Full Bust Adjustment (FBA): Adding a Horizontal Dart

In my last post I showed you the Edwardian dress I sewed for my SIL.  Despite using reference books and websites with directions on FBA, I wasn’t able to put my finger on the  directions for adding a horizontal dart while narrowing the shoulder.  Since I’m not sure I can describe what I did for the narrow shoulder adjustment, I can show you how I made the full bust adjustment (FBA).

This Past Patterns #903 pattern was the starting point.   Given that the bodice only has vertical darts, my options were to slash the pattern, eliminate the darts and make it into a princess line dress or to add a horizontal dart.  While I chose the latter, I now wonder if it would have been easier to convert one of the vertical darts into a princess line and forget the second dart, especially because of the narrow shoulder adjustment.  Maybe the next time?


1.  Copy the pattern piece onto a separate piece of pattern paper, leaving several inches around all of the edges so you have space to make adjustments.  Out of the envelope, the front pattern piece looked like this.

Original pattern piece – front bodice

2. Start by adding width to the side of the bodice front (and back if needed), making sure that the dress pattern is equal to the wearer’s full bust measurement plus wearing ease.  I did this by adding to the side of the front and back of the dress top.  On the photo below, if you look to the right side (arrow #1), you can see that my pattern is much wider than the largest size of the printed pattern.  Note: By taking this step you have accommodated for the wearer’s circumference, however in order to avoid having the dress pull up in front, you will also need to add length to the dress front.  That’s where we’re going now.

3. Slash the pattern horizontally at the wearer’s bustline.  Note:  If you slash the pattern at the full bust line, the dart should fall in the correct position.

4.  Physically separate the top and bottom pieces of the pattern and add an amount that is consistent with the wearer’s fullness.  For me is was guesswork to start and then I made further adjustments with each muslin.  There’s probably a formula to calculate this but I couldn’t find it.  In the final muslin I added nearly 4″ to the bodice front.

5. Fill the slashed area with a piece of pattern paper and tape in place (not visible on my photo).

6.  Draw a dart at the center of the area you added to the pattern. (Arrow #3).  Note the bottom of the pattern – the revised pattern is much longer than the original.  (Arrow #4)

While this will likely not be your final alteration, it’s a great place to start, and you can make changes based on how the muslin fits.  In the end you should end up with something like this:

Narrow Shoulder Adjustment:

Unfortunately I don’t feel that I mastered this technique or could even offer advice on what I did to narrow the shoulders while adding several inches to the side seam.  Essentially this was so the armhole wasn’t oversized for the sleeve.   All I can say is that I followed Nancy Ziemen’s Pivot and Slide technique .

Readers, if you have suggestions on how to make this alteration differently, please leave a comment.

Long Distance Sewing: Margie’s Edwardian Dress

So lovely in her new dress

This dress took sooo much longer to make than I anticipated, mostly because it’s really difficult to fit a dress when you’re not in the same state (excuse #1, I know).  Interestingly, when we got to the point of having a good muslin, it only took a week or two to sew the dress.

Nearly a year ago, my SIL Margie asked if I would sew a replica of a historic dress for her.  For their volunteer work at a 1900’s historic home in their community, my BIL John and SIL Margie needed a dress from that era.  Delighted by the request however unfamiliar with sewing historical garments, I searched for patterns online and thankfully found PastPatterns.com.  Specifically, their 1890’s Day Dress pattern was the pattern of choice.

Here’s a chronicle of the events leading up to the dress completion:

Summer, 2011 – request to sew the dress

Aug/Sept 2011 – Once again, Jomar’s in Philadelphia rose to the occasion.  We planned for our long distance fabric selection and one evening I spent an hour or two digging through the fabric options at Jomar.  After photographing candidate fabrics, I emailed the photo to Margie and John from my iPhone.  “Yes, I like that one; I don’t care for that color; no that’s too blue; that green is nice”  They settled on a lovely light green cotton brocade.

November 2011 – In my possession was a pattern and some fabric but we hadn’t been together so I could take measurements.  Margie and I (with others) traveled to Spain together, so like a diligent sewist, I had my tape measure in my backpack.  This preliminary set of measurements allowed me to alter the pattern and make a muslin.  

Christmas 2011 – Margie and I saw each other for only an hour but had enough time to fit muslin #1.

January 2012 – Muslin #2 completed and mailed to her as then we lived a thousand miles from each other (now ~60 miles).  John kindly took photos of the muslin and pinned some of the areas requiring alteration and returned the muslin to Philadelphia.  His eye for detail was crucial for me to make the needed changes.

February – March – Now things really slowed down as the project was packed away in a moving box while I secretly hoped Margie wouldn’t need the dress.

April – Finally we had an in-person fitting of muslin #3.  I was ready to cut the fashion fabric and start sewing the dress. 

May – Margie stopped by our house for a fitting.  I made a few sizing tweaks and pinned the hem.  A week later my niece picked up the dress and delivered it.  Whew!

All of my sewing friends know that the above outlined events were underscored by showing photos of Margie in the muslin followed by requests for fitting assistance. Thank you to my sewing colleagues who helped me along the journey.  

I was so excited to be finished with the dress that I failed to take inside or construction photos however I can share a few details with you:

Fabric – cotton brocade was pre-washed twice to assure that it wouldn’t shrink in the future.

Lining – lightweight cotton-linen blend for the top only.  The lining and fashion fabric were sewn as one.  This was also pre-washed.

Seam finish – Hong Kong finish with silk organza to reduce bulk.

Buttons – vintage shank buttons purchased on Ebay.  They even smelled vintage, or musty.  The smell passed quickly.  The 22 buttons forced me to learn an easy 2-minute buttonhole technique.

Pattern alterations – added a horizontal dart for bodice fitting.  More about that on another post.

Details – a watch pocket on one of the side front seams.  Margie has since purchased a pocket watch and chain.


This was a great project as it really stretched my skills at fitting.  Margie said she got lots of compliments on her first wearing and I am very pleased with the outcome.


A Sewing Cave in the Making

Since we left Philadelphia via moving truck several weeks ago, we have been homeless.  Thanks to our very kind family members we’ve had places to stay however last week we checked into a hotel.  It was time to stop living like kids and to have some personal space.

Simultaneously we purchased a lovely home near Madison, Wisconsin.    I am excited to tell you that it met the criteria for a sewing space.  

Past Sewing Spaces

Whine with me while I tell you that in my 50 (ugh) years of sewing, I’ve never had a dedicated sewing space.   When you’re my age, there’s a lot of history:

  • A Guest Bedroom was the best I could do for about 25 years –  in several apartments and in our previous Wisconsin home.   Oh what a mess had to be cleaned up before the arrival of guests.
    • Rating:  Better than the kitchen table.
  • A Dark Space in the Basement was my sewing location for the last 6 or 8 years in our past Wisconsin home.  The space was huge but really, it was in the furnace room and the windows were tiny.   My family will attest to the fact that it only required  received an annual cleaning.  There are no photos to document this era and if there were, I’d be too embarrassed to show them.
    • Rating:  An upgrade from the kitchen table or a guest room.
  • In a Bay Window of the Family Room.  For the past 6 years in our Philly condo, the sewing area was tiny but in a  4′ x 9″  north-facing box window bay, which made it fabulous.  I used an IKEA make-it-yourself table.  It was away from the living space while being a part of the Family Room.  The downside was that most supplies were, you guessed it, in the guest bedroom and my stash was in the basement which required a trip outside the building. Despite the fact that this wasn’t a “private” space, it was a sewist’s dream.  When we were selling the condo our realtor suggested that I put the sewing machines away to not “put off” potential buyers.  Offended, I ignored her comment and made sure the table was neat and the machines were pushed toward the wall when we had a showing.
    • Rating:  A solid “9” out of “10”.  This was a dream to sew in.
Overlooking a lovely tree-lined Philadelphia street

The Future Sewing Cave

Can I tell you how exciting it is that I’ll have a dedicated sewing space.  Until we move in and are settled, I won’t be able to sew but dreaming about this room is a great substitute.  The future “Sewing Cave” is a finished 13′ x 18′  basement bedroom with great windows and a closet.  In its past life it was a Craft Room with walls of cabinets and an island.  Now it has ripped up walls and carpeting from cabinets that were removed by the previous owners (that’s a story for another time).  A little paint and new flooring will do wonders for this room.

