Category: Bodice Construction

An Ode to Bust Cup Adjustments

Our new 4th Ed. Irish dance solo dress pattern is coming out soon with a Bust Cup Adjustment add-on!  Our fashion line also includes these options, but we’re thrilled to be able to offer this feature in our Irish dance patterns too!  I thought this was a great time to talk about why cup adjustments are amazing, how different cup sizes influence the fit of the pattern, and how to determine your own bust cup size.


What are Pattern Bust Cups?

While pattern cup sizes use the same A, B, C, D, DD, etc classifications as bras, they are based upon different measurements.  Bra cups are measured as the difference between the circumference of the full bust and the circumference of the ribcage right below the breasts.  This makes sense, because we want a good-fitting anchor around our ribcage, and cups that will extend the proper distance out from that to perfectly hug our boobs.  Pattern cup sizes on the other hand, are based on the difference between the full bust and the ribcage ABOVE it.  It’s common for your bra cup and pattern cup to be different.


How do they influence the fit of the garment?

Most commercial patterns are drafted with a pattern B-cup, which assumes a 2-inch difference between those measurements.  If the company doesn’t give any information on this in their sizing, you can usually assume it’s a B.  When using a pattern, we choose our size based on our full bust measurement, but flat- or full-chested folks will tell you that this doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a good fit.

Imagine you get a breast-reduction or -addition procedure.  Your full bust measurement will change, but your ribcage and skeleton will remain the same.  This is what we are changing when we adjust the bust cup size of our pattern.  In the image to the left, we see four patterns, all size 6, with A- (pink), B- (orange), C- (green), and D- (blue) cups.  As the cup increases, we see the bust widen, but the shoulders and waist remain the same width.  We also see the pattern lengthen, since it will be a slightly longer distance over a large bust than a small one.

Let’s compare that to two patterns that have the same full bust measurement.  To the right, we have a size 6 with a D cup (blue, 37 inch bust), and a size 10 with an A cup (pink, also 37 inch bust).  In the A-cup (pink), the bust width is pretty evenly split between the back and front, but in the D-cup (blue), more if it has been shifted towards the front.  The D-cup also has a smaller shoulder.  If we picture the wearers of these two patterns, the A-cup wearer will have a bigger frame (skeleton, shoulders, ribcage, etc) than the D-cup wearer.  If both were to wear regular B-cup garments based off their bust measurement, the A-cup’s dress would be tight in the shoulders and armhole.  The D-cup’s dress on the other hand would have a lot of excess in the shoulder with gaping armholes.


How to determine your own cup size

Wear thin clothing, and a normal, lightly padded bra (or the type of bra you expect to wear with the garment you’re measuring for). Stand up straight with ears, shoulders, hips, and feet in alignment. Always have a second person do the measuring, as this will yield much more accurate results than attempting to take your own measurements.

Full Bust: wrap the tape measure around the largest part of the bust, level with the floor. Don’t pull the tape measure too snugly, or you will underestimate the measurement.

High Chest: wrap the tape measure around the upper chest; under the arms but above the main part of the breast. Pull the tape measure snugly. It may not be parallel with the floor.

A 2-inch difference in the High Chest and Full Bust measurements is considered a “pattern B-cup” (a difference of 1″ = A-cup, 3″ = C-cup, 4″ = D-cup, 5”=DD-cup, etc). Round to the closest whole number, or round up if exactly half-way in-between.

Choose your bust size based on the High Chest measurement, and your cup based off your Full Bust measurement.


Adjust existing patterns using a Full Bust or Small Bust Adjustment

Using a pattern with cup adjustments is all fine and good, but what about if you need to change the cup size of an existing pattern?  The Full Bust Adjustment (to increase the cup size) is fairly well known, but as a flat-chested person I’d like to give a shout-out to the Small Bust Adjustment (to decrease cup size) too!  Both alterations change the width of the bust without changing the shoulders, armhole, or waist.  We offer guidance on these alterations and much more in our guide “Pattern Alterations for Better Fit”, which can be found here.

