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Pattern Grading for Apparel

Apparel Grading Introduction to Pattern Grading

Patterns initially are made in only one size. In order to produce clothing that fits various body types and sizes, the pattern pieces must be increased or decreased geometrically to create a complete range of sizes. The process of resizing the initial pattern is called "grading."  For example, the sample size 10 patterns must be made larger to accommodate sizes 12, 14 and 16 and smaller for sizes 8 and 6.

Pattern grading is the scaling of a pattern to a different size by implementing important points of the pattern using an algorithm in the clothing and footwear industry.  What is the purpose of grading clothing patterns?  The purpose of grading is to proportionally increase or decrease the size of a pattern, while maintaining shape, fit, balance, and scale of the garment.

Historically, the science of grading went hand-in-hand with the advent of commercial patterns and the mass-production of pattern-built clothing some 150 years ago. To properly fit a pattern to a range of sizes, each pattern piece needed to be graded, or systematically increased or decreased. Today, pattern companies and apparel manufacturers take a middle-sized pattern (for example size Medium) and grade it up for larger sizes and grade it down for smaller sizes.

Grading apparel has primarily three different methods that are often used in the fashion industry.  Whether you want to take your favorite pattern up (or down) a size or two or if you want to create new collection of clothing, pattern grading is an important process.  Once you understand the nuances, you'll be able to take your sewing to the next level.  With proper pattern grading techniques, a home sewer, custom dressmaker, novice, or professional fashion designer design incredibly well designed clothing.  

There are three basic methods of grading: cut and spread, pattern shifting, and computer grading.

Cut-and-spread method: The easiest method, which is the basis of the other two methods, is to cut the pattern and spread the pieces by a specific amount to grade up, or overlap them to grade down. No special training or tools are required-just scissors, a pencil, tape, and a ruler that breaks 1 inch down to 1/64.  Or use a metric ruler if you prefer.

Pattern shifting: Pattern shifting is the process of increasing the overall dimensions of a pattern by moving it a measured dis-tance up and down and left and right, (using a specially designed ruler) and redrawing the outline, to produce the same results as the cut-and-spread method.

Computer Grading: The most recent development, computer grading, is the fastest method, but tends to be an investment only larger manufacturers can afford. However, sophisticated home computer software is becoming affordable.

Regarding the above three methods, they each have their pros and cons.  Fortunately, each method works rather well for producing correct grading (if the procedure is followed properly). 

It's important to understand that “grading patterns” only makes the shape larger or smaller and isn't intended to change the clothing’s shape. Grading also reflects the fact that individuals of different sizes are proportionately different.  Their body segments are not uniformly different.  When a pattern maker or designer grades a size up or down, they do not simply make everything equally larger or smaller.   They will actually take into account that different body parts increase at different and proportional amounts.

Above is only a very brief introduction to grading apparel.  We strongly suggest that you visit additional websites or find books to guide you further.

Resources for additional research:

Home Sewing Patterns

Fashion Books

Pattern Making


You may want to also research grade rules, size charts, fabric shrinkage and other related issues.

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