Monday, November 18, 2013

Sewing the Curve: Thoughts on Size, Patterns, and Body Image

Today, there is no finished object. This weekend was a glorious whirlwind of wedding activitiesa fabulous bridal shower, wedding ring shopping, and introducing Sam to my out-of-town loved oneswhich left minimal time for photographing the lovely dresses I made. (Spoiler alert: I'm the latest Elisalex convert.) This break in sartorial presentation does give me a chance to do something else, however: start a conversation.

Since returning to this blog in September, I've been confronted again and again with an issue that I'd long ago laid to rest. Namely: the size of my body and what that means for my wardrobe. I am in a somewhat unique position within the realm of fashionone of those odd consumers on the Venn diagram between straight sizes and plus sizes. There are plenty of stores that I can walk into, pick up a cute piece, and leave with it, but there are also plenty which I've been sized out of. Ann Taylor Loft is always a hit, while Anthropologie can be an exercise in frustration. The arbitrary nature of ready-to-wear sizing is one of the main reasons I began sewing, honestly. It was emotionally taxing to always have Fashion-with-a-capital-F telling me what I was and wasn't allowed to wear, by the simple act of disallowing me a choice in the matter.

So, I began sewing. And it was a wonderland. Not only was I in charge of my own wardrobefrom fabric to patternbut it always came in my size.

Or, so I thought. The rise of independent pattern companies has put a damper on that freedom. My first foray into indie patterns was with Colette, whose size range I'm comfortably ensconced in. On the larger end, sure, but happily involved in the party. Then along came Salme Patterns, whose Sylvia dress is adorable, but whose sizing chart is suspiciously out of whack. At least they tried to include larger sizes, however, unlike Deer & Doe, Megan Nielsen, or Paper Cut Patterns, who all stall out around a RTW size 12 (UK 16). This is not only much smaller than the offerings from the Big 4 patterns, but conspicuously just shy of  traditional plus sizes.

What's worse is that many of the indie patterns I regularly useBy Hand London and Colette, included-stop just a little larger than my size. There are precious few pattern companies who tread into truly plus sized waters. Instead, larger sewists are forced to grade and slash and spread to even get a baseline pattern. It's as if the designers don't simply ignore this population, but actively discourage association with their brands. That, quite frankly, blows.

If you spend any time in the comment trails of this blog, you've probably noticed a recurring theme. With every project I post, a smattering of other sewists will comment about how lovely it is to see a pattern on a woman of my size. When I first started blogging again, I thought nothing of it, but the more blogs that are added to my reader, the more I begin to wonder. Why aren't there more women of a size blogging? If statistics hold true, 40% of western women are a size 14+. So, where are they?

I suspect that, not unlike RTW fashion, plus size sewing bloggers have been sized out of the conversation altogether. How are they supposed to participate in this community, when there are limits on their involvement? It's easy to say that designing for plus sizes is just too hard or cost prohibitive, as Colette did in their (in my opinion, disastrous) recent blog post, but that doesn't address the problem at hand. There is a market demand for large sizesjust look at the readership of this blogbut most designers seem as happy to ignore that population as their ready-to-wear counterparts are. So, a size 22 woman not only can't find a cute dress at the department store, but she can't make one herself without considerable effort and pattern alteration know-how.

In the end, plus sized women are confronted with a whole slew of road blocks to sewing blog bliss. Not only must they fight conventional beauty standards by posting pictures of themselves not labeled "before," but they don't have the same opportunities as straight sized women. Rare is the pattern they can pick up and learn to sew with. Rare is the cute, modern company that is designing with their proportions in mind. Since most pattern models are at the lower end of straight sizes (another commonality with RTW fashion), it can also be a total guessing game to judge how a pattern will translate, once the grading process ends. With each hurdle, less and less women are inclined to create and share. How can our community not be weakened by the loss of those voices?

Writing for this blog is, hands down, one of the most empowering things I've ever done. With each picture I post of myself, with each positive comment received, my own inner critic shrinks. It could easily go the other way, but sewing for my supposedly problematic body and chronicling those adventures here, makes me all the more confident that I am lovely and chic, no matter what Fashion thinks. That other women are denied that confidence, by the very pursuit that instilled it in me, breaks my heart.

If there were any spare time left in my day, I'd take a pattern drafting class tomorrow and start fixing this mistake myself. As it is, I implore you to give it some thought. If you're a plus sized sewist who has been reticent to start a blog, please take the plunge. We need your creative energy, if the sewing community is to be more inclusive and body positive than its mainstream counterpart. If, by some stroke of happenstance, you're a pattern designer or future pattern designer, consider the market. Speaking from experience, I'd pay more for a size-inclusive independent pattern than the cheaper, boring Big 4 alternatives. There is no way I'm alone in that.

