September 24, 2012

Sewing: Sizing

Apologies for the last post. I've been having some problems with my Google account but I think everything is resolved now!

Remember when I started posting sewing tips way back in January? Well, uh, here's the second post in that series...

Sizing is something many new sewers have an issue with. OK, let's be honest, sizing is something that nearly everyone has an issue with, sewing related or not. I think everyone reading has at one time or another, problems finding clothes that fit properly. This is where our discussion on sizes starts.

If you walk into any shop that sells clothes you will find a certain number of standard sizes. But point out to me two people who are shaped the same? And therein lies the problem. Obviously there are no two people who are the exact same size. Everyone's body shape is different, even if some people are close to each other. Prior to the American Civil War people made their own clothes or went to a dressmaker/tailor to have their clothes custom made (with the exception of undergarments or outerwear, which could be purchased in shops). When stores selling "mass-produced" garments came along, suddenly there needed to be a group of categories that would help people buy clothes that should fit them. These are what we now call "sizes." Originally these sizings were very often inaccurate. But as the popularity of buying clothes grew, sizing did get a little better. An unwritten "standard" began to emerge. However it wasn't until 1937 that an actual standard was created in the US. This standard was made by a government study on women's body shapes. Certain numbers were given to common measurement patterns. This is what vintage clothing and patterns that post date the study are based on. But as anyone who has studied shifts in humans can tell you, body shapes come in waves. In the 40's, 50's, and 60's, women were shorter, thinner, and generally had that coveted Hourglass Figure. Today women are taller, busts are wider, as are hips, but waists are generally about 6 inches larger as well. A classic hourglass measurment looks like this: 36-26-36, whereas the avarage modern  measurment would look closer to this: 39-32-40. Sizings were changed again in the late 70's. What was a vintage size 12 (a 26 inch waist) became a size 6. And again in the late 90's early 2000's sizes changes yet again with the advent of "Vanity Sizes." These were created to do just what they sound like. An 80's size 6 is now a 0 or 2, with our modern size 6 being closer to what was a 10 or 12. But just because the powers that be have declared this measurment to equal that size doesn't mean that these sizes apply to every woman. It's very weird and confusing, and now you can see why women have such a hard time. (and why the desire to be a certain "size" is really quite ridiculous!)

Sewing Sizes:
While RTW garment sizes have changed quite a lot since the 1937 study, sewing patterns haven't diverted very much. If you buy a pattern from the Big 4 (Simplicity, Butterick, McCall, and Vogue) and look at a size 12, the waist measurement will be 26". Each of the arbitrary sizes will have an assigned bust, waist, and hips measurement. Now, if you look at independent pattern companies, the sizing will be different. For instance Colette patterns size 12 has a 32' waist. Why the difference? Well why not? If you are making your own clothes does it really matter what your size is? I mean, you're making something so that it fits your individual self. You just need to know your measurements and which line to cut. Does it matter which size it is you cut? Not really. However there is one other additional reason that plays a role in differences in sizing.

Ease in a pattern refers to how much extra room there is. Basically it just means that there is a little bit of extra space for movement. For instance on the elbow of a sleeve. Obviously you need to be able to move your elbow, so there is going to be a bit of extra room in that area of the garment. Ease isn't a bad thing. Infact it is the reason why RTW garments can fit a gamut of peoples (and why some people think a certain size fits them when it doesn't...). And it is also very helpful in sewing patterns. Again, we have an arbitrary number representing a set of measurements, so some people are going to be on the bigger side of that, some on the smaller. Some people's necks are longer, some arms are bigger. Ease allows for "disproportion" (or as I like to call it, Everyone is Built Differently). You are going to be fitting your garment while you construct it anyway, so this allows you to adjust each section to fit your body. The Big 4 have a ton! of ease usually. On occasion you'll find one without as much, and then again sometimes there is even more than normal. Colette patterns clearly states that their patterns have less ease for a more tailored look. So if you buy a Simplicity dress pattern and stitch it up in your size without making any adjustments and a Colette pattern and do the same, the Colette pattern with hug closer to your body, while the Simplicity one will hang looser. The finished garment sizes you usually see at the bottom are based off of making the pattern with no adjustments. There are pros and cons to both, but neither of them are wrong. It really depends more on your personal preference. 

So how do I find my size then?:
In answer to the original question, Ease is really the culprit here. But another contributing factor is that you do not fit into the arbitrary size assigned to your waist measurement Say you have a 26" waist and a 36" bust. A 36" bust is usually a size 14. So what are you supposed to do? Well my best advice is look at the finished garment size. For instance on this dress, the finished bust measurment for a size 12 is 37" (for an A cup size.). This one doesn't list the finished waist, or hips, but if the bust is 3" larger, the waist and hips probably are too. I usually make up a pattern in whatever size the finished garment measurements match my own closest. This way I know there will be probably just enough ease. If you're afraid there won't be if you use the FG measurement, simply cut out whatever size's measurements match yours best. It's perfectly fine to cut one size for your top and a different for your bottom. just make sure you blend the two together when actually stitching.

Hopefully this has cleared up some things regarding sizing for you! I know there's a lot of information here, but I think it is all necessary to really understand the problem at hand. Again if you have any other questions or tips you'd like to share, email them to me at Fraxinilucia at gmail dot com or leave a comment!!

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