It’s not you. It is the pattern.

Warning: Long (potentially boring) rant to follow. And it doesn’t even have pictures.

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while but didn’t quite get around to it. Then Seamstress Erin and I discussed it at length during our fabric shopping in Chiang Mai and I still didn’t write about it. And then yesterday I saw a post by someone who discovered that the finished garment measurements on her McCalls jacket pattern were completely inaccurate. Unfortunately, I now can’t find this post so if you know who this is, please let me know so that I can credit the author.

I had first read this very interesting thesis a while ago but didn’t pay enough attention to the details. It was written by Debra Lee McLendon at North Carolina State University as part of her Master of Science (Textiles). We’ll come back to this shortly.

When I was making M6702 I was looking at finished garment measurements, one of which was Hips 142 cm or 56.5″. However, 142 cm does not equal 56.5″ so one of them has to be wrong. 56.5″ is actually 143.5 cm, so if you were to go by the metric measure you are already 1.5 cm out. Then I measured the flat pattern and the finished garment size at the hips is actually 145 cm.

So this prompted me to go back to the thesis. Basically, the author made test garments from fitting shells (Vogue and Butterick) and semi-fitted dresses in both size 10 and size 18. The semi-fitted patterns were from Burda, Butterick (size 10 only), McCalls and New Look.

These garments were then compared to both the pattern companies’ stated ease charts and finished garment measurements. This is what it found;

Do finished garment measurements in key areas printed on patterns conform to the 
company ease specifications for each fit category?  Generally, no. 

  • None of the three fitting shells met ease requirements in all three areas.  The size 10 Vogue came closest to meeting the required amount in the bust, whereas both brands of the size 18 had too much ease in the bust.  All three patterns had too little ease in the waist and hip.  
  • The only brand to meet ease specifications for the semi-fitted category of the size 10 patterns under evaluation was Butterick #5746. 
  • None of the brands of the size 18 patterns met the ease specifications for the semi-fitted category. 
  • None of the brands evaluated met their finished garment specifications when compared to the tissue measurements. 

I know that you are all thinking “Well, yes, we know they have too much ease.”

However, I had always thought of that in relation to what it seems most of us find acceptable. I hadn’t really thought about the fact that they do not have the ease they claim to have or should have according to the companies’ own specifications. It is also very easy to dismiss what seem to be small differences. After all, half an inch isn’t very much. But when a fitting shell has half an inch too much ease in the bust, this is at least a 20% difference.

Do pattern companies really think that give or take 20% here or there is ok?

Now just have a quick look at the last point from the thesis above. That’s right, the one that says
None of the brands evaluated met their finished garment specifications when compared to the tissue measurements.

We can argue about ease amounts, after all desirable ease and the fit it provides is subjective. But now we are talking about accuracy. As the author states, the tissue pattern measurements on all brands failed to match the finished garment specs for both the bust and hip.

That’s right, not one of the patterns researched had accurate finished garment measurements.

The author concluded with this, Based on the data, it would not be possible to produce a garment from any of the patterns that matched the expected finished garment specs provided on the patterns.
How is this considered acceptable? How have we come to accept that patterns just are inaccurate? 
I must admit that I fear an avalanche of “that is why you need to make a muslin” responses. But surely a muslin should be to tweak a pattern to our unique bodies not to compensate for the fact that the initial pattern is just plain wrong?
I’d love to know what you think.
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16 thoughts on “It’s not you. It is the pattern.

  1. Yes, it is the inaccuracy that really bothers me. I can't think of another professional situation where that degree of inaccuracy would be acceptable.

    I wonder why we have to take all the risks, not the company – this sums up my feelings exactly.

    Especially given the dearth of info we are given in the first place re finished garment measurements. Actually I had started a post on exactly that and it got kind of forgotten. This might be just the impetus I need to resurrect it. Thanks!

    It's also good to see you back around more now that you have more time. Hope the studies are going well.

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  2. I've read that thesis as well – it also compared shapes, if I remember correctly, with Burda being narrower in the hip – in other words, there was nothing standard. The inaccuracy is a concern, and when you add our cutting and sewing inaccuracies as well, it's a wonder a pattern works at all. I guess that is why I tend to muslin, I am so over failures! Failures are expensive. I wonder why we have to take all the risks, not the company – no wonder people have flocked to RTW, and no wonder the pattern companies are running scared.

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  3. Wow that is very thorough of you. I just wish we didn't have to go to so much trouble. I wish pattern companies would just make accurate (and plentiful) finished garment measurements available.

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  4. Hi there – just looked back to link to your blog for my own and saw your question. I measure the pattern and subtract the seam allowances. Then I hold the tape measure around my body at the finished measurement. If the pattern measures X around the bust, I'll hold the tape around me at Xcm and see if it is enough/too much/meets in the middle! Same for all the other important spots like thighs, biceps, calves and crotch. Cheers!

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  5. Hello and welcome. I've never tried magazines as they aren't available here so I'd have to subscribe. But I must admit that Ottobre is probably the one I would try. I might look into that. Thanks

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  6. I´m new here but totally agree. The only patterns that actually work with minimal alterations (and attention to remeasure every given detail) are the Ottobre ones for me. I prefer magazines to single patterns. Burda is a disaster, it´s always been. There were a few others I tried but none of them were correct.
    I guess they still think women like to go one size down from their real measurement and it´s a psycho thing. However in the sewing community it´s extremely annoying – they don´t take into account that we actually know our measurements and want to have fitting garments without having any prethought size tag on them.

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  7. Hmmm but how hard would it be for them to get it right? This shouldn't even be an issue. When I draft by hand I start with body measurements, add desired ease, then add seam allowances. I know exactly how much ease there is – I put it there. To be sure, for future reference, I measure my finished pattern. Sometimes I'm a quarter inch out overall, but never more than that. I'm drafting at home by hand for myself so some imprecision is both expected. But the pattern companies are selling their product. They should check, and not just base size, and print their measurements on the envelope not the tissue.

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  8. This is exactly what I find so galling. I can't conceive of a professional situation where this degree of inaccuracy is acceptable.

    Maybe you're right – after all if you don't provide the information it can't be incorrect.

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  9. I must admit I don't do muslins either and always presume that the first attempt will be at least wearable. Can I ask what you mean by 'check the pattern pieces'? Do you measure them? Eyeball them? I envy you your tissue fit ability. I just can't seem to do it. All I achieve is torn tissue and no idea.

    You are so kind but there's no need to be envious – just come to Chiang Mai and we'll go shopping!

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  10. *shaking my head* Making sure that a garment has accurate finished measurements should be one of the final steps in the pattern testing/QA process. I work in software, and we'd get raked over the coals by our customers for that type of inaccuracy.

    Maybe this is why so few pattern companies publish finished garment measurements any more?

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  11. I don't do muslins as that means sewing the garment twice – yawn! However I've always checked the pattern pieces and done a tissue fit if I was concerned. I rarely look at the listed final measurements other than the garment length. I must have had a sewing teacher tell me to do this, it would seem to be a good habit!

    I am now very envious of both Thornberry and Seamstress Erin as they have not only met you, but gone shopping too!

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  12. I completely agree with you and have stumbled upon this problem many times myself – and not just with the big 4/burda, I have also noticed that a number of indi companies do not have accurate finished measurements. It is beyond frustrating to know the both the size charts and completed measurements are inaccurate, sometimes by up to 2 inches!

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  13. You know what I think about this since we thoroughly covered it during our drink break! But I'll chime in for others – I totally agree with you! Patterns should at least be consistent with what they say they are and then muslins should be used for body-specific fit.

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