pattern grading 101: part two

Welcome to part two of this series! In this post I’ll be covering the basics of grading up–or enlarging a pattern. This is perhaps the most often requested, since a lot of vintage patterns in smaller sizes survive. But if you need to grade down, then never fear–that is the next installment!

One thing I want to say before I get started is that this is my own method for pattern grading and this is by no means comprehensive. If you want to learn more indepth methods to grading, there are a lot of textbooks available that I’m sure get into more nitty gritty details and techniques than I have time to cover. But for grading up a few sizes, this is a good option for the home sewist.

That brings me to another thing I want to point out: this is a method that is best suited to grading up a few sizes at a time. Any more than 3 sizes, and you risk distorting the pattern edges. If you need to go from say a vintage size 10 (30″ bust) to a vintage size 20 (40″ bust), I’d suggest grading first up to a size 14 (34″ bust) and then to a size 20. Trust me: the larger the gaps between the pieces, the greater the risk you accidentally loose the edge integrity and throw off placement for things like darts. (Don’t forget you’ll also need to lengthen the pieces during the grading process, which I’ve touched on at the end.)

Final point (and then we’ll get started, I promise!): As I said in my previous post, grading does not negate the need for a fitting muslin. Grading is simply enlarging (or reducing) the pattern. It does not magically make it fit your body perfectly (unless, of course, you are one of those lucky people who can fit a pattern straight out of the envelope–how I envy you! hehe!). So grade, make a muslin, and fit. ‘Nuff said.

Begin by tracing your pattern–I never cut my original pattern to grade (especially vintage patterns), as I want to keep the original intact. I went over what I use in the previous post for tracing my patterns. Essentially, I lay the piece on my cardboard cutting mat (I usually iron it gently and on the lowest, non-steam setting first), and the transparent paper over top. I trace all the edges, markings and grainlines. Be sure to label each piece too! Cut them out once they’re traced.

For the example pattern, I’m going to say that we’re grading from a 32″ bust/24″ waist/34″ hip to a 36″ bust–a 4″ difference. We’re going to be doing an even grade (I’ll go over some of the basics of uneven grading later on in the series), so the overall grade will be 4″ resulting in a 36″ bust/28″ waist/38″ hip. Here’s where you’ll need to do a little math!

Take that grading measurement–4″–and divide by 2. This measurement (in the example it’s 2″) is what we’ll grade over the entire 1/2 of the pattern. (Meaning that most patterns have a half bodice front, half bodice back, etc.–it’s essentially half a dress!) Since we have a front and back piece for the bodice, we’ll divide this 2″ by 1/2 again to reach 1″. This 1″ is the total grade for the front or back. (So when you have graded your pieces and make a complete bodice, it’ll have been graded 4″ overall.)

We’re almost done with the math! Take that 1″ and divide it by 3. I never divide evenly, since it gets a little cumbersome. Generally I’ll do a 3/8″-1/4″-3/8″ division for a 1″ grade. You’ll see where these measurements go below. Write this down somewhere, since you’ll use this on each front and back piece to reach that overall 4″ grade.

This is the pattern I’ll be using as an example for the instructional portion of this post. It’s fairly simple, and I feel showcases the basic principles of pattern grading the best. Scroll to the bottom for a few more schematics of other pattern types too!

One thing I almost always do on pattern tracings prior to diving them (otherwise referred to as “slash and spread”) is make a horizontal line across the pattern. Your pattern may already have this in the form of a lengthen/shorten line, but if not, it’s a good idea to draw one now as it helps match things up once you’ve cut the pattern apart.

This shows the basic dividing lines for most bodice patterns: from neckline to waist, shoulder to waist, and underarm to waist. Note on the back pattern piece rather than going straight from the armhole down, I angled the line. This is because a straight line would have ended above the waist, which we also want to grade up. Note I also tend to avoid cutting in the middle of a waistline dart. Of course, your pattern will probably vary–but once you know the basics of where to place your lines, you’re set. I have rarely deviated from this configuration in the years I’ve been grading by hand–usually it works for the majority of styles.