Future Sewing Cave with 2 large windows

There’s even a “Stash Closet” in this cave.  Secretly I wonder if it will be large enough, but that’s a different problem.

Stash Closet

I’d love to hear your ideas on how to develop this creative space.  More to come……

Moving, Snowing and No Sewing

Just wanted to update all of you on what’s going on.  In the past several weeks we packed up our belongings and sold most of our furniture in preparation for moving.  Then, a few days ago we closed the sale on our Philadelphia home, had the truck loaded with an embarrassing number of fabric bins and sewing supply boxes (and a few additional household items) and set out for Wisconsin.

Once in Wisconsin and immediately before a winter storm came through we had everything moved to a storage unit where our possessions will stay until we find a home.

As the movers were unloading, I was able to pull out a few boxes of sewing supplies and place them near the storage unit door. Two of my sewing machines are still in Philly – we’ll fly back next week and will drive our car to the Midwest, including my machines and other items we didn’t want to transport in the truck.  Then I can sew again.

I’ll keep you up to date as we move through the next phase of our lives.

Life is Moving Rapidly

Life is moving fast – literally.  After an endless number of home showing and a year on the market our home is under contract.  We’ll be settling/closing (on the east coast it’s called a “settlement” and in the midwest it’s a “closing”) in the next several weeks and then will take off for Wisconsin.  As you can imagine, this life change translates into spending a huge amount of time packing, sorting, etc.

Since we’ll be living in temporary housing until we find a home, the majority of my sewing supplies will be in storage for a while.  This means I need to plan for all of my spring sewing projects and assemble all that is needed for each project.  While I have great admiration for those who can sew with a plan (SWAP), that’s a foreign concept for me.  Spontaneity is my preferred mode and it allows me to be more creative.

As you can see by six year-old  Cate’s recent writing exercise, she is very excited that we are moving near her.

During the next several weeks, blog posts will likely take a back seat to life’s changes.  As with sewing projects, I have many more blog post ideas that don’t come to fruition than those which are completed.  That’s just how it is.

Now that I’ve given Cate some air time, I need to tell you about Mira, the nine-year old budding fashion designer.  She’s always had an eye for design.  To nurture that talent, one of her Christmas gifts was “My Fabulous Look Book”, where she can create her own fashion designs.   She may be on the path to Project Runway.  Here is one of her recent designs:

It will be so wonderful to live near these two adorable and talented girls.

More on Sewing with Fur

One faux fur vest for the big girl and one for the little girls.

Because I just finished a faux fur vest for my DD, Megan and one to be shared by my GD, it seems appropriate to spend a little more time talking about how much fun it is to sew with fur.

When I saw my sister Liz at Christmas, she had just completed a faux fur vest for my niece.  The fabric from fabric.com is a 1-1/2″ long animal look-alike that’s soft as cashmere and it so fashionable on my niece.  Liz was kind enough to give me the left over fur so I could make a vest for Megan.  Always trying to get one more garment from a piece of fabric, I was barely able to squeeze out a vest for my GD.

While faux fur vests are fashionable, very cute and inexpensive compared to RTW, you really need to love someone to sew a garment made from fur.  We were selling our home and preparing for an open house and there were nasty fur fibers everywhere.   Not just for one day but for days after the vests were finished – just like when we had a German Shepherd!  Made me realize that we need a new vacuum too.  Now I’ll stop whining.

