The reason behind “jumpy” pattern grading

September 2017: Re-Posting this because today I just read a simple comment in a FB group that explained so well, why patterns are sometimes graded so “jumpy”.  The question was “Can someone teach me about proper pattern grading.  I hear some people saying that sizes need to be graded even amounts through the sizes.”

And the best answer ever came from Sandra Bryans , owner of Sewanista Fashion Workshops in Western Australia and previously a professional pattern grader at a childrens-wear firm. She explained “There’s a difference between a raw measurements chart and a grading chart.  Sometimes there are uneven jumps because that’s how the data panned out, but for grading it’s much better to be consistent.”

This is what I’d been trying  to explain: the raw data is the body measurements chart, which can have jumps between sizes.  If the pattern grader  follows each size measurement too literally, you can end up with a jumpy pattern.  It’s far better, for the purposes of sewing or shopping, to have a smooth, consistent grade between sizes.  As Sandra says “If the grading is consistent then the parent can buy the next size when the child needs it rather than according to a hypothetical growth chart.” The same is true of adult apparel: if we change sizes, it’s helpful when sewing or shopping to have consistency between sizes so that each size up is larger by a consistent amount.

Thanks so much, Sandra!



This is the original post (February 2017):

Have you ever used a pattern that “jumps up and down” in the grading between sizes?  Recently I was trying a pattern that had grades jumping between 1/4″, then 1/8″, then 3/8″:


Since I come from an industrial background where this would never happen, it  makes me wonder not only why this is, but how did it happen? Grading is a simple matter of sliding the master pattern up-and-over by a consistent measurement “rule”, so why are there inconsistencies?  After all, garment industry patterns have consistent grading, Big Four paper patterns have consistent grading…..the grade may be smaller within the smaller section of sizes, and larger within the larger sizes, but never jumping up and down. Why does this happen so often in indie pdf patterns? I have a theory…..

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Pattern Review: Ikatee “Sakura”

Ikatee is a new-to-me French pattern line, designed by Stéphanie Godefroy.  I stumbled upon her business when I saw this Bohemian style that reminded me of the most comfortable dress I owned in the ‘seventies:


I wasn’t familiar with the designer….turns out she has extensive background in the children’s apparel business. Stephanie offers a free pattern for all new customers, and since I’ve been disappointed so many times by indie patterns, I requested and downloaded the free pattern before buying one.  You have a choice of girls/boys/infant/child patterns: I chose the infant’s top, a simple “pillowcase” style that I could draft myself….but it let me see that the drafting and grading are good. And so I purchased Sakura.

As with every pattern, I see little things that could be adjusted to make life easier, but I am happy to say that overall I am very pleased with the Sakura pattern.

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Are we Sewing Too Many of the Wrong Clothes?

When you sew all day, your mind has a chance to wander and wonder. Things that make me stop and THINK include the morning newspaper, stuff I read online, movies, music, videos….usually 2 or 3 different ideas combine to create a single question, and today the question is “Are we sewing too many clothes?” More specifically, are we sewing too many “quick-sews” that will be worn only a few times, as opposed to better-quality clothes that will last and get lots of wearings?

Here are the sources that got me questioning my sewing goals, and how they fit into the Big Picture of using the earth’s resources:

  1. This interview with Latvian designer Arta  of MimiiKids (“I always keep in mind that my designs need to be both chic and simple so that they can be worn for more than one event and more than one season; I like the idea of making clothing that children can keep wearing as they grow.”)
  2. A post on Facebook: “I am sewing to avoid fast fashion, not to make it. ” (Thank you, Lenka Uzakova!)
  3. Hurricane Harvey, and people collecting clothes for those whose homes were flooded in Texas (I’ll explain in a minute where this comes into play.)

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What does Grading Quality tell you about Pattern Quality?

I hear this all the time: “Why should I care if a sewing pattern is graded well, as long as the size I’m making fits?”

Plenty of people don’t care, obviously….since there are many inaccurately graded patterns out there, and some extremely popular indie pattern companies routinely publish and sell enormous quantities of poorly graded patterns.  The web is full of photos of garments that don’t fit: bubble crotches, straining sleeves, digging armpits…and many people seem to be blissfully unaware, until the fit problems reach the breaking point of total unwearability: a garment that won’t fit over your head, or that you can’t zip up the back.

