Sunday, October 3, 2010

Vintage Pattern Grading

 Altering Patterns is not Extremely Hard... It just should be done within a range of 2 sizes smaller or larger.  No more - that is my opinion.

There is a wonderful website, it has a spectacular tutorial.  I am just afraid that someone may assume that it can be done without looking into what it entails I do not want to tell my customers that they can take a bust 40 and magically make it into a 32.

I am not trying to discourage you- this is not an impossible task. But, I am not about to sell a pattern to you that is not your size just because I can if you are new to sewing and patterns.   I have altered patterns because I am petite.  I have also, wanted to take the pattern and crumble it up.

I did not sew for about 5 months because  my life was so busy.  When I finally did, that was what made me realize that this could be a problem for my customers, and I had to make this very clear.


If your pattern is simple and with a few pieces and are courageous, it's worth a try! But if you are involved with a 23 piece pattern, why not run out and buy the correct size? It can save you an ulcer.  Of course, you can always take grading lessons and you can do it yourself.

Grading is a technical and complicated skill.  It is also a learned skill. What is grading you may be asking? It is the process of increasing and decreasing a pattern size. (this is not to be confused with the sewing term - trimming seams in alternate layers)   A grader, must know how much, where and most importantly, how to make the multitude of small perhaps subtle changes in the pattern that are necessary to  make so they will all fit together and one size will fit as well as the next.

Remember, you are working with a vintage pattern, you may want to trace the pattern or pattern pieces out into a copy, in case you are thinking about the original as a collectible.

Rule of Thumb:  A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE IS A DANGEROUS THING! The average size to the changes from one size to the next  in a standard grade for a basic dress or top pattern which gives maximum increase of one and one half inches for each size.

The bust (chest) and or hip measurement may increase or decrease 1-2 inches for one size but the shoulder width only 1/8 of an inch.  Moreover, variations are not consistent from one size to the next. There is a greater difference between a size 12 and a 14, for example, than there is between a 10 and a 12. And so they sizes increase, the differences between them may be greater.

You cold go out and buy Vellum, and the other expensive supplies you can use to do this

But, pattern alternation has been achieved by women for many years - Housewives ordering patterns, having babies, then loosing weight and altering their dress patterns.  I have done this without anything more than my

You can use news paper, wrapping paper, any kind of large flat paper to trace out the large pattern pieces.

A large thick piece of Cardboard (if possible, if you have one, a large cutting board with guides for projects that is even better

felt tipped marker

tracking wheel

carbon paper

and a yard stick - I use drafting rulers and see through rulers and a french curve

masking tape

As you will see all the lines are drawn for grading purposes.  All of the others are going to be excluded so I do not confuse you.

I am also going to just show you on the front piece of my of the front to the pattern, the back piece is sectioned in the exact same way.

After you have your pattern traced and cut out onto your new pattern paper (paper, actual pattern paper, wrapping paper flipped over, etc.)

Start off by drawing all of your lines on the front and the back parallel to the lengthwise to the straight grain-line or lengthwise center fold; draw all horizontal lines, perpendicular.  Do the same on a straight sleeve as pictured in my graph.

However, on a tapered long sleeve the two lines, H &  I may have to taper toward each other at the lower edge in order to stay within the pattern outline.

Again,  remember I am only showing the one side.  The back is sectioned in the same exact way and it would only be more confusion to do it two times. The center vertical line on the sleeve (g) is spread apart the width indicated at the sleeve cap but it is tapered to nothing at the lower edge when a size is increased.

So, in a nut shell you are going to cut these lines and basically put this all back together like a puzzle and make it all fit.

To increase the pattern one size, cut along the drawn lines and spread your pattern apart, and tape over the paper strips over a new piece of paper to retrace the pattern.  Then you can cut it out into a brand new piece.

To decrease you will simply cut along your drawn lines, lap the edges and tape together,this will allow you to decrease these amounts.

Measure, cut, and spread, to increase or lap, to increase these amounts!



LINE A 1/8"

LINE B 1/6"

LINE C 3/16"



LINE D 1/8"

LINE E 1/8"

LINE F 1/8"



LINE G  1/8" to nothing (see my little chart)

VERTICAL LINES H & I     1/8" each 

VERTICAL LINES J,K, and L   1/8" each 

This is not as confusing as it sounds, and you will feel greatly accomplished as a seamstress when you are done, however, I just want to make it clear-

I mentioned the tracing wheel and the carbon paper, so you can mark the place of where the darts and seam line belong.



Shoulders usually increase 1/8" universally from size to size 


I am very small and I have had the problem of either making a junior pattern larger, or a larger pattern small.   

In order to make the most of  your tiny high fashion figure potential, you need pattern adjustment.

I think the best way is to start with an under arm dart.  

  1. Take a body measurement from center from the fullest point of the bosom.  Measure and mark X on the pattern on this point.  
  2. With your pencil and ruler, draw a line, through the center of the dart as shown in Figure B., bringing stitching lines of dart toward each other.   Pin broken line indicates original dimensions.  The revised dart is much more shallow and the excess fullness is removed at the at the bosom. On a dress with a without a waistline seam, a tiny vertical fold is formed below below waist from second line downward. Pin this fold, tapering to nothing below below waist.  Revise and straighten the shoulder lines.  

Bodice dart above waistline:  FOLLOW STEP ONE ABOVE then with your pencil and your ruler, draw a line through the center of dart to X.  Extend the line to the mid-shoulder.  Slash along the line.  Keep shoulder edges together as your turning point, lap these slashed edges of the pattern bringing stitching lines of dart toward each other and pin. Dart becomes much shallower at this point.  Straighten the shoulder lines.

I suggest the above alterations be done on something better than newspaper- I am going to suggest that if you are tiny or a larger woman it is well worth the investment to buy the correct supplies.  I would also suggest that altered muslin can be tried on to test the accuracy and the extent of the alteration needed and revised if necessary, while the delicate tissue may tear.  Then the altered muslin can be used as a guide to future alterations.

The dress with a side front seam is best altered in muslin, by pin fitting it and taking the excess bust fullness in at the seam. Mark your new seam-lines and use muslin in conjunction with your other pattern paper for cutting.  With this hands on advice, I am sure, you will find your clothing is well fitted and much nicer!