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Anna Dress Sewalong #2: Tracing and altering the pattern

Time to get serious now. We've noticed that sewists around the world seem to be divided on the subject of tracing sewing patterns. Either you hate it and can't wait to get it over and done with, or you love the opportunity to get familiar with the pattern and make any adjustments to personalise the design and/or fit. Although all of us here at By Hand Studios fall into the former, there's no doubting the satisfaction that comes with a well-traced and perfectly fitted pattern. So let's just dive right in shall we?

Anna Dress Sewalong - By Hand London

Today we will be:

  • Choosing your size
  • Tracing the pattern
  • Showing you how to do a Full Bust Adjustment (FBA)
  • Showing you how to lengthen the bodice
  • Showing you how to add 3/4 length sleeves to the bodice

*To be taken to all the posts in the Anna Dress Sewalong, please click here*

Choosing your size:

Take your pattern out of the slip case and flip over the folder for all the technical info, including our sizing chart.

Anna Dress Sewalong - By Hand London

Using a measuring tape and the diagram below as a visual guide, note down your waist, bust and hip measurements. Your waist is (usually) the smallest part of your torso, in between your ribs and hip bone. This is where the dress’ waistline will sit. Your bust measurement should be taken around the fullest part of your chest, preferably while you’re wearing the same type of bra you would choose to wear under this dress, and your hip measurement (also called your 'seat') is the fullest part around your booty.  Now compare your measurements with our chart, paying extra attention to the finished measurements - this is how the dress will measure up once it's made.

croquis - by hand london

Don't worry if your measurements don't perfectly match our sizes, we'll be showing you how to alter the pattern later on in this post. For now, the most important measurement you need to determine your size is your waistline.

Tracing the pattern:

Lay out your pattern tissue, smoothing out any wrinkles, and use a bright pen to highlight your size - this will make tracing off the right size much easier, especially when you get to fiddly bits where all the size lines seem to blur into one!

Anna Dress Sewalong - By Hand London

Place your tracing paper over the top, keeping it securely in place with pattern weights (or something heavy). Trace off your size, being sure to mark all notches, darts and pleats and remembering to label each pattern piece clearly with its name, grainline direction or fold line, size and how many to cut.

Anna Dress Sewalong - By Hand LondonCarefully cut out your pattern pieces, and provided you don't have any alterations to make, you're ready to start cutting your fabric!

Buuut... if you do need to make some alterations to improve the fit of your Anna Dress, keep on reading...

Anna Dress Sewalong - By Hand London

Full Bust Adjustment (FBA):

The FBA is probably the most common alteration we have to make to commercial sewing patterns. If your bust measurement falls into a bigger size than that dictated by your waistline measurement, or if you often find your girls getting a little squished down in your handmade garms, you probably need an FBA. You may also need an FBA if you find that dresses' waistlines are sitting too high - avoid the temptation to lengthen the bodice without checking your bust and waist measurements first.

The FBA sounds daunting, but trust us - it's actually very straight forward. Even easier than the FBA for princess seams we did during the Elisalex Dress Sewalong, this FBA for a kimono sleeved bodice will be done and dusted in just four simple steps...

Step 1:

Take your bodice front piece and mark the apex with an 'x' - 'apex' literally means 'summit', so in sewing terms that is the summit of your nipple! - which is about 3 1/2" up from in between the two pleats. Now using the image below as a guide, draw a vertical line through the apex and a diagonal line from the apex to just below the underarm.

Anna Dress Sewalong - FBA - By Hand London

Step 2:

Cut along the vertical and diagonal line, slicing your pattern into three pieces. Tape down the right hand side piece (the piece which goes on the fold) onto a sheet of paper.

Anna Dress Sewalong - FBA - By Hand London

Step 3:

Now you need to determine how much bigger your bust needs to be. For example, I have cut a size UK8 which usually has a 33" bust, but my bust measures 34". Therefore, I need to increase each apex by half an inch in order to increase the total bust measurement by 1".

