Making the Rosa shirt or dress sewing pattern? Vanessa here to take you through fitting your handmade creation to your unique figure.
One of the wonderful things about making your own clothes is that you can get them to fit your shape much better than most shop clothing. You can add or remove length where you need it, take the shoulders in or out, adjust for larger or smaller boobs... It does take a bit of extra work, but it's worth it to have a lovely outfit tailored just for you!
We’re going to look at how to:
- Choose your size
- Pin fit the princess seams and side seams
- Lengthen or shorten the torso or overall length
- Combine pattern sizes
- Make adjustments for wide or narrow shoulders
- Adjust for a sway back
- Make full or small bust adjustments
Bear in mind you almost certainly won’t need to make all of these changes, you might not need to make any at all!
The best thing to do is to make a toile (AKA "muslin") – a test version in cheapo fabric. That way you can try it on and make any pattern adjustments that you need before cutting into your nice fabric. Read more about making a toile.
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
Check that you're holding the tape measure level to the floor when measuring yourself.
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 shirt 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 that 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.
Fitting the princess seams
One of the lovely features of the Rosa shirt is the princess seams, which add some flattering shaping to the front and back bodices. When you make your toile, instead of sewing the princess seams together straightaway, you can pin them together and adjust the stitching lines to your curves.
It’s easier to do this with your dress or shirt on inside out, so you can pin into the seam allowances if you need a bit of extra space. Unless your body is a different shape on the left and right sides, in which case you’ll have to do this with the garment right sides out. Use chalk or a fabric pen to mark where the pins are, then follow this line when sewing.
Don’t be tempted to pin too close to your figure, as you need a bit of extra space for breathing, moving around... and lunch :) Rosa is a casual, semi-fitted design (including the sleeves), rather than a figure-hugging one.
To lengthen or shorten the bodice or overall length
Ask a family member or willing friend to measure from your nape (the knobbly bit at the back of your neck) to your waist (at the centre back). Compare this measurement to the ‘nape to waist’ measurement listed for your size in the Body Measurements chart in the instructions. If it is significantly different, note down how much by, and then work through the alteration below using the ‘lengthen or shorten here’ lines marked at the waistline.
For the same reasons as above, or for personal taste, you may want to adjust the overall length of the shirt dress. Quick note – since taking the model photos, we lengthened the dress version a little so the hem finishes just above the knee. You can see the finished length of both the shirt and dress on the Finished Measurements Chart in the instructions. For this adjustment, use the sets of ‘lengthen or shorten here’ lines that are closer to the hem.
You can adjust at both, either or neither of these sets of lines depending on what is right for you. Perhaps you have a long torso but want a shorter dress, or maybe you are very petite but would like to keep the hem the same length – anything is possible!
To lengthen the bodice or skirt
First, draw two parallel lines on a bit of paper, the width between them being the amount you’d like to lengthen either the shirt or dress by. Repeat three more times so you have a piece like this for each of the four bodice pattern pieces.
Choose the set of ‘lengthen or shorten here’ lines that is relevant to the alteration you want to do (see above). On each bodice piece, cut along one of the lines, separate them, and then insert one of the paper strips you made in the previous step. Line one parallel line up with the cut edge and stick or tape down. Extend either the grainline or ‘Place on fold’ line vertically and then line the other cut edge up with the horizontal line, matching the vertical lines. Stick or tape down.
Using a ruler or sketching a gentle curve, reconnect the seams of your pattern size. Cut away the excess. Do this on all four bodice pieces so they're lengthened by the same amount.
To shorten the bodice or skirt
To shorten either your bodice or skirt, draw a parallel line above the ‘lengthen or shorten here’ line on each bodice piece, 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.
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 grainlines matched aligned. Glue or tape it in place. If the seam lines look disjointed, you can redraw them. Do the same for all four bodice pieces.
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 shirt 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.
For this pattern, you should use the yoke and sleeve sizes that match your bust size, then work through the following steps to merge from your bust to waist or hip sizes.
