Posted in Style

Adventures in fitting the bust: Or why commercial patterns don’t fit (me)

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At least the back fits at the muslin stage!

It occurs to me that a bodice that fits like a glove across the bust is the holy grail of fitting (of course, I have yet to properly create a pant sloper, so I might stand to be corrected). As I make my slow and not-so-easy way through another so-called fast-and-easy pattern, I realize that I just have to suck it up: a perfect-fitting bodice takes time. It further occurs to me that bodice fitting has been important throughout the history of women’s fashions, even if the shape has changed often dramatically over the years. (I write historical fiction in another life so historical research is kind of my thing!)

Take for example bodice fitting in the time of Henry VIII. In those days, women were made to fit into the clothing rather than having clothing made to fit the woman. Just imagine having to get up in the morning and be laced into your corset so that your waist was tiny, your bust smashed flat and your back kept so ramrod erect that you could hardly move let alone breathe. Only then would you be able to fit into the dress you were required or wanted to wear. And never mind the health impacts of fitting into your clothing rather than the other way around. There’ a fascinating history of corsets on the web site Fashion in Time – which I love for its insights into how far we’ve come in fashion.

 

The truth is, though, that this fashion was a regression of sorts if you consider the functionality of the looser, more flowing clothing sported by both men and women in ancient Rome and Greece. It was during the medieval period that clothing began to have a lot more structure, but there is structure – that terrific fit we all seek – and there is prison.

Bust lines seem to have been important to women for centuries. I always thought that the bra was a nineteenth century pheonomenon, but it seems that we’ve been wearing them for much longer in one form or another. Early bra-like garments date back to ancient Greece when women tried various kinds of strapping to hold up the girls. But in an even more fascinating discovery, it seems archeologists have unearthed what appear to be 600-year old bras with cups and straps and the whole nine yards![1] So I know that I’m not the only one who cares about this fit issue!

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A 600-year-old bra! [photo credit “Fashion in History” see footnote]

Fashion in the twentieth century waxed and waned between loose (the flapper dresses of the thirties) and the structured (Dior’s ‘New Look’). That Dior-esque silhouette influenced much of the mid-century clothing until Gabriel Chanel’s approach to design gave women back their comfort along with beautiful tailoring. The 1960’s brought a revolution in dressing: all those shift dresses that fit everyone. For me, though, the Chanel look is the holy grail of fit that I seek since it is based on individual proportion, coupled with ease of movement. It is tailored clothing with ease. So that’s where I begin.

At the end of last week’s sewing and fitting adventures I was the midst of creating a muslin/toile/calico fitting garment for Vogue 8886, a design I loved mainly because of the lovely boat neck band which turned out to be an enormous collar – but I digress. I’m focusing on bust line fitting here.vogue-8886-sleeve-variations

I was a bit irritated by the fact that this pattern is supposed to be a “perfect fit” pattern that includes separate pattern pieces for A-B-C-D cups. So, as I already mentioned, I cut for the D and found that it was HUGE! Of course, it had never occurred to me to put together a whole lot of sewing and fit intelligence to conclude that this wasn’t really what they meant. Let me go back.

Since returning to sewing, I had stumbled upon the FBA (AKA full bust adjustment) on more occasions than I can count. Evidently, it’s a general secret of the sewing intelligentsia that if the potential wearer of the garment is more than a B cup, then said wearer needs to have the pattern adjusted for that larger cup size. Indeed, the scoop is that commercial patterns are drawn for a B cup regardless of size. Okay, I thought. I need to learn to do this. Not so fast.

As I perused the online instructions (there are many very good ones) it began to dawn on me that I my over-bust measurement being only 2 inches smaller than my full bust one (not to mention that the under-bust measurement is way smaller) the FBA instructions didn’t seem to apply. It never occurred to me that this might also be the case with the pattern that offered several cup sizes. I simply recognized that I wear a D cup and cut that one. After doing many adjustments to approximate perfection, I went back to the pattern instructions which is when I found this:

perfect-fit-not

 

But even if I had read this before I started, I would likely have thought that it must be wrong. How in the world could a B-cup pattern fit me? It seems that if I’m 32-D and not 40-D, that’s different, but no one told me. I should have followed the FBA instruction advice from the outset and simply left the B-cup pattern as is. I don’t qualify for the FBA. You live and learn I guess.

Summary: just because you wear a bra cup size above a B does not necessarily mean you need to do a FBA. Nor do you need to cut the appropriate cup size in a sized pattern. What it means is that if you (I really mean I) want a well-fitting bodice, I’ll have to use my—a personalized sloper to fit the commercial pattern and do a mock-up – every time. Which brings me to my understanding of why commercial patterns don’t fit. Everyone’s body is different.

Taking measurements around a body does not in any way account for the differences of how those circumferences are distributed. It doesn’t account for the fact that someone with a narrow back and large bust can measure the same as someone with a wide back and not much in the way of breasts at all. Those two women could hardly be the same size. So, commercial pattern companies have their work cut out for them. And that’s why many of the designs are loose and unfitted. General results with those pieces will be better. At least if you like loose clothes all the time. I don’t so I continue to take the slow and methodical way forward!

[Getting closer to what I want – shoulder fitting fine; left side of the princess line coming – one more tweak and I can use this side to make the pattern. But those sleeves! Too long to really be 3/4,and I think I’ll add a turn-back cuff if the fabric can handle it…but all of that will have to wait. I’m off to LA & Phoenix next week to escape the Toronto weather for a bit. Hoping to make a pilgrimage to Mood Fabrics! PS Anyone know a terrific fabric store in Phoenix?]

FYI: I love this fascinating web site on fashion history: Fashion in Time.

http://www.fashionintime.org/fashion-history/

 

 

[1] Medieval “Lingerie” From 15th Century Castle Stuns Fashion Historians http://www.ecouterre.com/medieval-lingerie-from-15th-century-castle-stuns-fashion-historians/

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