HelenPattern News46 Comments

Curvy Sewing Survey Results

The results are in! I recently conducted a curvy sewing survey to help inform my new size range for my patterns. Spoiler alert – people were very enthusiastic! I am not surprised at all and I am humbled (as always) by the kindness and support from this community. Thank you to everyone who filled out the survey. It is now closed, but I encourage you to read through this post if you are interested in my synopsis.

If you want to know why I am changing my size range, you can read about that here.

I asked around 20 questions in the survey, some multiple choice and some open-ended. We had 688 responses! There were sizing questions, language/labeling questions, and opportunities to share past experiences with ‘plus size’ pattern lines. What did people like? What did they dislike? Where can we improve? I noticed lots of recurring themes in the answers and they certainly brought clarity to my process.

A few notes about this survey:

This survey is biased. It was filled out primarily by sewists who are ‘plus size’. It does not represent the sewing world as a whole, nor can it. I have a limited audience and reach. The purpose of this survey was to help gather information before changing the size range for Helen’s Closet.

Many people shared thoughts about the words ‘curvy’, ‘plus size’, and ‘fat’. Different people prefer different terms for various reasons. I used the term ‘curvy’ in my survey because that is my personal preferred term, but I recognize that not all ‘plus size’ sewists identify as ‘curvy’ and vice-versa.

The terms ‘apple’ and ‘pear’ came up A LOT in the survey answers to describe body shapes. These are quite common terms, but they are kinda funny, don’t you think? Can we really separate people into two fruit-based categories? Of course not. I have used these terms in my post, but I recognize that they are generalizations and not ideal descriptors.

In a similar vein, words like ‘extended’, ‘expanded’, and ‘increased’ are problematic words for the process of including more sizes. I plan to leave this language out of the patterns themselves. There will not be an ‘extended’ version of the pattern, there will simply be ‘the pattern’.

When is the new size range for Helen’s Closet going to be available?

I am launching the new Blackwood Cardigan next week! The new size range features a B-cup option in sizes 0-22 and a D-cup option in sizes 12-30. I explain why I chose this method and how this survey impacted my decisions throughout this post. I can’t wait to share the new Blackwood with you all! It will be available as an updated pattern for any past purchasers, no re-purchasing required. All sizes will be included with the purchase of the pattern.

Other existing patterns will be updated this year and I plan to release new patterns with the new size range as well. This will take time and I appreciate your patience. Eventually, all Helen’s Closet patterns will have this new size range.

Q: What is your high bust measurement? (rounded to nearest inch)

The Average High Bust Measurement was 42″ (107 cm)

Q: What is your full bust measurement? (rounded to nearest inch)

The Average Full Bust Measurement was 46″ (117 cm)

Q: What is your waist measurement? (rounded to nearest inch)

The Average Waist Measurement was 41″ (104 cm)

Q: What is your hip measurement? (rounded to nearest inch)

The Average Hip Measurement was 49″ (124.5 cm)

Q: What is your cup size? (or closest approximation) Note that this system for determining cup size is full bust minus high bust. If you use the full bust minus underbust system (like in bra sizing) the cup is different (larger). Note that Size E = DD. 

What does this mean for Helen’s Closet? When applicable (patterns with bodices), Helen’s Closet patterns will have 2 overlapping size ranges. A 0-22 range based on a B-cup (our current range) and a 12-30 range based on a D-cup. People in the 12-22 range have the option to use either cup size.

Why did I decide to stick with the B-cup? Great question. My original size range is 0-22 and is based on a B-cup. I decided to keep that size range intact so I could focus my energy on adding more sizes. Since I need a new block for these new sizes, I have a chance to choose a new cup. I chose D based on the survey feedback but recognize that there are lots of people with a bust size larger than a D.

I have developed an FBA guide for knits that will be included with the Blackwood Cardigan re-release.

I would love to have more cup size options in the future, like an F/G cup. Once all my patterns have a more inclusive size range, I will revisit this.

