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So I left all you readers with math swirling around in your heads. I hope Part 1 wasn’t too technical or too much of a cliffhanger!
Now I bet you’re eager to see how my experiment worked when I applied the math. =)
First, I copied my pattern in the bust 34 size at 91% on my printer and taped the pieces together. (As always, photos enlarge when clicked.)
I used some of my favorite pattern tracing paper to trace the other two copies of my pattern at the same size they came in – one bust 34 and one bust 31 size.
Because my traced patterns were on such sheer paper, I could do a good comparison of the shrunken 34 under the actual 31 to see the minor differences.
The differences were subtle but interesting. Here are a few closeups:
To me, the most fascinating part of the pattern comparison was the keyhole detail at the neck. When patterns are graded by the manufacturer, many of the details are not proportionally scaled, meaning that some details remain the same size no matter what size a pattern is drafted to be.
This means that on a smaller version of the dress, the keyholes are relatively larger. Likewise they are smaller on the larger versions. This does not always make for the most aesthetically pleasing details on the far ends of the grade.
After all, a pattern designer designs a pattern to have the correct detail proportions for that prototype size. I think it is somewhat lazy for the pattern companies to then grade without changing all the proportions accordingly.
My shrinking/enlarging method using a ratio solves this grading proportion problem.
Okay, so are you ready to see how the mockup experiment works on a real person?
Here they are on me:
Obviously, the actual bust 34 size is too big for me:
When you zoom in to look at dart placement and where the armhole hits at the shoulder joint, you can really see which fits best.
All three had necklines that were a little too high for comfort. And both the 31 and the shrunken 34 had armholes that were a bit small (typical on vintage patterns). In the above photo, I have cut directly on the stitchline for all the armholes, but I have reshaped and cut on the corrected underarm curve for the shrunken 34.
Obviously, you can see that I have chosen to fit the shrunken 34 because of all the safety pins and drawn lines on the mockup. It had the least amount of alterations needed.
I took in the side seams slightly, and pinned a test hem. I decided it needed a little more flare for the A-line skirt, which I added to the paper pattern when I transferred my pin markings to the pattern.
(Here’s an example of how I transferred fitting marks from another mockup to the paper pattern.)
So what are your thoughts and ideas about my pattern scaling method? I would love to know if this works for others too! Please comment or send me photos or links if you try your own version of my experiment!
And in case you’re curious, here’s the geeky fabric I plan to use to make the real version of my dress.
This post was a long time coming. I knew I wanted to try this sizing experiment for more than a year; and over the last 6 months or so, I’ve been trying to work on it in between all my other work and personal projects.
(Warning: this post involves lots of words and math.)
First let’s talk a little about body measurements and standard sewing pattern sizing. Sewing patterns tend to be labeled with larger size numbers than mass produced clothing.
I talked about sewing pattern sizes vs. ready-to-wear size numbers and vanity sizing a couple years back in this post (but that was probably before many of my current readers found my blog).
I’m sure you’ve heard people say that the standard measurements used in the clothing industry have shifted over the decades. But they really haven’t changed as much as people think. The only thing that has really changed is the size number on the label – known commonly as “vanity sizing”. The standard body measurements have barely changed from year to year.
Here’s a section of a spreadsheet of my vintage patterns showing sizing for a 34-inch bust. Notice that the biggest change from year to year is the size number not the measurements used:
You’ll see that in the 1940s and ‘50s, a 34-inch bust was considered a size 16 in sewing patterns. In the late 1950s and through the 1960s, that same bust size became a size 14 with a slightly smaller waist and hips. Then in the 1970s, the 34-inch bust became a size 12 while the waist and hips went up a little in proportion – proof that there is a bit of psychological vanity sizing in sewing patterns, but not as drastic as it is in the ready-to-wear industry.
Today’s sewing pattern size 12 is the same as it was in the ‘70s with measurements of 34-26.5-36.