I would be remiss if I didn't end this post with a couple of positive shout outs. Despite the major gap in the plus sized sewing community, there are bloggers and designers proving that this is a vital market which deserves to be served. Some of my favorites are Cake Patterns, Alana from Lazy Stitching, Laurwyn from Quirky Pretty Cute, and Carolyn from Diary of a Sewing Fanatic*. If you long for more plus sized sewists in your life, please check out their fabulous sites! Even better, if you have suggestions of other lovely plus size resources and bloggers, leave them in the comment trail, along with your thoughts on sewing, size, or body image.


Pictures are all of Hilda, the iconic 1950s pin up girl, illustrated by Duane Bryers.
*all bloggers mentioned have self-identified as plus size

Note: I've switched the commenting system to Disqus, so the comments for this post are now not linked to author profiles. I'll be compiling and posting a list of the bloggers mentioned in this post, so that people who would like a reference will have one! 

50 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post. I agree that each hurdle for plus-sizes results in fewer women wanting to sew and blog. And it's disconcerting how often women seem to believe these hurdles are rooted in their bodies--as though their bodies are the primary problem rather than a lack of good options or a lack of interest in providing good options.

    I'm very thankful for your blog, and for the blogs you list above. Seeing other plus-size sewists making patterns work for them is the best kind of inspiration I could ask for!

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    1. You put it perfectly! Every extra step a woman has to go though, just to begin normal fitting adjustments, is another chance to internalize the message that she's not right somehow. That's what enrages me the most. Sewing has a chance to be empowering, but instead I fear that is becoming as exclusionary as ready-to-wear.

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  2. I believe Lolita Patterns (http://www.lolitapatterns.com/) make plus-sized patterns, and they're quite nice, although I haven't tried any myself yet as they're not really my style. I find it interesting that you name Deer&Doe as one of the indie companies that stop short of plus size - to be honest, I'm not really sure *what* size I am any more in RTW clothing (it differs between country, brand, etc), but I do know that I can never fit into a 12. I can, however, fit into the largest size Deer&Doe offer, so I assume it must be a bit larger than your standard 12.

    I don't know if I'm "of a size" (which I find to be a horrible term), but I do wear size 14, usually, so if that makes me plus-sized, so be it. I'm not out to categorise myself, or others, I just know my measurements and if they don't match the sizes a pattern company offers, than I simply won't buy it.

    I'm probably not articulating myself very well, and I apologise for that, but I do think that the pattern designers face a difficult problem - it's not practical to cover every single size out there, in every proportion, so someone will always be left out. I know smaller people who are too small for Colette's smallest size, for instance. If resources allow, though, it would be awesome to have more sizes included.

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    1. Thank you for such a thoughtful comment, Kirsty! I do think that Deer & Doe offers a generous size 12, small 14, based on my experiences with their line. I actually own all of the patterns, because they're adorable and would only need tiny grades & and FBAs to properly fit me. Of course, they're all still unloved and unopened, because I have yet to feel the motivation to muslin them.

      Your point, when it comes to the practicality of pattern sizing is an interesting one. It's never going to be feasible to include all possible sizes, you're absolutely correct, but considering most women do fall above a US 14, I'm positive that it would be a cost effective offering to at least go a bit beyond that. Just reaching to a 20 or 22 would encompass so many more sewists, as perhaps going down one more size on the smaller end of the spectrum would. If a market is both large and underserved, it seems impractical from a business standpoint to not even try. That's a lot of women not even given the chance to buy a product.

      Not going to lie, the term "of a size" gets me as well, but I find just as many issues with curvy, plus size, fat, and all the other terms applied to women above a straight size. I'm not really sure there's a good inoffensive term out there, which is no doubt due to the weight stigma attached to women's bodies. What do you use, instead, just out of curiosity? The writer in me loves a language discussion.

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    2. With regards to the practicality of pattern sizing, I guess I feel that if it was cost effective and profitable, then companies would offer those sizes. The cynic in me feels that companies love making money above all else, really, so if they felt there was a large market for, well, large sizes, then surely they would offer them? Maybe even though a lot of women do fall above a size 14, those women are not sewing, or at least buying patterns, so there doesn't seem to be a big market for it. I'm not trying to play devil's advocate, I just imagine that companies do research into this kind of stuff, and I find it an odd idea that they would dismiss a lucrative sales opportunity, if it existed.

      I prefer to use curvy for myself, personally, because to me it conjures up only nice images - soft curves leading the eyes this way and that - like the sketches you used for this blog post :)

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  3. I am currently working on a tutorial series for sewing bloggers who want to grade patterns either for themselves or to sell. This is one of the issues I want to talk about a bit. From my experience in grading digitally (the only way I do it), the "uneven grade" point is a moot one. If the larger sizes get bigger at a greater rate between sizes than the smaller sizes, that's a really easy thing for Illustrator to handle. I'm confused as to why this is such a big deal to designers.

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    1. Lauren, I am so thrilled that you commented for a number of reasons.

