22 July 2015

Choosing Your Size and Fitting the Bettine Dress

Fitting the Bettine dress sewing pattern

This post was updated on 18 August 2015 - as pointed out by a helpful reader, we missed a final step off the full bust adjustment tutorials. Oops!

Vanessa here today – let’s talk about choosing your size and fitting adjustments you might want to make before sewing the Bettine dress.

We designed the Bettine sewing pattern with beginners in mind, so it’s an easy pattern to fit. It has a relaxed, blousy bodice and design ease at the hips, and the elastic does the job of cinching it in at the waist. It doesn't have darts or close-fitting seam lines that need to mould exactly to your curves and, as the bodice is meant to slouch nonchalantly over the waistline, there’s no need to adjust for a sway back.

That said, one of the joys of dressing handmade is making your clothes fit your individual shape beautifully. So, while some of you won’t need to make any fitting changes with this dress, it’s worth considering whether you want to tweak the pattern for your shape before sewing.

This is a bit of a bumper post – we’re going to cover choosing your size, lengthening the bodice or skirt, shortening the bodice or skirt, how to combine pattern sizes, adjusting for bust fullness, adjusting a gaping neckline, and shortening the sleeves.

Fitting the Bettine dress sewing pattern

Choosing your size

First up is choosing the right size for your measurements. Use a tape measure to find the circumference of your bust, waist and hips, by which we mean:

  • Bust – the fullest part of your bust, ie. around your nipples
  • Waist – the point at which you bend to the side
  • Hips – the fullest part of your hips - it helps to turn to the side and look in a mirror to see where this is

Keep the tape measure parallel to the floor and don't hold it too tightly around your body, as tempting as it can be, particularly after a big meal (or am I alone in my vain measuring?)!

Fitting the Bettine dress sewing pattern

Circle your measurements in the ‘body measurements’ chart in the instructions. If your measurement falls in between a size (for example, if it's 27in rather than 26in or 28in) it’s nearly always better to choose the larger size, as it’s easier to take the dress in if it’s too big than to let it out if it’s too small.

If your bust, waist and hip measurements all fall into one pattern size – fantastic! That’s your size! There’s a key on the pattern sheets which shows a particular style of solid or dashed line for your size – that’s the one to use when you cut your fabric.

Don’t worry however if your bust, waist and hip measurements span 2 or 3 different sizes – since our bodies have different proportions, this is very common! This calls for a bit of mix and matching – see ‘How to combine pattern sizes’ below.

To lengthen or shorten the bodice or skirt:

What if you’re particularly tall or petite?

If the measurement from your nape (the knobbly bit at the back of your neck) to your waist (at the centre back) is significantly different to 41cm (16in), then I’d suggest it would be worth changing the length of the bodice. (Bear in mind that Bettine has been designed so the bodice is about 5cm (2in) longer than a standard nape to waist measurement, to give it a relaxed, slouchy look over the waistline.)

The finished skirt measures 47.5cm (18¾in) from waist to hem. If you want it particularly longer or shorter than this and don’t want to affect the tulip shape, you can change it on the pattern before cutting your fabric.

To lengthen the bodice or skirt:

Fitting the Bettine dress sewing pattern

First of all you need to draw on a bit of paper two parallel lines, the width between them the amount you’d like the lengthen either the bodice or skirt by. Draw a line at a right angle to these lines at one end.

Fitting the Bettine dress sewing pattern

Cut along one of the ‘lengthen or shorten here’ lines on either the bodice or skirt pattern, depending on which you want to change, separate them, and then insert the paper strip you just drew on. Line the two parallel lines up with the cut edges, and the other line up with the centre front or centre back lines (the straight one with the ‘place on fold’ arrow). Stick them down with tape or a glue stick.

Fitting the Bettine dress sewing pattern

Using a ruler or a gentle hand, redraw the side seam of your pattern size to neaten it out, sketching a gentle curve if you’re lengthening the skirt or a straight line for the bodice.