Ever since the decline of the upscale department store (where an alterations department was always available), our clothing shopping has moved more and more to mall chain stores, big box  stores (Wal Mart, Target, KMart), discount stores (Kohl’s, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s)….and people forget that alterations are even an option.  Collectively our “eye” has become accustomed to seeing poorly fitting clothes.  But sewing means that YOU control the fit, so why not go for better fit than off-the-rack? Why not use the most professionally drafted and graded patterns that you can?

Studying a “nested” graded pattern is a clue as to whether or not the pattern itself was drafted well. Yes, drafting and grading are different skills, however:

  • Not many pattern drafters know how to grade, and yet:
  • Most pattern graders know how to draft.

This is because professional-quality grading requires knowledge of how patterns are drafted in the first place. Learning to grade is the logical step AFTER learning to draft.  I imagine that for every 100 pattern design students, maybe a handful go on to practice grading in industry.

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Angel Gown Update: using Clear Patterns

Update from this previous post about making Angel Gowns: burial dresses for preemie infants:

Sharing a studio with my daughter (when she’s not away at school!) lets us bounce creative  ideas  and challenges off each other.  The other day I was telling her that although my Angel Gown pdf pattern  has been downloaded hundreds of times from sewists all over the world, I do get requests for vector images to make clear laser-cut Lucite patterns. Often the gowns are cut out from donated weddings dresses, and clear patterns make it easier to center or place embellishments and embroideries that are already stitched into the dress fabric.

screenshot of pattern

Unfortunately I don’t have the software to create vector images (I use my daughter’s old hand-me down computer). Her immediate answer: “Why not just trace the paper patterns onto clear sheet-protectors?”

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“Shorty Shorts”: don’t cut that inseam TOO short!

According to the Wall Street Journal the other day, this is the summer of the Shorty Shorts  (sorry you may need an online subscription to read the full article). According to the story:


This is the accompanying visual to the article:


The photo brought back a memory from college days (yes, in the ’70’s!): my summer-school roommate, Sue Kent  tried 3 times to cut off jeans into the perfect summer shorts. The first time, she started cutting from the out-seam, estimating the shorty length she wanted, going straight across the cross-grain and ended up with no crotch at all:


Those went in the trash.  The second pair, she again cut from the out-seam but lower down….still cutting straight on the cross-grain:


….this time there was a crotch inseam left (yay!) but she wasn’t happy with them:

  1. She still felt they looked too long
  2. The tiny 1″ inseam didn’t cover her panties
  3. The crotch seam fell completely apart in the laundry!


The third time I advised her to start at the crotch (NOT at the side-seam) measuring the least amount of inseam that would cover her underwear (about 2 1/4″), but she wasn’t happy with the out-seam length (not shorty-short enough):


The trick of course is to cut the hem at an angle, and curved, to expose the upper thigh a la Daisy Dukes (if this is indeed the look you are after, which she was):


Sue Kent was able to tweak the third pair into just the short-on-the-thighs look she wanted.

So, for anyone interested in making your own shorty-shorts (unless you want to spend $30 at the mall stores where they sell them already cut off):

  1. Start cutting from the crotch NOT the side-seams
  2. Make sure you leave enough inseam to cover your panties, keeping in mind the denim will fray in the wash
  3. To get the shorty look, cut at an angle or on a curve, not straight along the cross-grain

What about making shorts from fabric? You still should pay attention to inseam length, to make sure that undies are being concealed: 2 1/4″ is the shortest that the mass-makers are going this season for kidswear.  I wouldn’t grade that any shorter for toddler/infants sizes either (more on babies shorts in a second). And in the same concept as the shape and angle of the jeans-shorts leg opening above, keep that curve and angle in the hem when sewing shorts from scratch.

Covering the undies is especially a problem in little kids’ clothes: often in patterns, the inseam is graded shorter and shorter as sizes go down…even through the infant sizes, which require MORE crotch coverage for diapers. On of the biggest complaints I read about from moms is that bloomers and rompers don’t cover the diaper at the crotch. Babies aren’t known for “sitting lady-like”!

Here’s an example of an inseam that is not going to work: the super-popular “Coachella” short from Striped Swallow has a finished inseam measuring 1/4″ after deducting the rise seam allowance and the hem  in the smallest size (6 months). That is IF you could actually stitch that hem….which you can’t….it is physically impossible to stitch a 1/2″ hem on a 3/4″ seam:

CORRECTION 8/20/17: although the pattern piece says 1/2″ hem, the instructions say 3/8″, so it is indeed possible to sew this ….you will end up with a 3/8″ inseam:



Obviously a 1/4″ inseam is not going to cover a diaper. So if you want to maintain the side-seam length for shorty-shorts, you can cover the diaper by increasing the inseam; just curve the hemline and adjust the inseam as shown:


Now you will have an inseam that better covers your little’s ones’ undies! (You also now have a trued 90-degree hem corner.)



