Following on from my articles about choosing a size and making a toile when dressmaking I wanted to now go into more detail about adaptations and changes you can make to sewing patterns to make them bespoke to you are your body - with the ultimate aim of getting what you feel like is a good fit.
This specific article will focus on the bust area of sewing patterns. It is a big topic and instead of ‘recreating the wheel’ and explaining adjustments or adaptations that can affect this area myself, I have pulled together a list of resources that already exist that you can use to apply to your project, whatever that may be.
This is a specialist area and therefore you shouldn’t be hard on yourself if you find it difficult to understand or interpret. People study to get qualifications and degrees in this sort of thing, so see learning about it as a journey and an additional skill that you are learning, that will develop over time, and with practice you will get better at it!
Before we go into the details I wanted to cover a few key points that overarch all of this.
There is such a thing as ‘over fitting’ your handmade garments and over analysing every angle, every crease, drag line and pull in the fabric. Remember that your garments need to allow you to move, sit down comfortably, walk, bend over etc etc, so depending on the fabric you are using and the style of the garment bear this in mind. There is no benefit to making it fit perfectly when you are standing still looking in the mirror, when in reality you will be moving around and generally living in your clothes.
There isn't necessarily a one rule fits all people and all situation when it comes to making pattern adjustments. Sometimes they might be needed, other times they might not.
Depending on the garment and fabric you are using you might find that sometimes you don’t need to make an adjustment. For example if it's a loose style garment or it’s made of stretchy fabric the overall fit might be more forgiving than a more fitted garment in a woven fabric.
You might notice common themes in the adaptations that you make. For example, you might discover that you tend to have a long/short body and therefore need to routinely adjust the length of the garments you make. When you first start out this might feel like a hard thing to work out, but the more you make and the more you do this adjustment, the easier it gets to repeat and predict that the results will be what you want them to be.
The most common bust adjustments for the bust is a Full Bust Adjustment (FBA) and a Small Bust Adjustment (SBA). This is typically required for sewing patterns that have been drafted for a dressmakers B cup, which takes account of a 2” difference between the high and full bust. If you have more or less that a 2” difference between the high and full bust measurement then you will need to adjust the bust area of the pattern to take account of that.
Another sign that you need a bust adjustment will be if you have tightness and drag lines over the bust and above the bust area coming from under the arms, or you feel like there is excess fabric over the bust area.
A common mistake here is that if you have a full bust, you make a bigger size, which means the garment is then too big across the shoulders and upper back so you might feel like you are wearing a sack. A bust adjustment allows for extra fabric in the front of the garment, over the bust, but keeps the arm holes and shoulder area the same.
The good news is that it’s becoming much more common that independent pattern companies offer different ‘dressmaker cup’ options with their size ranges so in certain cases this can mean a bust adjustment is not needed. You can check out my article that focuses on Dressmaker Cup sizes for more details and a list of pattern companies that offer multiple cup options within their size range.
There are lots of bust adjustment tutorials out there and essentially all of them will be teaching the same principle, but depending on the dart situation of your pattern and what fabric you are using, there will be slightly different ways to do it.
It's also worth bearing in mind that everybody explains and in turn learns in different ways. So despite the end point being the same, you may find that one tutorial is easier for you to understand than another and this will be a very individual thing.
Perhaps you have a pattern company that you have made several patterns from before and find their way of explaining things makes more sense to you than another company.
Here I have summarised some of the resources out there, but the list is not exhaustive and there are many more!
If you find that you do need to make a bust adjustment, a good place to start is to see if the pattern you are making has a 'sewalong' on the pattern companies website. Often there will be a post on making adaptions to the pattern and it can be helpful to see how to do the adjustment on the actual pattern you are making, rather than having to apply a generic tutorial to your project.
For example, here is one that is all about making bust adjustments specifically to the Megan Nielsen Durban Jumpsuit pattern.
Most of the major indie pattern companies have a LOT of free resources that are specific to each pattern they have, so it can be a really helpful to get applied explanation and tuition in the specific pattern you are making.
Claire-Louises' tutorial works though different examples of measurements, with clear technical illustrations.
This comprehensive tutorial from Seamwork cover 4 different types of bust adjustment
This Beginners guide to full bust adjustments on The Curvy Sewing Collective Blog is a photographed based tutorial. So if you find actual photos of what it will look like when you recreate the steps at home, this might help you out more than the technical drawing based tutorials.
This tutorial on the Tilly and the Buttons blog has clear illustrations outlining the steps needed to make the bust adjustment. If you have used Tillys patterns before and find her way of explaining things super clear, then this could be the one for you.
It also covers how to move the dart vertically on the bodice as well.
Helens Closet is also well know for her clear instructions and tutorials and has several bust adjustment related tutorials on her blog including How to do a full bust adjustment without any darts. If you like her style of instruction there are a LOT of resources to check out that can be applied to her patterns as well as other similar patterns.
Cashmerette break down making a full bust adjustment into several posts, all linked here, starting with how to calculate the size of your FBA with specific examples worked through so you can see how to apply the calculations.
They also have an online course on 'Fitting for Curves - Pattern Adjustments for the upper body'
There may be instances where you don’t need to accommodate for a full or large bust but the bust dart itself might be in the wrong position. For example, it might be too high or too low in relation to where the apex of your bust is. Or it might not be pointing in the right direction so it causes like a sort of bubble around the bust area.
The best place to start in this instance is checking to see if your pattern has the apex of the bust marked on the pattern. It might not be, but if there is a dart, then the apex is usually and inch or so towards the centre front from where the point of the dart is.
You can try holding the pattern up against your body and drawing in where YOUR own bust apex is, then seeing where this is in relation to the dart and where it points.
You may then want to cut the dart out and move it up or down, or keep the legs of the dart where they are and just slightly change where the point of the dart is so that it’s in a better position to the apex of your bust.
Again, there are a variety of tutorials and resources that explain this simple method of slightly changing the dart that can overall make a big difference to the fit and finish of your garment.
This clear tutorial from Cashmerette has photographs of how to make the alternation on a darted bodice, using one of their simple top patterns as an example - the Springfield Top.
Another photograph based tutorial of how to change the height of a bust dart.
I hope you have found this summary of resources useful in helping you navigate bust adjustments. Originally I was going to include shoulder/back adjustments in this post too but it started to get a bit long!
It's next on my list, so watch out for my next article in this series that will cover shoulder adjustments, back adjustments and neckline adjustments.
Your burning questions answered!