Follow the FBA!

Meet My Chest!

Never let it be said that the inhabitants of Didyoumakethat Towers can’t take a hint. Specifically, never let it be said that I don’t listen to Lucy! She’s been nagging me for a while now, pleading, begging, wringing her hands. ‘When will you do an FBA? You NEED an FBA!’

For anyone else who, like myself, once never knew what this stands for: No, it’s not Frank Balderdash Assessment. Nor is it Finely Boiled Arse. It’s a Full Bust Adjustment.

What’s one of those, Karen? Well, when you need to accommodate your finer features – and I’m not talking about your prettily flared nostrils – you need to make more room in a top or bodice. Lucy advises me that simply adding extra yardage at the side seams doesn’t really work. You need specific extra room in specific parts of your bodice.

So, I have decided. On my second make of the Hazel dress, I am going to attempt an FBA. I have only two criteria, should you wish to follow my adventures:

  • Don’t expect me to know what I’m talking about. This is as much a mystery to me as it is to you. I’m taking it one step at a time!
  • Don’t laugh when I fail. I have no idea where this journey will end.

As I’ve said, I’ll be working on Colette’s Hazel dress and closely following Symon Sez’s blog post guide to an FBA on this dress. The Hazel bodice construction is pretty unique, so this isn’t necessarily an adjustment that will transfer easily to other bodices or tops. Well, let’s see where we get to. I can always attempt another FBA on another bodice pattern, possibly one that will be more widely useful. I am assured that FBAs are far less intimidating than they sound. I guess we’ll find out!

This evening’s task was to measure my high bust. When making an FBA, you trace your pattern pieces according to your high bust measurements rather than your bust measurements. (Apparently.) See where I’m measuring? That’s the sweet spot.

My high bust measurement is only two inches smaller than my bust measurement. My fitting is more to do with addressing consistent issues with a narrow upper chest, rather than accommodating large breasts. (Though, of course, it’s all relative. Define large.)

In an ideal world, you would get someone else to do this measuring for you. I don’t live in an ideal world and many others don’t (so I’m told). So if a person has to take their own measurements, let’s not sweat it too much. Agreed?

A lot has been written about FBAs on t’Internet and in books.  If you fancy some further reading before dipping your own toe, I suggest these links:

  • Gertie touched on this topic two years ago here.
  • Rhinestones and Telephones has a blog post on FBAs, specific to the Hazel dress here.
  • Megan Neilsen also has a tutorial here.
  • The Colette Sewing Handbook covers bust fullness alteration on page 88.
  • Pages 156-159 of Sandra Betzina’s Fast Fit covers fitting for a large bust.

I’m not going to link to much more. There is a lot out there and the information can be overwhelming. Do leave a comment if you have a favourite FBA guide that you can recommend. And as I travel down this road, feel free to add constructive criticism, tips or guidance. I am very open to constructive criticism. You know, the helpful kind, as opposed to – Karen, you’re a stinky pants living in stinky poo land. I don’t need that type of comment – that’s what my IRL friends are for!

So, let’s get going, people. I need to prove to Lucy that it was worth persisting.

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33 Responses to Follow the FBA!

  1. sewbusylizzy says:

    *sigh* if only I needed a FBA… good luck!

  2. annie says:

    Unfortunately, I won’t have the opportunity to ever do an FBA. But I’ve seen lots of articles and blogs on the topic. Clearly I’m in the minority. So why do the pattern designers listen?

    Thanks for all the Olympics Closing Ceremony updates 🙂

  3. Marie says:

    I am confident that you’re going to nail this FBA and take it right down to Chinatown! Will be following closely to learn a trick or two ;o)

  4. Thank you because I need the FBA, too, not that I’m overly busty but because it may make my clothes fit and look better.

  5. Karen Shaw-Jones says:

    I am new to FBA but have found The Perfect Fit book invaluable. I’ve done a princess seam FBA and ‘normal’ cut and spread. both times have worked out well. this ontop of grading up the pattern is quite time consuming but worth it.