Fitting the Bettine dress sewing pattern

If you’re making the pocket skirt version, the new side seam curve will need to match the pocket and pocket facing pieces too. Lay these pieces in turn over the skirt piece, matching them up at the hip notch, and trace the new side seam curve. (Don’t worry that the top curves of the facing and skirt don’t match up, they will do once you’ve understitched and rolled the seam to the inside. Just match the pieces up at the hip notches.)

To shorten the bodice or skirt:

Fitting the Bettine dress sewing pattern 
To shorten either your bodice or skirt, draw a parallel line above the ‘lengthen or shorten here’ line on either the bodice or the skirt pattern, depending on which you want to change, the distance between the two being how much you’d like to shorten it by. Cut along the ‘lengthen or shorten here’ line to separate into two pieces.

Fitting the Bettine dress sewing pattern

Overlap the bottom piece of the pattern on the top piece, aligning the cutting line with the new line you’ve drawn in, and keeping the centre front line aligned (the straight one with the ‘place on fold’ arrow). Glue or tape it in place.

Using a ruler or a gentle hand, redraw the side seam of your pattern size to neaten it out, sketching a gentle curve if you’re lengthening the skirt or a straight line for the bodice.

Fitting the Bettine dress sewing pattern

If you’re making the pocket skirt version, the new side seam curve will need to match the pocket and pocket facing pieces too. Lay these pieces in turn over the skirt piece, matching them up at the hip notch, and trace the new side seam curve. (Don’t worry that the top curves of the facing and skirt don’t match up, they will do once you’ve understitched and rolled the seam to the inside. Just match the pieces up at the hip notches.)

How to combine pattern sizes

If your proportions don’t match one pattern size – for example, if you’re a size 4 at the bust and size 6 at the hips – you can mix and match sizes to make a dress that fits you. If you’re lengthening or shortening the pattern too, combine the sizes after you’ve done that as it will affect the shape.

Fitting the Bettine dress sewing pattern

To combine sizes, what you need to do is to re-draw the side seam so that it gradually tapers from one size to another. The red line in the photo above shows a side seam that tapers from a size 4 at the bust to a size 3 at the waist. The green line shows a side seam adjusted for a size 3 bust and size 4 waist.

Fitting the Bettine dress sewing pattern

The red line in this photo (above) shows a side seam that tapers from a size 3 at the waist to a size 4 at the hips, and vice versa in green. You’ll need to draw this one in with a gentle curve to keep the tulip shape of the skirt. A curved ruler can be really helpful to do this, but isn’t essential.

Repeat the process for the back pieces too. If you’re making the pocket skirt version and have changed the side seams at the hips, sketch the same curves onto the pocket bag and pocket facing too.

Fitting the Bettine dress sewing pattern

Whatever changes you make, an important thing to remember is that the bodice and skirt will be sewn together at the waistline using a 30mm (1¼in) seam allowance, so make sure you keep the side seams at a right angle to the waistline for 30mm (1¼in) above and below the waistline so the pieces match up when you sew them together.

Adjusting bust fullness

The slouchy design of the bodice means that you might not need to make bust changes that you usually would for a fitted dress. But if your boobs are particularly large or small, you might need to make a full bust or small bust adjustment.

If your boobs are on the larger side, you may find that the pattern fits your bust but is baggy at the upper chest and shoulders. Our sewing patterns include a 5cm (2in) difference between the full bust (measured around your nipples) and high bust measurement (measured around your upper chest just under your armpits). If you have around 7.5cm (3in) or more difference between your full bust and high bust, then what you can do is pick a smaller pattern size based on your high bust and then add extra room at the full bust by doing a full bust adjustment – AKA an “FBA”.

If, on the other hand, your bosoms are on the smaller side, you may find that while the full bust fits you, the upper chest and shoulders are too tight. In this case you can pick a larger pattern size based on your high bust and then subtract room at the full bust by doing a small bust adjustment, an “SBA”.

Measure your high bust (around your upper chest just under your armpits) and add 5cm (2in). Choose the pattern size with that measurement at the bust to do your bust adjustment on. How much larger or smaller is your actual full bust measurement from the bust measurement on that pattern size? If it’s 2.5cm (1in) bigger, you’ll be adding 2.5cm (1in) when you do your full bust adjustment; or if it’s 2.5cm (1in) smaller, you’ll be subtracting 2.5cm (1in) when you do your small bust adjustment, and so on. Since the front dress pattern represents one half of the front dress (as the fabric is cut on the fold) – or one boob – you’ll be adding or subtracting half of that difference - 1.25cm (1/2in) in this example - to the pattern piece.

