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Elisalex Dress Sewalong #2: Full bust adjustment for princess seams (FBA)

Ok. Second post in the Elisalex Dress Sewalong and judging by the title things are already looking scary, right? Wrong. I can't even tell you how long I put off learning how to alter sewing patterns simply because at first glance they looked so scary. Like I thought that if I couldn't just absorb the know-how from a tutorial with just one quick flick through of the diagrams, it meant it was too hard or advanced for me. If I had actually read the tutorial, I would have realised that altering patterns is as easy as following a recipe. It's just a formula, and once you've done it once, you'll be able to do it again, and then you'll have the confidence to try all sorts of alterations, and then guess what? You'll be making clothes that fit.

One of the most common alterations women need to make is the Full Bust Adjustment (FBA). But how do you know if this applies to you? If your bust is a bigger "size" than your waist, and you always find that your girls are getting flattened in tight-fitting bodices or the waistline keeps riding up, chances are, you probably need an FBA.

The Elisalex Dress is designed to fit snugly, enhancing and exaggerating a teeny waist. But if, like Elisalex - and this pattern's namesake (which is actually me writing - can get a little confusing referring to oneself in the 3rd person sometimes!), you have ample bosom for your frame, cutting the size according to your waist would result in this Squished VonBoobie look:

fba - elisalex dress sewalong - by hand london

When what we really want is this Perky McKnockers look:

fba - elisalex dress sewalong - by hand london

(Please ignore the mess in the studio, the fact that I'm still in my PJs, and the horribly murky mirror - these shots are for demonstrative purposes only!)

In this post, we'll be showing you how to apply the FBA to the princess seams of the Elisalex Dress bodice using the "slash and spread" method, which essentially involves drawing lines, cutting them and spreading out the pattern to make it bigger. Don't freak out. It's pretty easy. And so damn worth it. This is what you need:

  • your SIDE FRONT & CENTRE FRONT bodice paper pattern pieces, traced and cut in the size according to your waistline measurement
  • scrap paper
  • a pen & pencil
  • a ruler
  • sellotape
  • scissors

Before we begin, we obviously need to figure out by how much we need to alter the pattern. Let's use me as a case study.

According to my 26" waistline, I am a size UK8/US4. But my 34" bust thinks I'm a size UK10/US6. There is a difference of 1" between bust sizes UK8 (33") and UK10 (34"), meaning that I need to increase the pattern by half an inch (half an inch at each boob = 1" increment altogether at bust) at the fullest part of the bust, without increasing at the waistline.

Step 1:

On your pattern pieces, mark out the seam allowances (5/8" or 15mm). Also mark out the notches on the curves (not shown here!).

fba - elisalex dress sewalong - by hand london

Step 2:

Start with the SIDE FRONT panel, and work on the piece of scrap paper as you will soon be taping your pattern pieces down.

With your pen and ruler, and using the image below as a guide, draw a vertical line from the waistline up to the part where the bust is at its fullest (you can eyeball this). Start the line where you marked the seam allowance (1).

Continue that line up and diagonally towards the armhole - roughly 1/3 of the way up the armhole, remembering that the side front panel represents just over 1/3 of the armhole (2).

Draw another diagonal line from the full bust point out towards the side seam like a big dart (3).

Draw a final horizontal line 1" up from the waistline out into the curved princess seam (4).

fba - elisalex dress sewalong - by hand london

Step 3:

Carefully cut line 1, continuing up line 2, stopping when you get to the seam allowance line:

fba - elisalex dress sewalong - by hand london

Step 4:

Now snip the rest of line 2 from the armhole, stopping again at the seam allowance line, so that you have a little pivot point:

fba - elisalex dress sewalong - by hand london

Step 4:

Now cut line 3 from the side seam, stopping just before the full bust point, creating a second pivot point. Tape down the section representing the princess seam:

fba - elisalex dress sewalong - by hand london

Step 5:

Time to create the adjustment! Gently pull at the side seam and increase the opening at line 1 by the amount we discussed above (seeing as I need an extra inch at my bust, each princess seam will be increasing by half an inch). Make sure you increase evenly all the way down line 1:

fba - elisalex dress sewalong - by hand london

Tape down to secure.

