Saturday, September 11, 2010

How I upgrade a pattern: the easy way

Hello Hello!

In a few comments here and on Burdastyle, some persons have mentioned that they didn't feel at ease enough to upgrade a pattern. People, this is a myth, a fable, a story. Upgrading an easy pattern is not as hard as taking the Ring into Mordor. For me, it is like taking a journey to Rivendell: it can be little bit tricky, but not too much, and in the end, you are as peaceful as Elrond... The fellow geeks will understand :)

A few methods exist when it comes to pattern upgrading. The basic one that consists in adding sizes around the pattern pieces, and the classic one, that consists in modifying the pieces from their middle. The basic one is recommended for upgrading maximum two sizes, and is usable for multisize patterns where the classic one works for more, and is usable for any pattern. Today, I will explain the basic one. These methods can also be used in the opposite way, to downgrade a pattern that is to big for you...

Warning 1! In this post, I am making major changes with the basic method: not a good thing if you refer to what is written in books. I just think that this one is easier to show for starters. In a little while, I will post about the classic method, so I can compare, and you can compare too!

Warning 2! With this method, the fit won't be as good as with patterns that you buy at your size, but if you want that gorgeous Vogue pattern that stops at size 20, you have to try anyway...

This post has 7 main paragraphs. They have theoretical parts and examples parts. Some of the paragraphs are skippable, but I tried to be as complete as I could.

1) The pattern
2) Differences between sizes
3) Theory (skip if you do not like formulas)
4) Exceptions
5) Application: Units
6) Application: How to
7) The first times you do that...

1) The pattern

I am using the bust of the Coffee Date Dress, that is available for everyone on Burdastyle. It has been created by the Selfish Seamstress. I am sure that all of you have heard about her. Her blog is full of witty posts and smart remarks about sewing. I am using this pattern because everyone knows about it, and it is an easy one to use for the upgrading purposes.

2) Differences between sizes

Your size
42 44 46 48 50 52 54 56

42 0 4 8 14 20 26 32 38

44 4 0 4 8 14 20 26 32
The biggest 46 8 4 0 4 8 14 20 26
size of the 48 14 8 4 0 4 8 14 20
pattern 50 20 14 8 4 0 4 8 14

52 26 20 14 8 4 0 4 8

54 32 26 20 14 8 4 0 4

56 38 32 26 20 14 8 4 0

This table shows how many centimeters there is between sizes. I am so sorry for not using inches in this one, as in Europe, we rarely use them, and most of the patterns in Vogue also do the metric system. The main reason is also that talking about inches confuses me... And you do not want me to be confused...

The main rule is that from size 32-34 up to size 44, you have 4cm added each time you go up. 
From size 44 to 56 (and more?), you have 6cm added each time you go up.

For example, if you are a size 50, and your pattern stops at a 42, there is, on average, a difference of 20 centimeters between them at every measurement.
- My bust is a 50 (24 for Vogue), therefore, between the Coffee Date Dress pattern and me, there are 20 cm!
- My waist is a 52 (26 for Vogue), therefore, between the Coffee Date Dress pattern and me, there are 26 cm!
- My hips are a size 54 (28 for Vogue),  therefore, between the Coffee Date Dress pattern and me, there are 32 cm!

3) Theory (skip if you do not like formulas)

Do you add them all at the side hems?
Do you add them only in width?
Do you touch the sleeves?
Do you work around the neckline?

These are questions that I asked to myself when I started sewing. With the basic method, you add cm all around every piece. The concept is the following: to obtain the amount of cm to add on the side of a piece of pattern, you divide the total cm needed by the amount of pieces that you have, times two (for each side).
 Total cm / (amount pieces x 2)

For example, around the bust, the Coffee Date Dress has 4 pieces: 2 fronts, 2 backs. 
I need to add 20 cm around the bust.


I then need to add 2.5 cm on each side of each pattern piece to make up for the difference between sizes 42 and 50.

4) Exceptions

Of course, most of us have different sizes for different parts of our body. As written before, I am a size 50 (bust), 52 (waist) and 54 (hips). You have to take that into account when you upgrade your patterns. We will come back to this in the practical application.

5) Application: Units

You only need a pen and a ruler to draw your pattern...


On multisize patterns, you can see between the different lines (that correspond to sizes)  the amount of space that is added between a 42 and a 44 for example. What we do when we upgrade a pattern is simply create another of those lines, the one that correspond to our size.  To confuse the least people, I am using "units" instead of cm or inches.   

