Empire Waist for Bust Shaping

Standard

Today is another installment in my experiment to find good patterns for a busty gal — and by busty I mean anyone bigger than a B, the size most patterns are based on. Last time I showed some examples of princess seam blouses made with patterns from the Big 4 pattern companies with the adjustable cup option.

While princess seams are great for shaping around a wide variety of busts, they are very figure-hugging, which may not look so great on a fuller stomach. I’m going to reserve princess styles for dresses, where the bodice ends at my narrowest point.

The Empire seam is a clever way to accommodate a full bust, because it allows you to add fullness to the bodice while drawing attention to what is often the narrowest part of the body — or close to it: just under the bust.

In the past I avoided this style like the plague, for two reasons. First, the Empire seam often hit me right in the middle of my bust instead of below it. The second reason was because I had some early failures that left me looking pregnant. (A flattering look when you actually have a baby on the way.) Not actually being pregnant, I found the additional attention on my belly to be undesirable. However, after continuing to read fashion advice that the Empire waist would be right for me, I thought I’d give it another try.

What I realized quickly is that it isn’t the placement of the seam that is problematic, it is the addition of overly full gathers over the abdomen and length of the skirted portion! Not all gathers are bad, so it’s a matter of trying things on. Muslin is a stiff fabric, so you may or may not get an accurate representation of what a final garment will look like, so I highly recommend trying things on in a store and making notes of what works, including fabric choice, gathers versus plain front, whether gathers are placed over a narrow section of the abdomen or the entire width, etc. Length of the top is also very important! Longer blouses can have a maternity look to them.

Let’s look at some various tops with an Empire waist. Some of these are store-bought, some are knitted, and some are sewn. We’re just trying on at this point, to look for clues.

Berroco Asian Tee

This top doesn’t have any gathers at all, and is relatively short. It is made from a cotton yarn that likes to sag out of shape, but I love it. The stretchiness also allows the seam to sit below the bust, as it should. This says, “Not maternity.”

Sew Serendipity

I made a small on top and medium on the skirt section of the Sew Serendipity blouse. The bottom is clearly too big and too long, but the front is plain. If it fit right, I don’t think this would give a pregnant look. The top has gathers at the neckline and above the waist seam, and seems to be long enough to cover the bust.

Butterick 3385

I decided to opt out of the surplice top when I made this pattern, because I didn’t have enough fabric. The skirted section is plain and short. This doesn’t say maternity to me at all. I made this before I knew how to do a full bust adjustment (or that I needed one). The seam is just barely in the right spot.

Biu Biu blouse

I bought this top from Biu Biu, a company that specializes in tops for women with a larger bust compared to their waist – see my review for more information. This blouse is made of thin cotton jersey and has elastic over the Empire seam. It gathers only directly under the bust and not to the side at all. You can actually see where my jeans start, so this is a fairly long blouse. I admit, this one can give a pregnant look, but it looks worse in this photo than in regular wear. The seam definitely sits where it should.

Thrifted blouse (Skirt from Sew Serendipity)

Gathers in this blouse are centered in the front and covered by the button tab. It is made of thin broadcloth. The length is fairly short, and the skirted section is broken up by a very deep, sewn-on hem band. This doesn’t look like maternity at all. The Empire seam is too high and rides up all day.

Knitted Moska

Moska was hand-knitted with a cotton yarn that looks and feels bulky. Gathers are centered over the front only, and the blouse is not overly long. I think the bulkiness gives a hint of that pregnant look. Because the top is stretchy and the weight of the yarn drags the entire top down, the Empire seam sits right.

Burda 7798

It might be hard to tell anything because this blouse is all out too large, but there is a vertical seam down the center of the skirt, which definitely says, “Not a maternity top” to me. I made a larger size in the bodice and made the darts deeper than I usually would, but I didn’t add length, and I should have.

I used Nancy Zieman’s method for a full bust adjustment, but it didn’t add enough length to the bodice. Not only does this blouse (New Look 6869) not have any gathers over the abdomen, it has a button band with vertical ruffles. The top is short and pretty low-cut, so I think the open shot of my bewbs probably distracts from any notion about my uterus.

And that comment brings us full circle, as I started this post to discuss blouses for busts, not necessarily for tummies. My overall impressions are that an Empire waist:

  • must sit below the bust and not on it for best appearance and comfort
  • can be a very good way to get close fitting around the bust with looser fitting in other areas
  • allows for a Full Bust Adjustment to be made that does not also add width to the waist and hips
  • works with a lot of different darting options in the bodice, such as actual darts, under-the-bust gathers, neckline gathers, surplice tops, princess seams, raglan sleeves with ruching, and plain undarted tops.
  • can be very slimming or can add a lot of visual heft, so try things on and note what works for your body!

3 responses »

    • Aw, thanks! Honestly, shipping was a breeze, just expensive. My order came within 2 weeks of ordering, but it was like $20 or $25 US. Split over 5 items was not bad, especially because their clothing prices were so low.

  1. Excellent article. You have so many empire tops – they’re my favourite too. I have the same problem of some drawing attention to my extra belly fat and making me look bigger than I am. I’ve made Empire Blouse – Lekala 4059 (my first ever garment) and fitting the best was a real challenge. I ended up with darts rather than gathers. I don’t think the gathering works over a certain size boob, but then it was my very first garment so I’ve a lot to learn yet. I’m going to follow your example and dig out all my RTW empire tops and see which styles worked best. They are all a little too small for me now, hence my new found urge to make my own clothes that really fit and flatter.

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