Most patterns are drafted in a mid-range size and then graded down for the smaller sizes and graded up for the larger sizes. This method involves some math and a whole bunch of measuring. (Threads Magazine provides a good explanation of grading here and a quick-guide chart here.)
Now, on to my experiment.
I admit I’m lazy when it comes to grading patterns. The math isn’t complicated, but all that measuring is a lot of work.
I started using my cheater’s method years ago when I needed to increase the size of flower-girl dresses for little girls who were larger than a standard pattern but proportionally still the shape of a standard girls’ pattern. (Part of the reason I started doing this stemmed from last minute clients who didn’t give me the time to do much patterning.)
I compared the differences on the pattern’s standard measurement charts and used ratio computations to find the percentage of the needed size increase. Then I just copied the pattern at the larger percentage on my home printer.
This enlarging method also helped me make a quick bodice pattern for a cousin in my sister’s wedding, who was really tall for her age but still not shaped like a woman yet. So far, this method for enlarging a kid’s pattern has worked for me every time with very few (if any) alterations needed.
When I wanted to sew a vintage pattern for myself but only had it in a size that was 2 or 3 sizes too big, I used my ratio method to shrink it to my size on the copier.
I did this for myself for a few years, getting a nearly perfect fit every time I shrank a pattern. For a long time, I thought vintage patterns were just drafted better, or differently.
But then I discovered that a vintage pattern in my actual size had as many fit issues as most modern sewing patterns. And I began to reexamine why shrinking by a percentage seemed to work better for me.
I think it’s because I am proportionally smaller than the average size used to draft most patterns. (I am small but not petite by clothing standards.) I don’t need merely a few areas changed, or some areas changed more than others (like when grading). I need everything equally shrunken down.
I had decided to test my theory by doing a real comparison of a vintage pattern that I owned in both a bust size 34 and a bust size 31 (my actual size).
I chose the Simplicity 7136 pattern from 1967 for a couple of reasons – I had it in two sizes and it had very basic style-lines, making it easier to compare small differences.
I made three mockups – one straight from the B31, one straight from the B34, and one B34 copied at 91%.
NOTE: Most vintage patterns have actual stitch lines printed on the pattern pieces. If you are using a pattern without marked seam allowance, you will need to either cut off the seams allowance before copying or make a line to measure what the new copied seam allowance ends up being. You will want to sew on the actual copied stitch lines, so adjustments to seam allowance may be required.
Here’s the math I used with the bust measurements printed on the pattern envelope to determine the scale factor:
Bust 1 31
Bust 2 34 = 91%
My theory was that I could also apply this percentage to both of the larger waist and hip measurements to obtain the corresponding chart values:
Waist 2 x 91% = Waist 1: 26 x 91% ≈ 24 Hip 2 x 91% = Hip 1: 36 x 91% ≈ 33
I’m obviously rounding to the nearest whole number because that’s the precision on the pattern envelope. And look! It’s pretty darn close. Here is how my exact ratio computations compared to Simplicity’s size chart:
Scaled 91% Simplicity Waist 23.66 24 Hips 32.76 33
My experiment worked!
Stay tuned for Part 2…
For Easter in 1963, Jackie Kennedy wore an Oleg Cassini dress made in pale pink linen. Fifty years later, the simple style of her dress is still beautiful, and I’ve wanted to copy it for myself for years.
This Easter I finally did.
I first fell in love with her dress when I purchased the book Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years, which I was lucky to find at my local Half Price Books for only $10. It is full of wonderful photos specifically of her fabulous clothes.
While I love everything about her dress, I knew I would not look good wearing such a pale pink. I look better in warm colors, and let’s face it, I am the opposite of tanned. (I’m bordering on vampire pale.)
I already had a large stash of 100% linen in an ivory color left over from a wedding dress I once made for a client. So I decided to dye some in a color I can wear.
It took me at least 6 attempts to get the final color. I almost stopped at this shade of orange, which was just a little too yellow:
Thankfully, one of my coworkers at the time is a dye expert, and she was able to tell me what color to over-dye my linen to make it a better shade of orange. (Thanks, Susan!) I also dyed my white cotton/poly underlining fabric a similar color to prevent seams from showing through. (I checked the linen with the undyed white, and there definitely would have been some color difference around the seams had I left it white.)
After studying the photographs of the Cassini dress closely, I chose McCall’s 7158 from 1963 because the style lines were the most similar. (I didn’t even realize the pattern date was the same as the Cassini dress until just now when I checked!)
The pattern needed a lot of tweaking. You can see how I fit the mockup in this post.
Once I had made the appropriate pattern alterations, I cut and assembled the lining first so I could double check the fit. Then I cut my linen and underlining fabric and basted them together.
I also made matching linen bias for the “quatrefoil motif” and to finish the arm and neck edges. (I generally dislike facings and try to eliminate them whenever possible.)
My favorite part of this build was creating the single decorative detail near the neckline of the dress.
My least favorite part of this build was making the bust darts cooperate – I almost gave up and threw the dress in the trash because of them. When stitched in the linen, they wanted to be extra pointy and I really wanted to avoid an Anne Hathaway dart dilemma.
Had I not wanted a new Easter dress so badly, and if so many people (online and in real life) had not known about me making it, I doubt I would have been so determined to finish it. (And yes, I did have to remind myself of the advice in this old post.)
I fought those stupid, hateful darts for at least 2 nights after work. I ended up shaping them slightly and stitching them by hand because it was easier to do the minor changes by hand.
Ultimately, I found the biggest improvement to the pointiness was stitching the dart fold down to the underlining to control them. (In hindsight, I probably should have reduced the length of the darts on the pattern before I cut the linen.)
They still aren’t perfect, and they really bug me because that’s all I see when I look at the dress. I’m hoping that by the time next spring comes around, I will have had enough distance from the dress for the darts not to bother me as much.
Somehow, I can make nearly perfect things for others, but when I try to make something couture for myself, it’s never quite right. I know part of the problem is that fitting and seeing the design elements on your own body is nearly as hard as cutting your own hair – it’s hard to back up and see the full picture.
So during two short breaks and part of my lunch break every day for a couple weeks, I did as much as I could to build my dress during my time at the opera. Then I continued working on it at night when I came home. But I managed to complete it in time for Easter Sunday.
Here’s the abbreviated summary of the build, through photos (as usual, click to enlarge):
Easter morning was quite chilly where I live, but since my dress was three layers, I was rather warm even without sleeves.
Since we got out of church before the rest of my family, I ended up taking most of the photos by myself using the camera’s self-timer while I warmed up the food for lunch at my parents’ house (my husband went back at our house to attend to other things).
It was so stinking bright outside, I could hardly keep my eyes open and I was almost crying. I captured lots of photos of myself with my eyes closed or really weird expressions. I did manage to take a few decent shots though.
I had hoped to take some better pictures with my husband’s help later, but nothing turned out any better. He did take a photo of the back (something I had forgotten to do):
And I shall end with a close up of my favorite part – the simple decoration:
I’ve had a couple requests for a tutorial of sorts about how to transfer the fitting marks from a mockup (aka muslin or toile) to the paper sewing pattern. So since I’m in the process of making my Easter dress for this year and the pattern needed a lot of tweaking to be what I want, it was the perfect time to take some photo examples. =)
I’m currently working at The Dallas Opera (helping to build fun 19th century costumes!), so I was able to have my coworker Traci help me fit my mockup during part of a lunch break. Really convenient since the pattern needed more work than I could easily fit on myself alone! Thanks, Traci!
Behold, the truly flattering (*sarcasm*) before & after fitting photos:
Mockups aren’t meant to look pretty. They are meant to be drawn all over and pinched and pinned and then cut up. This is why my fabric choice was a cheapy bedsheet – nothing pretty because I knew I would be throwing it away in the end. I never plan to save or use a mockup once it has served its purpose. If the pieces are big enough, I might cut it up and use the fabric for another mockup later (this fabric was actually left over from Camille’s wedding dress mockup).
