Tales of a Full Bust Adjustment Virgin

Once upon a time, long before this blog started, ProlificProjectStarter was happy starting many rectangular projects, bags, curtains, beanbags that kind of thing, where being an inch out here or there made little noticeable difference.

Then, along came the Great British Sewing Bee and she was motivated to make a skirt for her daughter, which was basically 3 rectangles sewn together with elastic to draw it in at the waist and was not too far out of her comfort zone. Pretty soon she was forced to rediscovered her long forgotten pattern following skills from her schooldays in order to silence the complaints of unfairness from her son. Things snowballed from there and before she knew it she was taking part in Me Made May.

But underneath it all, she was still pretty mystified by the art of fitting and adjusting patterns feeling much more comfortable with her rectangles. However, the evidence began to mount:

new look hospital scrubs anyone? if I change

the self drafted kimono woven t shirt that ended up looking like hospital scrubs

My attempt at sophisticated model pose (good job I'm not after a new career)

The ill advised Tova a little tight across the chest

Too baggy at the back

Yet too baggy at the back

Could do with a little more space for my bust

The Coco top that could do with a little more space for my bust

with extra space at back

and less space at the back

Apologies for the daft pose

Another Coco that could fit beter

Wibbly wobbly leap into present tense (I can’t cope with any more third person stuff).

So, I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was having fitting issues, which surely needed addressing, because what’s the point of spending time, money and effort on something that doesn’t fit right. But a Full Bust Adjustment (FBA), really, did I have to learn that, eep, that sounded scary.

So this post is dedicated to any FBA virgins out there wondering whether to dip their toe in the water. I can’t promise expertise, but I hope to show what learning to do a FBA is really like, as I go along and then maybe you can learn from my mistakes.

Right, deep breath, time to do some Proper Grown Up Sewing.

First off, I read around the topic. Most patterns are drafted for a B or maybe a C cup. I’m a F-G cup. That’s some difference, no wonder I’m having issues. But that sounds like a scarily big adjustment to make. I came accross a tutorial on adjusting princess seams for fuller busts on the Curvy Sewing Collective – it looked comprehensive and more than a little scary. I did some measuring and that’s when I got confused. Leading to me leaving this comment:

I did want to ask some advice though as you say this is not the standard FBA. As I wear a F-G cup bra I assumed I would need to do a fair bit of tweaking as I believe most patterns are drafted for a B cup. When I take an upper bust measurement as in the link you give above I get an upper bust measurement of 38″. My full bust measurement is 41″. So following your calculations I would use the size 12/16 and only need to add 3″ to the bust which is 1 1/2 ” on each side.
I have two thoughts on this. The first is is that really enough to make a B cup into an F cup or am I measuring wrongly. My measurement just under my bust is 34″. The second thought is, if that is right, as it’s not much more than 1″ am I best off following this extra tutorial or a more “standard” one?
Any thoughts gratefully received.

and the same day I got this encouraging reply from Mary

Hello, R! This is a really great set of questions. It sounds like, though your bra size is one thing, that your actual measurements are telling a different story. I’m guessing, just from your measurements, that you have a fairly proportional shoulder-to-bust ratio, unlike most women with large cup sizes. That’s why your high bust (around the top of your bust line) and your full bust (around the middle of your bust) are more in line, You are probably an F cup, because of that third measurement–your underbust, which is narrow in comparison to your other two numbers. That means–hooray for you!–that in the world of sewing, your FBAs won’t be as extreme. The reason we say to pick a size based on your high bust is that, for most well-endowed women, their shoulder area is much, much narrower than their bust measurement would suggest. In your case, you lucky lady, that isn’t so.