Both adjustments start off the same way by marking some cutting lines on your pattern, slashing them open, then either spreading them apart or overlapping them, to add or remove space at the bust.

Trace off a copy of your front bodice piece so you can keep the original one intact in case you need to go back to it.

Fitting the Bettine dress sewing pattern

Hold the front bodice piece up to your body so the shoulder line lies 15mm (5/8in) over your actual shoulder line. Make a marking where your nipple is (the bust apex if we’re being proper!). As a guide, the bust points are usually about 19 to 20cm (7.5 to 8in) apart from each other and about 27cm (10.5in) down from the shoulder/neck point – but of course this does vary from person to person!

Fitting the Bettine dress sewing pattern

Draw two lines fanning out from this point – one running vertically through it parallel to the centre front (where the place on fold line is), from shoulder seam to waistline; and a second line to the underarm notch. Cut up these two lines, separating your pattern into 3 different parts.

Full bust adjustment

Fitting the Bettine dress sewing pattern

Lay the pieces on top of a fresh piece of pattern paper, and position them so that they meet at the underarm notch and shoulder seam, pivoting away from each other at this point to separate at the bust apex. The amount you need to pivot the two side pieces away from the apex is the amount that you noted down earlier.

Stick the pieces down with tape or glue. Redraw the underarm curve, connecting it up with the side seam, and then redraw the shoulder seam to straighten it out.

Fitting the Bettine dress sewing pattern

The bottom needs to be lengthened slightly to accommodate the fuller bust. To do this, use a set square or a piece of card with a right angle. First, extend the centre front line (the line with the ‘place on fold’ arrow) down by a few cm. Then draw a line at a right angle to the centre front line meeting the bottom of the side seam. Now measure the waist seam on the skirt in your size, add in any extra on the bodice waist seam so it's the same length. Finally we need to square off the seam allowance at the corner – draw another line at a right angle from this point up, 30mm (1¼in) high, and smooth your side seam into this line.

Since you've added a dart-like wedge at the side seam on the front bodice, you'll need to remove some of the fabric to sew it to the back bodice. Rather than turning it into a dart, we would suggest ease stitching the fullness - this method of shaping a garment is more in harmony with the design of the dress, plus it gives you more scope for getting the side seams to match up. Sew some ease or gather stitches from just above the notch to about half-way down the side seam (two or three rows of long temporary stitches - the same way you'd add ease or gather stitching to a sleeve). Start pinning the side seams together, then pull on the ease stitching to gather the excess fabric up so the front side seam fits the back side seam. Pin them in place, stitch, then remove the ease stitching.

Small Bust Adjustment

Before you embark on a small bust adjustment, do bear in mind that, as the pattern has an unfitted silhouette, you may well be able to get away with not making this pattern change. It does mess with the shape of the side seams, so you may prefer to keep it simple and leave the pattern as it is :)

Fitting the Bettine dress sewing pattern

Lay the pieces on top of a fresh piece of pattern paper, and position them so that they meet at the underarm notch and shoulder seam, pivoting at this point to overlap each other at the bust apex. The amount you need to overlap the two side pieces over the apex is the amount that you noted down earlier.


Stick the pieces down with tape or glue. Redraw the underarm curve, smoothing out the broken line.


The bottom needs to be squared off to match up with the straight edge of the skirt. To do this, use a set square or a piece of card with a right angle. Draw a line at right angles from the bottom of the centre front - the line needs to be the same length as the waist seam at the top of the skirt pattern piece in your size. From the end of this line, draw another line at right angles - this line should be 3cm (1 1/4in) long (this will be the seam allowance for the waist channel). You can then taper your new side seam to the end of this line.


To finish, measure the side seam of the front and back piece. Your front side seam will most likely be slightly shorter than the back now. To even them up, simply work out the difference between the front and back side seam lengths. Trim this amount off the bottom of the back bodice, parallel to the waist seam.