There was a pinch taken out of the neckline to eliminate a gap. Tucks were taken out of the side front pieces for a better fit at the bust. Some of the flare was removed from the skirt. The princess seams were moved inward a bit and the neckline was widened slightly at the edges for a more pleasing shape (these adjustments were mainly made to match a photo of the dress I’m copying).
And here’s how I transferred all those marks to my pattern:
First step was to cut right on the new line for the princess seams in the front, cut off the sleeve following drawn armseye, and rip the stitches out of the shoulder seam – all so the mockup could be opened up and traced onto the paper pattern.
The cut mockup was placed on the center front piece and aligned with the pattern’s top line of the bust dart, shoulder seam, and center front. The new lines were traced onto the paper following the mockup at the neck, armseye, and down to top of dart.
Then the mockup was shifted down to line up with the bottom line of the dart on the pattern and the rest of the new seam was traced.
To eliminate the gapping neck in the front, I measured from the top safety pin to the edge of dart.
I forgot to take one photo at this point (but finished alteration is seen in next couple of pictures). To remove that fabric from the pattern without changing the straight center front line (because it’s cut on a fold), I drew a line perpendicular to the neckline and down to a random point on the side seam.
Then the newly drawn line is cut almost all the way down to the side seam – only a tiny point is left attached. And the paper is overlapped the measured amount at the neck (in a V-shape) and taped.
To add the new seamlines on the side front pattern piece, I needed to extend the paper so scraps were taped down the length of pattern.
The mockup was lined up with the paper pattern and pinned down to the table (eventually, I plan to make my cutting table’s surface pinnable too!) and the front edge was traced.
I traced the new side seam (new because of the tuck taken out of the center of the piece) using a tracing wheel, but you can also use a pin to poke a line of holes through the seam and into the paper.
There were only a couple tiny tweaks to the back pattern pieces. I will adjust the center back seam in a final fitting and then insert my zipper accordingly. (It will probably be a bigger seam allowance.)
Altered patterns always look a little weird because they are no longer “standard”. Learn to trust your mockup markings and ignore the unusual look of the corrected pattern on paper and your real garment will fit properly in the end. (And you can always make a second mockup just to be sure!)
I hope this photo walk-through is helpful! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments of this post. =)
Now that my pattern is altered, my real Easter dress fabric (and underlining fabric) is cut and ready to assemble! (See the finished dress in this post.)
While I am partial to the cheerful girliness of 1950s styles, I find myself gravitating to the styles from the 1960s as well. To me, Sixties fashion was when Fifties fashion “grew up” and sort of branched into two groups: simple sophistication – think Audrey Hepburn & Jackie Kennedy (both women seemed to bloom into fashion icons during this decade), and artistic “Mod” – think modern new things like Star Trek, The Beatles & Marimekko prints.
We will start out with two of my favorite patterns, which are both from the year 1960:
Then there is one more from 1960, but it’s a bit “costumey”:
The seams are so interesting on this dress from 1961:
Then I have a girls’ dress that doesn’t seem to exist anywhere else on the internet. The year is unknown, but it has to be from the Sixties:
My reasons for thinking that it belongs in the 1960s are: the price (45 cents) is similar to the prices of other early Sixties patterns; the hairstyles on the girls look ’60s; the colors match the previous pattern’s; the floral print looks correct for that decade; and the skirt of the dress also has an inverted box pleat like the previous pattern. I’d say it’s pretty safe to assume it belongs at this point in the timeline – do you agree?
Here’s another girls’ dress and a wrap skirt from 1962:
This next one from 1964 epitomizes the sophistication of Sixties fashion:
A more formal dress from 1965:
Then the Mod Styles really start showing with these next few. 1960s (specific year unknown):
A mini-dress with shorts for beachwear from 1967:
My one vintage pattern from 1968 has incredibly interesting style lines, and it’s Karen’s fault that I had to have it because she talked about it on her blog:
This pattern is from 1969:
The date on this next one is unknown, and different sources put it in different decades. I can’t decide if it’s late 60s or early 70s:
The overall shape is Sixties, but the big collar and one-piece “jumpsuit” version seems rather Seventies. Even the hairstyles are in that transition stage.