Anna Dress Sewalong - FBA - By Hand London


Keeping the neckline and waistline unbroken, pivot out the apex by the amount you need to increase your bust measurement. Tape down. You'll see that you've added a long, thin triangle shape into the length of your bodice, and you will have created a side bust dart:

Anna Dress Sewalong - FBA - By Hand London

Step 4:

Cut out your new bodice piece and remember to clearly label it with details of the alteration you've just made, as well as all the other information on the pattern piece. You may also need to very slightly alter your front neckline facing piece to include that little slither you've added near the neckline.

Anna Dress Sewalong - FBA - By Hand London

And that's your FBA all done! Just don't forget that now you have a side seam dart to mark and stitch as well as your bust pleats.

Lengthening the bodice:

Lengthening the bodice, and indeed shortening the bodice, is easy peasy.

Simply draw a line across the bodice (you'll need to apply this to both front and back pieces of the bodice), about 3" up from the waistline, right across the pleats.

Anna Dress Sewalong - lengthening/shortening the bodice - By Hand London

Cut along this line and bring it down by the amount you want to lengthen your bodice by (or overlap it up by the amount you want to shorten by), keeping that centre front line dead straight.

When you're happy, tape the bodice pieces down onto a piece of paper, and using the image below as a guide, re-draw the side seam, pleats and centre front line, averaging out the pleat lines so that they still start at the notches and end at the circles, and averaging out the side seam also.

Anna Dress Sewalong - lengthening/shortening the bodice - By Hand London

Remember to repeat this process for the bodice back piece!

And lastly...

Adding 3/4 sleeves to your Anna Dress:

Place your bodice front piece onto a piece of paper sticking out from the sleeve and keep it securely in place with pattern weights.

Extend the shoulder line by approximately 12", then come down at a right angle by about 6 1/4". This is based on the circumference of my forearm being 10" - half of that for one side of the sleeve is 5", plus two lots of seam allowance which is 1 1/4". Then simply eyeball the underarm line back to the bodice and draw a line up the existing short sleeve line.

Anna Dress Sewalong - adding 3/4 sleeves - By Hand London

Cut that sleeve out, keeping a little flap with which to attach this optional sleeve piece to your bodice as and when you need it:

Anna Dress Sewalong - adding 3/4 sleeves - By Hand London

And when it's attached, it should look a little something like this:

Anna Dress Sewalong - adding 3/4 sleeves - By Hand London

Repeat this process for your bodice back piece and you're all done!


That's all for today folks - we really hope these alterations will help you in the making of your perfect Anna!

We also recommend you check out Sonja's amazing Back Neckline Adjustment tutorial - a great one for those of you narrow of shoulders or small of back!

Comments on this post (33)

  • Aug 19, 2016

    Hi Sue, I’m afraid it’s quite tricky for me to picture the problem, especially seeing as it’s a pattern I’m not familiar with… When lengthening a pattern piece, the key is to slip a piece of scrap paper under the slash, tape down your pattern pieces once you’ve opening them up by however much you need (same needs to be applied to all pattern pieces being lengthening and you’ll need to keep the opening straight and parallel), then you’ll need to redraw the lines connecting the sides that have been slashed to end up with the same shape, only longer. I do hope this makes sense! ~Elisalex

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Jul 25, 2016


    I hope you are still answering questions.

    i am making a woman’s pull over shirt that has a diagonal seam from arm hole to hip in the front of the shirt. i am using black on top and red on the bottom. now the issue is that i have a long waist. i want to add 1 and 1/4" to the length of the shirt. the shirt flairs out a lot at the bottom and i can’t just lengthen the hem. Starting at a little higher than the waist the shirt begins to flair.

    to lengthen the pattern, it has a place to cut the pattern on both pieces.

    now, here is the real problem. i cut the top and bottom along the lengthen line and i end up with the top piece and a small triangle. the bottom half of the shirt ends up with the top looking like a sort of triangle and the bottom looking like a trapezoid. I don’t know how to reassemble the top 2 pieces and the bottom 2 pieces. it just doesn’t seem to line up.

    i have only sewed a gorilla costume and a lined vest from a pattern but never had to alter a pattern before. and this one has me stumped.

    any insights would be majorly appreciated!


    — Sue

  • Mar 30, 2016

    How can I do this FBA without adding a dart?