Adjusting a gaping neckline

The neckline on the Bettine has been designed not to gape – it should lie fairly flat against your décolletage (love that word). However, since we’re all different shapes, if you find the neckline on your first version of Bettine is still a bit gapey, you can adjust it further.

Fitting the Bettine dress sewing pattern

Draw a line from the underarm notch to the middle of the neckline curve (this can be approximate).

Fitting the Bettine dress sewing pattern

Cut along this line, leaving them attached ever so slightly at the underarm notch. Overlap the pieces at the neckline by about 1-1.5cm (1/2in). Stick the pieces down with masking tape, and then re-draw the neckline to smooth it out.

Shortening the sleeves

One last thing – if you want to shorten the sleeves, you'll probably need to change the size of the cuffs to fit the new sleeve hem width. You’ll probably want to try the dress on after you’ve sewn most of it but before you add the cuffs, so you can decide how long you want the sleeves to be. Trim the sleeves down and measure the circumference of the new sleeve hem. Add 30mm (1¼in) to this measurement for seam allowances at either end of the cuff, and that is the length each cuff piece needs to be cut. The cuff pattern piece needs to be half of that measurement as it’s cut on the fold.

*****

Phew! That was a long post. If you're still reading, well done for getting to the end :) I hope you found it helpful.

We're loving seeing your Bettine dresses popping up on Instagram and Twitter. Keep 'em coming, and don't forget to use the hashtag #SewingBettine so we can see!

24 comments:

  1. What brand is your dress form? Love this post.

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  2. Great instructions :) have just bought the pattern to give it a go!

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  3. I've made my first Bettine and really like the dress - but I think I've done something odd as the waist is a little high for me, as if I need to add an inch to the bodice. I'm 5'2", so this is rather surprising - guessing I've done something wrong but I can't work it out.
    What I wanted to ask about was whether you think this would work in a stable knit fabric, rather than woven? I'm thinking ahead to my autumn wardrobe (which looks like it may be needed pretty soon ...). Any thoughts?

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    1. Hi Nina, the waistline should fall at your natural waist, as that's where the elastic will cinch you in. It may be higher than you expected... or it could be that the pieces were cut a little too short? I've just made a Bettine dress in jersey - I'm wearing it right this moment and it's the comfiest thing I've ever worn! It works really nicely in a drapey jersey. If the knit fabric you have in mind is drapey, then yes, go for it. If it's not so drapey, just bear in mind that it will hold the kimono shape at the underarms more - not a bad thing at all, just something to bear in mind. The only change I made for making Bettine in knit fabric was to replace the neckline facing with a neckband. I'll write a full report on the blog soon!

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  4. Thank you for the great instructions. I just have a quick question about doing an FBA: do you need to redraw the underarm curve on the back piece of the pattern to match the new front? Thank you!

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    1. Rose - thank you so much for the question, you made us realise we missed out a step! Sorry, our bad ;)

      We've updated it now - ordinarily you could sew a dart at the side seam wedge but for this style of pattern we recommend easing/gathering the excess fabric at the side seam. I hope this helps!

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  5. Thank you for these tips. Fitting is always the most difficult part for those of us who are not that experienced :-) I have a little question on FBA. I'm sorry if it's a stupid one, but I've never done a FBA before. Don't these manipulations make the side seam of the front bodice piece longer than those of the back piece? And if yes, how are they to be joined?

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    1. Not a stupid question at all, you're absolutely right - we missed out a step explaining what to do with the excess length, so sorry!

      We've updated it now - ordinarily you could sew a dart at the side seam wedge but for this style of pattern we recommend easing/gathering the excess fabric at the side seam. I hope this helps!

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  6. Hi Tilly I've purchased some gorgeous lipstick polyester fabric from Guthrie and Ghani with the Bettine in mind however the main colour of the fabric is white and obviously see through (doh). I wondered if I could add lining and if so what would be the fabric best to use. Thank you

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    1. Ooh I know which fabric you mean - it's seriously gorgeous, I'm tempted to order some for myself! Personally I wouldn't add a separate lining because it would add thickness where you want the dress to drape and make the waist channel tricky to sew. How about wearing a slip underneath? Call me lazy, but that's what I'd do! ;)

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    2. Ooh never thought of getting a slip thanks. Definitely get some its so gorgeous I'm really excited to see how it turns out. I would have loved the sunglasses fabric you used but it sold like hot cakes.

