An affordable guide for pattern grading…?


I mentioned that I bought this book on Twitter a few days ago (yeah, I’m back on Twitter, go follow me and I’ll follow you back!).

I don’t exactly remember how I stumbled upon this little booklet, maybe it was through a review of this authors pattern design books. Anyhow I was intrigued when I found the “Grading Workbook” on


The author, Connie Amaden-Crawford has some legit pattern and sewing related books published but this “workbook” is nothing more than than printer paper photocopied and spiral bound… kinda sketch… but at less than $20 it was worth a shot especially since I’ve had no luck finding so much as a textbook on pattern grading online, and if any existed they were out of print and very expensive.

I was hoping this would be a good reference book for the kind of at home grading I want to do – luckily it seems to fill that need just fine!

I know there are a lot of you out there interested in this sort of thing be it for releasing your own patterns or just sizing up vintage patterns for your own use.


This book teaches you the shift method of grading while showing you pictures of slash and spread for reference (to show where space needs to be added in a particular pattern piece).

It covers the basic bodice, skirt, pant, sleeve, yoke, collar, waistband, facing and cuff pieces. If you understand the concepts of pattern drafting you can apply all these grading methods to more advanced pattern pieces (because in essence, every pattern piece is just a variation on a basic design).

Learning on these basic pieces are important because they show you where the pattern pieces “grow” and where they don’t (like how darts can often grow longer but not wider when grading).


The shifting concept is relatively easy but what you have to figure out about your grade are the “breakdowns,” the length and width increase between each grade. In the worksheet examples they give you precise measurements to shift each portion of the pattern piece up, down, out, or in. However when working on your own you need to figure out how much width and length to add and where based on your own measurement charts.


The book gives you some blank pattern pieces to practice with and a little ‘fill in the blank’ quiz in each section.

What’s nice about the shift method is that it’s easy to use in Adobe Illustrator but the pictures for the slash and spread method are helpful if you have a hard time visualizing the grade (like me). The book offers decimal conversions in addition to fractions for each shift point, nice when the computer only takes decimals.


Unfortunately this book is only printed in imperial, not metric measurements.


The book mostly covers women’s wear patterns but it discusses some of the changes you’ll need to apply to men’s and children’s patterns.

Overall the workbook is brief – less than 90 pages and it’s pretty uncomplicated. If you’re just starting with grading and want a good guide without paying an arm and a leg I’d definitely recommend it. For the price you can’t go wrong. There’s lots of space to add in your own notes and it’s spiral bound so it lays flat. I think this book’s going to get a lot of use in my sewing room…

Starting an Indie Pattern Company Pt. 3

Whoa, Part 2 of this series was a little wild, right? Lots of heavy hitting stuff on grading. Now, I think this part is more fun. We’ll be talking about the “packaging” and selling of the patterns.

If you’re just joining us be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2.

If you are planning on making printed patterns rather than PDFs some of this info won’t apply to you, but that’s ok, other stuff will.

Since giving away my first patterns I’ve learned a lot about what needs to be included in a pattern you intend to share or sell. Some of these points seem obvious but in the beginning I didn’t always think to do all of these things (maybe I though “hey, it’s a free pattern, don’t complain!” not the best approach…).

What You Need to Include with you Pattern Pieces:

(gainlines, size designation, pattern piece labels, page match lines)
  • Grainlines, center front and back markings if needed.
  • All necessary darts, notches, gather points, pleat lines, buttonholes, zipper markings, arrows, etc.
  • Label every pattern piece with the company name, pattern name or number, pattern piece designation, and how many pieces to cut of what fabric. If you don’t include seam allowance elsewhere in your packaging or if a certain piece has a special seam allowance list it on the pattern piece. (I used to not include all of this in my very early patterns until I realized how easy it is for pattern pieces to get lost in my sewing room and it’s hard to match up pieces if I don’t know what pattern or company it belongs to!)
  • Clear size markings. I like to make each size cutting line be a different dash pattern. Makes it easy to find your size on every piece.
  • Extras, if needed, like lengthen/shorten lines or even finished measurements for pattern pieces.

What you need to include with your pattern packaging:

(line drawings, description, seam allowance, materials and fabric recommendation)
  • A Size Chart for all your sizes, finished garment measurements are great, too
  • Yardage needed in standard fabric widths
  • Materials needed and recommended fabrics
  • Seam and hem allowance
  • A description of the design
  • Line drawing of front and back
  • Cutting layout
  • Pattern piece inventory (I like to combine this with cutting/printing layout to save space)
  • If you need to you can include a glossary of terms or symbols. I usually like to explain terms in the instructions to avoid needing a separate glossary.
  • If you don’t have sample photographs in the pattern itself at least have them available to view where a customer buys the pattern like your blog or the site you use to sell patterns.
  • Copyright and licensing info

Tips on how to write instructions:

  • Go in a logical order. You can even divide instructions into sections like bodice, skirt, collar, etc.
  • Be thorough, it’s good to remind users to finish their seams if you don’t tell them to do it from the beginning. It’s also nice to suggest techniques like understitching or how exactly to sew that baby hem. Try to think like a beginner, don’t assume a user knows what you’re talking about. It doesn’t hurt to tell people how to put in a zipper…
(example illustration of a gathered tulip sleeve)
  • Include clear illustrations or photos. Sometimes good pictures are better than any text instruction. I don’t think you need pictures for every step but it always helps!
    • With illustration be sure to designate right and wrong side of fabric/pattern. 
    • If it helps you can have arrows pointing out specific parts of the illustrations. 
(can you guess what the above illustration is?)
    • If you don’t know how to make good illustrations it helps reference other patterns, most companies have similar pictures for common techniques. Better yet, ask a friend who sews (don’t ask your boyfriend, he won’t know what a gathered sleeve cap looks like) to view at the image without the text and ask if she can figure out what the picture is.
    • I make my instruction illustrations in Illustrator and just scale my pattern pieces down way smaller and use them to make graphics where I can.
  • Your writing “voice” is up to you. You can be formal or casual so long as your instructions are clear.

Design and Layout:

Since I design for downloadable, print at home PDFs efficiency is important to me because I want to have the fewest number of pages as possible for the instructions and the pattern pieces. If you make pre-printed patterns this isn’t as much of an issue.

I lay all my pieces out on a template that is then divided into individual printer paper sizes. A 7″ by 9.5″ page template will fit on both A4 and letter size paper. Many home printers cannot print all the way to the edge. Some can’t even get close to the edge. Your pages must work with a variety of printers and standard paper sizes.

You also have to remind users to print with “no scaling” or 100% scaling. Some PDF readers like to “fill out” the whole page and blow the image up bigger. Bad!

Each of my template pages has a solid border and numbered and lettered notches so the whole grid can be matched up once it is printed out. Every pattern company is different, some have gridded pages, some have numbers in each corner. Just so long as each page connects logically in an order of assembly and the pages can be easily lined up on each side then you’re good to go. It’s a puzzle but you don’t want it to be a difficult puzzle.

I always include a 2″ or 4″ test square completely contained on one sheet of paper. If the test square spans multiple pages it defeats the purpose of being a good size reference! Sometimes home printers will want to print your PDF out in all different sizes. The test square allows users to make sure their pages are printing at 100% scale..

I also include a printing layout so users can make sure they’ve got all their pieces together and in the right order.

This is just a personal preference but I don’t like to have slivers or edges of pattern pieces printed on one page if I can avoid it. When you tape the skinny edge to the other pages it’s floppy and I think those tiny pieces can easily be lost or accidentally discarded when cutting.

I also like to have all my pattern piece labels contained on one sheet rather than spanning sheets. This isn’t always possible, though, but I try. Again, it’s just me being finicky about details.

I don’t like to have a lot of different colors in my PDFs. People like to save ink and I know I always print patterns in B&W. You should at least make sure it looks legible in black and white if you have many colors in your pattern or instructions.


Here’s a good question: one PDF document or two? Some companies have the instructions and pattern pieces in separate documents. I do it all in one because of how I sell my patterns. On Craftsy, last I checked, they can only support one PDF for patterns. Maybe you can do a zip file with two documents but I’m not sure. Burdastyle‘s free patterns only have one document upload and they ask you to add instructions directly to their website. I find that users get confused by that system so I include the instruction with the pieces.

The website I use for instant downloads through Big Cartel is called Pulley and they only accept one document per product.

I also sell on Etsy which now supports instant downloads.

Craftsy offers a free service for selling (or giving away for free) your patterns and Burdastyle is a good place to post free patterns. has a few companies listed for download patterns for sale. I also sell on You could email them to see if you could be included.

Does anyone else know of a good place to buy or sell PDF patterns?

***Ok, well that’s about it. There’s obviously more details you can include in your pattern if you do choose but I think what I covered is the most important.

If I work my bum off I can make an average level pattern in about a month. But of course, I’m kind of lazy so it takes me a lot longer. The longest part is grading and creating all the packaging and instructions.

If you’ve got any questions or want more explanation on any part of this process leave me a comment or email me and I’ll try to get you an answer ASAP! Thanks for reading!

Starting an Indie Pattern Company Pt. 2

(my finished hot cocoa sweater pattern as it looks in Adobe Illustrator)

Ok ladies and gents, get ready to roll up your sleeves and dig in. We’re getting deep into the seething underbelly of this pattern drafting thing. First we’re gonna get that sucker on the computer then we’re gonna draw up some charts and graphs and after that we’ll gonna slice ‘er open and check out all those crazy mathematical insides. It’s gonna get messy up in here!

Vague references to hog butchery aside, this is the tricky bit in the pattern company process and requires some attention. If you need to catch up be sure to read Pt 1 on the How I Started and Indie Pattern Company!

I’m assuming most of you know some basics about pattern making and terminology. You may or may not know about the software I’m using and there’s a chance you’ll need to remember your high school geometry class. However, if there’s anything you don’t fully understand, leave a comment and I’ll try my best to clarify.

The software I am using is Adobe Illustrator CS6 on a Mac.

Getting the base paper pattern on to the computer

There are two ways (maybe there’s more but I’m only writing about two) to digitize a pattern. The first method is one I don’t use because I think it takes too long – it’s the scanner method. Basically, you cut up all your pieces to fit on individual printer sheets of paper then scan each page in to Photoshop or Illustrator. This method works best with single size pattern or if you make multi-size patterns you will be better off doing all your grading by hand and scanning all the sizes nested together. Otherwise you’d need to reassemble all your pattern pieces, re-trace the lines and then grade from there in your image editing program.

Here’s an explanation of how to do the scanner method.

The method I use is this:

(a bodice piece that I’m going to digitize)

I tape each piece on to my big grid cutting mat. I use another ruler and protractor and I measure all my lines and points and recreate the pattern outline on a gridded Illustrator document. I do this for each piece. Rectangular pieces like collars or cuffs or some waistbands are easy, you just need two measurements. Since I grade digitally this takes me much less time than scanning.

(on the left, all my reference line measurements help to make the final pattern piece, on the right, in Illustrator)

From there I remove seam allowances if the paper pieces had them. If my paper pieces didn’t have SA then I’m good to go. Your pieces need to be SA-free in order to properly grade them.

Here is a helpful video of how I add/remove seam allowances in Illustrator.

Creating a standard size chart and how grading works

In order to grade a pattern up or down multiple sizes you’ll need to create your own size chart. The key here is proportional consistency between sizes.

Above are size charts from several pattern companies: Grainline Studio, By Hand London, Victory and Colette. You’ll notice that their sizing differs from each company but in each chart their sizes change proportionally. Colette’s size 6 is 36″/28″/38″ which has an 8″ difference between bust and waist and a 10″ difference between waist and hip. Colette’s size 8 is 37″/29″/39″, a 1″ increase overall from size 6 but the bust-waist-hip ratio is the same. It is proportional.

If the size 6 was 36/28/38 and size 8 was 38/29/40 that would not be a proportional grade. If you wanted to do a disproportional size grade you’d have to draft two completely different master patterns.

This proportion idea is why cup sizes in pattern pieces always stay the same throughout sizes rather than a size 4 having and A cup and a size 14 having a DD. It just doesn’t work like that. That’s why those “pick your own cup-size” style patterns from the big 4 companies have separate pattern pieces for each size and cup size.

You can go though any pattern company’s size chart and do the math. If ever the bust-waist-hip ratios change from one size to another then you know the makers drafted a whole new pattern for that other set of sizes.

Typically you draft a middle size and then grade up and down from there. The trick is that you can only safely grade up or down two or three sizes before you start to warp the edges of the pattern and lines get wonky and skewed. That’s why companies often draft two sizes like a 6 which can be graded up to an 8 and 10 and down to a 4 and 2, and also draft a 14 and grade up to a 16 and 18 and down to a size 12, or something like that. If you fit one of your own “middle sizes” in your size chart then great! If not, find a buddy to do test fittings and pattern tweaking.

If you are making children’s patterns you’ll probably have to draft an infant size, toddler size, child and tween size (or something like that) because children’s’ body proportions change so much between development stages. In fact, this post from Sew Mama Sew has a lot of good info on kid pattern drafting and also general pattern selling info. Definitely worth reading!

Grading methods for a program that’s not meant to grade

CAD (Computer Aided Drafting or Computer Aided Design) programs like Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw are not designed to be pattern drafting software. Real pattern drafting and grading software that isn’t for personal use only is extremely costly and you’d still have to convert the pattern pieces from the specialty software into something like Illustrator for home sewing use. Maybe one day I’ll buy software for drafting but I in no way have the budget right now.

Obviously you could hire someone to do this for you but if you did that you wouldn’t need to read this post so I’ll just show you what I do.

The two manual methods of pattern grading are the slash and spread (where you cut up a pattern into sections and spread each section apart from the other) and the shift method (where you shift the whole piece outward at specific points). Here’s a tutorial on shifting and Elegant Musings has a great tutorial for slash and spread.

With these methods you determine how much to increase your pieces horizontally based on your overall garment measurement (say, a 2″ increase) and divide by how many sections your pattern is (one half piece for the back and one half piece for the front makes four “fourths” so you divide your overall increase by four, or 1/2″ on the front and the back piece). You do the same vertically as well.

In Illustrator you’d use the shift because the program makes it simple to select lines and move them vertically and horizontally by specific measurements. After all your points are shifted you still have to go back and reconnect all your lines. It’s a little time consuming but pretty accurate.

Here’s a very simple video to show you what I mean with the shift method in Illustrator.

Another non-kosher method, and I’ll explain why, is what I like to call the “percentage” method. This is something I totally made up so don’t take this as gospel.

Essentially, you find the percentage increased vertically and horizontally between each size based on the most important pattern measurement (hips for pants, bust for a top or dress, etc).

(scaling in Illustrator)

Take this bodice piece above for example. My size 4 has a bust size of 34″ and my size 6 is 35″. The bust measurement is the most important measurement of this pattern I’m designing. The increase from 34″ to 35″ is ~2.941%. That’s my horizontal increase. Let’s just say my vertical increase is 2.2%. I copy my entire pattern piece and scale it up by these percentages.

I like this method for a couple reasons. In many cases it works very well. I think it even creates nicer armhole curves than the manual shift method. Unlike the other grading methods I don’t have to divide some overall measurement by half or fourths depending on my number of pattern sections. The same percentage works for everything.

In the image above you can see lines from a bodice piece (side seam is on the bottom left) that I graded up one size. The black lines were manually graded by shifting points and then adjusting all the points back together. The pink lines were “percentage” graded. In this case I think the percentage grade is nicer than my (sloppy, in this case) hand grading.

Both of these methods have the problem that if you grade up or down more than two or three times you run the risk of lines getting skewed.

The percentage method has more problems, however. It works best when the pieces run the full length and width of a body section, meaning a bodice piece should go from shoulder tip to waist and side seam to center front. If you’re grading a bustier type bodice piece that doesn’t extend to the shoulder and you try to increase it by a vertical percent that piece won’t lengthen as much as a full shoulder to waist piece because you don’t have as much length to lengthen to begin with. Make sense? Ok, maybe not, I’ll give some more examples.

A shirt piece like this won’t take too kindly to the percentage method either. When grading horizontally you are increasing around the body from side seam to center front (if you are using a 1/4th section bodice piece). In a kimono/batwing sleeve like this the computer wants to increase from the far end point, which in this case is the wrist of the sleeve, not the side seam. You’re better off grading manually or breaking the pattern piece down into two sections (basically, cutting off the sleeve part) and percentage grading separately.

Here’s another example – set in sleeves. The percentage method works well with set in sleeves (that are positioned upright, like the pic above). You increase using the same amounts that you used for the other pieces (based on the most important measurement, like the bust, be consistent!).

But for a gathered tulip sleeve like the pic above the standard percentage method won’t work because this pattern piece is oddly wide.

What I did instead was overlap the pattern piece like a regular set in sleeve would look like with side seams on the left and right and graded from there then reassembled the pieces back like a tulip pattern piece.

What about a front bodice piece that isn’t on on the fold but rather has an extension past the center front for a button placket? You need to grade based on the side seam to center front so you’d have to chop off that extension and add it back after you’ve graded. Odds are that the placket would probably be the same dimensions no matter what the size so you wouldn’t have wanted to grade that bit anyway. Gotta think about these things!

The percentage method works ok with pants and skirts (use the hip measurements) sometimes. I don’t always use this method because it doesn’t work in every situation but even if I do use this method I always need to double check my work. I’ll usually check by shifting specific points on my pieces up two sizes at a time to make sure everything matches up.

Yeah, grading sucks. It’s time consuming, is uses a boat load of math and it makes me wish I had 10 grand to drop on some sub-par poorly designed software made specifically for grading but I don’t so I’m just going to complain about it instead.

The more you practice the quicker it gets. I make up plenty of charts denoting increase percentages for every size to reference.

After you finish grading you can add back your seam allowances. The reason why you have to grade sans-SA is because your SA always have to be consistent. You can’t be slowly increasing your 5/8″ SA by 2-4% each time you grade up or by the time you get 6 sizes larger you’ll have 1″ SA rather than 5/8″. No bueno!

To add seam allowances in Illustrator I use this method. Top tip: make sure your paths are closed (meaning all your separate lines are joined together) otherwise you’ll get extra lines all around your pattern piece that you don’t want.

***Phew, that was a lot to take in at once! But you made it out alive and now we forge onward deeper into the abyss (wow, I started out with some weird surgery metaphor and now I think I’m referencing Heart of Darkness, see what a mess pattern drafting makes of me!!?!?).

Next time we’ll talk about easier, but still important topics like pattern piece labeling, printing layouts, instructions, line drawings, graphics, and selling. So go grab a snack and we’ll meet back here later. Remember to stay hydrated!

Starting an Indie Pattern Company Pt 1

A few months ago I mentioned that I was going to write one big post on how I started my own, albeit tiny, pattern company from scratch. Yeah, that turned out to be a bigger idea than I thought. So I’m breaking it down and I’ll add more parts over the next few weeks.

First we’ll talk basics, design process, resources, paper drafting. Later we’ll talk digitizing and sizing patterns, writing instructions, graphics, distribution and the rest.

How I started a Pattern Company with no money.

(my “scratch page” in Adobe Illustrator where I draw and experiment with my pattern pieces)

Ok, that’s not entirely true. I already owned Illustrator, the program I use to draft, and Photoshop, another program I use. And I don’t count fabric, tools and supplies for samples, because I would probably buy that stuff anyway. And I make PDF patterns, not pre-printed patterns which would have a big up front cost. But it did take time. A lot of time. So I’ll give you the short version of how I started making patterns and how I do it now.

