Getting to know my sizes

Many surprises when I started exploring pattern blocks earlier in the year. One was that many methods of drafting patterns to individual measurements assign half your bust/ waist/ hip measure to front and half to back. Surely not, I thought. And indeed it isn’t true for me.

Some pattern making books do include front-back differences. I’m using :
Knowles. Pattern making for fashion designers : juniors, misses, and women.
Allemong. European cut.
Liechty, Rasband, Pottberg-Steineckert. Fitting and pattern alteration (hurrah, my birthday present this year).

– – –

Taking my measurements from waist to thigh

Wearing leggings and tank, I rigged myself up with :
– horizontal velcro tapes at waist, high hip, hip.
– vertical tapes at CF, side seam, and CB.

Needed to adjust the position of the side tapes so they :
– looked from the front as if they were at the edge of my body.
– looked from the side as if they roughy divided the area of the body in half.

No photos – I haven’t got a leotard, so it was all rather untidy !

I don’t attempt to measure to an accuracy of 1/16 inch or 1 mm, as BML tells you to. Impossible accuracy with a soft flexible body. It’s easy to change the measure much more by a slight change in tension of the tape measure or posture of the person being measured.

I know 1/8 inch can make a difference to the quality of fit. But that’s in fabric being tried on. I aim for measures to the nearest 1/4 inch/ 0.5 cm. Details to be adjusted on the ‘muslin’.

– – –

The results

My total waist measure is 33-1/2 in., total hip 43-1/2 in.
Both Big4 pattern size 18.
Apparently no problem there then.

But look at the details and a very different picture emerges :
. . . . . . . . . front . . . . back . . . . total (inches)
waist . . . . 19 . . . . . . . 14-1/2 . . 33-1/2
high hip. . 20-1/2 . . . 21 . . . . . . 41-1/2
hip . . . . . . 20-1/2 . . . 23 . . . . . .43-1/2

(Sitting hip 46 in., important to know for ease allowance.)

Interesting, I still have a waist at the back, but there’s all that stomach sticking out in front. Yes, it does go in and out daily.
And my high hips are important, so :
– darts below waist need to be short, and mainly at the back.
– below high hip there’s little change.
My high hips are about 3-4 inches below my waist. But as I have a tilted waist (higher at back due to high hip pads), a level high hip is not the same distance below my natural waist all the way round.

Double those measures – so these are just imaginary numbers, assuming my back and front are the same :
. . . . . . . . front . . . back (inches)
waist . . . . . 38 . . . 29
high hip . . . 41 . . . 42
hip. . . . . . . . 41 . . . 46

Comparing those numbers with the BMV size table, that means my pattern size is/ are. . . (I’ve added bust here, I knew this before.)

. . . . . front . . . . back
bust . . . . 14 . . . . 16
waist . . . 24 . . . . 14
hip . . . . . 16 . . . . 22

Eeek ! no wonder I’ve never been able to wear a sheath dress or a leotard 😀

I’ve still got an indented waist in silhouette from the front, but have difficulty fitting it. Easiest with a waist seam, which isn’t usual in a blouse. I’m sure it is possible to get princess seams to fit me well at the back, but I haven’t got round to it.

Here’s my personal waist-to-hip pattern which shows the different front (right) and back shapes.


These measures helped me understand much, but they don’t give the complete picture. My front waist and hip measures may be similar, but I’m not the same shape all the way down – forward spreading waist becomes hips spreading sideways. Visually, my widest hip is lower in my silhouette from the front than it is in my silhouette from the side. And unlike my stomach, that large back is just generally large, not protruding.

Don’t even try to imagine what I look like in a RTW fitted jacket !
Though I do promise I have never bought one 😀

Some people need front bigger than back below the waist. Sandra Betzina ‘No Time to Sew’ p.15 says she cuts a size 14 pants front and size 10 back.

Above the waist, I have small bust and wide back. Many people have larger upper front than back. FBAs need to be adjusted for personal shape and ease preference. See my post on the FBA for some comments.

– – –

Other special features of my shape

Here are some other features of my body, as described by Liechty et al.

Short lower rib cage/ high waist.
short between armhole and waist

High neck base.
similar to sloping shoulders but I think this is more ‘me’.

Forward head.
raise back neckline, lower front neckline

Shallow chest.

