Dartless FBAs: Comparing the Different Methods

As those of you who follow me on Instagram or Facebook might know, there's been some sewing activity here at Splendid HQ over the last few weeks!   I cannot tell you how ecstatic I am to be sewing again. I haven't sewn anything for myself since my early pregnancy - and that was in the spring of 2016!  My wardrobe is crying out for new items and I'm having a blast doing a little bit of sewing here and there in the evenings after Annabel has gone to bed.

What am I sewing?  Well, I'm in desperate need of some easy-to-wear tops, so I've started off with some Grainline Studio Lark Tees - one in our Rebecca white cotton jersey and one in our Rosalie black viscose jersey.  They'll look great with jeans - but also with the two skirts I'm planning to make next with some soon-to-be-arriving new fabrics (yay!). 

Grainline Studio's Lark Tee


I'm also planning to make a dress with Lark out of our Vivianne black and white striped cotton jersey.  So, I'm getting good value-for-money from the pattern!  LOL  Here's some of the photos that have inspired this first instalment of my new autumn/winter wardrobe:

All of these images appeared in fashion articles on PopSugar Fashion or WhoWhatWear (my favourite websites for following fashion trends) over the last few months.  You'll find links to the original images/articles on my Pinterest board 'Things I'd Like to Make - AW17/18'.


(I've also got a shirt dress and a wrap knit dress planned.  Hopefully I'll get to these as well over the next little while!)

I've actually already finished one of the Lark Tees and and am just about to start the second one.  I'll show them off in a separate blog post soon (as well as review the pattern properly).

Today's blog post is dedicated to dartless FBAs (full bust adjustments).  Why?  Because when I decided to sew Lark a few weeks ago, I looked at the pattern measurements and my measurements, and decided that - as per usual with my pre-pregnancy body - I would need to do an FBA.  However, as this was a t-shirt, I didn't want to add a dart.  So, I looked into how to do a dartless FBA (which I'd never done before) and was surprised that there were so many methods!  Why?!!!  

I looked at them all in detail and couldn't decide which one to use.  So, ever the glutton for punishment, I decided to try four different methods.  I can be very, very left-brained sometimes!  I ended up being slightly surprised by the results and posted a photo on our social media accounts with the four altered front bodices.  After receiving a lot of comments from people who expressed interest in knowing more about how the methods differed, I decided to write a blog post about it.  Hopefully I can spare some of you from spending several evenings of head-scratching Googling and pattern alteration!

The image I posted on our Instagram and Facebook accounts

Okay, so here we go!

For those of you who are newbies to FBAs, I think I'd better start by explaining a little further what I'm talking about here.  Most sewing patterns are designed for women with B cups.  So, if your bust is a C cup or larger, you're probably going to need to do an FBA, so as to provide extra width and length to the front bodice pattern to accommodate your larger cup size. You can find out more about doing FBAs by reading The Curvy Sewing Collective's step-by-step tutorial.   

Doing an FBA to a dartless pattern adds a bust dart to the side seam (you can find instructions regarding how to do this in this tutorial by Workroom Social):

A lot of the time, this isn't such a big deal.  However, there are some patterns where you may not want a bust dart - either because it will look a little strange or impact negatively on the design, or because a dart isn't ideal in the fabric you're using.  Both reasons affected my decision to forgo a dart in Lark: I wanted to make a classic dartless t-shirt and darts aren't ideal in knits.

However, how do you do an FBA and not end up with a side seam bust dart?  Well, a few weeks ago, I turned to Fit for Real People (my go-to resource when it comes to fitting) and discovered that it was a little terse on the subject.  So, I hopped onto Google and very quickly found myself in a daze, wondering what to do: I found so many different methods!  

The methods can be grouped into five different categories:

1. Use the 'pivot and slide' technique for doing an FBA
There's a great explanation of this technique on Maria Denmark's website.  From what I've read over the years, the 'pivot and slide' technique works for some people, but not for others - and most sewers acknowledge that the traditional FBA technique results in a better fit.  'Pivot and slide' also doesn't add any extra length and adds a little bit of width across the upper chest.  For all of these reasons, I decided not to try this technique this time round.  However, it's quite a fast technique (a lot less faff than doing a traditional FBA) and some sewers get good results from it, so it's definitely one to consider if you'd like to do a dartless FBA.

2. Don't do an FBA and simply add length
There's a great explanation of this technique on Cashmerette's blog.  This technique relies on the stretchiness of knits to add the extra width needed to accommodate a bigger cup size.  All that is added is some length. The chief downside of this technique is that it results in some gathers at the side seam near the bust.  However, these are rather inconspicuous (they're under your arm).  Plus, it's a really fast technique. So, it's definitely one to consider!  I didn't end up trying this technique, as my FBA was quite large (I needed 2.5 inches in added width) and I wanted to make a loose-fitting t-shirt (not one that was really tight across the bust).  So, this technique didn't work for me for this project. 

