How to adjust a pattern to fit an apple-shaped body

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The shape of a sewing pattern

Is there a way to adjust a pattern to fit an apple-shaped body without sacrificing the look?

The standard body shape for drafting sewing patterns is the hourglass. The narrow-waisted, balanced shoulder-hip ratio is the base for most clothing and sewing patterns. And that wouldn’t be an issue if it weren’t for the fact that most of us are shaped more like a convex column, or a vertical oval, also known as the apple-shape.

Wearing an hourglass-shaped garment on your oval-shaped body results in draglines and bulges, and the fit feels off. Therefore, making sure that the pattern you’ll sew will work for your body shape is crucial.

So, here you are with a pattern that’s drafted for the hourglass. Is it even doable to adapt it for your apple-shaped torso?

Great news! It’s totally possible, and pretty simple too.

This guide will show you how, but first, let’s have a look at the definition of the apple-shape.

The apple-shape

The apple shaped body

The “apple” is sometimes confused with plus-size, but It’s actually not the case.  It’s called an apple when the upper body has less than 18 centimeters, or, 7 inches difference between the bust and waist circumference.

A person with an apple-shaped torso can be tall or short and of any weight, as it has nothing to do with size. The waist curve is straighter than the standard measurement charts suggest, and the mid-section is rounder. The hip or bust (or both) measures about the same, or less than, the waist and belly. 

The apple-shape, together with the column is the most common female body shape in the western world, closely followed by the “pear-shape”.

Hourglass vs. non-hourglass patterns

The defined waist is definitely a trend factor. The vertical placement, definition, and visibility of the waistline are changing all of the time.

In the 1950s the so-called wasp waist was extremely narrow. It’s the perfect example of an hourglass pattern. All seam lines point towards the waist and the cropped jacket and wide skirt add to the illusion to make it look even narrower.

A 1950s sewing pattern with an hourglass waist

A Vogue vintage pattern dress design from 1954 with a distinctly marked waist.

In the 1960s the trend changed to a straighter waist. The “ideal body” hardly had any curves at all. This example pattern shows no seam lines or shaping at the waist at all, and the design does its best to resemble a column.

A 1960s sewing pattern with a straight shaped waist

A Simplicity original pattern from 1963 with a very straight waist.

In the 1970s, everything changed again. The times called for a softer and more natural waistline that wasn’t so restricting. Curves were back in fashion but not exaggerated.

A Simplicity sewing pattern with a naturally shaped waist

A Simplicity original pattern from 1975 with a naturally curved waist.

Thanks to the Internet trends aren’t so impactful anymore and we can choose what to wear without being dictated by unattainable ideals if we don’t want to. Whether you like a garment with a defined waist or not, there are plenty of options. 

Now that you know the definition let’s look at how to alter the pattern with a defined waist to fit the apple-shaped torso.

Calculation formula with examples


  1. Measure the circumference around your waist and your belly-button.
  2. Find your patterns’ finished garment measurements.
  3. Subtract your waist measurement from the finished garment measurements.
  4. Calculate how much to add.
  5. Divide that number by the number of seams you will adjust.



Two examples to calculate waist width

If you want to know more about the measurements you need to get a great fit and how to take them, you can download the guide and checklist here for free:


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Altering the pattern

There are several ways to increase the mid-section of a sewing pattern. There’s an option whether you have a pattern without darts, with waist darts, or with princess seams.

Keeping the look

If you want to keep the look of the original design, then you don’t want to remove any essential details of the pattern, for example, by removing darts or seams.
To change a pattern without sacrificing the look, limit your adjustments to the side of or inside of the pattern pieces, keeping them as close to the original seam lines as possible.
Before you start, there are some basic patternmaking rules to get the best result:

Start with the right foundation

First, make the full or small bust adjustment if you need one. Then check how much to add to the waist.
Measure waist and belly
The circumference and the vertical distance between the waist, the high hip, and the lower hip together give the exact placements for where to add the ease.

Keep the grainline

The pattern’s center front and center back must stay intact. Only add width to the sides and seams inside of the pattern.

Balance the pattern

What you add to the front, you need to add to the back. Keep the integrity of the seamlines and avoid distorting the seams.

Limit the change

Don’t add more than10 centimeters/4 inches of total width; pick a larger size instead.

Now grab some printer paper, a pen, and a ruler, and let’s alter the waistline of your pattern.

1 Without waist dart

The simplest alteration is to add ease directly at the side seam.

Adjust for the apple-shape at the side seam

  • Calculate how much to add by using the formula.
  • Measure up and mark the amount you want to add to the waistline outside of the original side seam cutting line.
  • Draw a new side seam matching up your new waist width. Double-check the new waist measurement to your calculation.

2 With waist dart

If you want to keep the original curve at the side seam, you can reduce the dart width.
This alteration works best for minor changes.

Reduce the waist darts to accommodate for the apple-shape

  • Calculate how much you need to add by using the formula.
  • Measure and mark the amount you want to add to the waistline inside the original dart seamline.
  • Draw a new dart.
  • Double-check the new waist measurement to your calculation.

3 Side and waist dart combination

Especially helpful if you sew with very thin fabric where the grainline would be distorted if you added the total width in one place.

Add width on both sides and reduce the dart width

  • Calculate how much you need to add by using the formula.
  • Measure up the amount you want to add to the waistline, outside of the original cutting line, and inside of the original dart seamline.
  • Draw a new side seam and dart.
  • Double-check the new waist measurement to your calculation.

4 Princess seam

Distribute the width evenly to the princess seams below the bust.

Add width to the princess seams

  • Calculate how much you need to add by using the formula.
  • Measure the amount you want to add to the waistline, outside of the original seamlines, under the bustline only (as shown).
  • Draw new seamlines.
  • Double-check the new waist measurement to your calculation.

In conclusion

Small changes can make a big difference.  

Wearing clothes made with your own hands that also fit your unique body beats a ready-to-wear garment any day.

The short time it takes to learn the adjustments you need will benefit you for the rest of your sewing life.

Sew great!

signature flaming needle

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Lisa Greenhall

    Now that I have hit my late 50s I am starting to become an apple….hate it, and must adjust all pattern…thanks again for a great post…many thanks

    1. Susanna

      Yes, our body changes throughout life. Wearing clothes that fit helps enormously to accept the inevitable and to feel good regardless of shape. We’re lucky because sewing gives us that opportunity. Thanks for stopping by, Lisa. I’m glad you liked the post.

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