FFRP Odyssey: Bodice Part N (as in eNd)

Bloggers who do illustrated tutorials have my full admiration. Because it’s bloody hard to do well!

I started out with the best of intentions to make my FFRP Odyssey a tutorial of sort. But I ran out of patience. Sewing is supposed to be fun. This bodice fitting is turning out to be a chore. So I’m going to wrap this up and park further fidgeting with fitting for the future, when my patience returns. Brace yourself for a long post though.

Hurdle Squared: 1 step forward & 2 steps back

I must admit I haven’t been exactly faithful to FFRP when it comes to the actual alteration. Some of the diagrams just don’t add up to me. So I turned to my Fitting & Pattern Alteration book at times (eg initial back width & high round back alterations), and resorted to smooshing and transfering à la Kenneth King at other times (more back width alteration).


This is the closest I got to what looks like a good fit, in tissue anyway:

So imagine my dismay when the first gingham try-out turns out like this:

It felt a bit too loose around the bust and in the back. Pinning out the looseness I arrived at this:

Hmm, over-fitted. Again.

The bust points are now a little bit too high. This together with the horizontal wrinkles in the lower back make me think I might have pinned out too much length in the front. I had deepen the side bust darts and took a horizontal tuck between bust points to follow what I thought was the contour of my bust. I probably should have made the side bust darts more shallow instead. Just one of those paradoxes of fitting that gets you.

After correcting this mistake and experimented with different back side seam angles and side seam height alignments, I arrived at this:

The slight tug under the bust I think is just due to the curved under-bust darts not being properly clipped to the curves.

The front armscyes look a bit too scooped out. But they feel more comfortable this way, especially when I reach my arms forward and the whole shoulder areas seem to move with my arms, creating those vertical wrinkles next to the armscyes.

There’s an interesting discussion on Pattern Review about this which I can’t seem to find anymore. Someone had claimed that for comfortable arm movement the front armpit to armpit width (at about the notch level) should have zero ease, but the same width in the back should have about 3/4″ ease (or 3/8″ per side). The only problem for me is that when my arms are by my sides, they tilt backward a bit, so extra fabric at the back armscye notches binds. So my armscye now look a bit like a tear drop shape. Weird.

The back I just can’t seem to get right. It doesn’t help that I don’t have a fitting buddy for this hard to reach (and see) area. I ended up shifting the dart points inward closer to my blade apexes, pinning a horizontal tuck between the blades at blade level, vertical tucks at the darts and deeper bottom darts, and horizontal tucks in lower side backs to pin out excess lengths at the back side seam.

By this point, I have so many markings on this gingham that I can’t see what’s what anymore. So I transferred the latest alterations back to the tissues. Then I traced off a copy that removed any extra vertical and horizontal tucks and darts by pivoting and sliding.

After truing things off I made a fresh gingham off the new altered patterns:

Apart from needing to lengthen it slightly all around, I’m declaring it Good Enough for now. Well, good enough for a Hold-Your-Breath Bodice anyway. There really isn’t enough ease to breath easily in this. I’m speculating this won’t be a problem for stretch woven, but will be a problem for standard woven fabrics.

I’ve made one garment too many like this. All the ones based on my old Big Bertha sloper were like this. They really were fit only for a Dummy that doesn’t need to breathe. Or sit. Or move in general.

So the Billion Dollar Question is: Where to add that wearing ease. Seems like I wasn’t the only one asking the question. Someone had already asked on  Pattern Review about where to add ease when creating a sloper. There doesn’t seem to be a straight answer with clear explanation of why. The closest was Don McCunn’s reply “Ease is almost always added to the side seam because that is where the maximum amount of movement occurs as you move in a garment.” So that’s what I intend to try.

Maybe I should also try out Kenneth King’s Moulage class / CD book. Because what I’ve got is essentially a second-skin moulage without all the measuring nightmare. But I still need to learn how to turn the moulage into sloper and blocks.