That’s a lot of rambling. The short answer is: you do in fact only need a small FBA, if you’re choosing a size based on your high bust. A 1 1/2 inch FBA is pretty small for a princess-seamed bodice like this one, so you could use a much simpler, far less overwhelming tutorial. I really like the one from By Hand London at this link: http://byhandlondon.com/blogs/sew-alongs/11628649-elisalex-dress-sewalong-2-full-bust-adjustment-for-princess-seams-fba

The only thing further thing I would tell you, when it comes to fitting, is that you should be cautious of your waist measurement. From your measurements, it sounds like you probably have a narrow waist, which normally goes along with a narrow underbust, so be sure to account for that measurement when you’re making adjustments. You don’t want to add too much extra room in that area! It’s an easy fix, but one I also have to watch out for, when adjusting patterns.

Also, if you’re leery of fitting still, you may want to check out Colette Patterns. They are drafted for a C cup, but given your smaller difference between high bust and full bust, I’m guessing they would fit you splendidly, out of the package!

Thank you so much for your advice Mary and hurrah for the Sewing Blogosphere. Having looked into FBA+, to find out I only need to do a standard FBA gave my confidence a huge boost. Maybe I could do this after all.

I decided to start on a t-shirt, as jersey is pretty forgiving, it’s a relatively quick make, it doesn’t eat fabric so it’s cheap for experimenting purposes, plus I bought a load of t shirt material recently that was sitting patiently in my stash. Wanting to keep it simple, and not wanting to invest money and effort into something with an uncertain outcome, I decided to try Maria Denmark’s free kimono t shirt pattern (which had been sitting in my sewing patterns folder for a while), following her fba tutorial for t shirts . It was a toss up between that and Cake Patterns the Tee (also sat on my computer waiting to be printed)- which is also free to download, is also a kimono t, but rather than doing a fba you trace between different sizes on the pattern (if that sounds a little vague it’s because I haven’t tried a cake pattern yet but they have come recommended for easing fitting issues). The plan is to try both and compare ease and results. That may take a couple more t shirt makes.

Ok, so first up I printed out and taped up the standard pattern pieces. I had my normal issue that my printer stretches one side of the page slightly compared to the other that I always face with pdf’s (yes, I tick no scaling), but it seemed a little easier than normal – maybe due to just 2 pattern pieces. I was really impressed with Maria’s pattern lay out, there is a border on each piece showing where to join to the next but the lines extend a little beyond that – which is helpful in matching. There are a huge range of sizes, and for once I was somewhere in the middle rather than at the top edge, also good. Plus the size lines were in different colours which made them easy to pick out. So that’s 3 thumbs up on initial impressions of my first Maria Denmark pattern.

So, I measured my upper bust which put me at a size large (I’m not being deliberately vague on my measurements here, I meant to include them, but I’ve misplaced the piece of paper I made notes on as I went). Then I worked out how much I needed to add for my FBA, I think it was about 10cm altogether, so 5cm each side (I went all metric for a change, as suggested in the notes).

Right, so I cut out the large size pieces (I did alter them to be the length of the largest size, as I find most of my t shirts annoyingly short and I thought I could always hack some length off before hemming). Next step, FBA.

Now, at this point, for some reason, I started looking at this other tutorial of Maria’s for an easy FBA and quickly got really confused. Not because of the tutorial, which seems really clear, but because it starts with armholes and my kimono t shirt pattern has no armholes and I couldn’t work out where they “should” be. I tried a couple of different fudges but couldn’t get it to work because after pivoting I just had an line going out from my armpit in a kind of A line that if extended would make a great tent, but with no obvious way of joining it back to the pattern.

I left a comment for Maria, which she replied to very helpfully the next day. Maybe I should’ve waited for a reply, but I was impatient and I ploughed on.

I decided I needed a new approach. A bit of fettling about on tinternet and I found Maria’s other (standard? normal?) fba tutorial that I’d seen before and thought I was using, and tried that. OK, first off, she mentions carefully measuring t shirts to ascertain the correct placement of the bust apex (more commonly referred to as a nipple). That sounded like hard work. She helpfully gave those measurements as they might work for others. I looked at her photo, she looks a different shape from me. So, I tried an intelligent guess of measuring the difference between my bust apex’s (api?) – which I remember was 22cm (it’s sort of burnt in my head as I suddenly realised that my husband might walk into the room and find me peering at a ruler held to my chest and think I’d finally lost it). Then I drew a line parallel to the centre fold and 11cm distant from it (half that measurement). Great, that must be right. But how far up/down to mark the spot. I tried a couple of guesses but again was thrown by the kimono sleeves. I settled on one fairly at random and tried the next step, but then, you guessed it, the sleeves not armhole thing threw me again on where to draw my lines.

