Plus Size Sewing

The plus size niche is possibly the single most indie-friendly corner of the fashion industry, just because if someone dares sew plus size and make it anything other than a mumu, we plussies will leap at the opportunity to try it out. While at this point there is no paucity of plus designs available, however, sometimes budget and vision interfere with what’s readily available — what did dedicated goths do before Hot Topic went plus? How about those of us who like fusion looks – 40s conservatism and modern punk (believe me, there’s far more artistry to it than pink hair, old heels and ripped shirts). What about us brave and few who just weren’t pleased during one of what I think of less-than-fondly as a Lane Bryant hoochie wear wave?

The answer is simple: those who were able, sewed. Those who were unable but darn lucky knew someone who sewed and was able to bribe well. Those who were particularly able, make their own patterns and sewed, some of whom are now the proud owners of the plus fabulous stores we plussie fashionistas frequent today.

So, in honor of the skill that keeps our industry going, I’m pointing to a few sources for the seamstresses and tailors of the world. As those who do sew already know, there’s no reason to feel threatened by the home sewers – we still buy clothing we adore, and in my case, I usually botch about every third project which really keeps clothiers in business.

First and foremost, plus size seamstresses need patterns to work from. Materials are basic: where most smaller garments require about 3 yards, it’s best to play it safe and order 5 yards of fabric. Sewing machines are available in Target these days, although it’s generally better to purchase from a licensed retailer specializing in the machines (my mother is in sewing machine sales). Tape measures and the realities they reflect are unavoidable. Rotary cutters are a fab alternative to the traditional shears, especially if you, like me, can never figure out what or where the fabric bias is. (Sewing is not a talent that has transferred well in my family).

There are even among pattern makers a few specialty retailers: Fashion Patterns by Coni offers sizing up to 6X, most of the selection is pretty basic, good for wardrobe staples, as well as fellow indie retailer SewGrand. The McCall pattern company is a collection of McCall’s, Vogue, and Butterick patterns – if you’re a regular at Joann’s Fabric, you can generally pounce on their $1.99 pattern sales. Of the bigg three, McCall’s is the most generous with their sizing, allowing for up to 32W, and predictably, Vogue is the least generous, allowing for up to a 24W, and being disguised under the term “Vogue Woman”. If you’re just starting out, Simplicity lives up to their name in terms of clear instructions on their patterns, and they have sizing up to 32W. Kwik Sew, another simplified sewing pattern retailer, has sizing going up to 4x (which translates to around a size 28). Burda, a quirky pattern provider, has always had some pieces I find unique and a little “off” in a good way, and their sizing system is one I don’t entirely understand.

Not that that should stop you. There are some good books on how to create your own patterns., which is becoming more the thing to do. Even if you’re not ready to take design pen and scissors in hand, clothing reconstruction is part of the new vogue of finding new ways to reduce-reuse-recycle, especially T-shirt surgery, something I’ve been doing myself to have clubwear on a very tight budget.

We wouldn’t have clothing without the crafty, so here’s to you – pattern hunting and all.

If you’re hooked on sewing, knitting, or crocheting a great plus size source is Big Crafty. Jen finds some great stuff in free and not-so-free plus size patterns in the craft niche.

3 thoughts on “Plus Size Sewing”

  1. Just found you via LPR group and enjoy what I read so far very much.

    I get so upset at the stores choise of clothing ranges for us bigger woemn. I’m not that big, not even some XXs but a normal LOL 48-50 European size (have no clue what that translate to in the US) but when wraparound dresses, lovely tunics and everything else that are fashionate only come in “normal” sizes (up to 44 normaly), you will find the most horrible colors, patterns and cuts in the larger size dept. Why I ask – why?? Much that is fashionable here in Europe the last years would fit larger women to a T, so why just make them for smaller ones?? And don’t get me going on the lingerie issue…why make corsets and bustiers for small women only (like H&M did last fall), when it is we bigger ones that would benefit greatly from it? Even though I’m 50+ in age and there is a bit to much of me, I still have no intention to look like a frumpish little ol’ lady

    I do sew and not to bad either, used to make evything from tailored trousers to jackets via wedding dresses for two friends but for the last years I haven’t made that much clothes. Well I did make a black jacked (lined and all) for my 8yr old son, but for myslef I gave up years ago when I couldn’t find patterns in my size and the style I wanted. I might have to check out the pattern catalogues of McCall next time I go to the fabric store;-)and gt back to sew more than drapes, cushion covers and small gift bags LOL.

    Hugs,
    Ylva

  2. Just a few things to add… when trying to asses what length of fabric you require the best way to estimate is to double the length of the garment. However, if the fabric you want is less than 145cm wide you will want to add extra meterage. I recently made a long sleeve shirt for a client on the plussier end of plus sized who brought me 3 meters of fabric – I had enough fabric left-over to make up to a size 14, 3/4 sleeve top. There are some exceptions to the rule; circle skirts, asymetrical designs, true wrap dresses, or garmetns with lots of draping.

    To find the bias of a fabric is quite easy when you know what to look for. Take a section of woven fabric and lay it in front of you with the selvage straight and perpendicular to you. The cut end of the length should be parallel to you. Now stretch parallel to the slevage and note the amount of give, then stretch parallel to the cut end and note the give… now put one hand on the cut end and one on the selvage and pull in opposite directions … this should be highly stretchy (even if the fabric is not stretchy at all) and is the bias. Hence a garment that is ‘cut on the bias’ is simply a garment aligned with this diagonal grain, and the grainline will be marked accordingly on your pattern.

    Finally if you find that you are only 1-2cm’s larger(or smaller) than the measurements given for a certain size pattern… purchase that size rather than one larger – you can make it fit by adding(or subtracting) the extra width to the side seams – without changing the design of the garment. But remeber, only add a 1/4 of what you need to add to each side seam (since there are 4 seams onto which this amount is added eg: adding .25cms to front and back side seams equals a total addition of 1cm to the garment).

    That’s all for now! Happy sewing.

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