Re-draw both the side seam and princess seam on all four bodice pattern pieces, so that they gradually taper from one size to another. The red line in the photo above shows a front centre bodice and front side bodice that taper 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.
The red line in the photo above shows a front centre bodice and front side bodice that taper from a size 3 at the waist, then a size 6 at the hips. The green line shows a side seam adjusted for a size 4 waist and a size 3 at the hips.
Pay careful attention to the style of dashed line for your pattern sizes. Draw the seams with gentle curves to keep the silhouette the same. And remember to repeat the process for the princess and side seams on all four pieces.
Widening or narrowing the shoulders
If you have particularly wide or narrow shoulders you can adjust them so the armhole seam of the sleeve sits in the right place. Ideally this seam will run over the end of your shoulder – where you can feel the socket move.
Re-draw the armhole end of the forward shoulder seam on both front yoke and back yoke, taking it in or out, then re-draw the armhole curve to smooth it out. It needs to be a right angle at the top so the front and back pieces match up nicely without any weird sticky-outy bits. You may need to overlap the yoke and bodice pieces at the stitching lines - 15mm (5/8in) away from the raw edge - to ge a smooth armhole.
Note that the Rosa shirt has forward shoulder seams, meaning the shoulder seam on the yokes sits towards the front of your body, not directly at the top of your shoulder. This is a common style feature on shirts – try highlighting it with topstitching or piping!
Adjusting for a sway back
A sway back adjustment is useful for people who have a particularly pronounced curve in their lower back. A sign that this would be a good adjustment for you is if dresses tend to be a good fit on your hips, but wrinkle up at the small of your back. What we’re going to do is take a wedge of fabric out of the back bodice, without shortening the side seams.
The princess seams on the Rosa shirt already add some curvature at the small of the back, so even if you usually make this adjustment, you may not need to with this pattern. Also, a little goes a long way with this alteration, so I wouldn’t advise taking more than 3cm (1 1/4in) out of the centre back bodice.
To work out how much to remove, make a quick toile. You can pin or tack the seams together then try it on to get a feel for the fit. If there is excess fabric wrinkling in the small of your back, pinch it out in the middle and pop a pin in. This will tell you how much needs to be taken out in the next step.
Draw a line above one of the ‘lengthen or shorten here’ lines on the centre back bodice. The distance between the two is how much fabric you want to remove from the small of your back. In this example we’re removing 2.5cm (1in).
Cut along the ‘lengthen or shorten here’ line and move the pattern piece up to meet the line you drew in the previous step. Tape or stick down.
On the side back bodice draw a line from the waist notch on the side seam to the higher of the double notches on the princess seam. Mark a section of the stitching line, 15mm (5/8in) in from the cutting line on both sides. On the stitching line next to the princess seam, measure up from the notch by the amount you removed from the centre back bodice in the previous step, and mark a point here.
Cut along this line from the princess seam towards the side seam, stopping at the stitching line, then cut in the opposite direction so the piece is attached by a small hinge.
Pivot the bottom half of the pattern until it meets the line that marks how much you removed in the previous step. Tape or stick down and smooth out the waist seam.
Extend the grainline on the upper pattern piece, and mark a cross on the angled part of the grainline so you know which one to use.
Adjusting for a fuller or smaller bust
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. On the other hand, if 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. One way to resolve this is to choose a pattern size based on your high bust and then add or subtract room at the full bust. This is know as a full bust adjustment (FBA) or small bust adjustment (SBA).
How do I know if I need to adjust the bust and if so, how much by? 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 the difference between your full bust and high bust is more like 10cm (4in), you may well need to make a bust adjustment.
To work out how much you need to add or subtract to the bust area, 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. Compare your high bust + 5cm (2in) to your full bust measurement. If your full bust is 2.5cm (1in) bigger than your high bust + 5cm (2in), you’ll do a FBA and add 2.5cm (1in); if it’s 2.5cm (1in) smaller, you’ll do an SBA and subtract 2.5cm (1in), and so on. Since the pattern pieces are cut twice, divide this measurement by two to work out how much to add or subtract to the pattern pieces – 1.25cm (1/2in) in this example.