To go along with our example grade (4″ increase overall), these bodice pieces have been cut along those dividing lines and spread the appropriate amount we calculated above. I tend to spread less over the shoulder to waist slash. Why? Because adding too much to that area tends to give a pattern “linebacker shoulders”. If you have to do a Full Bust Adjustment, wait to do that until after you’ve graded the pattern–don’t try to “cheat” and add it at this point!

This is how I usually set up my cutting board while I slash and spread the pattern pieces: a piece of paper underneath, and the graded piece (slashed and spread) pinned overtop. I tend to just retrace the entire piece. But you can also tape additional paper underneath if that’s easier. It really just depends on the size of the grade!

The last thing you need to do after you grade the pattern, as you’re tracing (or after you’ve taped in other paper), is to true the edges of the pattern as they’ve probably gotten a bit jagged with all this grading! This just means to connect with a smooth line one point to another as above in red (on the front piece). Cut out your new pattern piece (if you’ve traced, making sure you’ve transferred all darts, grainlines, etc.) and you’re done!

For more grading examples, click the “more” link below.

Skirts: Very easy to do! Even gored skirts. Below is the dividing line for a three piece skirt (one piece front, two piece back). Add the same amount you added to the front and back bodice pieces (generally I divide the measurements up the same, which helps with keeping things like notches and darts approximately lined up during grading).

Gored skirts are just as easy. Here’s a basic layout for the dividing lines for a six gore skirt:

Sleeves: These differ a bit from bodices and skirts in that you don’t take the entirety of that 4″ grade measurement and divide it into the sleeves. Rather take the total measurement that you added to the front and back armhole (in the example 3/8″ on each for a total of 3/4″) and divide it by 3 (so 1/4″-1/4″-1/4″). Below is the basic placement for the dividing lines. Slash and spread as discussed previously.

Facings: If you have a fairly complicated facing, you can grade it. But honestly if it’s a neckline or combination neckline/armhole facing (as I showed below because it was the easiest to illustrate), I just retrace a new facing once the grading is complete.

To Lengthen a Pattern: Usually if I’m grading up a size or so, I don’t bother to lengthen the pattern piece. But if you’re grading more than two sizes, I do recommend adding length to the pieces. Otherwise you might end up with something the right width around, but way too short! Generally I’ll refer to the neck to waist measurements on the back of the pattern envelope and calculate the difference (for example let’s say the difference for our 32″ to 36″ grade is 1/2″). But if your pattern doesn’t have this information, measure yourself and compare it to the neck to waist length of the pattern piece.  Divide this measurement by two (so 1/4″ and 1/4″ for the example). Here are the basic dividing lines for a bodice:

For other pattern types, I highly recommend taking a gander at this quick guide from Threads Magazine.

In the next installment I’ll go over grading down. For those looking for information on my tricky styles (like raglan sleeves) or pants, those will be in a later installment. I think if I kept tinkering with this post, it’d never get published! lol. If you have questions, please feel free to leave them below. I can’t promise I’ll know the answer, but I’ll try to do my best to assist!

June 22, 2012 · 76 lovely thoughts
posted in sewing,tutorials · tags: , ,

Faith June 22, 2012 at 07:07

Thank you so much, Casey. This is amazing! Although I’ve already tried grading up quite a few times, there are so many tips in here that I’d not thought of and it’s all so simple and concise whereas so many tutorials of this kind online have got me furrowing my brow in confusion. I hope you know that you’re awesome.

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Casey June 22, 2012 at 10:50

Aw, thank you so much (again! ;) ) Faith!!! :)

♥ Casey

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Megan June 22, 2012 at 07:52

Thank you so much for this. I recently ended up with a box of vintage patterns, none of which are my size, that I really want to get some use out of. This will help so much. Thanks again!

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Casey June 22, 2012 at 10:51

So glad this is going to be useful for you, Megan!!! :)

♥ Casey

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Sam June 22, 2012 at 07:53

I always thought grading patterns was something I could never do because it was too complicated. You’ve just given me so much confidence with this one post that I think I could actually do it! Thanks for taking the time to write this series Casey, you are a gem. Sam xox

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Casey June 22, 2012 at 10:56

So glad that this is a confidence-builder for you, Sam! Once you’ve done it a few times (just like with any skill ;) ), it gets easier and makes a lot more sense.

