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Lets talk sizing conventions

Lets talk sizing conventions

I’ve been thinking a lot about sizing conventions recently.

I chose my current sizing convention of XS-XL back when my business was focused on ready to wear clothing. I wanted to stay away from numerical sizing as i knew that they differed between countries (for example a US 2 is equivalent to an Aussie 6 and a EU 32), and figured alpha sizing was less confusing for the ready to wear customer. I carried those sizes through when my i pivoted my brand to sewing patterns – but recently i wonder if i would have come to those sizing conventions if i had started with sewing not ready to wear. I keep asking myself, what is the ultimate sizing convention for sewing? Is it one of the traditional numeric systems, be it US, UK, EU, AU or even Japanese? Is it alpha or is it even something completely arbitrary and new? Divorced from all preconceptions of size, because at the end of the day, we sew based on our own bodies not what “size” we are.

This is particularly in the forefront of my mind as I’ve been working more on extending my sizing to include plus sizes. I’ve realised that the natural convention if i followed on from my current size labels would be 2X-6X. But i’ve never liked that system frankly. Does anyone like being called 4 times XL? I doubt it.

It’s left me questioning how we name sizes. I don’t like the idea of naming my extended sizes anything that could offend anyone (which is my fear with my current alpha system) but beyond that, I often hear from people that they feel surprised when their measurements are different to the alpha sizing they expected they were. Which i understand, because i’ve been there myself. When i go to a store and the size that fits me is different than my expectation of my size, I am either upset or elated (depending on which direction it tipped). As mature as i try to be about it, its very hard to emotionally distance yourself from the label attached to your clothing, especially if it isn’t consistent between brands (which it never is of course).

When it comes to sewing, these standard naming conventions are rather irrelevant don’t you think? At the end of the day we should all be measuring ourselves and choosing our sizes based on purely our measurements. For that reason, the European system has become increasingly attractive to me – but that poses issues too as it’s based off bust size (i think). And we are more than our busts (at least i like to think so LOL).

I must admit that sometimes i am tempted to just scrap the traditional conventions and rename everything starting at 1 or A or a series of winky faces and remove all preconceived notions about which size you should fall into. Or have no names at all, and use just the measurements themselves as their own labels.

So what do you think my dear readers, am I obsessing over a non-issue? Do you care how sizes are named?

I’d love to know what you think about all of this!

About Author

Meg is the Founder and Creative Director of Megan Nielsen Patterns, and is constantly dreaming up ideas for new sewing patterns and ways to make your sewing journey more enjoyable! She gets really excited about design details and is always trying to add way too many variations to our patterns.

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Yas
Yas
5 years ago

Interesting discussion Megan. I like the idea of assigning a letter or number to each pattern. Jalie have a great lettering system which I love. When I make gifts and say the size I’ve made the recipients are usually shocked (even though the garment fits great!) but when I make a Jalie pattern they seem to understand that each size is just an increment represented by a letter. It’s interesting how the rtw world has put these restrictions on what is acceptable based on the xs-xxl sizing frame. Personally I ignore the xs-xxl label and look straight at the body measurements as some companies have a bust XS which is way bigger than my measurements whilst others are smaller than mine! That’s why I love the French patterns and magazines I use which have the bust as the sizing.

Jennie glaze
Jennie glaze
5 years ago

Super excited about the larger sizes as I fall outside your current ranges. I believe tilly from tilly and the buttons also decided on a new sizing system and I believe she just uses numbers. I believe this way of working allows you to concentrate on your measurements more especially if finished measurements are also given. Have a merry Christmas x

hedgewick
hedgewick
5 years ago

In my sixth decade of life, I too still have that inevitable little heart sink when I reach to the higher numerical size. I vote for the letters (A,B,C etc.) There’s no rational reason, it’s all deep seated emotional baggage!

Natalie
Natalie
5 years ago
Reply to  hedgewick

I think there’s something nice and neutral about sizing by letters. For me it seems to reinforce the idea that its just an increment, as Yas said above, and not something on which to base one’s self worth. As a side benefit, I think it would be easier to remember. I find myself checking the pattern envelope repeatedly in the beginning stages of cutting out a pattern because the numbers get all jumbled together in my brain. I feel like it would be easy to remember if I were a size “G” or “K”.

OneStitchForward
5 years ago

I don’t feel judged by sizes, but I am a very average size, so I don’t feel that says much about me anyway. I can see how that can change if you go way up or way down from what considered the average standard. It makes me really sad to think people do get upset by sizing, and I find it admirable that companies concern themselves with the issue, however I wonder if any other system will end up building the same emotional baggage that the current labels (alphabetical or numerical) express. If you think of bra sizes they are not intrinsically indicative, but they still carry “emotional value”. Looking forward to read others’ opinion on this, it’s a very interesting subject.

PsychicKathleen
PsychicKathleen
5 years ago

I like Jalie’s sizing system as well – it’s easy to follow and extremely broad. You know you are in a different block when you enter certain letters. I know the RTW industry does “vanity sizing” to sell their product at exorbitant prices but in truth it’s not really helpful. I like to think that sewing your own clothes helps us to evolve a different relationship to our bodies (witness the brilliant work being done by Cashmerette) :)

novyma
5 years ago

It doesn’t really matter to me….I am more concerned with if the particular pattern is flattering for my body type or not. I am still learning (mid 50’s) what styles look best on me, and to move on – even if it’s trendy.
Thanks for being open to others’ thoughts!

Carol Lovrich
Carol Lovrich
5 years ago

I’m on the alphabet bandwagon also. Choosing “G” size feels less emotionally fraught than cutting a size XXL! Finding a pattern maker that understands an adult figure is even more valuable!

Mary Sias
5 years ago

Alphabets would drive me nuts. For me the 1X….6X is fine. In the end, nothing looks as great as you fell in it anyway
.

Jeneane Mixon
Jeneane Mixon
5 years ago

I just wish for a PXXL size. The 1X is too large and the PXL is a little too small. I have lost an inch in height over the years and I am now 4’10” and weigh 160. Is there any size out there for me?

nouvellegamine
5 years ago

I find measurements the most useful, especially high bust & bust measurements. A lot of companies have their own sizing and I always have to go to their measurement chart to see which one of their sizes I’d be. I also find measurements neutral.

Aurora
Aurora
5 years ago

a rose is a rose. I don’t care what you call it as long as it fits! :-D

Aurora
Aurora
5 years ago
Reply to  Aurora

…in which case numeric sizes are more helpful in determining fit

Leslie
Leslie
5 years ago

The sizing issue has always been like a revolving door. I’m comfortable going in at my own pace. . I like to remember that whoever sets the size has to fit me, not me fit their size. Oh there’s my door, I can go out.

Debbie Cook
5 years ago

I really want to vote for winky faces.

But I do understand the dilemma. When I’m sewing, I don’t care what the size number/letter is, as long as there are enough measurements to guide me to the correct one.

lovelylinda1950
5 years ago

It doesn’t matter. I have to check the measurements anyway.

Charmaine Wall
Charmaine Wall
5 years ago

First time I’ve left a reply anywhere. I prefer bust, waist, hip measurements in inches, as I take three different sizes. A, B, C, etc. would not give me enough information: neither does S, M, L, etc. I pass over patterns that can’t let me decide what I want to use. I agree with lovelylinda, measurements are paramount.

Lynsey Welch
Lynsey Welch
5 years ago

I think it’s a great idea, numbers, letters even names as usually they are what you use after you have decided with your measurements which size to cut and it really only references the dotted line. I check out my bust first, then waist and hips then see where it puts me on the size guide, I never assume.

gilliancrafts
gilliancrafts
5 years ago

We’ve had LOTS of discussions about this in the Curvy Sewing Collective Facebook group, and I’d say you are right: No one wants to be labelled 4 times bigger than an large. It’s a real turn off. (And even with letter sizes, people get upset by feeling “I’m usually an 2x but in this pattern I’m a 4x?” I think that unavoidable in any system. Likewise, we’ve had people say that get annoyed by totally individual sizing systems, like “A, B, C” or “1, 2, 3″… so really, you can’t win! But truly, I think going with _X is the worst off all, and I appreciate that you’ve realised that!

Tania Disney
Tania Disney
5 years ago

I think the most neutral sizing is just the straight measurement. You have to check it anyway on a pattern whatever number or letter it has. I agree with the post which gives more measurements than bust waist hip, upper bust is very important especially is you are big busted. I vote for simple straightforward actual measurements. They are value free. I also hate the label ‘plus sizes’ Bust 42 inches, nothing wrong with that.

Bird and Bicycle
5 years ago

I like actual physical numbers for sizing, but what size would you choose!? Tricky! I think choosing something that you like that is already in use is a good idea. I dislike hiding behind alpha characters or 3xl or other vague systems. Starting your own system is also challenging, so be sure to have a very clearly designer size chart if you go that way. Good luck! I am very impressed that you are thinking so much about this! I am either the last on regular sizing or the first on plus sizing, and it’s so annoying!

Nicole Martin
Nicole Martin
5 years ago

I’m a 2x-3x/22-24 in off-the-rack US sizes. It doesn’t matter to me how patterns are sized/labeled–I’m just thrilled when I find one that has measurements to fit me! Personally, you could call the sizes whatever you want and as long as you have my size range and the pattern is flattering and well drafted (and I don’t have to do a lot of merging sizes), I’ll buy it. Nobody has to know I’m a 4x or 5x in a particular designer’s patterns. There isn’t a tag in the finished garment and most of the time I tweak it to fit better anyway.

Jenn
Jenn
5 years ago

I don’t see myself as larger then average. But I’m taller so my height to waist ratio is about the same as an ‘average’ girl that wears a L or a 12-14. But I’m in and xxl or 18… see that on my tag is not ideal. It doesn’t make you feel good md it’s hard to separate yourself from the label.

Anna
Anna
5 years ago

As someone who falls in the “plus” size range I personally prefer the EU way of sizes based on the garment’s finished bust measurements. I can look at the front a Burda pattern envelope and know my is in it without having look for the sizing chart.

Katherine Sands
Katherine Sands
5 years ago

However you choose to label it, I am delighted that you are increasing your range.While I understand you wanting to stay away from the rtw based number sizes, as they vary so much from country to country and company to company, your current system does have what I see as a problem- you offer a standard 2″ grade between sizes, which is certainly refined enough for most things, but rtw running from XS-XL often has a 4″ grade, each size covering two numerical sizes,ie a medium is an 8-10 or 10-12. So by extending your system, someone who wears a rtw 2xl could easily be a 4x or more.I like the idea of scrapping the old system and running from A-Z, or going by bust.

sakijane
5 years ago

I might be wrong, but my understanding for grading between sizing is 2″ between the base size (the median size) and the next size up and down, and beyond that the grade is reduced to 1.5″, 1″, etc., until there is a size break (where the pattern breaks down for the intended body-type and a new pattern has to be drafted).

This is why for Petites or Plus, you cannot just continue to grade down or up, you have to draft an entirely new pattern in a median size and grade up and down from there. It’s also why an “XL” and the smallest size on a Plus size scale should actually be different patterns entirely, even if it has the same measurements.

Monique Penberthy
Monique Penberthy
5 years ago

As a (very) plus sized woman I’d love to see you break the mold and go with a totally unique sizing system. Such as “size adorable” “size perfect” “size amazing” “size angel” size godess” “size mermaid” etc. . . Maybe try to be clever and think of positive words in an alphabetical order. There is no consistency between brands in RTW or sewing patterns anyway so why be a sheep and follow the herd?

