Sunday, March 20, 2016

In Progress: 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. 

I've begun the process of adjusting my pattern, and while I've corrected some things, other issues have appeared. I'm not going to sugar coat it. It's very frustrating.

There are definitely things that I've gotten right here, namely rethinking the way the back and shoulders relate to the tension in the front. But the more I fiddle, the more I get little issues that I have to back-track on. I'm getting muffin top. I'm still getting quad-boob. The shape looks great head on, but in profile, it looks terrible.

So instead of giving up, I now have the perfect excuse to go back to the drawing board. I don't think I need to go all the way back to a draping process, but I don't think I can move forward with this muslin.

When I started out, I doodled the above as I was brainstorming my issues. The black lines are roughly what my existing pattern looked like, and the red is the new, mostly. What I was trying to think through was that perhaps the squishing I was getting was because the bust fullness was located in the wrong place.

Thinking it through some more, I started to realize that my pattern was too flat. I am not a paper doll, so it doesn't make much sense that a garment intended to fit my body should be able to lay out mostly flat. There should be areas in which the garment puffs and pockets when laid out. The only way this can happen (assuming that more advanced techniques of fabric stretching and shrinking are not yet in full development) is to introduce 3-dimensionality within the panels themselves.

One way to do that is to ease a curve on the edge of one panel into the straight edge of another. So I tried that on the side seam. I made additional, minor adjustments after this, but here's the shape of the seams on the front panel (right side of the photo in the side seam):

 And here's the corresponding line on the back, which I hope you can also see was brought in from the original placement as it travels up to the armpit (on the right side of the picture):

The effect is that the side seam now sits on my side (and not riding forward), and my boob has a small pocket to sit in, without traveling into my armpit, or being forced to the back. I highly recommend giving this technique a try if you have issues with your boobs wanting to sit under your arms.

Unfortunately, while I really liked the results of that adjustment, I didn't like what happened to the front. In the photo above, you can see the front seam (left-hand seam). Like I said, I made additional adjustments after these photos, but regardless, my aim was to relieve the squishing and create a pocket like the one on the side.

I ended up with a uniboob. Which happened because I gave it too much curve. Tightening that up helped, but then I ended up with a muffin top.

In the middle of this, Baroness Sylvie shared the end result of a new kirtle she's been working on. If you browse through her photos, you'll see her pattern. She used a straight front (which I have used in the past as well), pushing all her bust curve to the sides. You can see from her finished photos that she gets a nice line of support across the base of her bust.

I went back to a blank piece of muslin and redid the front panels for a straight front. Remember that anything removed from one spot has to be replaced in another, so if I create a straight front, the sides end up with all the curve. This also means that my band of underbust support needed to be adjusted. In the picture below, you can see the new line for the side seam. The straight edge of the muslin is the new front center.

I got to this by marking the underbust location, measuring what I was adding to that width in the front, and moving the side's underbust width inward that amount.

The back panels were not changed at this point. So I now had this significant cup to match up with the straighter back side of the seam. To do that, I used a gathering stitch to "shrink" the curve up, and pinned it down. This does create wrinkles, but if I took more time and really finessed the ease, those would practically disappear once the garment is on.

I also added the lacing strips. I ended up having to shift them out to add a bit more room in the front (I'd cut too short in the bust width), and I think they could be pushed out a bit more. I was getting some muffin top still, so I stood in front of the mirror, tugging and pulling to see what corrected it, and discovered that I needed to significantly shift the front panel's shoulder outward from the back, and remove length on the neck side of the seam.

I also needed to severely reduce the angle on the back seam. The original location is the bottom red line. The top red line is where it finally ended up. And I can tell you, the upper back is locked and loaded.

I am MUCH closer to a great pattern than I was this morning, but there are still some issues.

The lacing is gaping right at the base of the bust. At the same time, however, I can still get this on entirely laced up. I was able to do that even before I shifted the lacing strips out, so either my boobs have been traded for octopi, or the underbust band is still not tight enough.

Note, also, how much I've shrunk up the neckline. If I start cutting that back down to the wide, low scoop it's supposed to be, I'm afraid the muffin top will come back.

I like the shape I'm getting in profile, for the most part. There's a lot of strained banding from the lacing, so that just reinforces to me that the panels aren't wide enough in the front at the bust. I'm not in love with how high the bust goes. That's the wrong shape, I think, and means that there isn't enough space down lower, where it belongs.

In this slightly different angle, you can see the side seam position at the underbust. I think this is set too high, feeding the flesh into the same kind of saggy pocket in the front that I was already dealing with. You can kind of see how the looser fabric under the boobs creases upwards toward that point.

I think I'm really close, so here are the changes I want to try next:
  • Add width to the center front edges on each side to further reduce the strain of the lacing and correct the gap.
  • Shift the underbust down on the sides at least 1/2" (which also gives more space for the boobs).
  • Reduce the underbust width even more to remove the ability to slip the garment on without undoing the lacing. I need to find the way to do this so that I don't bring the gap back to the center front. I'm thinking this needs to be a back-based adjustment.
  • Open the neckline back up to how large it needs to be and continue to finesse the shoulder seam to counter any adverse results.
As frustrated as I've gotten so far, I have to admit that frustration can be a key element to tackling a project like this. The more frustrated I get, the more determined I am to look at the problem in new ways. Even if I need to step away from it every so often to keep my sanity.