Step 6:

Remember line 4? Cut that, and bring it down to match the waistline, remembering to keep the spacing the same as you just did all down line 1, and tape it down:

fba - elisalex dress sewalong - by hand london

At first it may seem odd that we've elongated the princess seam - won't that make for a longer bodice? Kind of, but not really: if you imagine that the curve of a bigger bust is longer than that of a smaller bust, you'll see that what we've actually done is just create more room for the girls!

Step 7:

We now need to get rid of that "dart" so that the side seam goes back to its original length.

First, draw a line extending line 3 all the way to the edge of the princess seam:

fba - elisalex dress sewalong - by hand london

Then roughly cut the scrap paper around your Side Front panel and place onto another piece of scrap paper:

fba - elisalex dress sewalong - by hand london

Starting at the side seam, cut line 3, stopping at the full bust point:

fba - elisalex dress sewalong - by hand london

Now cut the extension of line 3 from the princess seam, stopping again just before the full bust point to create another pivot point:

fba - elisalex dress sewalong - by hand london

Close line 3 so that the side seam meets again, and your princess seam opens like a little beak:

fba - elisalex dress sewalong - by hand london

Tape it down and fill in the curve and seam allowance lines at the beak:

fba - elisalex dress sewalong - by hand london

Step 8:

The final thing to do on the Side Front panel is to reduce the waistline back to what it was - we've added half an inch here which would add a whole inch to the waistline, and the whole point of this exercise was to increase the bust while keeping the waistline as is.

Simply bring the seam allowance line at the side seam in by half an inch (or however much you increased the bust by), then draw a new cutting line 5/8" or 15mm from the new seam line:

fba - elisalex dress sewalong - by hand london

Now cut out the newly altered pattern piece and you'll have something like this:

fba - elisalex dress sewalong - by hand london

Step 9:

Almost done guys! All we have left to do is alter the Centre Front bodice piece to match the new Side Front panel. And this is super easy -

Measure 1" up from the waistline and draw a horizontal line - this matches up with line 4 on your Side Front panel.

Next draw another horizontal line equivalent to line 3, measuring up the seam allowance to find the same point on both pattern pieces:

fba - elisalex dress sewalong - by hand london

Cut lines 3 and 4 on your Centre Front piece and open them up by the same measurements that they increase by on the Side Front panel - measure the seam allowance line not the cutting line!

fba - elisalex dress sewalong - by hand london

Tape it all down, and cut it out:

fba - elisalex dress sewalong - by hand london

And you're done! See, not so bad right? You could now if you wanted, re-trace these pieces so you have fresh pattern pieces without all the tape and markings, but I personally prefer to keep them like this. Always a good point of reference when you come back to doing alterations for other patterns.

Hope that wasn't too painful... at least that's out of the way now ready for the fun to really start next week! Have a wonderful weekend!!

Comments on this post (28)

  • Sep 09, 2020

    I am just doing this dress now, and I hope it is not too late to ask a question. I made a muslin, it was very tight at the breast, so I made this adjustment you are proposing here, but it’s still tight at the junction between the arms and the breast. the arms are wide enough, it is just this junction that is too small. I am discouraged and I would like to make the dress with long sleeves…. thank you for your help.

    — michelle langelier

  • Apr 20, 2015

    Small McTeenyweeny! Brilliant! The small but adjustment for princess seams is a little different to the FBA… And a tutorial that I’m meaning to do for the Elisalex. In the meantime, check out the SBA for the Kim Dress, which has a similar approach –

    Hope this helps!

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Apr 18, 2015

    I am the very reverse of Perky McKnockers! Let’s call me Small McTeenyweeny! If I was doing a FBA for my McTeenweeys would I just sort of do the opposite, pull in the pattern piece a bit?? Or would I be better adjusting the fit on a muslim bodice?

    — Shirlie

  • Jan 15, 2015

    Hi Michelle, it sounds like you’re taking about a princess seamed bodice – is that right? We’ll be doing alteration tutorials (as well as an FBA) for our latest pattern, the Kim Dress, which is princess seamed AND has a sweetheart neckline (see Kim here – so if you can hold on til then, great! The sewalong launches on the 2nd Feb, full details here –

    Hope this helps!


    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Jan 15, 2015

    Hi there,
    I’m hoping that someone can help me. I want to do a FBA on a two piece sweetheart bodice, that has no darts and does not have straps.
    Where do I start? Do the same rules apply as for a 2 or 1 darted bodice with a armscye?

    — Michelle

  • Oct 13, 2014

    Thank you so much for demonstrating a FBA that doesn’t forget to clean up the waist line after!

    — Shini

  • Oct 02, 2014

    VonBoobie McKnocker, girl you’ve got me crackin’ up. Now, I’ve got to go back up and finish reading the post. I just had to stop and smell those roses when I read that; bwaahhhhhhhhhh haaaaaaaa!



    — Lyric

  • Jun 28, 2014

    Brilliant. Thank you for this very clear and precise set of instructions. Hope you don’t mind but have copied the instructions into word as I am better reading from paper than from a screen.

    Will definitely keep in touch with you guys and have forwarded your site to my like minded friends.

    — Lee

  • Jun 25, 2013

    Great idea on grading the curve!!!. I’ve been researching this pattern and it seems to run a size large even though it supposed to be a fitted bodice. So I think I’ll cut and tissue fit two different sizes and see which is better and if needed grade the bust curve the next size up and see if that solves it. Thanks for the tip!

    — Rebeca

  • Jun 29, 2013

    official FBA mascots, eh? LOL!! Love the lightheartedness. :) I’m adding it to my list of FBA tutorials.

    — Leila

  • Aug 08, 2013

    Great tutorial and my 1 inch fba worked perfectly. I love my dress and will be making many more.

    — Sarah h

  • Jun 20, 2013

    You’re so welcome – glad to have been of help!

    — byhandlondon

  • Jun 21, 2013

    Hello there from California! This is so so helpful. Question, my pattern is sort of a princess seam but with a small dart on the center front, so I am not sure how to apply this tutorial to that type of bodice. I’m sewing simplicity 2591 view A. Any suggestions would be appreciated! Thank you for taking the time!

    — Rebeca

  • Jun 23, 2013

    Hi! Beautiful dress, and I see what you mean…a little more complicated to apply the FBA, but perhaps if you were to follow our tutorial keeping the part at which you expand the bust point directly in the centre of that dart so as not to mess about with its placement? Then just make sure that you reduce the dart back to its original size once you’ve applied the adjustment – just guessing here really though as I’ve never done an FBA to a princess seam with a dart…! Or, if the amount which you need you increase the bust by isn’t too dramatic ie. one size or less, you could just grade out the curve at the bust to the next size up, making sure to go back to your waist size at the waistline. Hope this helps a little!!

    — byhandlondon

  • Apr 01, 2013

    Hi there :) love this dress and I’ve just spent a happy old time with tape and paper doing the fba. I just wondered, where you say
    Next draw another horizontal line equivalent to line 3, measuring up the seam allowance to find the same point on both pattern pieces:
    Which side of the pattern piece are you measuring ? The curved bit next to line 1, or the more linear aside where the seam allowance is adjusted ?
    Can’t wait to make my dress in awesome, leafy curtain fabric :))
    K :()

    — Kirsty

  • Apr 04, 2013

    Hi! Thanks for getting in touch and sorry for the delay in getting back to you – seems your comment got a little lost in the spam tracker!!