Natasha
Natasha
5 years ago

Yes, I like that idea, it is very positive… I have seen this type of sizing used by an Australian underwear business. Their sizes are: X SMALL (sz 10), SMALL (sz 12), MEDIUM (sz 14), LARGE (sz 16), GORGEOUS (sz 18), EXTRA GORGEOUS (sz 20) and GODDESS (sz 22).
Bust size is still the most critical to get the best fit, as well as actual finished garment measurements to understand the ease.

peppertreeroad
peppertreeroad
5 years ago
Reply to  Natasha

how about x small Goddess? A struggle to gain weight is as real as a struggle to lose or be comfortable, or love thyself.

Bonnie
Bonnie
5 years ago

I fall within the plus sizes and don’t feel any kind of issue about just being directly pointed towards my size. Using code for actual sizes might soften the blow a little if you’re in the upper ranges, the problem is, with each designer using a different code, it’s not easy to tell at a glance whether a pattern includes your size, and which it corresponds to. The first thing I do is look for the bust measurement, so I think it would make life much easier if there in bold at the top of the size chart were the sizes indicated by bust measurement rather than being represented by some arbitrary letter or number, or worse, “angel”, “goddess” etc. No thanks!

Loganstitches
5 years ago

The idea of ABC sizing is interesting, but just as arbitrary and uniformative as the xxs-xxl sizing. I love it when patterns are sized off of bust measurements because that is the first area that is fitted and things are graded and adjusted from there. It’d be nice to just look at one number and know which size to print/purchase/trace to get started, without having to translate random labels and consult charts. Every sewing minute counts.

Tori Gami
5 years ago

Yes! to lettering your sizes. Nobody likes to admit they are a size 18, but tell you have 38 DD’s and see their reaction! hahaha.Plus, if you size by letters, the client will be forced to take a better look at what size is needed, rather than just assuming its close to the same as the big labels. Maybe you’ll start a new trend!

Joyce
Joyce
5 years ago

I like the idea of just using measurements. I’m one f those women who has always been thin with long legs, 32″ inseam. It’s so frustrating because my clothes are size 2 – 6 depending on the store and the brand. Also, some clothing manufacturers think you must be petite if you wear a small size so a lot of pants are too short. I find measuring myself and making my own clothes based on the measurements on the pattern package is much more accurate and give me a much better fit. Here in the US a lot of stores and catalogs start at size 6 so making my own clothes is just better all around.

Jannie at Comesew.com
Jannie at Comesew.com
5 years ago

Hiya,
Great post! It is super cool that you are expanding your range.
I would like to jump on the measurement bandwagon as well. After started sewing measurements is all I worry about, so being able to pick it straight of, that is great I think.

On another note, I also find it very useful when the pattern company gives information about cupsize and their standard measurements for thighs and upper arms as well.

Keep up the good work!

celandinesong
celandinesong
5 years ago

Thrilled that you’re extending your size range, can’t wait to try out your patterns! I’m firmly plus-size (AU22-24), and honestly couldn’t care less what you call the sizes, alpha/numerical/named, as long as there are clear measurements available it’s all fine with me.

Heidi
5 years ago

I’m a US size 28 or 4x. I don’t care what you call my size, just make them, please!

