Much talk has taken place in the sewing world on plus sizes, inclusivity and diversity, both in size ranges offered and models photographed. I was very conscious of this while doing my new book, Zero Waste Sewing, and this blog post by Song of the Sewing Machine reminded me again how frustrating is it to desire a pattern that doesn’t come in your size.
There are a variety of reasons why ready-to-wear clothing brands and sewing pattern companies offer the sizes they do. Legitimate reasons or not, I offer no judgement or opinion:
- It costs money to get patterns graded, and the more sizes, the more it costs. Some small businesses can’t make the investment to include all the sizes they want, especially when they’re starting up.
- The patternmaker/grader may not have experience with larger sizes.
- The company doesn’t think certain sizes fit the demographic of their customer.
- They don’t sell enough (or any) of a certain size/s to make money.
- Their clothing designs don’t translate well into a wide variety of sizes.
- And (this is currently rare but it happens) their designs are zero waste and only available in a narrow size range due to fitting everything on the fabric width.
Not all patternmakers have experience with fitting larger sizes. This subject was only touched on when I studied, but several years doing made-to-measure fittings sure brought me up to speed. After about an Aussie size 16 (42″ bust), the body begins to change proportions and what applies to a regular size 8-16 (34″-42″ bust) grade changes. There is further change if the plus-size person happens to be over 50 years of age, but we’re not going to get into that here.
So what happens when we get bigger?
Cup sizes get bigger
Sizes with a 42″ bust or bigger pretty much always require a full bust adjustment for a larger cup size. Note that size (measurement) isn’t the same thing as shape (cup size); two women can have the same bust measurement but be different cup sizes, as we all know. For more thoughts on this see my blog post on bust adjustments (it’s about small bust adjustments but the theory is the same).
Some things stop growing
Shoulders and necklines don’t get any bigger/wider beyond size 16. It’s not unusual for a size 22 woman to have a size 14 or 16 width shoulders, for example. Also, bigger people aren’t necessarily taller with longer arms and legs; often they’re shorter.
Proportions of details change
Patch pockets, flaps, shoulder strap widths, tabs and other details need to be made proportionally larger to match everything else. This is sometimes done to some degree in a regular 8-16 grade, sometimes not.
Is a style change needed?
Bigger people sometimes (but not always) like to wear their tops longer but you’ll need to add 5cm-10cm/2″-4″ length anyway to keep the proportions looking good as you grade, otherwise the top ends up too wide and boxy-looking.
Some customer demographics prefer a sleeve rather than sleeveless (often older people).
Double breasted garments, crop tops, high necklines, miniskirts, strapless tops, shiny fabrics, fake fur, boxy/short waisted, halternecks, cap sleeves, spaghetti straps, peg top trousers, to name a few, generally don’t translate well to larger figures.
Curves change shape
Armholes follow a different curve, requiring re-fitting of the armhole on a larger fit model. Tops/heads of sleeves also change shape, becoming steeper at the front and more sloping towards the back.
What advice can I offer if you’re a plus-size and require sizes beyond what the sewing pattern offers?
Having your own personalised block/fitting shell pattern can be a big help. Take a sewing class and get it fitted correctly – it’s difficult to fit yourself. For dresses and sleeves some examples are: Vogue 1004, Butterick 5628, McCalls 2718, McCalls/Palmer Pletsch 7279. For trousers: Vogue 1003, McCalls/Palmer Pletsch 6901. You could also draft your own from a patternmaking book or use any plain garment pattern that you know fits you.
To use it, pick the largest size on the sewing pattern and place your own pattern over the top to compare. Leave the neckline and shoulders as-is, and see how much you need to add onto the sides and sleeve.
Best wishes for your plus-size sewing adventures,