Sunday, March 6, 2016

In Progress: New Supportive Chemise

Note: If you know me personally and/or may be adversely affected by the direct and open way I need to address the topic of my breasts and their shape in this project, I suggest you turn back now. I'll post a similar notice when I believe the project has progressed enough that it might not be as awkward.


Still with me?

In US bra sizing, I'm a 40L. I believe that translates to HH in UK sizing. The L translates to a bust-to-underbust difference of 12". I also have what's knows as "kissing breasts" that like to travel to the middle for a party. If I want my breasts to be separated, there's a lot of engineering involved, which my boobs would probably laugh at anyway. If there's any chance for the breasts to come together, they will take it. So, in general, I tend to look for solutions that allow my boobs to combine their powers in the middle, but not so much so that an actual uni-boob occurs. I want to aim for a nice, even spread across my bust for the best look.

I have to take a moment to acknowledge that I'm never going to make my breasts conform to the medieval ideal. The ideal for the early 15th century was high, medium-sized, rounded mounds. That's mounds, plural. Not a swath of boob across the upper torso. So I'm not going to kid myself with that, but I still want to get my bust high and rounded. Not squished or flattened. I need to if I'm going to show off my narrower underbust, which is a bit more ideal.

To start this project, I needed to identify the failings of my current system and pattern. And that's what we're going to look at today. So I started off with a muslin of my current dress pattern (used for my green linen cotte), tossed it on over my "event bra" (a not-so-well-fitting soft-cup bra with no underwire, that also happens to be bright green), and took some photos.

Most current cotte pattern as is worn with bra (aka, what I've been doing)
The biggest issue that can't immediately be seen here is that I can't have my cake and eat it too. I can't create a pull-over supportive garment and then rely on the narrow band under the breasts to effectively do its job. I need to severely decrease the circumference of the underbust and include lacing. (Side note: the linen underdress I currently use as my base layer is laced, but also pulls over my head, so the lacing doesn't really count.)

There are other issues as well that I suppose happen in my green linen dress, but perhaps not as noticeably or as severely as here. My bust is squished. In the effort to lift it as high as I can comfortably get it, it's flattened in the center. You can really see that in the side view above. If I had to take a guess here, I'd say this is a side effect of forcing a soft object against a highly-tensioned flat panel of fabric, since it's occurring in the spot on each panel with the least shaping- the center of the panel between the underbust and neckline, where only the grain of the fabric is at play.

The next clearly visible problem is the positioning of the shoulder seams. They are pulled significantly forward. The primary issue is that the underbust is too loose, allowing the back to ride up, which my breasts exploit by dragging the slack forward. In cottes (as well as bras, BTW), 80-90% of the support comes from the fit of the underbust band and initial lift created by the shape of the "cup" in which the boobs rest. You can see in the front view that my boobs have a pronounced "w" shape, where they sag into the center of the panels as a result of a failure of support and incorrect shaping.

There are some other issues here, but next, I wanted to do a direct comparison to the way this exact pattern fit if I removed the bra.

Most current cotte pattern as is worn without bra (not what I've been doing)
Clearly, without the containment of the bra, these major issues merely compound. Added into those is the general unwieldiness of all that fleshiness. The quad-boob effect is significantly more pronounced; the shape in the side view is a bit more rounded, but a lot more awkward; and the sag in the panel centers is worse. Note in the side view how the side seam rides forward, taking any slack it can get and giving it to the bust.

So, obviously, this pattern isn't going to get me where I want to go, but I need to have a clear picture of the destination to begin making some adjustments. Here are the things I need to address:

Changes Needed
The red lines indicate the rounded shape across the bust that is my ideal.
  1. Adjust the fit of the underbust band to reduce/eliminate the slack where my bust can sag into the center of the panels, and instead force the boobs upward evenly along their base.
  2. Ease the side seams in the front under the arms, and reduce the width of the back panels to force the seam back to side-center, and round out the bust shape.
  3. Eliminate slack in overbust region to smooth out quad-bood tightness by adjusting the shoulder seam angle further upward on the outside.
  4. Continue quad-bood elimination and rounding by increasing the inward curve of the center seam up to the neckline. This will more greatly effect the side-view "muffin top" effect.
  5. Increase the length of the shoulder bands on the inside (neck side) of the shoulder seams to reduce strain on the center of the panels. Also, reduce the underbust width on the back panels and decrease the length of the shoulder bands in the back to prevent the back from sliding forward over the shoulder.
  6. Ease out the center seam under the tighter underbust to prevent the fabric from sliding upward and gathering under the boobs.
And add lacing to the front center.

I believe I have enough extra in my seam allowances to make these adjustments on this muslin. If not, I'll start over with a re-draft. We'll see what I come up with next week.


  1. I have always heard that bras take an enormous amount of engineering & now I can see that this is true. Good work!

    1. I've been researching modern bras and how to troubleshoot fit in conjunction with this, and it's very cool how bras and supportive cottes connect in that way. You would think that an over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder was a straight-forward thing, but that is so incredibly not true!

  2. As a fellow extreme waist-to-bust-difference gal, I wish you all the luck in the world!

  3. You might want to consider experimenting with making a Lengberg type of bra-shirt. Granted, the Lengberg find is 15th century and we don't know that similar garments were worn in the 14th, but such a garment might work better given your fit issues. Here's a blog that discusses the making of such an item (albeit on a costumer who is both much smaller and differently proportioned):

    Here are two different types of Lengberg bra-like garment on larger women:

    Good luck!

    1. I've been looking at the Lengberg bras, and I do have that on a long-term list to try at some point. For this project, I'm really trying to stretch myself to apply what I've learned about dress fitting all these years. I want to work through the fit issues from this direction to really challenge myself. ;) But I have seen a lot of folks do their own versions of the Lengberg bras, and am keeping that on my peripheral. And if I can't achieve the shaping I want with the 4-panel tailoring, then a bra is the next option. So I might end up there sooner rather than later!

    2. Are you going to be at Gulf this year? If so, Mistress Maudelyn from Meridies is teaching her Lengenberg class twice. I took it at RUM this summer, and it was EXCELLENT. She's made several variations and extensively field tested them on women with large busts. Seeing how the various styles gave different shaping and support in person was really wonderful. If you can't go, she's worth looking up and emailing.

  4. Thanks for sharing this, I'm in the process of making my first muslin for a supportive kirtle and, as a uk size F, have a fair amount of boobage to contain! I look forward to reading your next article.

  5. Good for you. For years I ran into the same issue. It was nice to have a pull-over-the-head dress.. but it took me a long time to realize that if I could pull it on over my breasts.. and my breasts were maleable, then my breasts could migrate downwards. This lead to the same flattening you're seeing across the front.. where the mass of the breast migrated down into what should be the breast band.

    My most recent kirtle is laced and is doing good support.. but is getting stress wrinkles under the bust.. I'm working on resolving that.