Meredith
Meredith
5 years ago

Even with measurements, I think bust and hip are the most important – and they need to be in centimetres also, for the majority of countries that don’t use the imperial system. Or I suppose you could grade by colour, but that would have its own problems too. Letters works for me, with a table for measurements. What size is a mermaid, anyway? How long are her legs? ;-)

joanholt54
5 years ago

This is no doubt an ignorant thought, but I’ll put it out there as a left fielder! What I would love is to be able to purchase a pattern digitally, in the process enter one’s basic measurements – bust, waist, hips – and thendownlosd a pattern to fit your body measurements. I can do lengthening and shortenings – no need to include that. Wow – wouldn’t that be ace! As a person who comes out M on bust and L on hips and waist I’m forever fiddling with fit issues before I get started. Thanks, Joan

Monique Penberthy
Monique Penberthy
5 years ago
Reply to  joanholt54

Look up bootstrap patterns or Lekela

joanholt54
5 years ago

Thank you so much for taking the time to reply. I appreciate it. Joan

Cecile Carpenter
Cecile Carpenter
5 years ago

I like the idea of alpha sizing. Sandra Betzina does it for her sizing. The idea of XL to 6XL is fine but there is a need to be consistent with other designers using the XL to 6XL sizing. Connie Crawford does that sizing and I fit in her patterns. I’m either a 5XL or a 6XL depending on the pattern. However, there is someone else, I can’t remember her name, and her sizing is labeled up to 8XL. But it’s not really if you compare the actual measurements to other pattern companies. Her sizing way out of whack with no real concept of how big an 8XL really is. Honestly, I think the alpha sizing is best, though I think you might want to look at Sandra’s to see what sizes she’s using.

bcwestblog
5 years ago

I’m happy to hear you are extending your sizes. I was also going to point to
Sandra Betzina. She uses letters. For me I always have to check the measurements anyways so I’d say measurements.

Melissa C
Melissa C
5 years ago

I love patterns that have detailed body measurements (in both inches and cm). But I definitely get that ‘ugh’ or ‘yay’ feeling depending on what traditional sizing is used (still working on that bit of self-confidence!) I too like the Jalie lettering style. Maybe not have letters or numbers or names, but head each measurement column with the type of line that is used in the pattern for each size, so it would be ‘okay so I’m the dashed line, cool’. No size-ist associations!

Lorraine
Lorraine
5 years ago

There are so many sizing labels already it’s now meaningless so I go straight to the measurements chart to decide what size to cut. I don’t really mind what you call your sizes, but what I do want are clear charts with every pattern showing body measurements AND finished garment measurements so I can see exactly how much ease is built into the pattern, also what cup size and height the pattern is drafted on please.
Thank you for at last deciding to expand your size range to include us curvier ladies!

Lauren
Lauren
5 years ago

I got caught be this just the other day. I was making a dress. I measured. According to the pattern I should have been size ** (the sizing was based on American numbers). I said to myself “No way! Surely I wouldn’t be that size!” And I decided that I could probably make a size down. And guess what? It didn’t fit! Which is silly really. No one would have known what size I cut. Common sense says it is just a number. But… I didn’t listen to my less vain self. Now I am making it again in my actual size.

Hélène Martin
5 years ago

You could be the first to use emoji for sizing! I hope I’m size ?(red balloon)! But more seriously, you raise many good points and it’s an important conversation to have.

Rhonda L Russell
Rhonda L Russell
5 years ago

No matter what sizing system you use, once people get used to it and attribute certain designations to a larger size, bad feelings may be associated with those designations. There have been many words in the education field that used to be used until they started to be used in a negative manner. Now those words are a no-no and new words are used to describe the same thing. This is only one example area that this occurs. As long as people exist that like to make others feel bad about themselves, these negative associations are going to develop. I want a simple system that makes it easy for me to remember what size I need to purchase. Since there are many different systems in place, the easiest method is to just know my measurements and use the sizing chart provided by the designer. I’ve gotten over the fact that I’m a “plus size” and look for styles and designs that I like and I think are flattering on me regardless of the size label.

