Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Sewing with Vintage Patterns - Part 2 Slash and Spread

In this second post about sewing with vintage patterns I will show you how to grade a pattern to your size. I find that most vintage patterns are very tiny sizes, but with some time and effort you can make just about any pattern work!
This stage is only to expand or decrease the size of the pattern to roughly the right size. Alterations will be required later, so you must stick with the task at hand and not get ahead of yourself.

If this is your first time grading, please choose a simple pattern. Collars, cuffs and multiple panels all make the process much more time consuming.

I have drawn an illustration of the basic principle of grading. In order to adjust the size of a pattern you need to cut the pattern and spread or overlap the pieces to manipulate the size. You do not need to use all of the lines I have draw, they are just areas that you can choose. I never use all of these areas at once but choose two or three that work for what I need.

Continuing on with my Spring for Cotton dress, I have laid out my bodice front and back. At this point I take the measurements of the pattern. With this garment I will take into consideration only the bust and waist measurement, as the skirt is full.

Do not include seam allowances from the pattern when you measure.

Bust- Pattern measurement - 40 1/2" My body measurement - 41 1/2"+1"ease = 42 1/2"
Waist- Pattern measurement - 30" My body measurement - 31"+1"ease = 32"

As you can see, the difference between my measurement (with ease included) and the original pattern(not including seam allowance) is 2" in both bust and waist. I know therefore that I need to add 2" to my pattern overall. If the difference between your measurements and the pattern are not the same in the bust and waist, I would grade to the bust measurement and then adjust the waist line with alterations later, as this is an easier process.

My 2" that I need overall must be divided evenly between the 4 sections of the body. That is 1/2" added to front left, front right, back left and back right.

I will now show the process of enlarging the pattern by spreading it apart. If you need to reduce the size you must overlap the pattern in the same position. It is the reverse of what I will be doing.

When I checked the bust dart position against my mannequin I could see that the position was correct(from centre front to bust apex), and that I really needed the extra space in the sides, and I also needed a bigger armhole. I have therefore decided to slash through the armhole in the side position 2" away from the edge of the pattern.
If I can avoid slashing through a dart then I will shift a little to one side of it, but on this front bodice it is unavoidable. I need to add extra into the sides and increase the size of the armhole, so I will only add extra in this one position.
When I do have to slash through a dart then I close it first. I feel more confident when I do this, as I know that the shape of the dart will not be destroyed.

Here you can see that I have spread the pattern apart horizontally by the 1/2" I need. When cut out on the double this piece will now have 1" extra room. 
You need to glue or pin paper behind the spread pattern piece to hold it together.

When holding up the pattern against my mannequin, I noticed that the pattern is quite short in the body. I have slashed horizontally and spread by 1" so that I have enough fabric to play with whilst fitting.

 You can see here that I have adjusted both pieces an equal amount. I have also re-shaped darts and side seams to make a smooth line and re-shaped the armholes of both pieces.
To re-shape a dart I make a line from the point of the dart to the base and recreate the original shape. Facings should be traced off the new sized pattern, as this is easier than grading the original facings, and takes less time.
All pieces of the pattern need to be graded (except facings, as they are easier to just re-trace). I did exactly the same for my skirt and added the 2" into the side seams, so that the bodice darts continued to match the skirt pleats.
This pattern is a relatively simple one to grade because it is sleeveless and the skirt is free. The more elements you have to a pattern, the more you need to concentrate, because you have to keep in mind what you do to one pattern piece, you must do to the connecting pieces.

The next stage is to make a toile.

Good luck to anyone who gives this a try!
 I'm always here to answer questions if you have any.


  1. What a thoroughly, helpful explanation and series of photos. To a non-sewer like me, pattern grading always holds such an air of mystery (and seems akin to scaling Mt. Everest barefoot in terms of the challenge it poses), but I can honestly say that I'd be willing to tackle it after reading this post. You're a great teacher, Christina.

    ♥ Jessica

  2. I started following Suzannah's blog long before I sewed my first stitch. When sewing was but a mere dream ... also known as last year. my homepage

  3. I can honestly say that I'd be willing to tackle it after reading this post. Best Commercial Reverse Osmosis System Reviews

  4. Well that looks really cool! I love to sew with my 13 year old daughter, I would like to try these. I just got a new sewing machine from http://www.sewingmachineexpert.com/, so will have a try it on the weekend.

  5. Wow you make it look so easy, even I could do this I think. my sewing and embroidery machine