Prior to the 18th century, if you were wealthy enough to have your own dressmaker, the paper patterns they worked from were very simple and had no annotation. They were usually made for each individual client. But if anyone else wanted to have the same garment made for them too, the re-sizing and pattern grading was a complicated task, even for the most adept seamstresses.
In the mid-19th century, sewing patterns were made available to the wider, albeit, still affluent public. Launched originally in America, women could purchase patterns through a women’s journal published at the time.
With advances in technology, the large-scale production of graded, practical and easier-to-use sewing patterns, can be traced to 1867.
Ebenezer Butterick was the first to start mass-producing patterns and print them on tissue paper. They were available to purchase in a variety of sizes, with one size per package.
It was not until the 1970s, when sales were lagging, that multi-size graded patterns became available to the public.
What is Pattern Grading?
Pattern grading is the process of turning sample size patterns into additional sizes by using a size specification sheet or grading increments. This can be done manually or digitally using a computerised pattern-cutting software.
There are many companies within the fashion industry who grade patterns digitally, and they can perform the following file conversions:
- Gerber Accumark
The increments used are referred to as Garment Grading Rules.
There are different grading rules for each specific clothing market area and level.
However, within the fashion industry, there is no standard garment grading system. Just as there is no standard body type, no standard size specification to fit everyone exists.
Conversely, in retail, a size 10 top in one shop will fit completely differently than a size 10 in another shop.
If you are setting up your own fashion company it would be advisable to create your own system. By considering the size of your target demographic and the sizing used in your market sector it is possible to establish a successful pattern grading system.
Analyze the age, gender and consumer profile of your potential customer to determine the size of your target demographic. The target market sector should be determined by your price point, fabric choices, place of sale, and your competitors, as well as any sizing tactics used by these competitors.
Pattern Grading for different Markets
When designing for this market sector, a bespoke grading rule system is preferred. The main aspects to take into account are the consumer profile (age range, garment usage, and style preferences) and the placement of your brand in the current market.
Selecting and manipulating the size range is also particularly important for graders of womenswear as it can have a dramatic effect on its perception and therefore the number of sales.
For example, selecting a size range with a bias towards small or large can be advantageous in different market sectors. Also, the trend for vanity sizing amongst competing brands can be particularly profitable if executed within a bespoke grading system.
Typically the sizes used are 34, 36, 38, …60, or S, M, L…XXXL.
Which type of sizing system is best will be determined by the type of garment.
The identity of the customer and where the brand is situated in the market are also contributing factors for deciding the measurements used in the base size pattern.
The two most important measurements graders consider are stature (ratio between chest and waist) and height (short, regular, or long).
Research shows that men are less likely to try on garments before purchasing them.
Bespoke grading means that you can design increments to maximise your exposure across the sizing spectrum and secondly, closely align yourself with the sizes used by your competitors. Your consumer will be able to successfully select a size that fits thus reducing the number of returns.
The base size pattern should already contain enough allowances to allow ease of movement in the garment during the activity. The type of activity and garment type will have an impact on the design of the pattern grading system.
The core consumer of each of these garments is different, therefore consider sizing each of these slightly differently to meet the demands of each consumer.
Through the use of a single size system (eg. 8, 10, 12,..) the fitting will be more comfortable. It would also allow the customer to move down the range of sizes as physical fitness increases.
This results in a customer who, encouraged by the size change, is more likely to complete the purchase, compared to a dual size system (eg. S, M, L).
A plus size in the UK is considered to be above a UK size 18. This may vary in other countries.
One of the most important things to consider when grading for the plus size market is, what type of body shape will the client be. There is much greater variety in plus size figures.
There are also many opportunities for expansion in this market sector as different lines can target more niche body shapes such as plus size tall garments.
If you are planning to extend a previously established line above this threshold, create an additional base size pattern in order to account for the different allowances needed in various parts of the garment. Special attention needs to be paid to the measurements of the armhole, shoulder length, across back, bust waist and hips ratio.
If you are starting a new line devoted purely to plus size clothing, create a base size pattern in sizes 18 or 22. This would adhere to the standard grade rules.
For maternity clothing, sizing follows the regular UK size chart: 6, 8, 10, 12,.
It is then defined further by trimester or month of pregnancy.
The base pattern is typically aimed at a woman in the second to the third trimester, like regular clothing can fit many women during their first trimester.
Trousers are sized using a waist size (26, 28, 30, etc.) and have an allowance for the extra growth in the stomach and additional areas in the base size pattern.
Bespoke grading is specifically useful in this market as women’s bodies can change in different ways during pregnancy.
Targeting a specific niche could be particularly profitable, if done successfully.
For children’s wear, age should be used for sizing increments instead of height, as market research suggests that height is confusing for consumers. Children’s wear can either be graded as single sizes or dual sizes; this will be determined by the type of garment and market sector. The age group range can be broken into babywear (0-2), kidswear (3-11), or teen wear (12-16), will then be determined. As you cross over into an older sector, an additional base size pattern is recommended due to differences in growth between genders.
Bespoke grading is commonly used in childrenswear as it is more location-targeted than other market types and garments will be sized differently in the UK compared to European or US standards.
It is usual to employ the services of a pattern grading company to create your grades. However, if you were exploring the grading method for pleasure or study, I would suggest the following course of action:
- Create or purchase a simple pattern;
- Select one or two body measurement charts, depending on your target audience’s age range and body shape;
- The chart for high-street fashion garments is referred to when creating clothes for a youthful and athletic figure;
- The increments between the sizes are even;
- The Standard Body Measurements Chart is for more shapely women, and the increments are 4cm and 6cm, to allow for curves.