      A. I swear I followed you in BlogLovin, but it doesn't seem to have gone through! So, I've remedied that.

      B. As someone who has extensively used graphic design programs in the past, I always wondered about the validity of pattern designers arguments in the first place. Surely, it couldn't be as big of a hurdle as previously claimed. It's a relief to know that this wasn't an unreasonable thought. Thank you for sharing your expertise! I am so looking forward to your tutorial series. Maybe a line of plus size patterns is in my future, after working through your advice.

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  4. I couldn't agree more with what you have written … what a fantastic post. I too am in the grey area between conventional patterns and the hideous "human cube" offerings from the plus size collections. I have lost count of the number of times I read a sewing blog and think … wow, great patterns, only to find out it stops inches short of my high bust measurement. It's always a tiny blow to your confidence as these companies constantly place you on the edge of what they consider "normal".

    It's extremely disappointing that the indie patterns do excuse themselves from the effort of upsizing more. Surely, given the stats, they are missing out on a massive chunk of the market? I also wonder where all the plus size sewers are, as by anyone's maths given the proportion of people who sew and the proportion of people who are a size 14+ there must be a huge secret tribe that do make their own plus size clothing.

    Perhaps what stops many of them blogging is this issue of acceptance. I know that when I first started writing my blog I was afraid to post photos of myself in what I made – it was a huge step to take photos and then post them. Happily nowadays, I really couldn't care less and I have come to love and appreciate my body, with all its peculiarities!

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    1. T, I wonder this all the time. Surely, the arguments about the cost effectiveness of plus size patterns is moot, considering the large portion of the market. If there are sewists of those sizes and they want to pay for the patterns, surely it's logical to design for them? I'm contemplating a drafting a basic dress pattern, once we get back from our honeymoon in January, just to put my theory to the test. The huge, secret tribe must exist and they must need patterns!

      Also, I cannot agree more with your point about acceptance and photos. When I first started blogging again, there was a three day lag, between my first project photos and actually posting them. Getting used to seeing images of myself--turning off that snide, bitchy editor--was a period of adjustment.

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  5. Lots of food for thought. I am also between "regular" and "plus" sizes in the shops, but have a relatively unusual shape for a woman in her mid-forties. I am very thick through the middle and have a substantial stomach, but am quite slim through the hips. Sewing wise I have used a wide variety of sizes depending on the pattern company and the amount of ease that I want in my clothes. I do think that it is fair enough for designers to have target markets, but wish that such a significant amount of the population were more often the target! "Skinny bitch curvy chick" is designing patterns for both smaller and larger size ranges, and I've just discovered Lekala patterns and am loving being able to order patterns to my height, bust, underbust, waist and hip measurements. They are fitting me better first go than many others that I have tried in the past - and I have been sewing for myself since my teens. One of my friends who is definitely plus size has just learned to draft her own patterns, and is roaring ahead with the excitement of having clothes that fit her beautifully.

    I think that T is probably right - many people have trouble with body acceptance. I don't think that my body is great according to conventional standards, but it is my body, it does great things for me, and I am what I am. I think that the day I put a photo of myself on my blog wearing bathers was a great moment in terms of my own body acceptance! I love wearing the clothes that I make and really enjoy my sewing hobby.

    My weight fluctuates quite a bit, so I love that I can sew clothes that fit me at whichever size I am at the time. And I love reading blogs where plus size or "non-standard" women show off the clothes that they make. Carolyn (Sewing Fanatic) is a huge inspiration to me.

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    1. Marcelle, I have never run across either of those pattern companies! I'm so excited to add more size-friendly indies to my list. It's totally fair to target markets, but I'm with you - more companies targeting this market would be quite welcome.

      Isn't it amazing how something as simple as posting photos of oneself can radically change personal body image? I wholeheartedly believe that the more women who blog and sew, the better our collective female body image will be. May there be more women in bathers! ;)

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  6. I forgot to mention StyleARC patterns - they go up to size 30.

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    1. Excellent addition! I haven't used StyleARC, but I've read great things about them.

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  7. Oh yes, that was a disasterous post by Colette, further outlined by this post http://www.lolitapatterns.com/tag/colette-patterns/ from Lolita Patterns (who has two basic grading blocks).

    I started sewing because my body straddles the gap between "normal" size and "plus size" shops - my top is a size 12-14 and bottom is a size 18 (NZ sizes); there is 14" difference between my waist and hips. Luckily, this means I can generally fit indie patterns in the top and grade out over the hips if I need to. But there definitely is a large gap in the market for NICE plus sized patterns - so often what you see is boxy, ugly, not stylish at all. Colette patterns may not realise that they'd probably make as much $$$ by releasing one or two designs in a bigger size, than releasing one new pattern.

    Another issue (us?) bigger ladies face, is of fitting. So often I have to try and judge "is this dress fitting poorly, or is that just my pudge showing through?". I'm not saying slim women have it that much easier to fit, but it can be really disheartening!

