Big 4 pattern sizes..?#%&@??? Help!

I’m used to sewing mainly Burda, Knipmode, Lekala, La Maison Victor, where a part from minor alterations the fit is usually ‘my size’ = 36(-38) / S(M) in RTW. Then I took the plunge across the pond and ordered some patterns from the Big 4. And apart from this marvellous unicorn Vogue 1239: they all turn out too large or really weird and ill-fitting. Actually even the Vogue is bit roomy, but it’s a coat πŸ™‚

I’ve looked it up and according to Nancy Zieman you need to disregard the official size guide (!) and measure between your arm-pit creases and thus figure out your size. Which makes me an 8 rather than a 12. Quite a difference!

Also lsaspacey blogs about ‘deciphering the Big 4 ease charts’ (!!). So there’s hope and tricks, and probably lots of work, but is it worth it? Shall I take the risk of going down two sizes right away? Will I keep cutting out patterns in various sizes and making multiple muslins for so-called ‘fast&easy’ patterns? What is your experience? I’m loosing courage here, and am wondering whether I should abandon the following projects (and all the other lovely big 4 patterns I’ve bought, but not yet tried)? Advice very welcome…

Vogue 1506, wide trousers but seemingly fitted waist.


According to size chart, I’m a M (12-14), see result in pink. In blue: XS (4-6) (!!!) which is the smallest size they offer. Shall I try drafting smaller or is this doomed? Bizarrely my bras match the other jumpsuit… sorry about that.

aΒ  Β b

McCall’s 7540 – close-fitting jumpsuit (dress).


Again according to size chart, I’m M (12-14). Meant to be a wearable muslin, I’ve only taken in the bodice, not yet the gaping back… nor the baggy pants, as I started hating the fine print of the fabric. If I try with another fabric, I would try 1 or 2 sizes smaller, but I fear there’s much work ahead, including changing the back to accommodate a bra, and an uncertain outcome… or?


Butterick 5785 – tunic. My current project.


Again according to size chart, I’m a 12, and it’s again too big, at the waist but also shoulders. Shall I go straight to size 8 as Nancy Zieman’s chart advises?


(I had also made McCalls’s 7539 version D with long arms, in advised size 12, as an overall for working in the garden (we have ticks). It was large enough to accommodate pants and pullover under, which was perfect in fresh weather. Yet the collar was very tight, and somehow, despite the large size, there was not a lot of room to move the arms. Sorry no pictures of it, it tore too badly at the arms, so I chucked it.)


Conclusion, V1239 a bit too big, M7539, B5785, M7540 too big, and V1506 enormously too big. Systematically going down two sizes would probably help, but it’s still a gamble, I find… or?


  1. Can’t hurt to try Nancy’s way! I’m surprised how off the Big 4 are. I thought bad sizing was a symptom of indie pattern land.

  2. My experience with the Big 4 is that the design is lovely but the fit is unbelievably bad. Whenever a customer brought me one of those to make, I’d politely put the pattern aside, use the picture on the envelope and draft my own pattern to fit the person. They were always very happy to get their pattern back uncut. πŸ˜‰ I measured the patterns but the proportions were so far off from the actual person’s measurements, that it would have taken me longer to alter the pattern than to make a new one from scratch. I honestly don’t know how anyone can succeed with them! :`-(

    • Thank you Elena, that’s very interesting. I’ve bought a book on drafting but still have a long way to go, so for now I still depend on patterns πŸ™‚

      • I know how it is! Personally, I always found Burda patterns to have a good fit. I sometimes even now use their patterns when they are similar to what I’m making – a few small changes and you’re done! I don’t *have* to draft my own as a matter of principle, you know. πŸ˜‰

  3. I almost always go down one or two sizes from my official size in Vogue. But I find the best thing is to go straight for the finished garment measurements and work out what size to make based on those. Pattern Review can be helpful for pointing out which ones have unusual sizing too. Some run very long.

    Annoyingly I’m finding that newer Vogues have less ease than older ones so it’s not just a case of making the same size in every pattern once you know what it is.

    • Thanks for confirming the size issue, and I’ll definitely look up finished garment measurements and pattern reviews from now on. This gives me hope for the one’s I’ve bought but not tried yet πŸ™‚

  4. Yeah I ignore the suggested size on the envelope of the Big 4. I now know what my size is from lots of trial and error and make it 2 sizes smaller than the envelope says. It’s annoying but I’ve gotten over it

  5. Generally according to the big 4 pattern sizes, I should wear a size 14. I’ve kept finding my garments were too big. Now I see from the Nancy article you linked to that I should wear a size 12. Thanks! It just confirms the kind of “taking in” adjustments I’ve been making. It only makes sense, as the arm crease measurement seems to equal a shoulder width measurement and that basically measures your bone structure. No matter if you gain or lose 20 pounds, your bone structure doesn’t change.

  6. I can relate to the sizing trouble… It’s pretty maddening, to be honest, and I’ve ranted about it on my blog and elsewhere more than once. Nancy Zieman’s advice is like Susan Khalje’s, which I always go by (the way her website is set up, you can’t link to the video directly — you have to scroll down to it on her homepage

    It’s great advice for picking the right size of the bodice or top. I’d caution against just sizing down for an entire pattern — American pattern companies distribute ease in a really odd way to me. So there’s a ton of ease on the shoulders and upper bust if you select the size listed for your bust measurement — the piece ends up too big, especially on the shoulders. So it’s a good idea to size down and — if you’re bust size is larger than a B cup, do a full bust adjustment.

    But there’s ot that much ease on the waist and in the hips so, unless you have a very tiny waist, I’d recommend going either with the size listed or one size down, and making additional adjustments in tissue-fitting or by basting to fit.

    I hope this helps. But I’ll be honest — I continue to find choosing the right size and fitting Big Four patterns difficult and unpleasant.

  7. If your blue jumpsuit really is the smallest size, I wouldn’t bother trying to make the pattern fit- it stil looks very roomy. Maybe search for another jumpsuit pattern and alter that one to resemble the design you fell for?

    • You’re right. That one is hopelessly big. I’ve started my first sloper/block, maybe I can manage to copy the style and draft my own… πŸ™‚

  8. Pingback: A re-run, a new piece and a muslin. | atelier in the attic

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