♥ Casey

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Brandy Layton June 22, 2012 at 07:54

This is awesome! I have a few patterns that need to be graded! Thank you so much for your time!

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Casey June 22, 2012 at 10:56

Yay for good timing!!! :D

♥ Casey

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Sam June 22, 2012 at 07:55

I always thought grading patterns was something I could never do because it was too complicated. You’ve just given me so much confidence with this one post that I think I could actually do it! Thanks for taking the time to write this series Casey, you are a gem! Sam xox

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Miriam June 22, 2012 at 08:08

Thanks so incredibly much for posting this! It opens up a whole new world of sewing opportunities!

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Casey June 22, 2012 at 10:57

So glad this is going to be helpful for you! It really does revolutionize how you approach patterns and sewing–I’m so glad I can share it with y’all! :)

♥ Casey

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Kerry June 22, 2012 at 08:11

Thanks for this – I will be bookmarking this series for future use :)

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Le Professeur Gothique June 22, 2012 at 08:13

Thank you so much for this post! Just yesterday I was cutting out a pattern for a circle skirt and was complaining to my husband that it stinks being a 6 foot, athletic woman into vintage clothing because the patterns are also so small. This helps me tremendously because I have some of my Mom’s old patterns who was a good 3 to 4 inches smaller in the hips and waist! She was also 3 inches shorter. :) This is just fantastic! (((HUGS))) from NYC!

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Casey June 22, 2012 at 10:58

hehe! Good timing for this article then, eh? ;) Hopefully you’ll be able to whip up some of those patterns soon! :D

♥ Casey

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carla June 22, 2012 at 08:38

Thank you so much for this great information. I do have a question…if I typlcally need to make an FBA, should I use my high bust measurement when starting the grading process on a vintage pattern?

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Casey June 22, 2012 at 10:59

Nope–I would definitely go ahead and just do an even grade using the full bust measurement that corresponds with the size you’re grading to, and then do the FBA as I mentioned in the post. I would think that otherwise it might throw the fit off of the torso a bit. (But I could be wrong–that’s just my opinion. ;) )

♥ Casey

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Rachel June 22, 2012 at 08:59

I admit, your grading system is way better than what I have been using already ;) I am going to have to read this a few times, and I will probably use it too :)

Will you be covering grading trousers in a future post too?

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Casey June 22, 2012 at 10:59

Yep! I’m planning on covering those a couple posts down the line!

♥ Casey

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Stacey June 22, 2012 at 09:20

This has been amazingly helpful. I was given a bunch of vintage patterns that are all 1 size to small for me, so now I know how to make them the right size for me. Thanks Casey!

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Casey June 22, 2012 at 10:59

So glad this will be useful, Stacy! :)

♥ Casey

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Megan June 22, 2012 at 10:41

This is so awesome and helpful. Thank you!!

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Barbara June 22, 2012 at 10:42

Thanks so much for this tutorial. I’ve wanted to buy some vintage patterns in smaller sizes but have been unsure about grading them up. But with your tutorial in hand, I off to search for my first ungradable pattern. Thanks again for all your hard work and information!!

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Casey June 22, 2012 at 11:00

You’re welcome, Barbara! Just beware: this makes buying vintage patterns a little too easy, since you no longer have to buy your size. hehe!

♥ Casey

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Kim June 22, 2012 at 11:12

This is a great tutorial. However, I will stick to buying patterns in my own size because if there is any way to screw something up, I will find it!

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Simone June 22, 2012 at 11:35

wow this is so clearly written & really opens up a whole lot of opportunities. It does leave me wondering if this will work for my fitting dilemma. I have a boyish figure. Typically my bust and hip measurements fit one size on the pattern but I need to add about 5inches in the waist! Should I grade the pattern or just alter the waist? I’d love your advice on this Casey or any of your readers who have the.same issues.