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    1. Sophie-Lee, I totally hadn't seen that Lolita post yet! It's really interesting to get another designer's point of view on that kerfuffle, especially a designer who is actively targeting the plus size market. It makes me wish Lolita's patterns were a bit more my style, so I could support the company more. What a refreshing take on indie design!

      Also, you are precisely right about the unique fitting issues for larger women who sew. I just finished two versions of the Elisalex dress, which was a harrowing fit experience. A six-inch princess seam full bust adjustment looks absolutely nothing like the one inch adjustment found in most tutorials. There were multiple steps I needed to wing, in order to make the fit work, and it's still not quite perfect. When such issues aren't talked about often in the sewing blog-o-sphere, it can be all to easy to chalk it up to your own body and give up. There are so many other factors to consider, when one is even close to plus size!

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  8. Thanks for the fabulous post Mary! I sit in "No Man's Land" between "normal" sizing and "Plus" sizing. An XL or a good size 16 in RTW and a size 18 in the Big 4. I don't really fit plus sizing because I am completely in proportion. Hips, waist and bust in the same size range and I find "plus" sizing is for fuller busts and bigger hips. I am also 180cm tall (5'11"). Due to this, I tend to avoid independent patterns because they are all too cute and girly which just looks silly on a size 16 tall woman.

    Because of all that, I sew my own clothes and I generally stick to the Big 4 because life is too short to be grading patterns up. It is also too short to be trying on clothes in the shops and feeling horrible after because nothing fits and the sales assistants look like stick figures.

    Blogging my sewing adventures has really improved my self image and empowered me to embrace my body for what it is and my love of clothes and fashion. I dress soooooo much better and take more care in my appearance since starting to blog. Which in turn makes me feel more confident, in control and like I can change the world!

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    1. Leith, you make a really prescient point about the aesthetic of most independent pattern companies. I hadn't thought about it, but they definitely trend toward a more cutesy, girlish look than the Big 4 offerings. I really wish there were a company offering a large range of sizes in classic, simple silhouettes with a decidedly adult aesthetic.

      Also, your experience with blogging definitely mirrors my own! It's astounding to me how something as simple as making your own clothes, then sharing that creativity can drastically boost self-image. It's so empowering!

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  9. I think there are a lot of plus-sized women who write pattern reviews on PR and with that comes a world of sewing and fitting experience. There are also online sewing forums that are full of knowledgeable plus-sized women that started helping one another with fitting issues well before blogging became de rigueur. Many women of experience already know what styles they prefer and so perhaps aren't as bothered by these new, indie brands that tend to reinvent the wheel. I bet all those who have been sewing for well over 15 years have accumulated many patterns and probably have one somewhere in their collections that would be similar to all the new ones anyway. I think plus-sized sewers are everywhere, and right here on your blog are a whole new collection of bloggers commenting that I can now follow! Thanks!
    The indie brands all seem to be aimed at people who are in the first few years of their sewing journey. And so for those new to sewing who want to be in amongst all the "cool kids" making the latest "it" patterns, I too wish that the indie companies provided two sets of size ranges. Imagine how happy and confident all those plus-sized new sewers would feel if they too could create one of these popular dresses straight out of the envelope, just like all the others!! We would have some very positive body self-images.

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    1. Nessa, I completely agree with you! I was actually just ranting about this conundrum to Sam last night. It's one thing to say that advanced plus size sewists can just grade & alter patterns, but it's another to insist beginners do the same thing. Sewing can be a daunting enough skill to learn itself, without throwing complicated fitting techniques in right from the beginning. How is a young plus sized woman supposed to learn to sew, when there are no cute beginner lines designed for her? It doesn't seem like much to ask to have the same beginner opportunities as straight size sewists.

      Thank you for the great points!

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  10. I am considered plus size and started blogging a few months back: http://theseedsof3.wordpress.com/. I am also a huge Cake Patterns fan and I can tell you that I just tested a Lolita Pattern and the sizing goes up to 24 and they grade on two separate blocks so there is less distortion while grading. I have dabbled some in Colette Patterns as well, and find I can usually get a decent fit without major surgery to the pattern. A lot of the other indie companies I am a little disappointed in. I see a super cute pattern and go to purchase it, only to realize I will have to grade up several sizes just to start. Now, I am not naive enough to expect a pattern to fit me "out of the envelope," everyone has a different shape, blah, blah, blah, but I am not going to buy a pattern that I have to grade up several sizes just to get to a point where I can start fitting my body. Not when there ARE companies that grade for larger sizes. I'm curvy and I used to hate it. Now, since I have been sewing my own clothes I am embracing them more and, in return, loving myself more: http://wp.me/p3HVTK-5q

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    1. Before circling back to reply to comments here in the thread, I was looking at the new Lolita pattern and swooning over your version of the gunmetal dress! How fortuitous! I am so thrilled to see another fashion forward curvy blogger in the land of sewing blogs.