A unit is the space that exists between two sizes up to size 46. 

You can see it in the picture below. You have to pay attention. On the patterns that stop at a size 44 or 46, the units correspond to differences of sizes of 4cm. From 46 to 56, the differences between sizes are bigger (6cm).

Between 42 and 44: 1 unit
Between 44 and 46: 1 unit
Between 46 and 48: 1.5 units
Between 48 and 50: 1.5 units

Between 46 and 48 for example, having 1.5 units just means that the space between two lines (of different sizes) is bigger. You can check out free plus size patterns on Burdastyle for an idea of what it looks like.

Keep in mind that one unit has different measurements all around the pattern piece...

Example 1: you are a size 46 and you want to upgrade the Coffee Date Dress pattern (from 42). Then, you will need to add two units all around (1+1)

Example 2: you are a size 50 (bust and waist and hips) and you want to upgrade the Coffee Date Dress pattern. Then, you will need to add five units all around (1+1+1.5+1.5).

Example 3: you are a size 50 (bust) and 52 (waist) and you want to upgrade the Coffee Date Dress pattern. Then, you will need to add five units around the bust (1+1+1.5+1.5), and 6.5 (1+1+1.5+1.5+1.5) units around the waist. (More explanation below)

6) Application: How to

6.1. Start at the angles

- Measure how wide the unit is. On the picture of the fifth paragraph, it is 1 cm.
- Find out how much units you need to add. Here, I am a size 50 so I need to add 5 units.
- Figure out in which direction you need to add those units.
- Draw a point
- Do the same for every angle of your pattern piece

6.2. Keep on going

- Draw more points between the angles
- Connect the points
- Now, you must have parallel lines to those of the pattern. Your lines have to take the same directions as the other ones.

6.3. I you are not a usual hourglass (like me!)

- Before step 6.1., figure out which corners belong to your bust area, to your waist, and to your hips.
- Connect them (same 6.2.)

7) The first times you do that...

Give a bigger seam allowance for when you try your muslin or your garment, and see what went wrong or right. Like for every pattern, some fitting is always needed.

Anyway, here you go, a whole pattern piece is upgraded:

Now, I need feedback... I know that this post has very theoretical parts, but I have the habit to write like that. Reminiscence of the articles and reports that I had to write for University... If you have questions, or suggestions on how I could write this post better, tell me, and I will do my best!


  1. Hi
    I just found your blog. Wow, you have been creativ and fast. I am myself are a size 48 (also been size 38,40,42,44,46 and on my way to size 50)
    I like your explanation. Its a bit teknical but because I allready tried the bacic teknic (but only for 1 og 2 sizes bigger)I understod you very well. I havent dared to try it on patterns that needed me to upgrad more than that. But I will now thanks to you. Thanks.

  2. :-) <-new follower, long time burda-stalker

    I had to do the same thing with the coffee date pattern and I'm glad to see you did it the same way, I think the in depth instructions are great, you add plenty of pictures so if anyone gets lost off they can use the pictures to understand :-)

    I'm looking forward to the other method too!

  3. This is so very clearly written and incredibly helpful!! Photos are really helpful, too. Now I don't have to get rid of all those favorite patterns that I have "outgrown" (ahem)! Thanks for the post.

  4. this is so easy to follow! thanks so much for posting this. now the women in my life have zero excuses for not letting me measure them for my creations. mwahahaha!

    thanks =D

  5. I found your blog last night, looking for how people grade patterns. I do it like you do too!

  6. Thank you so much for your explanations. I have never tried this before, but after reading (and keeping) this instructions, I feel more confident now to give it a try. Thank you from Australia

  7. Awesome article! I can't wait to try this method!

  8. .. just about to try to enlarge my coffee date dress based on your instructions. Wish me luck!!

  9. Wow! Thanks for this!! I had just started to learn sewing clothing for myself when I became seriously ill/disabled. The disease came with 50 pounds (in less than a year) ,taking me from a size 10 or 12 to a 2x (18/20). I decided it wouldn't be fun to sew for the new fat body...I gave up on the idea of sewing for myself. It was sad to think of giving up. As I grew to accept and love my "new" body I decided to try learning to sew garments for myself again. This tutorial along with the inspiration of your wonderful sewing projects will be invaluable to me. Thank you!!


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