“Just Make Your Own” – How Sewing Is Not A Panacea For RTW Fashion

When you are superfat your sewing pattern options are limited, just like in RTW clothing. It’s frustrating trying to find cute patterns but even more annoying when people tell me to just sew clothes myself because RTW clothes aren’t readily available in my size. Sewing people just tell me to “grade it up” if I ask about a pattern size being unavailable to me, but that takes ages and I get angry that I have to do it.

I made the Cashmerette Upton dress with some beautiful pink and purple floral fabric that has a chocolate background. I moved the gathers to the hip, and sewed in my own tag that says “Made By Natalie”.

Things I do when I sew my own clothes

  • More often than not I am grading up at least two sizes from the largest size (indie designer size 26 and big 4 size 32w). The pictured Upton dress has been graded up two sizes.
  • Forward and sloping shoulder alteration.
  • Full bust alteration.
  • Bust dart lowering.
  • Make the front hem longer to allow for my big belly.
  • Raise the waist line to allow for my high waist and belly comfort.
  • Large belly alteration.
  • Retrace the altered pattern for continued use.
  • A muslin always for each new pattern.
  • Enough ease to pull dresses over my head rather than use a zip I can’t reach.
  • Cotton lining to add comfort and fanciness.
  • For Nick I enlarge the collar, narrow the shoulders, shorten the sleeves and do a large belly alteration.
  • Add my own sewing label that makes me feel like I am wearing a beautiful garment I could have bought off the rack if such magical racks existed.

Sewing is a skill, fitting is a skill, pattern grading is a skill. I have taught myself these skills because I need to do it, but I also have the aptitude for sewing and the fairly dire need for clothing. Lots of superfat people do not have sewing skills or the time/ resources to acquire these skills. It’s unfair to tell them that their only option is sew their own clothes if RTW sizes are unavailable, and even if they do sew, the pattern sizing is similarly non-inclusive.

Here is Nick wearing a Simplicity 4975 shirt with short sleeves, made out of a gorgeous pink hibiscus on black background print. Miffy is an unwilling participant in this photo.
Here is Nick wearing a Simplicity 4975 shirt with short sleeves, made out of a gorgeous pink hibiscus on black background print. Miffy is an unwilling participant in this photo.

It’s not enough for me to just sew my own clothes. I need to do a number of pattern alterations to get a comfortable fit, because sewing my own clothes is not an alternative option if I’m just going to end up with too-small, ill-fitting clothes I can buy off the one or two racks available to me. The same fat-stigmatising nonsense goes on in sewing patterns that does in RTW fashion.


  1. I’m with you. Besides being superfat, I am also over 6 ft tall. So even the few patterns I might find wide enough are way too short. I get envious when I see people who sew a different pattern for every project. I tried to do this when I first returned to garment sewing a few years ago, but all that time to make alterations and test garments got to be too much. Now I try to work out how to get the garment I want by adding details to a pattern that already fits me. It is difficult when plus sized sewists talk about a pattern company being so inclusive, but my butt is 10 inches bigger than the pattern!

  2. I do exactly the same thing; I buy basics and perfect the fit then I tweak them to create different looks.
    Indie pattern designers who claim to fit “all sizes” make me IRATE!! There was one, I think Decades of Style, who kept saying this until I went off on them on instagram. A fat lady can only take so much!

  3. You’re absolutely right, the same bullshit exists in sewing. When you complain about the sizing you’re told “patterns don’t fit anyone out of the packet” .

    The best thing I ever did was make a sloper using Suzy Furrer’s class on craftsy. Now I can make what I want and rip off the designs of those pattern makers who don’t draft in my size. I must get some of those labels bit I’m worried about them being scratchy.

  4. The printed ones are a bit scratchy but the satin woven ones haven’t bothered me yet. However that’s just me, other people might have sensory issues.

  5. ‘Just grade it up’ is such nonsense. ‘Just’ nothing! Even ‘fat inclusive’ pattern ranges only go up to what I would consider a pretty limited range, honestly. So then it goes to ‘just do up a sloper and draft it yourself!’ Just, my eye.

    Fitting – and fitting a fat body – is so much work. SO much work! It’s obscene that it’s the only option for many of us.

    (I totally love that dress and that shirt, though. They look fab. I hope they were worth the work that had to go into them!)

  6. I made a set of slopers on Craftsy and now I use them to make custom designs for myself. I also am developing my own slopers for larger sizes for my online plus size boutique so I can offer more options for curvy women. It is a lot of work, but I think it’s worth it! Craftsy also has a grading class that I just bought. I haven’t gone through it, yet, but I’m really looking forward to it!

  7. Hi it me Lori again, When I make something and the pattern is perfect instead of just tracing another on I trace on to butcher paper you know the paper butchers wrap meat in. I take a tracing and instead of cutting it I iron another piece of the paper to the other side. Don’t burn yourself. Now you have a pattern that will stand the test of time. When I buy a commercial pattern I do the same thing. I have never had to buy a second unless I want a different size.

  8. I embroider my own on a scrap my sewing machine does up to 5/8th inch or I put it on my big machine that has a 4 inch frame.

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