pattern grading 101: part three

If you read last week’s post on grading a pattern up and understood the concepts behind it, then let me tell you: grading a pattern down in size is really, really easy! Once you have grading up under your belt, down is literally just the opposite procedure! Begin by tracing the pattern pieces as before, being sure to include that horizontal line for matching purposes.

You’ll follow the same dividing line principles as I outlined in the previous post. But instead of cutting apart and spreading the pieces, you’ll be overlapping them to reduce the width of the piece (thus, grading down). How do we do this?

Once you have marked those dividing lines on your pattern pieces, draw lines parallel to indicate how much the sections need to overlap. The math we did last week still works for grading down, and so we’ll stick with our example grade (4″ overall) for continuity. The red lines on the diagram above indicate the dividing lines, and the blue shows were the sections will overlap.

Now the next step just depends on your own preference: you can either fold the pattern piece or cut and overlap the pieces. I tend to do the latter, especially on larger pieces. Once you’ve either folded or cut and overlapped your pieces, you’re done grading down!

To overlap, begin folding along one line (in this case, the red one), creasing that edge. Fold it back up and over, creasing the second line (blue) so it is under the original fold. This subtracts the total amount (3/8″ for our example) from the pattern. Continue with the remaining lines.

For the slash and overlap method, begin by cutting along one of the lines (red). Overlap that cut edge over the other, to meet the second line (blue) to take up the grading amount (3/8″ for the example). Make sure the horizontal match line is even and secure in place with a bit of tape.

Again, you will need to true the edges and smooth out the cut edges as well as any darts that were disrupted during grading.

Wasn’t that easy? The “rules” for grading in general apply to both grading up and down, so once you’ve understood the one you can easily do the other. I’ve included a couple more dividing diagrams below for other pattern styles.

Collars can stump one a bit at first when learning grading. But they have to be graded in a similar way to sleeves. Calculate the amount you increased the front and back neckline by (or just the front/back for a two-piece collar–or one that is seamed at the shoulders)–in our example case this would be a total of 1″. When grading half a collar piece, divide this number by 2. (So 1/2″ for our example.) Divide that number by 3 again (I would divide it 1/8″-1/4″-1/8″), and draw three dividing lines on your half collar pattern. Slash and spread/overlap and add/subtract that amount for each slash accordingly.

Don’t let oddly-shaped collars through you off either! Here’s how I would divide a sailor collar:

Extended facings can prove a bit daunting when starting out pattern grading, but here is how I’d draw my lines below. Always keep in mind that center front (or back, depending on your pattern) line!

Halter-style necklines are another tricky style! But if you always keep the basic placement of the bodice lines in mind, they aren’t that difficult:

I hope this series is proving helpful! I’ve been so delighted by the feedback I”ve gotten thus far–thank you all so much! Next week I’ll be going over reducing pattern length, uneven grading and some miscellaneous considerations when grading.

June 29, 2012 · 19 lovely thoughts
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Seersucker Sally June 29, 2012 at 08:21

I’ve always wondered how this is done. Thanks for demystifying it!


Kerry June 29, 2012 at 08:22

Thanks for mentioning the more unusual shapes of bodices and collars too – anything I’ve read before has only covered the standard shapes.


Melissa June 29, 2012 at 08:22

Love this! Your explanation has been so helpful! Thank you so much for taking the time to make up these posts! ~running upstairs to grade vintage pattern~ ;-)


LizJane June 29, 2012 at 08:43

I’ve been waiting for this all week I find it hard to get vintage patterns my sizing. Thank you!!!


Angie June 29, 2012 at 15:14

Thank you for this series! It’s great that I no longer have to discount vintage patterns I love just because they are in the wrong size.

One question about this post; I think I’m not wrapping my brain around something correctly. Would your folding method as shown not “take in” twice as much as your cut and overlap and match method?


Shelbi August 24, 2013 at 16:01

You are correct…at least by my calculations and experience. Which ever method you choose, the lines should be MEETING.


Meghan June 29, 2012 at 20:16

Very helpful! Thanks for posting!


Jessica June 30, 2012 at 04:56

Having very limited sewing experience and having never graded a pattern either way, I always suspected that grading down would be worlds easier (most things in life are easier to make smaller than larger), but didn’t know if such was actually the case or not. It’s really cool to know that it is, thank you! I’ll now feel even more confident to buy patterns on either side of my size from now on.

Wishing you a gorgeous, sunshine filled weekend,
♥ Jessica


Betsy July 1, 2012 at 17:36

Just stumbled on your blog. Very Cute! I love all of the vintage stuff. Just one thing about grading- don’t forget to grade the armhole length (horizontal) . It’s great to grade the width, but the bodice length also should grow with the grade. For a down grade -numeric sizes- the armhole length should be 1/8″ smaller, neck drop 1/16 to 1/8″ higher and then you would take an additional 1/8″ off the bottom bodice length. Sorry, I hope my nerdiness is not imposing. Just want to help.


Pansy Lane July 2, 2012 at 10:14

OMG. Bookmarking this post for future use, thank you!


Lisa July 4, 2012 at 09:27

Thank you, you beautiful and generous genius!


Marsha July 6, 2012 at 18:33

This is helpful to me because I’ve lost a lot of weight and want to still use some of my favorite patterns.


maddie July 12, 2012 at 20:18

Have I told you how much I’m enjoying this series? Keep up the good work!


Shelley July 25, 2012 at 10:23

Thanks so much for this series on pattern grading. I had never tried this method before. It has been a great help in grading up some vintage blouse patterns–much better fit. I hope you are still planning to post about grading pant patterns. Of the 13 items I sewed for Colette’s Challenge this summer (and I graded most of the patterns to some degree), only the bermuda shorts didn’t work (not even close). Pants seem to be the one item of clothing I still have difficulty adjusting the pattern. And it’s so much easier if you can make the major fit adjustments to the pattern, before you cut it out. Thanks for all your hard work. Great job, Casey.


Diane Cee August 4, 2012 at 17:10 please look at the 6 th and the12th down and the3rd and4th from the bottom and tell me i am not mad to be filled with desire for these shoes from the late 30′s? I am not even a shoe freak!


Diane Cee August 4, 2012 at 17:12

darn so sorry this was meant to get posted in our shoe thread and my computer hiccupped my apologies


Andrea November 1, 2012 at 22:44

I just found these series. Thanks! People are always asking me about pattern grading and now I’ll send them to you!


Shriya March 9, 2013 at 13:22

this blog is a boon for students like us! thank you so much!


Liz April 28, 2013 at 21:28

Love, love, love this series and thank you so much for doing it. I’ve been sewing for some time but have never come across this information so well given on line. And I need it! As I’ve grown older my body has changed sooo much! Nice to be able to change my patterns as I go….. Looking forward to more just like this.


Care to comment? Thank you ever so much for taking time to share your comment! Although I try to answer questions, I am not always able to respond to each comment individually. But please know that I appreciate from the bottom of my heart every comment I receive!

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