The scenic route back

Out of curiosity I compared this final (for now) version of the bodice with Vogue 1004 Fitting Shell size 10 and size 8. And guess what, I’m back to a size 8! (I was a size 8 in my twenties. Then I got married and too well fed.)

Here’s the front comparison with a size 8 C-cup.

I needed a bit more width in the bust area and waist, but the bust darts all seem to be the same size as the size 8 C-cup front.

Here’s the back comparison.

Again the dart in the lower half seems to be the same size. Interesting how the width added to the lower front is taken away in the back, resulting in a net gain of zero. But then again I have still have to add a bit more ease.

I did have to make adjustments for rounded upper back,  prominent shoulder blades, forward shoulder joint, and forward head. These along with the bigger cup size all point to one thing: Aging 🙁

But at least my frame is still size 8. All those expensive Designer Vogue Patterns I bought ages ago and cut out to size 8 have not been wasted after all! 🙂

So off I go with more fun summer sewing. I’ll sort out the sleeve fitting when autumn / winter comes again.

FFRP Odyssey: Bodice Part 3

So back to fitting. I started out with all intention to follow FFRP to the T. I ended up with a puddle of fudges. It started well. Sort of.

Here’s my no alteration try out of a size 10:

The back width seems OK at upper back – where the horizontal line is. There’s a bit of gap at the armhole – symptom of “slight rounded back” I presume.

Further down at shoulder-blade / lower armhole level it feels like the paper is cutting into my arm. There’s also excess paper / vertical wrinkles right by the armhole. So I’m assuming that I need to narrow the back there.

B-Cup Front

According to standard pattern instruction I would be a B-cup. So I try a B-cup front first. And as you can see, at the bust level, the pattern CF doesn’t reach my CF. At the chest level it does. So this size 10 pattern should be the right size. You can also see wrinkles radiating from bust to armhole with gap at the armhole – symptom of “fuller bust” supposedly.

D-Cup Front

Here I try a D-cup front, and the pattern CF now reach my CF.

Actually, I have a confession to make. When I first tried on the patterns, I tried B-, C-, and D-cup fronts. And none of them would reach my CF at bust level. My bust point was also lower than the bust points on the patterns.

So I reasoned that maybe the bust fullness was in the wrong place, and I wasn’t going to get the CF to reach until I shifted the bust dart down so that the fullness and bust point is at the right level for my aging bust. And that’s what I did.

But as you can see in this photo, when I tried again with an unaltered D-cup front, it now seems to reach CF OK. Which brings us to a couple of hurdles I encountered:

Hurdle 1: Fitting Order

Does fitting sometimes feel like that Whack-A-Mole game to you? You fix one bit and that throws off another previously OK bit, and so on and so forth. It does for me. So when fitting and pattern-making experts say that fitting order matters, I take notice.

But the problem is, what IS the correct order? Even P/P’s instruction varies from page to page, FFRP book vs McCall 2718 pattern.

  • FFRP p77-80:
    Back width > Bust cup size > Width around waist / middle > High round back > Waist length > Shoulder slope & position
  • FFRP p115:
    Back width > Waist length > Bust width > Waist length
  • M2718:
    1. Tissue:
      Bust cup size > Bust dart position > Very round back
    2. Gingham:
      Bodice length > Waist width > Neck size > Shoulder slope > Shoulder width > Back width > Slightly rounded back / Erect back > Sleeve cap height > Shoulder position

Then there’s Kathleen Fasanella‘s torso fitting analysis in her Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn product Manufacturing. She says you need to get the back neckline right first “because if your basic block doesn’t rest snugly in between [the first thoracic vertebrae – the first bone that doesn’t move with the neck] and the seventh vertebrae above it, you will always have fitting problems.” She says most back neckline is too deep and too wide. She then gives a generic instruction for fitting order:

Center back neck > “move down and forward in the natural direction & slope of the skeleton”

(It’s not a book about fitting per se, so she doesn’t go into great step-by-step details. Her points are mostly about key mistakes that she thinks people are making.)

Add in my initial problem of CF not reaching even in a D-cup until I shifted the bust dart down and I have a ball of confusion on my hand.