      Honestly, I feel precisely the way you do about grading patterns up. I own a few of the Deer & Doe patterns, but have yet to make any of them, because of the pattern fitting hacks that will be required. I'm only one size out of their range, but the prospect of grading up still seems a depressingly menial task. Why even buy the pattern, if there are others that do work out there? I suspect we're not the only ones who skip a purchase, because of this...

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  11. Dear Mary,
    Thank you so much for this article!! You put in words what was in my mind for awhile!
    The emergence of new Indie patterns companies is great since it brings a wider choice in style of patterns, but sometimes I have the bad feeling that it also brought a certain elitism in the sewing world since you have to be under a certain size to enjoy them. In a certain way it feels like the fashion world infected the sewing world with its idea of a perfect body, bringing frustration in a place where normally everybody should be equals or at least should have the same opportunities.
    Would it be so difficult to grade the same pattern in a wide range of sizes where everybody could find its size without having to be categorized in "normal" or "plus size"?? Or being squarely an outcast??
    Sometimes I'm really angry against them and I don't accept the odd argument that it is harder to grade patterns for larger sizes (like the one they gave at Colette Patterns... no comment!)... And so what?? Maybe it's harder but it doesn't mean it doesn't worth it!! For me a good pattern maker should be able to grade a pattern to any size. If not: it's not a good pattern maker! That's just as simple as that!! ;)
    I really hope that indie pattern makers will read your post, open their eyes and maybe make little adjustments in their size range!! Chubby peoples are already stigmatized in the fashion world, they should not be in the sewing world which is a place of fun and creativity!!
    Have a nice day!! ;)

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    1. Mimolette, you said it perfectly! Thank you for your comment! I suppose that's what angers me the most about this phenomenon - the elitism of it. When I first began sewing, it seemed like an equal opportunity hobby, but more and more it's beginning to resemble the same "us vs. them" stratification of normal fashion. What a horrid trend! I'm so glad not to be the only who sees it. Maybe with more voices taking note, something will change.

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  12. Well, I'm a curvy girl and I do have my fitting issues. But however nice it would be, I can't have the illusion that any designer will make a pattern that fits me straight from the envelope. Before I discovered the online sewing community I was under the impression it was just me, or more precisely my bodytype, that made fitting so hard. But now I see people struggle for all kinds of reasons: curves, lack of curves, length, odd shoulders, sway backs and more. Even supermodels would have a hard time making Indies patterns work for their slim but 6 ft tall frames! Fit isn't about size, it's about measurements. It took me years to understand why a pattern wouldn't fit, despite the fact that all measurements corresponded with mine. When I started breaking down the bust measurements in seperate front and back, apex to apex and various lengthwise checkpoints in the bust area things were finally getting together. In my opinion curvy bodies look best in fitted, tailored garments. That's a first big hurdle to take for plus-sized sewing newbies: sewing teachers don't do their pupils any favor by letting them start with too simple patterns. That square skirt with elastic waist may look good on a size 6, but makes a size 24 wanna hide forever. Your first item should be something that looks good on you and makes you proud, not just anything that's easy to make. I think bloggers could help immensely by showing their garments and sharing fitting and construction details. No matter how hard, it can be done! As for more inspiring plus sized bloggers, how about Melissa from Scavenger Hunt?

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    1. Marianne, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment! You make some really good points about fit and measurements. I'm a firm believer that, unless you have the ability to magically shapeshift your body at will, fitting techniques are important things in every sewist's arsenal. That being said, I suppose my main problem with the lack of plus size offerings is for exactly the reason you cited: the newbies. It seems like such a giant hurdle to ask a new sewist to not only learn how to sew a straight seam, form a dart, and finish a neckline on her first project, but also learn to properly grade a pattern. How daunting! If there were more plus size offerings from indies, at least the initial sewing stages would be easier for our newbies. And you're totally right - sewing something flattering and beautiful on your first project is the best way to fall in love with sewing.

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  13. Oh my goodness, I LOVE this. I've thought about writing something similar several times, but never quite got there. Like you, to begin with I was really excited about the independent pattern companies after the shock of seeing some of the offerings of the Big 4.... Until I realised, that yep, just like in RTW, I'm always the biggest size - if I can even fit in it. The newer ones (Deer & Doe etc.) make me feel just the same as going to Anthropologie. I think there is big potential either in plus sizes or indeed the regular companies putting the extra effort in. There are, I have no doubt, many women who started sewing because of their unique bodies, and I'm convinced there's a demand out there. In the meantime, I continue making lots of knit garments and grading... But I'd love to not feel left out, for once.

    www.cashmerette.blogspot.com.

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    1. Jenny, I am completely and utterly on the same page as you. I own all of Deer & Doe's patterns, just as I still stalk Anthropologie's website, but it's a demoralizing relationship. All I have to do is grade a little bit up, but why must I? Our shapes are not so weird or uncommon that such a step is even necessary, but still we're designated in the "other" category. There is a demand, as proof by this very comment trail, despite designers' lack of desire to serve it.

      It would be refreshing, if a cute, modern company came along that served the majority of sewists, not just the ones who are "easy" to design for.

