UPDATE: This post is simply an explanation of the difficulties of creating an additional plus size line (patterns or ready to wear).
That does not mean that we do not want to release plus sizes at Colette. We have in fact always told our customers that it is our hope to eventually do just that. But as a very small independent pattern company with just one (very hard working) pattern designer, this hasn’t been feasible yet.
For more information on how to grade patterns for plus sizes, our readers have recommended Barbara Deckert’s “Plus Size Pattern Fitting & Design” class on Craftsy.
Today we have a guest post for your from our friend, Alyson Clair, designer of Clair Vintage Inspired.
The other evening I was talking to Sarai about sizing, grading, and fit when she was reminded of this recent comment on the Colette Patterns Facebook page:
“I am so in love with your patterns and I really want to sew better. Your patterns seem like a fantastic place to start – except that your size range falls short of what I wear. What are your plans for extending your patters into more inclusive sizing that reflects the actual range of bodies in need of adorable, inspiring, handmade clothes?”
I receive comments like this about my clothing line, and I’ve felt similar frustrations when making clothing for myself. I’d like to explain why adding plus sizes to a clothing or pattern line is more complex than you might think.
Note: These images are from Alyson’s clothing line, Clair Vintage Inspired. True to her thoughts in this post, she enjoys creating clothing for women of all shapes and sizes. That is reflected in the variety of models in these images.
Please note- I’m coming to you with perspective not only of a dressmaker, a commercial patternmaker, and Technical Designer (fancy name for person who fits garments and does pattern/making specs), but personally, too. My body is VERY pear shaped and petite.
Before getting into explaining the nitty gritty of pattern drafting, I’d like to address two issues that frustrate all clothing shoppers:
Clothing brands can call their sizing whatever the heck they want (S,M,L or Pegasus, Unicorn, Centaur, it doesn’t matter).
Vanity sizing is running amok, making you memorize which store calls you “an 8” and which says you’re “a 12.”
That said, the standard for pattern-drafters is to begin with a base size and create a base range of sizes around that. Let’s look further into those terms.
When drafting a multi-size pattern for a garment, you start with what is called a base size. Ideally, this size falls in the middle of the range you’d like your graments to cover. For an XS through XL range, the base size is Medium. For a 0 to 16 range, the base would be an 8.
Why start with the median size? Because it gives the truest grading. If you start with your smallest size and grade evenly on up to your largest size, you’ll actually encounter a lot of fit issues.
If you grade correctly, you can hang you XS size right next to your XL size and they look the same, just larger/smaller. Sometimes proportions change a bit, but really the design should translate the same.
Tip: If you run into a company that is doing a terrible job with the fit (poor armhole grading, or tiny pockets on size 14 pants for example) you can write them a letter! Customer service will often pass it along to product development and implement your feedback.
Alright, now you got how pattern/garment development is going. So how do we get to the crux of this post, the plus sizes? Why aren’y they automatically included in the standard size range? The fact is, they will not grow correctly from your original base medium size.
Let’s say you have a fantastic dress in an 8 and wonder, “Why isn’t it available in a 20, or a 22 ,or a 24!?!?” Well, typically when you grade your garment beyond a XL or a 16, the jump between sizes increases more than the jump between a size Medium to a Large.
So to fit for a plus size, you have to start with a whole new base size that sits in the middle of the Plus size range. A good example of this at a retail location would be Lane Bryant, who doesn’t go smaller than a 12.
I can totally understand frustration with finding garments and patterns that you just adore, but they don’t fit. At the same time, don’t get too frustrated with companies that don’t offer it. My theory is that I would rather have it done right, than poorly.
Please keep in mind that next to no one is the size of the forms and base sizes used to make garments. In working in the apparel industry it’s hard to find live fit models that meet the measurements. It’s based on averages.
Finally, I don’t really care for the term “actual range” used in the comment at the beginning of this post. All ranges are actual ranges. No body is the same. Being a dressmaker, I kind of love the differences and embrace the adventure of dressing and creating around them.