Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sorbetto top pattern review and FBA how-to

Something I’ve been avoiding for a while now – in addition to vacuuming, making a budget and loosing baby weight (bleh!) – is learning how to properly make a full bust adjustment, or FBA.  I’ve avoided thus far it by choosing patterns that have strategic gathers, tucks, ties and elastic. Sometimes I “cheat” by grading patterns out at the bust and in at the high waist and sometimes I just let things be a little too snug in the bust. After all, that’s how ready-to-wear fits me, so I’m used to it. But the reality is that trying to stuff 34DDs (or more!) into patterns designed for a B cup mostly doesn’t work out. Clothes are unflatteringly snug across the bust and gape in a weird way at the shoulder.  Since I’m slowly moving away from nursing tops and could use more hot weather wear, it seemed like a good time to learn.  

Prime choice for this experience is the Colette Patterns Sorbetto top.  It already has a bust dart and since Colette patterns are based on a C cup rather than B like the big companies, I’ll have a little less to adjust. Since it’s a simple tank pattern, I can focus on the bust fitting.

I cut a size 10 based on my high bust measurement.  I traced the pattern, pinned the front and back together and tried it on. Comparing my center front with the pattern center indicated I needed at least an inch so I made my red marks, then slashed it carefully.

Draw one line from the hem, to the "apex" and then to 1/3 of the way into the armpit. Draw a second line through the dart to the apex.

I did the adjusting and taping on my ironing board with a fresh piece of tracing paper underneath. This way, I could pin down the pattern paper to move it accurately and tape it right to the fresh paper without fear of shifting anything. A clear grid ruler helped line things up properly.

Cut almost all the way along these lines, leaving them just barely attached to each other.

Then I cut out the adjusted pattern piece, pinned it all together again and tried it on again. The dart seemed big enough but too high up! I marked my bust “apex” (does that term crack you up too?), drew a block around the entire dart, cut it out, shifted it down and taped again to yet more fresh paper.

cut out then entire dart and shift it up or down
Pinned the paper, tried it on again. The fit was better, but I don’t think I adjusted the dart enough the first time even though I thought I measured carefully because the center front of the pattern wasn’t quite making it to my center front. Sigh. The shape of the adjusted bust dart looked fine, so I decided that rather than re-adjust the dart or start over, I would add a half inch to the center front when I cut the fabric. The girls may still be a tiny bit squished into this top, but they’re used to that, poor babes. 

pattern paper all pinned together.

I ironed the tracing paper a little since it was quite creased after all that folding and pinning. Then I traced and cut the fabric. I marked the dart carefully. I pinned and tried on the fabric pieces before actually stitching them, which I typically do after cutting pieces. Since I had taken so much trouble with the “tissue fitting”, I was tempted to skip this.  I’m glad I didn’t because fabric doesn’t behave the same way as paper. The bust darts were way too low and somehow – after adding 2 inches overall, there still wasn’t enough room for the girls! Apparently the darts do settle a little in the fabric as Palmer says. I didn’t need to move the bust darts down after all, so I retraced them up higher and fitted them again. This time it all looked good. After deepening the bust dart and allowing more room in the center, I added 2 ½” total. 

the finished adjusted dart. You can sort of see here how large it is.

I stitched the shoulders and side seams – French seams work very well here – and then looked at the pleat, though the directions have you stitch the pleat first. I wanted to play with the pleat and maybe leave the bottom free to swing, which did not drape nicely with this fabric, which is after all not fashion fabric and a rather stiff quilting cotton. I also thought I might do an inverted pleat, which did not flatter my full bust. I found the pleat most flattering as designed. But I did make the pleat smaller to squeeze in still more room for the bust.

The long and short of the FBA – it’s a necessary skill to have in your arsenal for patterns like this. The Palmer-Pletch method is a good one, I think, but it’s no magic pill. This is a process of trial and error and will require a fair bit of practice to perfect.  In fact, each different type of garment will require a different kind of adjustment, as will different kinds of fabrics. If I were planning a very special project like a suit or evening gown (yeah right!), I would also make a muslin in a cheap fabric similar to the final fabric to be sure the fit is correct.  Despite this long post, making the FBA is not quite as much effort as it seems and I’m confident it will get easier with practice.  And since a full bustline is nothing to complain about, I’ll happily suck it up and take the extra time to flatter the girls.