3. Don't do an FBA and simply add width by blending between sizes
Some sewers (like Lladybird and Kadiddlehopper) just add width by blending between sizes - choosing a bigger size at the bust and a smaller size elsewhere.  This technique, however, doesn't add length (and you need to remember that it also impacts on the length of the armscye and thus the sleeve, as described in this blog post by Maven Sewing Patterns). I ultimately decided not to use this technique, as my FBA was quite large and I wanted to be able to add some length.  


4. Do a regular FBA and convert the side seam bust dart to ease/gathers
You can see an explanation of this technique on the blog 'Communing with Fabric' and on Jennifer Lauren's blog  I ended up deciding not to try this technique, as I was keen to avoid having gathers/puckering at the side seam.

5. Do a regular FBA and remove the side seam bust dart through pattern manipulation
This is the method I tried, as it seemed to me that it would give me my added width and length, while also preserving the width of the pattern across the upper chest. The chief downside of this technique is the fact that it usually results in a curved hemline on the front bodice - which may not be desirable for all projects (for example, if you're making a striped t-shirt and are keen for the stripes to be parallel with the hemline).  I wasn't so bothered by this, as my chief concern was to add length and width - and not have a bust dart or gathers. 

An image from Jennifer Lauren's tutorial which shows the curved hemline that results.  


Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that there is an agreed-upon method for removing the side seam bust dart: there are many tutorials online which show different ways of doing this.  Here's the ones that made my shortlist:

I ended up trying the first four.  As I'd suspected, the resulting patterns had some quite profound differences.  I found that the best way to examine the differences was to lay them on top of each other.  So, last night, I had fun with a Sharpie and some tracing paper (and later Photoshop) and created this diagram:

Original pattern (size 6) ________
Common lines for altered patterns __ __ __ __
Maria Denmark . . . . . . 
Jennifer Lauren _ . _ . _ 
Paprika Patterns _ _ _ _
Sew Sew Sew Your Boat _ .. _ .. _


In comparing them, the thing that surprised me the most was that only one of these methods preserved the full width of my FBA (which was 1.25 inches (leading to a 2.5 inch FBA total)) - the method suggested by Jennifer Lauren. You can get a sense regarding how some of the FBA width is lost in the other methods by looking at one of the diagrams from Maria Denmark's method (below).  The purple dart that is created is then closed, thus eliminating some of the added width.  Similar processes are at work in eliminating width in the other methods.

Three out of the four methods added width at the hips (the one that didn't was the 'Sew Sew Sew Your Boat' method) and only one (the one by Paprika Patterns) preserved the original hemline shape (although this necessitates adding length to the back bodice).  

Although I was keen to preserve as much of the FBA width as possible, I didn't end up going with Jennifer Lauren's method, as I was concerned about the rather strangely-shaped side seam that had resulted (perhaps this was due to the size of the FBA?).  When I smoothed it out, this resulted in quite a substantial loss of the FBA width.  So, in the end, I decided to go with the method suggested by Paprika Patterns.  It also added less width at the hips than some of the other methods, which (for me) was an added bonus.  I ultimately decided not to preserve the original hemline shape, though, as I was keen to avoid adding length to the back bodice.

I then proceeded to make a toile... and this then led to yet another (even bigger) surprise: I discovered that - in the end and after all of this - I didn't need an FBA after all!  Arghhhhh!!!!!  The toile ended up being too narrow across the shoulders and upper chest.  After realising this, I measured the pattern and decided that the size that accorded with my bust measurement (size 10) would fit best.  So, I made a toile of this size (well two - one with a small FBA and one without) and decided to go with the straight size 10 (with some length adjustments).

Why did my original approach not work?  Well, to be honest, I'm not 100% sure. In my approach to fitting this pattern, I'd just done what I usually did prior to being pregnant: as I'm a D cup, I chose my pattern size using my high bust measurement (size 6). In all the patterns I've fitted since I started doing FBAs in the late 2000s, this has almost always worked.  Why it didn't work this time is either (a) a peculiarity of this pattern or of the way Grainline Studio's patterns fit (this is my first time using a pattern by Grainline Studio); or (b) due to the fact that my body has changed a lot since I got pregnant in early-2016.  I think the latter explanation is most likely: I've not only gained weight since getting pregnant, but also muscle (lifting Annabel and hefting about our pram on a daily basis!). However, I guess time will tell as I fit more and more patterns over the coming months!

In my next blog post, I'll show you my first Lark and talk a little more about how I fit the pattern.  I'm pretty happy with the fit of it, but I'd definitely value your feedback regarding any improvements I can make for the second version (I still have a few niggles)!

For those of you with experience of doing dartless FBAs, I'd also be keen to hear from you: what's your favourite method?  


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November 15, 2017 by Amy Lloyd
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