All About Bra Fitting: Bust Position and Torso Shape

For part three of my informal exploration into the elements of bra fit, I want to look at bust position and torso shape. A lot of bra advice focuses on the breast itself, and while that is hugely important, the torso that provides the base for the breast can have a dramatic effect on fit and comfort, too.

Since bra manufacturers are attempting to sell their design bra to as many people as possible, they have to settle on one averaged sizing standard that hopefully (sort of) fits as many of their customers as possible as a basis for their bra designs. As anyone who sews knows, it’s hard to fit a wide range of bodies with a specific sizing standard without the fit being off somewhere for most people, which is why patterns rarely fit perfectly right out of the envelope. The proportions of certain body measurements like back torso width to front torso width, breast diameter, and breast spacing can vary widely between women, but for production purposes for any given bra brand, there are only a single, averaged set of measures being used, unless the brand specializes in a particular subset of body types (petite, curvy, tall, plus sizes).

What this means is that if you have body proportions that differ dramatically from that standard, you may have certain fit problems. A simple, very common fit issue happens when bust spacing is different than the assumed standard, which is one to two finger widths apart. If your breasts have less space than this or are touching in the center, underwires in a standard bra don’t rest against the sternum, but instead sit painfully on top of or jab into the breast tissue, and there may be some gaping at the outer side of the cup. (A possible solution to this is a plunge style bra or a bra with a very low, narrow gore.) If your breasts are more widely spaced than the assumed standard, this will usually mean that the cup gapes in the center front near the gore while wires jab or rest on top of the breast tissue on the outer edge of the breast. (Bras with a wider center gore can help with this, and shorter wired styles like demi bras can help with wire issues on the outside of the breast.) Some other common bust position issues arise if your breasts have a wide or narrow root (more on this in a hugely-relevant-to-this-stuff future in-depth look at breast shape), or if your back is particularly broad or narrow. Both of these may throw off the proportions of the bra wings to the cup placement, landing underwires in the wrong place relative to the breast.

But there are also other, less obvious factors of body anatomy that complicate bra fit. Overall ribcage shape, both vertically and horizontally speaking, can dramatically affect how a bra rests against the body and whether the breast tissue can then fully supported by the cups. Since the majority of a bra’s support is provided by the bra band and the cups, if these aren’t positioned in a way to effectively hold and distribute the weight of breast tissue, the bra is unlikely to offer much support or comfort. Most mass bra production uses a horizontally oval shaped, vertically gradually tapered to the waistline type of rib cage shape as their baseline for shaping the bra band and positioning bra cups within it. But, of course, not all rib cages are shaped this way.

Here’s a great illustration of rib shapes viewed from the side that comes from a site (Butterfly Collection Blog) that seems down at the moment. (I don’t agree with the shape terminology used here, because I’ve seen rib flare describe something else in other contexts, curved vs. rounded is confusing, etc, but the visual is great).

Torso and Bra Fit

Vertically speaking, rib cages can be very straight, and barely taper to the waist at all, especially in more rectangular torso shapes without a very defined waistline. Rib cages can also be rounded or what might be called barrel chested, which means the ribs don’t taper inward toward the waistline as much as the standard but are more curved outward. Rib cages can be very dramatically tapered inward toward the waistline, especially in dramatic hourglass type shapes with a very small waist. Each of these variations will change the ratio of band to cup, and can require different adjustments to the vertical shape of the band to help it fit more closely to the body as it must in order to give adequate support..

Horizontally speaking, rib cages can have a variety of shapes other than oval that can mean the way breast tissue fills cups is different than with the standard oval shape. Here is an illustration of rib cage shapes in cross section that might help explain. It happens to be male, but you can get an idea of how breast tissue stacked on these shapes would cause breasts to project differently:

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The “standard” chest has an oval shaped front and relatively flat chest wall on which the typical bra can rest evenly against the body. On a more barrel shaped chest, the chest wall is more rounded, and when a standard bra is positioned on this shape, bra cups may point outward in what is often called an east/west position. I’m not an expert on anatomy and my knowledge here is limited, but I’d expect that bodies exist in a continuum of shapes, and that the projecting rib cage (pectus carinatum) and inwardly curved rib cage (pectus excavatum) pictured here are probably extreme examples of shapes that occur to a lesser degree in plenty of people.

From what I’ve been able to find about these variations, a convex, outwardly curving front rib cage shape causes a range of fit problems because of how a bra rests against this shape and where the breast tissue is distributed relative to the resulting angle of the bra cups. Bra cups may be too far apart, with gaping at the sides and not enough fullness in the center front of the cup. Fashion Incubator has a great in depth write up on this particular shape with some illustrative pictures here.

