Does that pattern come in my size?

For those of you here for the sewing, I ‘ll have some dresses up soon. But first I wanted to look at something that I discussed in my last post on why it makes economic sense for indie pattern makers to extend their size ranges.

In my last post I showed a couple of distribution curves that illustrate what percentage of the population could use a pattern with a given size range. But I thought it would be interesting to see what range of sizes existing indie companies are actually offering.

I figured I would just choose the top pattern makers, but how to choose? The ones on someone’s list? The most blogged? The ones I like the best? The hippest style, nicest drafting or most clever instructions? So I hopped over to pattern review.com, and looked at some of the patterns that have made their top ten patterns of the year, over the past few years. You may or may not agree that these are the top patterns, but they’ve been sewn by a large number of people, and have obtained many good reviews.

A reminder: In the following charts, I’ve shown size range in the general population, across a normal distribution. Then I’ve charted the sizes offered for specific sewing patterns as the area under the curve (the green area) to calculate what percentage of the population could use the pattern. See my previous article for a more detailed description of these concepts.

Indie pattern range
A common indie pattern range.

First shown is a range of pattern sizes (6-18) used by some indie pattern makers. About 43% of the population can use these patterns.

This is the distribution curve for the Burda Magazine 04-2009-101 "Skirt with Front Pockets". Only 31% of the population can use this pattern. The pattern makers offered 5 sizes to cover that range.
This is the distribution curve for the Burda Magazine 04-2009-101 “Skirt with Front Pockets”. Only 31% of the population can use this pattern. The pattern makers offered 5 sizes to cover that range.

Next is a pattern from BurdaStyle magazine: 04-2009-101 “Skirt with Front Pockets”. Only 31% of the population can use this pattern. Considering this is a simple straight skirt, that would look good on a wide range of figures, it’s surprising that the pattern is offered in so few sizes.

This is the distribution curve for the Cambie dress from Sewaholic Patterns. About 49% of the population can use this pattern. The pattern makers used 9 sizes to get that range.
This is the distribution curve for the Cambie dress from Sewaholic Patterns. About 49% of the population can use this pattern. The pattern makers used 9 sizes to get that range.

The Cambie dress is similar to the curve used by indie pattern makers, shown above, with a couple extra sizes near the middle. However, since Sewaholic patterns are drafted for pear-shaped figures and I’m comparing pattern sizes based largely on bust measurements, in reality this curve is probably shifted a little to the right and probably covers a slightly larger percentage of the population.

This is the distribution curve for the Archer shirt from Grainline Studio. About 53% of the population can use this pattern. The pattern maker used 10 sizes to get that range.
This is the distribution curve for the Archer shirt from Grainline Studio. About 53% of the population can use this pattern. The pattern maker used 10 sizes to get that range.

The Archer shirt uses a curve similar to the Big4 pattern companies.

This is the distribution curve for the Anna dress from By Hand London. About 61% of the population can use this pattern. The pattern makers used 8 sizes to get that range.
This is the distribution curve for the Anna dress from By Hand London. About 61% of the population can use this pattern. The pattern makers used 8 sizes to get that range.

This is the Anna dress from By Hand London. Although their sizing system is slightly different, this dress goes up to the equivalent of a size 24. It’s a curve similar to that of used by the Big 4 pattern companies, but shifted up slightly.

This is the distribution curve for the Peony dress by Colette Patterns. About 61% of the population can use this pattern. The pattern maker used 10 sizes to get that range.
This is the distribution curve for the Peony dress by Colette Patterns. About 61% of the population can use this pattern. The pattern maker used 10 sizes to get that range.

Here we see the distribution for Colette’s Peony dress. It covers 61% of the population, just like the Anna dress above, but the pattern maker offers 10 sizes to cover the range, instead of 8.

This is the distribution curve for the Moneta dress by Colette Patterns. About 80% of the population can use this pattern. The pattern maker used 7 sizes to get that range.
This is the distribution curve for the Moneta dress by Colette Patterns. About 80% of the population can use this pattern. The pattern maker used 7 sizes to get that range.

Colette recently extended their size range with new patterns for knits. This is the size range for the Moneta dress. It covers 80% of the population, in only 7 sizes. This isn’t one of the top patterns on pattern review.com (it’s too new to be considered), but I think it’s interesting to look at, compared to the previous size range for this company.

