Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Petiting" a Pattern

As I finished tracing my BWOF pattern for the white shirt it dawned on me that perhaps a post on how to petite a pattern might be of interest. It was my next step in the process before making my muslin. I "petite" all of my patterns now as soon as I take them out of the envelope or after finishing their tracing. This is done before any other pattern alterations. The rule is do any lengthwise alterations first.

First you need to figure out on your next project whether you need to take length out of the upper chest area or the area between waist and bust. It may even be both. For me and I think many petites it is between the bust and shoulder, right about where a measuring tape would go for an upper chest measurement.

You will need to adjust the sleeve, front bodice, and back bodice pieces. There will be some experimenting here as you learn just how much to take out for your own figure. I highly suggest a muslin or two to experiment with so you will get the exact amount down. For me, 5 feet tall and very narrow of shoulder and upper chest, I remove a half inch between the bust and shoulder seam. That means I FOLD OUT 1/4 INCH. The size of your fold will be HALF THE WIDTH of the amount you want to take out. If you want to remove a 1/4 inch you will fold a tuck 1/8 inch wide.

First, find your straight of grain, which should be clearly marked on your pattern piece always. On the upper chest, at a 90ยบ angle to the straight of grain, draw a line from the center of the armscye to the CF of the pattern. I have a big acrylic triangle that is wonderful for this. It doesn't need to in an exact location, just somewhere mid armhole and perpendicular to the straight of grain. Do this to the front and back bodice pieces. Now fold the pattern on that line you just made. Next is to fold that edge down the amount you need to adjust. So the line is on the edge of the first fold. You will then see the amount, 1/4 inch in my case, in a tuck across the bodices. Remember to do both front and back bodices. It is easy to forget the back.

Next you need to do the sleeve. Again go perpendicular to the straight of grain on the sleeve and draw your line across. In this picture you can see how that makes the tuck at a slight slant for this particular sleeve. That's OK. Fold out your tuck the same width as on the bodices.

Folding out the bodices has now made your armholes smaller, so some scooping needs to be done. I scoop out a healthy 1/4 inch from the bottom of the armscyes on the bodice pieces. I start about a third of the way up the armscye on the bodice and true down to the seam so that at the seamline it has beens scooped a 1/4 inch. Here again, your experimental muslin pays off. I can't stress this enough. That's because if you work this out now it will be so easy to do with every pattern you use right from the get go. It literally takes minutes to do so don't worry about adding too much work to the process. The payoff is there.

This takes care of the bodices and sleeves. Next are the details. This is so important to us petites. Big details make us look bad, no matter the fit. Again here comes the priceless muslin. You don't need to make entire lined flaps here or totally install a collar. And, after a while you will know intinctively just what to size back. Most of my collars are cut back a 1/4 inch on the width. On a jacket or such with a big collar I may cut back a half inch. Don't ever cut back your short collar edges or length. You are really messing with the fit if you do. Trust me, don't do it. They need to line up with CF so that is why you don't touch those . I am just talking the depth of the collar from neckline to outer edge on the long edge only. This has made a major improvement in the appearance of my clothes.

For flaps and pockets I also cut them all back a 1/4 inch all around except for the edge that will be stitched to the garment, usually the upper edge. Look at your pattern closely. Are there other details that need to be changed? My current blouse project has a pleat in the back. On my muslin I made the pleat exactly the length specified on the pattern. I thought it might be stitched down for too long of a length. In this case it was fine, but these are the details you need to check out with each garment and change if needed. Back to flaps and such, make them one layer of fabric and just pin them to the garment. You don't have to get into heavy construction to see the size of things. Just a cut outline of a flap or pocket will let you know.

As far as skirts, it is the same process, but I find for my five feet I usually just have to hem shorter. A skirt with any sort of draping or bias will absolutely need to have the length taken out and trued probably at the fullest part of your hip. This, again, all depends on your own petite proportions.

Now that you have "petited" your pattern you can do any further alterations, FBAs, SBAs, shoulder changes, ect. Learning how to petite my patterns has greatly helped me in my fit quest.
Hope this info helps you.


