Whenever I make a new dress or anything that covers my top half, I start with the bust. It can make or break how everything else fits with the plethora of things that can go wrong: too high, too low, too small, too big, not enough shape… You know. You’ve tried on things that have been so far wrong and put them back on the rack. Not today, my friends. Conquer your bust fitting fears once and for all.

I started cutting into Butterick 6333 to make a late summer dress (which has taken so long that it’s fall already) and thought it would be a perfect learning project. It has a classic lengthwise princess seam, the term for when you have a seam that runs from the shoulder down over the bust to the waist. These are my favorite for making fitting adjustments because there are no limitations of what you can do with this placement, as opposed to a princess seam that starts at the armhole.

Doesn’t she look happy about her perfectly fit bodice?

I laid out a lot of measuring basics in Make it Fit: Knitwear, and we’ll be needing a lot of those to make our changes. Here’s a handy diagram from my favorite drafting textbook Patternmaking for Fashion Design that shows all the directions in which you can utilize the bust point for shaping (which, P.S., is basically anywhere).

From Helen Joseph Armstrong’s book, Patternmaking for Fashion Design.

You can put a seam wherever you dream up when you have the bust point in the correct spot. All you’re doing is working around it and taking away the excess fabric to make the rest of the garment fit.

Longitude matters as much as latitude in this case. I always start with distance from center, since the center front line is pretty clearly marked on all patterns. This is where you use your tip to tip measurement and divide in half. I’m almost always narrower here than the pattern is marked, so I want to move my dot in and mark with a pencil. My lovely form is modeling a measurement of 6.75″, so I would mark placement for her at 3.38″ from the center line.

Next is distance from shoulder to point. For this pattern, I’d suggest measuring from your mid shoulder so you can follow the seam line of the pattern. Start your tape measure where a shoulder seam would sit, and measure down. Do the same on the pattern. (Just remembering to take out the seam allowance at the edges.) If you’re much longer or shorter than the pattern, draw a horizontal line again in pencil to indicate where you fall. It may mean the entire top needs to be lengthened or shortened, or just that your point needs to be lowered; we don’t know which yet. My form is just shy of 9″ in length to the bust point.

The last measurement is your point to waist. Tie a string or ribbon around your natural waist and measure on yourself and again on your pattern and compare. This is the one shorter women often find needs adjusting, and the pattern companies put some lines there to help with that. Keep in mind where you think you might need to go with this and whether you need to shorten the whole pattern, in which case you can fold along the lines and make a horizontal pleat as deep as you need. My form here is 7.5″, and I’m not quite 6″ myself. If I need to shorten up the length of a pattern, I almost always do it here.

Before I do any line adjusting though, I always spot check the side length and the shoulder seam. (Side note: you’ll never have your side length all the way up to the plate in a form or the hollow of your underarm, it would be way too tight for movement. This is why trying on is essential to see where you prefer it to sit on you comfortably.)  This is important to check, because if you shorten the entire bodice in the wrong spot you’ve only created a different problem by setting the armscye in the wrong place.  Tissue fitting can help if you’re unsure here.  You can pin the seam together to try on the front:  Draw the seam allowance around all outside edges, and try it on over a tightly fitting shirt like a camisole so you have something to pin into. Start at the center front line, place the shoulder in the correct spot, and put in a pin or two to hold in place.

I pinned on the front placket piece since it has the center line, which I then lined up with my hollow and belly button to center.

This is where you can get creative with how you want to account for the adjustments needed. Was it too long from the shoulder to the point? Double check that the underarm is ending in a place you like before you adjust the bust. If the underarm is too low, that’s a sign that the adjustment needs to be made at the shoulder seam. Raise your pattern on your body and reassess. Is the waist seam too high or too low? Change that now too. Does the seam fall over the point or is it too closely spaced or too wide? Did your marks reflect this? If so you can feel confident moving the point (and with it the seam) to whatever location you need. With this adjustment, make sure to change all pieces involved the same amount.

See how the plus sign lays right on the bust point, and the waist line sits right at the indent? This is perfect placement folks.

This is also a time you can note anything that sticks out to you- if your shoulder line is more square or more sloped than the angle of the pattern, if the waistline doesn’t seem to follow your waistline and you want to draw in a new one, or if you need more or less bust shaping to account for your cup size. Always cut the pattern made for your bust measurement (with added ease), because you can adjust how much fabric is doing the shaping around it with your darts or seams. Take a look now and see if you need more or less shaping and pin it out or draw it on.


Take off your paper pattern after making your marks. If you have anything that would transfer to the back, continue those lines to those pieces. For now, true up all your lines- make everything look smooth and transfer to a new paper if it’s starting to look confusing. Repeat with the back pieces if you’d like to fine tune the back as well.

An example of an original pattern piece, the muslin fitting, and a new pattern draft to reflect the changes.  So much was done here, it would have been confusing to mark on the original piece.

Once you have your pattern adjusted, we can cut. But not into the real fabric yet. Next make a mock up to test the pattern out of that cheap fabric I told you to go out and get. I just use muslin because it’s cheap and sturdy so nothing will slip slide out of place, but gingham is sometimes nice to help you see the lines for adjusting. Then you can assemble your basic seams and move around in it a bit to test not just placement, but also wearing ease and make sure it’ll be comfortable for you to wear.

Confession time: This pattern fit me really well. Like a full on Cinderella glass slipper situation. I could tell from just fitting the tissue that any alterations I would make while sewing would be minor, and I could fit them in the actual dress. So I cut straight into my real fabric. *Gasp!* I only wish this happened more often! And of course it happens the one time I was hoping for a really crappy fit so I would have a ton of pictures to show you how to move things around. Le sigh. 

The point though friends, no pun intended, is to measure twice, cut once.  Measure flat, measure on the body, and mock up before you go to your fashion fabric.  Once you figure out what adjustments to make for your body, you’ll have a better idea what to keep an eye out for on your next project.  Keep a lookout here for the finished dress coming up, and please show me what you’re working on fitting in the comments or on the Facebook page!  Don’t fear the bust, people.

Love from Wisco,