How to Grade Patterns

Common wisdom says you shouldn’t grade up more than 1-2 sizes.  For many bigger gals, this would eliminate most vintage patterns.  This post will show you how I do it.  BTW, I started grading patterns before I knew I wasn’t supposed to.  I’ve been asked if grading is hard.  It’s not, just time consuming.  I will show you how I do it, which may or may not be the “right” way to do it.  One important thing to keep in mind is that while I may be a plus sized woman, I am also a petite woman.  I am short, fined boned and short waisted.  This means that I don’t have to do many of the more difficult parts of grading.  I generally don’t need bigger collars, pockets, other design details that a taller plus sized woman might need.  Generally speaking, when pattern companies and RTW designers grade up, they grade everything up.  Personally, I don’t need larger armholes, longer sleeves, bigger neckholes, longer hems.  Therefore, if you are not petite, this “fast and dirty” way of grading might not be exactly what you need, but might at least get you thinking in the right direction.

Here’s what you need to get started: pattern, tape measure, newspaper or pattern tracing paper and pins or scotch tape.  You might also want to bring some brutal honesty about your body.

First step: measure yourself at the bust, waist and hip, 7 inches below the waist.  Measure the pattern pieces at the same places.  Don’t forget to subtract the seam allowances and any pleats, darts or tucks.  Write these down.  Figure out how much more room y0u need.  In the example I’m using, I need to add 8 inches.  Because each front and back piece represents half of the completed piece, adding 1/4 inch means you are adding 1 inch to the finished garment.  This means I need to add 2 inches to the front and back pieces.

Next, trace your pattern pieces onto something else.  I prefer to use muslin, but will also use old newspaper or pattern tracing paper.

Make sure you transfer all the pattern marks, dots, notches, ect to your traced copy.

Your next step is to cut through your traced copy at regular intervals, then place those sections on more of your tracing medium.  In this example, the first copy is newspaper and the second copy will be muslin.  I typical place my first cut just outside of the neckline.  I prefer to alter my neckline during the muslin fitting stage.

If you use muslin as your second copy, you will be able to use this as a fitting muslin.  If you are doing this, use doubled fabric as if you are cutting a pattern in the normal fashion.

Start the grading by placing the center seam or fold section on your tracing medium and pinning or taping in place.  Then place the next section on the tracing medium next to that section, leaving the space needed.  In this case, because I need to add 8 inches, each section will be placed 1/2 inch apart.  After you have laid out all sections on your tracing medium, draw a line around the edges of the spread-out pattern, smoothing the line between the pieces.  After you have finished the perimeter, make sure to transfer all markings.  You now have your new pattern!

I hope this is clear and feel free to let me know if you have any questions!

About andreahg

I'm a stay-at-home wife and mom to two boys, a cat and two rough collies. I love to sew and knit with vintage patterns, primarly from the WWII era.
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19 Responses to How to Grade Patterns

  1. Janel says:

    Thanks! It’s neat to see how you do it.

    I pulled my Threads “Fitting Your Figure” book out Saturday to work on the sheath with bolero, but I was too tired to concentrate on the numbers. It waits for me. 🙂

  2. Kyle Kirkby says:

    I am a tall FF gal and I do the same as you, except I lengthen the bodice first, adding a scrap of paper, then chopping it vertically to expand to my measurements. I still have trouble making sure the bust darts in the right place though. It always needs a little more tweaking than I’d like!!

    • jax black says:

      to re line bust darts measure your point to point (nipple to nipple) then half it. Measure down from neck edge at shoulder to bust point, then draw this line in on your pattern…half your point to point and draw a line from centre front , joining the shoulder to bust point line …where they meet is your new bust point redraw the new dart up from waist finishing dart 1.5cm from new bust point….hope thats clear.:)march 2012 although you may have figured it out by now !!

  3. Kelly Mailinglist says:

    Wow — fantastic tutorial! Thanks so much! I’ve seen a similar tutorial elsewhere, but it only has line drawings, and the photos help a ton. Plus you’ve explained about going up several sizes very clearly.

  4. Hello Lovely! Just wanted you to know I passed you a blogging sisterhood award. I am always so impressed and inspired by your creations….Love what you do! Catchya on the Lounge…MissAmelina

  5. rachel says:

    was always impressed with your grading. will try it myself one day!

