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How To Make A Pattern Petite: Part 2

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One thing I strive for my blog to be is a forum. I don’t want to be a priest, preaching my sermon and not accepting other religions. Sewing is a constantly evolving hobby and some of the things I have been taught are outdated. Also, there are many schools of thought in the industry. While one seamstress sews a dart from dart point to seam, another sews from seam to dart point. Both seamstresses end with the same result but both take a different route and probably have a reason why their method is better than the other. Betsy contacted me shortly after I posted a tutorial on how to convert a regular pattern to a petite pattern. She and I shared the experience of working for a mass retailer who provided a conversion chart for changing a pattern from regular to petite. We both agreed that the chart can only be used as a guideline because petite is more than just numbers. Proportions play a role and so does having an eye for lines, shapes, and silhouette that would overwhelm a petite figure. Also, not every style can be translated into petite. Another factor to take into account is how body circumferences and height have changed over the past 50-100 years, which make the original system of converting to petites, which is still widely used today, outdated.
Here today to give another, and more modern, perspective on petite pattern making, is Betsy.  She is the owner of Skinny Bitch Curvy Chick Patterns, a company that caters to petite and petite plus sizes sewers who are looking for modern alternatives for a younger demographic. It is a hobby of hers and it channels her O.C.D of making clothing into a venue that would allow her pattern to get more use rather than being relegated to her archives. She’s been taking things slowly as she does it all for herself from the initial patterns, to the grading, to the website, and photos. She recently released her first t-shirt pattern as a free download, the Tonic T-shirt.
Be sure to stick around because in a couple of weeks, Betsy will be showing you exactly how to transform a normal pattern into petite. 

We expect a lot from our clothing, especially if we make it ourselves. Hours of dedication- thread, sweat and tears should yield the results we visualized from the initial pattern draft or purchase. Then the moment comes when you try on the finished garment and are either really pleased or, sadly, disappointed.  Unfortunately we have all had those defeated moments when you realize that your project is not right and just does not work for your body.

We all have different shapes and sizes and our figures are literally evolving. Science has proven that not only were we two inches shorter 100 years ago, but also our body masses are expanding from both lifestyle and diet. Visual proof can easily be had at a costume exhibit that features clothing from the Victorian Era. The diaphanous gowns and bustled day dresses are relative to a modern day smaller preteen girl.

As our bodies have changed significantly, niche markets for clothing geared towards specific body shapes have become more readily available, even if they are limited. One such category is for petites. Petite options have been around for a while. I personally used to associate petite as the area in the department store where my grandmother shopped for her slacks and embroidered sweatshirts. No way did I need to shop there! Even during the early years of my fashion career the items that the petite fit models were called in for fit the typical description of moderate and unfashionable. It wasn’t until my late 20’s, and a few years of garment fitting under my belt, did it really sink in that average clothing just did not fit my 5’1″ frame well and hopes of a final growth were dashed. I needed options…I needed to rethink petite.

Currently there is a petite renaissance happening as more options become available to both purchase and make.  The definition of petite is anyone 5’4 and under, which represents 40% of the female population. Then there are those who have short torsos, but long legs- or vice versa. This adds a large variable to the petite category and could potentially represent closer to 70% of the population. Options are needed and retailers and pattern companies are starting to respond.

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There are two schools of thought about what a petite is. The first idea is that petites are not only shorter in torso, legs and arms, but also smaller in body mass and frame. Petite offerings within this category generally are about an inch smaller in width than the related missy size.  The second idea is that petites are shorter, but have the same body widths as their missy counterparts. Each represents a particular viewpoint on the part of the designer and /or careful study of core customers. There are no right or wrong answers, only points of view. If you are shopping online for petite sizes it is worth a study of the sizing charts to understand what you are getting.

What do you do if you are a petite sewer? Petite patterns are out there, but if you are making a garment based on a petite pattern or an altered pattern, it is always best to make a muslin. This is the best and only way to judge how a style will look on your body.  Just like any fitting, it is not only about if it fits the body. It is about how it makes you look and feel.  After all, you spend a lot of time making the garment perfect. Make sure it is perfect for you!