Collars – Two Ways

Here are two ways of putting the collar on.
The first method is from the Second and Third Edition pattern instructions.  It is the easiest way, especially if you are shortening or shaping the collar (like I have below with the scalloped edge).  The downside to this method is that you do get some seam allowance tickling the dancers’ neck, but if you are planning to put a lining in your dress, it’s no big deal.
The second method is from the First Edition pattern instructions.  I replaced it because it is a bit more complicated.  However, it creates a nice clean seam by pushing the neck-edge seam allowance up into the collar itself and is great if you want your collar to really stand up straight and tall and bold.  Since I wasn’t working on another dress while taking these pictures, I’ve done it in muslin with just a lazy zig zag instead of a full satin stitch.

First Method

1.  After your shoulder seams are sewn, start by trimming away your neck-edge seam allowance and finishing the edge with a satin stitch.
2.  To make up your collar pieces, flat all three layers together and satin stitch the top edge (no seam allowance).  Serge or zig-zag the bottom edge to keep the layers together.
3.  Mark the seam line on the front of the collar pieces with thread or disappearing marker.  Clip the seam allowance along the length of the collar, not clipping closer than 1/8″ to the seam line.
Back side (left) and front side (right)

4.  Pin your collars to your bodice, matching the notch with the shoulder seam.


5.  Using a thin satin stitch (and I say thin here in referring to the density, not the width), sew over the neck edge stitching to attach the collar. 

You can instead do a straight stitch-in-the-ditch along the left edge of the satin stitching.  I think this is what I put in the 3rd Ed. instructions, and makes it easy to alter later…less seam ripping!


6.  Viola!  Collar on!  View from the inside:

View from the outside.  I used too thin of a satin stitch in step 5, so the stitching of my neck edge isn’t as smooth as it could be.  I might redo it later, but you get the idea.


Second Method

1. Start by basting the stiffener to the front layer of fabric.  Baste 1/16″ inside of the stitching line along the bottom edge.  Then, trim the seam allowance away (on the bottom edge only) and satin stitch the edge to finish it.
2.  Add the second layer of fabric to the back side, so the stiffener is sandwiched.  When you line them up at the top edge, the second layer (which will be our lining) will be longer since its seam allowance has not been trimmed away.  Along the top edge this time, baste 1/16″ inside the stitching line catching all 3 layers.  Stop (this is important) 1 inch away from the center-front point.  Trim the seam allowance away again (all the way down to the point), then satin stitch the edge to finish it, stopping 1″ above the point.
3.  Press the lining seam allowance to the inside, clipping if necessary.  It should look like this:
 4.  Draw the stitching line around your neck edge with a disappearing marker, or mark it with a basting thread.  Clip the curve of the seam allowance liberally.
 5.  Pin the stiff collar outer layer to the neck edge, matching the notch with the shoulder seam and the point with center-front.
 6.  Do the same on the underside.  The priority here is that the collar lining is laying flat.  If the folded edge is a bit off from the stitching line, don’t worry.  So long as it’s not more than an 1/8″ too high, it will get caught by the stitching.
Once this step is done, the neck edge seam allowance should be sandwiched between the two collar layers.
 7.  Using a thin satin stitch (and I say thin here in referring to the density, not the width), sew over the satin stitching on the bottom of the collar.  This step is similar to step 5 in the first method, except for that the stitching you’re going over is on the collar, instead of on the bodice.
8.  Now that the collar is attached, go back to your front point and satin stitch those last 1″ segments.
 Ta-da!  Your collar is now complete and ever-so-distinguished (or it will be if you used lovely dress fabrics, rather than muslin).

