Pattern Grading, Not For the Faint of Heart

The dining table in all its glory

I just finished a bit of an assignment that is quite literally the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my entire seamstering life.  I undertook to scale the gridded Janet Arnold Riding Habit pattern (Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660-1860, Snowshill Manor riding habit), no biggie, but then to grade that pattern up to measurements many sizes larger than the original historical garment.

This was an exercise in mathematics, or “Lauren sucks at math and forgot everything she learned in high school.” I did not have the convenience of having the client here with me, and so I had to approximate as best I could on my dress form, using batting.  My first go was quite wrong:

I marked on the back the size of the gap to the center line, then added this to the back piece.

After marking gaps, extensions, subtractions, and double checking measurements, I have something that’s looking pretty close to rights.  The pattern is not an exact replica, of course, and it will most definitely require the client (who commissioned me for the pattern alone and will be sewing the garment herself) to make a toile and tailor this jacket to fit her.

The front.  The client’s torso is much longer than the dress form’s, so it appears to not fit.
The back, with the pleats on the side.  I put it on over a skirt and skirt supports, but it is designed to be worn with pocket hoops or side skirt supports.

I’m quite proud of this.  It took HOURS, but it was something I feel was an excellent exercise in patterning.  I have also gained an extreme appreciation for robust ladies and their costuming needs.  It’s all good and well when you’re generally the same size as scaled historical patterns, but getting the proper proportion and fit with any size larger than a 27″ waist is truly a challenge, and I commend every lady who does it!

figuring ratios and grading.  my brain hurts.


  • MrsC (Maryanne)

    October 3, 2010 at 9:45 AM

    Yes ma'am, it's the primary reason why I tend to sew costuems for toehrs and not myself – I can make a pattern for anyone and size off the top of my head pretty much (30 years experience has to be good for something) but as EVERY time I make something for myself it requires this palaver, I get fed up with it. Mind you I am about to make a frock coat (not historical) having copied a pattern from one I bought, and I am hoping like heck it will be a fairly straightforward exercise so I can make a few more. I do love me a good frock coat! 🙂
    Love this riding habit, by the way.

  • Lindsey

    October 3, 2010 at 2:08 PM

    Can't wait to see the finished product! Hopefully everything will be downhill from here since you've already put so much time and effort into the pattern! 🙂

  • Robin's Egg Bleu

    October 3, 2010 at 5:15 PM

    I admire your tenacity in tackling this endeavor! I have to do this by looking at modern multisized patterns to figure out where and how much the size increments take place. And I too sucked at math and have forgotten everything I learned in school! So far, I've done okay enlarging patterns that come in only one size. There's still so much reconfiguration though. Argh.

  • Unknown

    October 3, 2010 at 5:53 PM

    As a robust lady myself, and new to costuming, I have run into a few issues too. The first is the skirt hem being higher in back then the front due to my God given bustle. Second, I have a 36 inch inseam and a longer torso than most women (I'm 6' tall) I have to adjust every pattern even if I find one in a size 20 (I use commercial Halloween costume patterns then modify) Things end up too short, too long, etc. and always require more adjusting. There is a wonderful sense of accomplishment though when done so I stick with it. I like that you are working with larger ladies. We need you.

  • Lauren Stowell

    October 5, 2010 at 1:20 AM

    Tony, this was an un-related project for patterning the Janet Arnold riding habit. It just happened to coincide with the post I did about the MA riding habit, and as it turns out, now that I have the pattern scaled for it (the original 1:1 scale, as well as the graded pattern to fit my client), and I've ordered dove grey velvet and taffeta, I'm going to be using it to make my version of the Marie Antoinette travelling costume 🙂

Leave a Reply

Discover more from American Duchess Blog

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading