Is it true to size? What size should I make??

Is it true to size?? She’s 3, so I make a size 3 right?? But I always make her a 3 in ‘such and such’ patterns and she wears that size in ready to wear. Seriously, what size should I make??

I constantly see these questions pop up on sewing boards over and over again! Choosing what size to make in a pattern is SO important!! How frustrating is it to waste fabric, time and sometimes tears on something that doesn’t fit? I want to give you some tips and tools that will help you better your sewing forever. You can use these on yourself, child, husband, dog…anyone 😉 The MOST important step in sewing up a pattern is looking and understanding the size chart.

First let’s talk about true to size. True to size. True to size. I see this so much. But true to what size? Ready to wear from… Old navy? Target? The Gap? Gymboree? Ready to wear clothing fits different depending on store….I can’t tell you how many different size jeans I have. I can tell you that most pattern designers use a set of ‘standard’ measurements to create and grade their patterns. Those ‘standards’ may be from a grading book, ASTM book or from their own children. My sister’s, mom and I all use ASTM measurements. It’s a set of measurements taken from all over the body in different age ranges- infant, boys, girls, women and men. Armcyce depth, armcyce width, back to waist measurement, upper arm measurement, ankle width, waist height…. I mean TONS of measurements. We use these to help create our patterns. Designers can be using the same measurements differently. If their child is thin, maybe they size down all the measurements, so their 3 is my size 4. Or vise versa. So ‘true to size’ can be tricky. My patterns are true to my measurements. I also give my patterns a finished fit that I prefer on my daughter. For example my Hailey pants have a lower rise, becuase my daughter will NOT wear her pants high. She wants to wear her pants lower and will just pull her pants down constantly if they are anywhere near that belly button.

This is why I try to give as much information in my size chart as I can AND try give reminders in my tutorials when it may be a good time to fit your model. I like to give chest size and height of the child, finished chest and finished length. This is the size chart from my newest pattern, the Sophie dress.


First is the child’s chest measurement and the height. My daughter has a chest measurement of 21.5″ and she is 46″ tall. So according to my chart she is a size 2 chest and almost a size 6 for height. She is 4 years old. Now I always ‘mash’ the sizes to get a perfect fit. (My sister explained in that post). But I wanted to go in a little more detail!

So I measure her chest. You want your model to stand straight… even if they whine and cry that they don’t want to….


You want their hands relaxed at the side. If arms are up, you’re going to get a smaller measurement…no good! Let them stand there for a second and breath normal, no holding breath or sucking in.


You also want to make sure the measuring tape is not drooping in the back or loose, but do not squeeze tight either!



You want it nice and straight, all the way around.


Next I look at the finished chest measurement. How much ease is already built into the dress?? What fit the designer is going for, if it’s a pull on jumper, a zip or button back, does it have sash ties…all this will play into how much ease the pattern has. The Sophie dress has 1.5″ total. That may sound like a lot, but you do NOT want a tight fitting woven dress on a child. They are not going to be able to move or be comfortable. If you think about the dress being on your model, it will have 3/8″ in the front, each side and the back. Plus this dress has ties so you can easily cinch the sides. But hey you may like your daughter’s dress a little looser. Maybe her sister and her are ALMOST the same size, or she may have one too many dresses in her closet for this season (or more like 10 too many dresses?? No?? Just us??) and you want it to fit longer. Looking at the finished measurements can help you choose what size to make. You can hold the measuring tape around your model’s chest with the finished measurement to help visualize how it will fit.

Another EASY tip is to flat measure a finished garment. Choose a dress or top that is in the same type of fabric and similar style. You don’t want to measure a knit t-shirt when we are making a cotton dress. You also don’t want to choose an elastic, shirred or pull on jumper if you’re making a more fitted, zipper or button back dress. They are not going to fit the same. Lay it on the ground flat. Measure under the arm, from one side seam to the other. Okay this dress is about 12″. 12″ flat, means it is 24″ finished (times 2 for the back).


Looking at my chart, that is between a size 3 and 4.  You must also look at their height. She is almost a size 6 height. This means she has longer arms, legs, torso…she needs more room to get her arm in the dress, more ease to lift her arm and just move to be comfortable. I don’t want her to raise her arm and be stuck. Or have to wrangle her arms CRAZY to get her in the dress….you know you’ve had a dress half on you daughter and she’s screaming because she’s stuck….sorry kid!! This means I choose bigger, the size 4 for her width.

Next finished length. I like to give my finished length from the underarm to hem. I feel like it is more accurate and easier to measure than from the shoulder seam to hem.


Model stands straight, raises arm slightly and measure right under their underarm and straight down. You don’t want it directly IN their armpit. The armhole is not going to be way up there! I personally usually like her dresses a little shorter. You may like them a little longer. This is easy to adjust, just a little math to figure how much to add or take away from the skirt length measurement. Or if the finished length is a little long, you can also just take a larger hem, then let it out later when she grows, bonus longer wear!


Maybe your pattern doesn’t have ANY finished measurements, aw oh no! This takes a little more time, but is well worth it. You can flat measure your pattern pieces. For the finished chest, you would need to measure your front and back pieces and account for seam allowances, closures, etc. Worried the sleeve length isn’t going to be right, or you want to change it? Have your model slightly bend her arm and measure from the top of the shoulder to where you want it to hit. Then flat measure your sleeve piece from top to hem. Don’t forget to account for seam and hem allowances, my seam and sleeve hem allowance is 1/2″ each, so 1″ total. (Also I know you love my daughter’s tattoos, which her dad taught her to draw on herself….cool dad trick…)


Last tip is to make a muslin. I know, I know, NO one wants to make a muslin. But it can be well worth it. Specifically if you’re using special or expensive fabric. To make a muslin, buy CHEAP fabric. Maybe hideous 50 cent fabric you found at goodwill or broadcloth on sale when it was $1.99 is great. Just make sure you are using the same fabric as called for in the pattern. FYI, jersey knit sheets often go on sale at Target and make a great knit muslin. You don’t need to fully construct this dress. For the Sophie dress, you really need the bodice and you don’t even need to do the lining.  Simply baste together the shoulder seams, center panel and side seams. Try on your daughter inside out and pin any areas that need adjusting. For example, maybe the shoulders are a little big, so note and instead of using a 1/2″ seam allowance at the shoulders, use a 5/8″ seam allowance. Badabim, badaboom!


If  you sell your dresses I suggest listing the finished measurements so your customer can choose. Or if your granddaughter lives in another state, tell your family how to flat measure. I honestly don’t always trust someone’s measurements; kids can be wiggly, whiny and hard to measure if not in the mood.

I hope this helps someone and just maybe it makes you rethink a pattern you used and didn’t have good luck with. I promise this is all well worth the time and these small adjustments will come second nature once you start. Kids are usually not straight sizes or ‘average’. If you aren’t looking and choosing your size by the designer’s chart, you aren’t giving the pattern a real chance! If you have any questions let me know, I love helping if I can. I would also LOVE for you to come sew-a-long with us in my fb pattern group! We’ll be having a lot of fun chatting, sewing and giving away FREE patterns 🙂 Everyone could use more patterns right?? Plus look at all these fun add ons I’m offering exclusively for FREE this week!




2 thoughts on “Is it true to size? What size should I make??

  1. Pingback: Sophie Sew-A-Long! | Mother Sews Best Blog

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