How to work out which size pattern to cut.


Making your own clothes is an amazing super power. Getting them to fit perfectly can be a little more tricky. What helps is making up the right size for you – yes I know that sounds obvious but when it comes to selecting the right size to make up there are a few things to take into consideration.

Pattern companies are like high street brands in that there is no standardisation in measuring sizes. Just as a size 12 in say Topshop will be completely different to a size 12 in M&S.

The sizing bands on different pattern brands can be a little skewed. However, using the sizing information pattern companies already provide on the pattern envelopes and printed onto the pattern pieces themselves can help.

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All commercial and Indie patterns will have their own measurements printed on the pattern information and some on the pattern pieces themselves.

Your measurements

First things first however. You really need to get a set of your own measurements together. This may sound daunting but you don’t have to show anyone else unless you want to I promise! And if you use centimetres it doesn’t sound ‘real’ anyway. I’ve created a little Crib Sheet download of basic body measurements to help you take your own set of measurements and you can keep them safely under lock and key if you prefer.


The pattern’s measurements

All patterns will have their own sets of body measurements – these may vary but will give you a starting point and will normally include bust, waist, hips.

I generally find it quite useful to mark on the pattern information where I fall in terms of their sizing.

However, what’s more useful are…

The Finished Garment Measurements

Patterns also have Finished Garment Measurements – these are what the garment will actually measure around the bust, waist, hips etc. when laid out flat.

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The difference between these and the body measurements is the amount of ease included in the garment.

Let’s digress slightly…

There are two types of ease – wearing or fit ease and design ease.


Ease differnce info graphic

Wearing ease – this is the amount of space you need inside a garment to be able to actually move about while wearing it. Typically in a fitted sheath dress for example you would need about  5 – 10cm ease on the bust, 3 – 5cm on the waist and about the same on the hips. This enables you to move around easily but still retain a fitted silhouette.

Design ease – this is the amount of extra room the designer has added into the pattern to create the desired shape and silhouette. For example our Kate dress fits smoothly over the bust but then skims out over the waist and hips providing a relaxed and ‘easy’ fit.

Back to the Plan…

You can determine the amount of ease within a pattern by taking the body measurement from the finished garment measurement.

 Finished -Body = EASE

The general rule of thumb is to use your bust or hip measurements to determine which size you choose to make up.

Now I want to start waving a little red flag here.


Using your hip measurement for skirts and trousers will probably be fine as it is much easier to alter the waist to make it larger or smaller depending on your waist to hip ratio.

But using your bust measurement can throw up issues, especially if you are of the fuller bust variety of person. Just going by your bust measurement could result in you making a larger size than you need, which could in turn mean the shoulders and neckline are too large and will gape and slide off.

Don’t panic though! This is where the extra High Bust Measurement can help. With most of the Big Four US pattern companies if you are over a C cup you may well need to perform a Full Bust Adjustment to give you the extra fabric you need across the bust but keep the correct sizing to ensure that the garment still fits over the shoulders and neckline alright.

We have a Tutorial right here to show you how that’s done.

With our patterns it’s if you are over a D cup. Other Indie pattern companies will have their own sizing as well.

This is only a ‘Rule of Thumb’ as of course each pattern will need to be judged on its own merits, fit and measurements.

Once you know the amount of ease included in a pattern and whether you need to make a FBA or SBA (small bust adjustment) you can make a judgement call on whether you want to go up or down a size.

Most of the time you’ll find that you fall across a couple of sizes and may be a size 12 on the bust, 16 on the waist and 14 on the hips. Let me just say THAT’S FINE! Very few people fit one size band completely. This is one of the reasons that modern patterns are multi-size now, so you can grade across the sizes to fit your own personal measurements – after all isn’t that why we make our own clothes?

It is very easy to cross over the lines from one size to another. Just make sure to keep the lines smooth and flowing. We don’t have any odd sharp corners on our bodies, well we shouldn’t have, so neither should our patterns. The best way to do this is to use a set of French Curves or a Pattern Master to help you smooth out the new cutting lines for your pattern pieces.

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The pattern has gone from a size 12 on the bust through a size 14 on the waist to a size 16 on the hips.

Now you have worked out a more accurate way of deciding which size pattern to cut hopefully you will be able to sew better fitting clothes.

Happy Cutting!

5 thoughts on “How to work out which size pattern to cut.

  1. Thank you. Your photo of grading between sizes has just shown how easy it can be. Suddenly I’m not worried about trying this technique. Cheers.

  2. Thanks for this. It’s really helpful. I’m going to go back to basics and remeasure using your guidance as I’m up to my sixth Kate dress but some are on the big side.

  3. Thank you for this post. I was trying to do a FBA for the Kate but only just realised as I am a D cup I don’t need to do this.
    I find it difficult to do measurements on my bust as I had an operation which means both breasts are markedly different in sizes. It would be lovely to have a post one day covering these issues as I’m sure there must be more people out there with the same problem.

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