Pattern Hacks & Modifications

Getting the Best Fit: a Horizontal and Vertical Grading Guide

Hi everyone!

Ooh my very first blog post! I am so happy to be here! I hope that I’ll explain myself well and that you will enjoy reading this. 

In this post we will go through how to grade between sizes, as well as how to grade for height. For those of you who have just picked up sewing, I would like to say that while grading may seem scary, it is absolutely ESSENTIAL if you want to have a good fit. Every body is different, every body is beautiful, and if you take the time to grade your pattern for your body you will end up with something amazing that is custom made to fit YOU!! I don’t know about you all, but that was the biggest reason I got into sewing in the first place. 

So! Having said that, let’s get going 😊 First I will give you my “stats”. My measurements are as follows: 

High Bust: 39” 

Bust: 42”

Waist: 35”

Hip: 51”

According to the size chart, my bust measurement is pretty much between sizes 14 and 16. The pattern I am grading here is the new Hemlock Hoodie (also available in kids sizes and as a bundle), and the recommendation is to size up if between sizes, so my starting point was size 16. 

Now as you can see from my measurements above, my hips are much wider than my upper body. My hip measurement puts me in a 22+. In order to make sure that this hoodie will fit me nicely, when choosing my sizes in the layers for printing I selected sizes 16, 18, and 20+. Now you might think wait a minute, you just said your hips put you in a 22+, why not grade out to that size? The reasons are two-fold:

  1. The pattern’s options are straight with a banded bottom, or flared out for a dress. I know there’s ease built into both options and that I can get away with blending to a smaller size than what my hips measure and still have it fit correctly. 
  2. The pattern uses knit fabrics, which are more forgiving for fit than woven fabrics with no stretch.

A quick note: I left the size 18 layer on so I can use that size’s lines to guide me when doing the pattern blending, but took off size 20 to try and reduce the amount of lines I have overall as the more lines there are the more confusing it can be — especially since my printer only prints in black and white. 

Last stat: I am 6’2” which means I’m a teensy bit taller (lol) than what the pattern is drafted for (5’5”). Therefore, I need to grade for height as well. First though let’s cover blending between sizes.

So! Once you have your pattern taped up but BEFORE you cut the pieces, you will want to do your blending between sizes. In my case, that means drawing a line from the waist out to the largest hip size. I like to do this by hand rather than using a ruler as you want to try and follow a curve similar to what is already there. Here is a picture of what that looks like (green line):

For the front piece, if you decide that you want to do the pocket option and you having to grade out at the hips like me, you may end up wondering what to do about grading the pocket. This isn’t an exact science but here is what I did in this case. First, I re-traced my pocket, so it kind of goes from the size 18 line at the bottom to the size 16 line at the top. I made sure to trace it in a way that would keep the same pocket shape (see green line):

Then, I took my pocket piece and I slipped it under my front piece and aligned it with the line at the top of my blending (the size 16 line) and followed that line to the bottom. This creates a small gap: 

After that, I grabbed a small piece of scrap paper and placed it so that it would fill the gap created from how I placed the pocket. I taped that in place and then cut the excess off the end to follow the pocket curve:

And this is what the pocket piece ends up looking like for me:

That’s it for the size blending. Now on to adjusting for height. 

The general rule for adding or subtracting height from a pattern is to take note of the height the pattern is drafted for, and the difference between that height and yours divided by 2 is the number of inches you have to increase/decrease the pattern by. Essentially, for every inch taller/shorter that you are, you add/remove ½ an inch to the pattern. 

In my case, the calculation is as follows:

My height: 6’2”

Pattern drafted for: 5’5” 

Difference: 9”

Divided in two that means I have to add 4.5” to my pattern.

Now usually height adjustments aren’t so extreme, and you can usually just add/deduct from the waist. However, as the difference gets bigger it’s important to spread out the adjustments to ensure a proper fit. Knowing how much to add and where completely depends on your body. For me, while my torso is taller than average it isn’t a HUGE difference—the majority of my extra height is in my legs (hello 37” inseam!). 

A quick note here that in the rest of this post I’m talking about adding height to a pattern. However, everything I do can be done the other way for those of you that would need to shorten the pattern piece. You would simply overlap the pieces instead of spreading them apart. 

In my case, I decided to split up my adjustments by adding 2 inches to the bottom of my sweater, 1.5 inches at the waist, and 1 inch above the chest, in the armscye. **Note** If you are a busty person, it is recommended to add some of that extra height at the chest. 

Because I’m adding 2 inches to the bottom of the pattern, rather than cut my pattern pieces and then adding extra paper at the bottom, I added the extra length before I cut my pattern pieces. I used a ruler and every couple of inches I placed a dot, like so:

Next, I drew my new hem line by connecting the dots. Note that I didn’t use a ruler to draw a straight line since the hem actually curves slightly and I wanted to follow that same curve:

Now I cut all my pattern pieces out and brought them back up to my sewing room so I could do the rest of the grading. I apologize, my sewing room lighting is apparently not nearly as good as my living room lighting so the picture quality changes from here on out. 

Since I did the bottom before cutting my pattern pieces, I now only have two spots where I need to add height to my pattern pieces. First, I added to the waist. In this case, the pattern already has a line to show where the waist is on the pattern piece, so I simply used that line to cut my pattern in two and I spread it apart by the 1.5 inches I wanted to add there. I use my cutting mat to do this since it has the grid on it which makes it super helpful to make sure I’m increasing the piece evenly from one end to the other. 

I like using tracing paper for grading my patterns as it is slightly see-through and allows me to ensure that my pattern pieces are still correctly spaced apart once I’ve added the tracing paper to fill in the space I just created. After I’ve taped the tracing paper in place, I draw a line that follows the curve of the pattern and cut off the excess:

Next up, adding to the armscye. Because of how tall I am this is a modification I frequently need to do, otherwise I end up with fabric that’s really tight in my armpit and can feel very restrictive (this is especially bothersome on tank tops!). I like to draw my line closer to the bottom of the armscye—depending on the neckline of the pattern you’re modifying, making the adjustment too high might mean you end up also lengthening the neckline which then means having to make sure you lengthen the neckband/binding.

I then added my tracing paper and taped it in place, same as I did for the waist. As you can see this really messes with the curve for the sleeve. I re-drew my line before cutting off the excess paper (see green line):

And voila! My back piece has been fully graded as needed. Repeat the same thing with the front piece and the sleeve and then you’re done!!

For the sleeve do make sure to increase a portion of the length in the armscye so you’re matching the length you added to the front & back pieces (1 inch to the front & back armscye = 1 inch to the sleeve armscye as well). 

You will want to make sure that you’re placing the pattern pieces so they are still properly lined up. After I cut my sleeve piece in two and spread it apart, I made sure that the middle black line was lined up with the same gridline on my cutting mat. I drew a line (red on the picture below) to show where I mean. (Apologies for the amount of times I’ve said “line” in the above paragraph!) :

And that’s it! The pattern is now ready for cutting fabric. I hope you found this post helpful. Please leave a comment below if you have any questions! 

Marie-France Brunet

Here is another example of a Hemlock Hoodie by Kristy!

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