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Patterns & patternmaking

Resizing a Historical Pattern

SPP iconFlat pattern adjustment

The first method, and the one I tend to use myself, is to begin with the historical pattern and adapt it to fit the modern measurements. This method works particularly well if the measurements you want aren't vastly different from the measurements of the original pattern.

Begin by scaling up the original pattern to actual size as described in the Overview, so that you have a starting point. Now you will need to adjust this pattern in all directions to match your own measurements.

If you have limited space at home, you can reverse this process by adjusting the pattern at a comfortable size and then enlarging it. However,  you will need a steady hand and a very sharp pencil, because any small errors will be magnified later.

I would recommend enlarging the pattern to 400% before you begin, which is still manageable when you sit at your desk, but will reduce the chances of small errors enlarging into big errors.

Convert the pattern measurements and your own measurements to the same scale before you begin – in other words, if the scale of your pattern is 1 square = 2”, it will help to know from the start that your bust measurement is, say, 20 squares.

Adjusting the waistcoat

Let’s begin with the waistcoat bodice, since it’s a simple two-piece pattern. As long as you adjust it to match your front and back bust and waist and your nape-to-waist measurements, the fine details can be tweaked at the mock-up stage. For the same reason, don’t worry about getting every measurement perfect. You’re not setting out to make the pattern millimetre-perfect right now; you’re getting it to the right proportions so that you can move on to the mock-up stage.

Hint: The images below won't print from the fancy "lightbox" enlargement that you get when you click on them! If you'd like to print any of them full size (eg the ones with the measures drawn in colour), right click on the small version below and use "Open in new window" or "Copy link location" to take them into a new window before printing.

1. First find the centre front and centre back (in red). However much you adjust the pattern, aim to keep these lines straight and vertical. (Click image to enlarge.)

2. From there, it’s fairly easy to find the bust, waist and nape-to-waist measurements, at least approximately.

Notice that I’ve measured from the centre front of the bodice, not the edge of the waistcoat front.

Also notice that I’ve not included the darts in my waist measurement.

3. By measuring the pattern and comparing these with your own measurements you can find out how much you need to add or subtract in each area. (Don’t forget to add ease to your measurements to get the measurements you’ll want the garment to have.)

Waistcoat measures

4. Adjusting the nape to waist is fairly simple, and works in the same way as altering a commerical pattern. Simply slash the pattern across and either spread the pieces out by the required amount, or overlap them to shorten the pattern.

Notice that I've been careful to avoid slashing across the armhole. You only need do so if the armhole is too tight up under the arm.

Nape-waist adjustment
5. Adjusting the bust and waist works the same way – you’ll need to slash vertically, though. Slash and adjust for the bust first, and then measure the new waist to see whether more changes need to be made there. (When adjusting the front, you may need to re-draw the darts on after slashing since they may get distorted.) Back bust adjustment
6. If the waist size needs to increase at the back, slash across the middle horizontally, as for the nape to waist, so that you can adjust the waist without affecting the bust. Back waist adjustment

7. If the waist size needs to be smaller at the back, put in a dart (or a “fish”, as the Victorians charmingly called them). Notice that the waistcoat won’t necessarily need to be fitted perfectly into the back waist – you’ll have the little belt across the back to help.

8. At the front, increase or decrease the size of the darts to adjust the waist measurement.

Dart adjustment
9. Finally, smooth out the seam lines and match one piece up to another to ensure that the seams are still going to match when you sew them together. Smooth out the edges


Adjusting the bolero

SPP 1860s bolero patternAdjust the bolero in the same way, keeping the following differences in mind:

The measurement down the centre back will not be quite as large as the nape to waist measurement, since the jacket is supposed to be short. Try making the same nape-to-waist change, if any, as you did on the waistcoat pattern.

You’ll need to cut the pattern and match up the pattern pieces at the tops of the side front and side back seams to test the bust measurement reasonably accurately. You’ll need to make the same changes as you did on the waistcoat pattern. Remember to consider how the pieces fit together at the side-front and side-back seams when you adjust, and if in doubt, experiment!

The waist measurement isn’t as important for the bolero, since the jacket doesn’t quite come down to the waist. Adjust for your bust, leave big seam allowances, and make any changes lower down at the mock-up stage.

sleeve adjustments.jpgUse the same slash-and-spread technique on the sleeve, adjusting the length above the elbow if you need to. If you need to adjust the sleeve size around the bicep, one rough and ready way to do so is to make lots of small slashes so that you can increase or decrease the size a little in each slash without distorting the overall shape too much. (You’ll need to test how it fits into the armhole at mock -up stage.)

Adjusting the evening bodice

SPP 1860s evening bodice measuresAgain, take front and back separately and compare front and back bust and waist. This time you’ve got no reference point for a nape to waist measurement, so try using the measurement from your bust line (where you’d measure your bust) to your waist at your side to get a picture of roughly how long the pattern should be.

You’ll need to be more of a detective this time to find that bust and waist, but there are always clues you can use. Look for narrow points to spot the waist, and keep in mind that the lower ede of the bodice will probably be on the waist at the side seam, or close to it. Look for the fullest point to find the bust. The bust will go fairly close under the armholes, and both bust and waist will be horizontal at the centre front and centre back.

Additionally, it may help to measure directly from nipple to nipple in your corset – halve this measurement to get the bust measurement of the front piece from centre front to side front seam. (Notice that the neckline is so low that the measurement is taken above it at the centre front.)

Adjusting the skirt

Here you’ll need to know the waist measurement you want, the centre front, side and centre back lengths measured over your crinoline, and the circumference of your crinoline at its fullest point.

Adjust the length by slashing across (or just lengthening the pattern.)

Measure the waist of the pattern, excluding the pleats, and compare to the measurement you want.

Finally, ensure that the skirt is going to be larger around the hem than the circumference of your crinoline.

Generally speaking, however, since the skirt is so large and so dependent on draping, you are likely to get better results by draping from the start - which is the subject of the next page!

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