Sewing Tips

Why Ease should be Proportionate to Size

I just read a message from a very popular pdf pattern company, announcing updates to an existing pattern, and one of the revisions is:

“Even grading for exact ease in all sizes”.

This is an improvement for sure, because their darling patterns are notorious for having inconsistent grading:

  • some have lots of ease in the small sizes and negligible ease in large sizes
  • some have backwards grading: the inside-neckline width gets smaller as sizes get larger
  • some of their gathered skirts are all cut width-of-fabric, giving enormous fullness to the baby sizes and not-so-much for the bigger girls

This leads to frequent discussions in their FB from customers arguing whether a pattern “runs small” or “runs large”…when in fact it does both, depending on which size you make. I was aware that their newest pattern just released has exactly the same amount of ease across the size range, from reading a discussion online.

And while this is an improvement, the goal is not to have EXACTLY THE SAME AMOUNT of ease in all sizes; it is to have PROPORTIONATE ease.


Ease should be added to the pattern as a PERCENTAGE of the circumference, not as a specific AMOUNT. As Kathleen Fasanella explains in her Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing:  “as people get bigger, they get proportionately bigger“.  And as reader Theresa in Tucson commented (and this is brilliantly said): “A plus size women is going to need more actual ease in a skirt than her slim and trim sister. ” Thanks also to reader Robin for adding that Barbara Deckert  (a plus-size expert) “talks about wearing ease in her book ‘Sewing for Plus Sizes’. She suggests what the added ease should be proportionate to size.”

I had a design professor who explained the concept like this: think of  tying a piece of string  around a can of soda (9″ circumference), and around a liter bottle (13″ circumference).

  • Percentage: if you cut both strings with the same 25% PERCENTAGE of ease (11 1/4″ for the can and 16 1/4″ for the bottle), they would have proportionately  identical “fit”
  • Amount: if you cut both strings with the same AMOUNT of ease, let’s say 2″ for both (11″ for the can and 15″ for the bottle) then the “fit” would be looser on the can than on the bottle:

soda

The lesson was:

  • Adding the same AMOUNT results in a different PERCENTAGE
  • Adding the same PERCENTAGE results in a different AMOUNT

For example, what happens if you use the same specific amount of ease across the whole size range in childrenswear? Let’s say the patternmaker adds the same 3″ AMOUNT of ease in all sizes from toddlers through teens:

  • Size Two: 20″ chest plus 3″ = 23″ or 15% ease
  • Size Twelve: 32″ chest plus 3″ = 35″ or 9% ease

The result is that Size Two has far more PERCENTAGE of ease than Size Twelve.


Now let’s try adding the same PERCENTAGE of ease:

  • Size 2: 20″ chest plus 15% ease = 23″, or 3″
  • Size 12: 32″ chest plus 15% ease  = 37″, or 5″

The result is that both sizes have the same fit percentage, but different ease AMOUNTS.


Since it’s easier to grade with consistent “rules” (amounts) of measurement than to adjust the percentage for each size, professional patterns are broken down into limited size ranges (also to accommodate for changing body shapes), for example if the goal is 15% of ease:

  • Infant sizes could have 2.5″ ease
  • Girls 2 through 6 could have 3″ ease
  • Girls 8 through 12 could have 3.5″ ease
  • Tweens could have 4″ ease
  • Ladies could have 5″ ease
  • Ladies Plus could have 6″ ease

So, while I’m glad to see that the  inconsistent (or jumpy) grading is being addressed by this pattern company, I hope that the amount of ease is not exactly the same across the entire extended size range. I hope that it’s proportionate.


 

Postscript: Another consideration was just brought up by reader Shelley: “Wearing ease is also different in different areas of the body. For instance, I’m a 5′ plus-size and have found that in a knit garment with 25% stretch I can get away with 1.5 in. minimal wearing ease at chest level, but by waist level, I need 3 in. and then to 4 in. by hip level because of body spread.” Very good point! You cannot add the same amount of ease at all body areas and expect the garment to fit. As several readers also brought up, it’s critical to have enough ease at the full-hip level to allow for sitting down…a garment that is comfortable while standing may be terribly uncomfortable sitting! I’ve heard of Hollywood actresses on the red carpet whose gowns are so tight they know that they won’t even be able to sit down…..

14 Comments

  • Theresa in Tucson

    Excellent point, Janet. A plus size women is going to need more actual ease in a skirt than her slim and trim sister. Fat spreads when you sit down! I’m enjoying your lessons.

  • [email protected]

    Hope it’s okay if I quote you because I LOVE that comment and just added it to the post! Oh and yes, always test your pencil skirt muslins (or for that matter a skirt when trying on in a shop!) by sitting down. Been there….

  • Robin

    So true. Barbara Deckert talks about wearing ease in her book ‘Sewing for Plus Sizes’. She suggests what the added ease should be proportionate to size. Many times a ready to wear garment fits well while standing, but walking or sitting is a different (and sad) story.

  • Kimber Crow

    Wow. Very cool article. It makes complete sense. My 12 yr old daughter is interested in fashion design, I’m going to make sure she sees this!

  • [email protected]

    Yay for your daughter! Whether her interest is in visual fashion design or technical fashion design, it’s always helpful to know about all aspects. The strongest visual designers understand construction and fit. She could have a very bright future!

  • Shelley

    Wearing ease is also different in different areas of the body. For instance, I’m a 5′ plus-size and have found that in a knit garment with 25% stretch I can get away with 1.5 in. minimal wearing ease at chest level, but by waist level, I need 3 in. and then to 4 in. by hip level because of body spread.

  • Theresa in Tucson

    Barbara Deckert’s wonderful book on plus sizes is where I found out that “fat spreads”. Even though I am not plus size, I value her book greatly.

  • [email protected]

    Yes! I find “Sewing for Plus Sizes” a wonderful resource. I’m not plus size either, but I found her book to be a wonderful resource for my clients. The sketches on what is flattering make total sense. She knows her stuff!

  • TCP

    Do you know any learning resources which explain ease as percentages, rather than as quantities?

    For example – the bodice sloper instructions I’m using say to add 10cm ease at the bust. It would surely be better if the instructions said “add X% of your bust measurement as ease”?

    I’m puzzling my way through some design challenges, and it’d be brilliant if someone had already created this resource.

    Cheers for any pointers you have.

  • [email protected]

    I only know what my professors taught at F.I.T., and what I’ve learned in industry. I imagine that the reason ease is given in static amounts is as a short-cut, easier to grasp as a concept. Just as the instructions in many traditional home-sewing patterns use “easiest to understand” production steps, when there are faster/simpler methods out there. Hope that makes sense!

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