the size of it, part 2

(continued from part 1)

There are usually several stages in the development of sizes for an Oliver + S pattern. I always draft the first pattern in a 12-18 month size and fit that garment, or several consecutive garments, to one or two children who wear that size and match our target measurements. Once I’m happy with the fit, we develop a size 3 pattern. Since all our dress forms are a size 3, this is the size we show at trade shows and in trunk shows.

While these two sizes are being tested and fit, I’m writing the sewing instructions and checking to be sure all the notches and details are in place on the patterns. Then once we’ve checked the fit of the size 3 and are happy with both sample sizes, the grading begins.

Most size grading these days is done on a computer using specialized, expensive programs that are specific to pattern making and the industry. Smaller companies (like us) can’t afford the hardware and software to do our own size grading, so we hire other companies to do the grading for us using our grade rules. Size grading itself takes very little time, but the development, testing and fittings that happen around the grading are labor-intensive, time-consuming, and expensive. I want to be sure that the sizes are accurate and fit well, so we test many sizes before a pattern is approved.

Once patterns are graded and we’re satisfied with the fit and details of the pattern, we start formatting the graded sizes for printing. Everything needs to look nice on the pattern page, and the sizes need to be “nested,” or fit inside each other so they’re each legible without taking up too much space on the patter page. After all, the heavier tissue paper needs to fit into the envelopes once they’re printed!

Sometimes the pattern pieces can’t be nested, in which case we lay them each out independent of each other on the tissue paper so they won’t interfere with each other when a size is selected and cut. We also format the lines of the various sizes so they can be distinguished from each other. One dotted line indicates a size 3, and another dotted and dashed line indicates a size 4, etc.

Sound like fun? It’s certainly the most technically challenging part of my job (aside, perhaps, from writing detailed sewing instructions that can be easily followed, which is a fairly challenging task as well), but it’s also the part that I think is the most important. What’s the fun of sewing a pattern if it doesn’t fit?

I’m always interested to hear from you about the fit of our patterns. If you follow our measurement chart and have comments or suggestions about the fit of the resulting garment, I encourage you to contact me ( I think we can always improve our patterns and would love to hear your ideas and experiences with them. And of course I always love to see photos of the clothing, as well. Don’t forget that Flickr group, where you can share your creations with other appreciative seamstresses. I can’t wait to see what you make!


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  1. I am in love with your patterns!

    You are teaching me how to sew with your patterns. You saved a birthday party dress with the “lazy days skirt pattern”.

    Thank you so much for the pattern grading info…it is something that I have wanted to know more about!

    I sew from Australian Smocking and Embroidery, so I trace all of my patterns to make my own copy, but I do like the pattern paper.

    The first pattern of yours that I bought was the Tea Party Sun Dress. My daughter is 5, but she does not wear a size 5. I measured her and her waist was exactly the size 5 measurement, so I bought the pattern and started to make it. The chest part was too tight on her, and I never finished the dress. It is so cute, I wish that you wold make it in a bigger size. I thought I would try to enlarge the pattern my self… but that goes back to the pattern grading thing…

  2. Cheryl, thank you for your message! I’m glad you like the patterns, and we will absolutely be offering the Tea Party sundress in larger sizes soon. Stay tuned…


  3. gorgeous dresses!

  4. I love sewing clothing for children, and just got into sewing clothing for myself. I love reading about fit and tailoring and different adjustments you can e of make. Thank you so much for your articles about grading patterns. I love your patterns and it is so wonderful to read about the creative/technical process. I truly hope that you have more articles like this in the future.

  5. I thank you for this brief tutorial! I have much experience making patterns, but have always kind of “winged” it when it comes to size grading. I have always dreamed of working as an apprentice in a shop like yours to learn it all! maybe some day when I’m not homeschooling little ones. In the meanwhile, I’ll keep hobbling along, and find rest in knowing that someone is doing it right somewhere! (that’s you) thanks, Emily

  6. Fascinating, Liesl! What’s next? I’m popping the popcorn during intermission.

  7. liz

    I’ve really enjoyed sewing from your patterns. I made the 2 + 2 blouse and skirt for my daughter for Christmas. I am really learning a lot of new techniques and love all of the details. It’s kind of like a puzzle – I had no idea how that blouse was going to turn out and was nervous about cutting into the middle of the fabric, but I trusted that it would turn out right and it did!

  8. I adore all the patterns and as I become more confident with my sewing the patterns are easier and easier to follow. The only thing I have trouble with is distinguising between some of the sizes. Because the pattern markings are all different line/dot markings sometimes it’s hard to tell which lines are slightly longer than other line.
    It’s a minor thing and it hasn’t ruined a dress yet though.

  9. What pattern are the two adorable sleeveless dresses in the pattern sizing article made from?
    I love the playdress pattern and have made several for my granddaughter, however, she has a hard time putting them on by herself. Any suggestions?

  10. What pattern are the two sleeveless dresses in the article on pattern drafting made from?

    I love the playdress pattern and have made several, however, my granddaughter has a hard time putting them on by herself. Any suggestions?

  11. Liesl,
    Several years ago I about gave up on ever sewing anything after many projects (from other pattern companies) ended up looking like circus tents on my kids, even after careful measuring. I have to tell you that Oliver + S patterns have brought the joy of sewing back into my life. My grandmother, who was a professional seamstress, used to always say, “There is a big difference between homemade and handmade clothing.” I always get compliments when my daughter wears O+S clothing. The interesting thing is that the comments tend to be, “where did you buy that” rather than “did you make that?” I think it’s one of the highest compliments a seamstress can get when the fit of an item doesn’t look homemade. Thanks for making sewing fun and fashionable!

  12. Is there a chance that the bubble dress will be published in sizes 6-8? My daughter has just about outgrown it and it is just adorable.

  13. crystal herndon

    Hello, it sounds like to grade a pattern myself, i need to test fit each graded pattern and adjust. So you do that for each garment?

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