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    2. In other news, I was completely remiss in not mentioning your blog in this post. You are one of the most consistently inspiring plus sized bloggers. I'm still swooning over your polka dot Simplicity 2271.

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  14. Hear , hear !! Very well said, and appreciated.

    Best Regards,
    elise

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  15. Awesome post. Like every other commenter here, I'm in the same grey area when it comes to sizing. I can fit into the largest size in a Collette pattern, but am off the charts when it comes to Deer & Doe. I'm also a relatively new sewist, so it's been super hard for me to learn not only a ton of new sewing skills (I just sewed my first dart six months ago), but also have to deal with learning grading and common plus-sized alterations like FBA's. And to be honest, I just feel like there aren't any super-great resources for guiding someone through the process of grading up/alterations, which has made me really hesitant to start trying. Like a major thing I've always wondered is what if you need to grade up and need an FBA...which comes first? how do you know how much to do each one by? what if it's an uneven grade? etc. I know the best thing would be to just dig in and learn through trial & error, but it's frustrating to think that other people don't have to do that and I do. I wonder if you would ever consider doing a post showing how you approach a pattern, like something showing how you chose your size, how you'll grade, what pattern alterations you'll do, etc. Not really a tutorial, but more just like, "Here's how I do it in case you were wondering." I know there are a lot of resources that show little parts of the process, but I feel like I've never seen one from a plus-size blogger that actually explains the whole process and their reasons for doing it that way. (Or, scratch the post, and let's hang out in real life and let me pick your brain. I live in Austin, so only a short drive away!)

    To some degree, sewing has made me feel good about my body because it shows me that you can look great at any size when your clothing actually fits well. But I'd be lying if I didn't mention that it can also make me feel kind of bad about my body because I'm not small enough to wear the indie designs I really want to be wearing, unless I really learn how to grade. For me, the lack of good indie plus-size patterns reinforces the mindset of "life would be easier if I was skinnier", which is a mindset I obviously don't want to be in.

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    1. Nicole, thank you so much for commenting! Novice sewists, just like you, are my main concern in this whole conundrum. It's harrowing enough learning the basics of sewing, much less asking someone to master fitting and grading at the same time she's learning darts. It's illogical! If there were a company making simple, lovely patterns specifically for plus sizes, a lot of that beginner heartache could be eased.

      Also, you bring up a really great point about tutorials. I hadn't thought about it much, but there really aren't that many plus size specific tutorials out there. Why, the FBA I just did for my Elisalex dress is a perfect example - a six inch princess seam FBA little resembles the one inch tutorial processes. I will definitely try to keep that in mind, as this blog moves forward, and perhaps shed a little light on the plus size fitting process.

      As for your specific fitting query, I can totally help! The best way to grade something is to grade the bodice up to your corresponding high bust measurement. Once you're there, size wise, you can fix everything else with a FBA and a wide waist adjustment, if necessary. Otherwise, you'll get weird gaping around the neckline and armholes. Always start your specific fitting fixes like that, after the bodice is in a good starting size for those.

      In other news....lady, shoot me an email. The next time I'm in Austin, we'll meet up and talk sewing! I'd absolutely love to talk about plus size sewing concerns with someone else. Have you discovered Lauren's blog, Rosie Wednesday, from the comment below? She's another great Austin sewist who has tons of expertise to share. You'll love her.

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  16. Great post, Mary! I also loved the "you are not a before" post you linked to starting with, "Are you a woman over the age of 12? You should be on a diet."

    We did croquis in my pattern making class last night, and it was horribly fascinating to watch because all of us, probably literally size 2 to 22, gasped in horror when we saw the picture we used for our croquis. It was wonderfully fascinating to watch perceptions change as we began to sketch designs on the croquis. There was so much excitement around creating that that gasp of horror became a distant memory. I left the class feeling warm fuzzies about my figure and being really thrilled that I had whole new ways to flatter it. As someone who has seriously struggled with self esteem and body image in the past (like so many women), that is SO exciting to me.

    Maybe if my dabbling with pattern making turns into something more, I can do something useful about this!

    Lauren

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    1. Lauren, oh heavens, the whole process of croquis making! I tried that out myself a few years ago and was so horrified initially. Holy bejeezus, is it odd seeing your frame in such detail. It's totally the mark of a great class that you left with those warm fuzzies! I think such a big part of sewing is coming to terms with your body, then learning to love designing specifically for it. So empowering!

      Also, if you ever turn your pattern making into something more, you know I'll be first in line to test them! You have the best pattern taste.