At this point, I tried another fba tutorial, the Cashmerette – do a FBA by adding a dart to a non darted top of dress one. (Anyone spot my mistake?).

First off it suggested holding the pattern piece up to you to find the apex. Genius. Why didn’t I think of that. I tried, twice, and got two different points, the same height, and about the same distance either side of my 11cm line, so I now confidently marked my apex at that height on the 11cm line. Then somehow the suggestion of where to draw the lines seemed easier to translate this time to a kimono top, I just drew the line to a third up the sleeve cuff rather than a third up the armhole. Pretty soon, some cutting and stuff later, I had an altered pattern piece and was very chuffed. I showed a confused husband (I think he thought I was making some random peep hole t shirt as I hadn’t filled in all my gaps caused by cutting and spreading just braced them with strips of paper). And it looked kind of right when held up to me. Feeling pleased, I went to bed.

{Now, imagine a stupid photo of me grinning like an idiot and holding the pattern piece up to myself, showing that the FBA seems to sit in the right place (you can tell cos my pattern piece is full of holes). I have such a photo but despite several attempts it won’t load so you’ll have to use your imagination.}

Next day I woke early and cut out my pattern (what else is a girl to do at 6.30 am?). Then I started sewing. This’ll be quick, I thought, only 2 pieces. Shoulder seams, done. Side seams – I started pinning. Then hit a problem. My front side seam was bigger than my back. I pondered. I’d altered the front, it clearly sticked out a bit now, maybe I should’ve altered the back to. I went back to Maria’s tutorial, which in the light of day seemed clearer. She kind of makes the slash then joins the ends together so the side seams are unaltered and ignores the resulting lump in the pattern. The reason being she doesn’t want to put a dart in a t shirt. The penny dropped. I’d followed instructions for adding a dart to a non darted top, that was why it didn’t match up, I’d need to sew the dart first. Except I didn’t want a dart in a stripey t shirt, it would look wierd.

What was a girl to do? I considered re doing the FBA Maria’s way and recutting my piece, assuming it fit inside the piece I had cut, with only 1m of fabric bought there was no way I could get another piece out. Then I remembered a tutorial that I think is another Cashmarette or Curvy Sewing Collective one (apologies, the exact location is currently eluding me despite the fact I lost it before, refound it and made a note, somewhere – I’m obviously very scatty) where a t shirt pattern was simply adjusted for a larger bust by adding length to the front only (as more length is needed to go around a more ample bust) and then this is just sewn up with a bit of stretching at the right place on the side seam to get the back to fit the front.

So, I tried that, with my darted pattern, (after leaving a couple of inches right at the bottom unstitched as my son had told me it needed vents – I’m not sure I’m proud or annoyed that he was right) I matched the bottom section of seam and then further up I stretched the back to meet the front. A bit of a fudge and hence I don’t think I can really count this as a part of my experiment on comparing FBA techniques. Darn, I’ll just have to do more sewing.

The rest of the construction went quite smoothly. The sides look ok, there’s a slight wierdness at one point in each seam if you stare at them, but I don’t think a non sew-er would notice. I hemmed the bottom and cuffs. I read Maria’s tutorial on effective twin needle hems – but it needed stretch interfacing, which I didn’t have (and clearly I needed to finish this t shirt now) so I just used a stretch stitch as last time I tried a twin needle it looked great and then some of the stitches pulled out afterwards as it didn’t stretch. I was careful and used grey thread and sewed on a grew line wherever possible. I also added a neckband (unlike my drape drape t shirts where I just folded the end over and sewed it down as I was befuddled by the directions). What a revelation. No ribbing (there was an option for ribbing), no bias cut pieces, just measure the neckline and cut a length 85% of that, going accross the fabric. It was so easy, and it worked. I even managed a passable attempt at stitching in the ditch to hold the neckband in place. I’m very impressed with this method, lack of ribbing locally is one thing that’s really put me off making t shirts.