    — Jill

  • Jul 01, 2015

    Hi Louise, I would definitely try an SBA and see how that feels – I know it’s odd to be altering for a small bust when you clearly don’t have a “small bust”, but it’s all in the proportions, not so much in bra size! Do bear in mind that there will, and should, always be a little excess in the bust as it is designed to have a relaxed fit and not be too form fitting. Hope the SBA helps! ~Elisalex x

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Jun 30, 2015


    My waist is a size larger than my bust and hips. Should I cut the smaller size and grade out at the waist, or cut the larger size and do an SBA? My high bust is 2.5 inches smaller than my full bust, and I’m a size 34G in most bras so an SBA is not my normal territory! Or should I do something else altogether? The reason I ask is that I started out by cutting a toile in the larger size (ie to fit my waist) and found large amounts of excess fabric in the area between my bust and where the armhole would be if it weren’t a kimono sleeve. The neckline and area directly above my bust sit flat but the whole top section of the bodice just seems to be way too wide. I’ve found that turning the sleeve hem under by 5cm helps to slightly reduce the bagginess but there’s still a fair bit of excess fabric. I’ve also cut a toile in the smaller size (ie supposed to fit my bust) but there still seems to be a lot of excess fabric in the same place. Help!

    — Louise Metcalf

  • Jun 28, 2015

    Hi Kirsty, have a little look at this tutorial on how to fix neckline gape – – it’s one we did for the Kim Dress, but the principle is the same. Do let us know how you get along, and hope it helps!


    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Jun 28, 2015


    Thanks for this sew along it is really helping my Anna dress! I’m not sure what to do about my neck gape at the back, the front fits like a dream but the back I have a perfect 1.5cm gap at each side for the zip at the waist but reaching the neck I’ve had to narrow to the zip by 6.5cm on each side! I don’t think the suggested tutorial will help. Do you have any advice on what do on my second?


    — Kirsty

  • Apr 15, 2015

    Hi Zoe, do you mean for the FBA? I’ve outlined above that in order to determine the amount by which you would need to increase the bust measurement by you’d need to compare your own bust measurement with that of the smaller size you’ve cut (according to your waist measurement), then apply half of that to the pattern piece – thereby adding half an inch to each apex in order to increase the total measurement by a full inch, as in the example above. If this isn’t making any sense, or you were actually asking about something else entirely, please don’t hesitate to email me at – thanks!

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Apr 10, 2015

    Can I ask why you advise adding the full difference between the pattern bust measurement and your own – wouldn’t this make the bodice too big as you’re effectively adding the full difference to both sides. Would it make more sense to add half the difference so that the total added equals the dif between the pattern and your own bust measurement?

    — Zoe

  • Jul 29, 2014

    Thanks Elisalex!

    — Jo

  • Jul 29, 2014

    Hi Jo, and welcome to the world of sewing! You’re gonna love it here!

    There’s not really a right or wrong way to lengthen an a-line skirt pattern such as the Anna…

    You could either simply chop off (from the bottom) and unwanted length, or add it on by extending the side seam lines. If shortening, this method will result in a skirt that is slightly less full at the hem as by chopping off from the bottom, the hemline will be ever so slightly narrower. If lengthening, this method will add fullness at the hemline ever so slightly.

    Or, you could draw a horizontal line across the skirt panels somewhere in the middle, cut along that line and either add length or shorten by bringing the bottom section of the skirt panel down or up and taping into place (if lengthening you’ll need to fill in the gap you made with some scrap paper). Then straighten out the side seams with a ruler. This method will not affect the fullness at the hem.

    The main thing to remember is to apply the very same treatment to all skirt panels!

    Good luck!

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Jul 28, 2014

    Hi, I’m new to sewing and I’m unsure where the best place to ‘cut’ is if I want to shorten / lengthen the skirt section of the pattern? Any advice would be much appreciated :) Ta

    — Jo

  • Jul 28, 2014

    Hi Rebecca – I reckon that if the problem is that the pleats are 5cm too short, the simplest solution would be to extend them by that amount so that they end just under your bust. I wouldn’t bother with shortening the bodice just to alter the pleats if the bodice is not too long for you. I hope this makes sense! And helps! x

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Jul 27, 2014

    Hi girls please help!
    Im making a toile at the mo of the bodice and hit a fitting issue straight away :(
    the top of the pleats on the front bodice fall 5cm below my under bust. If I follow your tutorial and shorten the bodice I end up with the under bust hitting my armpits and the pleats totally disappear! Should I instead do two lines of overlapping to shorten? One just above the armpit area and the other where you suggested splitting 5cm between both of the overlaps? Thats the only way my brain can think of it. I would really appreciate your help.