In the end I fudged. I started with

Back width (at blade / lower armhole level) > Bust level > High round back > …more fiddling with back… > …fiddling with front…

Hurdle 2: Learning to Read Paper

Tissue doesn’t sit on you like fabric does. Especially if you only have half a bodice on! One minute it’ll look like the pattern reaches where it’s suppose to reach, next minute it has shifted again and now looks like you don’t have enough width / length / whatever!

That’s how I ended up with like gazillion versions of the back, and at least 3 versions of the front.

I haven’t entirely given up just yet. I think some key lessons of tissue fitting is learning how to read the paper, knowing what the limitations are, and knowing when to stop and move on to fabric fitting – either fitting muslin or fitting-as-you-sew with fashion fabric.

P/P has benefit of experience fitting thousands of people. They no doubt know how to read tissue pattern like the back of their hands. Some people may also be naturals and intuitively know how to read tissue pattern. I don’t. But I’m hoping that  it can be learned. I think it will be worth the effort because I really don’t want lots of useless fitting muslins hanging about.

So, once I get the gingham fitting right, I’ll transfer adjustments back to tissue. Then I’ll try on the tissue again so I can see what a properly fitted pattern look like in tissue. I can then learn what fake-symptoms I should ignore because it’s just a problem of paper and half a bodice.

That’s the plan anyway. And you know how plans always work out! 😉

FFRP Odyssey: Bodice Part 2

Pattern Preparation continued…

Tissue paper being rather fragile, I decided to take a few precautions and get the pinned tissue pattern to lie as flat as possible before I try it on.

Initially I folded back all the clipped curved edges – neckline and armhole. This also helped me see better when evaluating the fit, especially as gift wrap tissue paper isn’t as translucent as the Big4 pattern paper.

Actually, I ended up cut these critters off altogether since they were flapping about getting in the way. They’re not particularly useful during tissue fitting anyway as the sleeve isn’t pinned to the bodice. I also found that it was easier to add new sheet of tissue if I needed to extend upward and outward. Taping clipped curve seam allowance back together was more effort and less accurate. When I’m ready to move on to muslin fitting or fit as you sew, I can always add the seam allowance back  then. Or use Hollie’s Seam Allowance Guide like all the Burda sewers do.

Next I creased all the dart lines before pinning the darts together. Once the darts have been pinned, I open them up and finger press to ensure they spread out as much as possible. This is so that I can get a more accurate gauge of width & length without having to pull the tissue too much while trying it on.

Here’s what the pinned tissue pattern looks like:

Fitting Preparation:

Tissue fitting yourself is never going to be easy. Especially if your eyesight’s going and going like me. So I had to use some visual aids. I folded an Uniqlo camisole in half lengthwise, matched the side seams, then pinned small safety pins along the CF & CB folded edge to make it easier to see CF & CB. When I put it on I then use my finger to check that these lines align with my spine and CF. I used a chain to establish the neck line and 1/2″ elastic for the waist line.

Next, the all important shoulder. Now this is where it gets clear as mud. My knowledge of anatomy is as good as most people’s knowledge of world geography! Where exactly is the shoulder point?

Books and articles mention it as if it’s obvious. It’s not. My shoulder curves. There isn’t a hard angle that’s obviously the shoulder point. Instruction to find the “pivot point”, or “end of a flat bone”, or “top of a fitted, set-in sleeve cap”, or “dent when you lift your arm at right angle to the side of your body” were all of no use.

The whole joint moves – there is no one point of pivot. And what flat bone – they all feel rounded to me. Using RTW as guide is like asking bankers to set the Libor Rate – they all quote what suits them, how do you know which one is correct. And the dent, which dent – I got two!!!???  }:-

In the end I put a dot on both. Just in case. And this is what I end up with:

From the front you can see the yellow dot seems a bit too far in while the end red dot seems to be too far out. I’m inclined to go with the yellow dot. I don’t want sleeves that look like men’s suit jackets. I still feel self-conscious about the width of my shoulder, even if I’m officially no longer an inverted triangle.

