Saturday, June 27, 2009

Parfait SBA, S'il Vous Plait!

So, I've been promising a tutorial on a small bust adjustment for the Parfait dress from Colette Patterns, and here it is.

Here's what you need:

-a colored pen or pencil
-two pattern pieces: the front bodice and the front midriff
-seam gauge or clear ruler

In a nutshell, what you have to do is try on the pattern tissue, pinch out bust fullness, and then transfer those changes on the flat pattern. Make any sense?

To start, we're going to do a tissue fitting of the front bodice. At the seam allowances, pin together the front bodice pattern piece and the midriff piece. Very important: for the fitting, wear the bra that you plan to wear while wearing the dress. Also layer on top a very snug camisole or slip that so you can pin the pattern to you.

Pin the pattern piece to your camisole at center front, the side seam, and the top of the bodice, where the strap tab will connect. Don't forget to account for the 5/8" seam allowance.

As you can see, I've got some bagginess going on in the bust.

And on the side. See how the paper is wrinkling and standing away from my body? We need to get that sucker in.

We're going to temporarily pin the bagginess out in 2 places: 1) the side bust, where a bust dart would usually be, and 2) the top of the bust, extending from the armhole.

The first thing you need to do, though, is to mark the apex of your bust. Books often refer to the apex as the fullest part of your bust. An easier way to think of it is where your nipple is. There, I said it. All decorum is out the window now!

Use a pin to mark the apex. (I forgot to mark mine while I was wearing it, but you get the point, right? [Hee hee. Point.])

Now, start pinching out extra fullness in the bust, first at the side, then at the armhole. Have your tucks radiate toward the apex. Here's how it will look:

And a view from the side:

When you're satisfied with your fit, take the tissue off and set it on your work space. Mark your apex with a circle. Use a seam gauge to measure the depth of each of your tucks at the widest part of the tuck. (You only measure one side, so you're getting half the amount you tucked out).

Record your measurements.
Here are mine:

Tuck at armhole: 5/8 inch
Tuck at side bust: 1 - 3/8 inch

Keep your measurements handy, and remove all pins from the tissue. Smooth out the front bodice piece. Now you're going to mark two lines to alter on your pattern.

First, imagine where a bust dart would be if this pattern had one. Extend a line horizontally from the apex point. (You'll see that I apparently had trouble locating my apex--oops!-- so there are two circles. Only pay attention to the one in pen, with the lines extending from it.)

Second, mark a point halfway up the armhole. Extend a line from the apex to this point.

Cut these lines, leaving a hinge at the apex.

Overlap each of the lines the amount of your measurements you recorded earlier. Tape the overlapped pieces down.

As you can see, there will be a little wrinkling around the apex. Eliminate all the wrinkles you can and then smoosh the piece down with your iron so it lies flat. (Yes, smoosh is the technical term.)

Finally, true up the lines on your pattern. Tape the altered pattern piece down to a clean sheet of paper. Draw a new side seam and armhole seam to smooth out the jagged edges. You can see where I've done this in blue marker.

This is your new pattern piece! I'm going to make a muslin of the two patterns pieces we used earlier. (Actually, it's fabric from an old curtain. I'm just like Maria Von Trapp! Scarlett O'Hara!) If you're using expensive fabric for your dress, I suggest you do the same.

See? Nice and fitted!

That's all there is to it. You can use these principles on lots of other patterns as well. The method I used for the Macaron dress is a little different (since the front bodice piece is longer), and I'll do a tutorial on that one as well.

Update: I forgot to mention two other changes you'll need to make so that the new, adjusted front bodice piece will fit with the rest of the pattern. Here's all you need to do:

1. Lay the front facing over the top of the new front bodice piece. You'll notice that it will no longer match up between where the strap attaches and the side seam. All you need to do is tuck out the extra width from the facing piece and tape or pin it in place. Now it will match up with your front bodice piece.

2. The other piece affected is the back bodice piece. The back bodice edge will now be too long for the front bodice piece. So, just lay the two pieces (the front and back bodice) next to each other, as they would be sewn, matching them first at the bottom of the pieces. You'll have some extra height on the back bodice piece. Measure how much extra you have. Mine was 3/4". So I just used my clear ruler to shorten the back piece by 3/4" along the top. Your back piece will be shorter now, but I found that this worked better in proportion to my upper body size.

Let me know in the comments if you have questions!


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this. I need to do this for 90% of my patterns and had no clue how to do it. This actually makes sense, and the photos really helped a lot.

  2. Great tutorial. Not sure I will ever need a SBA..but I love seeing other sewers alterations. It really helps.
    I love the fabric that you used on the muslin--make up another great dress.

  3. Glad you found it helpful, ladies! Cindy, I'm actually liking that old curtain fabric too! I might play around with making this muslin into an actual dress. Can't you just see it with skinny straps and a full skirt?

  4. This is a fabulous tutorial! Thanks.

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have been sadly avoiding the Colette patterns because of the larger bust but now I don't have to!

  6. Thank you so much, Gertie!

  7. Thank you so much for this tutorial. I always need an sba and compensate by finding patterns that are less fitted cuz I didn't know how to do it. Your blog is at the top of my "favorites" now as I am your body size pretty much!

  8. That's a very useful tutorial, and I'm assuming you can do the reverse for a fuller cup (I'm a G cup.) in that instead of removing tissue you add it.

  9. Very nicely done. I continue to be impressed with the way that you share information and present tutorials and vlogs. I hope that you are looking into expanding your blog by writing a book, participating as a contributor at conferences, or creating a video series. Think big, you have the ability to pull it off.

  10. Gertie, this is great, it is the LARGEST question I am ask. I will be sending many friends to you, and yes smooch is a Tech word. Good job girl.

  11. I was just curious if you ever did the SBA tutorial for the Macaron? I've searched and searched but I can't seem to find it.

  12. Maybe if I repeat-comment enough, my question'll get answered? :( I want to make my Macaron so badly and I was counting on your promised SBA tutorial to help a novice seamstress like meeeee.

  13. Hi, I never did get around to the macaron sba, but it's the same concept. Take necessary tucks out and then transfer to your paper pattern by slashing and overlapping.

  14. Thanks so much for responding! Hopefully I'll get it right :)

  15. THank you so much! your explanations and pictures made this really helpful

  16. This is so helpful! Thank you. Any chance you could walk through the SBA you did to your Macaron? I'm about to get started on it, and I'd love to see your method.

  17. Thanks so much! Finally someone who addresses small boobs and how to adjust for them. Not all of us are oversized ;) You are awesome!


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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