A few weeks ago, I was a guest on That Sewing Blab, and an interesting question came up about patterns being “true to size”. We discussed why that question is one of my pet peeves, and you can watch the replay of that episode by signing in at the link above (which is free), but today’s post is extension of that discussion so I could deal with the issue in more depth.
Generally, when people ask the question, it’s phrased as, “Does XX Pattern run true to size?” or “Do the patterns from XX company run true to size?” The major problem with answering this question is that there isn’t a specific “size” to be true to.
What do I mean by that? Well, let’s first compare 3 size charts I grabbed from some clothing retailers.
This is from Ann Taylor.
This one is from Lane Bryant.
And this one is from Old Navy.
So let’s imagine you have a 44 inch bust and a 35 inch waist. At Ann Taylor, that puts you in an 18 with a tight waist, at Lane Bryant that makes you an 18 in the bust and between a 14 and a 16 in the waist, and at Old Navy you’re going to be in an 18 with a loose waist.
In theory, at one point in time there were standard sizes, based on measurements compiled by the ASTM. And in fact, I use those charts in creating my own size charts. And the history of women’s sizing is actually an interesting tale, because the women they measured for the original standards were not “average” women. You can read more about sizing standardization in this article.
The current ASTM regular women’s chart has 2 body types they have average measurements for, so right off the bat you have to decide – am I drafting for “straight” “curvy” or am I splitting the difference between the two?
And then the ASTM women’s sizes only go up through a size 20, which is a bust measurement of 46″. Which leads to another problem in deciding on a size – the standards for the plus size chart were just revised last year. Which means that the charts have suddenly changed – again. While this revision was much needed, it also means that the plus size chart includes curvy and straight body type measurements, and that the new measurements vary from the old ones. So manufacturers and designers can either update according to the new standards (which means that people who fit well in the old standards will have to adjust) or continue to use old standards (which are not as accurate for the changing shape of modern bodies).
Do you see why answering the question “is this true to size?” is not a simple proposition at all? First, you have no idea which store’s size chart the person considers the “true size” and then, even the standards on which sizing is based have variation and wiggle room within them.
The thing is, at some point all designers and manufacturers have to choose a size, and have to choose a cutoff. And while there are plenty of numbers to back that decision, one set of numbers we haven’t addressed is the sales numbers. Studies like this one have shown that people (women in particular) have a complex relationship with size numbers and respond positively to being perceived as a smaller size. With sales dollars as an incentive, who can blame manufacturers for choosing smaller numbers for their sizes?
The final problem with answering this seemingly innocuous question is that the standards are averages, and almost no one hits average measurements for each target area. This is why I started to sew for myself – so that I could make clothes that fit size ME, which is not exactly the same as anyone else and doesn’t perfectly align with any size chart. This is the same reason I don’t really recommend dress forms as a way to improve your fit for yourself – because if patterns don’t fit out of the package (and really, they probably shouldn’t) then a dress for won’t mimic your body perfectly either.
So, what’s a customer to do?
When a customer is asking, “Is XX pattern true to size?” I think what they’re really asking is, “Will this pattern fit me?” And despite this long article, the answer from the perspective of sewing garments is actually really easy. Measure yourself (or the person you’re sewing for), then use those measurements to determine your starting size according to your pattern’s size chart – which may or my not be what you think of as “your size” in your favorite ready to wear. But the only pattern that doesn’t fit its own size chart is a poorly drafted or poorly graded one, so go with the size chart.
Here’s a post to make sure you’re taking your measurements correctly.
If you’re concerned about ease in the pattern (the amount above your measurements included for movement and style) and if your pattern doesn’t include finished measurements, measure your pattern. Here’s how to measure a pattern – I’m using an example from the Blanc Tshirt pattern here.
To measure the bust, first determine the bust point if it’s not marked on the pattern. You can actually hold the pattern up to yourself and mark on it. Then measure across each pattern piece at that point. Subtract seam allowances, then add the measurements together and multiply by 2 to get the bust circumference.
So in the example above, if I measure 10 inches across each piece at the bust, then subtract 1/2 inch seam allowance from each piece (since they’re cut on the fold) that leaves me with 9 1/2 for the front and 9 1/2 for the back. Add those together and you get 19, then multiply that by 2 and you get 38 inches for this size M, which means there is 1 inch ease over the size chart for that size. One inch of ease is pretty close fitting for the bust area; your bust can change by that much just by inhaling.
When you get good at doing this, it becomes easier to let go of an ideal size number you hold and instead get excited about clothes that fit size YOU.
All of this. True to size – true to WHOSE size? My pear shaped size is on none of the charts so I’m always blending between 2-3 sizes. I’ve got a Craft Gossip post scheduled for later today that features your post: http://sewing.craftgossip.com/?p=92186 –Anne
Interesting article and very informative! My pet peeve when working at a fabric store was the question “How much fabric do I need to make curtains?” To which I always replied “Well, what size is your window?” Their answer was most usually “Oh, you know, standard size.” I wanted to scream every time I had that conversation!