The upside to working out how to do an FBA – and this is a great upside – is that you’ll get to cut a smaller size. I know it’s just vanity, but it still feels good. Oh, and your clothes will fit better. That’s nice too.

here you can see that the shoulders fit properly, with no weird armpit gaping.

Sorbetto was perfect for practicing the FBA, because there isn’t actually much else to it. It’s a simple but well designed pattern and comfortable to wear. The neck line is neither too high nor too low, just right to open up the face and flatter. The back neck is low – like a boat neck – and feels breathable on sticky days. The armsyces and shoulder straps are just right for comfort and covering a bra properly. The outside bias facing is a sophisticated detail. I’m for once quite pleased with how my bias came out. I rarely produce satisfying topstitching, but this time I went s-l-o-w-l-y and am actually quite pleased with it. I plan to make this again and I think it would work well in a variety of fabrics, with all kinds of possible adornments. I would really love this in seersucker or Liberty.

The fabric is from Joel Dewberry’s new line, Heirloom. It is definitely better suited to quilting or crafting, as it’s quite stiff and a tiny bit rough, but it called to me and I’m sure you know how that is. The Sorbetto handled the structure just fine, and though I’d prefer lawn or voile, I have been happily wearing this version. In the shop, I was drawn to how the lipstick colorway of shot cotton contrasted cheerfully with the soft yellow. I liked the idea of the pink piping on a yellow child’s dress. For more grown-up fun, I added a contrasting hem facing. I like the idea of a little bit of pink peeking out, a little treat just for me. What do you think?

resources: Simplicity has a Fit Brochure you can download for free. There are several posts on the Lisette blog regarding fitting resources as well as a tutorial on the Sew Mama Sew blog. I also found many discussions and links on Sewing Pattern Review.

[ETA: I've added further FBA tips featuring my denim Washi and a more complicated FBA on Simplicity 1880 with a pleated crossover bodice.


  1. Thanks for posting this. I have not been able to get a Sorbetto to fit me very well- I have that gaping at the arm holes you speak of. I'm going to try a size 10 and do the FBA you show on here. I've not actually figured out how to do one yet. I am hoping this works. It will be the first top I make that fits. I have a blog but haven't updated lately. If this works- I'll add it! Thanks again!

  2. I'm glad you found it helpful, Karen! Let me know how yours goes.

  3. This is a fantastic share! My first attempt at Sorbetto is great but ill-fitting. I am nursing currently and found on my second top that I adjusted similarly. I like the fit and the top is wonderful. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Thanks for reading, Brandy. I'm really glad you found it useful.

  5. Hi! Thanks for this helpful post. I am working on the Sorbetto right now and also doing an FBA. Your instructions have been the most helpful I have found. I have already made the adjustments to the front piece and that went fine, but now the back bodice piece arm holes and bottom hemline are all off. Did you have that issue and if so how did you fix it? I have only cut my tracing paper so far. I can understand horizontally slashing & spreading to get the top and bottom even again but the armhole is still totally off. Any advice is appreciated!


  6. Thanks, Melissa. I'm glad you found it helpful. The adjustments to the front shouldn't affect the back. The FBA does add width and lenght, but you need that o go over the bust. So the paper pattern laid out flat will look longer and wider than the back piece. It should still be even when worn.

  7. Thank you so much for the fast response! I can continue my Sunday sewing. I see what you mean and I also forgot to account for the dart, duh! I just couldn't see how it was going to work out. I really appreciate the help.

  8. What a great top/fit/fabric/contrast hem facing!!

  9. Lovely sorbetto top! Thank you for sharing your adjustments.

  10. This is a great post! Thanks so much for sharing your FBA process. I'm learning ALL about them right now. And I agree, YES, it is so liberating to cut a smaller size and yet still fit the girls in there. :)

    Beautiful top! --Caila

  11. Thank you! Just downloaded the Sorbetto. Very helpful. Beautiful top btw.

  12. I am inspired by your patience and attention to detail. I made the Washi dress last summer but was too impatient to do an FBA, so it is in the donation bag. It is a wonderful pattern and was a pleasure to sew. Your explanation of the FBA is the best I've seen and I am anxious to FINALLY practice it. Thank you!