My intuition is that with a chest wall that curves in a more concave way in front, the fit problems in a standard bra might be similar but reversed. My guess is that a standard bra would be tilted inward in a way that it would smoosh the cups together. The problem then is that the cups will be positioned differently than the breast tissue is actually distributed on the body, so there may be some gapping in the center front of the cups, and they might not be full enough to contain all the breast tissue at the sides. I suspect underwires might be especially uncomfortable in the center for this body type.

This is a lot of information and it seems a bit overwhelming, but my belief is that better fit begins with a better understanding of one’s own body shape. Knowing the physical factors that affect bra fit can help you know where to begin to look for answers. The internet has some amazing resources that deal with issues like these in depth, like Her Room, which links to recommended bra brands known to work well for specific fit issues, or Bratabase, which is a community dedicated to finding good fit and reviewing bra brands by actual wearers. There’s even a reddit community dedicated to A Bra That Fits.

I also feel like there is a huge amount of psychological baggage that comes along with bra fitting. A bra that flatters us can make us feel not only comfortable but attractive and confident. Trying on 37 bras and not ever being able to feel good about the results has this nasty way of eating away at your confidence. Never being able to find a standard bra that fit well or looked good on me for at least a decade of adulthood (along with a ton of jokes about being small chested in the era of cleavage and push up bra fashion) gave me a lot of negative feels about my appearance. Sadly, I know my experience is very, very, very common, and that no matter what shape or size they are, it’s all too easy for women (and men) to feel that there is something inferior or inadequate about their bodies. I’d like to yell it from the rooftops now that just because a person’s body doesn’t fit the “standard” doesn’t mean it’s somehow lesser or there’s something “wrong.” All fit standards are abstractions, not ideals. And even the fit “problems” I describe above aren’t “problems” so much as merely shape differences that just require style tweaks or certain adjustments in order to achieve support and comfort.

I think that’s it for today (*climbs down from favored soapbox*), but my next deep dive in bra fitting will explore the very related issue of breast shape and underwire types. (For quick reference, here are part one, Anatomy of a Bra and How to Know if a Bra Fits and part two, All About the Bra Band: It’s Cantilevered!).

 

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All About the Bra Band: It’s Cantilevered!

For part two of my exploration of the bra, an in depth look at the bra band, its relationship to cup size, and its role in complicating everything about finding a bra that fits. 

The bra band is really the base of the bra. It’s where the vast majority of the support comes from, and the support it provides is cantilevered horizontally from the close fitted band and the cups holding the weight of the bust up, rather than support by suspending weight from the shoulders, which hurts and doesn’t work very well. 

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Oh, yes, Jimmy, it is a veritable marvel of modern engineering.

The bra band also establishes circumference of the torso at the underbust (for simplicity, I’m disregarding for a moment the way that the old plus four inches issue muddies the waters for certain sizing systems). Bra band size is the starting point for how we describe bra sizes. Cup sizes are relative, and the letters actually have no meaning without a bra band to give them context. Even though we talk about double Ds or B cups as if they describe an objective size, they actually don’t mean anything, because they are relative to the band size that defines them. Here’s a better visual explanation of how cup size relates to torso/band size:

The way that we write bra sizes as a numerical value and a letter is kind of like a little math equation where the bra band is the base circumference of the body at the underbust, and each letter increase adds an inch to this to end up with enough room for the circumference of the bust at the fullest point:

AA = .5 inch

A = 1 inch

B = 2 inch

C = 3 inch

D = 4 inch

DD or E = 5 inch

And upward, though the specific letters used sometimes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer or European system versus American sizing system, etc. If you wrote it as a math problem, it would be something like this: 

Numerical band size/underbust circumference + letter to specify extra cup inches = full bust circumference

So for a 36B, it’s basically an equation that says: 36″ rib cage + 2″ total added in the cups = 38″ full bust measurement. This is why sister sizing works, where you can go down a band size but a cup letter, or up a band size and down a cup letter, to approximate a fit like your exact size (more on this another day).  

This sounds simple enough, but then everything gets complicated, because A) different fabrics are reduced by different amounts depending on stretch and recovery properties, so a band designed for a 36″ rib cage probably will measure smaller than that, B) all bodies are not the same and the broad backed and non-standard torso-ed among us (*raises both hands*) are statistical outliers who can’t find an appropriate size this way, and C) the plus 4 phenomenon.

