by Peggy Bendel
Finally! Fashionable patterns
that fit plus-size people.
Every major pattern catalog has a "large sizes" tab, many independent pattern companies have extended their sizing, and there are even pattern companies devoted exclusively to plus sizes. Five years ago the sewing industry offered few options for the full-figure customer who wanted to create a flattering, up-to-date wardrobe. Now the industry is courting her -- and reaping the profits. Note: See "Pattern Book" on page 70 for more information on plus-size patterns.
"We give large sizes wearable art, weekend wardrobes and sexy, glamorous fashions, too. This isn't your 'Omar-The-Tentmaker' tab," says Mary Duffy, the designer/licensor who creates the Full Figure Solutions line of large-size patterns for Simplicity. She was among the first to address the needs of this sewing group beginning in 1993. "It's so much fun to do this. I know there's a customer out there who's looking for something to wear. Just because I'm not tall, not thin and not young doesn't mean I want to dress like my mother's Oldsmobile," she says.
Duffy authored the "H-O-A-X Fashion Formula" of full-figured body types for her patterns. "H" is fairly even in the bust and hips, but straight at the waist; "0" is biggest at the waist, narrowing toward the shoulders and hips; "A" is larger below the waist than above and widest from a front view at the thigh line; and "X" is a curvy body with a full bust and hips and an indented waist.
Duffy has seen the market for these patterns grow from their inception. "The bottom line is steadily escalating," she says. "There's never been a calendar quarter in which sales didn't exceed those of the previous quarter. Even our bathing suit patterns sell."
Describing McCall's experience with this market niche, education/promotion manager Emily Cohen says, "It's definitely a more important category than five years ago. Because women have become more vocal about not being able to find patterns in their size, we've extended Misses' patterns up to size 26 for numerous styles, developed a fashion-oriented presentation for the Women's/Women's Petite size range and added two new half-size patterns every spring."
Cohen notes that while the halfsize range may not be well understood, it meets the needs of women who have a petite, mature figure. "The contours are flatter than Misses' but not quite as curvy as Women's/Women's Petite," she says about this figure type. "Women who try our Women's style half-size patterns send us love notes. They're amazed at how well the patterns fit."
Butterick has enjoyed comparable success with its plus-size patterns featuring actress/designer Delta Burke's signature. According to a Radiance magazine interview with Burke, four of Burke's patterns ranked in the top 12 of 1,200 styles carried in the company's catalog and two were ranked among the top five bestsellers.
Of course, it's no mystery why sizing up sells -- the full-figured have big numbers on their side. According to information furnished by the Council on Size & Weight Discrimination, the average American women is 5'4" tall, weighs 140 pounds and wears a size 14 dress; one-third of all American women wear a size 16 or larger, and there are 38- to 40 million plus-size men and women in the United States today.
These statistics suggest the potential for selling plenty of fashion patterns and the major pattern brands aren't the only ones recognizing this. Smaller companies have seen the light, too. "All my patterns now go to size 3X and some go up to size 5X (62" bust, 64" hip)," says Dana Bontrager of Pawprint Pattern Company. "I started extending the size range early in 1997 as the result of an Internet survey I conducted with various plus-size groups. I kept getting requests to go larger." She feels her flowing, wearable-art-style silhouettes translate well into larger sizes. "I've never liked fitted fashions. I prefer simple styles, so my patterns reflect that," she says. "I like the blank canvas approach. You can add your own embellishments or show off a great fabric with them."
"Design & Sew patterns now go up to size 26," says Lois Ericson about her pattern line featuring creative closures, interesting seams and artistic layers. Her original size range was quite narrow, then was extended to size 22. But that wasn't large enough to satisfy her customers. "Since we had requests for the larger sizes, we decided to add one more range," she says.
While pattern companies large and small now include large sizes in their catalogs, specialty companies that produce only large-size patterns offer a different approach. One such company is Sewgrand, with multisize career/casual designs in sizes 12 to 26. Unlike other companies in the fashion industry that may grade plus sizes from a small (size 4, 6 or 8) master pattern, Sewgrand designer Corinne Cordoni begins with a sample size 18 (42" bust) and works up or down from there. Paying careful attention to fit, Cordoni tests her prototype garments on a fitting model who has a size DD bust cup. "I've worked hard on the special grading in the neckline and shoulder area so they aren't too large," she says, referring to a common problem encountered at the upper end of
some Misses' extended size patterns. "I also grade the
sizes so the garments aren't too wide at the hemline."