A Guide to Vintage Pattern Sizes
Figuring out sizing in vintage patterns can be a challenge.
Industry Standards have changed over the years, with US Standard
Clothing Sizes determined in the 1940s and 1950s based on statistical
data. Early patterns (19th and first half of the 20th century)
often gave instructions for only one size, and schematics or
measurements were rarely given. If a stitch gauge is given, you
can usually figure out the bust/chest measurement and adjust the
pattern as necessary.
Patterns in the early 20th century were usually presented in a single
size and seldom included measurements or gauge. It was suggested
that the knitter "knit a strip of plain garter stitches, and as you
learn new stitches, add them on to it. In this way...you always
have a scale of stitch measurements...you will always be able to
determine how many stitches you knit
to an inch" (from "My Knitting Book" by Minerva Yarns). Standard
bust size in this era was generally 34-36".
Here's a typical ladies' sweater from the 'teens:
generally featured a "boyish" silhouette in keeping with the popular
flapper look. Fit was usually close, with long, lean lines. Chanel's
sportswear influenced knitting patterns in this decade, with a desire
for garments that could be worn for tennis, riding, skiing and other
outdoor activities. Patterns generally gave a gauge
measurement, but only one size was given, without schematics or
These 1929 "Sports Sweaters for the Active Miss" were knit
weight yarn, with a gauge of 11 sts = 2". Based on the number of
stitches to cast on for the garment's front and back sections, the
sweater would measure 36" at the bust. A 1928 sewing
pattern for a
"Woman's Dance Frock" is also sized for a 36" bust.
The 1930s saw a return to a more rounded look, with the waistline and
bust showing off a curvy silhouette. Again, the standard size is
given as 36" bust in many patterns of the decade, with a gauge
The 1940s are the "Sweater Girl" years, with many patterns for
form-fitting sweaters. Short sleeves and waist length garments
helped conserve yarn during the war years. Pattern books still
offered one size only for most patterns, but generally provided a gauge
measurement and back width, shoulder width, length from hem to underarm
and sleeve length/width.
This cute sweater is a "Size 16", with back underarm width given as 16
1/4" (33" bust)
The 1950s and Dior's New Look translated into elegant, form-fitting
fashions to knit and crochet. Foundation garments were vital to
obtaining a smooth line in knitwear. Patterns were sometimes
given in several sizes, and gauge measurements were provided.
Here's a Chart of Women's and Misses' Body Measurements (in inches)
from a 1956 issue of Vogue Knitting:
Compare it to a current Misses' Size Chart:
1956's size 14 is equivalent
(bust-wise) to today's size 2!
| average bust,
Best advice when knitting or crocheting a vintage pattern?
Swatch, swatch swatch! Know your key body measurements and be
ready to make adjustments in the number of stitches and rows when you
are creating a garment to fit.
KNITS HOME PAGE
Updated March 2011
© 2011 by Laurie Kynaston. This list is for personal
use only, and
may not be reproduced without permission of the author. Not to be
republished or sold.