The 1970s get a bad rap because of awful plaids and horrible-feeling synthetic fabrics, but I’ve always loved the style-lines (especially on women’s suits) and how slim & leggy they make people look. (I’m glad I can say I was born in this decade and not the Eighties, which I think was the ugliest fashion decade ever!)
I have a short list of vintage patterns from the Seventies starting with 1973:
And another suit pattern, also from 1973. I actually just have a self-traced brown-paper copy (with Xeroxed envelope & instructions) of this one because I found in my size in a theatre costume shop’s filing cabinet:
This next jumpsuit pattern from 1977 was so hilariously 70s that I had to keep it. Cue The Carpenters!
I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing some of my vintage patterns. I’ll be sharing some of my current projects using a few of them in the weeks to come. =)
Continuing the chronological show-and-tell of my vintage pattern collection… (here’s the 1940s post in case you missed it.)
Ahhh, the Fifties. It’s probably my most favorite fashion decade because of the bright happy colors and the girly dresses.
First up are two Advance brand patterns that I can only date as “early 1950s”:
1952 gives us this dance & skating outfits pattern:
A dress with an interesting scalloped inset gored skirt from 1953:
Two from 1954:
Three dress patterns from 1955:
Moving on to 1957:
My one pattern from 1958 is a wonderful pencil skirt:
A casual dress from 1959:
I have another girls’ dress without a specific year – I could only find that it was from the ’50s when I researched it:
Then there’s this one I can’t definitively date but I believe it is from sometime in the 1950s:
I love the little blurb about it on the envelope:
“Coat-dress with many lives: scarf it – jewel it! Soft gathers blouse from the curved yoke; bodice is taut, leads into a beautiful flow of skirt. Fashion focus: splurge on glitter buttons or make your own self-covered ones.”
I think I might need to find some glitter buttons!
My Sixties patterns
I have been going through & photographing my vintage patterns over the last few days in an attempt to date & organize them. I had not realized how many I actually have, and I had completely forgotten about some really great ones!
I think I’ve only actually purchased 5 or 6 of the vintage ones I own. Many were gifted to me by my mother-in-law, and quite a number of them are ones I rescued from a “graveyard” box when I was working as a costumer along side Ken Weber (one of the owners of Vintage Martini) a few years ago.
They were in the box because their envelopes weren’t in the best shape for selling, and he didn’t want to spend time examining them to see if all the pieces were included. I’m not terribly picky about condition (I can usually draft the missing pieces as long as I have enough of the information included with the pattern), so I happily scooped up the most interesting ones.
Here’s a look at the vintage sewing patterns that I own from the 1940s in order of date (I had no idea I actually had so many originals from that decade!):
I’m not sure I really have the blouse pattern because the envelope is empty except for the instruction sheet. The pattern pieces may be hiding next to another pattern in a disintegrating envelope, but I haven’t done a thorough search yet. Even if I don’t have it, the envelope & instructions should be enough information for me to recreate it.
Next are patterns from 1946 – two skirts and one apron:
From 1948, there is another apron, a house dress, and a woman’s suit:
Moving on to 1949, there’s another apron pattern and a lovely dress:
Then I have a few mail order vintage patterns (mostly aprons) with unknown dates, including this suit:
Vintage Patterns Wiki was very helpful in my search for pattern dates. Even if the date wasn’t listed on the site’s page for a pattern, there was often a useful link that took me to the information I needed.
Unsurprisingly, I also have quite a few vintage patterns from both the 1950s & 1960s (it’s safe to say those are my favorite decades in fashion), and a couple from the 1970s.
But I’ll save those show-and-tells for another day. =)