Another example: Bella Sunshine’s “Tess Tulip” short: this finished inseam is longer at about 3/4″ but still too short to cover a diaper:



Curve the hem to increase inseam length


….and you’ll get a longer inseam with better coverage (and again , the corner is now trued at a 90-degree angle):


Going slightly off-topic now from the original idea of shorty-shorts, if you sew for toddlers and infants you may realize here that covering a diaper at the crotch is probably easier with a bloomer than a short, since a bloomer has elasticized leg openings. As with the above angle/curve of the hem concept, a bloomer pattern with a curved hem generally fits best, because it can cover the diaper while not being too long at the side-seams.  With their little legs, it’s easy to get swallowed up by too much fabric….this poor kiddo can hardly move!:


Compare the shape of these free pdf’s  along the hemline.  To cover the crotch yet be short on the side-seams, the straight-hem pattern on the LEFT (Marie Claire) will not fit as well as the curved-hem pattern on the RIGHT (  from Creativa Atelier ):


Creativa Atelier goes up to 12-24 months sizee.  For sizes 2 and up I’d suggest  the curved hem design by Duchess and Hare “Free at Last” (free to members of the FB group):


The only tweaks I’d make to these patterns are these:

  • Creative Atelier seems too long in the rise, I removed 1″ from overall length:


  • Free at Last, I tweaked the angle of the inseams to create trued right-angles at the hemline :


These two patterns, Creative Atelier for infants and D&H “Free at Last” for toddlers and girls, are very similar in shape and should make a nicely fitting bloomer!



Stayed tuned for a related post on the difference between bloomers and diaper covers…


Happy Sewing!

Best, Janet








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“Which pattern is this?”

There is a big difference between:

  • Industrial patterns designed for the garment industry
  • Commercial patterns designed for the home-sewing market

…and it goes way beyond the topic of my last post about notches.

Before I worked in the apparel industry, I wasn’t aware of the difference.   I knew from a young age that the selection of home-sewing patterns was MUCH smaller than what was available in ready-to-wear…. I often visited the pattern counter with my mom, looking for a pattern similar to an outfit that a friend had worn to school or church, only to come up empty-handed. But until I worked with factories, I didn’t realize how much more detailed and professional that industrial patterns need to be.


In online forums these days I often read the question “What pattern is this?”  or “Who has the pattern for this?” (together with a photo of a mass-manufactured piece of apparel that the OP wants to make at home).  Given my background, my gut reaction is, “Why would anyone assume there IS a home-sewing pattern available? Only a tiny fraction of the factory-made apparel styles are ever copied into a commercial sewing pattern.”

And then I remember that relatively few home-sewers have had the opportunity to work in the fashion industry, so it makes sense that many people assume that industrial patterns and commercial patterns  are the same. Nobody else blinks at this question, and people are helpful to suggest patterns. For example, if you saw this Nelly Stella dress:


…and asked :“What pattern is this?” …you’d get replies saying “You can use the VFT London” (left), or “Try Duchess and Hare Sweet as Pie” (right):


..or even this vintage Simplicity:


…which most likely was inspired by a mass-manufactured garment back in the ‘fifties.  Possibly even Nelly Stella style was inspired by the Simplicity pattern: ever since the advent of the Web, the photo files of vintage commercial patterns are more easily accessed than actual vintage garments.

But you’re not going to find the same pattern that Nelly Stella uses, because in all likelihood they made their own pattern, to their own specifications.