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Casey June 24, 2012 at 07:20

I always err on the side of grading the pattern first and then making any fitting alterations. I know I sound like a broken record: but grading is really only for sizing the pattern up or down, not dealing with fitting issues specifically. Those are a whole ‘nother topic! ;)

♥ Casey

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Simone July 18, 2012 at 15:32

Thank you Casey, you really are being so diligent and patient answering all our questions I hope it’s not driving you to crazy.

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Lauren June 22, 2012 at 11:35

Wonderfully comprehensive! You did a great job explaining this, Casey! Big kudos :)

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Casey June 24, 2012 at 07:21

Thanks, Lauren! :) You have been such a cheerleader while I’ve been wrangling with this! ;)

♥ Casey

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Maddie June 22, 2012 at 12:09

This is such a great series! I am a technical designer for Anthropologie so I deal with grading every day! This was a great refresher of the basics that are critical to my job. Thank you!

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Casey June 24, 2012 at 07:21

So glad it’s a good refresher, Maddie! :)

(Btw: I think you just might have my dream job working for Anthropologie! hehe!)

♥ Casey

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karen shaw-jones June 22, 2012 at 17:51

these grading posts are wonderful. i’m going to have a go with some vintage patterns. i’ve just done some pattern drafting (bodice) with a local tutor and things are slowly falling into place – lightbulb moments!!! practice i must :)

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Casey June 24, 2012 at 07:22

Yes–practice is always a good idea! ;) It’s taken me years to fully comprehend some of these dressmaking concepts because I’m largely self-taught. But you know the saying: “practice makes perfect”! ;)

♥ Casey

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Charlotte Dymock June 22, 2012 at 18:37

Casey I’m so impressed with your dedication in putting together this series! I know these tutorials take ages to put together, so bravo!

I’m just working up to grading two patterns – an adorable shirtwaist dress with shoulder yokes and gathering, and a playsuit – again with shoulder yokes! (I do love the shoulder yokes, but they certainly add an extra dimension of ‘fun’ to pattern grading)

xx Charlotte
Tuppence Ha’penny Vintage

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Casey June 24, 2012 at 07:23

Ah yes… shoulder yokes can be a bit of a pain when grading! lol. Best of luck on that, Charlotte! ;)

♥ Casey

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Clare June 22, 2012 at 19:44

Wonderful post Casey! Any chance of doing it again in metric though?! Haha jokes. Having never had anything to do with inches and feet until I started sewing, and although I somehow feel more secure with a decimal point (!?), I have taken quite a liking to the imperial system, so i’m sure i’ll figure it out!

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Jamie June 22, 2012 at 22:55

Thank you so much! I have so many patterns I would love to try, but I was so intimidated by pattern grading, but you made it seem so easy! Thanks so much, and I am looking forward to the rest of the series! :)

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Lisa June 23, 2012 at 01:19

Thank you for doing this. Really, there are so many things I didn’t even know I didn’t know. Drawbacks of self-teaching, I suppose.
My question is this: would you do a small bust adjustment after grading, just like a full bust adjustment? Straight shoulders, small bust over here… and bit of a beginner, never had to grade anything yet. Also, are you going to include your methods for SBA/FBA? I enjoyed reading Gertie’s, and I’d love to see what you do!

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Casey June 24, 2012 at 07:26

I hear ya! ;) I’m largely self-taught as well (though I did learn the basics of pattern grading when I was about 17 from someone else), and it can create gaps at times… lol.

I said this in reply to another comment, but wanted to paste it here since it answers your question about SBA. I always err on the side of grading the pattern first and then making any fitting alterations. I know I sound like a broken record: but grading is really only for sizing the pattern up or down, not dealing with fitting issues specifically. Those are a whole ‘nother topic!

As for the SBA/FBA tutorials… I think I won’t be doing any of those in the near future. For one, I’m far more familiar with an SBA (I usually have to make that alteration for myself), and I think after this series (which has already eaten about 10+ hours of prep work just for the first two posts! ;) ), I’ll be working on some other, slightly less intensive tutorials. But thanks for asking! :)

♥ Casey

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Isis June 23, 2012 at 04:54

Great posts! uch appreciated!

