Tuesday, June 2, 2015

On Me Made May, self-perception and embracing the FBA

Hello, it's Jane here with a rather long and introspective blog post!

Those of you following The Drapery on Instagram will have seen that we were posting photos for 'Me Made May', an initiative started a few years ago by blogger Zoe of 'So, Zo... what do you know?'. Sewists pledge to wear 'me-made' clothes - as much as they wish to commit to - and document their outfits for the month of May.

Now, I don't know how to link to Instagram since I'm not on there myself but if you are, you can look up The Drapery and have a peek.

Warning: possibly TMI to follow

Now, I'm kind of putting myself out there in this post and examining my body shape and probably providing Too Much Information, but I hope it's useful to sewists out there!

Me Made May is a bit different to sewists posting pretty posed pics of their freshly-made garments. Not that there's anything wrong with that! But MMM shows what really is worn day-to-day, how it's worn, and can be very helpful in identifying most useful garments, wardrobe gaps and so forth. Some items are thrashed, others are dragged out of the wardrobe only for the sake of not having a photo taken in that denim Grainline Moss Skirt and brown leggings again!

Confession time

For me, perhaps the biggest lesson has been to finally address a fitting issue. I've been sewing most of my own garments for six or seven years now. There's a 3.5" difference in my high (across chest right under armpits) and full bust measurement. I'm a pear shape with narrow shoulders and I've never done a Full Bust Adjustment.

Oh, the shame (haha).

But it's taken a series of photos to make me properly take my measurements and realise that for most garments, I should be starting with a much smaller size in the shoulders, making an FBA and working my way down. Duh. Isn't this pretty basic fitting information? I'm not sure why, but I think I was under the impression that you started with your full bust measurement and then did an FBA. (I should take a moment here to point out that neither Fiona nor I are at all professionally trained in this sewing business, we're just enthusiasts who started a shop!)

Perhaps the garment that has made this most obvious to me is this very recent make, a Sewaholic Granville shirt.
I was having a very frumpy coming-down-with-a-cold day and it's hard to tell in the busy floral print. But see the folds of fabric near my armpits? And if you can make out where the sleevehead meets the shoulder, it's probably an inch lower than it should be.

Do you really fit the size?

I thought I'd hit the jackpot with this pattern because my measurements fit almost exactly with the size 12 on the packet. Sewaholic are designed for pear-shapes! I'd pretty much never seen my measurements so accurately reflected. Bring on the champers. Except. Sewaholic is designed for a B-cup. I'm a D.

It's hard to write about these things in non-specific terms! In any case, cup-size is actually a comparative measurement of under-bust to full bust so D-cup in itself doesn't mean that much. Am I making it worse by writing more about it? Hey everybody, look at my lady-mountains!

In any case, if we start with my high bust measurement, I'm nowhere near a straight Sewaholic size 12. My high bust/waist/hip puts me at 4/14/10. Le sigh.

Self-image and averaging of sizing

I believe another factor preventing me from starting with a much smaller size was body self-image. Being a pear-shape with a full bust, I have been locating most of my measurements in the size 12 - 16 range, depending upon the pattern. I'm never going to be a 21 year old size 8 again and I totally accept that. However, by sewing to a kind of 'average' of my measurements, I'm ending up with a bit more frump than flattery.

Here's another MMM photo of something I think is flattering on my shape. Although - note - Plantain top partially falling off narrow shoulders!

Narrow shoulder adjustment versus FBA

For a short time I wondered if a 'narrow shoulder adjustment' on my usual pattern sizes was what I needed. However this would leave me with excess fabric from a large pattern size across my upper and mid-back, when what I really need is just more room in front.

You can take a look at my 'fitting tips' Pinterest Board here, to see the progress of my research.

So, to the FBA, Batman! And I have just the project. An 'event' to attend this Friday, the Christine Haynes Emery Dress pattern and some pink & gold Cotton + Steel linen/cotton.

My First FBA!

I have started with a bodice, going on my high bust measurement, in size 6. If I had gone with my previous 'average' sizing theory I would have been spread across 10 - 14 and probably settled on a 12. Bit of a difference, huh? I performed a 1.75" full bust adjustment as per this excellent tutorial. The only thing I did differently was to restore the waist dart to its original width at the end, rather than widen it, because I need the room for toasted cheese sandwiches and beer.