The timing and development process of industrial patterns is  quite  different from the commercial home-sewing pattern market. Aside from the relatively few cases of industrial production being inspired by vintage commercial patterns, the process usually works the other way around. Fashion inspiration generally flows from high-end to mass-market to home-sewing:

  • high fashion couture, to:
  • bridge/middle-market, to:
  • mass-market department store brands, to:
  • home-sewing market

There are some exceptions, for example when a commercial home-sewing pattern company such as Vogue partners with designers to bring styles to the home-sewing market before they are watered down to the mass-market retail level.   But in general, there is a consistent trickle-down flow of fashion, and silhouettes, and color trends….as explained  so well by fashion Editor in Chief Miranda Priestly to her rooky assistant Andrea in “The Devil Wears Prada”:  “that sweater is not just blue, its not turquoise. It’s not lapis. Its actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then i think it was Yves Saint Laurent – wasn’t it who showed cerulean military jackets?And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner”


Also look at the time frame: it takes about 5 months for a design to go from sketch to store in apparel manufacturing. Roughly you need a month for each step of the process:

  • a month for design development and approval
  • a month for patternmaking and testing and fitting
  • a month for sourcing fabrics and trims, and getting dye lots approved
  • a month for Cut-Make-Trim (factory sewing)
  • a month for packing, shipping,  customs clearance, distribution

By the time a style hits the selling floor, the garment manufacturer is developing the next two season’s ahead.  But the home-sewing market often waits until the styles are already at retail AND selling trends are established. The commercial home-sewing business just doesn’t have the resources to expend on styles that may or may not be popular. While the garment industry has much bigger budgets and can take more fashion chances, the home-sewing market plays it pretty safe. Which is why commercial patterns often seem a step behind.

Indie patternmakers can afford to be ahead of the Big Four schedule-wise since small businesses do not go through all of the corporate committee meetings and approval processes to finalize a style range…and PDF makers  can be even faster since they bypass the paper-printing  process.  Still, the  commercial (non-industrial) pattern business, whether paper or pdf, is almost always slightly behind the retail fashion garment business.

So why would an apparel factory NOT use a commercial home-sewing pattern? What are the differences between industrial patterns and commercial patterns?

  1. The timing is different (see flow above). Industrial patterns must be completed according to the schedule of fashion Market Weeks, and missing deadlines means huge repercussions for factory production….commercial patterns may also be rushed for release, but the patternmaker faces fewer financial consequences for lateness (only the loss of sales of the pattern, not of garments).

2. Industrial patterns  must be thoroughly tested (measured, walked, trued.)

3. Industrial patterns are drafted to fit well into a production marker for most efficient use of fabric:


3. Most importantly, the fit wouldn’t be correct.  In the garment industry, manufacturers fit to their own blocks for fit consistency throughout the collection.  The production development system within apparel manufacturing companies goes like this:

  • body measurement chart is established
  • basic fit blocks are drafted to fit those body charts
  • researching fashion and sketching each season’s styles
  • developing patterns of those styles based on the fit blocks

For a garment manufacturer to purchase a commercial home-sewing pattern, that would be a total waste of time, because it often takes more effort to revise an existing  pattern than to draft a new one to your fit block (just like altering a garment often takes more time than sewing a new one).  Also, apparel manufacturers have their own professional patternmakers, who are trained to draft/drape  from sketches.  If the patternmakers could use home-sewing patterns, they wouldn’t have jobs, right?


For awhile I thought “Oh I must be misunderstanding the question….maybe they’re not asking for THE pattern that was used in the garment industry, maybe they’re asking for A pattern in the same style”.

But then this week  I read a curious discussion online, reinforcing the misconception that a manufacturer would need to use a commercial home-sewing pattern. A Dutch indie pdf style had been copied (and the designer’s photos stolen) by discount importer Aliexpress:


….and D H Gate:


…and another China importer on Ebay:


Many importers scour Etsy and Pinterest and Instagram for photos.  They list popular styles for sale, and accept purchase orders for as-yet-unmade garments, taking a chance by showing a picture of something they did not sample and have never made.

Anyway the discussion veered towards the question “How do they make that if it was somebody else’s pattern? ” I posted in reply “They don’t need the original pattern, every factory has their own patternmaker, they make their own pattern from the photo.”

But I couldn’t seem to explain that well enough for the poster to understand. She kept asking how they got the pattern.  Well if they really wanted to, they could just order the pdf online from the indie designer they stole the photo from.  But the point is, they don’t need to.  These days, almost all factories have their own patternmaker who is dying to show off their skills in drafting any design idea thrown at them. Especially in Asia,  these workers pride themselves on being able to make any Western style.

Back in the sixties and seventies, patternmaking for the American  market was done  in the fashion capitals where product development took place. The designers, sample-hands, fit models, technical designers, and patternmakers  were all located in New York, LA, Chicago etc, and the process from concept to sketch to fit-sample to pattern took place within the design office. Then the patterns were sent to the garment factories (which used to be local). At the factory, the product development department would make production-samples using the patterns and send them back across town for approval.