My major issue with size charts comes from the big four. They don’t want to give up their historic pattern sizes, but they also want to accommodate new sewists who can’t read a size chart (apparently.) Their solution? Use the historic pattern sizes and size chart that fit a smaller body than modern size charts BUT put insane amounts of ease into the patterns. And also often screw up the finished size number on the pattern as well, just for fun. It makes it very difficult to work with them. I can take in a skirt, but when they screw up everything on a wrap top? That just ends up in the bin.
So true!!! Thanks for discussing this. In this day and age it is SOOO important to stress feeling good in our clothes!! Let all the numbers of size (and weight!) be an after thought. Confidence at any size is WAAAAY more beautiful!!!
Thanks, Melly! Very interesting!
Interesting. When i ask if a pattern is true to size, what I mean is, if my measurements match the pattern will it approximately fit in those areas. It is common with some pattern brands for people to say ‘my measurements put me in an 18 but I made a 14 and it fits well’ or ‘as usual I sewed a size smaller than the packet indicated’. That’s pretty annoying! And yes, i know about ease charts and fitting my body, but it really is much easier to start from a pattern without to much unnecessary ease.
The other time I like to have some idea is if sewing for someone else’s children. I usually go to a shop and measure four year old clothes to check, but it’s nicer if a size four pattern is similar to the average four year old.
I appreciate this is easier said than done!
Sizing also fails to acknowledge the differences in bust points in relation to type of bra you are wearing and what age you are. Plus sizes may droop more without significantly structure bras and size charts fail to take this into charge. Were your bust point is, will be much different from mine depending upon age, preferred bra type and weight.
I also find that many size charts fail to allow for the fact that I may be an 18 at my shoulder, while being a 24 at my waist, yet I may be a 30 over my hips while I am 5 ft. 2 in. in height, so proportions for a given designs may seriously be off for me.
Also, while my daughter and I may be similar measurements, bra choice and support undergarment choices make us different sizes, too.
Yes, this is very helpful. I rarely use commercial patterns, and when I do I find it very frustrating – Burda for example only give US sizes and some wierd concoction called ‘European’ – which doesn’t exist!. They are always masses too big! But your link to the historic sizing has helped a lot. I was already aware that US sizes are different from UK sizes – for example I’ve been a UK size 8-10 (bust 32-34 and hips 34) most of my life and most people say – but you’re tiny! – though the waist has expanded as I’ve got older. I can still buy a UK dress in the shops in 10, but if it’s a US dress, I have to buy a 4 or a 6. I buy 38 to 40 in Italian sizing. (which is obvioulsy not the same as the so-called European sizing’ that Burda use). What seems to have happened according to yor link, is that US sizes have changed down at least 2-3 sizes (to flatter people?) whereas the UK sizes have stayed the same as they always were. So all the maternity clothes I’ve been making for my daughter in Burda sizes 12-14 have come up huge (even with her expanded midriff!) and I’ve had to take in between 4″ and 8″. I’m just going to have to cut out a size 10 or even 8 for her – seems really odd
Interesting. I’ve always used “true to size” in relation to the manufacturer’s own sizing chart. For example, I recently made a pair of Vogue pants, and per their sizing chart, I was a size 16. So, I made a 16 but they were enormous on me. Instead of cigarette style pants, they were wide-leg clown pants. The waist was falling down over my hips. (I’m the upper end of my healthy BMI, so I’m not “skinny”). The pants were nothing like the sizing Vogue claimed, therefor the were not “true to size.”
Yes, this! It drives me mad!
Penny Fern Dudley
I never expect the pattern purchased to be a true size so like Melly says I measure my pieces and make the needed adjustment. Size numbers are just an EGO thing, I would rather the garment fit my body. I love your blogs and hints and tutorials. You make everything you share simple to follow. Thank you! When I taught my daughter to sew there were many times that ‘being mother’ could get in the way of hearing or seeing what is meant. Many times I could put your tutorial on the screen in my studio and let her watch another person showing and telling the same thing, yet she would magically ‘get it’.
I have saved this article. Now I will know how to measure my pattern against myself. I could have used this info a long, long time ago. Thank you for being there!
Marie Z Johansen
Well said indeed! I used to wear a 4-6, now, with age, especially in waist and bust, it is more difficult to choose a size. Intend to grade a lot between “regular” sizes. I thunk older women were often called “women’s “ as opposed to “misses”? Anyway, I am convinced that there are no “standard” sizes any more!
Hmm. I see what you’re saying, but if I asked this question (I tend not to), I would mean, if sewed the size my measurements indicate, does that give me a reasonable starting point. I have found this to be true for example for Style Arc – for instance if my hips put me in a 20 but my waist is 10cm smaller than the waist size listed on their chart for a 20, I cut out a 20, adjust the waist by 10cm and it fits as I would expect. This has not been my experience with say Simplicity, who seem to expect me to know how much ease I want in a garment so I can measure the pattern then factor in ease. (I see the ease calculation as part of what I’m paying for when I buy a pattern). So for me, it’s not about being true to the numeric size, but whether the body measurements given reflect the design ease shown in the picture and/or modern expectations of a garment. What do you think about this?