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CoudreMode June 23, 2012 at 05:25

Very thorough explanation, I do have a question: on the sleeve illustration I noticed the two slash lines on either side of the center line are not parallel to the center line – do you get a more accurate grade by aligning these lines with the angle of the sleeve? I noticed the Threads illustrations show a sleeve with grade lines parallel to each other. I’ve only graded modern multi-size patterns (which are generally graded using a different method as you know) that’s why I ask. :)

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Casey June 24, 2012 at 07:29

I think it depends; I’ve done angled and straight grades and never had an issue. The problem with the first sleeve illustration is that if you took a straight line down on either side of the sleeve, it’d run off the edge of the sleeve before you reached the wrist (which also needs to be graded up). I think there are varying opinions about this, but as I said this is my method for doing things (so it may not be totally correct according to textbooks and authorities! ;) lol.). But I’ve never had issues with things ending up too off-kilter.

♥ Casey

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Jessica June 23, 2012 at 08:43

This is so excellently presented and explained, Casey. Thank you for delving into this perplexing (for many at least) topic, I’m learning so, so much to put to work one day when I get a sewing machine.

Wishing you a stellar weekend, dear gal!
♥ Jessica

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Casey June 24, 2012 at 07:29

Thank you so much for your sweet words, Jessica! :)

♥ Casey

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Donna G June 23, 2012 at 11:25

A mountain of thanks to you for all your work. Putting this post together. I have a pattern I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to adjust for 3 wks. I still adjusting my second toile. Thank you very much. I’ll be giving it a go tomorrow

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Melissa June 23, 2012 at 20:20

Wow, thanks so much for putting this post together! I have a growing collection of vintage patterns (only some of which are my size) and this is just the information I have been looking for to finally delve into making some of them. Thanks again and I love your blog!

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Natalie June 24, 2012 at 03:25

yay!

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Tasha June 25, 2012 at 08:49

Thank you so much for all the effort you’re putting into this series, I’ve been looking forward to it. Seeing it laid out with the cut lines is really helpful. It really breaks down what seems like a daunting task, but isn’t really so bad!

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Dana June 25, 2012 at 22:14

This is awesome. I just bought a vintage summer blouse pattern that is 2 sizes too small right before you announced you were going to do this series. Yay! I’m going to make a collared tank style to go with my circle skirt from the circle skirt sew along. Are grading collars basically the same as grading neck facings or are they different?

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Pixie June 26, 2012 at 18:52

Ahhh Casey, thank you so much for this! I just got done with some extreme pattern grading (think like 8 inches!) and while part of me wishes I could have read this first, it’s actually great to be able to compare what I did with your tips!

One thing that’s got me a little stumped is the sleeve grade? I followed the Threads guide and figured out what you said, that I only needed to add to the sleeves what I did to the armhole, but then your “divide by three” bit loses me. I’m wondering if this has something to do with why my sleeves wound up comically baggy from elbow to wrist!

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Andrea June 27, 2012 at 07:38

I love you. Words cannot express just how much I love you. *calms down* I have all of my mum’s old 60′s patterns in a 32″ bust and I’ve wanted to make them but it’s pointless when you have a 38″ bust.

Tomorrow I’m spending the day grading a dress I’ve wanted since I was 16. I really do love you!

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Faye Lewis June 29, 2012 at 22:39

Wonderfully clear and understandable!

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Donna G June 30, 2012 at 10:16

Thank you so much Casey, I will never forget you, lol. I adjusted a pattern which I had previously made 2 toiles of and after much fussing they were still wrong. I adjusted it using the techniques you demonstrated here and the dress turned out PERFECT. First time in my life I have had anything fit so well. I have been trying on and off to make clothes for myself for 20 yrs. I try, doesn’t fit me, I throw it in the bin and give up, only to try again a yr or so later… Well not any more because I found your blog. You are great. THANK YOU CASEY

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meka July 2, 2012 at 12:22

thank you so much this is much easier that the books, im a plus size so i have to grade everything, so far i have been using leko cd custom patterns now i can use a regular pattern so many more opportunities

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Melanie July 19, 2012 at 21:15

Your method is really easy, especially love your advice to do a large grade in two steps (I had to grade up 8″ – crazy, but I just wanted that pattern!). I’m almost finished my project and it seems to be working ok.
I would love if you could include more detail next about what to do with darts when grading. Adding 8 inches to a bodice, it just seemed like the darts (both bust and waist) were going to end up in the wrong spot. So I used a method from a book that suggested trying on your pattern pieces, marking your new bust point, and re drafting the darts to end an inch from the new bust. It seems to have worked fine for the simple bodice I’m making. Anyone tried any other methods?
Thanks again!