This is the distribution curve for the Tiramisu dress by Cake Patterns. About 85% of the population can use this pattern. The pattern makers used 5 sizes to get that range.
This is the distribution curve for the Tiramisu dress by Cake Patterns. About 85% of the population can use this pattern. The pattern makers used 5 sizes to get that range.

The Tiramisu dress is also a dress for knits. It covers a slightly larger percent of the population (85%), but this time with only five individual sizes.

This is the distribution curve for the Jalie 2919 "Pleated Cardigan and Vest". About 8% of the population can use this pattern. The pattern makers included 27 sizes (including children's sizes) to get that range.
This is the distribution curve for the Jalie 2919 “Pleated Cardigan and Vest”. About 8% of the population can use this pattern. The pattern makers included 27 sizes (including children’s sizes) to get that range.

Finally there is Jalie. Their large size range is part of their marketing strategy and their patterns are often drafted for both kids and adults. Jalie 2919 can be used by 88% of the population. It’s the largest percentage, and they definitely have the largest number of sizes per pattern (27!). But, compared to some of the other companies, Jalie doesn’t offer the largest sizes.

Some Caveats

These numbers are only approximations based on the model I described in my previous blog post. The same statistical caveats discussed in that article apply to these curves. Keep in mind, I’m using bust measurements, based on this chart, to do a comparison across various different companies, all of which use their own sizing systems. I used bust measurements because they are always listed, and because there is a historical precedent in vintage patterns. Using a different measure (waist, hips, etc.) would result in slightly different curves for each pattern. Overall, though, the differences between companies should be similar.

I’m choosing patterns from patternreview.com. It’s possible that there is a sampling bias. Maybe the people on that site prefer patterns of in a larger range of sizes, for example. There are probably many more patterns out there that have curves that look like the BurdaStyle skirt, than ones that look like the Jalie top.

Covering the entire ranges of sizes may not be the goal of a given pattern maker. In some cases, certain pattern companies may be marketing to specific niche markets, and so they may not intend to cover the largest range possible. In other cases, resources are limited. Nevertheless, I think it’s interesting to look at examples of what specific, successful pattern companies are doing.

Comments are always welcome! And I promise the next blog post will include actual sewing 😉

An Economic Case for Larger Pattern Sizes

Imagine you are a pattern maker. You have a great design all worked out. But what sizes should you include in your pattern?

You might start by looking at what other pattern makers are doing. Then you might look at what standard size ranges are being used by ready-to-wear clothing manufacturers and large commercial pattern makers. But a small pattern maker can’t always afford to make every pattern in every size, so how do you choose?

A Look at the Numbers

The body weight of adult women follows what is called a standard distribution. If you charted out the number of people by their body weight, it would make a curve. There would be a lot of people in the middle of the curve (around the average weight), but not many people out at the ends of the curve (with very low or high weights).

According to SizeUSA, as of 2004, the average bust size in the US was 40″. That translates to roughly a size EUR 44, or US pattern size 18. That’s the centre of the curve.

Indie Pattern Makers

What many independent pattern companies choose to do, is offer their patterns in sizes 6 to 18 (or average). If you chart that out, you can examine what is called “the area under the curve” and use this to calculate the percentage of the population in that range.

For independent pattern companies that offer their patterns in sizes 6 to 18 (the green area under the curve), that area is about 43% of the total population. That means that if you make a pattern available in that size range, only 43% of the general population can use your patterns.

Indie pattern range
Here the green area represents the size range sometimes chosen by Indie pattern designers. About 43% of the population can use these patterns.

That’s not a huge number, so you might think about extending your range of sizes. But in what direction? If you look at the chart you can see that by extending the range down, say two sizes, you make the area under the curve just a little larger, but if you extend the range up by the same number of sizes, you make that area much larger. In other words, you can find more buyers by adding sizes nearest the centre of the curve (size 18), then at the ends.

Big 4 Pattern Makers

That’s what commercial pattern companies do for their regular pattern range. Often, they offer patterns in sizes 6 to 22. With that range, about 63% of the population can use their regular patterns. They’ve just increased their population of potential buyers by about half. But instead of 7 sizes their range includes 9 sizes.

Here the green area represents the size range used by Big4 pattern companies.
Here the green area represents the size range used by Big4 pattern companies in their regular size range of 6-22. About 63% of the population can use these patterns.

