Understanding Ease in Sewing Patterns - What it is, What it Does and How to Make Sure it's Right

Sewcabulary by Palindrome Dry Goods. Today's lesson: ease in sewing patterns. What it is, how it affects your garments and how to calculate it. www.palindromedrygoods.com

If you've read my post on understanding pattern terms and markings, you know I touched a bit on ease, but I have a lot more to say.

Hang in there with me, as we have to get through a few things before we can get to the center of this issue!

First, it's important to know your measurements. Bust, waist, and hip are the most crucial, but there are many others including inseam, sleeve length, shoulder length, crotch depth, wrist circumference, arm circumference, crotch length, neck circumference, underarm to waistline, shoulder to bustline, back width, finished dress length, etc. I would recommend purchasing a sewing book (one of my favorites that can frequently be found at thrift stores is the Readers Digest Complete Guide to Sewing) that contains a measuring chart, or I'm sure a Google search would pull up something useful, but wouldn't it be better to own a book? Personal bias, I suppose...

body measurements + ease = garment that will fit well

Additionally, it could be said that it may be better to know the measurements of clothing that fits you well rather than your actual body measurements. This means that if you're making a dress with a fitted waist, in order for the pattern to fit you accurately, the finished garment measurements (listed on the pattern) must equal the measurements of a fitted waist dress that you already have that fits you well.

finished garment measurements listed on pattern = measurements of existing well fitting garment 

So, what is ease, exactly?

finished garment measurement - body measurements = ease

If I'm going to get all technical on y'all (which you know I am), there are actually two types of ease. Sorry!

Wearing Ease is the extra amount of space built into patterns that allow you to sit, reach, bend and walk and is what this post will focus on. For example, my bust measures 34". Let's say I make a blouse pattern that, when completed, actually measures 36" around my bust line. This means there is 2" of ease. This 2" allows me enough room in my blouse so that my rib cage can expand when I breathe, or my blouse to still fit when I bend over, or stretch backwards.

Design Ease is the designed-in fullness that effects the overall shape of the garment. Tent dresses and peasant blouses, for example, will have a lot of design ease compared to wiggle dresses and fitted button-up blouses.  Design ease is not something we'll cover in this post, but it's still important to know what it is and how it affects the fit & shape of your garment.

We typically find wearing ease in three crucial places: bust, waist and hips. The amount of ease at each of these places will most likely be different. For example, you may find 2" of ease at the bust, 1" at the waist, and 2" at the hip. They do not always have to be the same. 

How do I know how much ease is included in a pattern?

There are a few ways to figure this out.

1. Find it on the back of the pattern envelope, if it's there. 

Let's look at New Look #6208 because it's a simple place to start. 

If we look at the back of the envelope (below) we see the misses' sizes at top (circled in white). I'm going to use my measurements throughout this tutorial, for clarity's sake. 

My bust - 34"
My waist - 28"
My hips - 38"

According to this pattern my bust measurement is a size 12, but my waist and hips are a 14. Let's just say I decide to make a size 12. 

Let's continue reading down the envelope. Look in the orange circle. See where it says "garment measurements"? This is referring to the measurements of the final, completed, dress. The bust for a size 12 will be 37.5" That's three and a half inches larger than my actual bust measurement. If that seems like a lot to you, you're correct. But, ok, moving on. We'll come back to this, I promise. 

finished garment measurement - body measurements = ease

So in this case: 37.5" - 34" = 3.5" of ease at bust

2. Find it on the pattern pieces themselves, if it's there. 

This is the same pattern as above. If the pattern hadn't had the finished garment measurements listed, we could find them here:

*Total ease above body measurement is approximately 3 1/2"* 

Boom! Same measurement we calculated by the envelope back. 

Also, look out for a 'bullseye' notation. Thought the New Look pattern above didn't have it, many pattern companies print this symbol on patterns to help you find out how much ease there is at the bust, waist, hip, etc. 

3. Measure the pattern pieces.

Let's look at vintage Simplicity 4320. It is a size 13. 

Below, we'll see that the standard body measurements are listed, but there is no section for "finished garment measurements'.

For this example, let's measure the amount of ease at the waistline. According to the pattern envelope (above) the waist measurement is 25.5". Here is the bodice front pattern piece (below). 

The waistline is marked (below). 

We need to account for the dart. So, I pinned it together and pressed it lightly with my fingers to mimic what it would look like sewn. 

So here's what the front bodice pattern piece looks like with the dart pinned together. 

So now I measured across the piece at the waistline.  

Warning: math ahead. I'll try to be as clear as possible about this!