  6. symondezyn says:

    Thank you for the mention – I’m so glad you’re venturing into FBA territory!! I’m certain you’ll find it’s actually a very straightforward alteration, and I know you’ll nail it in no time! 🙂 not to mention the awesomeness of an extra awesomely-fitted bodice! 😀

    I have a book called the Perfect Fit that has a chapter about bust alterations and is how I learned to do the slash and spread on a regular bodice – they have some really great pattern alteration techniques and lots of pictures for people like me who need to SEE what they’re talking about! ^__^

    oh… and I totally always take my own measurements… the only thing you gotta watch out for is the temptation to tighten the tape that extra half inch… or is that just me and my ego? LOL ^_^

  7. Shams says:

    When I look at you in that fitted tee, you *definitely* need an FBA. You will be so happy with the resulting fit! Take it from a G cup. 😉

  8. Lynn says:

    FBA or FRA (Full Rib Adjustment): I just want to put out there that I don’t have much difference between my upper bust and full bust measurement, but have come to realize that I need an FBA due to a large ribcage. It never occurred to me that I needed an FBA until another sewist commented on a blog post and told me so. I thought she was off her rocker because I only wear a B cup (and according to the Simplicity “Amazing Fit” patterns which I have very good luck with, I’m an A.) The whole thing has been enlightening. I look forward to your posts!

  9. Anne says:

    I have this bookmarked, it’s specifically for a wrapped top, but it’s a good future reference.

  10. I suspect the idea is more frightening than the actuality, and that once you’ve nailed it you’ll wonder why you didn’t tackle and conquer it sooner. No, I don’t do them. Yes, I probably should. I’m too lazy (and maths? not my strong point). I’m going watch your progress and just adapt what you do. Will that be all right?!

  11. Jenn-NY says:

    I’ve done a few FBAs (absolutely necessary in my case). I think of it as adding extra dimension, rather than size. After I started doing FBAs I also figured out that I am short-waisted and require a tuck taken out of the upper back. (As to why I never noticed this in my multiple decades, I just don’t know!) Anyway, the FBA will probably lead to other areas of learning… Lots of resources on the web as mentioned. I also use my mother’s early 1960s home-ec textbook. It has a zillion ways to adjust for any shape or size of bust. I’m looking forward to seeing this work on a Hazel. I can’t quite conceptualize how to modify the Dior darts. Good luck!
    ~Jen (NY)

  12. Juliet says:

    Finely Boiled Arse…. after a long, brain-suffocating day at work, you have given me a jolly good chuckle. Good luck with the full bust adjustment, I wouldn’t have a clue if I needed one, but I look forward to watching your progress!

  13. Lynne says:

    I did a FBA on the one and only dress I’ve made so far, and it fits like a dream! I used the slash and spread method from the Fit For Real People book. It looked scary, but was really easy, and worked perfectly first time! I have no doubt that yours will turn out perfectly – good luck with it!! 🙂

  14. dottiedoodle says:

    Thank you for this – I’m sure I need to learn to do one but have got by with breathing shallowly so far. By the way, your hair looks lovely!

  15. Sarah says:

    How nice would it be if there was someway to buy patterns pre-adjusted…pop in your measurements and a magical computer adjusts the patterns for you, prints and posts it to you…

    • soisewedthis says:

      that sounds like a dream, sign me up!!

    • Molly says:

      Not quite doing it all for you but you can but some software like PatternMaster or Wild GInger, type in your dimensions, choose a design, hit print and grab the sellotape roll. PatternMaster has a free demo to draft a bodice and pants/jean sloper and possibly one or two freebie patterns IIRC…

      • Sarah says:

        AAAAHH, I’m going to google the hell out of this RIGHT NOW. Brilliant! Thank you very much! (although I’m a little concerned on what a wild ginger search might throw up…going to hit up safe search first)

  16. Lucy says:


    Excitement out of the way, may I suggest Debbie’s tutorials as particular favourites of mine?

  17. Melizza says:

    Good luck Karen! You will get it for sure.

  18. good luck. unfortunately i don’t need a FBA but for other pattern adjustments i find Fit for Real People very helpful. i believe a princess seam (which Hazel basically is) is easy to do a FBA on tho, so hopefully it won’t be too hard. look forward to seeing the results!

