August 31, 2009

Comparing pattern shaping and children's sizes follow-up

Kathleen suggested that I post an update on a previous grading post I did about a year ago. You can read what I wrote previously at When Patterns Collide. In that post I suggested that it would be possible to combine the 24M and 2T and the 4T and the 4. My reasoning being that the 24M and the 2T are essentially the same sizes - why differentiate them? The subject is a little complex and perhaps controversial - at least to pattern making geeks. My goal was to reduce the work load. I was drafting and grading all of my patterns by hand. I am incredibly slow grading by hand. In addition, I was trying to solve one particular sizing problem that shows up in childrenswear, that is hard to illustrate. Since I shut down my Prairie Roses line, I am not knee deep in pattern making as I was a year ago. But perhaps it may be helpful to explain what I ended up doing.

Originally, I broke up my sizes into these ranges:

3M, 6M, 9M, 12M, 18M, 24M - sample size 12M

2T, 3T, 4T - sample size 3T

4, 5, 6, 6x - sample size 5

These ranges are rather typical of what you will find in retail stores. When developing my patterns, I have to make and grade the patterns for each size range separately. You cannot make one set of patterns in one size and grade them up and down all the way. It won't work because that many sizes will cause minute grading errors and strange fit, especially on the smallest and largest sizes. As you define your grading and size measurements, you will find that the 24M and 2T and the 4T and 4 overlap. I followed the Jack Handford grading rules, which are pretty darn good, but end up with a result like this:

Bodice pattern pieces in a size 4T and 4 and how they compare

In the picture above, the size 4 is laying on top of the size 4T. The size 4T is actually too long in length and too wide. I double checked all of my grading and there was no mistake. The size 4T was graded off my 3T and the size 4 off of the 5. The shaping of the sample size pattern pieces varied a little. The toddler was a little boxier because toddlers don't have any waist shaping, whereas a 5 year old does. If I were to leave my patterns this way, someone will eventually hang the two sizes next to each other and think there was some kind of manufacturing mistake. I needed to fix my patterns so that each size is incrementally bigger.

To do this, I rearranged my size ranges, combining some sizes:

3M, 6M, 9M, 12M, 18M - sample size 12M

24M/2T, 3T, 4T/4 - sample size 3T

5, 6, 6x - sample size 5

The next thing I did was reworked the shaping of my toddler sizes to look more like the 4-6x range. I pulled the waist in some and made the armhole smaller. I made these shaping changes because I found that my toddler patterns were just a little too big. Now, I can lay all of my bodice pattern pieces in order and they get incrementally larger from the 3M to the 6x. Your patterns may look different, but it is worth comparing the sizes on the outside edges of your ranges to make sure you don't have something weird show up like I did.

Even though I combined some sizes, I kept this behind the scenes. My customers still saw all of the sizes separated out. If someone ordered a size 24M and another ordered a 2T, the dress would be exactly the same except for the size tag. I offered all of the sizes on my website so that customers would see something familiar. Perhaps it seems a little dishonest? I don't think so because in the real world a 24M child is the same size as a 2T and I was willing to take the chance. For what its worth, no one ever complained or returned those sizes for fit issues.

Now, I don't know that what I did is "the way it should be done". In the past though, I have had people question why the 24M was larger than the 2T and I had no explanation. Once I worked through grading all of my patterns by hand, it started to click in my head. The relationship of the shape of the pattern pieces, the grade, and body measurements are all connected.


  1. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing your refinement process.

  2. One variable which accounts for significant difference in fitting in very young children is the diaper - whether disposable or cloth (or lack thereof). Most current baby and toddler's clothes are shaped to fit a compact disposable-diapered bottom and often do not allow enough ease of fit for a cloth-diapered bottom.

  3. Thank you so much for all the patternmaking information you've provided on this blog! You've helped me make the jump from altering other's patterns to creating my own patterns this last year. (I purchased Aldrich's Metric Pattern Cutting for Children's Wear and Babywear thanks to your recommendation and love it.)

    I'd love to now make the move to selling my own patterns but need a little direction in regards to grading which I am hoping you can provide. (I really am quite new to all this so please forgive the naivety of my questions!)

    1. If I have created a ruffled shirt pattern in a size 12 months (just for example) can I grade each of its specific pattern pieces up or do I have to go back to the basic block, grade it up, and then alter it (again) to create another larger sized pattern? (Common sense tells me I should just be able to grade my pattern up, but I was confused by a line in the Aldrich book's grading section and thought I'd ask you for clarification. I hope my question makes sense.)

    2. You often refer to grading on a CAD program. What is this program and is it widely available and reasonably priced? Does it have a steep learning curve? (I'm well versed in the vector-based Adobe Illustrator and the rest of the Creative Suite, would that help in learning this?)

    3. You also mention Jack Handford's grading book. Is this book only useful if you are doing grading by hand or would it also be useful if used in conjunction with a CAD program? If a CAD program is out of the question is this my best bet?

    Thank you in advance for any help you can provide!

    Tabitha Pettit
    refugeecrafter (at) gmail (dot) com