The plus four thing is an often repeated piece of advice bra fitting – take your actual rib cage measurement, if it’s even, add four inches, and if it’s odd, add five inches to get your band size. To me, this seems illogical and stupidly complicated, and it seems more intuitive to just use your actual rib cage measurement. There are interesting historical reasons that this developed that I’m reading up on and will write about, but it seems to have been a vanity sizing tick that happened around the ‘50s or ‘60s when bra sizing as we now know it began to emerge as an industry standard. Things get really, really complicated these days, because sizing standards vary by market (American, UK, EU, Japanese, Australian, to name a few), and because in the US market, some companies no longer add these inches into the band sizes, and some companies do. This means a 36 band brand A might not be drafted for the same rib circumference as brand B, so your 36B is not the same size across brands. For those of us who don’t want to try on 37 bras at the mall to find one with a good fit, this is exasperating.

This isn’t exactly the bra manufacturer’s fault, since it is very hard to accommodate the wide range of bust shapes, sizes, and body proportions that exist in the real world into a single approximation. It’s a complicated supply/demand and consumer knowledge problem. Even if there were more variations available, most of us (my pre-lingerie-addiction self included) would not know where to begin to understand our particular shape and support needs. That being said, some kind of standardization on band measurement seems to me like it would make it much easier for all of us. (In my own drafting and bra sizing, I use an exact rib cage measurement as a starting point, since the plus four model assumes a certain standard tapered rib cage typical of more of an hourglass shape than the vast majority of women have. Statistically most of us are much more rectangular.)

I’ll be rambling about bust position next in my sprawling Ted talk on the mechanics of the bra. 🙂 I’d love to hear any thoughts, and if anyone knows more about the weird history of bra size standards, I’d love to hear more on this.

Anatomy of a Bra and How to Know if a Bra Fits

I’m working on an in depth guide to bra sizes, bra types, some common fit issues, and in particular, how to use all of this information to have a better idea of what to look for in a bra shop or when specifying sizing and style needs in a bespoke bra. Prior to making lingerie, this was all a mystery to me, so I thought it might be helpful to share it as I write it out. This will be the first part in a multi-part series on the intricacies of the bra. 🙂

The Anatomy of a Bra. 

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How to Tell if a Bra Fits

Start with the band, which is the part that encircles the torso, made of the center gore, the front cradle that holds the cups, and the back wings. It should fit snugly on the loosest hook when the bra is new. (The elastic will stretch over time, so the other hooks allow you to adjust for this. ) It should be close fitting but comfortable, and ideally, two fingers should be able to fit between the band and your body, but not more. It should be level all the way around the body, and not ride up in the back.

In an underwired bra, the center gore of the bra should lie flat against the sternum, unless you have very full breasts that touch at the base of the breast. If the gore is held away from the sternum, the cups are probably too small.

The cups should fully encase the breast tissue from the breast root without flattening breast tissue or having tissue spill out from the cup. If the underwires or center gore are held away from the chest wall, the cups don’t have enough depth. If tissue is spilling over the top of the cup or under it at the sides or underarm, the cup size probably isn’t correct. Cup size is complicated by a few factors that I’ll explore in depth in a few days, particularly breast shape and breast position on the torso. If the cup puckers or gapes, sometimes this means the cup is too small, but this isn’t always the case. With certain breast shapes, some brands and cup styles can gape even if the size is correct. This is an issue close to my heart and is a big part of why I started making lingerie, so I’ll explore this further in the near future as well.

When trying on bras, to ensure that all the breast tissue is in the cup, the stoop and swoop technique can really help. It can have a dramatic impact on comfort, fit, appearance, and overall functionality of the cup. To do this, when putting the bra on, bend forward at the waist and use gravity to help gather all your breast tissue toward the front and position it inside the cup. Often breast tissue that isn’t gathered up into the cup can be smashed down by underwires or out the sides of the bra. If the tissue isn’t entirely in the cup, it isn’t being well supported, and this can be uncomfortable and less flattering than a well fitting cup. This can be really helpful for the well-endowed trying to find a truly supportive bra size. It helps with smaller busts, too, though, and can make a surprising difference in cup size and the fullness of tissue within the cup. Curvy Kate has a great video here:

The cups and the frame should work together to position the breasts high on the body, and they should provide most of the support. The straps should only provide about 10% of the support and should function mostly to keep the upper cup positioned correctly. If straps are digging into your shoulders or leaving marks, the band should be adjusted to provide better support.

I hope this is helpful, and I’d love to hear any other tips and tricks to getting a great bra fit. 🙂 Check back soon for the next part, which will explore the bra band and its role in sizing inconsistency.

8 weeks down, 32 to go. :/

We had the first prenatal visit and ultrasound a few days ago, which has helped, in that I have gone two whole actual days without uncontrollably sobbing every 3 hours. It’s good to feel some agency or some control over my emotions for now, and to feel actually energetic enough to want to try to do something.

