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Aug 4, 2012

Sexy, Sexy Pattern Grading



A quick apology, readers: I misspoke.  There is nothing sexy about pattern grading.  You could do it in the nude, and there would still be nothing sexy about pattern grading.  Have you ever tried it -- either way?

Cathy's 1940's swimsuit and beach jacket pattern is a 34" chest (vintage size 16), she wears a 36" (vintage size 18).  So I figured I'd grade up -- nobody wants to have to squeeze themselves into beachwear, least of all my cousin for reasons best left unstated.



Now, before I continue, you know when you have, like, fifty sewing books, and you recall a really good passage about a sewing technique, or an excellent illustration, and then when you want to refer to it, you can't remember which book it's in?  How do you address this problem, readers?

It took me twenty minutes to find out which of my sewing books had clear instructions about pattern grading.  It turned out a few did -- and wouldn't you know they were all just different enough to have you pulling the hair out your head, if you have any?

From "How To Make Clothes That Fit and Flatter", Adele Margolis
From "Fit For Real People", Palmer & Alto

There are two popular techniques -- the slash and spread method, and the shift method.  Since I was working from delicate vintage pattern paper and didn't want to have to trace it, slash it, and then trace it again, I decided to try the shift method, as outlined in Adele Marolis' How to Make Clothes That Fit and Flatter (Doubleday, 1969), hoping this way I could trace just once, and never have to slash.

Here's the thing about grading up a size -- you're shifting (or alternately, spreading) teensy amounts: 1/8 of an inch here, 1/4 of an inch there.  It's not hard, exactly, but you really need to work with great accuracy.  Anyway, more than an hour later, I had finished my (up)grade, and the results looked credible -- I mean, the differences were slight, but visible.  Of course, Margolis only addresses standard three-piece bodices (front, back, sleeve), whereas I had to deal with a front, a side, and a back, and a sleeve.  But still, I think it turned out OK (the yellow paper beneath the tan original pattern is the graded-up version).





Friends, this is where the story takes a tragic turn.  As I was laying my newly traced pattern on my fabric in order to start cutting, I realized that the new pattern didn't fit on my fabric!  So I had to go back to my original, slightly smaller pattern, and I will just have to sew narrower seam allowances (the pattern calls for 1/2" seam allowances; I intend to sew 1/4" seam allowances).  What else can I do at this point, and please don't say buy more fabric; in this heat?

Apropos of pattern grading, elegant muser Casey recently presented an excellent pattern grading tutorial using the slash and spread method, and unlike my post today, she actually shows you how to do it rather than just kvetching about it.  I also found this old Threads article, Making Sense of Pattern Grading, that lays things out clearly for those intrepid few ready to take on this challenge.  But please learn from my mistake: make sure you have enough fabric first.

Somewhere I remember reading that you really shouldn't grade more than two sizes up (or down) yourself, because at that point things get very imprecise and wonky.  Is this true?  I'm sure I've read blogs where people are grading as much as four sizes. 

In closing, do you ever grade your patterns up or down and if so, which method do you generally use?

How accurate are the results?

Happy Saturday, everybody!

33 comments:

  1. I've graded up with reasonable success but I actually have a vintage Vogue pattern in my queue that needs to be graded down 3 or 4 sizes and I keep avoiding it. I've read the same thing as you about grading no more than two sizes. I have a really well fitted TNT sheath pattern that I use as a sort of block when I fiddle with patterns and it seems to work quite well for me. I've slashed a spread a vintage men's safari suit pattern once and it worked perfectly. I really should learn how to do it properly though!

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  2. Odd you would mention nakedness.

    Yesterday, before taking a shower, I wanted to quilt a few errant pieces together. I did so standing up and without so much as a stitch on. Thought I privately crossed a line, as it were, but no, only expanded my horizons.

    You've given a forum for my folly, and thank you.

    Will I repeat the exercise? Only if it accelerates my productivity, which in a way it has.

    Ode to MPB! A place where we can share unbridled truth and antics.

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    1. Lol, I always sew in my underwear. I'm always trying stuff on mid-construction and hate redressing every time. My husband thinks it is hilarious but he does keep me company when I sew.....

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    2. I love that you've gotten his attention! I sew in my underwear too, for exactly the same reason and because I live in an apartment where I refuse to turn on the swamp cooler!