Q: What sewing pattern size do you usually make? (or closest approximation)  Note that because this is a ‘curvy’ sewing survey, this is not an accurate representation of all sizes in sewing. 

What does this mean for Helen’s Closet? The new size range for Helen’s Closet will go from a size 0 to a size 30. Our current range goes from 0-22, so we are adding 4 new sizes (24, 26, 28, 30). Size 30 does not include everybody, but it is a step in the right direction.


Q: In the case where pattern sizing is lettered, (S, M, L…) what language would you prefer?

Q: Do you have any suggestions for another size labeling system?

The biggest takeaway here was an overwhelming ‘NOPE’ for the XXXXL method of sizing. It is silly and offensive. Are we really extra, extra, extra, EXTRA large? No!

There were many suggestions for other naming systems, including letters (A,B,C,D…), one where the size relates directly to the measurements, eg: size 40 pants = 40″ waist), and making up a creative naming system based on flowers, animals, symbols, etc.

What does this mean for Helen’s Closet? Ultimately, I decided that numbered sizing is the most neutral and efficient. Most of my patterns currently use the S,M,L… system. I am going to re-grade the patterns to numerical sizing (14,16,18, 20…) when I re-release them with the new size range. This also make it easier to choose an accurate size. Hindsight is 20/20 – I wish I had done this from the beginning, but I am taking action now.

Q: What language do you prefer for an extended size range?

Q: If there is an extended size range, what language do you prefer for the ‘original’ size range?

Q: Do you have any suggestions for another naming system or thoughts on this subject that you would like to share?

Most people feel that no specific or special language is necessary. We are all people. We are different sizes. Just because the RTW fashion world has separated out ‘plus size’ doesn’t mean our patterns have to reflect that. Whenever possible, neutral and non-plus-size-specific language is preferred.

What does this mean for Helen’s Closet? My new size range, when applicable (patterns with bodices), will have two overlapping patterns. One drafted for a B-cup and one drafted for a D-cup. I have opted not to call one ‘misses’ and one ‘curvy’, but instead to label them as ‘B-cup’ and ‘D-cup’. Neutral and descriptive.

Past Experiences

Q: Do you have experiences to share from making other curvy-sized patterns? Anything that bothers you or is consistently a sewing struggle or roadblock?

From the survey answers, it seems the biggest struggle with ‘plus-size’ patterns is a lack of attention to scaling proportions. As a pattern is graded up, the proportions can start to get out of whack the further you get from the original draft. Gaping necklines, giant armholes, extra-wide shoulders, and sleeves that extend inches beyond the fingertips are just some of the examples shared by sewists.

Just because a person is a larger size, doesn’t mean everything about them is larger! Heads, necks, arms, shoulders – these areas don’t vary as much as the bust, waist, and hips. In the same vein, ‘plus size’ people are not necessarily taller.

What does this mean for Helen’s Closet? In order to change my size range to 0-30, I need to draft a base size 8 and a base size 18. This way, I can grade up and down more accurately.

As a designer, I need to be really careful to check the graded patterns for proportion errors. Indie pattern designers spend A LOT of time with their patterns, so we are in a unique position to take extra care and pay attention to these details. Things may need to be manually adjusted post-grading and testing.

A thorough test of the pattern is necessary. I will get feedback from testers in the whole size range in order to have a clear picture of the fit.

Many people requested that companies show a ‘plus size’ model wearing the pattern, so that they can get a sense for how it might fit on them. Many people requested an ‘apple’ shaped model, as opposed to an ‘hourglass’ shape.

What does this mean for Helen’s Closet? Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and it is important to show different people wearing my patterns. I have primarily used myself as the model for my patterns in the past, but intend to branch out this year and showcase a variety of sizes, ages, ethnicities, and styles of dress. I can definitely stand to improve in this area. The Blackwood re-launch is going to feature an ‘apple’ shaped model. Here is a little sneak peek ;)

Another theme I noticed in the survey was contradicting desires for certain styles. For every person saying that sleeves are a requirement for them, there was a sewist wanting more sleeveless options! Each time somebody would express a preference for a larger waist to hip ratio (pear shape), there would be an equal number of people wanting patterns for a larger mid-section (apple shape). In a nutshell, we all want different things – no surprise.

