Hoppo Bumpo (n): A children's game. Played by folding one's arms and hopping on one leg. Aim is to bump opponents, so that they lose their balance. Last person standing wins.

April 28, 2010

Its just a number .... right?

Here's a question for you: what's the most daunting part of learning to sew? Could it be setting in a sleeve? Or maybe making buttonholes? Perhaps its putting in a zipper?

Personally, I think the hard bit is getting your head around the numbers. You know, the kind you see on the back of the pattern envelope, set out ever so closely to words like "bust", "waist" and "hip". Yes ... those numbers: sizes. If your experience of garments is entirely of the Ready-To-Wear (RTW) persuasion, entering the world of pattern sizing is much like walking into a parallel universe.

You see, working out your Pattern Size is not dissimilar to one of those silly games where you work out your porn star name. You take some facts about yourself, apply a formula and come up with something completely ludicrous. (I'm Sammy Monica, by the way). Your suspension of disbelief (I'm a what?) is critical to accepting your Pattern Size. Wave goodbye to that RTW Size ... you can leave it at the door (with your dignity).

Take me, for example.

I have have just bought a pair of jeans in an Australian size 16 (USA 12). Despite being quite er ... well-padded .... I bought the jeans from the regular ladies collection at a middle-of-the-road store. They fit comfortably and if I am not mistaken (or thinking too wishfully), they are perhaps even a little loose around the waist. Now Size 16 isn't ideal (it is admittedly very well-padded), but to be honest it sounds a whole lot better than the horror we'll call my Pattern Size.

If I look in a commercial pattern book, my bust measurement puts me at a Misses' Size 18. My waist and hip, however, cannot be located in the Misses' patterns - I need to look at something called Women's sizing for the more mature figure (I suspect this is a euphemism for very well padded ... which of course, is in itself is a euphemism ... but I digress ...). My waist and hip measurements now make me a size 26. So I've jumped from 16 to 26.

But if that weren't bad enough, my fondness for European pattern magazines - such as Burda World of Fashion and Patrones - has introduced a new problem. European sizing uses a different system and friends, it isn't pretty. According to the size charts, I graduate from a 46 on top to a 50 around the waist and hips. Good grief. Now my derriere has jumped from 16 to 50. I know its just a number. But its a jolly big, demoralising one (ahem much like my bottom, I should say).

But having said all that, at least there is an upside. We home sewers are not obliged to sew size tags into clothes. There are no constant reminders when we get dressed or hang the washing out; no big numbers on fancy woven tags. Whether you cut an 18 or a 46, is irrelevant once you have packed those pattern pieces away. So as you set out looking fabulous in your custom-fitted garment, its size remains your secret.

That is, unless you happen to put it on your blog. Ooops.


  1. lol :) yeah I would say sizing is the most daunting part of sewing and gets really confusing when you have a skinny waist but hips like woah o.0 I think I will just stick to making tops for now lol

  2. For me its zippers but I am sure I will work that out sometimes, then it's tracing the pattern - hate that bit, then the sizing. 4 kids - lost my waist, busty, tall, long arms. I'm a 12 ready to wear but cover 3 sizes on a sewing pattern. Lots of fun there

  3. Sandy Wellington, fellow porn star here ;)
    I could take the first jump and cope but sewing European would have me reaching for the chocolate biscuits...which would push me up another huge number so perhaps that is best avoided.

  4. I haven't tackled many things for myself yet, so haven't noticed the number thing.... but considering that my top half and bottom half are disproportionate to each other, I'm not holding out much hope!

  5. Oh the sizing on patterns are the bane of my life! I measure madly but things still end up too big or small. :)

  6. yup it's always fun to realise you need to cut the size 22 bodice and size 16 skirt... hmmmmm..

  7. The size determined in the sewing room stays in the sewing room.

  8. I haven't progressed to making clothing for myself....yet.....and perhaps now I won't bother! My mum bought me a shirt at an op shop yesterday and my first comment was, "That won't fit me". It turns it did (just - if I wear it open with a top underneath), but it is labelled as a size XL! How devastating is that? I would normally wear a size 12 top.

    Perhaps we should make our own clothes, adopt our own clothing sizes, and insert sizing labels, then I could be a nice petite size 10 all the time!

  9. The fashion shop Zara eventually opened here. Cardigan size XL didn't fit me. They only go to XL. So I must be pretty big, right? Nope, bust 36. I think they do that to ensure the 'right' sort of customer. Clearly not me. Fine, I'll knit one!