BTW my other half would later claim that the shoulder point is in fact in between these two dents – ie between the yellow and the outer red dot.

What do you think? Am I fitting with the wrong goal post? What’s your experience of fitting the shoulder area?

Next time on the FFRP Odyssey…

Following the fit evaluation trail. (Or is that trial?) For now, time for zzzzzzzzz…..again.

FFRP Odyssey: Bodice Part 1

So here goes. Some notes on my experiment with Palmer/Pletsch’s Fit For Real People fitting approach.


I’m working with Palmer / Pletsch’s McCall fitting shell (M2718). In retrospect I could have just used my Vogue fitting shell (V1004) because I didn’t need any of the extension outlets. But I was curious whether the instruction would be more comprehensive and aligned with FFRP book.

As I said before, I wanted a Big4 fitting shell so I can use the result to guide alteration of my numerous Big4 fashion patterns. Well Vogue Patterns anyway. I also want to use it as a sloper to create my own patterns.


My chest is 32-1/2″, bust 34″, under bust 29″.

That makes me closest to size 12 in Vogue Patterns. And P/P’s old instruction (still used in M2718) would also have me as a size 12, because my chest – bust difference is less than 2″ (2-1/2″ for M2718), so I would have been told to use my bust measurement to choose the size.

But following FFRP’s current instruction, I’ve used my chest measurement as if it was the bust measurement. So that would be a size 10 (my 32-1/2″ chest = Vogue size 10’s 32-1/2″ bust). I would need to learn Full Bust Adjustment to get the size 10 to fit my bust.

Luckily my V1004 is also in size 10. When I bought it my bust must have been smaller, for I would have used the normal bust measurement to choose the size. So once I figure out what alterations I need for McCall, I can also practice on Vogue. There is slight difference between McCall and Vogue fitting shells, so it’d be interesting to see if one requires less adjustment than the other.

Interestingly, standard bra size calculation would have me as a B-cup, and Vogue Pattern’s instruction would also place me as a B-cup. So theoretically I should be able to use fashion patterns as is since they’re all based on B-cup sloper. But recent fitting mishaps + FFRP’s size selection guide have  made me think I’m one of those weird case mentioned in FFRP page 141 – ie a B-cup wearer with full rib cage who needs the bust room of a bigger cup.

Jumping slightly ahead, I can confirm that size 10 and a D-cup front seem to be working well. So I’m glad I didn’t use a size 12 and B-cup front – I wold have had to do more alterations.

Actually, I’m wondering if I should try a turbo-charged FBA on a size 8. I read recently online – probably Pattern Review’s Fitting Woes forum – that one’s frame (shoulders, bone structure) doesn’t change with age even when everything else starts to droop and spread. I used to be a size 8. I cut up so many expensive Vogue Patterns in size 8. It would be great if size 8 is in fact what I still need, except with a more generous bust adjustment. Then I would be able to use all those old patterns – most of which I haven’t even made up yet. What do you think? Too greedy? 😉

And interesting that boobs do grow bigger with age. My well-endowed friend was complaining about her girls giving her increasing backache. I didn’t believe her when she told me this fact because my bra size had never needed changing yet. Hmmm, maybe I’m wearing the wrong size. Did You Make That recently wrote about having her girls professionally assessed by the Queen’s bra-maker Rigby & Peller in Mayfair. There was no measuring, just years of experience and a bit of manhandling. But she was impressed with the results. Maybe I should get myself down there and see if the seasoned eyes could shed some light on my bust fitting woes!

Pattern Preparation:

Rather than using the original pattern, I’m using traced copies. Ever since I over-committed to size 8, I’ve been paranoid about cutting up the original patterns. So I’m using gift shop tissue paper instead. Unfortunately it’s not as translucent as the Big 4’s pattern tissue. But it’ll have to do.

One advantage of using tracing is that you can trace as many copy as you need. And as a tissue fitting novice, I needed many. I’m up to copy 5 for the back bodice now (copies 1-4 shown above). Imagine if I had optimistically cut into M2718 itself! I’d be crying right now.

