops/dresses and a flat belly adjustment and full butt adjustment on pants. I still have trouble getting skirts to fit – I carry my hip size up quite high, almost like a shelf, so a shaped yoke is fine but straight waistbands look terrible. I really struggle with darts too, so end up using princess seams to get bodices looking good. I’m a lot better at picking patterns to begin with now – they have to have a defined waist or I won’t even bother! I really like stretch fabrics or add shirring now too, just for comfort. Hope I didn’t ramble too much!

    • No, not too much rambling, that’s great. Thanks! It’s interesting, because the things you talk about are much the same as me- I look for waist definition, I can’t pull off a straight waistband (I always substitute a curved waistband these days).

  3. Several years ago I really got back into sewing, all because we were having such a hard time finding nice fitting clothes for my plus size daughter. That same daughter is now a teen, and I still have trouble finding clothing at the stores. I am happy to see someone take the plus size into consideration! Her measurements are full bust 46 inches, waist 41 inches, full tummy which is 6 inches below the waist, 49 inches, hips 50 inches. I also keep her bicep and thigh measurements just to check sizing on patterns. I would love to give feedback or assist, just let me know!

    • Hey thanks! I have a few things cooking up for after the holidays… I wish I could spend all day every day playing with patterns but for now it’s a few days a week so progress is slower than I’d prefer…

      What kinds of clothes does she look for?

      • As an American teen she generally wears casual shirts & jeans. Looking at patterns with her she loves the 60’s/70’s look, some of it might be the mod looking fabrics. She also likes dresses for church, but it is so hard to find any that accommodate her shape. If anyone notices they love to put this defined waist on Plus Size dresses, when for some that is a part they want a little less defined. She prefers empire bodice dresses or more a-line if it isn’t a complete sack. More questions .. email me I’d love to help with your ideas! lauram62 at gmail dot com!

  4. I am a fairly easy fit myself, but I sew for others and many of them are plus-sized. I’m still learning what measurements I should add to the repertoire for which figures, so that the numbers will make sense after the customer has left the studio. Shelley at New Vintage Lady has saved the day with timely posts. especially this one
    If only I could get a perfect hologram of each customer…

    • Yes, I love Shelley! She’s a never-ending source of inspiration, and I love her attitude as well. Beautiful, intelligent and kind.

      The numbers thing is maybe just time… The longer you do it, the more it makes sense… It’s the kind of thing that varies from dressmaker to dressmaker, because what measurements you use reflects how your mind works… That’s what I think, anyway.

  5. Obviously I’m not a plus size (or FBA candidate), but I do make a lot of regular fitting alterations. It might be nice (especially since you’re making up single-size pattern sheets) to include some basic fit lines already on the pattern—showing where to slash and spread for an FBA, say, lengthen or shorten, or even just bust- and waist-lines. (Bust and waist levels are my particular bugbears,) You could then make tutorials focusing on certain standard alterations using your particular set of lines, if you find it’s necessary.

  6. I’m semi plus-sized and my 18 yo daughter is very much plus sized. Finding cute clothes that fit her and are age appropriate has been difficult for years. We discovered the Torrid stores and that has helped her closet but not our budget! L

    My fitting difficulty is that I am very pear shaped. I have a full-B to small-C cup size but wear a 16/18 pant and have a belly. Most plus size clothes seem to be made with a D cup so I am swimming in them up top and if the neck line is at all low, I’m flashing the world.

      • I have the same problem plus some. My body measurements are 44/34/50, but that 44 is a 44A. I have broad shoulders, which makes up some for the mostly-too-large necklines of plus sized clothing; unfortunately, my usual choice in shirts is either plus size with way too large neckline, or regular shirts that have a great neckline and are too tight everywhere else.

        Not to mention bottom issues for the very pear shaped. I currently own the only pair of ready-made jeans that don’t gap at the waist that I have ever found.

    • I agree about the swimming part in the shoulders & bust. They assume that because one is larger through the waist or hips that their shoulders are too, it is as if they grade the entire pattern. I have taken my daughter’s high bust measurement to get a good shoulder start then made the alterations through the waist & hips with a slash & spread method.