  6. Denise says:

    I see that you usually do full-skirted patterns. Do you alter the fullness of the skirts, as well, or do you find them already full enough? I have several vintage full skirted patterns from the 50’s myself, and have not tried any yet. My bust and waist are not too far from being the same 42-40, but my hip is 49.5. I’m just wondering if I’ll have to fiddle with just the bodice and not have to adjust the fullness of the skirt too much, but just rather add a bit at the waist. Thanks, if you’ve made it this far. 🙂

    • andreahg says:

      I prefer A-line skirts to full(pleated or gathered), but when I do use a full skirt, I tend to just make a rectangle the width of the fabric, if using 45in. However, I have the opposite figure type as yours. My hip and waist tend to fit the 44 patterns, but my bust is much larger.

  7. June says:

    Thanks so much! I was about to grade my first pattern and I decided to do a little bit of research before I figured it out the hard way. Boy, was I gonna have a hard time! This looks much easier than the way I was going to do it.

  8. Thanks So much for sharing!! I really really needed this info! I have some great patterns that just aren’t my size!

  9. Judy Roberson says:

    Hi, I just found your tutortial on sizing patterns.. Not sure if you will see this.but thought I would write anyway..thankyou soooo much. I have read lots of grading patterns books, blogs.etc. So confusing and hard. I have sewed for 35 years..however,Have never had to change patterns. The big 4 pattern companies pattens always worked for my body..But lately, [havent sewed for me in a long time] this old body has changed !!! [not for the better,ha] plus ,I have gotten into vintage patterns..and those patterns are ‘TINY”..OOOH.. .I am fixing to try this method out.. I have one question? when you do this to the bodice….how do you know how to refix the darts?? Would appreciate your help.. Judy

    • andreahg says:

      I sent you an email. Let me know if you don’t get it.

      • Judy Roberson says:

        hi Andrea,
        Just wanted to tell you.. I really enjoyed your me made March entries.. so pretty and fun to watch ,what you would do next..
        Also, I finised my FIRST vintage pattern [and graded it, just as you showed on here] and I am SOOOOOO happy. I had read lots and lots of books, internet articles on how to grade, it was all so confusing..I was scared to start one.. BUt, when I saw your easy how to.. It gave me the courage to try it.. and it was so simple.thankyou sooooo much..
        I wore my first vintage dress to church this pass Sunday and got so many compliments on it.. Cant wait to do another one.

  10. Robyn McCool says:

    Many thanks for this useful article. I’m designing children’s rainwear for a preschool and was wondering about a simple way to grade my pattern draft for different sizes. My pattern drafting book gives a pretty complex method which I’m not sure would be so great for children’s garments anyway, with their different proportions to adults. I’d discovered articles that talked about the “cut and spread” method, but I just love your photos; a picture tells a thousand words!

  11. Tatum says:

    Andrea, thank you! Your instructions are so easy to follow. I’m stalking your blog now!


  12. when you grade vertically as such,it automatically makes the sleeve openings bigger so I am confused because you said you don’t need to make the sleeves bigger??

  13. Brenda says:

    Thank you for sharing this…was trying for the longest time to figure out how to do this.

  14. Suzanne Schneider says:

    You were a teacher in another life! I started sewing at age 10 and was making wearable clothing by 14. As an adult I went to college for clothing design but was able to audit the construction portion and made money on the side by teaching the other students to sew. Fast forward…I taught sewing in several school districts as an adult ed program for 18 years, 4 nights per week with workshops on Saturdays. It was so much fun and the pay was great! I taught everything from Very Beginner to Tailoring. Most women, and I had quite a few male students as well, were products of the school system which is academic rather than logic based. I taught pattern alteration to Beginner students following very much the same method you illustrate. It is easy to understand and just makes sense. I am 5’9″, 170 lbs now but back in the day I modelled to make money for school. I had to learn to make patterns longer, wider, larger bust, accomodate a swayback, etc. Being honest about how you look is key. Proper fit makes EVERY body look fabulous. CONGRATULATIONS on bringing this site to light! Keep up the good work! (obviously you are a keen watcher of Mad Men 😉 )

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