February 24, 2017

Solving Bodice Fit Issues with Help from the Internet

Look carefully, can you see the flaws in the fit? You don't really have to look that carefully actually. The darts aren't pointing to the true apex, they are too long/tall and actually come up to/over the apex. The whole front seems to be riding up in general, a forward shoulder issue perhaps? There is a ton of excess fabric at the front armhole, you could pinch a whole 'nother dart there above the bust at the armscye. As a result this dress is one of my least favorite, which is a shame because I love the color and the neckline!

I have long had a basic 2 dart bodice pattern that has served as my sloper for drafting almost everything I sew for myself. The problem is, the fit wasn't right, so now the fit is off for nearly everything I have drafted the past few years. Wow. I am not proud you guys, but to be fair I didn't exactly know where I had been going wrong. It can be hard to fit oneself, and though I have a degree in apparel design and production, they never gave a single class on fitting or tailoring! Crazy!

It was while I was trying to draft a bolero jacket pattern last year that I finally gave up on my old pattern. It wasn't right, I finally had to admit defeat and take the time to fix the darn sloper so I could have something correct to work with. So several yards of muslin later, and 16+ hours of time invested in one darn pattern, I wanted to tell you all what I learned along the way.

Knowing so little about fit, or how to fix it, where did I start? Well, knowing as least that I was having some issues with the bust and apex, I started searching the web for those with similar issues and stumbled upon something called a Full Bust Adjustment. A FBA is done on patterns to add more ease for the bust without changing the rest of the fit (shoulders/armscye/waist). Since most commercial patterns are drafted with an "average" cup size in mind, often a FBA (and for some a Small Bust Adjustment too of course) is necessary to improve the fit for those with a larger bust measurement compared to their other measurements. Well since my bust and waist are 10 inches different, I decided this could be just the thing I needed to fix my pattern woes.

So I cut out and made up a muslin of my then current pattern as a reference. Then I did a 1 inch wide FBA on my pattern and made up another muslin with that new pattern. The tutorial to do the FBA I used was from a lovely blog called Curvy Sewing Collective and can be accessed here.

Now muslin is thin, flimsy and molds to the body quite easily, especially when you are trying to fit yourself all by yourself and are simply pinning the back closed as best you can on your own. *ahem* Which is my only explanation for why I thought this 1 inch FBA had worked and kept going. (eek) Next I pinched the excess out from above the bust in the armscye area. This excess gets pinched into a dart on the muslin and then transferred onto the paper pattern. This new "dart" gets slashed and spread so that the fullness is moved into the side dart therefore keeping the area smooth (instead of actually adding another dart). I got this idea from this tutorial from a blog called In House Patterns.

Then I made the third and final muslin ("final") and naively thought I had fixed everything! Remember this outfit post?...

...when I said I had tried and failed to make a red sateen top to match the red circle skirt? Yeah, well I did try and make a matching sateen top with my newly "fixed" pattern. The finished top showed off all of the new fit problems I had accrued in my fixing that the thinner muslin had not. The bust was now too big! Great...I had used too much ease when doing the FBA, 1 inch had clearly been too much. I thew away the nice thick card version I had made of my fancy "new" pattern and was catapulted back to square one.

Well not totally, at least I had an idea of the kind of fixes that were needed, I just had to do them all over again :(

So I waited a few weeks for the sting of failure to fade away, and then this past week devoted an entire day's work to finally tackling the pattern once more.

First I did the FBA again, this time only widening the pattern 1/2 and inch. I cut out another muslin (keeping track? That's the 5th muslin if you count the failed red top, and let me tell you- I do!) and tried it on. This FBA seemed to have worked better. The difference between this new muslin and the one I had made with the 1 inch FBA? After all, I had foolishly thought that one fit hadn't I? The darts were sitting smoother, the darts on the one that was secretly too large did have a little fold-ish thing going on at the dart seam that I only noticed on the muslin after it was very obvious in the red top. With the FBA re-done, it was time to take out that same dart's worth of excess at the upper bust/armscye.

So for some stupid reason I was trying be cautious and not remove too much here in this "dart". I transferred what I had pinched on the muslin onto the paper, slashed and spread that fullness (this time sharing it between both the side dart and the waist dart) which of course distorted the armscye a bit. It concerned me, should I really be changing the armscye so much? So I didn't use the full pinch's worth of fullness (hindsight facepalm) and left a bit of the fullness there above the bust just in case that was somehow needed ease. So I then smoothed out the armscye and used my pattern to cut out muslin number 6!

Of course since I hadn't removed all of that fullness, when I tried on this muslin no. 6 it was, not surprisingly...still there! Wow, amazing. So I peeled off the tape and actually moved all of the fullness into the two darts. Honestly, it's like I was trying to make the process take longer.

So on muslin 6 I decided that some problems only appeared when I set a sleeve into the bodice, so I cut out my standard sleeve pattern and set one into the muslin to see what it did then. There was still a bit of a strange fold of ease in the shoulder/armscye area, but it was a different kind of fold from the one I had just conquered. This time it was a straight up and down little pull of ease that seemed to be caused by the shoulder seam. So I took a look at my shoulder seam and began to wonder, where exactly is the shoulder seam supposed to sit? How am I supposed to know where the "side seam" of my darn body is? Why is the sky blue anyways? What is the meaning of life?

The answer is to go get another cup of coffee and then dive back into the internet.