In the eighties, this domestic patternmaking process continued even as globalization moved production “offshore” to 807 countries (so called because of the regulation code number for programs cutting out garments in the U.S. and then sending to Caribbean countries for sewing, then bringing back without paying import duties). The advent of affordable computers allowed better communications,which encouraged businesses to  move production  to Asia,  saving even more money .  Then in the nineties a big change occurred: just as it was cheaper for the sewing (cut-make-trim) to be done overseas, manufacturers started to shift technical design and then patternmaking overseas as well.

These days it’s common for the production-country factories to have the blocks, to draft the patterns, to make the fit samples….often the only parts of the product development process done in the home-country are the sketching and editing of the line, and the fit and construction approval.

Bottom line is this: if you see a mass-manufactured garment and want to find a commercial home-sewing pattern to reproduce it, I guess the more accurate way to pose the question is to ask for “a” pattern, not “the” pattern:

  •  “Any suggestions for a pattern that looks like this?”
  •  “Has anyone seen a pattern for this style?”

Happy Sewing!

Best, Janet

PS: There’s also a difference between industrial printers, and commercial home-computer printers. I received a comment/question today about a pattern not matching up, so I checked my own copy and it did match up with about 99% accuracy.  Every home-printer I’ve ever used (right now I have a Dell, an HP and an Epson) is ever-so-slightly off-skew, not because of the data but rather because of the mechanics of the printing machine itself. So even “perfectly drafted” pdfs will match up with about 99% accuracy when printed at home.  If you want 99.9% accuracy, I suggest using the one-sheet print-shop options available on many new pdfs.







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Why are Pattern Notches Missing in PDF’s?

Why don’t (most) pdf patterns have notches?

I grew up sewing with “The Big Four” paper patterns, moved on to Burda and Kwik-Sew, and they always had notches to help you put together the pieces correctly.  In design school, every pattern was required to have notches, and a notch-puncher was part of the required toolkit:


I spent several decades in the garment industry making and using professional patterns. They always  had notches:


However, if you’ve been sewing apparel using only indie pdfs, you may never have seen notches. If you are self-taught, and haven’t read a basic “How to Sew” book, maybe you’re not even aware of them, or know what they’re for.  Maybe you’ve seem them in commercial home-sewing patterns and ignored them.  All things are possible!

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Continuous Bias Tape using your Rotary Cutter

Yes you CAN make continuous bias tape without using scissors!

Previously I’ve written about the most efficient method of laying out fabric for making your own homemade bias tape, with the fewest annoying seams; this time I’m sharing  a trick that makes it even faster: using your handy-dandy ROTARY CUTTER instead of scissors! Now, you’ve probably seen many sewing tips (and videos) online, showing the 2 basic methods of making bias binding….what my fellow F.I.T. alumnus Liesl Gibson calls the “Traditional Method” and the “Continuous Method”…and as she explains, they both have drawbacks:

  1. “Traditional Method”: ROTARY-cut bias strips and then stitch the strips together one by one to make a continuous strip (the sewing is time-consuming,  it’s so much simpler to stitch one long line than many tiny ones)
  2. “Continuous Method”: Stitch fabric into a tube, then SCISSOR-cut a long continuous strip (scissor cutting is tedious and gives me carpal tunnel).  Liesl explains the drawback : the strips need to be cut entirely by hand, so you can’t use a rotary cutter” . There is a hack that let’s you slide a very small cutting board inside the tube and then ROTARY cut, however it’s awkward to keep manipulating the cutting board as you rotary-cut small sections at a time.

Left: “Traditional Method”, Right: “Continuous Method”:


I was determined to figure out a way to use a rotary cutter  while the fabric is still flat on a large cutting board, but still use the “Continuous Method”.  After plenty of brainstorming, I’ve got it!

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Pattern Hack: how to make the Mini Romper Dress

If there’s one look that’s the epitome of “fresh vintage” for little girls, it’s the 1950’s short dress with full skirt:


Originally these styles were designed as two-piece outfits:

  • either a romper plus a wrap-skirt
  • or a dress plus matching bloomer

Recently this silhouette has been updated as a one-piece-circle-skirted-romper by coveted children’s-wear designers such as (Pinterest pics left-to-right):

  • Little Minis
  • KaiKai Creations
  • Liboosha   “Peggy”
  • Well Dressed Wolf “Innocent”


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