I have only a few vintage patterns, from which I hadn’t made anything yet. Most notably because they are not in my size. In fact they are about so far from my size that they might as well be children’s clothing. But this past week I had two days off in the middle of the week (= no familial commitments) so I was free to cast myself into a larger sewing project. I selected this cute blouse, Simplicity 1692.
The pattern is a 14 – and this is probably what would be a medium today, as it’s a 34 bust. Look at the waists on these babes. I’m sure they’re wearing all sorts of New Look support architecture under there, but still. This leads me to the point of what I’m doing messing around with patterns that are about 95 sizes too small for me.
The internet can make you feel really bad about yourself, but it can make you feel okay, too. Apparently I have a vintage figure. I hope this is not the new version of “I have a big bone structure”, but apparently this is to differentiate those of us who have hips from those of us who do not. According to the internet authority, you have a vintage figure if your hip measurement is 10″ or more bigger than your waist measurement. So these vintages patterns, while all over too small, have the right sorts of proportions for someone like me.
But I digress. First things first. Resizing a pattern involves chopping it to pieces, not something I was going to do with paper older than myself by many years. So some tracing was in order.
Tracing the back pattern - with my trusty tape dispenser to hold things in place.
Sleeve pattern (original)
The traced blouse front pattern - with symbols (important!)
The collar and sleeve bands I left for later. The important parts were the front, back and sleeves – basically the parts that make up the body of the blouse.
To tackle the practical side of scaling a pattern up, I turned to other internet authorities. Jennie Chancey sells patterns she’s drafted herself at http://www.sensibility.com, some of which I own. Even better are the tons of sewing and adjustment tutorials she has either on her own site or at eHow, including one on how to resize a pattern. She points out that there are 2″ of difference between each size on standard patterns.
I’m not sure how visible the fine print is to the average human eye, but the body measurements for size 14 are 34-26-36. I’ve got 10″ on whomever made this up back in the day, or I’m exactly 5 standard pattern sizes bigger than she was, making me a vintage size… let’s not go there. Except actually my standard bust measurement is 46″ – but I’m going to ignore that for now and come back to it later.
According to Mrs Chancey, to resize a bodice pattern you slash it vertically in three places – through the underarm, through the shoulder, and through the neckline/bust front. See the link above for illustrations. To avoid getting linebacker shoulders in the larger sizes, add 25% of the width to be added to the shoulder, 25% to the underarm, and 50% to the bust (as most ladies in larger sizes really need it added to the bust area). I did 25% to the shoulder, and divided the remainder between the underarm and the bust.
To add the width (10″ total) evenly, I should add 5″ to the back and 5″ to the front. Because the pattern pieces are halves designed to be cut out on two layers of fabric (see the pattern back pic above for cute little pattern piece drawings), each half should have 2,5″ of width. Here’s where the math gets hairy, because my sewing gauge is in centimeters, so I have to do some measurement conversions. To the underarm slash I’m going to add 2,38 cm of width, to the shoulders 1,58 cm and to the neckline 2,38 cm, and when all added up and divided by 2,54 this = 2,49″. Perfect. (Trust me on this.) Always add things and convert back when you’re messing around with conversions just to check your math or you will regret it. (Trust me on that, too.)
The first slash on the front bodice piece, through the underarm. The other two slash points are marked by vertical black lines.
I am very fond of my gridded tracing paper, which I get at the fabric store. There are some good things about living in Europe and this is one of them. Among all the other fabulous things about it (it comes in a roll), it makes marking the grain perfect, as you just align the grid on the grain arrow of the pattern and go at it.
Here I am with my sewing gauge measuring the slash width. This is the underarm slash, as you can see it goes through the bust dart. Note that next to the vertical line I've written the amount of width I'm adding here. This is so I a) don't mix them up and b) can see right away how much I've added when I look back later.
Here's a close-up of the slashed and spread blouse front. Note the small horizontal hashes on the slash lines. I do this so that I don't get mixed up with the grid lines and tape one part lower than the other .
Here’s an important part: what ye do unto the bodice, shall also be done unto the facings.
The facing folded back on the foldline marked on the pattern.
The facing folded back, viewed from the other side. The neckline slash is involved here and a tiny little corner of the shoulder slash. The latter I ignore. The former, however, is the amount the facing also needs to be resized by.
You can see the resized facing in a later picture.
Now the back:
The back is slashed and spread with the same amounts in the same places as the front.
The sleeves will also have to be resized, but first I’m going to make the necessary fit adjustments (not just resizing) to the front and back so that I can do the sleeves all at once. This is because, even though the pattern is the right size and proportions for me, I have some wonky fit issues due to Nature’s Gifts. I know what these issues are, or tend to be (depending on the pattern), because of a) experience and b) having slogged through a muslin fitting shell thingy, which I suppose also is a form of experience.
Firstly: a large, low bust. These usually hang (ha!) together in my experience. If the pattern is fitted without darts there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth but it can be done. Luckily this blouse has a bust dart, which needs to be lowered. I call this the it’s a gravity planet adjustment. I don’t have a picture of this because I only have so many arms, but what I did was fold the dart on the pattern tissue and hold it up to my body, noting how much the dart needed to be moved. Then I just hacked it out and moved it on the pattern:
Now to address the size issues: if you have a large bust, your bust measurement will not accurately reflect your upper bust measurement and/or shoulders. This is why if you cut the pattern for your bust measurement you get either linebacker shoulders or a baggy upper bust or both. Especially if you tend to have sloping shoulders because the gravity issue, you probably have an even more slender upper bust. This is why I chose to disregard the fact that my bust measurement is actually 12″ bigger than the pattern calls for, not 10″. My upper bust measurement is 43″, and the bustline is 46″. The ten inches in resizing added makes it 44″, and I will adjust the pattern to a 44″ with a D/E cup. Because I can, and that is why sewing is cooler than H&M clothes made by ten-year-old girls in Bangladesh.