20 Comments

  1. Reply

    Neeno - Sew Me Love

    This will definitely be handy for me! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Reply

    Tanit-Isis

    I’m one of the “faux” petites—short in the body but long in the limbs. Which makes shopping for RTW petite clothing impossible, but makes petite patterns a real option—adding length to sleeves or skirts is easy compared to figuring out how much height to take out above vs. below the bust in a standard pattern. I find back length to be one of the most helpful measurements out there—I recently made dresses for a whole wedding party, and there was only one out of six (bride + five bridesmaids) that had a back length on par with the standard pattern sizing. The rest were all shorter.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      My body is just as much of a challenge to fit as you do but I think RTW is just starting to recognize how many women are actually petite. Anthro recently launched a petite line and it’s been a godsend when shopping, never mind the prices 🙂

  3. Reply

    anto

    The nerd within me (who am I kidding, I’m a proud nerd through and through) eats these “technical” posts up. I am not petite, but this is good to know and I find it really interesting. I’m excited to read part three!

  4. Reply

    Natasha Estrada

    The tonic t shirt is the next garment on my to sew list. I love the fact that someone has acknowledged that you can be a size 20 something and STILL be petite. Short and stout. I should update my profile pic since I have 2 feet more hair and a bundle more padding.

  5. Reply

    Craft Sanctuary

    I have been wishing for patterns made for petites (that are also not geared at old ladies) forever! Thank you thank you!

  6. Reply

    Florence Knapp

    Finding Japanese pattern books was a happy moment for me – their patterns tend to be cut for petite proportions and tend to sew up perfectly for me (I’m 5ft1). I’d love to get some Japanese slopers but have never seen any.

    They often offer slightly more voluminous, shapeless styles than I’d choose to wear, but they do have the odd gem and it’s nice to find patterns where the shoulders fit perfectly.

    • Reply

      Natasha Estrada

      The Bunka pattern drafting books are issued in English now if you want to draft your own japanese slopers

      • Reply

        Florence Knapp

        Thank you so much for letting me know, Natasha – I’d never seen those before and I’ve just looked at a good post on Burdastyle talking about the differences between that and Aldrich, which is making me tempted to try it.

        I’ve drafted slopers from my own measurements from English/American sources in the past, although the sleeve never seems to come out quite the way I’d like it too and it’s a long way from the original sloper measurements by the time I have something I’m happy with, but I was hoping to eventually get some Japanese pre-drafted ones too.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      Now that you pointed it out, Japanese sewing books do cater to the “petite” woman. I recently finished a dress using a pattern from one of the books and I was really happy with the fit. As I told Natasha in an email, the dress was shapeless but the armhole and bust dart were in the correct spot.

      • Reply

        Florence Knapp

        I think they’re starting from a different standpoint, so it’s not simply a case of adapting and rescaling a little for a petite figure, which as you say in your post, doesn’t always give the right fit. I’m always mystified by how their models look so fantastic in such shapeless styles though – I find that being small if I wear things that are baggy I just look dumpy (even though I wear a Japanese size 7)…a fate which they don’t seem to suffer from.

  7. Reply

    Shel

    Looking forward to this for sure. Daughter is 5′ 2″ and I’m a petite plus at 5′. I hope the SBCC company has a pant pattern on some future line up. Skirts are nice, but autumn is coming here in the states. < : )
    I have one Japanese drafting book, – an oldie from the 60s or 70's, but haven't tried it yet. I'm short in body, and extremities, but I'm not "tiny".

  8. Reply

    Gabriella

    I am just under 5’2 but not very petite in my frame. I also have a crooked frame and from waist too shoulder it differ about 3-5 cm between right and left side. So using ready made patterns is not really a choice for me. Luckily I have studied pattern construction for a few years and am now studying to become a garment technician. So I have the tools to make a pattern that ftis my petite length/not so petite frame. But honestly I rarely bother because it’s to much work with crookedness and all…

  9. Reply

    Michelle Mikell

    I’m plus size not petite but I don’t have “normal” proportions. I am long in the torso & short from the waist down. Add that to my fluff & you have fitting issues galore. I want to sew for myself & really should but trying to get the fit is so overwhelming. Love your blog.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      Believe you and me, I have fitting issues too. My proportions are by no means normal, but by constantly sewing garments, I have learned the peculiarities of my shape, like I’ll ALWAYS have to make a narrow shoulder adjustment. I have come to a point where I can predict the changes I will have to make as soon as I open a pattern.

  10. Reply

    Richard Sandberg

    Wow, awesome blog, thanks for the article.is bubblegum casting legitimate

  11. Reply

    Le monde des petites

    Thank you very much for this very interesting article. I wonder if there are any books for Petite sewing? Thanks in advance for your reply. Xxx

  12. Reply

    Carlos

    Hi, I have a question regarding conversion to petite sizes: each normal size should be scale to petite following a conversion chart or the sample should be converted to petite and then sizes scaled from that base? Or its the same?

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