Fun with FBAs

(Apologies to my Dutch readers - I haven't had time to translate this post yet...) 

Didn't know that you could have fun with FBAs? Read on! My experience with FBAs (full bust adjustments) has so far not been entirely positive or successful. The resulting altered patterns have often been too large - possibly because I start with a too-large base pattern. So when I decided to make the Jalie 2005 t-shirt (a downloaded pattern), I didn't want to do an FBA until I tested the pattern as is. I traced and cut a W at the shoulders, sleeves and armscye, then widened to a Z from the bust down (although my measurements are X at waist and hips). The resulting t-shirt is wearable but there is bunching under the sleeve and still some pulling across the bust. So I thought darts would have to come into play...

Possibly influenced by a recent bout of origami, and well-known to be a mad miniaturist, I thought it would be helpful to try out the FBA on a little paper model first (I also remember reading about using a paper model to test construction on someone's blog). A day later my little paper model has turned into ten little paper models! I used exactly the same basic "pattern" (a rough copy of my Jalie t-shirt front about 5"/12cm high) and tried all the FBA methods I could lay my hands on. I didn't realise that there were so many different methods and that their results would differ so much!

My original pattern with bust apex point and the basic adjustment lines marked

I started with the books on my shelf - McCall's Sewing in Colour (1963) and Simplicity Sewing Book (1969), and my Marcy Tilton Where did you get that T-shirt? CD. Then I referred to Debbie's excellent website.

Debbie's method (identical to Palmer/Pletsch); McCall's; Marcy Tilton
Can you see the difference in the resulting shapes? Debbie's method also adds width at the waist and hip, while this is minimised in the McCall's method; but McCall's adds extra width towards the shoulder. Marcy Tilton's method of adding a dart to reduce a gaping armhole (and rotated to a bust dart here) adds a bit of bust space but not much.

I thought that maybe some new developments might have taken place since 1969 9incidentally, the year I was born), so last night I looked up Palmer and Pletsch's Fit for Real People* on Amazon. I love those "Look Inside" books! If you don't have this book, do yourself a favour and look it up on Amazon, then buy it. That's what I'm going to do.

Simplicity; Palmer/Pletsch with bust dart; Palmer/Pletsch with dart rotated out
Here you can see the results of the 1969 Simplicity adjustment and the standard Palmer/Pletsch FBA, both with a bust dart added. The third pic shows what the pattern piece looks like after I followed Debbie's instructions to rotate the bust dart out and redraw the side seam.This pattern contains no darts at all, but incorporates additional bust space, while keeping the shoulder narrow. This FBA adds width at the waist and hips, whereas the Simplicity method doesn't change the waist/hips at all.

The other fitting guru I know about is Sandra Betzina, so this morning I thought I'd give her method a go, also courtesy of Amazon - I used Power Sewing Step-by-Step*. Her method looked so advanced and complicated that I was convinced it would give superior results (yes, I'm  like that).

Sandra Betzina
As you can see in the first pattern above, her method involves multiple slashes along the armhole seam and results in a very weirdly shaped armscye (on paper at least). I have the feeling it will work better with a small FBA, not the huge one I have demonstrated here. In the third pattern, I added a bust dart at the same time as making the FBA. Sandra's example pattern already has a bust dart in place.

Sandra Betzina vs. Palmer/Pletsch
Here I compare the SB and P/P results - the SB adjustment seems to add a lot of space above the bust, pushing the armhole to the outside. I don't think that this is where I need more space. Has anyone tried this method?

After doing all of this, I feel much more confident about what doing an FBA entails, and also think I may be able to choose the method that suits me best. I don't think any of the techniques is "right" or "wrong" but that each has its advantages, and depending on your specific shape, one of them will give you the best results. If you need more space in the waist and hips, the P/P FBA might work best, while the Simplicity method would work if you only need additional bust space, but the pattern needs to fit snugly in the waist and hips.

Now back to my real pattern!

*I am an Amazon Associate member, so clicking on this link will take you directly to Amazon. If you buy the book, I will get a small amount of credit with Amazon, which I can some day redeem on a purchase from them. I only recommend books because I think they're good, not because Amazon asks me to!


  1. K.Line said

    I'm amazed by the amount of work and effort - and skill! - you've put into these different adjustment methods. I have the PP book and have read it (I also have the Full Bust CD) and it looks like a complicated method to figure out, though once you've got it you've got it. (I actually have bought the McCall's fit pattern that PP recommends you use as your sample garment. Apparently, once you know your FBA it is consistent in most woven garments - unless your shape changes.)

    From your hard work in this post, I can tell that the PP method will likely suit me better than any of the others because I'm narrow everywhere but in my chest. To FBA in such a way that adds width to my waist/hips or armscye would not be helpful (pattern depending), I think.

    Thanks so much for posting. I know who to bug when I"m trying to figure all of this out in detail. :-)

    hilde said

    Wow, really great work! I'm going to bed now but am definitely coming back to re-read this. I think in FFRP they leave it up to you to decide wether to remove the additional width in the waist/hips by creating/adjusting a vertical dart. They do explain it as the final step of the FBA IIRC.

    Jos said

    Thanks for this extensive and highly instructive presentation. What a difference with each method! Which method are you going to use in your real pattern?

    Jan said

    Thank you! I spent all morning looking at FBAs online and ended up trying the McCalls. I made a muslin, and while not perfect, I'm sure headed in the right direction for a simple top. Woohoo!!!

    Tina said

    Thanks! Glad this helped someone.

    Jackie Goff said

    I love this review! I need a FBA on every pattern and am so confused why one method doesn't work every time. Thanks so much for posting.

    Rachel said

    Thanks. This is really helpful. I'd add one version with similar result to the Marcy Tilton as you describe it (i.e. gets rid of gape at armhole but doesn't add more bust width). I think in this link, the pattern ease is being taken up by a full bust. Still not sure which FBA I wil try, but your post helps so much to think through this various choices!

    Anonymous said

    this is something that I"m going to have to play with. The last fitted garment that I made (Butterick), I used an 18 back and a 22 front with an additional FBA. It worked, but ....... :-S

    Ramona said

    Wow! You have done a lot of work here. I love it and may have to try this myself. FBA's are my bane in life. I have never made it work. Maybe this will lead to more success.

    Alison Edwards said

    This is amazing! I've only tried an fba once and while the bodice was a perfect fit, fitting the sleeves was a disaster. For some reason the armholes were way too small even though the fba wasn't supposed to affect that. Maybe I'll try one of these methods. Thanks!

Post a Comment