Adding a Bodice Lining

I mention briefly in the intro to the pattern instructions about adding a lining and here’s how to do it.  You can use any thin material; I like cotton because of its breathability.  If you did a mock-up of your dress (and you should), you can even use the same pieces, providing you did not have to alter them beyond use.
I usually do the neck and sleeves after the bodice is built, as they are a bit easier before the skirt and zipper are added, but you can also put the whole thing in at the end.
1.  Preparing your pieces
To start, check that your lining pieces have the same seam allowance as your dress pieces.  Sew the bodice front and backs together shoulder and side seams, and attach the sleeves but do not hem them.
2.  The Neck Edge

How your lining attaches depends on how your neck edge is being finished off.
Finishing the edge with a satin stitch?
(You can do this step now, or at the end)  Press over the seam allowance at the neck edge of your lining, but press over a 1/4″ in from the neckline (so if you have 1/2″ of seam allowance at the neck, you’ll press over 3/4″).  Pin the lining to the inside of the dress, so the lining sits 1/4″ in from the edge.  Slip-stitch the lining to the dress.  You can stitch it to the fabric if it is textured, like velvet.  Otherwise, carefully attach it to the satin stitching (see picture below).  Stop stitching 1.5″ away from the center-back seam line.
Finishing the neck edge with a collar?
(You can do this step now, or at the end)  Follow the instructions above for finishing with a satin stitch, except that you can press the lining seam allowance right on the neck line, rather than 1/4″ in.  When pinned and stitched, the lining should line up with the neck edge line instead of being 1/4″ below, as directed above.  I don’t have a picture of this, but it’s fairly similar to the instructions above.
Finishing the edge by turning the seam allowance under?
Pin the lining to the dress at the neck edge with right sides together.  Stitch along the neckline.  Clip seam allowance and turn lining towards the inside.  Press the seam.  If desired, stitch 1/4″ away from the edge (see picture below).  Stop stitching 1.5″ away from the center-back seam line.  For the dress below, I topstitched a small facing to the neck edge of my lining first, so the white wouldn’t peak out the top.
Adding a lining after construction?
Follow the steps above for finishing with a satin stitch or with a collar, whichever is applicable.  If you don’t have a collar, use the satin-stitching method, so the facing stays away from the edge.  See step 5 (center back) before stitching all the way to the zipper.
3.  Sleeves
If your sleeves aren’t sewn into their respective bodices, do that now.  Hem your dress sleeves (but not the linings).  Press the hem of the sleeve linings up 1/2″ shorter than the original hem, and slip-stitch the lining down 1/2″ away from the hem edge.
4.  You’ll now continue on with the regular instructions, making your skirt, sewing the dropped waist seam, putting in your zipper, and everything else until the dress is finished.  I would even sew on any cape velcro you have to add to the dress now.  Make sure your lining stays out of the zipper and dropped-waist seam.
5.  The Dropped Waist Seam
Press the seam allowance up along the bottom edge of your bodice lining.  Pin the folded edge right along the dropped waist stitching line (you can see the stitching line in the picture, where I’ve pulled the lining up a bit).  To ensure your lining isn’t too tight up and down, have your dancer try it on quick, or put it on a dress form.  If your dress fabric is loose and bubbling, the lining might be too short and tight.  Re-press the lining 1/4″ down to loosen it up.  Slip-stitch the lining to the inside of the dropped waist seam, stopping your stitching 1.5″ away from the center back.
6.  The Center Back
Press over the center-back seam allowance 1/4″ away from the seam line.  Pin the folded edge to the inside of the zipper, 1/4″ away from the edge.  If you stitched the zipper on 1/4″ away from the edge, you can use the stitching as a handy guide.  Slip-stitch the lining to the inside of the zipper, and finish off the small gaps in stitching at the back of the neck and dropped-waist seam.
Your dress is now beautifully lined.  Linings not only catch sweat, but they also make the dress more comfortable.  Enjoy!


A Handy Guide to Bodice Alterations

Not all bodies are the same shape, so it’s natural to need to do a small adjustment or two to get the bodice sitting nicely.  It is easy to alter a pattern if the place that is too big or small is the side-seam or center back, but here are a few ways to correct ill-fitting bodices focusing on the shoulder, armhole, and neck (with a quick mention of lengthening and shortening).  I prefer to fit the bodice front and back without a sleeve first, as some adjustments can affect the armhole (which affect the sleeve).  Once I’ve taken care of those adjustments, I’ll add the sleeve and try it on again.  Be sure to clip into neck and armhole curves, or they will seem too tight, even if they really fit fine.
**Update!** Further alterations pertaining to the Embroidery Bodice add-on can be found here.
(Most pictures expand when clicked on.)