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  3. the thought of grading whether it be up or down leaves me shivering covered in perspiration...call me a chicken - i raise my hand in agreement.

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  4. Oh man, I hate grading. If I can't make it fit by doing something really easy like letting out the SA or taking them in a bit, I won't make the pattern. I don't move darts (I do make them narrower and shorter though), i just dont mess with stuff. For me, I take a small size pattern (usually a 30 or 32 bust) and there are so many of them that I can usually find what I want. If I can't then I wait and shake my fist. I hate tracing, and retracing and yada yada yada. Basically I'm lazy and have a bad sewing temper. I made new curtains for my bathroom yesterday and I hated it. Two big rectangles; barf!

    On the other hand, I suppose if I tried grading something more simplistic I may be persuaded to do it. I have only attempted things with various full chest yokes and weird seams. I'm probably too ambitious for just starting out. Good luck brother!

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  5. I don't sew for others, so I don't grade, but my figure is so non-standard (in a good way I think, slight frame, full bust) that I have to just plain alter and fiddle with all my patterns. For me making up to ten bodice muslins is just par for course.

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  6. I use those page stickers that you can write on with a permanent marker. I tend to do that with mags. so each section that I think I will refer to one day I stick in one of the page tabs which jut out like dividers and write on them ie Topstitching. Or you could pop a post-it on one of the front pages with a list and pages no's of stuff for quick ref.

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  7. The first time I tried grading, I spoiled a vintage pattern with the slash and spread method, but it had all the elements that give me a pain in my butt even if I had the correct size . . .an a-line dress sporting a sectioned bodice with empire waist and narrow armholes. Fortunately I tried to make a muslin from a sheet and scrapped the whole project when I realized I didn't have Mary Tyler Moore's body. In the last year and a half I've become much more comfortable with grading by studying modern multi size patterns to see how and where the adjustments get made.

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  8. I still use an old textbook from my college days on pattern drafting. Exceedingly dull, but always has the answer I need (even if I can't seem to put it into play with my pattern). I think pattern grading is the worst...well, fitting in general is just awful. No one has a body that is going to fit the pattern they buy, vintage or current. They should warn you about that when you first learn to sew!

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  9. Being lazy, I use the existing lines on the pattern for pattern grading. If you look at a multi-sized modern pattern you can get an idea of what a size up or down should look like on the tissue. Then just copy it. It works very well as long as the surgery is simple.

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  10. IMHO its eaiser to make a pattern from scratch than it is to resize. Indeed I admit I can't follow a pattern that I haven't made myself. Also as you make the pattern you think through how you are going to put it together. I know you all like vintage, but you just pick a vintage design you like, then make the pattern. What's more it will fit! Try the book Metric Pattern cutting for Woman or there's one for Men, makes it really easy.

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  11. I have never graded anything. I don't sew complicated things. I make patterns from existing garments. They are usually not complicated garments. I mainly up cycle or buy something existing and cut it apart and and redo.

    I have lots of vintage sewing books that I got from you tube. I rip the pages out that I know I will need and place them in a file. For me this works very well. I know some people cringe at the thought of ripping up old sewing books but for me it is more about being useful then keeping endless books for the sake of it. I do have a book about lining that I will not rip up "Easy Guide to Sewing Linings" by Connie Long. Looks like it is from the 90's. It's a great book. If anyone wants it let me know and I will send it to you. Too complicated for me.

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  12. I'm learning to make things from my sloper now, which is, I suppose, much like pattern grading. I've got a button down blouse on the sewing table now that started out as a very tightly fit princess seamed shirt.

    Too.Many.Changes... I just couldn't face the alterations process one more time. At least not for a mere blouse.

    So far? So good. I've only had to tweak my "just make it a bit bigger everywhere" in one spot. And I didn't have to pre-muslin. :)

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  13. I frequently have to grade patterns up in order fit over "the girls." It's difficult at first, but is easier with practice!

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  14. I've successfully graded a vintage pattern from a 32 bust to 46 using the method Kenneth King teaches on his modulate DVD. It uses your sloper to compare to the pattern. I find this method much better than slashing and spreading which I find to be more complicated with all of the pieces.

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  15. This is something that I need to learn how to do, for the sake of my ever-expanding vintage pattern collection. There's a place near me that offers classes on this - not sure if I should enroll or just teach myself via internet or books.

