Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sewing the Curve: Fitting Princess Seams for a Large Bust

Bonjour, my lovely otters! Earlier this week, we talked through altering a princess seamed bodice, when you've been blessed with, as my younger brother would say, bazoongas. We went from perfectly lovely pattern pieces to darling little monsters that can actually fit over our busts. Hooray!

Now, the bad news: there's still work left to be done. The thing about princess seams is that they are much more fitted to your bust than a traditionally darted bodice. That's what makes them flattering, but that's also what makes them hard to fit. In light of that, today I'm going to share some guidelines for fitting and sewing a princess seamed bodice. Like my last post, they're specifically tailored for large busted sewists, because, well, that's what I am.

Tip #1: Muslin, That Sucker! 

For a really long time, I was not a muslin maker. Sewing is something I do in my spare time, so consequently, I like it to be as fun as possible. Making a muslin is about as fun as eating a diet brownie: it feels like making a dress, but there's no "I can wear this!" joy. Nowadays, a great fit is as important to me as pretty fabric, so muslins are necessary evil. With princess seams, they're an imperative one. 

We now have two pattern pieces that will actually fit over our bosoms. This is a good start! What we now need is for those pattern pieces to actually fit our bosoms. Let's be honest, boobs are a magical mystery. People with the exact same bra size can have radically different bust shapes. As a result, your princess seams won't fit just like mine, nor should they. We've already come so far in fitting that we may as well get a perfectly individual bodice while we're at it. 

So: make a muslin. That way, you can take all the pattern adjustments you need, before cutting out that pretty floral silk. 

Tip #2: Pin From The Bottom

You know how your side bodice curves all crazy like, but your center bodice is straight as a pin? We're going to put those two together. Such fun! In order to do this, you're going to "ease" the pieces together. All that means is gently pin your straight piece around the curves of your side piece, so that it also curves. So easy! My preferred method to do this is to pin the very top and very bottom together first, then pin from the bottom up. That way, your fabric is guaranteed to line up along the straight bits. 

Tip #3: Use a 1/2'' Seam!

I cannot stress this enough, friends. When you sew up your fabric - whether it's your muslin or your fashion fabric - do not use a 5/8'' seam. Part of the whole problem with sewing princess seams is that they can fold and warp, as you sew around the curve. Sewing with a smaller seam allowance gives much more control over the fabric and prevents this from happening. I can't tell you how many seams I picked apart, before learning this trick!

To do this, just trim a 1/8'' off of each seam allowance and sew as usual. If you'd like even more fitting wiggle room in the muslin-making stage, you can also just leave the original seam allowance in, but take this smaller seam size. This what I usually do, as inevitably the curve needs to come out a little bit on my upper bust anyway. It's entirely up to you! Just don't sew with a 5/8'' seam, I beg you. 

Tip #4: Don't Clip the Seam Allowances, Until After Fitting

Invariably, every single princess seam tutorial has a part about clipping the seam allowances, in order to make the seams lay flat. This is fantastic advice, after you've properly fit the bodice. When you adjust the fit, you may need some of that room back, so clipping it away is a bad idea. Instead, press the seams toward the center. They'll be bubbly, but you'll fix that after fitting! 

So, this is my muslin of the Elisalex bodice we made on Monday! See how gaping and crazy my my lower bust and underbust are? This is why I don't clip seam allowances beforehand. There is some work to be done yet. The bubbly wrinkles on the seams, however, aren't actually a fit issue. That's just what princess seams do, until you clip them and open them. Those'll press out eventually, don't panic! 

Tip #5: Pin, pin, pin! 

When you're fitting princess seams, pins are your best friend. For each alteration you're planning on making, pin both sides of your bust line. Personally, I'm taking a 1/2 inch out of my lower bust on both sides, then a whole inch on each side of my under bust and waist. So, I pin where I plan to blend away from the seam allowance (top pin), where I want a full 1/2 inch out (middle pin), then where I want to transition into to taking an inch out (lower pin). 

Tip #6: Fit a Small Rib Cage! 

As you can tell from the pictures so far, I'm plagued by a relatively small rib cage. My breasts are generous, as are my hips, but the area between them is relatively small. (My waist is over 12 inches smaller than both of those measurements!) This is a great example of a fitting problem that only "plus sized" or "cross-sized" (fitting both size spectrums - sizes 12-16) women usually encounter. All too often, larger sizes on patterns assume we're large all over. I'm, as is obvious from the muslin, not. So, I've had to learn how to deal with it, when doing pattern adjustments. 

For traditional bust adjustments, I just make the darts wider over my waist and ribcage. Easy peasy! For princess seams, however, the fix is nontraditional. The side piece of the Elisalex bodice actually fits me really well. It's the center front that's too big - pooling into those unsightly wrinkles you see under my bustline. So...take more out of the center front! When I went back to this muslin, I unpicked all the way up to my lower pin. Then, I trimmed an inch off of each side of the center front bodice. Then, I matched it back up with the side bodice and resewed a 1/2 inch seam. This is my result, when I've done that and taken that extra bit out of the lower bust:

So much better, right? As you can see, I've fixed the pooling under my bust and the too large curve around my lower bust. It's still a bit big over my rib cage, which I'll fix on the pattern itself, but not on this muslin. I'm just using this as a lining, in the end, so it doesn't have to be quite so fitted. 

Tip #7: Battling Bust Wrinkles!

First off, we clip! Instead of going through that process, just hop over to the lovely and brilliant Gertie's blog. She gives a fabulous explanation of the best way do this. It's exactly my method, I just do it after I've sewn. Once you've clipped, grab your tailor's ham and a little cup of water. We're going to steam the heck out of these seams. 

Instead of just using the steam burst on my iron, I like to fully wet the seam. That way, I can really steam these pesky bubbles to death. I open the seams, put it over my tailor's ham, splash some water on them, then press press press!

Once you've finished, try it on again! If you still have wrinkles, press again and again and again. If they're not fitting issues caused from a too-tight seam, they'll come out. Take a look at my final product:

There are wrinkles caused by me crumpling my center fabric, but check out those bust seams! So much smoother. I still need to iron out some wrinkles on my top left, but they're infinitely better. Woohoo! 

Bonus Tip: Finding a new Bust Apex!

What happens if you've put your new bodice pieces on and they can't be fixed by little tweaks? Your curves may not actually go over your bust center, for example. If that's the case, mark your actual bust apex on the center bust piece of your muslin and return to our original pattern. Is that apex lower or higher than our black side bust dot, when measuring up from the waist? Wherever it is, mark it on the original pattern pieces, then redo your FBA based on that spot, instead of the original apex. You probably won't have to do this, but it's a good trick to know, if you come across a pattern that's wildly out of sync with your body. 

There we go! Princess seams fully broken down. Would anybody like me to do a tutorial for a darted bodice FBA, as well? It's been fairly well-covered in the blogosphere, but if you want to see what those pattern pieces look like for a large bust, I'd be happy to document my process again. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Sewing the Curve: A Princess Seam FBA for Large Busts

Hello, lovelies! Once upon a time, entirely too long ago, I promised you a tutorial on princess seams. Though weddings and holidays delayed my plans, the project still weighed on my mind, because someone needed to document the truth. All those normal princess seam FBA tutorials are helpful, unless you're a well-endowed sewist, then they're like taking advice on snow-skiing from a water-skier. The action is kind of the same, but you're working in much harsher conditions. 

Yeah, that's a lame metaphor. What I'm saying is: adjusting princess seams for a large bust is a weird process, but you can totally do it. I'm going to show you my method, which adds in necessary extra tweaks to the standard process, and has worked for me. There will be lots of photos, exhaustive instructions, and oddly shaped pattern pieces. It's going to be awesome, I promise. Let's do this!

Stage One: Preparations

First off, you're going to need a pattern! Woohoo! Eventually, you will have an awesome dress or blouse from this. For this tutorial, I picked the much-beloved Elisalex dress from By Hand London. It's the epitome of a simple, princess-seamed bodice. 

