Stout Woman Revolution: This pattern isn't my size!

Truth be told, one reason I gave up on a lot of modern patterns was the way they were sized. Not only did they have monstrous ease built in to often accommodate lazy grading, but modern proportions can be a headache to a stout figure.

A lot of what determines a good fit for us is where you carry your extra weight. Do you have it in your front, in the back, even all over? Are you pear shape, hourglass, top heavy" Is it in your arms, chest, or thighs? Sheesh!

There are so many types of plus size figures its no wonder patterns have not kept up. I mean, can you blame them? To make a tall regular and petite then to have to make a top heavy tall regular, and petite, THEN a bottom heavy tall regular and petite!? Wow. They would never make any money.

*from my Butterick sewing & dressmaking book*

Vintage patterns caught onto this rather early in the whole scheme of things. Instead of alienating the stout woman, they were given their own section just as proud as any other. Woman's sizing in clothing catalogs held fashions that were just as stylish for the slimmer gal, but made to flatter the larger gal. Now that's equality.

Same for patterns. You can find patterns made for specific larger figures and often they are advertised as such. The sizing went from Junior miss to a 30 to 38 bust, then woman's often went from 36 to 44 bust, and larger women were from 38 to 52 bust. Often styles in these ranges in the 30s and 40s complimented the market these patterns were directed to.

These stout women of the past knew that alterations were a fact of life when making their own clothes. they didn't rely on exact sizing made by the pattern manufacturer because they knew they often didn't fit that anyway. You would find in a lot of patterns (not just for larger women) places in the pattern where it was safe to adjust the size without worry about the grain line or matching. Now that's service.

*from Short-Cuts to Sewing Success by Du Barry*

I love looking through my vintage sewing books and seeing all the tips and suggestions of how to alter a pattern based on you. This excerpt from my Du Barry sewing book is one of my favorites. All the different options for adjusting all made concise and effective.

I guess that's why I've never been able to effectively take advantage of multi-sized patterns. If I'm going to go through all the work of a muslin and whatnot, then I might as well adjust the pattern to me instead of the dimensions given in any of the sizes. I see patterns as a base template for size because I have never ever fit a pattern out of the package. Everything I do has to be adjusted, so I have no expectation of a 'great fit' or an 'effortless fit' because I control all of that.

*The Simplicity Sewing Book*

Just don't get frustrated if you get a pattern and it does not fit you out of the package. Your stout body is unique and can't fit into the very broad net of modern pattern making. If you, stout or not, don't fit into the general guides then you are going to have to alter your patterns every single time. No way around it. Just embrace it! Make something to compliment you figure, and keep on keeping on.

I thank you for your time :)


  1. Excellent post -- love to see those old sewing book excerpts!

  2. Thank you for your blog Shelley! I've been reading it for a couple of months, trying to ease myself back into sewing again. You are an inspiration. I always have to alter blouses because I have to buy them a size up so the buttons don't pop, but then the rest is too big and boxy. Another problem with fit I see in many of the retro sewing blogs, is that woman don't realize that the vintage woman always wore good foundation garments. It's important to how the clothes hang.

  3. Thanks for the always write such insightful posts. As a strange petite size, I too long for the vintage pattern, because the modern pattern's idea of "petite" is shortening the torso. Gahhhh.

  4. I echo Peter- excellent post!

  5. This is a fabulous post!
    Although it is aimed at stout sizing, it could well apply to all sizing. Since a lot of us pride ourselves on our individuality we shouldn't be surprised if our figures follow suit :)

  6. Almost none of us can get a great fit right out of the package.....and it used to be a given that we knew how to fix that. We aren't taught sewing, even basic home ec, anymore. And that isn't just losing an art form, but losing useful skills.
    Great post!

  7. Thank you for this post. I too, have come to embrace that any pattern I get is going to require alteration. This is why it takes so long to make something, even the simplest of clothing.

  8. Thanks so much for this post and especially the pattern alteration images. They are so easy to understand, and I will definitely be using them to fit my clothes better. It's great that they include options for solving a bunch of different issues, and let you decide which ones to use, and seem to expect that you'll use more than one. I'm tired of modern pattern instructions that are so limited, or sound as if you're only supposed to have *one* figure "defect" that needs the pattern altered for it. Thanks for providing really useful information!

  9. Lovely post and so informative. Silly question, but I have been looking at the Simplicity Sewing book (and actually own a copy from the 70's), so is it a monthly publication like a magazine, or the same book re-issued every couple of years? I'd like to get the 40's and 50's version, but not sure if they will contain the same things?

  10. Wow, thanks everyone. I thought I was rambling out the side of my mouth. Im so glad you all could get some good info from the post.

    I think we will all be much happier people if we simply realize that we need to alter all of our patterns to fit us. Its not a detriment to the pattern, or our body, but its just a way of life.

    And Drappa, they 'revise' every later edition, mostly with new modern techniques, so they all wont have the same information. You can find them online for $20 and under, generally.

  11. Thank you for this pep talk. My middle aged body sure doesn't fit pattern sizes any more, and I've never understood how to do alterations. Time to embrace reality and to see if this old dog can learn some new tricks.


  12. Just found this post - What wonderful information! I love the images from the old sewing book - It's great to find another way of doing things.

  13. This is so true. Also, as we age, our body weight shifts, so our measurements change. I only use patterns for style and structure ideas. Every plus sized woman has a unique body shape that would be impossible to accommodate in paper patterns. Having alteration skills is a necessity for all sewists.


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