An Ideal Limited Pattern Range

When you produce a pattern, there is an additional cost for producing and grading each size. Not every pattern maker can add extra sizes. So lets assume that as an independent pattern maker, you can only afford to draft seven sizes. Which should they be? In order to include the largest number of potential buyers, you should centre your seven sizes around the average size. If you include sizes 12 t0 24, 56% of the general population can use your patterns. In other words, by shifting the range of patterns you are providing up by a couple sizes, you can make more money at no extra cost.

Ideal pattern 7-size range. About 56% of the population can use these patterns.
A limited ideal pattern size range. There are still only 7 sizes, but now 56% of the population can use these patterns.

Our average weight has been increasing over the past several decades. In the 1940s and 1950s, when standard clothing sizes were developed, the average bust measurement was 35″, about a size 12-14.

If you look at the Big4 pattern makers, this is the centre of their current range of sizes. Most likely, they originally organized their pattern size range to centre around the average size (in the 1940s and 1950s), in order to maximize profits. But since then, our bodies have grown out of that ideal range, and the Big 4 pattern companies have not adjusted.

If you look at the small range that many small independent pattern companies are using (6-18), they are also centring their size range around this outdated average, just like the Big4 pattern companies. But they don’t have the historical reason to do so.

A Sample Extended Pattern Range

And what would happen if you matched the size range on both sides of the average? What would happen if you offered sizes 6 to 18, but then also offered sizes 18 to 30? You’re patterns could be used by 86% of the population. You would double your population of potential buyers (and presumably your profits). Of course now you would also have to draft an extra 6 sizes. And of course, you can always extend that range even further.

Here the green area includes sizes 6 to 30.
Here the green area includes sizes 6 to 30. It’s the equivalent of S to 3X. About 86% of the population can use these patterns.

And would that extra segment of the population buy your patterns? It’s hard to predict. But assuming the patterns were well drafted, and fashionable, you would be adding a population of potential buyers that are underserved by both large commercial and small independent pattern makers, but also by the ready-to-wear clothing industry.

Statistical Caveats
This model of pattern sizing is approximate and depends on a number of assumptions.

Human body weight follows an approximately normal distribution, so it’s logical to assume that clothing sizes do as well, but they might not. That data has been compiled by private companies, but it isn’t publicly available.

This model assumes that clothing sizes vary by equal amounts along the curve, that measurements like bust size and body weight are perfectly correlated, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

Nevertheless, it’s logical to assume that the model would be a good approximation of size distribution in the population and the calculations shown here would hold up.

So what sizes should you include in your pattern?

Based on time and budget constraints, determine how many sizes you can draft, test, and print. Then centre those sizes around the average, size 18 (EUR 44 or L with bust 40″), with an equal number of sizes above and below that point. (And yes, size large, is in fact average).

Of course, this takes into account only cold hard economics of choosing a size range. There are many reasons, besides profits, that would lead to different choices. In a perfect world, all patterns would come in all sizes – and they would all look amazing! (perfect world right?)

Your thoughts are welcome in the comments!

What size am I? Rough size equivalents for sewists

While I was writing up my list of Independent Sewing Patterns for the Plus-Sized Sewist, one of the things I noticed was how different everyone’s sizing system was. And the larger the pattern sizes available, the more the systems varied from pattern maker to pattern maker.

I looked online for some sort of chart that would link up all the sizing systems. There were some good ones. The Named Patterns size chart includes lots of sizing systems, but it only goes up to size EUR 46. There is also a cute online clothing size conversion tool, but it doesn’t include measurements or pattern sizes. And there is a fabulous list by Cashmerette, that compares the sizing systems of some of the most popular independent pattern makers.

But overall, there wasn’t what I needed, especially not in the plus size range, so I made my own.

This is a rough guide to how clothing sizes and sewing pattern sizes match up across the most commonly used clothing systems. Please click to enlarge. For more details, please read the notes below.

Rough Size Chart Equivalents for Sewists
Rough Size Equivalents for Sewists

Download the Rough Size Chart Equivalents for Sewists as a PDF (450 kb)

How This Chart Was Built

Where does this information come from?

I used the combined available size charts from major pattern manufacturers, clothing manufacturers and international size standards. I didn’t include independent pattern company size charts, which vary a great deal. And for some indie pattern companies, that is part of their marketing and their charm. Pear shaped? extra curvy? petite? Some indie pattern companies are intentionally catering to that demographic and their size charts reflect that.