Once you have your pattern, measure both your full bust and your high bust, as well as your waist. To make the most of those lovely, curved seams, you're going to want to pick your size based on your high bust. This will ensure that your shoulders and upper chest fit in the correct manner, without unsightly gaping. Don't worry if your waist measurement doesn't match up, as we'll also address that during the adjustment.
For me, the measurements were: a high bust of 40'', a full bust of 46'', and a waist of 34.5''. You can see why we need to adjust! If I tried to sew up the size 14, as prescribed on the chart below, the seams would burst apart. 

Once you have picked your proper size, trace off the corresponding bodice pieces and gather your supplies. Personally, I use Swedish Tracing Paper to trace off all of my patterns. It's super durable, but still translucent enough to trace over, and can be sewn up for a fit check. So handy! 

The other supplies you'll need for this adjustment are: tape, a clear ruler, pattern weights, a pencil or pen, scissors, and extra scraps of your tracing paper. 

Before we go any further, take a moment to draw in the seam allowances on your Side Front Bodice. This will make it much easier to visualize your cuts, for the next stage. So, take your ruler and measure 5/8'' (the standard seam allowance, unless otherwise noted on your pattern) all the way around the piece. 

Stage Two: Adding Fullness

Now the fun part: cutting those pieces to bits! When we add fullness to a princess seam, we do the most adjustment to the Bodice Side Front piece, since that's the bit that must curve over your bubbies. For this tutorial, I've marked the side seam with a solid seam allowance and the bust seam with a dotted allowance, so that you can better visualize how this piece works. The curved, dotted bust seam will join with your Center Front Bodice, once we've adjusted it. 

First off, how much fullness do you need to add here? It's easy to find out! Take the difference between your two bust measurements, then divide it by two. Since we'll have two of these seams across your front, each will carry some of the adjustment load. For my measurements, this means I'll do a three-inch adjustment to my side bodice piece. 

Full bust (46'') - High Bust (40'') = 6'' difference
 6'' ÷ 2 = 3'' added to each side

See all those lines in the picture above? Those are our cutting lines, which will help us make this pattern piece larger, and which we're now going to draw onto our piece. They may look complicated, but it's a really easy process, trust me. I'll go through them step-by-step.

Bust Dot: Eyeball your pattern piece and approximate where the fullest part of the bust line is. Draw a dot right there on your seam allowance. In my picture, it's that big black dot.  

Line One: Starting at the waist seam allowance, draw a line up to the bust dot. (Red line)

Line Two: Pick a spot on your armhole 1/4 of the way in from the bust line. Draw a straight line from this point to the bust dot. (Blue line)

Line Three: Pick a spot 1/3 of the way down the side seam. Draw a straight line from this point to the bust dot. (Green line)

Line Four: Measure 1 inch up from your waist seam onto your bust seam allowance. Draw a horizontal line to the pattern's edge. This will be how we later lengthen the piece! (Purple line)

Now, let's make our first cut! Following my red dotted line in the picture above, cut up Line One to the bust point, then continue along Line Two toward the armscye seam. Stop just before the pattern's end, so that you have a small "hinge" to move the piece. 

(Note: In order to avoid confusion, I've only colored your four lines on the original image above. I'll keep color-coordinating their text throughout the tutorial, however, so you can refer back to that image, if you need. They are also numbered the entire way through.)

Now for cut two! Starting at the side seam, cut along Line Three, stopping just before the bust dot. This will give you another hinge point, so that we can move the pattern pieces, without breaking them. 

It's time to add in our fullness. Woohoo! To do this, place your pattern piece onto a large scrap of tracing paper. Using the measurement we made earlier (3'' for me), add in your necessary amount down the length of Line One. You can manipulate both "hinges," in order to keep Line One straight and evenly measured. It looks totally weird, but we're going to fix that! 

Tape all that craziness down!

After taping your new configuration down, cut along Line Four on the seam allowance. Move this down to line up with your other part of Line Four, as shown in the picture above. With your ruler, true up the pattern lines. (Translation: Draw some new lines down to where you moved that piece, so that there's not a weird blank space on your pattern.)