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  16. I've done alot of pattern grading - but its all been with patterns for knits. Using something like a Kwik Sew pattern will several sizes on the same page, its easy to see where and how the curves need to be shrunk or expanded.

    I sew half-naked too, usually. But I have learned a valuable lesson about putting something on before taking my project to the ironing board!

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  17. I would suggest that the things that tend to go "off" in grading a pattern several sizes are things like the depth of the neck and armholes and the length of the rise in pants.

    This is a common problem in women's RTW in plus sizes. If the circumference is okay, you often run into gaping (as in too deep or too wide) necklines, shoulder seams that sit in the upper arm, and armholes that are much too wide or deep. This is because as the human body gets larger, it doesn't necessarily do it symmetrically.

    A similar problem happens in women's slacks. Often the front rise needs to be longer to accommodate a belly, but they make the corresponding back rise/waistband too high or too long. Which is why most women who are "hippy" and have a comparatively small waist, if they try on slacks that fit over the hips and thighs, you could fit another person in at the waist, particularly at the back.

    I think grading up several sizes could be done, but it would be fiddly. In that case, it would be easier to do as the blogger of "Charity Shop Chic" does. She has a bodice sloper fitted to her, and drafts from that.

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  18. I have heard the saying do not grade up more than 2 sizes...but the rest of that saying is to grade up (or down) the 2 sizes, finish the pattern as if that is the correct size, the grade up the needed amount, 2 sizes each time. That way the line of the garment pattern is not destroyed.

    Nadine

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  19. I've done the slash and spread where I've sized a 1930s child's dress pattern up to a 36" chest it worked wonderfully. Looking back, I think it was because it was a loosely draped dress, and the original pattern was very well drafted. Others I've tried have required much more finagling.

    Recently, I've realized more and more patterns are not well drafted and am starting to draft my own from my slopers and pattern envelope drawings. It works so much better.

    Good luck and I can't wait to see your results!

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  20. I teach grading, and it is a skill, one I think is misunderstood. Slash and spread is not used in industry as it destroys patterns, rather they move the pattern over the amount of the slash. Patterns are usually on heavy card, not tissue ... I'd run looking for card to trace the tissue pattern on to rather than grade a tissue pattern. I've seen all sorts of grading myths, from just add 1/4 inch everywhere to grading length as well as width. If you have a good size chart for the current pattern, a size chart or measurement chart for the new pattern, and a good understanding of the body grading is straightforward, some bits of the body increase in size more than others, and those areas are not the same for everyone - most grading books adopt standardized grades, averages. A good grader will use size chats for the target customer, a poor grader will use fixed measurements ... Personally I would grade up three or down three sizes when grading from a size chart, depending on how fitted the original design was, beyond that i would draft an extra small and an extra large to grade with. My major problem with commercial manufactured garments is with the grading, to get sleeves long enough I have to purchase a bust or waist that is too full, and yet most people don't grow longer limbs if they put on weight. That is not to say that there isn't a need for more length to reach over a fuller torso or butt. With women's wear there is also the complication of cup size, a fuller bust may not mean a larger sized shoulder, neck or waist, and yet in much rtw things are only available in one cup size.
    Grading like everything gets easier and more successful if practiced with care, thought and reflection.

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    1. What book would you recommend that encompasses a little of everything in grading? I can't find anything that I really like that gives examples of grading done on a bodice with multiple pieces. Maybe a textbook would work....

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  21. Lots of interesting stuff in this discussion, which might just get me inspired enough to try those two vintage patterns that I know will need grading as opposed to tweaking!
    I’ve just finished some extensive tweaking of a pants pattern, guided by a wonderful teacher and one thing I learned that may help others is this: focus most intently on the pieces of the pattern that have to fit the pieces of the body that are not standard shaped. No need to copy the whole pattern, just those tricky bits. Do the changes to them on a copy using Vilene or something similar that can be pin fitted (or sewn if prefer) and when the fit is right, use the Vilene piece to cut your fabric. The other pieces can be worked on direct- if you are adding or subtracting for the whole length of a seam, use the paper piece or even just add to or take from the seam allowance as you cut. This is how I ended up with a pants pattern that has a curved yoke that I very much hope will fit my stout waist and slim hips, which took nearly an hour to sort out, and the legs narrowed considerably which took all of five minutes! I’ll try to blog about it (http://ccsews.blogspot.com.au/) next week after I’ve photographed the pattern pieces.
    This obviously wouldn’t work for your current project Peter, since you are sizing up all over and with a loose fit you might get away well with just sewing smaller vertical seams. It’s not as though Cathy has got taller through being pregnant. (If only that were the case- I would have had much larger family.)