The front bodice piece measure 7.5" BUT we have double this measurement, to account for the whole front bodice, not just one half of it, and then subtract for a 5/8" seam on each side.  
Because fractions are confusing, 5/8 = .625 

7.5" x 2 (to account for both halves of the front) = 15"

15" - .625 (for left side seam) - .625 (for right side seam) = 13.75"

I measured the back bodice pattern piece at the waistline as well, though it's not pictured. It measures 6 3/4". Again, we have to double it and then subtract for a 5/8" seam on each side.

6.75" x 2 (to account for both halves of the back) = 13.5"

13.5" - .625 (for left side seam) - .625 (for right side seam) = 12.25"

Are you still with me? Hang in there! 

Ok, so: 12.75" (for the front bodice) + 12.25" (for the back bodice) = 25"

Our pattern envelope said that the waist for a size 13 would be 25" and our pattern measures out to be 25" which means this pattern has NO ease. Which makes sense, because look at how dang tight that top is! It should also be noted that little to no ease is typical for strapless garments because you don't want them falling down. 

How much ease should there be?

Great question. Honestly, it depends on the garment and the person.  A garment that is intentionally tight will have less ease. Like that tight 1950's strapless top above, for example. A garment that is loose and flowy (like a tent dress) could have several inches of ease. 

If you're making a skin-tight wiggle dress, and you calculations (or the envelope) tell you there's 4 inches of ease at the bust, that's a red flag. That's too much ease. 

If you're making a loose nightgown and your calculations (or the envelope) tell you there's 4 inches of ease at the bust, then that's fine. 

If you like your clothes to fit closely to your body, you will want less ease (think in the 1/2" - 1 1/2" range), and if you like your clothing to fit more loosely, you will want more ease (think in the 2" - 4"range). 

This chart, from Butterick patterns, explains how much ease they calculate into their patterns depending on how fitted the garment is. 

** Keep in mind that the type of fabric you are sewing your garment with also effects the amount of ease you will want. Stretchy fabrics will need less ease, because they'll stretch with you as you move, while woven fabrics will need more ease because they cannot stretch to accommodate your movement. **

So, let me be real with you.

I think that most new patterns add too much ease. I don't know why they do this, but my goodness, is it frustrating to make new patterns and have them turn out enormous. 

If you do your research, measure, and prepare before you cut anything out, you will not have to worry about ease. 

Typically, I end up sizing DOWN one or two sizes for new patterns. For vintage patterns I almost never have a problem with the garments turning out too large.  So that darling New Look #6208 dres pattern above? TOO MUCH EASE. Three an a half inches?! My gosh, I don't plan on doing yoga in it, I just need to sit down in it. 

Do you have other questions about ease? Did I forget to mention something? What are your thoughts on ease in new & vintage patterns? Let me know by commenting below. I look forward to hearing from you! 

Happy sewing, everyone!


  1. I love this post and it is just the information I was looking for! I know there is ease in the patterns, but I never knew how to measure it before cutting the fabric and then going through many fittings to get to where I want to be. Thank you for this, it was so useful!

    1. Ana,

      Success! I'm so glad you found this post helpful. Thank you for reading and for letting me know I answered some questions for you. If there are other sewing topics you would like more information on, please email me at hannah@palindromedrygoods.com. I'm always happy to put together posts on recommended topics!

  2. Oh, thank you so much for explaining this! I haven't done any sewing for myself for at least 20 years until just recently. I've only gained 5 pounds in that time, chose one size larger in pattern than I used to(according to my measurements on current patterns) to accomodate for the weight gain and couldn't figure out why the top and pants I sewed were so huge! Yes, there must be more ease added to new patterns and I'll probably be choosing the size I used to (if not smaller) from now on. The problem with just reusing my old patterns is that many are from the eighties and nineties when shoulder widths were enormous compared to now and required shoulder pads! So I'll definitely be using your pattern measuring suggestions first!

    1. Nancy, thank you so much for reading and commenting. I am thrilled you found this post helpful! Happy sewing!

  3. I'm always writing about modern patterns and wearing ease, just trying to get the word out too. However, this was more elegantly written than my attempts. Great job!

    1. Haha, well I'm not sure I'd ever use 'elegant' to describe my writing but I sure appreciate that sweet comment. :) Here, here for spreading the word about the ridiculousness of modern ease! Thank you for reading and commenting.

  4. Just what I was looking for but couldn't find it. You've explained beautifully. Especially about vintage patterns. Now I understand. Thank you so very much :-)
    P.S. Now....IF only I could wrap my head around the sewing pattern for a dress from 1940s.....(all it has, is a bunch of holes on it LOL).

    1. Wonderful! It always makes me SO happy when readers tell me I clarified something for them. Thank you so much for letting me know, and for reading the post! Ah, yes, patterns manufactured pre-printing process are a good test of patience. Believe it or not, all those little holes have significance. If you have a large space to lay them all out, it becomes visually much easier to tell what's going on. Also, look for letters or numbers on each piece (made of holes, of course!), they'll help you tell what's what. Happy sewing!


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