Stage Three: Making Up for All That Fullness

So, we've now added the requisite fullness to our Bodice Side Front, but the pattern piece looks super whack-a-doodle. We have a big dart on the side seam and our armscye is at an odd angle. Luckily, we can fix all of that! This, my dears, is where having a large bust makes this process more fun. We get to do more pattern hacking than the traditional method suggests. We are scissor-wielding rebels!

In order to do all this awesome hacking, cut around your new pattern piece. Place it on even more scrap paper, for these adjustments.

First, let's close that dart, shall we? Draw a line from the lower dart opening (Line 3 beginning) all the way across your pattern piece through the bust dot to the other seam allowance edge. You are not going to follow Line 3, because that wouldn't get you to the bust dot. So, you're making up your own dang line, because you're awesome like that.  

Now, cut along this line to the bust dot. You've made another hinge! Use this hinge to close the bust dart along Line 3, making it reappear in its original state. The arrows above are demonstrating this action. Tape that dart closed and breathe a sigh of relief. 

Warning: If you have a large bust, this part looks ridiculous. Trust me, you're doing it correctly. Your pieces will fold and warp and do weird things, but all that matters is closing that bust dart and getting Line 3 back together. Take a look at my new piece: 

Didn't I tell you it looked ridiculous? Once I've closed the dart, my pattern piece doesn't even lay down! This is where that rebellious line we just drew comes in handy. Cut the rest of that line through the bust dot and side seam. (That's the dotted bit in the picture above.) Your bust seam will now open up like a lovely flower and lay down flat:

This is your almost-completed pattern piece! You are so good at all the things! Huzzah!

Now, an easy part. True up your new bust line, as I have done above. Basically, just draw that curve in, so that your pattern piece connects. Tape all of that down!

You'll notice that your armscye still looks wonky. Let's fix that, too. 

(New armscye close-up)

Fold the armscye corner down, until you get an approximation of the original curve. Tape it down, then true up your corner seam lines. The picture above shows this armscye fold close-up, while the one below gives you the full picture. See how it looks like your original pattern piece again? 

Now, we need to adjust for your waist measurement. Thanks to our bust adjustment, we've also added width to each waist side, as well. To get back to the original waist size, measure three inches (or however much fullness you've had to add) in from the side seam. If your waist measurement did not match the original pattern's, then you can either add less or more, depending on your measurement. I've actually come in 3.25 inches, so that an additional half-inch will be taken out overall. Draw a line up into the seam allowance at your desired waist point. 

From the side seam, beginning at Line Three, draw in a new side seam to this waist point. I've done so with the dotted line above. Once again, it looks weird. We can't cut away a straight line along the side seam, however, because that would take width away from the bust. Starting at Line Three ensures that we maintain our bust fullness, while bringing in that waist seam. 

Don't worry about it. Despite this angle, your side seam will still be straight, because your body is a wonderland. The only thing left to do for this seam is to measure it. Is it the same length as your original pattern piece? If not, add length to both back pieces, as well. For me, this was about a half-inch adjustment. 

Now, cut out your new pattern piece! You've finished adjusting the Bodice Side Front. 

Stage Four: Adjusting the Center Front

So, your Bodice Side Front is adjusted, but that piece still has to fit with the Center Front. Thanks to our machinations, they're currently way our of sync. 

To fix this, measure your Bodice Side Front along the bust seam. (Following the dotted lines above.) Jot that number down!

Now, measure the curved seam of your Center Bodice. Jot that number down too!

Subtract your Center Bodice Length from your Bodice Side Front length. Like so:

Bodice Side Front Length - Center Bodice Length = Discrepancy

For me that looks like:

18'' - 12'' = 6''

I need to add six inches to my Center Bodice, so that the two will become one easily. Draw a straight line across the lower third of your Center Bodice piece, as I've done above with the dotted line above. Cut across that line. 

Separate your cut Center Bodice pieces by your length discrepancy (six inches for me), then fill in with scrap paper and tape it together again. You now have two new bodice front pieces! Well done, you!