An alternative way of working out how much you need to add or remove involves making a toile first. Try the toile on, cut open the princess seams at the bust area, and either overlap the fabric or pin a scrap of fabric under the gap, depending on whether you need to remove or add volume, repositioning until the bust area is comfortable. You can then measure from this how much space you need to add or take away on the pattern – remember to just measure one boob as the pattern pieces are cut twice.
Both full and small bust 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 centre front bodice and side front bodice pieces so you can keep the originals intact in case you need to go back to them, making sure to trace off the notches and ‘lengthen or shorten here’ lines too.
To start we need to set up the lines we’ll use to open up the front bodice pieces. The first is a line that runs parallel to the grain line, 15mm (5/8in) away from the bottom of the princess seam stitching line on the side front bodice, to the point that is parallel to the bottom bust notch.
The second goes from the top of the line made in the previous step, to a point about 1/3 of the way along the armhole from the underarm point.
The third line goes from the meeting point of the previous two lines to the bottom bust notch. The final one is a small one from the first line to the bottom hip notch on the princess seam.
On the front centre bodice, draw two lines at right angles to the grainline, from one side to the other – one starting from the bottom bust notch, and one from the bottom hip notch.
Cut up line 1 from the hem and then to the point 15mm (5/8in) away from the armhole on line 2. Snip in the other direction at the armhole, so they are still attached on a small ‘hinge’ at the sewing line. This ensures the armhole stitching line stays the same length.
Full bust adjustment
If you’re doing a full bust adjustment, pivot the left-hand piece away from the right-hand piece so that they open up at the bust point by the amount that you worked out above. In this example it is 1.25cm (1/2in) – remember you’re using half the difference between your high and full bust measurements as you’re working on half your pattern.
Stick or tape down on top of pattern paper.
To keep the waist shaping the same, cut along the small line going to the bust notch, leaving it attached slightly at the bust point. Move the lower piece down until the waist notch is back to its original position.
Re-draw the bust curve, and then make a note of how much the pattern has opened up at this point at the stitching line, 15mm (5/8in) in from the cutting line.
Cut along the line going to the hip notch and lower this small section until the bottom edges are even. Make a note of how much extra length has been added at this point.
To finish we need to lengthen the centre front bodice so the princess seams match.
Cut along the two lines on this pattern piece. Move the top piece up by the amount you noted down at the bust notch on the side front bodice and the bottom piece down by the amount you noted at the hip notch. Stick or tape down on a fresh piece of paper so you can trace around it. Remember to use the amounts removed at the stitching lines, 15mm (5/8in) inside the cutting lines.
Small bust adjustment
If you’re doing a small bust adjustment, overlap the two left-hand pieces over the right-hand piece at the bust point by the amount that you worked out above. Stick or tape down. In this example it is 1.25cm (1/2in) - remember you’re using half the difference between your high and full bust measurements as you’re working on one side.
Cut along the small line from the bust notch to the bust point, leaving it connected by a small hinge.
Move the lower piece until the waist notch is back to its original position
Cut along the small line going to the hip notch and shift it up so the bottom edges are even. Make a note of how much has been removed at the stitching line at this point, and also up at the bust point.
To finish we need to shorten the centre front bodice so the princess seams match.
Cut along the two lines on this piece and overlap the top piece by the amount that was removed on the stitching line at the bust notch on the side front bodice, and the bottom piece by the amount removed at the hip notch. Stick or tape down.
That's it for today - phew! It's a long post - I hope it wasn't too overwhelming. Remember that everyone is different, so you may need to make one or two of these changes - or none at all!
We’ve covered the most common fitting adjustments, but if you need to make any other changes, there are some great books which go into more detail - try Fit for Real People by Pati Palmer and Marta Alto or The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting by Sarah Veblen (these are affiliate links).
Please don't stress over fitting too much though. Do whatever makes you happy with your shirt - and know when to stop and have a margarita :)
Looking forward to seeing your Rosa shirt!