    — Rebecca Headd

  • May 28, 2014

    Hi Katy – yep, we’re having a bit of a nightmare with spammy comments so we have to approve all legit comments!

    The natural waist of the Anna falls just above the waistline, but only very slightly. This makes the skirt panels skim ever so flatteringly over the tummy and hips. Obviously this will depend on each individual’s torso length, so I’d recommend that you make up a quick toile of the bodice, marking out the seam allowance at the waistline, to get a better idea of whether or not you’ll want to lengthen the bodice.

    Hope this helps!


    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • May 27, 2014

    Hi. My comments keep disappearing – not sure why? Maybe you’re approving them? Anyway is the Anna dress bodice waist supposed to hit at the natural waist or just higher? If so then I will need to lengthen by quite a bit.

    — Katy

  • May 26, 2014

    Hi. Not sure where my message went so I’ll write it again! Is the waist line on the bodice supposed to hit at your natural waist? If so mine is quite a bit off even though the bust pleat is more or less in the right place.


    — Katy

  • May 26, 2014

    Hi there. I’ve just made a bodice toile for the Anna. Can tell me if the waist line on the bodice is supposed to hit at the smallest part of your natural waist? If so then I need to lengthen quite a bit even though the bust pleat is more or less in the right place for me. I haven’t toiled the skirt yet so I don’t know if that will make a difference.

    — Katy

  • May 20, 2014

    Hi Chrystal,

    Thanks for getting in touch! The first thing I’d suggest you do is make a practice bodice from some cheap calico that you can tweak directly on your own body. Altering the pleats is pretty easy – simply move them down by however much you need so that they end just below your bust. And as for the shoulders, when you’ve got your toile on, pinch out the excess on your shoulders and transfer any changes onto a new paper pattern. It definitely helps to get a friend to help you out with this!

    Hope this helps!


    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • May 15, 2014

    So I made the bodice, size 14, and it fits around, but everything is too tall. The pleats reach up to my bust point, and there is a good 1.5" excess at my shoulders. How do you make the alteration for a petite frame? It’s mostly the shoulders that bother me. Thank you!

    — Chrystal McKay

  • Apr 13, 2014

    Hi Carly – yes that’s pretty much what you do! Instead of opening out the apex, you just need to squish it in on itself to reduce the ease at the apex. I hope this makes sense! x

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Apr 11, 2014

    Hi BHL!!

    I wonder if you could help with a small bust issue. I think I need to do a SBA on the Anna dress, as I’ve made a mock version and there’s a good deal of extra fabric in the bust sortof area.

    My measurements are 30/31" bust, 25" waist and 35" hips. I also have slightly broader shoulders for my petite frame.

    Do I follow the instructions for the FBA but do the opposite of what it says (if that makes sense)?

    Thanks so much for making such lovely patterns!

    Carly x

    — Carly

  • Mar 18, 2014

    Hi Seonaid, thanks for getting in touch! It looks like what you need to do is add some extra space at the centre back in order to accommodate a broader back. When tracing off the bodice back piece, simply grade out the centre back – kind of like adding a triangle slither to it starting just above the waistline (which you don’t want to add to) and grading out about an inch towards the top. Hope this helps! x

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Mar 13, 2014


    I have just bought the Anna dress pattern & am working out what size I need. My measurements are 36-27-36 so I think I need the UK size 10 but need to adjust around the chest. The problem is, I don’t have big boobs-probably A or B cup I just have a broad back because I do lots of swimming! Therefore I don’t think FBA would be a good idea as I don’t need more room at the front but all the way round. What do you think? I would be very grateful for any advice.

    Thank you, Seonaid

    — Seonaid

  • Sep 24, 2013

    Awesome, thanks for the tips on adding the 3/4 sleeve! I fell in love with the black version of Anna (it was love at first sight, and I’m convinced it was made just for me LOL) so I’ll be doing that version first, but I think a short version with the 3/4 sleeves in wool would be dynamite!! :) Cheers!

    — Amanda

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