Enter in this video. So perhaps my problem was forward thrusted shoulder, and honestly my posture is so horrible that it is quite likely. I thought looking at my pattern that somehow my original pattern had been "corrected" in the past for this issue but over corrected so that my shoulder line was off in the opposite way the video suggested for correcting this issue. So I fiddled with the shoulder until that new straight fold went away in my next, yes 7th, muslin. I also had tried to perfect the fit of the armscye (without knowing how to) by cutting off a bit of width in the front shoulder. I cut off something like what you see in red below, and cut that off on my 7th muslin too before trying another sleeve. Then I immediately noted that it was the wrong choice and added it back on (geeze, honestly...).

I not only added that sliver of oops back on, but I extended the shoulder out a 1/2 further and smoothed that excess into the armscye too. It turned out I had needed to add to this area as opposed to taking it away!

So though I now had my 7th muslin fitting quite well, I knew I had been burned by muslin once before! So I cut out my new pattern in some spare quilting cotton which is a bit thicker and certainly has more substance than cheap old muslin. It would not have surprised me if this last mock-up (muslin 8 if you will) failed miserably like the red sateen top had, but instead...it worked! Sure it wasn't absolutely perfect, but nothing ever is, and the major issues had been resolved! Wahoo! I feel much better about the pattern and can finally draft and sew new things with confidence that that awful shoulder/upper bust fold of doom won't be there!

Also I seem to have left out another important detail! In the past year or so I have started wearing pointier more vintage shaped bra (the Bali Flower), so of course I wore my "vintage" shaped bra underneath all of these muslins as that is the style of bra I wear with all of my reproduction vintage clothing. Make sure to wear the correct foundation garments you will be wearing underneath the final garment when fixing the fit! I'm not really sure if there are specific fit issues associated with actually going for a pointier bust shape, but I'll assume there are. For example I think my dart points end a bit closer to the apex than they would were I to be fitting for a modern round bust shape. The pointer shape is what I'm after, so if my bodice is a bit pointy that is actually a good thing! Has anyone else ever encountered vintage bust silhouette specific advice for pattern fitting?

Anyways, I thought I would recount this saga for you all today in order to tell you that A) even long time seamstresses make mistakes and are impatient (so no worries if you are new to sewing and are confused by stuff, so am I and I have been doing this quite intensely for 10+ years now), and B) in case any of you have/are experiencing similar fit issues and don't know how to solve them! Neither did I, but with lots of googling I have created a new pattern I am so much happier with!

Other fit resources I came across in my searches that were helpful:

Oh and happy Friday everybody, have a good weekend!


  1. I have nothing relevant to say about the actual issue at hand, but that first photo is giving me life. Love the red hat and whatever is going on with your makeup.

    1. Thank you! I love straw hats so summer hat season is my favorite <3 The make-up look is mostly just too much light for the photos, so that worked out well for the look ha!

  2. That is so great that you have been able to create a pattern that works!
    Fitting is the bane of my existence. I always get to some fitting problem halfway through and then just end up quitting :( I got a Craftsy class on making a sloper, but only got part way through. . . I really should start that again. . .
    Thanks for recounting your story and sharing this information. Misery loves company, I guess, but it is nice to know I am not the only one with fitting issues.
    And on another note- I always love your sewing projects, and hope one day to be as proficient as you are!
    The Artyologist

    1. Thank you Nicole! I think it's part of the reason I don't use commercial patterns, because I would have to make a muslin and fix the fit every time and I just couldn't bear that! Now that I have a working sloper I can use it to create any style I need and know it will fit, time consuming but worth it!

  3. I, too, have fiddled nigh-endlessly with FBAs... later to discover that at least half of my problems were coming from having a narrow back! (Teeny rib cage, big boobs. Gotta love my genetics). Thank heaven for thrift-store sheets for making mockups!

    1. Dealing with fit irks me because I know ten minutes with a master seamstress/tailor and they could locate all of my fit issues and solve them so easily, but when we look at everything ourselves (on ourselves!) it is so easy to be blind to what needs fixing! Thrifted sheets is a great solution!

  4. Well, I'm impressed that you kept going through all that and got it to work in the end. I would have thrown it across the room and had a sulk for quite some time! I can see that it is worth the work to get something to fit well and I hope you can just go on and make lovely things now.

    1. Oh there was sulking....and complaining ;)

  5. Yes, the sting of defeat. I know it well. As a quantitative/mathematical sort of person, I have this (badly misguided) expectation that all the care taken measuring & transferring to the pattern will (should!) result in decent (if not perfect) fit on the first pass. Sigh. It doesn't help that I'm bad at measuring myself. Well, pressing on... I really appreciated this post and the references at the end. Thank you.

    1. I hate making mock-ups, so I am always wishing things would just work out on the first try! No such luck ;)

  6. I was taught by my mum, who unlike me fit standard patterns. I discovered the FBA decades ago, along with shortening pieces for my slightly less than petite height. However it is only in the last few years, after half a dozen or so Craftsy fitting classes, that I feel like I am mastering my fitting challenges. An idea from here, another from there, the realisation that some of the standard fitting rules (like not reducing length at the waistline) are just wrong for my shape. For many of us, good fit is the hardest thing to achieve, but not so often discussed. So thank you for sharing your journey.

    1. Fit can definitely be a terrible beast to get just right, I really wish they had offered more coursework (or umm...any) on the subject while I was at university for apparel design!


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