Now, speaking of further alterations, has anyone seen my cup? The one I lost recently? Last week I went on a bra buying binge of my beloved Vanity Fairs. I do that every few years. For the first time since I was twelve I am taking a Bcup. I actually doubted that I took a B so grabbed all sorts of sized to bring into the dressing room. 34B it was. I welcome this change. I have had a lifetime of size changes, despite keeping my weight pretty much what it was on the day I got married. My point here is that as sewists we need to constantly be aware of our bodies. The changes seem to increase exponentially as we get past the Big M. You have no idea how I have welcomed the body changes of menopause. RTW never looked good on me as a young women and that certainly was a huge motivator in my sewing. My hourglass had the gaping waist no matter what. Nothing fit unless I made it and I wasn't that good at fit at that point. When I got married , swear to goodness. It was 34DD, 21 waist, and 40 hips. Dolly Parton had nothing on me. Some years later with childbirth my waist expanded to 24 and I loved it. Now I could at least get a little better fit in a pair of jeans, but that ass......Than there came the years of working on my feet and walking huge showrooms. Add in an epiphany with exercise and my bust and butt decreased. It's getting better here. And now with the deflation, literally, of the Big M I am really happy. I can go out and buy clothes off the rack. My sewing is tremendously less frustrating. Yeah, that 34DD is now a 34B. The waist is 25, and the hips have stayed at 37-8 for the last five years with lots of walking. Sometimes getting older is an OK thing.......................Bunny


  1. Whoa! I thought my 15 inch waist/hip difference was extreme... You definitely win the prize!!

    I too have been able to buy some rtw clothing in the last few years post M. And I don't miss my DDs either. :)

    Your 'petiting' instructions are very much like my lengthening list. Same locations, but I cut and spread.

  2. Thank you for explaining how to petite patterns. I may need this information when sewing for my teenage daughter who is petite.

  3. Me too, I need to petite patterns for my daughter. Thanks, Bunny!

  4. How nice that RTW is becomming easier to fit as you get, um...more mature. I seem to be the opposite. Of course, it would help if I could keep my weight at a more constant number.

  5. Thank you sooo much for this explanation. I have wanted to sew for my 6'1" husband, but didn't know how to turn a regular pattern into a tall for him. Thank you! Thank you! I have learned so much from you over the past few months. Thank you for sharing your vast knowledge! Blessings from WV.

  6. I just found this post...thanks for the tips!!! :D I am 4'10.5" with an E bust and a tiny waist, so I undestand! Nothing seems to fit me off-the-rack, and if it does, it doesn't seem appropriate for my age. Thank you again for the tipc. -Redhead Lynn (

  7. Hi there! I know this is an old post, but I just found it!. I'm 5'2" with narrow shoulders and a C cup, and sewing patterns never fit me right. I finally realized I should be making petite adjustments, so thank you very much for illuminating where to get started! :)

  8. Well, the Big M explains a lot! Didn't do anything for my bust...I used to be a DD now I am a G, BUT I have lost in the band size. I haven't been a 34 in anything since my early 20's! And now I can wear RTW jeans!

  9. Thanks for this! I had shortened the bodice and so the armscye was shorter and I needed to shorten the sleeve cap too.

  10. Hi, I know this is an old post but I hope it's not too late to ask a question. I'm an absolute beginner and, like you, 5'0" and very narrow in the shoulders. One of my motivations for sewing is that everything is always too low cut on me. I'm not quite sure that I understand your instructions regarding collars, and what it's okay to do and not do. Say I want to sew a blouse with a Chelsea collar (a v-neck with a collar all the way down). The point at which I would need shorten between the bust and shoulder intersects the collar, so the collar also has to be shortened, right? How would I handle this? Thanks so much for your help, I've learned a lot already from your blog!

    1. On the collar you make a tuck from the neckline to the out edge of the collar. You will do this two times, once on each side of the collar and at the approximate same location as the tucks in the bodice. Hope this is clear. If you need any further help just email me at bunnypep at gmail dot com....


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