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  7. Just about to start sewing mine this week. Thank you so much for these handy fitting tips, very handy!

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  8. Advice please, anyone! I'm preparing to sew Bettine and on measuring myself, my bust is in one category and the rest in the one above. In addition, there is pretty much 3 inches difference between high bust and main bust, so technically I should do the FBA. But this is my first ever attempt at sewing a dress, so I'm tempted to go easy on myself and just stick to the one pattern size rather than attempt the FBA *and* combining sizes on my first ever punt. Especially when looking at the FBA calculation I think it leaves me pretty near the larger size bust measurement anyway. Plus the fabrics really drapy so should just hang ok.... Am I cutting corners too much or easing myself in, I can't decide!

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    1. Hi Eleoi, the Bettine dress is pretty forgiving as it's a relaxed fit and slouchy design, with some of the upper bust ease going into the kimono sleeves. So if you want to make it easy for yourself, you certainly don't have to do a full bust adjustment :) If you make it and decide that you think it's too gapey above your bust, then you could always do it next time. Enjoy sewing your first dress!

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    2. Just what I wanted to hear, thanks! If it comes out OK I'll send in a picture :)

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    3. Did your Bettine dress turnout w/out the FBA? I'm a newbie in the same situation. Thank you.

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    4. I made my 1st Bettine last week in a light weight chambray. Today I made my 2nd Bettine in a knit fabric. Both fit well without a FBA.

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  9. Help! My Bettine dresses fit perfectly everywhere but the underarm seams - these have started to rip when I lift/stretch my arms (as you often do when you have a small child!) I've been trying to read up on a solution to tweak the pattern. My back isn't particularly wide or my bust big but looking st this blog would a fba provide more give in this area? Thank you

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    1. Hi Helen, if you don't think you need an FBA, try redrawing the underarm curves so they're a bit lower and the sleeve a bit wider. You could also try angling the shoulder seam up a bit so it's easier to raise your arm - this should give you more flexibility to move about. You could also try making it in lighter weight drapey fabrics. I hope this helps!

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  10. Hi, I have just finished my first Bettine. I love it and I am pretty pleased as it is only the third thing I have made. I made a size 4 based on my measurements and the pattern. The top fits me well but the skirt is a snug fit. I would like to try and make another with the skirt fitting looser around the behind! Any tips on what I should do would be appreciated. Thanks so much. I will be making many more Bettines and once I have conquered this will be moving onto more Tilly and the buttons patterns as they are so easy to use and follow. Thanks you so much. Amy. Xxx

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    1. Hi Amy, so glad you like your Bettine dress! Does the waist fit you? If it's just the hips and booty that need more space, best thing to do is stick to the size 4 at the waist (so the skirt waistline fits the bodice waistline) and grade out the hips to a larger size - see 'How to combine pattern sizes' above. I hope this helps!

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  11. Hi! I've made two Bettines so far and I adore them. I know I'm going to be making lots more! The only slight thing I don't like is that the neckline seems stiff and doesn't sit right. I think I might have used too thick an interfacing? But I'm going to try the fitting above - do I need to change the lining bit too? Also I was wondering, I'm using normal cotton that you find on a market for most of my planned adventures, do you think if I made the sleeves a bit bigger that it might drape a bit more up there? Sorry so many questions. I'm trying to get better before my marigold arrives!

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    1. Hellooo! Lovely to hear from you, and your love for Bettine :)
      If the neckline is feeling a bit stiff, you can either use some lighter-weight interfacing, or not use it at all. I wouldn't change the facing though as you need some support and to neaten the neckline.

      In terms of fabrics - don't be afraid to experiment with different types, its so much fun to expand and experiment with the sorts you use, and will really get your confidence up! Cheap and cheerful cottons are fine and do the job but there's so much out there! Look out for viscose fabrics, they have a nice drape to them but are still easy to handle.

      Hope this helps!
      Happy sewing :)

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