How to Determine Your Size in a Sewing Pattern

Start with the right size for your sewing projects.
Start with the right size for your sewing projects. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Sewing pattern sizing is different from off-the-rack sizing, which is important to understand if you're going to make your own clothes. If you plan to be a seamstress and sew your own clothing, forget about whatever size you buy in the store and take steps to accurately determine the correct size of sewing pattern so you can start making clothes that actually fit.

Things You'll Need

  • Tape measure
  • Sewing pattern

Measure yourself, or better yet, have a friend help you. Wear normal undergarments and measure your bust at its fullest part, waist and hips. These are three key areas for choosing your pattern size, although many more specific measurements may be used later to customize the fit of your sewn garment.

If you are larger than a B cup, also measure your high bust. Place the tape measure just under your armpits and measure your upper chest. For the purposes of choosing a pattern size, this is your bust measurement.

Write down your measurements on a card you can keep in your purse so it's handy when you are pattern shopping. Look at the back of the pattern envelope, usually on the top flap, and find a chart with measurements and corresponding sizes.

If choosing a pattern for a dress, blouse, shirt or top, follow your bust measurement (for B cup and smaller) or your high bust measurement (for C cup and larger). If you have a C cup or larger and choose the pattern based on your bust measurement, the garment will be too big in the shoulders and torso. You must choose based on the high bust measurement and later do a full bust adjustment before cutting the fabric.

If choosing a pattern for pants or a skirt, follow your waist measurement. Hips are easier to adjust than the waist. In the case of very full pants or full skirts, no adjustment is necessary.

If your measurement falls between numbers, you should generally choose the larger size. Making a slight adjustment to the pattern is easier when going a size down than a size up.

Tips & Warnings

  • Forget your ready-to-wear clothing size. Forget it!
  • For excellent tips on adjusting patterns to fit after you have chosen your closest size, see Nancy Zieman's book, Fitting Finesse.
  • An adjustable dress form is a handy tool to have for tissue-fitting, or making adjustments to the pattern before cutting fabric.

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