Tips for Making a Fur Vest

  • Use a pattern with minimal design elements, buttonholes, etc.  Megan’s was made from Burda 7289 which is a fur vest pattern.  It has a front dart however I skipped it.  The little girl’s pattern was self-drafted from a shrug pattern.  For both vests, the back and lining is a mid-weight poly.  Both are fully lined.
  • When cutting, use pointed scissors and cut only the fabric backing – the fur will separate easily after the backing is cut.
  • To control the effects of shedding, store everything in a plastic bag before and during sewing.
  • Just like the fur collar, clip the fur from the backing of the seam allowance to reduce bulk and to make it look professional.  If your seam allowance is 5/8″, clip the fur for 5/8″ of the seam allowance.
  • Sew the seams as you would sew any other seam.  Hold of on trimming the seams…..
  • Before  trimming and clipping the seams, on the right side of the fabric, use a needle or leather punch to pull the fur fibers out of the seam.

Oops – when I sewed the bottom of Megan’s vest to the lining, I trimmed the seams before pulling out the fur fibers.  Because some of the long fibers had been cut short,  the vest hemline looked like my mother used dull scissors to hack off my bangs.  To fix the problem I sewed a new seam which resulted in a vest that was 1″ shorter than I intended.  The second time I pulled the fibers out of the seam and then trimmed it.  Sorry, I forgot to take photos so you could learn from my error.

  • Clip the corners like any other fabric.  Despite this there may be some bulk.
  • Use hooks or ribbon to fasten the vest – it’s nearly impossible to make buttonholes, especially when working with long fur.
  • When pressing, avoid steam and protect the fur fibers from the iron with a pressing cloth as the heat will melt the fibers or make them curl as if singed.  Yes, I learned this by experience too.
  • Step back and enjoy your accomplishment.  You deserve it.

Mira’s Nightgown and Cate’s Quilt

Nightgown (formerly a PJ top)

Several weeks ago I blogged about my adorable granddaughter Mira’s desire to make a pajama top.  At the time we made it, she said she wanted to add a skirt, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that during our sewing date last week, she wanted to fulfill her fashion dream.  After she drew a picture of what she was envisioning, we set forth on adding a skirt to the pj top.  She could see what I couldn’t – a nightgown (that would likely double as a princess dress).

As Mira is still new to machine sewing, I was unsure about the complexity or time it would take to gather the skirt, so I pleated the skirt fabric and she sewed it to the top.  After hemming the skirt and adding a casing at the waist, Mira fed a piece of ribbon through the casing.  That night she slept well in her new nightgown.

Patiently waiting for her turn…..

In the same post, I wrote that Catie, age 6, was quite satisfied to sit on my lap while sewing.  That may have been true in November, but in the ensuing month, Catie grew up.  She waited for her turn to use the sewing machine and this time she was ready to sew on her own.  Our conversation went something like this:

Cate:  “Ramma (her pet name for Grandma), can I sit on the chair by myself and you can sit next to me?”

Me: “OK, that will work but I’ll need to be very close to you”.

Cate:  “Can I put my foot on the pedal all by myself?”

Me:  “OK” (while I checked to make sure the machine speed was on low).

We then sewed a few squares onto her quilt.

Cate: “I think I’m ready to use the thread cutter like Mira does”.

Using the thread cutter

Cate:   “Ramma, you don’t need to put your hands on the fabric, I can do it myself”.   Then, “Ramma, I can do it myself”! (forcefully)

While I wanted Cate to be able to go solo, I was keenly aware that she’d be safest with some assistance.

She quickly sewed a dozen or more squares and then said, “Now what can we sew?”  We found enough quilting cotton to make a pillowcase.  Her sister soon followed with the same project and then Catie started her second quilt.

Second quilt (Mira in background with pillowcase)

What a busy yet fun afternoon we had.  I am still shocked that at age 6, Cate can use a sewing machine with minimal supervision.  I’ve read that six-year-old’s sew with a machine but honestly I didn’t believe it.  Now I do.

What suggestions do you have for their next projects?