The first visit was reassuring, in that I liked this doctor better than my first, in that my partner was with me throughout it this time, in that the (*gulp* transvaginal alien probe) ultrasound showed enough detail that we could see little arms moving and wiggling happening in real time. During the first pregnancy, my son didn’t become a real little person to me until much later, when I could watch him bounce around with elbows and feet and knees poking out of my belly. Sometimes the thought of a little person down there is a comfort. Sometimes, though, it induces a little throb of claustrophobia, as if this body is too crowded and I can’t escape it. Some women love it, and more power to them, but it feels a bit like being a host in an Alien movie sometimes, like something might burst out. (P.s. body horror as a genre is not working for me right now.)

The physical changes and the discomforts are more immediately obvious to me than during my first pregnancy.  I’m already showing and uncomfortable in my clothes. My lower abdomen is more sensitive to pressure, so wearing pants low or unbuttoned isn’t going to work like it did till about month 6 of pregnancy number one. I have worn pajama pants to take my son to school *twice* now, which is unheard of for someone who uses clothing as a social armor to hide behind.

So my mission for Easter weekend is to make some pants. They have to come up over the bump in the front, and for comfort’s sake, I’ll be going with a back zipper closure on pretty much everything for the next year of my life. At this point, a basic full abdomen alteration will suffice, I think. Hot Patterns has the best tutorial I’ve seen so far on how to do this (here). An illustration of the flat pattern changes from their page:

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I have a pair of very large men’s dress pants that I bought from Goodwill that I might disassemble for fabric for this one, if my energy holds up. Updates to follow. 🙂

Achievement Unlocked: New Etsy Shop

I’m excited (and a bit jittery) to say that my Etsy lingerie shop is finally open. I’ve been setting it up for a few weeks and still have *so many things* I want to add to it, but it’s a start that I feel proud of. Also excited to say I’m testing sizing and writing up directions for a sewing pattern I hope to release soon. The crafter life goals of sewing for others and pattern drafting do work well together.

So far, no full cradle bras because I’m writing up my 95 theses of how to fit a bra. Not really 95, but a few pages for sure. I’ve been reading a lot on sizing standards and the history of different measurement practices and vanity sizing, and now I see why most of us are totally confused by manufacturer sizing. More on this later when I get my fitting guide all hammered out, but the issue of adding four or five inches to your underbust measurement really throws a wrench in everything. What’s even more frustrating is that just using your raw underbust measure seems like it would clear up everything, but then you have to grapple with figuring out which manufacturers add inches to the underbust measure for their bands and which don’t, and with how individual brands approach sizing, because a 36B in one brand might be another brand’s 32DD. (I intend to use the raw underbust measure, myself, though I’ve found the high bust to be a better place to measure – right under the armpits, over the bonier part of the upper chest, since the underbust measure can vary so dramatically with breathing, sitting vs. standing, bloating, etc. It tends to be slightly larger than the underbust measure by an inch or two, which works out perfectly for me with my broad back and unusual proportions, but may not for everyone.)

For now, I’ve focused on lacy bralettes, underwear and garter belts in the shop, and I’m still learning the ins and outs of SEO and writing copy and it’s been actually kind of amazing in researching all of that to realize how much snake oil marketing stuff floating around out there is promising starry-eyed budding entrepreneurial dreamer types like myself that a fortune is there for the taking if we just fork out 2k for whatever guru’s online course! Ugh, gross. (They tell me that if I don’t set up a mailing list, the howling abyss demon of failure and loneliness and bad skin will come for me, so if you’d like to join the mailing list, it’s (here), and I did set up a 10% off code that will be sent to your email, and I promise I won’t spam you. Especially not with false scarcity marketing or canned enthusiasm adspeak crap, because the world has more than enough of that.)

Learning photography is infinitely more fun, though I think I lost at least a week to cussing my camera controls and my cat for jumping in the shot when I finally got all the elastics to lie flat for two seconds. You can really see the eternal conflict between my antique feminine, Marie Antoinette delicate aesthetic and my Morticia Addams for life/what would Cersei wear sensibilities:

And now I’m off to bed to listen to the rain. Mmm, gothic novel spring weather.

excuse me while I talk about my underwear.

I’ve been sewing a lot of lingerie lately. My life is kind of a series of small possessions–I play host to a revolving door of obsessive interests, immersing in one after another, always centered on an axis of making *something* with a nostalgic eye cast backward in history. My hoarding of pattern catalogs and sewing ephemera *may* be giving way to hoarding of lingerie materials, which in my mind, marks some kind of progress because it’s more about the action of the crafting and the enjoyment of the moment while creating the thing than it is about possession of a thing. We’ll see.