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Shelley August 16, 2012 at 15:55

Thank you so much for this, Casey! I have a too-small pattern that I’m dying to wear to a wedding, and I’m sure whatever way I was going to wing it wouldn’t have been as precise and logical as this. Your blog is lovely. Thanks again.

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barbara September 5, 2012 at 20:46

i grade often and find i almost never have to open the armseye. even though i need an adjustment at the side seam and shoulder and waist to enlarge the size, my underarm isn’t larger. what i do is draw the line and snip to the seam allowance and swivel the amount i need. that keeps the armseye the same. on most people the underarm doesn’t really get larger, and if it does, what you really need is a lower scoop, maybe 1/4″ or less. by increasing the width of the underarn , you expose more of your boob bulge, imo.

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Miranda September 13, 2012 at 18:58

I can’t wait until you post instructions on grading up/down for raglans. I’ve got a size 30 1930′s dress that needs to be just a tiny bit bigger (32-33), and finding directions for grading these is really hard. And many congratulations on starting out on the new adventure-parenthood!

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Irene December 23, 2012 at 09:46

Hello
I am a beginner vintage sewing lover, and i always try to buy patterns according with my own measurements, but when i adjust or grade them the final results is a massive pattern for my size. This post and the blog in general is very useful and amazing. I follow all the advice you offer and althou i am a 60′s fanatic i will incluide some of this really nice 40′s and 50′s patterns to my collection because are adorable as well. So thank you so much for créate this blog and regards from Spain.
Merry Chrstmas by the way!

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Bec January 11, 2013 at 02:03

As a fashion student this is unbelievably helpful. Thank you SO much!

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Aud Steier Griem January 31, 2013 at 15:04

Hello,

I just found your blog and think this grading tutorial will prove helpful to me in a few days! I have ordered a lovely vintage sewing pattern online one size smaller than my size, so it has to be upgraded from size 32 to 34 and then I have to do a FBA.

Best wishes from Norway
Aud

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anne k February 19, 2013 at 10:26

Thank you, thank you so much for this tutorial! You are totally a gem!
BYE, I found out that I’m about 99% of Irish heritage. So cool! Must visit soon.

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corry anders April 8, 2013 at 04:48

Not sure what you mean by website.

I have bought pattern maker,Happy with it, but have since been told I should do FBA.
As I am a size D cup.
I thought as I make my own pattern to my measurement, do I make my pattern on high bust measure? and then increase bust to size d cup?
Hope you can help. Thank you VCorry Anders

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Eulalia August 6, 2013 at 12:21

Thank you very much for the explanation. I have a question, I want to scale down a plus size pattern but I can’t scale the waist because it is perfect to me. I only want to change the bust and the hip. What do I have to do? Thank you in advanced.
Have a good day

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Gregory August 10, 2013 at 08:35

This isn’t grading. This is enlarging the pattern. In grading the integrity of the proportion is kept intact.
This will change the shape of the pattern pieces and so the final garment’s fit, true, but the overall design will be compromised.

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Eulalia August 17, 2013 at 09:13

Thank you very much. Know I understand it

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Linda Rollins August 31, 2013 at 17:03

I upgraded a blouse pattern using your example. Problem is the sleeves in my pattern are short kimono sleeves. How do I grade these? Thank you so very much for your help! I also want to try your method on a dress pattern that has extended shoulders as sleeves. Very simple pattern. Thank you so very much.

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winonajoan December 14, 2013 at 23:30

many thanks for sharing your knowledge to help people like me who struggle with grading patterns.

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Premilla Naidoo April 4, 2014 at 13:46

Hi, please can you help me? I need to grade a 1/2 circle skirt, please can you help me with the formular?
Thanks
Premi

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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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