An epic small bust adjustment story...part 4

A revelation on choosing the correct pattern size


When I saw the latest offering from New Zealand-based company 'Papercut Patterns' I was smitten. The Clover dress, a collaboration with designer Brooke Tyson, looked like an easy to wear and (seemingly) easy to fit garment - exactly the type of pattern I'm always attracted to. I really loved the shape and the slouchy 'casual but stylish' look.

It's the kind of style that works best in fabrics that drape well, such as those hard-to-come by soft woven rayon/cotton blends with a teeny bit of stretch. As luck would have it I had a huge black piece of rayon/cotton blend in my stash that I thought would be perfect for Clover. I was also totally taken and inspired by Anneke's amazing black version!

I didn't make a muslin (slap on the wrists) and just sewed up the straight size XXS as my measurements correspond to that size. This led me into troubled waters: the neckline and bust area were really huge while the back and shoulders were verging on the tight side! Argh!



I didn't want my nice fabric to have gone to waste and was determined to get something wearable out of the whole escapade so I managed to make it work with some (unadvisable) improvised post-sewing tweaking and cutting to alter the neckline. It still droops a bit but it is not a total disaster and I really like the end result.

But what troubled me more was that at first I couldn't work out why this pattern hadn't worked for me. If my bust measurement matches the bust measurement on the pattern where did I go wrong?



Drumroll please...cue another revelation on small bust adjustments (SBAs).....!

(You can read my previous ramblings on SBAs here, here, and here.)

Thanks to Tilly's tutorial on the SBA for the Fran├žoise dress and this Colette post on SBAs, more pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place.

While I knew that determining whether you needed a small bust adjustment involved your high bust measurement, and I'd also heard it suggested that starting with a larger bodice size before doing an SBA was an option, I'd never considered that you should choose your pattern size based on your high bust measurement, let alone why that would even make sense.

Here's what I learnt in a nutshell:
1) Find out the difference between your pattern's high bust measurement (around upper chest just under the armpits) and full bust measurement. For Tilly's patterns this is 5cm; Colette patterns 7.5cm.

2) To choose the pattern size (for the bodice area at least - you can always grade between sizes if it is a dress and you want a different size around the waist and hips) take your high bust measurement and add this difference to that measurement. This measurement is then your imaginary bust measurement. Pick your pattern size based on it - this means that although it will be too big at the bust it will fit around the upper chest, neck, and shoulders.

3) Carry out an SBA to take away the difference between your imaginary bust measurement and your real one.

Understanding this helps me realise why the Clover dress probably didn't fit right, and indeed why the Belladone dresses I made earlier this year are definitely verging on the slightly-too-tight around the armholes and chest.

So now I'll retrace the Clover and Belladone in the correct size to see if that helps. Fingers crossed!

Of course, the main stumbling point is whether you know what the difference is between the high bust and the full bust on a pattern. But how can we find this out if it is not indicated? Is 5cm the standard difference?







  1. Interesting! I have a feeling that I should do FBAs, but I seem to have got away with it so far. Feeling confident that I'm wearing the correct bra size in the first place would help a lot! This seems useful for figuring out FBAs too, so thank you. With regards to the difference between high and full bust measurements, Colette patterns fit a C cup, so, logically that would make Tilly's pattern measurements right for a B cup. Most patterns are drafted for a B as far as I know (big four are), although perhaps Deer and Doe are also C - I can't remember, it might be BHL or someone completely different. I have no idea how you find this kind of information out.

    I'm glad you sorted the fit out on this dress - it's really cute on you. Brussels is also looking very nice and autumnal. Sniffle... I miss Brussels and I don't have any time to sew - life is very hard for me right now!

    1. Glad the post was useful!

      Brussels was looking so nice and autumnal when I took those picturesl! :) Now it is a bit more grey....but still lovely.

      Aw having no time to sew sucks :( Hope you find some time soon! I'm really enjoying your wardrobe architect posts by the way - I still have not properly finished it! I got stumped on the first week!

  2. Ooo, this is such an interesting post because I have this problem too, but in reverse. I have narrow shoulders/upper chest, and a larger bust. Have you ever come across a fitting book called "Fit For Real People"? That book is the reason I'm still sewing, because I would have given it up otherwise. The book tells us to fit from the shoulders down, and to use the high bust measurement, and then do a SBA/FBA if necessary. But I have yet to find a pattern that gives the high bust measurement. This fitting business can be very frustrating sometimes!

    Your dress is lovely, and yey to sorting out the fitting issues!

    1. Glad you found the post helpful!

      I've heard of the book but don't own it yet - think I'll add it to my Christmas list as so many people seem to swear by it!

      Yeah I find fitting can be both a headache and really enjoyably geeky! :)