I’m trying to move more into making than owning, more about enjoyment of the process than collecting (but I still love you, bookshelf!). I find trying to sew beautiful things to be a therapeutic exertion of will over a sometimes ugly reality. Politics has me hand-wringing? Grab my lace. Worried about antartic ice sheets? Turn off a few more light bulbs and grab my lace. Focus on the lace. The Western world seems to be both far better than it has been in the last few millenia, in terms of civil rights, gay rights, the standing of women and children, literacy, information access, medicine. Yet in terms of scaled economic injustice and systems of exploitation of labor, climate change, pollution, the island of plastic in the pacific, mercury in and acidification and warming of the oceans, species extinctions, the disappearance of the middle class, the disappearance of privacy, the uncertain future of jobs in a time of automation, it is arguably worse and far more complex than I think most human brains are evolved to be able to grapple with. I don’t know any answers. But in an often ugly, screaming world, I am trying to quietly make what beauty I can. I make lace things. I make lunches. I make babies and make love and make breakfast magic out of 3oz of leftover steak, three eggs and last night’s soggy skinned baked potato. I make scribbles. I make crude jokes. I make my grandma laugh. (Since she watched Sons of Anarchy and Game of Thrones, there’s not much that phases her. <3) That’s often all I feel I have the efficacy in this world to do.

Anyway…I’ve sewn Cloth Habit’s wonderful Harriet pattern at least 10x since I bought it.

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As it was, without modification, the cup placement was slightly narrow for my rather broad boob placement, as to be expected with any pattern I sew. Yet because my shape is shallow up top, the upper cup was sagging sad and empty, as most bras have for me forever. Not the fault of the pattern, just natural variation in human anatomy. (It is a peeve of mine when people complain about patterns not fitting their bodies precisely, especially when it comes to breast shape, when it would be so utterly and obviously impossible for any pattern maker to account for the bajillion types of bodies and mass distribution in existence.) So I tried tweaking the pieces by taking the C cup as a baseline / wireline / cup to cradle joining point and overlaying the B and A size pieces as guides to taper down to the projection of a B cup at the apex and the A cup at the top. Not sure if this was the most efficient way to do this. In fact, it surely wasn’t. But it gave me something that works. I’ve struggled for a few months with the relationship of the wire to the pattern and cup shape, but I think it’s starting to make more sense and really come together for me now. There are a few great blog entries on this topic on bramakingblog.com that were helpful for me.

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After about 10 iterations, I wanted to try something else–specifically, something less pokey in the side boob. Since I need a wire for a bigger cup size than my actual projection, and I have wide boobs on a short torso, I often feel like the wires that fit me are way too long. Demi wires are a great answer to this problem, so I worked some more on a self drafted bra pattern with a different shape. I’ve been trying to up my technical game by working on enclosing all the seams in my bras (there’s a post on doing just that on the Watson pattern on the TailorMadeBlog that got me started on this). So I tried one attempt with a full band.

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Then I reworked my pattern as a partial band bra for shallow demi wires and ended up with this.

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Considering some minor tweaks and fabric variations for this. Happy Sunday!

Fitting Woes: Moulage Drafting

Wow, it appears I have not posted in months. Sometimes I go full Luddite and stay offline for everything but work and listen to wordless cello music while I sew buttonholes by hand, because the pileup of current events has me too depressed about everything to subject myself to the bombardment of information about the all the terrible things…but then Craftsy drags me back.

So I just lost about 10 hours of my life to attempting to draft a moulage. Never again. I took Suzy Furrer’s class on Craftsy, after a lot of reading on the subject and a lot of optimism about this maybe being the thing that finally gets the right armhole/shoulder/neck fit that has eluded me for a few years now. Having just drafted my basic moulage, I can see that it’s clearly a f-ing disaster and it’s going to take either remeasuring measurements I’m 97% sure are accurate, having taken them a gazillion times for a gazillion different drafting attempts, or this process will require a holy fuckton of muslin making iterations that I’m not willing to do, having already been there and done that so many times and have a trial/error based sloper that works already. Let’s call this one a total FAIL.

The problem isn’t the class, really–Suzy Furrer does a fine job of teaching something that seems incredibly complicated to convey via distance learning. She’s thorough and as clear can be expected when neck deep in the hell of applied geometry using fractions. But I have a feeling that the industry standards, basically the formulas and rules behind the drafting, are not going to work for my proportions. As with virtually every set of out of the envelope patterns.

And it seems to be a bit more complicated than simply doing a “forward shoulder adjustment” seen all over the web (see: here for example) and on Kathleen Cheetham’s “Fitting the Neck and Shoulders” Craftsy course, which I have *also* taken and found abysmally lacking in anything new or revelatory that can help with my weird body shape. I like her body positive framing of the adjustments, but it’s mostly what I’ve seen in any number of books on basic pattern alteration already.