Genevieve
5 years ago

I have had very similar thoughts about sizing conventions for my own body. When I first began to sew, I felt terrible about bein a size 14-16 in the big4 patterns so I refused to make them. I switched to indie exclusively. After a while, I began to understand that they are only numbers and my body is mine and no one else’s. God created me in his image and I need to respect His creation and accept my unique beauty. No matter what the tape measure or scale says, women are always criticizing their bodies. Granted, some are happy, but most find some terrible flaw. I say if we all just realize God made each and everyone of us and we should be praising ourselves and feel absolutely Blessed that God has put this amazing ability/skill/craft into each of us to be able to customize our clothing! :)
May you all have a Merry Christmas, rejoice in the season.
G

Kelly
5 years ago

I’m an American living in Europe and I swear by the sizing here. I love that I can go to a store and know that the number is going to fit me. That being said, I have gotten burned by companies like H&M who have somehow shrunk the metric system. Mind boggling. But if men can use inches to buy pants and shirts, why can’t women? It’s so ridiculous how much we stress ourselves out over sizes. BTW, I’m not a small girl. But I have gotten much more comfortable with my size living over here where it isn’t the most important thing. Thanks for caring!

GrannyJack
5 years ago

My first response was to vote for letters. But colours would be even better.
Bust size does not work unless upper bust measurement is used. With an E/F cup size, if I chose based on bust size, the rest of the pattern would have to graded down a lot. All patterns need to be multi- size, across a larger range of sizes. I sometimes find body split between 2 size-ranges. But really as anyone that sews for a while only looks at their body measurements, really no one is really using ‘a size’ at all. I draw lines from each of my measurements, and then make further adjustments.
What we need are more measurement points on every pattern. More cup sizes, arm width, butt adjustments, pot belly – all the adjustments we are doing now on every single thing we make.

Mary
5 years ago

Since we’re talking ideals, I wish we could include cup sizes. I don’t care about whether it’s letters or numbers, but I wish there were something like A1 for the first size A/B cup and A2 for the first size C/D cup, then B1, B2 etc. Us busty gals would appreciate not having to always do an FBA all the time :-)

Kellie
Kellie
5 years ago

All companies tend to use different measurements which means I have to look at the measurements to decide what to cut anyway. So my preference would be for bust measurements for dresses and tops or waist/hip for skirts or pants.

Oh and thanks for expanding your size range. Being outside your original range the extra sizes will give me a bigger variety of patterns to choose from.

Anne
Anne
5 years ago

I agree with Melissa C, no need for size labels. Just measurements and a key for which line to trace! I always like patterns that give full info on finished garment size also, to judge ease. It would also be useful to know the height, torso length and cup size the patterns are drafted for. As a petite, I am always having to fiddle with patterns. I wish there was a decent petite range among the indie pattern makers….

Robyn Sharbono
Robyn Sharbono
5 years ago

Oh my goodness! I had to scroll waaaay down past dozens of wonderful opinions- truly a worthy subject!
My two cents: I am a RTW size 12-14, but in patterns a 22- what a HUGE insult! Megan, anything you do that lines up better with RTW would be tremendously better than pattern companies are currently doing.
Love you, love your blog- love your patterns!

Lacy
Lacy
5 years ago

I’m also for straight measurements. It’s the way a lot of men’s RTW clothes are anyway. It has always bugged me that jeans from the same company are sized by measurements for my husband but by size for me. I don’t really care which size I am, I just find the inconsistency inconvenient.

Brooke
5 years ago

I bought a nursing wear pattern that labeled the sizes with flowers. :) It was kind of cute!

peppertreeroad
peppertreeroad
5 years ago

I am happy you are increasing your size range as I was looking at some maternity possibilities for my sister (she is hoping to fall pregnant in the new year) but she is the very upper end of your size range (I am too actually) and I was worried about her fitting some of the patterns if she goes up a size or two. I don’t have the experience yet to make those kind of adjustments :(
Anyway I think it would open your audience up to so many more people.
Just let the sizes speak for themselves I say, you are what you are and that’s the size you make, so what.

Candis
Candis
5 years ago

Late to the conversation but happy to share my strong opinion that measurements are the best option. As many have already said, you have to look them up anyway, no matter what system you use. And to me they are the most neutral, just honest numbers.