  19. Patty says:

    Realizing that I needed and FBA and then figuring it out has changed my sewing forever! I use the Palmer and Pletsch book as a reference:

  20. Jacq C says:

    Brilliant, I’m watching you all the way. I’m desperate to make the Hazel dress but my muslin looks terrible, pulling at the chest and with so much extra fabric at the back I wouldn’t need a handbag as my purse fits right in there! I think it’s fair to say I’ve made a total pig’s ear of it. And I have the perfect vintage fabric for it too. Looking forward to seeing how you tackle it 🙂

  21. soisewedthis says:

    Looking forward to seeing your progress! This has got me thinking that i need to figure out what type of adjustments i need to make…

  22. LinB says:

    Now we can all start worrying over whether we are set high or set low, close together or far apart! As I’ve aged, my bust measurement around has not changed, but I now need to reset the dart point on bodice patterns for a 2-3 inch downward drop. I used to wear shorter straps on bras, camisoles, and swimsuits, too, lol. Thank goodness I only went braless for a short while in the 1970s, or I’d have to eliminate bust darts entirely, to make a full waist adjustment. (Some of you out there know what I mean — for the rest of you, I pray you never will.)

  23. Heather says:

    I always get flack for mentioning this method on sewing blogs, but I used it to make clothes for a close friend with a 53 inch bust (36 inch waist, 39 inch hip) – and the clothes fit really well, with a great fit around the neck, arms and across the back (no gapes, pulls, and I didn’t have her around for fittings as she was in South America at the time and I’m in Canada). The waist was a bit loose but it was comfy for a hot climate. If I’d had her for fittings I could have made the easy waist adjustment on her dresses. It’s the pivot method from Nancy Zieman, Fitting Finesse (I think the newest version has a slightly different title). If there is such a major adjustment it works best with a princess seam garment but for less adjustment any type of garment is fine. You measure the high bust just across the front from armpit crease to armpit crease and use her chart to pick the correct pattern size for your frame, not your flesh (my friend’s frame ended up being a size 16, so bust 38). The only thing is, the chart doesn’t work for newer/indie pattern companies so you’d have to compare the pattern pieces to a similar one you own from a Big 4 company. Hope this helps, it’s really quick to do and you don’t have to slash anything. I’ve also used it to considerably size up some vintage patterns and it does take extra work if the pattern isn’t quite the right size for your frame but it was still good. Just a tip, if you try this and have a narrow upper chest, don’t add even a millimeter or round up on the measurement I mentioned above. I was adjusting a pattern for a different friend with a smaller bust and very narrow between her shoulders at the front, and thought the size indicated couldn’t possibly be that small, and I wasted some time. When I redid the measurement and went with the size indicated, then adjusted (FBA) for her favorite padded bra, it was a perfect fit with no crinkles from the bust to the armpit, and no gaping at the neck or armholes.

  24. Lauren says:

    FBAs changed my life! They will change yours too – no droopy shoulders or overexaggerated necklines! LIFE-CHANGING.

    My favorite method is the one in Fit For Real People – it’s very simple, with a few slashes & pivots. I always tissue-fit first to see how much needs to be added, then I do my adjustment (and lately I’ve been doing them directly on the pattern tissue without tracing first, because I am a naughty seamstress lol). I don’t consider myself a guru of the FBA by any means, but do holler if you need some help!

    As a bonus, your fitted garments will look really funny with the FBA. Mine have what basically looks like little boobie pockets that stick straight out. They look fab on my body, but really comical on the hanger 🙂

  25. photosarah says:

    I know I’ll need to tackle the FBA eventually. Looking forward to following your adventure with it!

  26. Melanie says:

    I spent two months working on an FBA for a simple bodice trying to perfect it.. I’ve made two dresses from it now and I’m still making minor tweaks. I must have the most bizarre shaped body! Stupid E cup chest!

    FBAs can be the most frustrating experience and I look at my patterns in despair knowing I have so much pattern alteration to do before i even think about sewing. It puts me off starting any projects.

    I’ve been using fit for real people but once you alter the bodice, there are a bunch of other adjustments that can be required once you’ve done the FBA and it can be really difficult to pin down where you’ve gone wrong. Tissue fitting I’ve been finding very misleading too as i think it makes you over exaggerate your adjustments.

    Thanks for tackling it Karen, cant wait to see the finished result!

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