I have a) forward shoulders b) a broad back and somewhat wide shoulders and c) a large rib cage and d) relatively thick, short waistline. In fashion column what-to-wear parlance, I’d be an apple body or an inverted triangle. Comparing my trial and error slopers has been interesting, because my back bodice is almost two sizes larger than the front. My shoulders are not only forward, but have something of a concave curve in the front. I’ve noticed this on family, too, almost as if being broad backed without our front proportions being equal causes the shoulder angle to shift slightly to arrange this mass on the frame. It seems as if having a forward shoulder takes the straight horizontal line of the back and makes it into two planes moving in different directions, also rotating the shoulder blade slightly out. I think this changes patternmaking for close fitting garments in a way I have yet to see explained. See exhibit A from some random Tailor and Cutter board I can’t find now which had no citation for the original source anyway:

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I think a lot of drafting assumes the figure alignment to the far right, while mine is basically the center one plus boobs and maybe a slight swayback. Le sigh.

There was a fantastic piece in Seamwork (here) talking about gender neutral or gender flexible fashion (a subject near and dear to my heart because some days I want to dress like a 18th century dandy and some days I want to be Scarlet O’hara and my taste ranges all over the place!) On the difference between menswear and womenswear:

“Fundamentally, womenswear and menswear are made for differently shaped bodies. Menswear proportions usually consist of more width in the shoulder, long legs, and a short torso. Womenswear is designed to accommodate someone who is the widest at the hip, and who has a shorter torso, a bust, and shorter arms.”

So, again, I’m wondering if simply adding bust definition to a sloper intended for male bodies wouldn’t be the easier way to get here. Full bust adjustment + waist darting on a menswear sloper? Maybe the usual seam shifting of most forward shoulder adjustments? The world may never know, because I’m irritated to the point of sewing knits for awhile.

 

Lol, just kidding. I’m actually working on a pair of stays with shoulder straps to work on my garbage posture because it’s probably easier than learning to draft for this sh*t.

Current Sewing Projects: Knit Blouses and Victorian Blazers, Oh My

I want so many things on my sewing table. Impossible things. Impractical things.

Camiknickers.

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Black tulle tutus and sunglasses and spring cool.

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To draft the perfect catsuit.

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But more than anything this week, I have been working on a Victorian style blazer. Something like this, but sleeker, more vampirey. This is a Burda jacket from the Hills are Alive or something about the sound of music, but my brain is taking it to a dark nuclear post-apocalyptic place. I loathe the running stitches and the pockets and the boxy fit, and I don’t like the position of the front bust darts either. So like this but not really like this at all except the high shoulder and the high-ish back neckline. *shrug* I also have been irritated in the past by the lack of seam allowance on Burda patterns, so I definitely won’t be buying this one. Just eyecandy. Also: do you think that’s really her hair, or is that a weave? It’s a serious hunk of hair there.

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My partner hates poofey shoulders. So of course those have to happen. Because like Lady Gaga, I’m a free b***h, baby, and I LIKE a little old timey high sleeve cap if it doesn’t poof vertically. I’m thinking a single button closure in the front, a shawl collar, with a high back neck. I’ll probably give it a go in denim waste fabric for now, saving my red herringbone suiting for when I get the fit right.

I’ve actually had a good sewing week–I tried using  a vest pattern to draft a bodice for a jacket, and used my 1880s sleeve from the recent tailored jacket attempt. The fit is nearly perfect, except for the shoulders. When I move my arms forward, it pulls on the front of my shoulder and on the back, along the edge of the scye near my scapula. All my reading of historical tailoring stuff has me wanting to try a new approach on my next attempt. They talk about getting armholes TIGHT, which seems to be sort of the opposite of the slash and spread suggestions I’m used to seeing and trying and failing miserably with. The idea, as I understand, is that the better the fit of the bodice, even–and maybe especially–in the armscye area, the more independent the sleeve movement will be from the more stationary bodice. Instead of lowering the armhole or adding more back ease and sacrificing the hard earned fit, I’m going to try adding more fabric to the bodice armhole, but not only in my usual vertical direction–I’m going to shift the side seam outward and slightly up. With my back being broad and somewhat rounded at the shoulder/scapula line, as well as slightly hunched forward, my back is taking up fabric from the sleeve and my shoulders/back extend in this weird diagonal way compared to the standard form. What I want to do is cover my entire back with the bodice, so that the ease in the sleeve isn’t used up by my back mass. If that makes sense. We’ll see!