Should I choose my pattern size based on this chart?

Probably not. It’s always a good idea to read the measurements that come with a specific pattern for a better fit.

Why are some sizes greyed out?

The greyed out sizes are purely fictitious. They don’t exist on the size charts of major manufacturers. But since human beings do come in those sizes, I extended out the available sizes myself, using the same approximate measurement intervals. I made educated guesses. I know that is not exactly how sizing or pattern grading works, but since these sizes are not actually available, I figure my approximations are better than nothing. Since some of the larger “official” sizes are rarely, if ever available, my approximations are about as useful.

Why did you only include EUR sizes 28-64?

I stopped at size EUR 64. Again, human beings come in larger sizes, so the size chart could easily be expanded (and should be!). However, this includes all the sizes that I could find in my list of Independent Sewing Patterns for the Plus-Sized Sewist. I also found it extremely difficult to find consensus among clothing manufacturers about what exactly constitutes the 6X to 10X+ size range.

What’s the green bar?

The average bust size in the USA in 2004, according to Size USA was 40″. The green bar, therefore, is the average size of women in the USA. I found it very interesting that for many independent pattern companies, this was the largest size they made. Even Big 4 pattern companies often stop at size 18, and sometimes 16, for individual patterns.

What’s going on with sizes XL, 1X and 2X?

In theory, XL and 1X should be equivalent and XXL and 2X should be equivalent, but those sizes are very approximate, and vary greatly among clothing manufacturers.

Is the sizing for 1x to 5x accurate?

Maybe. There doesn’t seem to be a clear standard for those clothing sizes, at least not one that I could find. However, this chart best approximates the  reported sizing used by significant number of large clothing manufacturers and distributors. It’s also quite close to the KwikSew size chart for sizes 1X to 4X. I wanted to include that information as well, but I couldn’t see any easy way to incorporate those sizes and still keep the chart tidy and legible.

Do you have suggestions? complaints?

I hope you find the chart useful. If you have any comments or would like to suggest improvements, I’d love to hear about it! Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

The Big List of Independent Sewing Patterns for the Plus-Sized Sewist

The Big List of Plus Size Independent Pattern Designers
The Big List of Plus Size Independent Pattern Designers

Am I plus-sized? I don’t know. It all depends on what plus-size means. But I do know that I love independent pattern companies, and their patterns do not always come in my size.

So I’ve put together a list of sewing patterns companies that make things a bit bigger (plus-size, curvy, full-figured?) and that hopefully will be of use to others as well.

This list was last updated on April 28, 2015.

Women

Men

For each company, I’ve listed the largest size they carry (in their own sizing terms, which vary quite a bit) and the largest bust/chest size in inches, since it is a measurement that is universally listed.

Since the average bust measurement is 40″, according to Size USA, I’m listing everything above. So really, this is a list for the slightly-above-average and up.

Women

Independent pattern companies bust 41″-43″

Independent pattern companies that go up to size EUR 46, US size 20, bust 41″-43″.

Independent pattern companies bust 43″-45″

Independent pattern companies that go up to size EUR 48, US size 22, bust 43″-45″.

Independent pattern companies bust 46-48″

Independent pattern companies that go up to size EUR 50-52, US size 24-26, bust 46-48″.

Independent pattern companies bust 50-52″

Independent pattern companies that go up to size EUR 54-56, US size 28-30, bust 50-52″.

Independent pattern companies bust 54+”

Independent pattern companies that go past size EUR 58+, US size 32+, bust 54+”.

Big 4 pattern companies

Big 4 pattern companies that go past size EUR 50+, US size 28+, bust 50″+. 

Men

Independent men’s pattern companies

Big 4 men’s pattern companies

  • Burda – Maximum size: 50, chest 47″
  • New Look – Maximum size: XL chest 48″
  • Butterick – Maximum size: XL chest 48″
  • Vogue – Maximum size: 48 chest 48″
  • KwikSew – Maximum size: XXL chest 52″
  • McCalls – Maximum size: XXXL chest 56″
  • Simplicity – Maximum size: 5XL, chest 64″

Did I miss a favourite pattern company? Let me know in the comments!

Update: A reader has just let me know that there is another, similar list by Cashmerette. Unfortunately, my Google searches didn’t find it before I wrote this post. She compares various pattern companies in detail across a larger range of measurements, and she has other pattern companies listed as well.