SHOULDER HEIGHT – Sloping Shoulders

Effect: Loose rippling at top of shoulder.
-Pin the excess into a ‘dart’ at the shoulder seam.
-On the pattern: angle the shoulder down the width of the ‘dart’ on both the bodice front and back. (Ex: If the dart is 1/2″ wide, that means 1″ of fabric total is being taken out.  So take out 1/2″ each on the front and back)
-Alter the sleeve pattern as described below.

SHOULDER HEIGHT – Square Shoulders

Effect: Strain at the top of shoulder and puckering towards the neck.
-Release the shoulder seam starting at the armhole and continuing almost until the neck edge.  Measure the width of the gap at the armhole edge.
-On the pattern: angle the shoulder up half the width of the gap on both the bodice front and back. (Ex: If the gap is 1″ wide, add 1/2″ each to the front and back)  Smooth the armhole.
-Alter the sleeve pattern as described below.

SHOULDER WIDTH – Width across chest or back is too narrow(A) or too wide(B).

Effect: May create puckering.  Sleeve may be stretched tight(A) or appear loose and saggy(B).
-Re-draw the armhole so that it sits along the crease of the shoulder joint.
-If the armhole curve increases or decreases in length by more than 1/4″, alter the sleeve pattern as described below.
A – Bodice too narrow
B – Bodice too wide



Effect: Front armhole ripples at the side of the bust.
-Pin a dart from the bust to the armhole.  Measure the width of the dart.
-On the pattern: Draw the newly created side dart on the bodice front pattern piece.  Slice the pattern piece vertically up the side of the main bust dart and across the bottom of the new side dart.  Rotate the side piece on the bust point and match up the two lines of the side dart so that it disappears.  The main bust dart should have increased in width.  Smooth the armhole.
-Alter the sleeve pattern as described below.


Effect: Back armhole ripples to the side of the shoulder blades.
-Pin the excess fabric at the armhole into a dart.  Measure the width of the dart.
-On the pattern: Transfer the new side dart to the bodice back pattern.  Its point should extend to directly above the back waist dart.  Draw a line from the new dart’s point up to the center of the shoulder.  Cut along the shoulder line and the top of the new side dart.  Rotate the side piece on the dart’s point and match up the two lines of the dart so that it disappears.  You now have a dart in the shoulder.  Draw a dart reaching no more than 3 1/2″ for teens and adults (2 1/2″ for small girls) and smooth the armhole.
-Alter the sleeve pattern as described below.

NECKLINE – Neckline is too low(A) or high(B).

Effect: May create gaping or puckering.
-Redraw neckline so that it sits nicely at the base of the neck.  If using the collar, draw a new collar line parallel to the old one coming off your new neckline.
-If using the optional collar, pin the collar pattern piece to the neck edge.  If the circumference of the neck edge has changed substantially, the collar may have to be lengthened or shortened(C).


You should not have to modify the sleeve unless you have modified the armhole.  If your alterations have made the circumference of the armhole more than a 1/4″ larger or smaller, you may need to alter the sleeve to ensure that it sits as intended.
-On the pattern: Cut horizontally across the sleeve cap approximately 1″ above the darts.  Move the top piece up or down as needed and smooth the lines of the sleeve cap.  A good rule of thumb is: for every 1/2″ increase or decrease in the armhole, move the top piece of the cap up or down 1/4″.



To lengthen the bodice, cut the bodice front and back pattern pieces horizontally within the range marked.  Spread the pieces apart the desired length and smooth the side seams and darts.
To shorten the bodice, cut the bodice front and back pattern pieces horizontally along the bottom of the range marked.  Overlap the pieces the desired amount, with the bottom of the bodice laying on top, and smooth the side seams and darts.
The skirt can also be lengthened or shortened (at the hem), but it is unadvisable to do more than 1″ of lengthening or shortening in the skirt hem, as the width of the skirt will be affected as well as the length.  Too much removed in the hem will end up with a skirt that does not stick out at all, and too much length added can cause the skirt to become comically wide!