Anyway, pretty soon it was done. But importantly, after all that fba faffing, was it worth it? Well, it looks like a t shirt.

Maria Denmark Kimono T shirt

Maria Denmark Kimono T shirt

I’m really happy with my side vents, they came out as intended. This shot also illustrates that due to there being more fabric at the front, the stripes match nicely at the hem (as intended) but go out of sinc as you look up the side seam.

Extra detail

Extra detail

And when I put it on, it fits!

I think this shot successfully illustrates that there's enough fabric at the front

I think this shot successfully illustrates that there’s enough fabric at the front

The length is very long, making me think that I would’ve managed fine with the drafted pattern length. I like the length and I’m going to keep it but another time I might use the suggested length. The vents are a bit of a must as it sits on my hips and needs that extra give, as I didn’t flare it out when I extended it, just continued the line straight down.

and not so bad on pools of fabric at the lower back, if you can see anything at all in hubbie's arty shot

and not so bad on pools of fabric at the lower back, if you can see anything at all in hubbie’s arty shot

I like the fit at the back too – I hoped that having a smaller size overall would help here and it seems it does. Which is good as I want to master FBA’s before I have to try and figure out whatever other mystical sewing arts I need to master (no idea what a Sway Back Adjustment is, yet, but I think I may look into that in the future).

Action shot (jumping with shears not recommended)

Action shot (jumping with shears not recommended)

This ones definitley a keeper. The only issue I’ve had is despite Stitching in the Ditch to hold the neckband in place, the back seam allowance sometimes flips to the outside. Also, if I made it again I may make the neckband a bit deeper, but that’s personal preference. The cutting it straight (not bias) at 85% of the neckline measurement + seam allowance worked really well. I shall henceforth ignore all patterns calling for unobtainable ribbing.

Photobombed (my hand is firmly keeping her from standing where she wants to - right in front of me)

Photobombed (my hand is firmly keeping her from standing where she wants to – right in front of me)

So, dear potential fba novice reading this, is it worth trying a FBA. YES, DEFINITELY, go for it. My top tips are

  • * find a tutorial that makes sense to you – there are loads out there, and try not to switch between them mid make ! (especially late at night)
  • *take a break if it doesn’t make sense (again, especially late at night)
  • *if you’re happy sewing jersey, a tshirt is a fairly forgiving start
  • Let me know if you try it for the first time too. And if you know of any great web resources. And I’m planning to try again to refine my technique, I’ll keep you posted.

    22 thoughts on “Tales of a Full Bust Adjustment Virgin

    1. Pingback: Prolific Project Starter | Brief Encounter

    2. Thank you so much for posting all these resources & your experiences! I still haven’t taken the plunge into FBA territory having recently resorted to putting a dart into a jersey top! It’s ridiculous to be this nervous of a pattern adjustment…

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    4. I admire your bravery. I’m still in the rectangle sewing crew.

    5. OK, as I now realise you’re from the Netherlands I suppose I should explain about the Molly dancing, as most people in the UK probably don’t know what it is. It’s a traditional form of dance from the fenlands of the UK that was basically a way of collecting money (http://mollydancing.com/) and sometimes it looks like this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIG-o9XjggQ (no footage of Countess Isabella’s Automata that I know of – Seven Champions are generally considered a good Molly side, and they dress more tradionally than Countess Isabella’s Automata). Traditionally Molly is danced by men (it would’ve been Farm workers, obviously not many dancers are actually farm workers these days, and indeed many are female, Gog Magog are a mixed side from Cambridge https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sy5NWLCXpLg) and the Molly is a man in drag (i.e. dressed as a woman).

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    8. Great post, thanks for the inspiration, and well done, the t-shirt looks great.

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