Resizing sewing patterns – in search of my inner Joan

22 Jun

I’m off to a ‘Suburban Bohemia’ party next month and, like probably 95% of the woman there, I’m going for a Joan Holloway look. Who wouldn’t?

I’ve got a fab dress pattern (New Look 6000), but it’s not going to be quite big enough, thanks to my cake-making addiction. So I’m resizing it and adjusting it to my measurements. The fabric I’m going to use is royal blue Chinese silk, but I’ve only got just enough so I need to get it spot on…

So how to resize a sewing pattern?

(1) First make a comparison between your measurements and the pattern size and work out how much to increase at bust, waist and hips. Dress pattern measurements are based on a 1950s hourglass ideal (yep, that’ll be Joan) that isn’t around so much any more. This is why you should make a toile (a basic copy in cheap fabric)  – to finetune your adjustments before you cut out your precious fabric.

(2) When resizing a pattern spread increases of more than 1in (2.5cm) across several points, so that you keep the proportions of the design.  For example, f you want to increase the pattern by one size you’ll need to add 2 inches to the circumference at bust, waist and hips.


(3) If there are no darts in the bust I usually split the front and back down the middle, and spread the pieces apart, adding extra width at the sides and centre of each piece. If there are darts you’ll need to move them too and possibly split the bodice cross ways to add fabric there, so perhaps save a darted pattern unil you’ve done this a few times.

(4) You can use dressmakers’ paper, tracing paper, freezer paper, or even newspaper. Calculate the main measurement you need to add and use masking tape to mark it on a ruler, so that you can work around the edge of the pattern at these key points without constantly having to remeasure.


(5) Some areas, like the shoulders, or the armholes, probably won’t need to grow more than slightly – people do not get proportionately broader shoulders or wrists for example, as they get bigger.

(6) The easiest way to work out how much to increase in these trickier areas, and where is to compare the multiple sizes already printed on the pattern. If you’re going up by one size look at the differences between the two largest sizes printed on the pattern. If you’re going up by two sizes look at the differences between the third largest and largest sizes printed on the pattern, and so on. Mirror these differences to plot your own changes.

(7) Draw around the pattern, adding width in the middle and at the sides and adjusting any notches and marks in the pattern by using the mirrored difference technique (see 6).


(8) Cut out the new pattern pieces. I tape a long strip of paper down the middle to add width at centre points rather than drawing and redrawing. You can use also this method when adjusting your pattern after fitting your toile later.


(9) Then pin your pattern pieces to your toile fabric, and cut them out. Don’t worry if they look really big. This dress has side gathers so it looks absolutely enormous until you pleat the side section


(10) Baste together the toile pieces at the side and shoulder seams. If you have sleeves pin or sew these on too.  If your dress needs a long zip fastening, and you wouldn’t be able to get in and out of it sewn together, sew the seam up to the point where the zip would start and then get someone to pin it together on you.

(11) Take a long , hard, look in the mirror. Does it fit? Which bits are too tight or too loose? You can either mark on your toile with tailor’s chalk, or get someone to do it for you, but the key is to mark on adjustments you’ll need to make in the pattern so you can fix it before cutting out your precious fabric.

(12) Happy with the toile? Then you’re away! Now, just follow the pattern instructions as given and you should be OK. If you’re worried about fit then work with a generous seam allowance, which will give you room for manoeuvre. Do lots of trying on as you go. If somehow you still end up with a disaster, don’t panic. Unpick the seams (or use a seam ripper) and adjust them. It’s unlikely you’ll have to start again.

OK, my toile’s been cut out but that’s as far as I’ve got this time, so I’ll come back with more pictures another day. Wish me luck! Those pleats are scaring me a little tbh…



4 Responses to “Resizing sewing patterns – in search of my inner Joan”

  1. Mim June 22, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    If you’d ever like to borrow them, I have some late 1950s/ early 1960s Vogue knitting books with very Joan-looking little knitted suits in…

  2. Tanya July 21, 2011 at 9:21 am #

    Thanks for making a blog on this as I found it to be very useful. How about putting up a video of the resizing a dress pattern on Youtube??? That’s one thing that isn’t there at the moment,


  1. New pencil skirt love « Nana taught me how - July 12, 2011

    […] resized the sewing pattern to add some width (yeah, thanks cake), and also, about 10cm/ 4in in length, as I’m 5ft 10in, […]

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