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  22. Very nice discussion! I have tried grading a pattern just form multi-size patterns and, as I read a lot about, I use to grade just two grades up or down. Even though it is quite simple to do this way, one still needs to sew a muslin to correct distortions.

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  23. I've slashed and spread once, and I'm not sure how well that all worked out, but I do remember it taking a long, long time.

    I do however to the shifty thing almost every time I'm working with multi-sized patterns as I have very narrow shoulders (size 32 in Euro patterns). The shifty method is super easy and quick to do and definitely will not burst as many brain cells as the slash method. But your pattern looks great! I hope that you can borrow from the seam allowance so that things work out for you.

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  24. @ anonymous who posted above - I'd love the Connie Long book if no-one else has requested it. I'd be happy to pay postage to the UK for it. My email is readythreadsew at gmail dot com.

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  25. I've been experimenting with grading and since I do reproduction sewing from vintage patterns, I really need to learn it! I've been doing the shift so as not to destroy patterns or having to copy, copy, copy... ugh. Anyway, I have to do one real soon from a 36" bust to a 48" and I'm dreading THAT. I think I'll look into Kenneth King's dvd that Sickofitcindy refers to.

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  26. I've graded up and down with fine results both ways. I haven't had to grade very drastically, though, so I can't vouch for how changing a pattern more than a size or two works out. The first pattern I graded was the Wearing History Art Deco dress (the plainer verson without the ruffly front).

    I still have to do alterations for my personal fit, of course, but I'd have to do those even if I weren't grading. So . . . it's tedious, but worth it.

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  27. OOOOOH Shiny! Something I have to do All.The.Time.

    I always, and I mean ALWAYS, have to grade patterns. My shape is weird because I'm a "normal" B/W/H measurement but I'm under tall. And those "normal" measurements? The fall somewhere between those on the pattern envelopes.

    What I do:

    1. Look at the wearing ease. 99% of the time, modern patterns have SO much ease all I need to do is shorten sleeves/bodice/legs to fit my squatty frame. I like my clothing a wee bit more fitted and 4" wearing ease looks like sack clothing on me.

    2. If the ease is OK then I look at the body measurements and subtract (or add, depending) mine from the pattern envelope to get the difference. If it's less than 1/4 inch, I take it out of the seam allowance. If it's more, I divide the difference by number of seams to get my up-gradage.

    I trace off ALL my patterns onto paper or gridded interfacing before cutting my fabric so that I can do a paper fitting FIRST. From there I tweak on the paper to get it all sorted out. I don't generally muslin, actually since I take the time to use the paper fitter.

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  28. I always cut the seam allowances off before I grade a pattern, it just makes it easier for me to get my brain around the changes.

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  29. Ooh, I think pattern grading is super sexy, but then again I am a pattern nerd. I do it for mass production so I love the thought process and the math involved in making many sizes at once. A nest of beautifully graded patterns is definitely a turn-on :)
    As for the home sewer, I think it is totally unnnecessary and way too involved to approach traditional grading for making one or two sizes larger. Doing it this way to handle what would otherwise be a pattern alteration should inpire fear because it can be completely confusing if you have no reference. If you need a bigger chest- add it where you need it. If you need longer pant rises- add it at the top. Truthfully I think the time is better spent on making a muslin and determining the exact amount needed to add or take away in the form of a pattern alteration.
    I am not trying to dissuade anyone from grading by any means, but use it only when needed such as turning a size 4 into a size 10.

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  30. I haven't really done any grading. Right now, am reading and studying 'Pattern Drafting & Grading' by M Rohr. It teaches the shifting method and shows how to increase the dress foundation from half scale to full scale size. The back of the book has printing of dress foundation in 1/4 scale with a neck and armhole guide to draft patterns on cardboard. I am overwhelmed by the subject. Being a vintage pattern enthusiast, I have a lot of patterns to grade, so the method taught in this 1950 print comes in really handy. Thanks for the reminder Pete, I will definitely buy more fabric, just in case I make a mistake. ;)

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