    So, for the equivalent line 3 that you are drawing on the centre front piece – measure the seam line on the side front panel (the black pencil line) as it was before you opened it up if you see what I mean… So if you imagine that both lines 3 and 4 on the side panel have now become 2 lines since being cut and spread out – measure from the top of line 4 to the bottom of line 3 on the side panel to get the distance that lines 3 & 4 on the centre front piece should be. Then you can cut lines 3 & 4 on the centre front in order to spread them by the same amount as they were spread on the side panel.

    Hope this makes sense, and can’t wait to see your finished dress! x

    — byhandlondon

  • Jun 20, 2013

    This tutorial is brilliant – thank you!!

    — Nat

  • Mar 21, 2013

    Sorry for the late reply!! Yeah, it sounds like you’ll need to give the FBA a go… Generally speaking, the scoop of the neckline shouldn’t give you too much problem if you have broad shoulders, but if you’re broader in the back in general, that will make your overall chest/bust measurement bigger. And in that case, you could apply the same method outlined here but at the princess seams at the BACK, or, if your chest measurement just a small amount bigger (less than an inch) than your “size” (dictated by your waistline measurement) then you could simply reduce the amount of excess seam allowance as you stitch the princess seams at the fullest part of the curve. A really great book if you find you’re having recurring fitting issues with sewing patterns is Fit For Real People! An absolute must for any sewist!! Hope this helps!

    — byhandlondon

  • Mar 21, 2013

    Hi! Yes it DEFINITELY sounds like you need an FBA here! The waistline coming up too high (unless you have a long torso) is the classic symptom telling you that an FBA is in order.

    As I mentioned to Juli, broad shoulders shouldn’t be a problem given the scoop of the neckline, but a broad back and a full bust will most definitely require an FBA. I would apply it to the princess seams at the bust first, as shown above, seeing as from your description of the high waistline it definitely sounds like you have a full bust! A really great book, if you find you’re having recurring fitting issues with sewing patterns, is Fit For Real People. Hope this helps!

    — byhandlondon

  • Mar 25, 2013

    Thanks so much for this, Elisalex. Just did this over the weekend and the muslin fits like a charm. I’m perky and happy.

    — Shelley

  • Mar 16, 2013

    This is great, but what if your Mcknockers aren’t quite so perky? My problem is the other way around, I always have to make the boice smaller whilst keeping the waist bigger (I am size 14 up-top and size 16 waist)

    — Trixie Lixie

  • Mar 21, 2013

    Haha don’t worry!! Fitting the bodice if it’s too big at the bust is super easy – just try on your bodice once you’ve sewn it up and pin evenly at each front princess seam until you get the perfect fit – if you’re making a toile/muslin first, you can then transfer this information – ie how much you’ve reduced at the princess seam – onto your pattern for a perfect cut in your main fabric.

    — byhandlondon

  • Mar 15, 2013

    This is SOOOOO helpful! At first glance this does look pretty complicated, but I’m going to trace my pattern pieces and then sit down and give it a go tonight! So excited for this sewalong!

    One quick question though now that I’m thinking about it: I do have broader shoulders too… will this type of adjustment still work, or would I be better off just grading straight down on the pattern pieces from my chest size to my waist size to accomodate my shoulders instead of following this tutorial? That’s what I usually end up doing with dress patterns, but I haven’t sewn anything with princess seams before!

    — Juli

  • Mar 16, 2013

    Perky McKnockers – gold!!

    — ZoSews

  • Mar 16, 2013

    Hm,maybe I should try doing this alteration for the next version with the fancy fabric.
    The trial version I’m doing now I just cut the bust size and was just planning to take in the side seams a bit more than 5/8 inch. However, after sewing up the bodice I noticed the bodice ends way above my actual waist :S About 8cm! Is it supposed to arrive so high up? Or is it supposed to hit the actual waist? Should I add lenghth to the pattern next time I use it?

    Another point, like Juli said in an earlier comment, I also have broad shoulders and I think for the next dress I will lenghthen the shoulder straps a little, I feel like it is too high up compared to where my bust is.Maybe 1cm either side of the shoulders will help.

    Thanks for any suggestions!

    — Anna

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