  7. Steph I could devote my entire blog to this let alone a comment on yours as you can well imagine, but I will restrain myself ;-) I buy very few clothes, because I only like to wear natural fibres and that means no City Chic, no TS14+ for me. I like the ebullience of these two Australian stores, but not their fabric choices! Also, TS’ measurement chart is same for bust and hip. This reflects I feel a fundamental difference in the Australian and New Zealand gene pools – i.e European vs British. Over this side of the ditch, we more likely run to the ‘pear’ – small busted, waisted, hippy. European figures tend to be straighter, busty, slimmer of hip and shapely of leg. Anyway apart from those we have boutique stores where occasionally I will buy something because it is stand out gorgeous and I would never make it myself, and then I am willing to pay the $600 price tag. But usually, I am not and I just make my own.
    Due to weight distribution I am pear shaped in measurements if not in build. This causes no end of grief trying to find styles that give me a waist, or otherwise hang and flatter nicely. And ease is a ‘mare as soft tissue redistributes itself at will when sitting down, requiring lots of ease that is otherwise not needed. So stretch fabrics seem like a good choice but they are hotter and fat ladies naturally feel the heat more.
    So, I’ve found your analysis of fit by weight, muscle and skeletal elements really interesting and helpful, as it is not how I’ve ever thought of it consciously before. And of course as one’s proportions increase, the variety in measurements widens and the tolerances become far more of an issue, making it hard to cut clothes that will fit enough of a population to make production viable. Which is why they cut with such high tolerances.
    Stores that run their own ranges like CC and TS do cut for a particlar shape as I said before, and so if you happen to be that shape, it’s great. this I think stands for everyone, but there are far more stores selling 6-16 than 16-30 so more chance to find one that appreciates you. It’s a reverse numbers game – the more varierty needed, the less available!
    Anyway not entirely sure this all made sense. Good work you making a pattern with two fit options. When you get my size out I’ll have a look :) Now I’ve finalyl got it into my head tht we’re not really talking t-shirts here, but gorgeous knit tops, I’m excited!!! oxxo

    • I learn so much from you, Mrs C. LIke “zeitgeist” and “ebullient.” And the names of Australian retailers… I gave up on clothing stores shortly after moving here, and seldom go into shopping areas so I’m pretty clueless…

      You hit it right on the head… The more variety needed, the less available. Surely there’s some work to be done for someone who likes to solve problems and work with her hands. :)

  8. I’ve never thought of myself as plus sized, probably because all the plus happen post-children and in my head I’m still a size 12 (ha!! HA!! oh I’m crazy. And slightly disapointed every day when I catch sight of myself in the mirror and remember that I have such delusions). Also because my sister is plus sized and always has been, and she and I are such different shapes. Even when we weighed the exact same amount, we looked entirely different. I’m all bust, and she’s all ribcage. I have hips, her backside is flatter than a pancake. The one thing we do have in common is height. Nothing is made to fit those of us who are nearing 6ft. It is disturbing seeing a skirt that hits mid-knee on me, at the bottom of someone else’s calf.

    Regardless, 47-37-48.
    I can’t help with the pattern-fitting-issues, because I don’t generally use bought patterns, and when I do I’ve found it easier to take a too-large size and fit it down, than to do a FBA.

    • Yes… There’s usually a ridiculous, daunting amount of pattern work to be done for plus sizes… It shouldn’t be so hard…

      As for catching glimpses of one’s body… For what it’s worth, I had a hard time accepting having a differently shaped body after I had my baby… I worked out for a while, dropped some weight and rebuilt my stomach wall… Then I started blogging about sewing. After that, I decided I was fine- healthy, strong, and my husband never fails to find me attractive. So that’s cool.

      ….Even if I am several sizes bigger than I used to be. If I lost more weight, I’d still have folds of extra flesh. And anyway, none of my clothes wouldn’t fit anymore. So the longer I sew for the body I have, the more I like it…

      But every now and then I get a weird sense of disappointment, like what you mention, when I look in the mirror…. One of the ways I deal with it is to use fabrics I think are very pretty, especially for super-durable mommy clothes. I have several shirts made from this pattern now…

  9. A happy story:

    I just sewed my first ever dress! It is the simplest style ever and still took me days and a million stupid mistakes, and it’s full of faults, but I am ridiculously proud of it.

    It came out exactly as I had hoped, even though I made it straight from the pattern and made no adjustments. I really thought I would have to fiddle with it in the final stages, so I couldn’t believe it when I tried it on and the fit was fine.

    Maybe KwikSew XS is precisely my size? Even the hem was right! Maybe I was lucky (the dress is effectively a gathered sack, so fit is not exactly key)!

    Sorry for the tangent. I haven’t sewed enough to comment on pattern-fitting issues – so far, so good (beginner’s luck).

    • Well done! Do you have a link? Or a photo? I’d love to see it. Which KS pattern? I love KS, for all their dorky packaging most of the patterns are really solid basics…

      It’s possible that KS XS is precisely your size… Generally, very generally, those on the smaller side of average have very little (teehee) to do for alteration. :)

      • I don’t have a photo yet, but will see if I can get one at Christmas – I’m certainly wearing this dress Christmas day, it will be perfect, cool and loose and Christmassy.

