Friday, April 13, 2012

A Fitting Journey: Part One

Hello and Happy Friday to you!  Amazingly enough, there have been several evenings this week when I've had the time and energy to do sewing related activities after dinner. Mostly, it's been serving as relaxation for me, always a good thing, right? I'm in the mood to work on shirt fitting, one of my major sewing goals being to fit my upper body.  Hence my little sketch above. (I just have to mention - I used the app 'Paper' by 53 on my iPad to sketch that - it's a well designed app, very cool IMO.)

So with this post, I invite you to come along with me on my shirt fitting journey. Refining the fit on a basic shirt pattern is important to me. I need shirts, and I especially need shirts that fit well.

I must warn you, though. If you have no desire or need to walk down the sometimes challenging road of pretty-damn-big full bust alterations (FBA), then you may want to stop reading now, because this is going to primarily be about my bust fit. Yeah, I'll throw some shoulder in there, maybe some back and hip, but I will be elaborating on bust fit. There will be muslining, it may be slow going, but it will be a learning experience.   I am on a mission to fit my girls!

Background info:
I've got an hourglass figure, overly endowed on top. My FBA is a challenging one due to my (relatively) narrow back, narrow and bony torso, and really large breasts. My bra size is a 36 I or 36 J in US sizing, which equates to a 36 GG in the UK bra brands I typically wear. Some people have a lot of breast tissue on the side, up into the axilla. Not me - I am all up front - no back fluff, no side fluff. All the fluff is up front.

I've read a myriad of books and online tutorials on bust fitting. To date, I have yet to find any source that addresses fitting women who, like myself, have really large breasts. So I must take those principles I've learned from various sources and extrapolate to find my own personal best method.  Please keep in mind that my methods may not work for everyone, nor is it necessarily 'the right way'.  Take from it what you will.  I am sharing this in the hopes it will be helpful to someone out there.

Along the way, I will try to show what the limitations have been for me when using a resource book or method when it comes to super sizing the bust area, and where I've had to extrapolate. The most helpful thing I have learned, both by experience and by taking a bust fitting class on PR, is that my shape is particularly well suited to a shoulder princess seamed shirt.  Not really an armscye princess, though.

The Pattern:
The pattern I will be using is Butterick 5678, View D. Shoulder princess, long sleeve, collared shirt, with separate pattern pieces for cup sizes through a D cup. Of course I'll begin with the D cup piece - such a big help right out of the gate.  It will automatically reduce the size of the FBA I need to do by a few inches. I cut a size 16, D cup front. {Normally I cut a 14. In this style, I opted for a 16 for a variety of reasons.  This may lead to the need for a narrow shoulder adjustment.} For this first part of the journey, I am working only with 3 pieces - the front, the side front, and the back. I cut the original tissue, then traced onto Swedish tracing paper. By the time I mutilate make alterations on the pieces, I will be most thankful I took a few minutes to trace these pieces.

Ready?  Ok then, let's delve into this.

Do you tissue fit patterns?  Sometimes I do, other times I do not, but in this case I think it is a good thing.  I am using Fit for Real People (FFRP).  The book uses tissue fitting extensively, and discusses how to do it, giving lots of examples.  I first traced off my main bodice pieces, transferring the markings, taping curves on the seam line, and clipping curves to the seam line.  Wearing a close fitting tee, and following FFRP's method of tissue fitting, I first determined that my bust point or apex needed to come down 2 inches. (Yikes...damn gravity.)  It is important to get the bust point corrected before making any other alterations.   Here is how I moved the bust point - step by step.  (Click all pics to enlarge.)

Draw a rectangle on the front PP (marked in red), from above to below the notches (marked in green). Cut out.

Move straight down the amount needed to correct the apex position. Notice the squares on my pinnable worktable are 1 inch. 

Place some tissue in the open area (outlined in blue) and tape it on.  Be generous, as you will need to 'true up' the cutting lines.

'True up' - redraw your cutting line following the shape of the original line.  You can overlay your original pattern piece, matching notches, to assist.

Is all that clear?  Hope so.  Not done yet, though...still have to fix the apex on the side front pp.

Same basic idea here.  Catching in both nothches, draw a rectangular-ish shape and cut it out, then move it down the same amount as on the other pp.  Generously add in extra tissue to prepare to true up your lines. 
It is at this point that my picture deviates a bit from the book.  The book shows a small change.  Two inches is a fair amount, so the lines look wacky after moving and taping your rectangle.  You want to maintain the same curvature and lines of the pp, just a little lower.  Read on, and I will show how I did that.
Overlay the original pp on the tissue you are altering.  Match the notches, not the shoulders.  Trace the curve - the green line shows where I traced the curvature.
But then you get to a point near the waist where the original tissue isn't exactly lined up properly, but you still want the proper line.  What to do?
Pivot.  See the pin to the right where the green line begins?  Remove all other pins, leaving just that one.  Pivot, then trace the remaining pattern line.  All trued up - now just trim the edges off.

Now we see the side front (left) and center front (right) pp's, bust points lowered, lines trued up.  

Next another try on to make sure I got the apex right, and to move on to measuring for my FBA.

Apex is in a good position.  Note that the princess seam is too far to the side.  That is where the FBA will come in next.

Green line shows actual center front (CF).  The remaining tissue to the left of the green line is facing.  The center front needs to line up with my center front. Pinned the CF and the side seam to my tee, unpinning the princess seam to allow for this.

After pinning tissue CF to my CF, I measured from seam line to seam line  in a few spots.

I placed a horizontal pin through both bodice front pieces to indicate where I needed to begin adding in tissue.  Measured the bust gap, again, seam line to seam line.

Second tissue fitting shows the apex consistent with mine.  Good.  So then I unpinned the princess seam line until the center front on the pattern tissue was lined up at my center front (pinned to my tee at CF and SS) and lying properly.  Then I measured from seam line to seam line and recorded the amount I needed to add.  I placed a pin at the uppermost spot where I needed to add tissue.

After marking all of this, I fitted the side front and front pieces individually.  The princess seam should lie right down the center of the breast, or slightly to the arm side.  I wanted to make sure my seam would be in the right place, which required an unequal distribution of added tissue between the two pattern pieces.  Dividing the amount needed equally between the two pieces would not necessarily bring that seam to the right spot in this case.  No pics of this - I just measured from seam line on pattern to where I want the seam to lay on my body, and recorded those.  Then, it is back to the worktable to make flat pattern alterations, including the FBA.

That's all for now, but I will be back with the next step in my fitting journey, the FBA.

Happy altering,




  1. You can't imagine how grateful I am that I am fairly easy to fit. Holy Shat. How long did it take you to figure all this out?

  2. Is it PC to say here that I am so. so. SO grateful that I have what could best be described as an 'average' bust? More power to all the curvy ladies out there, but sometimes "average" is just perfect ;~)

    Wishing you luck with the perfect fit!

  3. Andrea-- this is so awesome! I will definitely be looking to this as a guide when I find time to attempt another woven top (hopefully soon!). I always have to do a pretty beefy FBA as well, and have felt seriously challenged as I try to make a good fit for myself. My last knit top involved me digging out three different books (and a couple of online tutorials) to try and help me feel confident in the adjustments I was making. And that was a knit! Wovens are scary.

    Anyway-- I am following along with bated breath. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experiences! :)


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