What I ended up with was a rather gigantic side bust dart, which did not make an ideal shape in my muslin. So I looked up how to divide darts and changed it into two. A second muslin and I was much happier. (Additional fitting adjustments were to lengthen back bodice to match front after FBA, widen slightly at side seams towards waist, widen back shoulder dart, narrow back waist dart and nip out some back bodice length at centre for sway back adjustment - phew!)

Here's my hot mess of a front bodice pattern piece:
The astute among you may notice I haven't added the 'hat' to the top bust dart but frankly there's only so much stickytape this thing can support, and I was running out of steam.
 And here's the less-messy back:

And the fit is pretty good! (And yes, I did muslin up a size 6 sleeve to check I'd retain circulation in my arms.) Fortunately the skirt on this pattern is simply gathered to fit the bodice so no stress on the fit of that. Fingers crossed for a successful full-garment-reveal in a few days.

Is two side bust darts weird?

Do you measure by your high bust or full bust?

Have you ever done an FBA?

Have you ever had any major fitting revelations?

- Jane & Fiona xx


  1. Wow! This is so enlightening! I haven't made many of my own clothes (esp tops) because of always being dissatisfied with the fit. Now in middle age I feel I am only just learning about what suits my body shape. Some of this is perhaps about us becoming more comfortable with who we are and the fact that our bodies are each individual (Duh!) Your post is so helpful and practical and encourages me to have a go at sewing for myself again. Thanks!

    1. Oh that's so good to hear Camilla! Thanks for your feedback. I totally agree that it's about coming to acceptance of our own unique shapes. There's so much emphasis on 'size' and 'weight' of female bodies that it's easy to forget that other shape factors dramatically affect the fit of our clothes. Sewing is a constant learning curve but that's one of the things I love about it! Best of luck with your sewing.

  2. Good for you! I haven't attempted the FBA yet but I know I should. The Curvy Sewing Collective has some great posts about it (including what to do if you end up with gigantic darts).

    1. Thanks Ping! I used the FBA from Curvy Sewing Collective but I haven't had a full browse there, so thanks for the recommendation. I'll go back and read more!

  3. Yeaaaaaah. Right there with ya, sister. My shoulders and back (and rib cage) are still very petite (as I was all over in my 20s) but my full bust measurement and waist measurement, I would be a MUCH larger size than my shoulders. Regardless, I continue to use my actual measurements to find my size, because I am apparently an idiot who will never learn. I have done FBAs, quite a few of them, but I still find them totally intimidating and scary. I don't know, I don't have a comfort level with them, especially for patterns like the Archer, that don't have darts. And when I do FBAs I end up with more fabric in front, which is good for the bosoms but I probably need underbust darts and UGH!

    By the way, I thought you looked absolutely adorable this MMM15. I love your style, and I want to step into this discussion and remind us all that not all clothing needs to be form-fitting to be stylish. Our society has a very limiting idea of "flattering." I'm kind of over it.

    That said, I recently did an FBA (and added a dart) to the Grainline Scout pattern, actually starting with my high bust measurement. I must sew that up and see how I did!

    1. Thank you lovely Inder for your kind and thoughtful comment! So true, clothes don't really need to be 'fitted' to look good. But I felt overall that I tend to gravitate towards the shapeless comfy sack perhaps just a little too much. Mind you, having been wrestling with the fitting of this Emery dress for a few days now, I'm rekindling my love for the sack dress :D I hear you on the excess fabric under the bust, and this has waist darts, thing is, the area there is very convex, and a dart would need to be pretty oddly shaped to get that happening properly. I think I may try some research into dart shapes in 60s fit'n'flare silhouettes. I look forward to seeing how you go with the Scout!

  4. I feel your frustration, I am a DD. And you procrastination as I have never done a FBA either. I used to be a 10B before children and now 9 years later with a stabilised post child body I am a 10DD. At first I just undid top buttons of shirts but now I am realizing that is a massive discrepancy between my shoulder fit and my bust fit. So yes, it the FBA is overdue... I shall take heart from your courage to just get it done.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Rebecca! I'm so glad that sharing this has been helpful. I was very pleased with the fit around the shoulders of this dress once finished, and the bust area was pretty good too, I think I just need to work on shape and positioning of darts to get the under-bust area working better. But it's been quite a revelation for me and I can't believe it's taken me this long. I do think the post-children-body image confusion has a bit to do with it for me, too.

  5. Oh how I love the FBA.
    I have done it to my Liesl+Co Late Lunch tunic and since made 3!
    I am also a convert to the calico muslin as my poor body is some what rooted.

    I adore that groovy black pinny you were rocking.


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