Category Archives: Sewing

Empire Waist for Bust Shaping


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!

Princess Seams and Other Fitting Devices


A few months ago I wrote a post about possible sewing patterns for a bust larger than the standard B cup. I addressed adjustable patterns that include pattern pieces for cups A-D, princess seams from the armscye, princess seams from the shoulder, and empire style blouses. Since then, I have been busily sewing up a variety of patterns, for the sake of science of course. Today I will show some results.

For comparison sake, I offer the following information.

  • High bust: 33.5″
  • Full bust: 37.5″
  • Waist: 30
  • Hip:40
  • I chose to make size 12 with the D cup, adding width at the waist and hipline when necessary

Princess Seams

The classic princess seam from the armscye to the waist  makes a very fitted garment. It can be altered to fit quite precisely and therefore can work well with many bust sizes. For this experiment I used McCall’s pattern 6035, view A.

Princess Seams


  • This style looks great when it ends at the narrowest part of your body, the waist, say for the bodice of a dress. Princess seams make a nice, fitted top. However, for a looser fitting blouse, I’m not in love with this style. To show off the waist well, it must be fitted closely. However, I wanted the blouse looser in the hips, and the two ideas don’t mesh well. I would reserve this style for a dress in the future.
  • With the princess seam ending in the armscye, adjustments to the bust will also change the shape of the armscye.
  • Princess seams are fussy to sew. The larger the cup, the more curved the side piece will be, and the more difficult it is to sew together. Use a less stiff fabric, use a short stitch length, stay stitch and clip the front piece, and possibly run a gathering line on the curvy side piece to help you ease the two pattern pieces together.

  • Regarding the fit otherwise: This blouse is too long on me, and the blouse is still too wide across the upper chest (note drag lines). I might be better off making a 10 with a bigger cup size (which I’d have to draft myself). I placed the buttonhole while wearing a different bra than that in the photo, so I see a lot of gapping that was not there during the making. Clearly the other bra didn’t give me as much support, so the bust point was lower, causing me to place the buttonhole too low. Undergarments do matter!

Shoulder Princess Seams

This style blouse has a seam that runs vertically from the shoulder to the waist, similar to the classic princess seam. It also allows for a close, customized fit. I used Vogue pattern 5678, view C but without the pockets or sleeve tabs.



  • This style allows for easier adjusting for narrow shoulders. My problem tends to be that blouses are always too wide across the shoulders in front but too narrow around the bust. A seam right into the shoulder offers a great way to address that problem. Again, this blouse shows a lot of wrinkling around the shoulder, indicating that I still need to go smaller, a 10 “E” if they made it.

Too much fabric at the shoulder

  • While easier than the classic princess seam, it is still a little tricky sewing that princess seam accurately without practice. The fabric must be eased in carefully to avoid puckers. The larger the cup size, the more curved the seam, and the harder to sew.
  • Patch pockets right over the curvy seam of the bust seemed like it would a) draw more attention to the bust and b) be very difficult to sew on neatly. How are they going to lie flat over a curve?
  • Again, I didn’t want the bottom half of the blouse to be very fitted, but that conflicts with the nature of princess seams. The bodice can nip in very snug at the waist but then it has to widen out pretty quickly to skim over the belly. Not terrific looking.

Draglines everywhere. Oy.

Since this post is getting very long, I’ll save empire seams for another day. My overall impression is that princess seams of either variety are great for a bodice of a dress, but not so great for a curvy figure with a small waist. Also, the adjustable cup pattern still doesn’t offer a lot of variance from “average” since it only goes up to a D. (The instructions recommend a D cup for 4″ difference between high and full bust.) I may have to revisit my original post about good patterns for a full bust, and make some recommendations!

Time for T-Shirts


I have been looking for a Step-Up from the t-shirt. At the very least, I want some tee’s that fit properly. I have been a little disappointed by the fabric choices I have seen online and in my local fabric shops. Polyester blend of any amount just makes me hot and the fabric feels sticky or draggy, especially when it is over 80 degrees. Also, I haven’t really loved any of the fabric colors or designs. I might have to look into screen printing. Even Kohl’s sells interesting t-shirts; nevermind that none of them fit me.

Sewing my own it is then, even if I have to use less than ideal fabrics. I have had two successes and one dud. I very much like the Slinky Snakeskin top. It is so slinky that it slips right off the back of the dresser and hides, which is why I haven’t worn it more. I kept thinking it was in the wash, and then I kept not finding it. I have it back in my grasp now, so it’s back in rotation.

This was made from Butterick 4789, now out of print. Modifications: Lowered the seam under the bust, and sewed the center back seam to contour to my body. Likes: twist front, only 2 pieces, very easy to make, comfy, looks dressy but is really just a t-shirt, seam in the back allows for swayback alteration. Dislikes: Probably needs to be made a size smaller, seam under the bust needs to be lowered more, v-neck in back makes this baby slip forward all day to expose my front.

Vogue 8536 is also a winner. She is an actual t-shirt, but fits well due to the bust gathering on the sides. Modifications: Lowered the location of the gathering, made a size 12 in the shoulders and underarm but added an inch to the sides, scooped the neckline, turned the bias strip under instead of making a band at the neck.

Likes: Wow, best fitting t-shirt ever! No drag lines, back looks good. This will be my Tried ‘n’ True pattern for this kind of shirt. I can easily change the neckline and sleeve length. Hoorah! Dislikes: the hem is way too deep. I like the slits at the side, but 2.75″ hem allowance? For what?

While the above two patterns were great, Butterick 5495, not so much. I should have trusted my gut and just stuck with 4789 since I knew it worked, but I got excited about trying something new. I mean, I didn’t want to waste the $1.99 I spent on the pattern, right? Wrong. I ended up wasting $8 worth of fabric on something that won’t ever be right. Lesson learned.


Modifications: Doubled the loop length, lowered the seam under the bust. Likes: Not much. Dislikes: Unbelievably low cut. While the pattern piece says the waist is like 38″ or so, it is not that width when you add the loop. Holy crap, it was like 29″ or less. I ended up doubling the length of the loop, and the front is still tight. So tight it draws fabric from the back making a wrinkly mess. The construction is really fiddly and unnecessarily so, in my opinion.

I might improve the pattern by sewing the under-the-bust seam much longer, thereby leaving less fabric for gathering between the loop. I might widen the fabric at the sides. I doubt very much I’ll do it though, because the other twist top fits so much better and looks pretty much the same.

I have to admit, after making these shirts, I realized that I almost never wear knits in the summer. It’s too hot, they cling and make me hotter, I usually wear skirts and airy woven tops. These will do me until fall, at which point I’ll decide if I want to invest a lot more in making t-shirts.

Man’s Shirt Refashion


I saw this plaid shirt in the Eddie Bauer ad this week. For $69.

3/4-Sleeve Pattern Button-Down Shirt

Jah, what? $69?

I remembered I threw one of my son’s old plaid shirts in the “Do-Something-Interesting-With-This” basket in my sewing room, so I pulled it out and went to work.

I put it on, and pinched out vertical darts in the front and back.

Back darts

Front darts, tapered at pockets and hem.

After first try on, I lengthened the dart to the hem.

Then I pinned out about an inch of fabric all along the sleeve, from the underarm tapering to the cuff.

Finally I pinned up the length about 2 inches, minding where the bottom snap would end up. I ended up cutting off the hem and making a narrow hem.

The sleeves are a little long, but I didn’t want to ruin the cuff and placket. I thought about removing the length at the shoulder, but I didn’t want to destroy the topstitching. Instead, I decided to just leave them as is, and roll the sleeves up like the model. Cuz I’m fancy like that.

Turned out pretty cute, no? For a plaid shirt.

Now I have my eye on a chocolate brown number the Boy never wears.

Slinky Snakeskin


This is Butterick 4789, the Maggy London Twist Top (size 14). It’s a great little shirt: a nice alternative to a plain t-shirt, but just as comfy.  The twist is flattering to the bust and the belly.

Why is it always so overcast in Michigan?

There are about a million reviews on Pattern Review about so I won’t go into a bunch of gory detail. A few notes are important in my mind:

  • A full bust adjustment is probably not required, as there is plenty of width in the fabric to accommodate a variety of bust sizes. However, I added length so the empire seam didn’t cut across my bust. I merely offset the seams before sewing them together so the top piece had a 1/4″ seam allowance and the bottom piece had a regular 5/8″ seam allowance. Truly, I need a little dab more space, so if I decide to make it again, I will alter this pattern before I cut it.

Seamline rides up about 1.5", even after alteration.

  • I narrowed the little hole where the twist is, because I saw a lot of people complaining about their goodies showing.
  • The cut-on sleeve is not great-fitting. You can see a big wrinkle radiating from the bustpoint to the shoulder. This might be improved a little by adding length. I wear a lot of cardigans and jackets, so I’m not sure the shoulder fit matters so much.
  • I had to remove a little space (about 1/2″) from center back, from the V, tapering to the original seamline about 3″ down.  It’s a nice fit without being overly tight and showing a lot of bulges. The print also helps with that.


My husband raised his eyebrows when I first wore this, and said, “Nice!” so I think we have a keeper. When I asked if a dress would work from this pattern, he said, “Definitely. But you should make it longer. That’s way too short for a dress.” Smart ass. I think I may have found my first Tried & True (TNT) pattern.

This fabric reminds me of snakeskin, though I don’t know if that’s what it’s actually meant to be. It’s ITY, which is very slippery and slinky. Last week when I started the draft of this post, I wrote, “I don’t love ITY, so I probably won’t sew with it again.” It has grown on me. Furthermore, I have at least one more piece of ITY in my stash to use up.

Deconstructed Skirt


The inspiration for this skirt came from Lace Style. Yes, it’s a knitting book, and no, there is no pattern for the skirt. I decided to make one.

Image from "Lace Style"

I had a basic “recipe” for a skirt with the Calista Skirt (by Lila Tueller, see sidebar waaayyyy at the bottom for the pattern). So I pulled out the leftovers of a bedsheet I had used to back a quilt for my son and went to work.

I made 5 horizontal panels, with each panel different in terms of texture or fullness or length. I will explain the process below, in case you want to know. I fully expected this to be a test pattern, but I loved it so much, I just wore it as is.

Because of this, there are a few problems with the skirt:

  • The edges fray badly. I like the look of some fraying, but I have to take a scissors to the thing every time it comes out of the wash. It is the nature of the beast with the slashing, so I am willing to live with that part, but I probably should have serged the inside edges.
  • The color. I would not have picked this color for fashion fabric; it’s just what I had on hand.
  • The fabric is heavy. It has multiple, overlapping layers, and it’s a bedsheet.

How I think the skirt could be improved:

  • Maybe cut the slashed panels on the bias to keep the fraying to a minimum
  • Use the serger judiciously. I want some fraying, that’s part of the charm of the skirt. But the serger might be used in places to minimize the fraying. Hell, serger thread in a contrasting color might add to the deconstructed feel of the end product.
  • Consider fabric. Cotton lawn would probably be too thin. And would probably shred after a few washings. Gauze would be crinkly and crumply, which would look great, but might be too loose-weaved to withstand the slashing treatment, fraying into bits quickly. Quilting fabrics might work well, but there is so much going on with the fabric manipulation, a solid is probably better than a print.

You want to make one too, right?

Well, the sky is the limit. It’s really just 5 rectangles of varying lengths stacked vertically and seamed together with 1/2″ seams. The only “must do” rule is, the top panel must be able to clear your hips and fit your waist. I suggest a finished width of your hip measurement + 4″. Then go crazy. Make as many panels as you want with whatever slashing or layers you find interesting.

Here is how I made mine.

The first (top) panel is smooth, as it goes over my belly and hips, and I didn’t want extra distraction there. I don’t tuck in shirts anymore, so I didn’t want a lot of bumps to show through a t-shirt. This panel has a casing for 1.25″ elastic. I cut the panel to be a rectangle 10″ long by 43″ wide.

The second panel was cut 4″ long by 45″ wide. It has an overlay cut exactly the same measurement, which is slashed vertically every 1″. The actual slash is only about 2″ long. You must leave at least 1/2″ unslashed at the top and bottom for seaming this panel to the panels on either side of it. Believe me, you don’t want to have to sew a million loose strips of fabric. To make the slits, I just covered both horizontal edges with rulers to protect the fabric from being cut all the way through the seam allowance, then cut the fabric with my rotary cutter. Rulers also make it easy to keep the slashes straight.

Second panel

The third panel was cut 6.5″ long by 47″ wide. It also has an overlay of the same dimension. The top layer is slashed vertically every 1″, with each slash about 5″ long. I was more adventurous in cutting this layer after experiencing the first slashed panel. You know how when you try to cut pizza you can never quite make it to the edge because the pan lip gets in the way? I realized I could move my ruler further away from the edge and still protect my fabric. This gave me an extra inch of slashing.

Third panel

I cut the fourth panel 4″ long by 68″ wide. I ran 2 lines of basting along the top and gathered it to match the previous panel.

Fourth and fifth panels

The fifth panel is a 3.5″ ruffle, which is actually 7″ long by 80″ wide and folded horizonally. The top edge is gathered and seamed to the previous panel, so no hemming is required. How did I end up with this dimension? It was the top of the bedsheet where the manufacturer folded it back. I simply cut the entire length across the top of the queen size sheet and turned it into the hem ruffle.

The seams where the slashed panels meet seemed a little boring, so I added some seam details. For the top panel, I cut a 1″-wide strip of fabric across the entire bedsheet, ran a line of gathering down the center, and pulled it until it was the same width as the skirt at that point. Then I sewed it over the seam right down the center of the ruffle. For the second panel, I didn’t even gather the 1″ strip. I just sewed it right down the center of the strip to cover the skirt seam. I cut it to the right length when I got to the end.

It sounds like a lot, but really, I finished it all in one day.

I am gaga over the finished product. I would like to make another, but seriously how many deconstructed skirts do I need in my wardrobe?

I actually wore the top and sweater with jeans today, but wanted to show a photo of the skirt on a body, so I just slipped it on and ran outside to catch the fading sunlight. A little too much ruffle going on there for a regular outfit, I think.

Can You See Me?



I swear, I wasn’t going for a camouflage look. I hope it doesn’t come across that way.

This is Burda 7798, view B.


1. In lieu of making a 10 to fit my shoulders and then doing a FBA, I made a size 16 and then sewed two of the darts 3/8″ deeper.

2. I cut the length by at least 5 inches.

3. I installed an invisible zipper in the side instead of center back. It turns out the top is large enough to slip over my head without even wiggling. I may go back and take some in at center front and back. Or I might go back in and scavenge the zipper. Probably I’ll leave it as is.


I did not enjoy this fabric. It is polyester, and as such did not press well, so the seams all look rounded to me. I may go back and do some topstitching to flatten them. The armholes feel tight; the back seems tight when I reach forward. I seems plenty big, so I think it’s an armscye/sleeve issue.


The neckline is a bit wide, so I feel like my brastraps are going to show, which will make me fuss with it when I wear it. I hate fussing with clothes.

I love the sleeves.


And when I came downstairs to show it off, Husband looked up and said, “What is this? I *like* it.” He is not one to pour on the compliments, so I’ll take it.