What does this mean for Helen’s Closet? I will not assume that all sewists want to dress a certain way. Providing a diverse range of patterns so there are lots of options to choose from is my goal. I will try to develop patterns that offer more choices and customization options.

Don’t forget the details! It looks weird to have the same sized pocket for a size 2 and a size 28.

What does this mean for Helen’s Closet? I will consider the proportions of my original design and grade up and down things like pockets to maintain those proportions.

Selling a new size range: Many people commented about the frustration of having to re-purchase a pattern in order to access more sizes. It is also frustrating to be between two size ranges sold as individual products and have to choose or buy both.

What does this mean for Helen’s Closet? The new range will be accessible to any past purchasers of a pattern. The pattern will be sold as one unit, so all sizes are included with one purchase.

More finished measurement information and fit guides! This can apply to any pattern designer. People want as much information as possible! Include detailed finished garment measurements and description of the intended fit to help people choose the right size. Many also suggested including a high-bust measurement in the size chart.

What does this mean for Helen’s Closet? I have improved the finished garment measurement chart for the Blackwood Cardigan. It now includes things like bicep and back width. I have also added additional resources for fitting and adjusting the pattern to the instruction booklet. A high-bust measurement is now included in the size chart.

Beware of printed pages. With more sizes comes more paper! It would be nice not to have to print all the sizes.

What does this mean for Helen’s Closet? I put my sizes on layers and that helps to zero-in on the sizes you need for your project. I am also splitting up the pattern when cup-sizing is involved, which reduces the number of pages to print. I provide printing instructions for any pages you don’t have to print for certain views, but it is a challenge to lay out a pattern perfectly. In the end, I decided that a few extra pages is a small price to pay for a more inclusive size range.

Additional thoughts & insights from survey participants:

“Curvy and plus size imply different things! Not every plus-sized person has big hips and a small waist and calls themselves curvy. Not every curvy person is plus sized.”

“The waist measurement is taken where you bend, not the smallest part of the body. The smallest part of a body on a plus-sized woman is likely closer to her bust.”

“Everybody is their own ‘medium’ size”

“Mark the bust, waist and hip lines on the pattern. Mark the bust apex. This helps with pattern adjustments.”

Common areas of frustration for fit include:

  • Biceps
  • Bust
  • Tummy
  • Hips
  • Crotch

What does this mean for Helen’s Closet? Sewing patterns are a jumping off point for everyone, regardless of size. I will put more focus on education in my pattern instructions and on my blog. I will endeavor to listen and learn about fit challenges from my customers and testers. For the new Blackwood Cardigan, I am including an FBA guide booklet with the pattern.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the HUNDREDS of comments from sewists saying thank you for doing the survey and taking the step towards a more inclusive size range. The excitement and encouragement was amazing! The heartfelt stories and the messages of love and support were simultaneously overwhelming and incredibly motivating. Thank you.

Another sneaky peek of the new Blackwood :)

I am launching the new Blackwood Cardigan next week! The new size range features a B-cup option in sizes 0-22 and a D-cup option in sizes 12-30. It will be available as an updated pattern for any past purchasers, no re-purchasing required. All sizes will be included with the purchase of the pattern. I can’t wait to share it with you!

Thanks for checking out the survey results, and thank you especially if you contributed to this survey. I hope you found it interesting and useful and I encourage you to comment below. I am interested to hear your thoughts and I am excited about this new development for Helen’s Closet Patterns.


About the author


Helen Wilkinson is the designer and founder of Helen's Closet Patterns. She also co-hosts the Love to Sew Podcast! Helen is obsessed with all things sewing and strives to share her passion and knowledge with the sewing community.

