As I have been designing patterns for myself, and now ones for sale I have been thinking through how you solve this problem. There is a set of standard sizing measurements and even if they did reflect the average or majority of people, pattern makers also add their unique take on 'ease' - that's the amount of extra room you add to a person's measurement to make a garment comfortable. Some designers add more ease if they like a relaxed looking and feeling garment, other less if they want a more formal, fitted look. So we can start with the same set of measurements and through variations in ease turn out patterns and garments that fit really differently.
But wait there's even more to it than that. Measurements are one thing, but shape is another. Along with those standard measurements come standard interpretations of how they work - this size bust means this size waist, what percentage is out front, what's in the back, how far down a leg the knee is, how far from the waist the hips are and so on. But you don't have to look far to realise people come in wildly different shapes. I might be a size 10 bust and a size 14 hip, and those hips might be wide on the side to side or the front to back and for all of these variations a standard set of measures and shapes might be hopelessly inadequate.
Maybe all this is really obvious and you are wondering why the hell I am writing it all down. Well it's because as I look at taking my patterns out of the small kid range and up into the larger sizes - including, maybe, gulp, adult sizes - I am trying to get my head around how I can improve on a standard approach to making patterns based on the mythical average size and shape. Somehow I want to include in each pattern all the things I have learned about fit as I have made clothes and patterns over the last couple of decades. In fact I want to include all the things I have learned and more!
But my aim here is to make simple accessible patterns - patterns beginners can approach with confidence. For little kids clothes this is really so much easier. Afterall, most kids are pretty shapeless and happy to wear loose and forgiving clothes. But now I am taking measurements for girls where the difference between their hips and waists are getting to be much greater as puberty reshapes their bodies. Making clothes for more complexly shaped bodies, with all manner of sticky out bits is by its nature a more complicated task. There's a lot more angles in the adult human body than the child version and getting clothes around all these bits with a minimum of bulk and discomfort requires some nifty engineering. Like going from 2D to 3D.
Worse still, this process happens with such an enormous variation in timing that where one 13 year old can happily be in an upsized version of the everyday skirt, for others this simple pull on style is just way wrong for their shape. More hippy girls really need zips or other kinds of closures to allow them to get a big enough opening to get the skirt over their hips, but to close it up when on so they don't have masses of bulky gathers at the waist. Zips seem to scare some people so it would be good to avoid them in patterns designed not to scare people! But a simpler closure like a button or velcro or snaps can be uncomfortable or bulky or gapey - all things a self conscious teenage girl really doesn't want.
I am sure most of us can remember incidents of embarrassment and confusion when confronted with the reality of our bodies in stark contrast to someone's expectation of how it should be, whether friends or parents or clothing sizes or construction. Wishing to god we didn't have boobs or that we did have boobs or the our tummies were flatter or that we were taller or that the front didn't open up like that every time we reached for something or whatever. I so don't want some poor hapless mum or aunt whipping up a garment their eager teenage daughter tries on only to feel completely wrong in it. Like it is too childlike, or like their bodies haven't matured fast enough to fill out the thing that is designed for their 'size' or 'age'.
And while as adults we may have left some or all of our body issues behind, we can still be bitterly disappointed when a designer has made a garment we love the look of on the packet but which clearly just wasn't made with us in mind. The frustrating part for me is knowing that getting that garment to fit may not be a big deal at all - a few cm here and a few there can dramatically alter the shape and fit of something - but that is very hard to capture in a pattern.
So I'm interested to hear what you think about this. Take for example the everyday top or a basic A-line skirt. If you were to buy a pattern would you rather:
- a standard style multisize pattern where you could make something that approximated your measurements and take the chance that it would work out to fit you (or that you could fiddle it enough to make it so), or
- a basic pattern outline with an explanation of how to make it fit you. This would involve the pattern coming with a picture of the garment on a model, you knowing the model's measurements and how much ease was added to the garment. You would have to take your own measurements and then draw up the pattern using step by step instructions so that you ended up with a pattern designed specifically for you with the same amount of ease as pictured.
But of course option 2 is way more work! I figure lots of people, especially beginners and people who have less problems getting a good fit from standard style patterns won't want that hassle, and may be really put off by the process.
What do you think?