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. 

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