46 Comments on “Curvy Sewing Survey Results”

  1. Pingback: Curvy Sewing Survey – Helen's Closet

    1. Thank you so much Helen for all your work. I love the Blackwood cardigan and have made several. I am a 60 year old sewist and am eager to try your other patterns. I look forward to more explanations in the pattern instructions. I thoroughly enjoy seeing with detail and learning new techniques. Keep up the great work.

    2. How to say thank you for something I appreciate so very much…? I know! Money! I promise, you will get my money! More patterns, more money, LOL! And I honestly do thank you for caring about this whole issue is so many insightful ways. I’m getting old, and won’t have dozens of years ahead, but these young people do and you are going to have such an impact on their lives.

  2. Helen, thank you so much for not just expanding your range and doing the survey, but sharing the results and being so thoughtful and comprehensive in how you respond to them. I’m really excited to see the new sizes and your next patterns! Also, I don’t know who your model is but they’re amazing, and I actually started crying when I scrolled down to see a fat model with a big smile and a short, queer-ish haircut — I literally don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone who looked like me in that way in a sewing pattern. Thank you.

    1. Thanks Shannon! I am so glad you like the new model. She is my cousin, but is more like a sister to me. She is indeed, amazing!

  3. Just sitting here crying after reading this. The care and love that went into your new sizing and your post are so meaningful, especially after a rough week. I’m proud to sew your patterns, and am looking forward to giving you more of my money!

    1. Thanks so much! I’m sorry that this week has been hard, thank you for your emotional labour and for supporting me through this!

  4. Helen, what a huge amount of thought and care you have given to this. I ADORE your patterns my York pinafores are my absolute favourites , I have just made a Blackwood that I love too which has led me to buy the Winslows last week :D.

    I am particularly impressed that you have taken on board the fact that shoulders do not increase by huge proportions. Looking forward to the new Blackwood and seeing what other exciting patterns you have up your sleeves this year.

  5. Thank you for this well thought out and detailed post about you decisions regarding making changes to make your size range more inclusive. I’m at the upper end of your existing range, but I’m definitely not a B cup! I’m hopeful that I can get an even better fit from your patterns than in the past. I’m looking forward to making a York pinafore after trying my friend’s on, but I had planned on widening the top so I didn’t end up with so much side boob! Hopefully York is on the list for the updated size range soon so I can make one without having to figure out the proportions myself!

  6. Thank you so much for doing this Helen. I’m so tired of limited choices in the stores, and clothes that just look like a sack on me with no style at all. That’s what started me sewing my own wardrobe again, and now, this! I just want to make clothes that fit, look good on me, and patterns that let me make them my own. Thanks again, for making that possible. Looking forward to the new patterns. Can they be released tomorrow??? hahaha

    1. Haha, thanks Marlene! I wish I could release them all right now, but alas, good things take time. Thanks for your patience and your support :)

  7. Thank you so much Helen for adding curvy sizing to your range! I’m a size 24 and I tried upsizing the Blackwood cardigan but it didn’t fit as it was too tight around the armscye and upper arm. I was so dissappointed as I love that pattern. I cannot wait for the new releases x x x

  8. I know you say that your survey was biased by the community that took part, but it is so affirming to see I almost match the average measurements in your survey. I am so excited to buy your updated pattern as soon as it is released. There has been much internet talk this week of designers and extended sizing. You were working on this weeks ago, asking for the issues so you could conquer them, quietly leading the way by example. Thank you x

    1. Thank you for checking out the survey results! I can understand how nice it is to be seen and to feel ‘average’. I’m glad you are excited about the new pattern!

  9. Great survey, that came at the right time. Love the fact that you are including more sizes for your patterns – it makes the want to buy your patterns firmer than before.
    And indeed, so obvious that people have different shapes..