  1. it looks to me like you need a better fit on the underbust, perhaps have a short lace in addition to the normal one to lace that bit firmly so it can't squidge around?

    1. The underbust definitely needs to be tighter. But the front panels also need to be wider, which is what I think the root cause of that gaping. So I'm going to start off by trying to widen the front panels at the center and reducing the underbust everywhere else.

  2. When I was first starting to fit my new bodice I did the first couple fittings over my sports bra.

    This is the bra I use when I jog. To call it supportive would be an understatement. The fit on this sports bra is actually pretty close to the "fit" I want to achieve with my kirtle. That is, mostly mono-boob (there is no "lift and separate" in kirtles) with the mass evenly distributed to the front and side (mostly front).

    By using this I was able to get the basic bodice shape correct without having to fight with trying to support and suppress the breasts at the same time.

    After I got the basic shape.. I found that I kept needing to take the breast band in further and further. Every time I thought it was enough it turned out there was another 1/4" to 1/2" to take out from each side. Breasts are wily and kept oozing into the breast band area.

    When I finally got that snorked in enough it was important to me to make sure that the breast band is laid out on-grain in the final fabric to prevent any stretching in that area.

    Good luck.

  3. WRT straight front.
    I've ended up there.. and I like it.. but it happened mostly by happenstance. It has the added bonus that I can do my fittings with a zipper sewn in the front. It's mostly the outcome of trying to fit a dress on yourself.

    When fitting a dress (which BTW is way easier on someone else than on yourself) I start by fitting the center back to the curve of the spine and the shoulders to the relaxed slope of the shoulders. This should follow the spine such that if you pull the fabric forward the seam sits flat against the body. Pretty much this is the first thing I fit and it doesn't change after the initial fit. It's just there to hold the body. I don't do any shaping or support in the back seam.

    I like the flat center front seam as it's one less thing to fiddle with. There's only two times I tend to mess with the straight front. First, when I've gotten the sides fitting like I wanted but noticed that if I bend over my breasts are falling out the top of the bodice. In that case I nipped a bit out of the center front above the breast band to keep the breasts down. Second, I suspect the flat front is contributing to the stress wrinkles I'm seeing under my breast band. I suspect my belly needs more space.. and the sides are already pretty dramatic.. and really I should ease outwards across the belly, under the breastband.

    This leaves you with only having to worry about the side seams. My goal has been to distribute the fabric needed to properly support me evenly between the front and back piece. I have in fact gone back and evened up my sides in order to keep them even.

    For the most part I've done this because that's what Robin Netherton told us to do in her workshop :)

    I don't actually know the outcome of having all the work done by the front panels.

    Sylvie, "the chatty"

  4. Chatty is good in this case :) I think trying to force my front panels to do most of the work is why my first muslin failed and why I'm still having issues on version two. I don't really have any other choice to correct the strain at the center than to make more adjustments in the sides and back so those front panels can be wide enough to close correctly all the way down. I used a straight front pattern for a long time, and I'm not entirely sure what was the trigger for deviating from that. When I did, I corrected the strain I'm getting here again just at the base of the bust, but I introduced the separating/sagging that is less than attractive.

    I hadn't thought to focus on the center back first- that's a good tip. I think I ultimately ended up nearly there with all the taking in I did, but I might have gotten there sooner if I'd focused on that at the outset.

    I agree that the breast band needs to be much smaller than it seems like it should be. I recently updated my bra sizing, and discovered that I was way better off with a band 2 sizes smaller than what seemed to fit well enough. I have never achieved a kirtle that absolutely required that I unlace it to get it on and off. That's the end goal I'm working toward this time around. If I still haven't gotten that, I still don't have it right.

    I'll be doing front lacing on the linen supportive chemise I'm working toward now, then I'll shift to a side lacing for the wool kirtle, like you have on yours.

    In terms of the belly-fitting, I think you're spot on that the flat front is the main contributor. I have the same sorts of wrinkles on all my flat fronted dresses to date. Maybe base the starting width of the full panel on belly instead of the bust?

    Thanks for sharing your insight!

    1. Tonight I started fitting a gal who wears a 44-H cup.

      I did a basic fitting on her in a workout bra. Then we had her take off the bra to really snork it in to get a tight breastband. I couldn't get the tightness I wanted on the breast band without adding funny wrinkles until I started messing with the center front seam. It seemed like if I tried to pull all of the fabric out at the side seams I was getting stress wrinkles diagonally across her breasts. Once I started pulling fabric out at the center front on the breastband the fit went surprisingly fast.

      I did most of the fitting with her standing up and then I had her lie down and I pulled yet more fabric out of the side seams at the breastband. Lieing down made it very easy to mark the breastband on her pattern.

      I think the next time I do a fitting I'll photograph and document the whole thing.


  5. I don't think the neckline is meant to be a wide, low scoop. I think the neckline is supposed to sit straight across the shoulders. This looks like a wide, low scoop when it's on a hanger, but not when it's on.

    1. I'm not sure what you mean by "straight across the shoulders". Do you have an example?