Off-Topic: An analysis of why commercial patterns fall short in fitting standards

Ms. Debra Lee McLendon wrote her Master of Science thesis on the topic of why commercial sewing patterns fail to meet the fitting needs of most of the population here in the United States. As a former patternmaker and designer she is well aware of the shortcomings of commercial patternmakers and pursued this topic in her graduate work.

When I used commercial patterns I was never, ever satisfied with the fit, even after alterations were made. Even now as I read posts and blogs about sewing, I can see how different patterns, even those from the smaller independent companies selling online, can give different bloggers and forum members the same problems. With the high cost of patterns this should not be.

Not everyone has the time to devote to drafting their own patterns and this should not be the only alternative.

I’m still working my way through the almost 160 pages of Debra’s thesis but have decided to share the URL where it may be downloaded.

I know there are many who share these thoughts. Being well informed will make those who purchase commercial patterns better enabled to communicate the shortcomings to the Customer Service Reps at the commercial pattern companies. When a pattern produces poor results the company should be informed.

Debra’s thesis is available for reading and downloading at:

I’ve excerpted the Abstract and Bio from her thesis here so you can see if you’re interested enough to follow through on her study.



MCLENDON, DEBRA, LEE. An Investigation of the Sizing, Grading, and Fit of Commercial Sewing Patterns. (Under the direction of Dr. Cynthia Istook, Committee Chair, Dr. Katherine Carroll, Committee Member, and Dr. Marguerite Moore, Committee Member).

Fit is the most critical component that ensures consumer satisfaction with garments constructed from commercial sewing patterns. The purpose of this study was to evaluate current commercial sewing pattern industry sizing, grading, and fit practices and propose ways to improve sizing and fit.

Sizing standards for U.S. commercial sewing patterns in the Missy 6 – 22 size range are based on outdated anthropometric studies conducted over 71 years ago. U.S. pattern companies have not changed their sizing standards since 1972. Data from more recent sizing surveys, such as SizeUSA (2004), shows the body shapes and measurements of the population of U.S. women have changed. U.S. pattern sizing is based on the hourglass figure, which represents only 8% of the U.S. population of women. Much confusion surrounds pattern size selection, since consumers typically need to purchase a pattern several sizes larger than their average ready-made clothing size.

Basic fit patterns (fitting shells) and semi-fitted sheath dress patterns were purchased from five major brands under study (Burda, Butterick, McCall‟s, New Look, Vogue). Sizes 10 and 18 were selected to cut and construct sample garments for fit-testing on fitting mannequins. Quantitative methods were used to measure key body areas of the bust, waist, and hip of tissue patterns and compare them to finished garment measurements provided by pattern companies. Amounts of ease and finished pattern measures were used to determine if these measures conformed to the ease specifications for each fit category and matched printed pattern measures.

The fit of five different brands of sample garments on fitting mannequins was compared using qualitative visual analysis. Fit was assessed to identify any fitting issues that might be related to the patterns. Patterns were measured to verify if the circumference grades for the bust, waist, and hip were in accordance with pattern companies‟ standardized body measurements. The results clearly indicated that current pattern sizing does not conform to the body profiles of today’s consumers and that the fit needs of a significant part of the population are unmet with current pattern offerings.

The study also found that current pattern sizing is not aligned with sizing indicated by the most recent sizing survey. Results showed that the majority of brands studied failed to contain the ideal amount of ease and that some of the printed measures on all brands were different from physical measures. Results indicated a significant difference in the fit of different brands. Findings also indicated the majority of brands were graded in accordance with pattern company measurements. This research provides useful information to the commercial sewing pattern industry on ways to improve patterns for the target consumer. Amateur and professional sewers could also benefit from the insight on pattern sizing and fit provided in this study.


The author, Debra Lee McLendon, is the eldest child born to Leona and Ernest Marmaras. As the daughter of a career military officer, she grew up in numerous states across the country, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia, Georgia, Kansas, Colorado, and Hawaii.

As a young child, she lived in Germany for several years, where she became a big sister to her younger brother, Michael and sister, Kimberly. Upon graduating from Spencer High School in Columbus, Georgia, Debra entered Columbus State University. The following year, she transferred to the University of Georgia as a sophomore, and later graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Home Economics, majoring in Clothing and Textiles.

Debra spent many years in a successful career working in both the apparel and soft home furnishings industries, holding such positions as Designer, Patternmaker, and Department Manager. Her lifelong desire to teach the subject of apparel development prompted her to attend Graduate School at North Carolina State University, College of Textiles, in the Department of Textile and Apparel, Technology and Management. She is currently pursuing her Master of Science degree and looks forward to sharing her passion for textiles and apparel with others in a teaching capacity upon graduating in December 2011.


4 thoughts on “Off-Topic: An analysis of why commercial patterns fall short in fitting standards

  1. Thanks for sharing the insight into commercial patterns’ non-fit issue. I learned pattern drafting in college but gave it up excitedly when I discovered commercial patterns. I’m seriously considering from-scratch drafting again — and I really don’t want to. I WANT to be able to use commercial patterns. I hope the industry does some serious fit analysis soon.
    I admire Vogue Patterns, though, for their Today’s Fit line of patterns which uses a whole different set of measurements.


    • I agree 100% that people should have the choice between custom drafting or commercial patterns. The commercial pattern companies should always be responsive to the changing times as well as the needs of their customer base. Papers like this one help customers clarify issues they find and enable them to articulate their concerns better. That’s why when I find helpful materials I post about them.


  2. Yahoo!!! I believe that poor fit is why women do not sew. Pattern companies should be listening to this. Fabric stores and other sewing related industries should be talking about this!!!!

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