Low bust position.

Rounded upper back.
Shoulder darts essential

Cylindrical upper torso.
Scoop out armholes sideways. I haven’t got large biceps but do need a large armhole. I’ve learned to check cut-on sleeves to make sure they’re not tight.

Larger elbows.
Don’t know if my bones are large, but I do like to be comfortable when I bend my arms.

Longer lower torso.

Cylindrical lower torso.
long crotch shelf/ extensions on pants

Here’s some things which affect style rather than fit :
– I’ve recently realised my forward head has made my neck go visually from long to short.
– lumpy knees (hereditary) and thick ankles.
I have got good features too 😀

– – –


No I don’t look like a freak.
But RTW doesn’t look good !

And, with so many non-average features, no wonder I find it easier to get good fit by starting from my personal pattern block and adding style elements to it. Rather than starting from a commercial pattern and making all these changes.

I don’t think all this self awareness gets you out of making a trial garment. Even when you’ve gone through the pattern-muslin-pattern-muslin cycle several times and have a good fit, it’s best to check that length, ease, and style elements such as collar shape, pocket placement, etc. are flattering.

Also best fitting method depends on personal preference. I don’t at all enjoy tissue fitting. I prefer working direct with a muslin, ‘reading the wrinkles’. Rather than trying to get all the adjustments done accurately to the pattern before ever trying something on.

But many people love ‘Fit for Real People’, and tissue fitting, and not having to make a muslin. So try different methods to find what you prefer. Every little step is an improvement 😀

– – –

P.S. There have been so many comments about this, perhaps I’d better add some more :

I’d like to to encourage people who have unusual fitting challenges. Of course it’s marvellous if you find commercial patterns which are close to your body shape, or a fitting aid which works for you. But there are people who have too many features away from average for that to be possible. And many of those special features aren’t dealt with in the pattern making books which claim to tell you how to draft a personalised pattern.

I’m not so analytic about all this when I do the actual fitting. I fit by ‘reading the wrinkles’ on a muslin. I make no attempt to resolve all my fitting issues one by one on the pattern before cutting out.

Though there are many fitting issues which need a rough change to the pattern before cutting the fabric, or there won’t be enough fabric available to make the detailed adjustments. (Though if you make a muslin, you can slash and spread on the body to add the wedges of fabric needed.) Such as a long body, or square shoulders, or a large bust cup, or protruding front and rear when fitting pants. Or different sizes front and back, above and below.

And I am the sort of person who likes to understand what I’m doing. For example, I need a personalised armhole to be comfortable. Liechty et al is the only book I know which explains what it is about my body which makes this necessary, and what to do about it.

– – –

Patterns and links available November 2011

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Explore posts in the same categories: body shape, fit of clothes

20 Comments on “Getting to know my sizes”

  1. I have just been on a fantastic pattern-making course in which I learned about drafting patterns to fit my lumps and bumps. Armed with my new slopers I can also see where to adjust commercial patterns. You can find all the information at

  2. Chris Says:

    ok – this has inspired me to do more careful measurements, using your method described above. The back and front would have different proportions for each measurement. Of Course!

    That makes so much sense now. Thanks for posting this…

  3. Nancy Says:

    This is a very informative post. I can always tell that you put a great deal of time and energy into your posts. Thanks!

    • sewingplums Says:

      Thanks everyone for the comments. I’m glad to hear this is useful. And it’s always interesting to know about another pattern making tool.

      I do try to write short posts, but sometimes they keep expanding 😀

  4. Gail Says:

    Brilliant as usual! I have my own fitting woes – size 26 at full bust, 12 at the shoulders, 16 upper chest, 12 upper back, short through the armscye (need to remove 2 inches always), low full hip (still a pear shape) and need to add nearly six inches to the upper back on any pants pattern, remove one inch in front and add four inches in leg length. I also find it very difficult to find a sleeveless armscye to fit properly. I have a great elastic waist pants pattern that fits me like a dream, but looks like a convoluted nightmare on paper. I am working on a simple jacket – almost there, but boy, when I get that pattern right I am going to use it every which way. I have a peasant style top that fits and flatters.
    Is is wrong for me to think, pants, top, jacket -that’s good enough? Fitting is hard work, frequently feels demoralizing, but so worth it. I can NEVER find RTW that even comes close to fitting at all.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Thanks Gail for writing so fully. I’m delighted to meet someone else with as many fit issues as me ! It sounds as if you know your body well. I agree that fitting is a lot of dispiriting work. But the pay-off is huge 😀

      I agree that the basics are top, jacket, pants. That opens up a whole world of good possibilities. And a fitted pants pattern from waist to hip level gives all the information you need for skirt and dress.