I am using Scotch Magic Tape as recommended. But I had gotten this batch long time ago in 3/4″ width, not the 1/2″ as recommended. So I’ve been taking a long length at a time, sticking it to my cutting mat, slicing it in half lengthwise with my craft knife, then again into lengths of approx 1-1/2″.

 For inserts where I have to slash and spread, I use strips of tissue in a different color to make it easier to see the alteration. As recommended, I’ve pre-cut strips in standard widths: 1″ and 1-1/2″ so far. I haven’t had to use wider strips just yet.

For gridded cardboard surface to pin pattern pieces onto during alterations, I bought a Dritz Superboard cutting board on sale. I’m using normal dressmaking pins for this. But for pinning pattern pieces for fitting, I’m using Clover Patchwork Fine Pins (CL2507). They’re glass-headed pins and the thinnest I can find (0.40mm diameter &  36mm long). Be warned, though, they also bend quite easily, and are sharp. But then I’m used to being pricked by acupuncture needles, so no problemo for me! 🙂

A word or two on ironing the pattern. Firstly, as promised by FFRP, wool (2 dots) setting is better at getting wrinkles out of the tissue, but I still couldn’t get all creases completely out. Wrinkles I created while wearing the pattern do come out, but the factory folds are too stubborn to budge. I’m hoping it won’t make much difference.

 Secondly, I find that even ironing from the back as recommended, the tape do seem to shrink slightly. Or at least compared to the tissue paper. Which is another reason why I’m glad to be working with copies – I can make a fresh copy when the old one gets too wrinkly, or tatty, or stiff from too much taping.

Next time on the FFRP Odyssey…

Notes on getting the patterns to lie better and prepping to try on pinned pattern. Right now I need sleep…..zzzzzzzzz

Invisible standards & splitting hair

Well hello there. Sorry about the lack of progress report. I haven’t been entirely idle. In fact I’ve taken the bodice tissue fitting as far as I can me thinks.

But I can’t seem to get a single decent photo to illustrate my findings. And I really wanted to have pictures of thousands words. I find it useful to see other people’s photos illustrating fitting issues.

That’s one reason why I really liked Fit For Real People – the abundance of photos and guinea pigs of all shapes and sizes. I have another fitting book and half that I use as reference – Fitting & Pattern Alteration, both editions of it. While it seems more comprehensive at a glance, I find the use of drawings instead of photos and the isolation of individual fitting problem actually harder to know which fitting problems are relevant.

I might bite the bullet and write up my findings anyway. But not today. Today I want to talk about how much is “much” and when do you stop being “standard”.

So following FFRP’s instruction I got my other half to help me create this Body Graph.

Now FFRP have some guidance on what deviation is considered sloping or square shoulder, low- or high-waisted, long- or short-legged, and where some of the other body parts fall in a standard 8-head-tall figure. But I need more.

Like does my big headedness skew all the length evaluations? Is my underarm lower than expected or is that just my big head throwing everything off? How long is a standard neck? How long the standard arm joint? My Big Bertha have arm hole shapes that seem shorter and wider and tilted the other way than what I’ve seen on standard dress forms. So I’m assuming I’m non-standard in that department too.

And how much narrower should the waist be to be hour-glass shape rather than rectangular? I use to think I’m an inverted triangle as that seems like the widest part compared to the bust, waist, and hip. Also because my hip measurement is always smaller than the pattern size I use for the bodice. But judging by the Body Graph, I’m most likely a boring rectangle – like almost half of American population surveyed according to this “Shape of Things to Wear” article that Tanit-Isis found via another blogger. My waist width is at best 1.5″ narrower than my hip and 1.75″ narrower than my shoulders on either sides. Is that enough indentation to qualify me for hourglass? I fear not.

Do you get equally confused when following these fitting and figure-evaluation instructions? Or is it just me? I’m blaming my fuzzy Neptune straying too close to my Sun for this hair-splitting tendency. What’s your excuse?

How many angels can you fit on the tip of a pin? What if it’s a super-fine bridal pin?