  10. I’m a plus size (18-20). I guess I’m what would be called an apple shape. Most of my weight hangs out on my gut and and some on my boobs. As I mentioned to you before, I wear a corset for back pain and as an added perk my apple shape is pressed into an hour glass. I have since found that my modern clothes fit better. The hour glass shape is considered normal/attractive for women so they just enlarged average hour glasses into big hour glasses. Hence the huge shoulders. If you gain your weight on your gut your screwed. So you end up in boxy stretchy shirts with shoulders and neck lines that are too big. If you are interested in making patterns for big girls I recommend you look at the pattern system Truly Victorian came up with for bodices. They look at the back separately from the front pieces. I need to use an average size for my back but need the biggest size on the front peices. The fit is so beautiful I am considering trying to make modern shirts from these patterns. The limitation is that if I get any bigger Truly Victorian may not work for me anymore.

  11. This sounds like a great plan! I am all for it. :)

    I fall in the plus size category, and it’s an exhausting thing, trying to get patterns to fit. I have to make the bust much bigger, and shorten the waist by about 2″ on most commercial patterns. Which gets really absurd, because length gets added with the FBA, and removed with the short-waistedness. I almost always find that armsceyes are too long – I end up wanting to pinch out a lot of length at the upper back, which results in sleeve issues. Being somewhat broad-shouldered, I don’t generally have problems with shoulder width. I generally start with patterns in a size 20, though when my weight fluctuates down a little, or I’m using a pattern with a lot of ease, I sometimes use an 18.

    I was excited to see that you had the 45V T-shirt pattern up – but then I read through the instructions and discovered that one is supposed to always go to the next size *up* so it seems that might not be the right size for me after all. I measure 46 inches around the bust (sometimes 47, depending on the bra I’m wearing!), and 36 around the waist. I do like to wear things pretty snug around the bust, but should I wait for the 50V?

    If ever you need any pattern testing in my size range, I’d be happy to test, test, test. Thanks for your endeavors, Steph!

    • Nah. The sizing rules aren’t hard and fast, it was just the simplest way for me to present it. If you already prefer a snug fit, and the sleeve is at least a bit larger than your bicep measurement, then go for it. Should be fine. :)

      • Excellent! The 45V it is. So excited! I have a few (ridiculously enormous) lengths of cotton jersey that will be excellent for T-shirts. And, to make matters extra thrilling, I have a book about customizing and decorating T-shirts that will be very helpful for coming up with interesting designs. It’s a lovely, stylish book, called “Design Your Own Tees” by Jennifer Cooke. The author is married to my cousin, so I ended up with a copy, but I really like it. I have’t been able to use it though, because I don’t have much luck finding T-shirts that fit in a way I like. Now I can have ALL the T-shirts! ;)

    • Oh there’s a way to fix the sleeve! If you shorten through the back armscye, you can pinch out a dart in the sleeve, wide at the back armscye, and straight across the sleeve to the front armscye in a >. I saw this on a blog, but of course I can’t find it now. I’ve been trying (slowly!) to get The Perfect Blouse Pattern for myself, and my next round means I’ll have to do this alteration.

  12. I’m a plus size in the 16-20 range, with a long torso, softly sloping shoulders, measure 49-38-49, I’m 5’11” and I live in stretch materials (mostly bamboo jersey, yum!) because I like my clothes snug, it makes me feel sexy -and- comfy :) I have a large but very defined hourglass shape, so I don’t have too much trouble finding things that generally fit, but shirts are always too short, sigh. I’m excited to try your pattern out, and I have just found the perfect funky print for this project in my stash :)

  13. I think you are right, as women get larger the proportions definitely change a bit. You know what seems stupid to me? Actual breast size seems hugely variable and yet that is the measurement most sizing is built around. Looking at really old measuring charts (like early 20th century,) most of them seem start with a high bust measurement–wouldn’t that make more sense? I started looking into this at this post, but I think the topic needs a lot more research!

        • Since I am all boobs and belly, the modern low rise pants slip off. I just bought the Jalie High Rise pants pattern. I am swaybacked with a ridiculous front rise to clear the belly. I have never made a pair of pants I am happy with. I tried following Sandra Betzina’s instructions before. After Christmas, I was going to try and follow Sarai’s fitting instructions and make the Colette pants pattern.
          I am longwaisted, above and below the natural waist.

  14. Great to see so much traffic on this subject, it really shows the variety of shapes we come in :) Steph I have bought a fine, tomato red viscose knit and a navy blue cotton textured knit which I am trimming with a viscose knit in a linen green to go with a navy and natural woven stripe linen skirt I have cut out. All systems are go! Now once I have the show costumes done and the summer fair stock made up, I can sew them… darn…hehehe

  15. Pingback: Let’s Play “Name That Lady” and Test Tiramisu! « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  16. This is an old post, but I suspect your spreadsheet is still growing. 40-36-50. Fat-bottomed girls? Yep, right here! I usually do a swayback adjustment and slash and spread through the hips.

  17. Pingback: “Petite” and “Plus” and the Patternmaker « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

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