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    2. Addendum: I'm so glad you liked the post from Spinsters. My alter ego is thrilled! ;)

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  17. This is absolutely why I love your blog, Mary :) I started reading sewing blogs about 1.5 years or so ago and I would always drool over the beautiful things other ladies had made from indie pattern companies. I believe you and I are right around the same size because I am right at that top cusp as well with most of them. I actually found your blog because I was looking for a blogger who was a little curvier than the others I followed. It's easy to look at a size 4 gal and say, "Wow, what a cute skirt!" only to make it yourself and have it be a fitting disaster that hits in all the wrong places. I was looking into the Ginger skirt by Colette and came across your blog post (which saved me from purchasing it by the way). I'm a newbie to sewing clothes, so I didn't want to spend the time/money making something that wasn't right for my body type from the get-go. Your blog has helped me with that immensely :) It's great to see someone "of a certain size" like me who looks super cute in these patterns. It's empowering and helps with the stereotype of what "size" can be considered beautiful. Just because we aren't a size 6 doesn't mean we have to wear shapeless bag-like clothing. I am trying to get better with sewing, and my biggest hang-up with finishing items is the fitting problems. I start something only to find out it's not big enough to go over my hips, or if I fit one area it makes other places gape and sag and I have no idea how to fix it! I've enrolled in a fitting class on Craftsy to try and get better at it, but it's still a lot of trial and error and wasted fabric (which is such a tragedy).

    Anyway, hopefully this made sense and didn't ramble too much, lol. Thank you for your blog - I missed reading it while you were away. Your makes inspire me to make them for myself (I even made Simplicity 2215 because I liked yours so much). I hope that others take this post to heart and have the courage to be "plus size" and still blog. And thank you for listing other bloggers up there - I've added a few new ones to my blog roll!

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    1. Oh, also doesn't it seem that patterns that are "plus sized" are mostly in knit fabrics? Anyone else frustrated by that? I like my t-shirts too, but I don't want to wear one on my whole body and show off every lump and bump, amiright?

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    2. Megan, I absolutely loved your comment and am so excited to add another plus sized sewing blogger to my reader! One of my main motivations in blogging is to do exactly what you stated - combat the image that beauty only happens at one size and that chic, well made clothes are for smaller people. It's infuriating that the indies aren't more in line with that way of thinking! Sewing should be empowering for every woman, no matter her size.

      In other news, I'm so relieved to have spared someone else the Ginger heartbreak. I can't even think about that pattern without wincing! And you are so right about plus sizes and knit fabrics. Not only can they be super clingy, but they're also not easy to sew with. Where are the chic plus size patterns for wovens?

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  18. Thank you so much for this post. It may be my favourite blog post you've ever written. Don't get me wrong, I love looking at your photos. But this post wowed me. I am new to sewing and I am just outside of many patterns. By Hand London fits me perfectly but I am at the top of their range. This post showed me that I am not alone and led me to several new pattern companies (thanks to everyone who suggested patterns). Your blog inspires me to keep trying with my sewing.

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    1. Jane, I'm beyond happy that this blog help another plus sized sewist inspired! You are definitely not alone in this frustration and I'll endeavor to post more techniques and tips for making projects work for our body types. Hopefully the indie designers will get this message soon, and you'll have more options. As it is, I'll keep you posted on all the new companies and patterns that work for larger sizes. Happy sewing!

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  19. Great post and really interesting responses to it. I've read every single one of them and will be checking all of your blogs :-) I'm also curvy girl. I totally agree that the big 4s "plus sized" patterns are really sad looking patterns. I'm only in my early 30s and do not wish to look like a shapeless sack;-) We all have some features that are worth highlighting. A good designer should be able to draft a variety of designs that could highlight those. I don't personally blog but keep a track of my makes on flickr (chrichrimano) and like to participate in sewalongs when I can. I tend to follow bloggers of various shapes but really enjoy it when I can visualize what a pattern looks like on a person with a similar shape as mine. I've only taken a sewing course once (over a weekend) and was really gutted by the amount of time I had to spend grading the pattern as they didn't have any pattern blocks anywhere near my size. I did learn a lot doing this but felt really out of place since I was the only student of a curvy size. I have started drafting clothes to my measurement but it is hard work starting from scratch and certain garments are near impossible to sew yourself. For instance I haven't been able to find a good winter jacket that will fit my 48 inch bust and keep me warm at -35 degrees celsius (which is common where I live in Norway)...so I've had to settle for a men's jacket. A proper shapeless sack ;-) Anyway, sorry about the long comment. I totally second that there's not enough variety in the pattern offerings and I would definitely buy patterns that would cater for a larger range of size.

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    1. ChriChri, thank you so much for your comment and, even more, for sharing your Flickr stream. I absolutely adore your makes, especially that gorgeous Colette Crepe you made! Absolutely lovely. Also, I think you've summed up my issue with pattern designers perfectly - if you're a good designer, it shouldn't be hard. All the excuses just sound like cop outs to me! As for jackets...have you ever shopped at ASOS Curve's online store? I've primarily bought coats from them and they're so warm, but feminine. They might be worth a look! (Though, to be fair, our winter is more like 5 degrees Celsius, not -35!)