They may look like little monsters, but they were created with love and care. Plus, your final result will look bangin'. That's the end goal, right?

On Wednesday, I'll be back with tips on fine-tuning a muslin and sewing Princess Seams. You may still have adjustments to make, based on your individual body type and new pattern pieces, so we'll cover those eventualities. 

Happy sewing, my dears! I do hope this was helpful.

Note: Any Amazon links in this post are now affiliate links, which means I will get a tiny portion of any sale referred from this site.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Miss Laurel Feels A Bit Green: Colette Laurel

Good morning, friends! Today in central Texas, it's about 25°F (-4°C) and lightly snowing. Brrr! It's been quite the chilly winter for us, with multiple Arctic fronts and snowfalls, which are normally a once-a-year happening. Needless to say, my wintery Mary-made pieces are in heavy rotation this year. There are my beloved Peggy skirts, a few flannel iterations of my Wendy dress, and one of my favorite late-2013 projects: a fully lined green Laurel dress.

As you may recall, my first Laurel dress was such a surprise. Despite a lack of seaming, it ended up being a very comfortable, super cute little piece. It layers well under cardigans, dresses up beautifully with heels, and doesn't take that much fabric. What's not to love? It's also, unfortunately for our current season, bright orange with a white floral border. Not exactly winter appropriate...

Luckily, I had this green floral lawn in my stash. Eons ago, a more moronic naive Mary bought a scant two
yards of this 44-inch wide fabric. Though I loved the print, with those rose and cream flowers swirling about in such an orderly, Regency fashion, it was practically useless. The thought of a simple tank top left me cold, so it was destined to languish.

The Laurel, however, only needs two yards of fabric. Bliss and joy!

This dress was almost too easy to make. I adjusted the fit from last time, bringing in the waist another two inches, but still allowed enough room to omit the center back zipper and keep the shift silhouette. So, I sewed two side seams, one center back seam, and inserted a green lawn lining. Then, I machine hemmed both layers and -- Voila! -- a dress was born.

Oh, you'd like more information? Well...the method I used for the lining insertion is somewhat unorthodox. While I did sew it in by machine, I didn't use the classic shoulder tunnel method, which I've never quite gotten the hang of. Invariably, I end up with one back piece properly sewn and the other irrevocably twisted. So, instead, I leave the shoulders as the last thing finished. They aren't sewn at all, until both lining and dress are sewn together, then through the magic of pulling the shoulders down through the bodice, you sew the shoulder seams independently. For the life of me, I can't find a tutorial online for this, even though I know it is used elsewhere. If anyone else hates the shoulder tunnel method and is intrigued by this, let me know, and I can put a tutorial together. (My princess-seamed bodice tutorial is finally going live next week, which will provide a rare non-outfit post.)

Like its predecessor, I love the way this Laurel layers up. It will be just fine on its own this summer, when I'm tanner than in these ghostly pictures, but really shines when paired with a wool cardigan and tights. A simple, comfortable outfit for these chilly Texas mornings. It's also perfect with my low slung brown boots, which I adore, but so rarely wear.

Incidentally, if you're also in the mood for a cute shift dress, I have good news! The lovely and charming Lauren, of Rosie Wednesday, is currently hosting a sew along for Simplicity 3833. The pattern is a completely adorable 60's reprint, with more structure than your typical shift dress. If you're concerned about how the Laurel may look on a curvy figure, 3833 is a fabulous alternative and Lauren's tutorials have been amazing. Her video on lapped zipper insertion will make a lapped zip convert out of you, I promise!

The details...

Things I Loved:
  • The fabric! Pretty, simple, and so so soft!
  • The ease! There is no easier dress than this, my dears. 

Things I Changed:
  • Omitted the zipper, once again due to extreme laziness.
  • Brought the waistline in by over five inches total. 

Things I Would Change, If I Made It Again:
  • Nothing! It's rather perfect as is. 

Notions & Fabric:
  • 2 yards of floral cotton lawn by Moda
  • 2 yards of green cotton lawn

Construction Time:
  • Two hours, from cutting to hem. Woohoo!