In the beginning there was a pattern – The Pattern Making Process

I think some people (or maybe just me) think that pattern drafting is something foreign and confusing and too difficult to learn. But then I bought some simple pattern alteration books which teach you how to manipulate simple patterns into new looks. I used the same techniques on other patterns I already owned. I took a basic pattern making class locally that helped as well.

Eventually I got good enough and developed basic blocks that I used to alter to make my own patterns. I have a t-shirt block, an a-line skirt block, a two-dart bodice block and a shorts block (a simpler version of these shorts).

A block is a very simple pattern that you copy to make into other patterns. A sloper is similar to a block but contains no ease. A block already has ease built in. Pattern drafting is really is nothing more than manipulating blocks. Rarely will I draft a major piece completely from scratch (I don’t count collars, cuffs, waistbands, etc as major pieces). It’s all about using base patterns and making changes.

From there I experimented with Adobe Illustrator with making print-at-home patterns that I gave away for free. If you look at some of those old patterns compared to the most recent one you’ll notice a huge difference in labeling and instructions. The pieces still work fine but all the details are much better now.

How can I learn, too?
Ok, so let’s assume you know little about drafting. Where to start?

If you can’t take a class, read a book.

There is no book better than Patternmaking for Fashion Design when it comes to drafting. It’s a college level textbook and it is expensive, even used, but it is worth it. Try to get the newest edition that you can, it has more info on knits, children’s and specialty drafting. The book covers three basic concepts: dart manipulation, fullness and contours which are all fancy words for making 2D paper shape around a 3D figure. Grading doesn’t come in to play much.

I like the Built by Wendy books. They’re best for people who are fast learners and don’t need a ton of direction but want a fun way to alter patterns to make their own designs.

Some others are Design-it-Yourself Clothes which teaches you very basic drafting techniques based on your own set of measurements.

How to Use, Adapt and Design Sewing Patterns is more manipulation than drafting from scratch but it’s more detailed than the BbW books.

Here are a couple links for manual grading. It’s good to understand how this works compared to grading on the computer.

This is just pattern drafting and adapting, not fitting. Fitting is a whole other concept that I won’t go into here.

I come up with ideas all the time but only a few make it to the drafting stage (because drafting takes a long time and I’m lazy). Mostly I try to focus on one standout element of a garment and try to keep everything else simple, like a bow neckline for this top, tulip sleeves for this dress, buttons and a curved hem for these shorts.

Also, don’t get discouraged if you find another garment that looks exactly like your design. Nothing is original. We all have two arms and two legs (unless, of course, you don’t…) and there are only so many kinds of sleeves in the world. If you thought up a cool idea for a dress, odds are someone else has, and Forever 21 probably copied it, too. Make what you’d like to wear.

Paper drafting and Samples

(This is a sketch for a dress I’m designing with a gored skirt, boat neck, angled darts in front and a cut out at the back with a button placket at the center back. My sketches are really bad so I add a lot of notes so I don’t come back later and think “what the heck is this?”)

Once I get an idea I start drafting. Remember those blocks I talked about before? I start from there. I never draft from scratch unless I don’t have a block that would work. Then I alter and manipulate block pieces as needed.

Here’s how I made the back bodice piece for the back-cut-out dress sketch shown above. I started with a one dart back bodice piece (I drew over the dart so you could see it easier) without seam allowances. Then I moved that dart around a dozen times ’cause I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with it. I drew my new lines at the shoulder (I’m making a boat neckline), the waist and to the center back. After that I retraced the pattern piece and cut it out.

Once I make all my pieces I’ll make muslins if needed and do necessary changes to the paper pattern. By the time I’m done I have a pattern which includes all pieces and has seam allowance.

Then I’ll make my first finished sample.

Once I have a sample along with a finished paper pattern I can then digitize it. That’s the fun part that you’re all looking forward to, right?

Well, we had to get through of all this to get to the computer part. Next time I’ll talk about transferring the pattern pieces to the computer, making a size chart, grading the patterns and dealing with troubleshooting, oh, and a lot of math!