Pattern · Tutorial · Vintage

Tutorial: Grading up (or down) a vintage skirt pattern

As promised in yesterday’s post, here’s my tutorial for how I graded up my 1946 Advance suspender skirt pattern. Grading is a necessary evil when it comes to vintage patterns, as more often than not, the vintage patterns you find online or in antique stores are either too big or too small, because patterns back in the day were only printed in one size as opposed to the multitude of sizes our patterns have today. Luckily, grading up a skirt pattern is pretty easy to do (much easier than a bodice!)

Alright, let’s get started!

First, gather your supplies:

You will need: measuring tape, pen and/or pencil, scissors, pattern paper (I just use butcher paper from the office supply store), a ruler, and your vintage pattern.

Next, carefully take out your pattern pieces and instructions. Decide which view you are going to make, and which pattern pieces you will need. I’m using Advance 4780, and making View 2 (the suspender skirt).

Now, we’re going to carefully trace the pattern pieces onto the paper (Casey has an excellent tutorial on how to do this here!). To do this, first iron your pattern pieces very carefully. Then, working one pattern piece at a time, place one of the pattern pieces on top of the paper. Lightly trace the pattern piece, being sure to transfer all those geometric shape markings (like notches and circles) to the paper. I prefer doing this step in pencil, as it’s lighter than pen and erasable if need be.

After tracing the pattern, remove the vintage pattern piece. Label your new pattern piece with its number and size, and pay attention to the pattern markings you transfered (for example, three large circles on this pattern indicate the grainline, so I connected these and drew a straight line through them with arrows at either end).

Your pattern instructions should have a guide as to what the various perforations in the pattern mean. Also, if your pattern piece doesn’t have the seam allowance included (which some of them don’t), go ahead and add that now.

Next, it’s time to do the grading and some simple math. First, measure your waist. For the purpose of education, I will let you know that my waist is 28″. My pattern was made for a 26″ waist, however. To decide how much I need to add to each pattern piece, first subtract the pattern waist measurement from your waist measurement:

28 – 26 = 2

Next, divide this number by the number of pattern pices that you have. So

2″ / 4 pattern pieces = 1/2″

So, I need to add a 1/2″ to each pattern piece. There are two ways to do this, depending on the pattern piece:

-If the pattern piece is on a fold, add the extra to the side not on the fold.

-If the pattern piece is not on a fold (all my pattern pieces were not), then divide the amount you need to add by 2. So, 1/2″ divided by 2 is 1/4″.

Using a see-through ruler, add your amount to each piece:

Repeat the process with the rest of the pattern pieces (iron-trace-label-grade) until you have all your pattern pieces done:

Of course, you can repeat this whole process if you need to make your pattern smaller, but in reverse.

And finally, I highly recommend making a muslin mock-up of your graded pattern. I did this last night and was surprised to find that my skirt was slightly bigger than anticipated (though, this could have been due to the fabric). In any event, it’s good to make a mock-up anyways, as simply changing a pattern to your waist measurement won’t necessarily guarantee fit, and you might want to change things (like length).

Some other posts about working with vintage patterns that you may find helpful:

Happy grading!

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