How to read the back of a pattern - Deciding which size you are

What size should I make?

There’s nothing more frustrating than going through the process of sewing a garment and finding out it does not fit!  So, knowing a few basic measurements will help you decide what size to make and how much fabric to purchase.  I often make garments that are 2-3 sizes larger than what I wear in the store.  Remember, the fashion industry decided to make sizes 00, 0, 2, 4 but pattern companies did not follow that path.  So, if I take a size 6 in the store, I usually make size 10 or 12 when I sew!  Not to worry, there’s no size label in my garment.  Since XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL combine more than one number size, I usually make the same size that I take in the store.


Size charts are included on all patterns with some standard measurements.  Know your measurements before you buy patterns.  Chest/Bust, (true) Waist and Hip (your fullest part).  Ladies, your true waist is above your belly button!   Your hip is usually around 7-9” below your true waist.  You know your body best and what measurements will be the most important to achieve a correct fit on your body.  Size charts can usually be found on the back of the pattern, the flap and occasionally inside the pattern.  Make sure to check your pattern before you buy it!  Pattern companies are now splitting up sizes and offering more than one size option for a style.  It may be offered in sizes 6-14 and 16-22 or XS-S-M and L-XL-XXL.


Depending on the style, I choose my bust, waist or hip measurement and go with that.   I decide this by asking myself a few questions.

What is the most critical part to achieve fit on the garment I am making?

Do I have any special body considerations? Pear shape, large bust etc. 

If I fall in between sizes, I look at all 3 measurements and go with the middle.  Many independent pattern companies offer separate fronts for different cup sizes.  If you really need to make one size for the top and a second size for the bottom just remember where they seam together needs to match!  It is safer to go with a larger size as I can always take it in, but cannot add fabric easily if it is too small.


Many patterns also include finished garment measurements on the lower back side of the pattern envelope.  Sometimes this helps me decide which size to choose if I am between sizes.  I wish I could say these measurements are always helpful but they often give me odd measurements like the circumference of the leg opening.  Please keep in mind that if you are using a woven fabric without stretch, you will need +2” at the bust, +1” at the waist and +2” at the hip in order to have a fitted garment and still be able to breath and sit down.  If you are using a knit or stretch woven that is not necessarily the case.  That is why some patterns are made for woven fabrics and some are made for knit fabrics.  All fabrics are different!

This is a pattern guide for finished garment sizes

Your pattern pieces will have designated places to lengthen or shorten.  Don’t just cut off the bottom or sides.  When patterns are graded to size the body is split up into 4 sections vertically and horizontally. Chest, waist and knee vertically and horizontally at the bust point and center front.   There are many suggestions online for “pattern hacks” and good sources for reviews of patterns are or

Once I know what size I take, I can then purchase fabric.  Fabrics come in different widths (45” or 60”)so I look at my size column, which style I am making and the width of my fabric to determine how much to buy.  I then prewash my fabric as I will after the garment is made.  That way if it shrinks, it will shrink before I cut it out.


It is helpful to make a muslin of your basic garment in a cheaper, similar fabric before cutting your chosen fabric.  This is a lot of work but saves a lot of heartache.   If you choose to go straight into your fabric, baste seams together to check the fit before stitching.   More on fit later!

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