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Kim Dress Sewalong - Alterations - Small Bust Adjustment for princess seams (SBA)

We've eased you in gently with some simple bodice alterations so far, but today I'm turning up the heat! Unlike needing to alter the length of a bodice, or fix an unruly neckline - which can only be diagnosed from an ill-fitting toile, you probably knew that you needed to make a bust adjustment the moment you took your measurements. Before we begin, let me ease your mind by saying that full bust and small bust adjustments aren't difficult - they're just a little long-winded. However, once you've done it, the whole process will make total sense, and when you try your newly adjusted toile on, you'll see what a world of difference a well-fitting bodice makes!

What you'll need:

  • Your traced bodice front pieces of the Kim Dress (Variation 1 or 2, cut out in the size dictated by your waistline measurement)
  • Your toile of the Kim Dress
  • Paper scissors (not the fabric shears!)
  • Extra paper
  • Tape
  • A pen

Please note: We are using itty bitty replica's of the pattern pieces to illustrate the alterations as simply and clearly as possible - please make sure that you alter your real-life pattern pieces, complete with notches, pattern info and grainlines!

How do I know if an SBA is in order?

  • Your full bust is less than 2" bigger than your high bust measurement (see this post on how to take accurate body measurements)
  • Your full bust measurement falls into a smaller size group than your waist measurement
  • Dresses that fit your waist tend to be baggy at the bust
  • You find that your waistlines often droop or sit too low (avoid the temptation to shorten the bodice)

Step 1 

The good news is that a small bust adjustment is a much quicker and more straightforward process than the full bust adjustment. The bad news is that in order to properly diagnose a small bust and figure out by how much we need to alter the pattern, we also need to have made a toile.

To alter for a small bust, we are going to be doing two things - we need to decrease the width across the full bust measurement (for which we need our measurements and sizing chart), and we need to shorten the bodice as there will be less of a curve for the fabric to make its way over with a smaller bosom (for which we need a toile).

Start by taking your bodice centre front and bodice side front pattern pieces. Keep your toile handy too!

Step 2

Mark out the seam allowance line at the side seam of the bodice side front (shown in blue). 

Firstly, we're going to shorten the bodice, but in a different - more bust specific - way to the usual way you would go about lengthening or shortening a bodice.

Draw a straight horizontal line across the bodice centre front piece at the fullest part. Now draw a similar line across the bodice side front piece, starting at the fullest part of the bust and going across to the side seam (both lines shown in pink). We want to keep the length of the side seam the same while shortening the length of the centre front seam and the side front seam, so we need to create a little pivot point, or hinge, at the side seam (shown as a little pink circle).

Step 3

Cut along these pink lines - right the way across in the case of the bodice centre front piece, and from the side front seam and out to the pivot point in the case of the bodice side front piece. To allow the pivot point to really hinge, snip in towards it from the seam allowance.

Step 4

You'll see that you can now decrease the length of the bodice pieces by overlapping the cut lines - and to know by how much to overlap, you'll need to refer back to your toile to see how much the waistline needs to come up by in order to sit comfortably for you. This measurement could be anything from about half an inch to two-ish inches, depending on how dramatic a small bust adjustment you need to make.

When you're happy with the overlaps, tape them down. Make sure that you've shortened both pieces by the same amount, and in the case of the bodice centre front, the overlap is parallel.

Step 5

So that takes care of the unwanted length in the bodice, we now need to address the unwanted width across the bust. To figure out by how much you'll need to decrease the bust measurement, refer back to your measurements and our sizing chart.

For example, your bust measurement is 32", putting you in the UK6 size bracket, but your waistline measurement puts you in the UK8 size bracket. You have therefore traced and cut a size UK8 according to your waistline, but seeing as the UK8 bust is 33", you need to decrease the bust by 1" total to bring it down to your 32". Remember, you're working on one half of the bodice, so you only need to reduce your pattern pieces by 1/2" to make the total of 1" when you cut two of each piece.

To reduce the width at the bust, it's as simple as redrawing the curve at the fullest part of the bust on both bodice front pieces, coming in by 1/4" at the fullest part on both centre front and side front (which will then total a reduction of 1/2" on the one side of the bodice, and a total of 1" altogether when you factor in the other side of the bodice):

Snip away the excess and you're good to go!

Tip from the top: Always check your adjustment by making another toile to check the fit. Once you're happy with your newly adjusted pattern, copy it out onto some card for extra safe keeping! Although this is a straightforward adjustment to make, no one wants to have to do it twice...

Comments on this post (2)

  • Feb 25, 2015

    Hi Corrine,

    Hmmm, yes, a 4" SBA will definitely have a negative impact on the shape of the bodice. I reckon the next step would be to cut a size 14 bodice, do a 2" SBA and then grade out to the 16 at the side front, side back and side seams as you get to the waistline.

    Let me know if that helps, and if not, drop me a line at and hopefully I’ll be able to help you out further.

    Good luck!

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Feb 24, 2015

    Hi. I hope you can help me. I’ve made up a toile of this dress and it looks great but I’m having a few fit issues. I’ve made it according to my waist measurement which is a size 16. However my bust measurement puts me in the size 12 category which is four inches less than the size 16 bust size. Am I supposed to shave off one inch off both the centre front and the side front? If I do this the pattern will go inwards where it should be going outwards. I am not flat chested! I’m not sure how to move forwards with this. I’m very new to this fitting lark so I would appreciate any suggestions! Thank you.

    — Corrine

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