In other news, Idle Fancy now has its very own Facebook page! Currently, it has zero fans. So...if someone, anyone would like it, I'd be eternally grateful. I'm not a big Instagram user, so if you want to keep up with behind-the-scenes sewing news and other fun things, that page is the place to go. Please, oh please, like it?

Note: All photo-bombing credits go to Seamus, our German Shepherd, who doesn't quite realize the difference between going outside to take pictures and going outside to play fetch...

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Miss Violet Finds Her Moorings: Simplicity 1873

Hello, darling meerkats! Have you had a wonderful week so far? Mine has been rather hectic--lots of work and school to attend to--but has also been filled with sewing adventures. There was an ill-fated second knit dress (Note: if you're using a woven pattern with a jersey, only going down one size probably won't cut it!), some fitting adjustments on older makes, and oh yeah...a new camera! Apparently, 2014 is going to be Mary's Year of Modern Technology. First a serger, now a DSLR. I'll keep you posted, if we get a Jetsons-style hair robot. 

For this blog, I've always shot with a point-and-shoot, despite knowing full well that I needed a DSLR. It just seemed a pretty big purchase to make, when so many beautiful fabrics yearned to be bought, you know? However, thanks to some Mysterious Sewing News I Can't Mention Yet, Sam and I decided it was time for an upgrade. Enter the Canon Rebel T3i and my new obsession! 

After three straight nights of playing with the manual settings (Read: Photographing our dog in various "Why aren't you playing fetch with me, human?" poses.), I decided to document a real project. The knit dress was planned, but it's now wadded into a ball somewhere in a deep dark cave of sewing death, so that was out. Enter Simplicity 1873! This lovely little fit-and-flare dress is made up in an anchor print cotton, from Dear Stella, and piped in white around the neckline and armscyes. 

I have long lusted after the retro sailor dresses of Stop Staring and Pin Up Girl Clothing, but couldn't conscience buying one, when they're so easy to make. When I stumbled across this Dear Stella anchor print, it was a simple leap to pairing it with Simplicity 1873 for a cute nautical dress.This pattern is, as we've talked about recently, one of my favorites. With its simple bodice and full pleated skirt, 1873 is my platonic dress silhouette. It's the perfect blend of comfortable and waist-emphasizing! 

As far as construction, this was a super straight-forward dress. I'd already made 1873 five times before, so all the fitting kinks were worked out. For this version, I omitted the zipper out of pure laziness, and lined the bodice in pink-striped cotton shirting. I used store bought white piping, which I inserted around the neckline and armscyes, as mentioned. 

Incidentally, piping is my sewing true love. I would happily pipe All The Things, if I could. Perhaps that is my resolution for 2014: Pipe everything possible! It adds just the right amount of emphasis to a neckline. I've also found that, if a fabric is in danger of washing you out, a bit of coordinated piping can mitigate the effect. These anchors weren't doing that, as navy is universally flattering, but it is utterly adorable. 

So...another 1873! In a seasonally-inappropriate fabric choice! I don't normally love working with a "quilting weight" cotton, but I've found Dear Stella's fabrics to be high-quality and durable. Plus, how many times do you come across apparel-weight nautical prints? Sometimes, rules must be thrown out, in order to achieve sartorial bliss. 

The details...

Things I Loved:
  • The fabric! Anchors are the best, all the taste-makers agree. 
  • The piping! Of course. 
Things I Changed:
  • Omitted the zipper, due to extreme laziness.
Things I Would Change, If I Made It Again:
  • Nothing! Mostly because I've made this pattern so many times that the kinks are worked out. 

Notions & Fabric:
  • 3.5 yards of Dear Stella fabric
  • 1 yard of striped shirting
  • White Piping

Construction Time:
  • Four hours. So much pleating!

I'm now going to fiddle with my new toy some more. Do you have any good DSLR tricks or favorite photography sites, friends? I have a pretty good handle on the basic manual functions, but would love some advice from any camera nerds out there.