I took my jacket attempt #1 and chalk lined it all up trying to figure out where to add. I even bought some hook and eye tape, since I haven’t gotten over my buttonhole aversion just yet. So drafting and cutting attempt 2 is my project for tonight!

Another thing to consider is sleeve pitch. Sleeve pitch, as I understand very roughly, is the sort of rotation of the sleeve in the scye. Most of the time the center top of the sleeve is aligned with the shoulder seam in the usual high position on top of the shoulder. But with stooped posture or forward shoulders or very erect postures, tailors *seem* from my reading to rotate the sleeve slightly within the scye to accomodate. This keeps the grainline in the right position relative to the arm. So with my shoulder being rotated forward maybe 10-15 degrees from standard (this would be set “high” in the tailoring parlance, I think), I might try rotating my sleeve forward to keep the hang correct. What I’m curious about in this case, though, is whether it matters at all that this might throw off the match up of underarm sleeves and side seams. Would one need to shift the underarm seam? In my case with the 1880s style two piece sleeve it doesn’t matter at all, though.

I’ve been branching out and sewing with knit fabrics quite a bit too. I resisted it for ages, seeing it as something like playing an electric guitar to sound good because your technique isn’t good enough to play acoustic. But the perfectionist in me loves the lack of fraying seam edges and the lazy instant gratification craver in me who has been sewing for three years with precious little wardrobe action to show for it ADORES the fact that I can sew up something quickly that forgives minor fitting issues. So far in the last two weeks I’ve made: two great fitting, exceedingly comfortable pairs of thongs (which I intend to make a pattern of to send out into the world soon!), a princess seamed scarf collared 1930s style blouse and another more Edwardian-ish high necked, poofy gathered sleeve blouse in a sleek, pretty ITY knit! Not gonna lie, I’m pretty stoked. That’s like a year’s worth of finished objects for me, and ALL self drafted. Someday, when I find a tripod, I’ll have to post pictures. It’s an incredible feeling to find that my spread-so-thin sewing attentions come together sometimes and actually produce something.

Also, the weather is BEAUTIFUL here. I love it.

 

Happy weekend!

 

 

 

 

Fitting Woes and Effin Slopers.

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I’ve sewn three slopers in the last two days. The only explanations I had left were a) I’m deformed b) I’m deformed and a terrible measurer or c) I’m deformed, a terrible measurer and I suck at digital drafting.

Let me show you why I am deformed. This is my dad:

dadbeingstatuesquelol

Don’t get me wrong, he was the best dad. He was funny and smart and so very, very kind. I miss him every single day, and credit him with what little patience and persistence I have. While my dad’s physique was quite the accomplishment, and while I am, of course, ever appreciative of the glorious blend of Arnold Schwarzenegger-isms and raw egg protein concoctions that comprised my childhood, THOSE BACK PROPORTIONS THOUGH. I inherited those lats, and I curse them every time I sew. (Alas I inherited neither his motivation to be super fit nor his abs, although I do okay–no sugar, healthy eating, etc. I just loathe any exercise that isn’t walking or dancing around my living room like Thom Yorke. Don’t do this barefoot; it’s a good way to break your foot. Ask me how I know this.) Also: my posture plagued my dad. He designed workouts to fix my forward shoulders, which back then I didn’t care about, being a stubborn kid who stooped mostly out of shyness. I still notice myself doing this when the social anxiety kicks in. The combination of broad man back I inherited from a long line of farmer strong brawler folk and my grunge era forward stoop means that fitting a bodice is a nightmare. NIGHTMARE. I also have pretty much no waistline and narrow hips, so that’s not fun when all my vintage patterns are drafted for someone who wore a girdle from age ten. I have been stubbornly fighting with the various pattern fitting possibilities since I began sewing. In the last few days, in a veritable paroxysm of determination, I have tried:

-a forward shoulder adjustment
-a round back adjustment
-a broad shoulder adjustment
-a sloped shoulder adjustment
-lowered armhole
-shoulder seam darts
-neck darts
-drafting a bodice block from my measurements using two different systems

It has been so incredibly frustrating. I can get a block to fit my torso, kind of, using these methods. But as soon as I add sleeves, my broad back renders any forward motion of my arms impossible. The fit is uncomfortable AF. So after the failure of attempt number 3, I broke out the duct tape dress form and tried draping again. I tried this in the past, but wasn’t very practiced, so my results weren’t the best and I sort of let it fall by the wayside. But this time, after all the math and all the frustration, it was easy as pie.

