Focus on Fit: Suggestions for Pattern Size Picking

OK, so my last post went over the system that I use to pick pattern size. It’s the one that I prefer for myself (and I use it on others too and have great success) but sometimes this isn’t the fix for everyone and everyone has different bodies. I have a few more suggestions for you, both are great links to different info about picking the correct bodice size. Oh that pesky bust measurement…. But first:

A little clarity from my last post. There were many great questions and just in case you missed my update to that post, here are some answers for you. The upper bust measurement replaces the bust measurement when you’re looking at picking your pattern size. So, pick the bust measurement that corresponds with your upper bust measurement. Why do I like this so much? Again, I skimmed over saying that the hardest part of the body to fit is the intersection of the upper bust, shoulders, arms and neck. Four tubes. Not easy to fit. So picking the arrangement that will fit this area is key. Doing things like full bust adjustments, broad back adjustments adding width or decreasing width and so forth are child’s play by comparison and much easier to do than fiddling with those intersections. Also, there was some talk about cup sizes. Here’s the thing with cup sizing. The Big 4 all draft for a B cup. So that’s good to know, but then what does every other company draft for? I’ve read that Colette drafts for a C cup. OK, but other than that I don’t know what the other independents draft for. These are things that you will measure on the pattern and adjust and then in the muslin if more adjusting is needed it will be altered. So does knowing the cup size really matter? Personally, I don’t think so, but this is a big deal to other people, so I’m just letting you know. When we get to the adjusting phase, you’ll see what I mean and that’s next by the way.


Ok, so here are some other great ways to find your correct pattern size for the upper body. First Nancy Zieman’s method. It’s awesome. I really love Nancy. She’s been around for a really long time and she has great advice, techniques and methods. Here’s how she goes about picking her pattern size.


Next, this was a tip on pattern review that I found really useful. This method measures the shoulder width and then from there you compare this measurement to your pattern and pick your upper body size from there. You’ll find that tip here.


19 thoughts on “Focus on Fit: Suggestions for Pattern Size Picking

  1. Thanks so much for these posts – very informative and helpful. I usually use my high bust for bodice fitting and that always seems to work out fine. I have a C cup and I usually don’t even bother doing a FBA. My problem has been the upper back area. Always seems a bit big and gapes. Thanks for that last tip – I will definitely use that next time!

  2. Sunni, I have a 42″ bust, am old and fat, and this measurement indicated a size 20 for me. Trouble is, it fits in the bust and hips but the waist isn’t big enough and the most awful part………the shoulders and neckline falls off me!!! I have to use a size 14 in the neck and shoulders and then gradually move out into the size 20 at the underarm and hip and still have to make the waist larger as well. Also have to shorten the top between the shoulder and bustline as I always get a wrinkle between the shoulder and the underarm seam. Sloping shoulder adjustment isn’t enough to get rid of this wrinkle. I sooooo hate a top or dress that falls off the shoulders and the neckline is just off the top too big, too low, ………….! The high bust measurement is a must for us old fat women with very narrow shoulders. Again, another great tip from you. Camielle

  3. I think the thing in common with all these methods is that they are NOT using the regular bust measurement to choose pattern size, but instead are using shoulder or upper body measurements to choose the size. This gives people a much better starting point. Thanks so much for all the good info!

  4. I hadn’t heard about Nancy’s approach but I love the sound of it!

    I’ve been sewing a 12 for the top half in Vogues for a few years, but then it dawned on me recently that I used to sew a 10 all over, and that my underlying bone structure wasn’t any bigger than it used to be. So what I’m now doing is a 12 in the top half BUT grading down to a 10 for the upper bust and shoulder areas. I haven’t sewn enough garments this way to say whether or not it works, but your post makes me feel really hopeful that it will work :).

  5. I recently tried the Laurel from Colette. My fitting experience is very limited, so I chose the size based on my bust measurement — size 6. The front fit perfectly, but the back left a huge gap. The last top I tried, the Tank from Wiksten, had the same issue in the back… so it’s time to tackle this fitting issue!

    Interestingly, Nancy’s method would have me pick the size 6 as a starting point, too, but your method of the high bust measurement puts me in a size 0. Looks like I have a lot more research to do on this, but I really appreciate the (timely!) posts on fitting. You’ve given me some really helpful starting points. Thanks!

  6. I’ve struggled trying to fit the “four tubes” area because I’m narrow across the high bust, as well as short. Thanks for the great post, I’m about to start a jacket and this will help.

  7. I feel like I’ve read somewhere that you should use your high bust measurement if you’re a certain cupsize or above but not otherwise? Is this a thing?

    I am pretty small-busted but have a great pair of shoulders and a broad back. Looking forward to reading all your fitting tips. 🙂

  8. I have been sewing for over 40 years and have never heard of Nancy Ziemans methods for pattern altering. For years I was a 12 but now I am a 14 and I have been having trouble with wide shoulder pattern adjustments and back of neck gaping. I am so grateful to you for these posts as Nancy’s method completely makes sense.

  9. Hi thank you for these posts. I find fitting a terrible chore, mainly because I don’t have any confidence in my ability to get it right.

    For my part I take a 32DD bra and am 36 across both my bust and high bust, so both give me a measurement that leads to a too large pattern size (14). The NZ method you describe above would imply I should move up to a 20 which is frightening! Generally I find a 12 is roughly right but I’m never really sure.

    I guess everyone is different and you have to use a dash of common sense along with these techniques

  10. I also have been a long time sewer. My frame is lean but I’ve “hipped out” over the years, which meant the Vogue 10s that were perfect in my 20s & 30s are way off. FINALLY I found a pair of Ann Taylor darted trousers that fit and were slimming. So I drafted a pattern off that and have been set for pants ever since. I urge folks to try this, although I know drafting a jacket would be much more difficult! It has also helped me to see what works in off the rack clothing, analyze it, and make fitting decisions based on that–so I know that most 12s will be too low in the front, as I am high-busted, and most 8s too tight across the back, as I have fairly broad shoulders. Most frustrating is trying to fit bodices by myself, so I see the wisdom of a fitting buddy!
    Thanks for these posts. I loved seeing all the different pants you drafted off one pattern–probably require more patience than I have, ha ha!
    Nancy N

  11. Very interesting series!
    I agree to some degree.
    I teach my students to choose size based on their upper bust measurement, (and then add at the bust for cup sizes with a bigger difference than 4.5 cm between high and full bust) because that is the easier method and because it gives them the opportunity to try this on all patterns – not just the ones I know the cross bust width for. And while Nancy Zieman gives a chart, it must be a chart for some American companies and can not be used everywhere – especially since all pattern companies have the freedom to choose their own size table (as there is really no standardisation out there.)
    That being said – I always measure their cross bust width (like on the drawing above) and their cross back width when we’re insecure about which of two sizes to choose..

  12. Thank you for the tips. Getting the pattern right is the hardest for many of us.

    I have used Nancy Zieman’s method of fitting patterns for years, and this has worked extremely well. I am going to use your shoulder tip in conjunction with Nancy’s method.

  13. I found this post so helpful and after watching Nancy’s video, I can now understand why patterns haven’t been working so well. I have ordered her book and now look forward to sewing up commercial patterns like I use to when I was much younger and a lot slimmer. Thank-you so much for posting this.

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