  10. I love this so so much! It’s completely inspired me to do some selfless sewing for my friends and fam. And I’m really hoping to get some of them into sewing too! I love this community and it’s continually inspired me to be creative and feel good about myself. (Honestly, I can walk away from an Instagram binge feeling good and seen but 2-minutes flipping through a magazine just bums me out.) I want that for everyone. Having such a thorough approach to a more inclusive size range is so helpful in encouraging more people to fall in love with sewing. This is amazingly done. Thank you!

    1. I totally agree! Being a part of the community has really changed the way I see the world and the judgements I make (or no longer make) about what is ‘beautiful’. It has been amazing for my self-esteem, too.

  11. Wow! You need to be applauded for your efforts. I sincerely believe that the manner in which you’re planning to evolve is going to be incredibly well received! Best wishes!!

  12. Congratulations Helen. This is fantastic. I’ve made 3 Blackwoods in the 22 in a light fabric, but I would really prefer them slightly bigger as I am a DD cup. I can’t wait to make this in the 24D in a sweatshirt fahric with a slight FBA. Many thanks.

  13. H/T to you, Helen, for LISTENING with such attention to and empathy for your audience and for developing your product to meet their needs. As an aspiring pattern designer, I’m looking to you as a model business owner! Way to go! I’m proud of you!

  14. I love all of this! I can’t wait to try the new Blackwood. I was at the high end of your original range and love the cardigan, but I have a feeling I’ll love the fit of the new version with the D-cup even more!

  15. Wow! Just, wow. I thank you for the enormous amount of time you have invested in this, for listening to what your readers and clients actually need. I personally was already in your size range, but will also profit greatly by the D cup draft and more information on biceps or high bust measurements (hopefully thigh measurements as well, for the Avery? Negative ease is a birch). I will certainly be much more likely to buy from your company given this inclusive approach. Thank you!

  16. Thank you for the time and effort you are putting into this endeavor! I fit your current size range but my bust is way beyond a B-cup, so the D-cup drafting beginning at 12 is pretty much the best news I’ve heard all day. I might actually be able to get away without an FBA (or at least only have to do a little one) and that is a huge factor for me when deciding which patterns to buy.

    I’ve had my eye on the Blackwood cardigan for a while now – you can bet I’ll be one of the purchasers when you re-release next week! Any idea of what the timeline for other patterns is? I’ve recently purchased the Elliot sweater and would love to know if it’s a short wait or if I should just go ahead and try out the current version.

    1. Thanks Sarah! Elliot is actually last on my list for re-release, hopefully in the early fall. I plan to do York, Winslow, Suki, Avery and then Elliot.

  17. Helen, First thank you for the thoughtful and well researched reaponse. I straddle the line of “standard” and “extended” sizes for so many companies, and have passed on many beautiful patterns, because I refuse to buy both versions of the pattern. Your actions are truely inclusive, and reinforce my love of your brand. Thank you!

  18. I am so looking forward to patterns with all those extra little details for fitting. I will definitely be trying them out! Well done!

  19. YES YES YES!! I’m so excited about the work you are doing to be more inclusive, Helen. Thanks for being thoughtful and transparent in your process. Can’t wait to use the D-Cup sizing versions!!!! Yay for cup sizing!!

  20. Good for you, Helen. I particularly appreciate the move to neutral language. We ALL need to have our brains re-trained on that one!

  21. Thanks for being awesome! These changes must bring with them, such a huge expense for you. And as a small business owner, sometimes huge expenses aren’t that easy to absorb. It’s easy for us to “want, want, want” but then not want to pay for it. I love that you’re making these changes and I hope that you receive the support (increased sales) from our community this deserves. Thanks for being such a brightly shining light in our community.

  22. Dear Helen, I bought the new Blackwood on release day (at one point your servers crashed, they were overwhelmed with everyone trying to do the same!!) because I can’t wait to sew it up… you’ve put so much thought and effort into the survey and your new release. I don’t even care that it’s the middle of a hot Aussie summer, I’m sewing up new cardies for me and my bestie, because I can, without having to redraft to fit!
    Looking forward to when you release the updated York (hint hint )
    Thank you from the bottom of my heart,

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