      I’m small busted and wear multiple layers. I want to have good patterns for both fitted and loose fitted ‘casual-dartless’ tops. I also want both fitted and drop shoulder armholes for the loose top. But your body shape is so different, you may not want those styles. Some people also want a close fitting top pattern for knits, but I don’t wear them myself.

      Developing a good set of patterns is not a quick process for those of us with non-average bodies. But it’s so good to be able to move on to using your patterns !

  5. Sherri Says:

    Thanks for posting. Here is the ordering information for Liechty’s book complete with the ISBN number for the second edition.

    According to the write-up I read, “The second edition will include new information concerning figure evaluation, methods for working with multi-sized patterns, and instructions for correcting garments that have more than one fit problem.”


    Fitting and Pattern Alteration: A Multi-Method Approach
    Price: $108.50 USD
    ISBN13: 9781563677830**
    ISBN10: 1563677830
    Author: Liechty, Elizabeth L
    Publisher: Fairchild Books & Visuals
    Copyright: 2009
    Publication Date: 20090731
    Binding: TRADE PAPER
    Pages: 470
    Dimensions:11.90×8.90×1.00 in. 2.90 lbs.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Thanks Sherri – I was too lazy to post the link. There’s not much of a discount from Amazon itself, but several people are selling it through Amazon for only $44 !

  6. Robyn Says:

    You are on to something here! I just had pants fitted and the lady who did this took both back and front measurements. Result was very, very good pants. She did more fitting than that, but separate back and front measurements were the first step.

  7. ejvc Says:

    Thanks for the post. What a palaver! I know that I have had more success using a smaller size pattern for the back top of my clothes. However I do wonder whether one needs to take it into account always? In other words, is it the right thing to use different sizes for different parts, or would it be better to learn (for example) a full stomach alteration?

    To answer my own question – I guess it depends on the size/complexity of the alteration. I now cut my shoulder and waist alterations by eye on top of the “ordinary” pattern block, but I use a block for the harder-to-fit trousers.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Good points Elizabeth ! I see all this analysis as more of a one-off for understanding. My fitting needs are so complex I am developing my own blocks. And I now know much more about how to do that, and why many of the personal drafts in the pattern making books don’t work for me.

      For example, I now know what to aim for when making a pattern for my upper hips. While before all I could do was wonder why the pattern I made from personal pattern drafting instructions turned out not to fit me at all. . .

      I won’t take a commercial pattern and trace off the 3 different sizes for front and back, and expect it to fit. As I need many length changes, as well as adding high round back wedges and darts, and shoulder sloping, armhole shaping etc. etc.

      Once I’ve got the good blocks which incorporate all these features, I plan to add details from commercial patterns. Or adapt commercial patterns using my personal block as a reference, as described by Lynda Maynard in her CD book from Pattern Review. I have to make too many changes for altering commercial patterns direct to be a happy thing to do. . . So I assume I’ll only be using this size knowledge while developing the blocks, not once I have them.

      You can use different sizes of a multi-size pattern for your upper body, and your own block for your lower body. I need to use my own blocks for both.

      Good clarification !

  8. Marie-Christine Says:

    Clearly another candidate for Mrs Stylebook patterns :-).

    Honestly though, there is such a thing as too much fitting. I once had a Very Bad Patternmaking class, where the teacher went on and on about making a fitted skirt for her mother who’d had 6 children, you can just imagine, she sneered.. What she should have done is made her skirt a bit looser and in wool double-knit, so the poor woman could sit, and not be humiliated by her daughter.

    In fact, while I can obsess totally about the ways in which my body doesn’t fit the ‘standard’, But if I just take in the shoulders a bit and add some to the bust I can do fine in most Burda patterns. With a nonstandard body, do I really want to wear stuff that’s totally skin-tight? Can I imagine myself in a satin sheath dress? Absurd. The other side to proper fitting is using common sense in picking styles that flatter. A sausage is not a good model.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Thanks Marie-Christine, good points.