To do this, I started by shortening the bust dart, as you can see in the picture above. I moved the central part of the dart back across the added width of the slash. The circle towards the right of the picture is where the dart would have ended. Any other adjustments I will have to make after I’ve cut out the bodice in voile. (I’m going to make the whole thing in voile, as I’ve got a bunch of it leftover from another project, which counts as free. Plus there’s enough that I can afford to cut out a few bodices.)
Secondly: height. I’m guessing I’m taller than the dainty creature who first used this pattern. So by holding my pattern up to my front, I can see that the waistline marked on the pattern is sailing several centimeters above my own waistline.
The adjusted waist length. The horizontal black line with dart circles is the waistline marked on the pattern.
Third issue: weird hippy stuff. I have high hips in the back and sort of a pooch in the front so I need to add a little extra to the hip area in my experience – and the hip part needs to start higher up than on most patterns. You can see a little of this in the picture above.
The blouse front, adjusted!
Here I’ve redrawn the outlines of the blouse and moved dart marks and things that have been messed up by me chopping through them. To the right you can see a fourth slash-and-spread area, this is the facing that has been spread the same amount as the corresponding place on the front of the blouse.
Issue no. 4: a rounded upper back, or as my Vogue Sewing book so elegantly terms it: the Dowager’s Hump. (Loooovely.)
I’ve noticed that lots of girls who have the whole large bust adjustment on the front side will need to do this adjustment on the back to some extent. It all hangs together.
I sort of winged how much I needed to add here.
Now, Biblical sounding injunction part two: length ye add to the front, shall also be added to the back. Sorry, no picture of this. My waistline is higher in the back than in the front (I’m special like that), so I added the waist length I added in the front, to the part under the waist in the back. I just want the side seams to be the same length. The hippy extra stuff I just freehand. It’s all good.
Now, the sleeves!
I previously alluded to this book:
It has just about everything you need to know, more or less, and more or less clearly, too. Sometimes I have to read things a few times before I really understand them (like the alarmingly abstract concept of ease, holy cow). Mostly I use it for making exactly the sorts of pattern alterations I’m doing here. One really good thing is that it shows you how to adjust the sleeves after you’ve adjusted the bodice.
The two illustrations in the middle are large bust adjustments to a bodice with a raglan sleeve (the sleeve on the left, the bodice on the right).
Since I’m resizing the whole pattern, I need to add a little more than is shown in the illustration, but it shows me where I need to do it. This is good because Mrs Chancey’s resizing instructions only cover set-in sleeves. She says you only need to add the same width to the sleeve’s underarm as you did to the blouse, as that’s the only part of the sleeve affected (on one side the amount to the front and the other side the amount to the back, which are probably the same). Which is true for set-in sleeves, but because the raglan sleeve goes all the way to the neckline, that will be affected by my shoulder area resizing – making the sleeve longer.
Here the tops of the sleeve have been lengthened to accomodate the resized shoulder, and the underarm areas have each been slashed and spread 2,38 cm.
I used the notches on the sleeves and bodice to estimate how much I needed to lengthen the sleeve, but this was definitely the part that required the most guessing from me, so I was really unsure as to whether I would have to start over. (Ugh.)
Now, after all this work, I’m ready to start cutting out the fabric. I started with the front and back darts, and tried the front on to see how much adjusting it would require in the bust area.
Checking the placement of the bust dart and the sizing across the bust, by putting one front half "on" over my tshirt.
It was my inexpert opinion that the bust actually fit just fine thanks to shortening the dart slightly, so I didn’t have to do any of the more complex and dreaded large bust adjustments. Now I put the blouse together so I could check the overall fit.
The sleeve pinned to the blouse back. The length is a match!
Trying the blouse on (over pyjamas). The awkward position is because I'm in the bathroom, where the mirror is, and trying to block the view of the toilet paper roll with my hip. Classy.
I could probably take a little tiny bit of extra fabric out of the upper bust area just under the collar-bone, but as far as I’m concerned, this fits. At this point I was really impressed with myself, because I wasn’t going to have to rip anything apart or (the horror!) cut things anew and re-sew entirely. Also, I was really glad I’d decided to finish my seams (and extra relieved I wasn’t going to have to cut them apart again), because it meant I could actually use this as a blouse.
My sleeve bands with lace. I thought the dainty lace suited the sheerness of the blouse.
To put the lace on so the raw edge would be on the inside of the band, I folded the pattern piece in half and added an extra seam allowance above the fold, so I cut four halves instead of two wholes. Then I sewed two halves together along the bottom edge, with the lace sandwiched between, and went from there.
I chose the collar from view 3 (all the way back at the top – the green stripey blouse), which is a tie collar. I added length to the collar close to the fold line (from the slash-and-spread resizing) and my notches almost matched. I also added a little extra length just so I could tie a nice bow. My buttons come from my grandmother’s stash that I ran off with – clear “glass” (plastic!).
Here it is - a demure vintage librarian blouse. The black skirt is something I made from a dress I shrank out of - it seriously needs shortening.
I'm not entirely sure I like being on this side of the camera.
And now I have a pattern that I can use again and again, with two collars and two sleeve lengths. Handy.