Do you love vintage patterns, but can’t find any in your size?
Well, you’re in luck, as I’m going to show you an easy way to grade up a simple vintage pattern.
Disclaimer: I am not an expert pattern drafter. Take caution when grading up a pattern.
- To demonstrate this method I’m using a one-size vintage pattern.
- This simple dress pattern is not fitted, so there’s a bit more leeway when grading it up as opposed to a more complicated, fitted garment.
- I am grading this pattern up several sizes, but many pattern sources suggest only grading up one or two sizes.
- This is just one method of grading a pattern, there are many other methods to do this.
These are the tools I used to grade up this pattern:
- Swedish tracing paper
- Design curve ruler
- Pattern weights
I like to use Swedish tracing paper for vintage patterns. You can use whatever kind of paper you have on hand. I also used a solid ruler (not pictured). I use the sharpie to make permanent markings on my tracing paper. I also made my pattern weights (tutorial here). I use those to hold the tissue paper down when tracing.
The Pattern I’m Using
This is a vintage 1950’s peasant dress pattern that pretty much looks like a big old tent without a belt. I haven’t quite decided whether I’m going to make an elastic waistline or just rely on a belt. Without a belt it reminds me of a mumu.
As you can see, it’s a pretty simple design, which made it a good contender for this grading method.
Find Your Size
Yes, this is a small pattern, so obviously it’s not going to work for me. When I was searching online for a 50’s peasant dress pattern last year, this was the largest one I could find.
Now we need to figure out how much we’re going to grade this pattern up. Take your measurements and compare them to the measurements on the pattern envelope. Then subtract your measurements for each area (B-W-H) and record the difference (example: 48-36=12) and you have the difference in inches between you and the size of your pattern. Now take those measurements and divide each one by the number of seams in your pattern and you have the amount that you will grade your pattern up (example: 12/4=3).
Lay your tissue pattern on your tracing paper. You may not have to use pattern weights, but I find that it helps me, especially since I have a ceiling fan going in my sewing room. Also, you don’t have to make or buy pattern weights. Use whatever you have lying around like a TV remote, your phone, a pin box, etc.
Next, trace the center and bottom edges of your pattern.
Measure the distance you need to shift your pattern from the original pattern using your numbers from Step One and move your pattern inwards from the bottom right corner. I went around with my ruler and measured each area to make sure it all matched up as I’m grading up this pattern significantly.
Trace the upper edges and the rest of the pattern and connect lines. I like to use my design curve to draw the curves. You don’t necessarily need one for this, but it makes your life easier.
After you prettied up your tracing lines, cut your pattern out and trace any markings you need. My pattern is pretty simple, so I didn’t have to do much. After this step, I pinned my pattern on my dressform and tested the fit. Yep, it was a big tent, but hey — it fit! This method doesn’t take into account things like armscyes, so if your pattern is more fitted, you will probably have to test out things like that that may have issues. With a fitted, more complicated garment, you’d probably want to make a muslin first to check the fit of your graded pattern.
I understand that it’s difficult to see the tracing paper on my white sewing table, so here is my graded pattern all cut out. You may also notice that the corner of the skirt pattern does not extend out. That’s due to the width of my tracing paper. If I was grading this pattern for someone other than myself, I probably would have taped or sewn on another piece of tracing paper to finish the pattern. As this is only for my use, I just added a note and did that with my fashion fabric.
Also, as my pattern does not have a regular bodice, I drew this diagram so you could easily see the process for the shift method.
A few more things… as my pattern is basically just a big gathered tent dress with few pattern pieces, I did not spend the time to adjust the sizes between my measurements like I would do with a fitted pattern. The best way to do this would probably be to grade the pattern up in different places — like the bodice, midriff, skirt, etc — and then blend those lines together to create your new pattern following your shape. It can also be made easier by using a pattern sloper. You would also need to take into account alterations like a full bust adjustment, armscyes/sleeves, etc — just as you would do with any pattern. The method that is probably the best for grading up patterns is the slash/spread method which I will be showing you in my next grading tutorial. You can use a mix of both methods when grading a pattern, and of course, it doesn’t have to be a vintage pattern — this method works for any pattern.
Wondering how this dress turned out after the grading? Although it is sewn up and fits like it should (yes, like a big ol’ tent), I’m making this dress into a 1950’s Mexican inspired peasant dress, which means that I’m doing a bunch of embroidery. I am over halfway done with that though, so when it’s done, I will definitely be sharing my labor of love!!
Still don’t think that grading vintage patterns are for you? Luckily there are so many vintage reproduction and retro inspired patterns to choose from! For some outfit inspiration, check out my post on Retro Dresses.