    Watch out for those size charts. The Big4 (vogue, simplicity, butterick and mccalls) have a reputation for running very large - too much added ease. So flat pattern measuring is always, ALWAYS, the place to start.

    Also buy patterns according to the measurement that will be most trouble to alter. So for trousers and skirts that is your hip and for tops... not your bust.

    Yes, I said not your bust! It's a lot easier to make an FBA than it is to resize the neck and armholes. Most commercial patterns are sized for a B-cup, so retrace the measurements you go through for bra buying and work out what you'd be if you were a B-cup. That *should* get you a better starting fit.

    Can't help with Burda, not sure if their patterns run to size or not and based on the model pics I'd say they were often an A-cup!

    Yes it is just a number. It's not so much the number as when it gets bigger since the last time you looked. :(



  10. When I was dressmaking I kept my notepad of measurements out of the client's line of sight. "It's all just numbers," I'd trill reassuringly.

    My latest commercial pattern size was 15 bust, 19 waist and 21 hip.

  11. Well, I think you are further evolved then me...in an effort to disown my own EXTREMELY well paddedness, I continue to make shapeless/kaftan like shirts which require no sizing. I dread to think what the number may be! Lisa. x

  12. Tessa Knopp here.

    Sizing drives me nuts. It's facing up to the actual measurements. After years of collecting vintage patterns I doubt any of them would fit!

    After tracing off the pattern (& writing the size in really small font) no-one need know.

    I still have a skirt somewhere in a pile that I made....I just went for it...."I'm a size 12/14....let's go"....a couple of seams later...a wee little thing....mocking me....give me zippers anyday!

  13. Crikey, going by what you have just told me, I won't even bother trying to sew my own clothes...think I may end up depressed by what my "numbers" would be!

  14. It's awful isn't it! I made size 18 undies and it nearly made me cry that I had to.

  15. *lol*

    Burda patterns are always a bit too small for regular women. ;-) Try Ottobre next time.

    I am a curved girl so it drives me nuts to measure and search for the big European numbers. That's why I try to take good fitting shirts, skirts and blouses as a template. No numbers needed! ;-)

  16. Sizing is tough. I think the hardest thing to learn about sewing is patience. Patience to not skip any steps, make that muslin if you aren't sure about the size, and to do those little finishing touches! Sometimes it's so hard to have patience when you want to finish a project!

  17. Oh dear, all you busty ladies are leaving me feeling very inadequate. So far no major sewing disasters by just guessing. However I fear that if I actually took proper measurements I would register as a 13 yr old boy. Very sad.
    On the plus side, my porn name is fab... Rusty Livingstone.

  18. I think this is why I quit sewing clothes for myself. I still sew - just not for me!

  19. I think you could have some fun with it. You know, get some tags made that say you are a size 6 and sew them into everything. That's what I'd do.

  20. Long time no read Liesl - MY LOSS. You are a riot of the very best kind. Love your work!

  21. I learnt that lesson years ago when I did a 'knitwit' sewing course. I was an ok size 10 - 12 (rtw) but on the knitwit pattern for pants I was a waist size 16 and hip size 20 - a bit of an ego hit for a 22 yr old. I could cope with making dresses and tops for myself, but sewing pants for myself became a no-no cause I hated the 'numbers'.

  22. In a regular shop I'm a AUS size 8, yet somehow when I do the calculations on the back of a pattern I have a size 10 bust, size 8 hips and... size 14-16 waist?!?!? How the hell does that work?! Ok, so I don't have much in the waist department (I'm fairly square from hips to shoulders!), but to have a shape that fits their size 8 perfectly - or a 14 for that matter - I'd have to have a SERIOUS 1800's corseted hourglass figure happening.

    But I've discovered if I just cut it all out to size 8 measurements anyway, it still works fine. I don't get it.

  23. Eh. I cut to the size the measurements say I am, and then end up trimming them down to remove the outsize ease, and end up at my RTW size anyway. I hate the extra step..I should have just cut the RTW size in the first place!

    BTW..I wear size 16 AUS..I know this cause I have all my size 16 AUS clothes still, and that's what I fit. But that is not US12..not even close. It's a US14. Only one size down. That's what I buy over here, for anything new. I would LOVE to fit a US12, though! :p


Thanks for dropping by! I love hearing what people have to say. Leave a comment if you like.