Mira’s Sewing Lessons: Pajama Top

About a year ago, I blogged about teaching Mira to sew her first pair of pajama pants.   Unfortunately because we live hours from each other and because visits are filled with other fun activities, we have little time for sewing.  However on our last visit we had a “sewing date”.  Her choice was to make a pajama top to match the beloved but now “high-water’ pants she made last year.  She designed the top, using a complimentary flannel print for the sleeves.

So proud in her new pj top

Hmmm. So how could I help Mira sew a pj top with no buttons and yet so she could pull it over her head?  With not many patterns to chose from, I bought a raglan knit pj top.  By cutting it several sizes larger than her size, cutting out the neckline to fit over her head and by placing a small amount of elastic at the neckline we were set to sew.  As far as the fabric type, pre-washed flannel is great for a project such as this because the fabric is easy to sew and it doesn’t ravel easily so there’s no overcasting.


Me:  “What’s the first safety rule for sewing?”

Mira:  “Never put your fingers near the needle.”

She passed the test and we were ready to sew.

Little did I know that Mira was envisioning a hood on the pj top.  So when the sleeve and side seams were done, Mira said, “Now, let’s add a hood”.  (Guess I’ve made sewing look way too easy).  Her bathrobe has a hood, so I traced the pattern and we had a hooded pj top.

What a proud girl she was, every step of the way.  Sewing (and trying on) time took about one hour.


Catie did art projects with her grandpa while eagerly awaiting her turn at the sewing machine.  At age 6, she’s not quite ready to sew independently, so we came up with a plan to sew quilt pieces.  It worked beautifully.

Cate sat on my lap and when needed at the beginning and end of stitching a square, she toggled to reverse the stitch.  It was perfect for her – she was involved and still safe.  Meanwhile, her foot stayed right on top of mine.

 What a fun time we had.  To be continued….

Spain: 3 Brothers, 1 Sister, 2 Cousins and 1 BIL

Not much blogging in the next several weeks as Kevin and I are traveling to Spain with some of his family. To be specific, our travel mates are 2 of Kevin’s brothers, (one is married to my cousin), his sister and her husband. We convinced all of them to travel light, only taking carry-on’s, and they all passed the minimalist travel test.


Ruffled Skirt Tutorial

In response to the posts on how to sew with pre-ruffled fabric, I’ve gotten questions about which pattern works for sewing a ruffled skirt.  The good news is that you don’t need a pattern.  This fits into the “it’s so easy that it’s hard” category. 

Starting with the End in Mind:

Sorry, my model lives miles away from me :)

1.  With pre-ruffled knit fabric in hand, cut one piece.  

  • Width – equal to the wearer’s hip size (remember this is really stretchy fabric so no ease is needed).  
  • Length – slightly longer than desired (it’s easy to cut off an extra ruffle or two after the garment is finished).
40" wide by 26" long (fabric is folded in half)

2.  Position the ruffles at the seamline.  Pin in place.

3.   Machine baste the seam.  You can see the extra pieces of ruffle sticking out.  They can be cut off however serging will also do it for you.

4. If the ruffles are all in place, you are ready to serge the seam.  

5. Cut a piece of wide elastic plus 1″ for overlapping the seam. This should be the length of the wearer’s waist or slightly larger if it will be worn below the natural waist.  

6. Sew elastic into a circle by overlapping 1/2″.

7. Mark the 4 quarters of the elastic and the corresponding quarters at the top edge of the skirt.  

8.  Pin the elastic to the skirt.  Note:  For a clean look, bottom of elastic should meet up with the top of a ruffle.

9.  Machine baste the elastic while stretching to fit the skirt.  Missing this important step isn’t worth it.  It’s really tough to remove stitches as it destroys the fabric edges.

9.  Zig-zag or coverstitch the elastic onto the skirt, stitching very close to the bottom edge of the elastic.

10.  If desired, adjust the hem length by cutting off one or more ruffles.  

You are done.  Wasn’t that easy?