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How to Find Your Pattern Size & Alterations

We all want our finished garments to fit well when we've finished our sewing, so it is very important to know that pattern industry sizes are NOT the same as the ready-to-wear sizes for clothes that you buy off of the rack in a department store.

In addition, pattern industry sizing changed several times throughout the 20th century. Thus, vintage pattern sizing before 1972 can vary a great deal from contemporary pattern sizing.

Here is an example from the excellent book Fit for Real People using misses' size 16 to illustrate the point:

In the 1930s a size 16 = bust 34, waist 28, hip 37.
In the 1950s a size 16 = bust 36, waist 28, hip 38.
In 1967 a size 16 = bust 38, waist 29, hip 40.

After 1972 and today, size 16 = bust 38, waist 30, hip 40.

For these reasons you need to know your body measurements in order to purchase the right pattern for your body size. Check the bust, waist and hip measurements provided in each listing to determine the correct pattern size for you:
  • For dresses, tops, jackets, coats, and separates, use your BUST measurement.
  • For skirts and pants, use your WAIST measurement, taking into account the HIP measurement as well.

This is very important: take your measurements in the undergarments that you will be wearing under your finished garment!

For example, "New Look" fashions of the late 1940s and of the 1950s require the proper undergarments (e.g., girdles, corsets, Merry Widow corselets) to achieve the correct look and for you to actually fit into the finished garment.

Need help? This web page will guide you in taking your measurements:


DON'T PASS UP a wonderful pattern that you think is too large or too small! Free instructions for resizing (grading) a pattern can be found on the following websites: