Full Bust Adjustment (FBA)

Commercial patterns, as well as Ready to Wear, assumes you’re a B cup. That means that when choosing a sewing pattern, you should measure you high bust (it’s the circumference of your body just above the bust, basically under your armpits) and pick it from that.

I’m starting to find other ways to get a better fit in my narrow upper chest and back and fuller… everything. I always, always, do a FBA. You don’t want to go off your full bust measurement because then you’ll end up with saggy shoulders, armholes down to your toes and an overall yucky fit, which might make you think you can’t sew.

I’m here to tell you it’s not your fault! Just work the system. Go off your high bust measurement and practice the FBA on different patterns until it’s second nature. Palmer/Pletsch (check the McCalls pattern website) has the alteration lines printed on their patterns, which is helpful but if you already have a pattern, look through these links below and see if they’re helpful.

My first FBA was sloppy, at best, but now I can actually see where the cut lines should go and the process takes a lot less time.

Another thing I’ve learned to do is cut a smaller back. It helps the side seam lay where it should, smack in between my torso, instead of half-way between the fullest part of my bust and my back. I really need to illustrate this because it makes a big difference in how clothes look on me. To find your back size, measure your upper back and double that number. I get 16.5 but I round up to 17, double it and use the back pattern piece marked for the bust size 34. I know it means I buy a smaller pattern than I used to but I’m getting better results on tops. Let me know if you have any questions about this.

Feel free to ask any questions. I’m at leila {at} threedresses {dot} org

27 thoughts on “Full Bust Adjustment (FBA)

  1. Andrea says:

    Hi Leila!

    I just found a link to an FBA post on my blog and wanted to thank you for linking. I plan to do an update to that post soon since I’ve learned a lot since then about my own FBA needs. IMO, really large FBA’s can be tough on a tee when you don’t wish to have a dart, coupled with a narrow torso. However, it is doable!

    Thanks again!


  2. Richard says:

    Hi Leila,

    Richard here, I have been studying this phenomena in woman’s patterns and have come to some conclusion. adjust, adjust, adjust and dart.I have lots of useful information and websites also, if you interests let correspond with each other and they you can have the same info too at you finger tips.

  3. Lisa Michnick says:

    Hi. I’m sewing a bridesmaid dress for someone. I made a mockup and when she tried it on the bust was tight enough to distort the armhole open, and the waist and hips were a bit snug. I knew I needed to do the FBA I had read about. I found my way here to get a refresher. The link you provided is REALLY GOOD. I love the little animation! Such a clear illustration! Thank you! Oh yes. and I, myself, am a 34DDD so you know I’ve found the pot of gold with all this advice! Good wishes.

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  5. Jean says:

    I just read the sewaholic link, which is basically the same as someone else’s FBA I read before it and they both end up giving extra room at the hips. Some people only need the extra room at the bust. How would one accommodate the need for small neck, shoulders, armscye and hips but large bust?

    • Leila says:

      I start with a small size for my shoulders, always raise the armscye and do the fba. I never fill out the hips so I have to take them in, keeping some for ease. When you do your fba make sure your darts will match the skirt if you’re making a dress or your measurements if you’re making a top. You can also take in the sides if it’s too big in the waist/hips. You can also do narrow shoulder alteration. I measure the shoulder and make the alteration to fit my shoulder measurement. I hope this helps. If not, I can get pics up after I move at the end of the month.

      • Lisa says:

        Okay, here is a really basic question- I need a step by step through this process. Once you do the FBA, then change the hip to be narrower, your front side seam will no longer match the back side seam. How do you manage that?

    • Leila says:

      What a great tutorial! Yes, it’s very similar to the FBA I do but it just pivots the side dart to the front and creates a longer front which is great!

  6. Machtelt says:

    Thanks for all your FBA docs. I was a desperate H cup but I think i will be wearing more than just stretch in the future.

  7. Laura Mulliner says:

    Hi – I am a 34G and a size 10. So annoyed at making beautiful dresses for ‘normal size people’ and struggling with my own out of proportion body. This has really helped – thank you. x

  8. Sharon says:

    In October of 2013, you had sent another writer a step by step on the full bust adjustment. Would you mind sharing with me? Thanks.

  9. Nancy says:

    Hi Leila, I found your site by googling about patterns that called for darts and how to cut out the pattern if you don’t want any darts at the bust line. I am older and have droopy boobs and am full busted to begin with! Thank you.

  10. katecruisedesign says:

    I’ve only been sewing on and off for a couple of years and this evening sewed my first top for it to be too tight across the bust. I never knew that commercial patterns assumed a B cup, thank you so much for this it makes sense why the pattern is too tight (I’m a D cup!) I was beginning to feel a little dishearted after all the effort gone into simply trying to decipher what the pattern means for it to fit too tight. I’ll have a look at the links and see if I can unpick the seam and adjust it. I’m also finding the armholes too high up and tight under the arm, is this usually connected to the bust being too tight? The pattern requires sleeves but I’m considering scrapping them and just making it sleeveless so it actually fits me. Anyway thanks again and I look forward to reading more of your blog. Kate

  11. Hilda says:

    I have a much bigger challenge. I have been asked to take two women suit jackets to make into one larger suit jacket. I have to add 5 inches in the bust area of one jacket. what is my best avenue. This is hard when a group has to have the same outfit and the one person is not able to get their size in the same outfit. Help

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