      Yes I like the Mrs Stylebook idea of having basic fitted and casual blocks and developing all patterns from there.

      And I agree entirely on knowing what shapes flatter your own body. And on not over-fitting.

      Some people like to wear fitted styles with little ease. Some people like to wear loose styles. I wear loose styles, but because I’ve never been able to buy a fitted style. I want to develop a personal fitted block, so I can find out whether I do enjoy wearing fitted styles when they’re possible. But it hasn’t been my first pattern fitting priority.

      • Marie-Christine Says:

        Start with Burda sewingplum, you’ll already be 90% there.. It’s good you use big 4 in your pattern surveys, makes them more useful for the general public which can’t always get to everything. But if you want fitted garments without redrafting from scratch, you have to start with a brand that has some real correspondence between the size stated on the envelope and your body, and which is ‘well cut’ however you interpret that. Jalie is good too, although more casual in style.
        You can develop a fitted block from a basic Burda pattern very quickly, it’s much easier than taking a textbook and starting with whatever kooky methods they use :-). I’ve used the JJ blouse for a couple friends recently with great success, just by applying Sanda Betzina fast fit fixes for the most obvious things (big bust, square shoulders etc). People act like this is rocket science, but really it’s not..

      • sewingplums Says:

        Thanks for the comment Marie-Christine.

        Many people may find your advice helpful but it doesn’t work for me. Burda patterns may have “some real correspondence between the size stated on the envelope and your body”. But my body isn’t one size. And it has about a dozen other features which are not average.

        I haven’t seen every fit or pattern making book. But the only one I have which helps me understand all my fitting issues is Liechty et al. I do fit fabric direct, and I agree that much of what is in the books that try to develop a well fitting pattern away from the body, is much much too complicated to use in practice. I still needed the Liechty book to understand some of the things that were going wrong.

        Of course it’s marvellous if you can find a commercial pattern line or a fitting aid (such as Sure-Fit Designs) which works well for you. But I’d like to give some encouragement to people like me, who are too far from average for that to be possible.

  9. ejvc Says:

    I shall add another comment to your most commented post ever 🙂 I’ve just measured myself (at last) and was astounded to find that my front and back waist and front and back hip measurements are exactly identical! I expected at least a couple of centimetres of deviation, but no. Helpful info!

  10. Elizabeth Mathews Says:

    Help needed to solve my more than mildly rounded back fitting problem for a coat pattern designed by Issey Miyake for Vogue 2012 catalog. The coat design is out of the ordinary having a dropped shoulder and a circular joke bodice in a Princess style.

    The coat was illustrated made in a black and white Houndstooth check wool. The pattern back is in one piece, and is mid-thigh length. I have purchased the wool and satin lining and I am eager to start cutting, but I am making a muslin test garment now to perfect the fit, but and am unable to pass the hurdle in fitting my rounded back.

    Your Post mentioned you have a similar rounded back and I was hoping you could give me the help I need. All the books I have read and the videos I have purchased have not discussed how to make the alteration with a drop shoulder, circular (front and back) yoke. it. I really need some direction. Can you or anyone out there help me? Elizabeth Mathews

    • sewingplums Says:

      Hello Elizabeth – I think you mean Vogue 1320

      I had so many thoughts, I’m planning a post. But that will be several weeks, so here’s a quick version. I need shoulder shaping and added back length.

      Shoulder darts – I would try making darts in the pattern piece from shoulder seam to bottom of yoke. Fold out the dart to change the shape of the pattern piece. That would change the angle of the shoulder seam, and you would have to add on to the outer edge of the yoke to restore the shoulder seam length.

      More radical alternative – add a seam to the yoke, to incorporate the dart. If you’re using patterned fabric, that would have to be placed carefully. Though it doesn’t have to be vertical, so long as the shaping ‘points’ to the shoulder blade.

      Added back length – I would probably add it to the lower section, as a deeper yoke would cause more problems with getting acceptable shaping over the shoulders.

      It looks from the line diagram as if Vogue don’t expect the yoke to lie completely flat at the armholes. There’s a compromise with a drop shouldered yoke, it can’t fit neatly over the shoulders or you can’t lift your arms !

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