Choosing the right size pattern – the first hurdle in making great looking clothes. Not wishing to state the obvious, but I’m fanatical about fit.  (Not to be confused with fitness – most definitely not!)

There’s pretty much always an answer to most fit issues, but making  great-fitting clothes is a whole lot easier when you start with the right size pattern.

There I go stating the obvious again, you may think.  But what exactly is the right size? Well, first and foremost – it is not going to be the same as your ready-to-wear size.  Apart from anything else, your RTW size no doubt varies from shop to shop anyway.

choosing the right size pattern

Standard US pattern sizes


The good news is that pattern sizing is pretty much standard throughout the major brands, such as Vogue Butterick & McCall’s (actually all the same company), Simplicity and New Look.  (The indy companies, like Colette for example, are a law unto themselves).  The bad news is, the sizing will almost certainly be at least a couple of numbers higher than RTW.  Often, to counteract the shock, I have to ply people with hot sweet tea when I tell them what size they need.

So, according to this pattern size chart, a 38″ bust is a size 16.  And we all know how to measure our bust – right?

Not necessarily.  You may be surprised to learn that, if you’re bigger than a ‘B’ cup, your bust may not be where you think it is. Well, your bust is obviously where you think it is,  but where to take the measurement isn’t.

To get a really good fit, you need a pattern that fits perfectly in the neck, shoulders, upper chest and armhole areas.   This is because any alterations in those areas have a knock-on effect for sleeve caps and collars and you really don’t want to go messing about with those if you can help it.choose the right size pattern

How to find that measurement?  Well, you pull the tape measure tight round your back (under the shoulder blades), up under your armpits and across the chest (above ‘the girls’).  By avoiding those obvious sticky-out bits you get a much more accurate measurement, known as the high bust.

You then use that high bust measurement as the “bust” on the pattern.  So for me, my full bust comes out to size 22 but I would be swamped if I made that size.  I start with a size 18 and then do a full bust adjustment (FBA).  Perfect fit every time!  For more info, check out my Perfect Pattern Fitting course.

As a general rule-of-thumb, for patterns that start above the waist go by the high bust measurement, and use the hip measurement for patterns that start below the waist.

Hope this helps!