I was going about it all wrong. I’m not deformed; I just have a manbody. And I’m not even that bad at drafting, but all the formulas I was using were based on creating blocks for a much more stereotypically feminine form. The final blocks I came up via draping look way more like this:

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than anything even vaguely resembling this:

woman's sloper2

and I wonder how many other women with petite, larger waisted, broad backed figures are also making themselves crazy trying to make the formulas work for them when (it would seem) the basic proportions involved are wrong from the start. From now on for myself it’s all man-blocks. I actually had already gone this route for a few pairs of pants, hellbent on not risking the cameltoe look. They work great, actually. And since most of what I want to sew channels Lilith from Frasier and the tailored suit look, blocks designed for men with a slight bust adjustment might be far less of a headache for me.

If anyone else has been through the gauntlet of these particular fitting issues and knows of any solutions, I would *love* to hear about it! I’m also very curious about the theoretical differences in drafting for men vs women. It seems like the tailor / couturier-dressmaker traditions were historically quite separate industries, which I don’t fully understand the reasons for and will have to read up on.  But it seems like the basic methods of drafting should be universal, regardless of the figure? I’m also curious about how many people have fitting problems because of the standard male vs standard female figure used for drafting…

 

Pattern Drafting: Basic Blouse for Forward Shoulder/Broad Back Fit

Over the last weekend, I decided to knuckle down and try drafting a pattern for a shirt from my own measurements. As I’d ranted previously, despite sewing something in the ballpark of 20 shirts over the last year from various patterns and with various modifications, nothing would end up fitting correctly without looking like a feed sack. So I consulted the Esther Pivnick Fundamentals of Patterndrafting book (freely available for download here) and proceeded to measure myself and fire down some synaptic pathways that have not been used since high school geometry. It was, essentially, a Klingon ritual of pain.

 

If I ever do it again I will a) draw actual lines on my body with a cheap eyeliner pencil so that there is no risk of measuring from different places and b) compile a worksheet to fill in measurements and label points for easier translation when actually drafting them. Hopefully no one catches me doing this because it might look a little too “it puts the lotion in the basket” for non sewers to understand. My measurements must have been a bit off, because the garment I ended up with was bigger than needed and didn’t really fit my midsection. The dart I ended up with in the front is, well, huge, which seems incorrect because my bust/waist/hip measurements are all within a few inches of 36, so there is almost no need for dart control to take in difference. BUT IT DID FIT MY SHOULDERS, which means IDGAF about having to redraft the waist.. I’m almost finished with the third test garment, which is a totally wearable buttondown blouse that allows for super fantastic happy funtime full motion of my arms. I can drive in it, I can raise my arms in it, I can EXERCISE in it (highly unlikely, but possible). Photos to come!

So here is what I learned about fitting a broad back and forward/curved shoulders:

-Adjust the angle of the shoulder seam on the front and the back bodice pieces. It’s easiest to lay them out so that they are butting up against each other at the shoulder seam. Adjust at the actual sewing line, not the seam allowance line, and add seam allowance back to your pattern pieces afterward. Consider the point where the shoulder seam meets the neck an anchor point. This does not change. The armhole also doesn’t change position. But the point at the end of the shoulder seam should be moved forward, usually just a small amount–for me about 1cm was perfect. Then redraw the shoulder seam line from the center anchor point to the end point on both the front and the back pattern piece. You’re essentially adding fabric to the back piece and subtracting it from the front. For me this makes the garment hang much better. But again, don’t move the armhole itself. Some things I’ve read have recommended shifting the curve of the sleeve pattern piece so that the sleeve cap ease is situated with the most fullness exactly over the ball of the shoulder, but I’ve found this adjustment to be unnecessary.

-Don’t mistakenly think broadening the shoulder seam and/or enlarging the armscye will add more freedom of movement. Been there, failed that. What you really need is to isolate the shoulder, which, almost counterintuitively, means the bodice comes high into the crook of the arm (think of what a gusset would cover). It also means the end of the shoulder seam should be behind the shoulder point, not quite on top of it. For me finding my shoulder point, subtracting about 3/4″, and angling the whole armhole back to meet this point made an enormous difference. It places the ball of the shoulder in a position to actually utilize the space in the sleeve cap to move.

-For the broad back/big shoulderblade area, I have in the past tried adding extra fabric at the lower third of the back and front armscye. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it works but looks a little more 1950s dolman sleeve than I would like. But this time, I adjusted the bodice. In the Pivnick instructions she points out that the point at the tip of the side bodice, where the bodice side seam meets the sleeve seam, can be extended out horizontally up to 1″ to allow for greater movement (with no necessary change to the sleeve pattern, as I understand it). I did this and blended it into the previous line of the side seam and it seems to have worked very well.

And now that I have a basic pattern that fits, with a bit more refining, I should have a basic block to use for experimentation and I may, just *maybe*, be coming out of my shirtmaking rut.