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  20. Great post.. I am plus-size and tall so shopping is just hell.... I started a blog a year or so ago, but just haven't kept it up. I haven't done much sewing since I re-discovered it as fitting my body is just so tough..and somewhat discouraging. It seems that every time I fix one fit problem, it leads to another. Blogs like yours and Carolyn's (she is my inspiration) encourage me to keep going....

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    1. Karen, I know that problem all too well! I just finished fitting and sewing the Elisalex dress from By Hand London, which was a true test of fitting patience. As if a six inch princess seamed FBA isn't hard enough, the resulting center pattern piece was too wide and created odd drag lines that weren't present in the muslin. Fitting for plus sizes can be so harrowing, which is made all the more so by the fact that we must start from pattern pieces that don't resemble our bodies at all.

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  21. I'm plus size and a sewist and a sort of blogger. I think I am plus size. I fit into a size 16/XL at Ann Taylor Loft but can really only buy gloves from J. Crew. I love Colette Patterns because my size is easily included but I am just a smidge beyond other indie patterns. Sewaholic is one...I'd love to make some of those patterns, but I am just a couple of inches over the edge. Could I make it work? Probably. Do I have the energy? Not really. But I do have to say that blogging and posting pics of myself in my handsewn clothing online for the world to see has made me feel more comfortable in my own skin. I'm also more comfortable with my size...it really is just a number....some places I'm a 16. Some patterns put me into a 24. At Kitschy Coo I'm an 8. I think I am a 52 at Burda (whose plus size patterns are eerily similar to misshapen tents!). So numbers really mean nothing to me.

    I remember a few years ago Ann Taylor Loft stopped carrying size 16 in their stores. I could order online but not shop in the store. I called them asking why they didn't want me to be seen shopping in their store. I felt slighted...like they didn't want me in the store. I feel the same way about some pattern companies...do you not want me wearing your designs?

    If anyone would like to visit my plus-sized sewing (and other random stuff) blog, come on over! You can find me and all my wobbly bits at http://augustmorning.blogspot.com

    Thank you for bringing this topic up!

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    1. Kristin, you and I sound like we're very similar sizes. I vividly remember when Ann Taylor and Loft decided to stop carrying 16s in store and I still don't understand that decisions. Now, I can walk in and buy tops and sweaters, but must order jeans and pants from their online store. It's excessively annoying! I wish that sewing were always an easier route for such things.

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  22. I love hearing your thoughts on this. I'm also in that size limbo between straight/plus, so I can shop at J Crew and Ann Taylor but I'm often outsized at Anthropologie and many of the boutique clothing stores in Manhattan.

    So that puts me right near the top of the range in all those indie pattern companies, but I think I might have an easier time grading because my proportions aren't super curvy. (I believe the Selfish Seamstress calls this figure type "the world's fastest hourglass," which sounds delightful and is, for me, fairly accurate.) On one hand, I totally envy the Hildas of the world, but I take solace in the fact that pattern adjusting isn't too painful since usually I just have to grade out the waist a bit. But it's annoying that as far as most indie patterns are concerned, women any larger than I am are out of luck. (And god forbid I gain any weight -- Colette and By Hand London are the only ranges that I allow any wiggle room to grow a little without being outsized.)

    I also look to your posts to confirm if designs are well-suited for a range of body types. I particularly like seeing the changes you make (one skirt type over another in a dress, for example) and I am looking forward to your Elisalex post!

    For the record, I think you look pretty fabulous in everything you share. (So I might just end up hopping on the Elisalex bandwagon because of you!)


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  23. I guess I am a plus size blogger since I seem to usually end up cutting a size 18. Although if I did not know about using my high bust measure, I would not even fit into a size 24 according to the pattern envelopes.

    I have lurked on this blog for ages and really enjoy it - you always look so happy.

    You can find me at notionallybetter.blogspot.com/

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  24. To be honest, I have been slowly teaching myself to sew for the past two years, and tried to start blogging about it earlier this year. I have had a really hard time staying motivated to keep sewing, largely because as a new sewist I am naturally intimidated by the fact that I would have to grade-up any patterns for garments I hope to wear. I have had to make a lot of tote bags, and a few items for other people. I have made a few garments that were too small for me, just for the sake of learning techniques. I have yet to wear anything, apart from a couple bags and scarfs, that I have made myself. Its just scary to think about putting a lot of time, effort, and money into something I am not sure will fit right or look good, and even scarier to think about taking pictures of myself in the items and posting them online.
    I have bought a lot of big-4 patterns and stashed fabric, and I don't know if this is something that supports pattern makers in their decision to not make larger sizes, since I'm just buying what they have available now instead of holding out. The few items that they seem to carry in larger sizes are usually downright dowdy. Not much incentive for plus size patrons to buy them.

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  25. Thank you for posting this! Part of the reason that I write my blog is precisely because there are not enough bloggers of my size writing about their sewing, pattern adjustments, and photos of finished products. I make sure to include and label my posts with brand and pattern numbers to make them easy to search. I write about things I would google myself, and haven't found enough of. Simple as that!

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