Anna Dress FBA – how to use your high bust for a great fit

Warning: This is a long post, full of pictures, but only because you requested fitting tutorials!

I am definitely on the By Hand London bandwagon and love the drafting of their patterns, however I was a little disappointed by the FBA (full bust adjustment) advice in the Anna dress Sewalong. The method is fine if you just have a tiny bit to add, but I have read lots of people saying they had big or gaping necklines on their Anna dresses; the method they show will cause/add to this problem, so here is how I did my FBA (using the Y-Method for adding more than 1.5″).

Before we start I’m going to explain why I am using my high-bust measurement instead of my full-bust. Hopefully these pictures will make sense to you, but let me know if you have any questions.

Why you need to use high bust

Patterns are graded to fit different sizes, but the shape of the garment usually remains the same or similar proportions (a). Most commercial patterns are drafted for a B or C cup, and if you are much bigger than this then your proportions will be different (b). Someone with a full bust measurement of X could either have a full-frame and wear a B-cup (c – outer black line), or have a smaller frame and wear a GG-cup (c – red line); your high-bust measurement is a better indicator of your overall frame. When choosing your size (d) it is better to fit to your high-bust and adjust, otherwise you will have extra fabric above and below your bust (e); it is easier to fit the waist with darts/gathers but a baggy/gaping neckline is harder to fix.

Does that make sense? I hope so! So now you need to measure your high-bust and full bust, and we can get started…

Anna FBA part 1

  1. Get your resources and tools ready. You will need your pattern, tape-measure, ruler, pencil and pens, sticky-tape and tissue paper (I like to use multiple colours to see the changes I have made).
  2. Some patterns include high-bust measurements, but today we have to do some maths. Take your high bust and add ease (I added an inch for this pattern). Divide by 4 and then add seam-allowance to get X. Take your tape measure to the pattern and measure to find the size that matches X at the underarm, going up a size if you fall between sizes. I am ignoring my waist measurement at the moment, as the FBA will add extra at the waist.
  3. Place tissue paper over the pattern and hold it in place with weights or tape. Trace the size you have just chosen.
  4. Use a ruler to trace grainline markings and darts to ensure they are nice and straight.
  5. Mark the stitching lines. This is SUPER important so don’t skip this step! Use your ruler or tape-measure to make marks 5/8″ or 1.5cm inside the pattern, and join them up with a ruler/french-curve or freehand.
  6. Cut out your traced pattern.
  7. Pin the shoulder and side-seams together, and darts/gathers at the seam allowance. Now you need to carefully try it on and measure how much you need to add at the bust.

    Anna FBA part 2

  8. While you are wearing the tissue bodice you need to mark your bust point; this is the fullest part of your bust/nipple area.
  9. Before we can do the FBA, we need to get rid of the sleeve. Draw a line from the side-seam (before it curves out) straight up to the shoulder. Cut along the line and put this piece in a safe place.
  10. With a ruler draw some lines from the bust point to
    a) the waist seam (parallel to the centre-front fold). I made sure mine was in between the two gathers.
    b) the shoulder seam
    c) two-thirds up from the underarm (armhole)
    d) just under the underarm
  11. Cut along these lines, stopping at the stitching line you drew in step 5. This keeps the stitching line of the shoulder the same length so it will still match the back shoulders. (I left the underarm line intact for a few steps)
  12. Place some tissue paper under the pattern and start to spread the slashes.
  13. Do you remember how much you needed to add? Spread the shoulder slash until it is half this distance away from the bust point, and tape in place.
  14. Now spread the armhole slash the rest of the distance and tape down onto the tissue paper.
  15. Now cut the underarm line and slash until the pattern lies parallel with the centre-front piece. Slash the centre front piece horizontally and spread down until the waistlines line up.

    If you want to sew up a side dart, you can tape everything down and skip ahead to part 4. I didn’t want to spoil the lines of the bodice with a side dart, so I rotated the dart out into the waist gathers.

    Anna FBA part 3

  16. Before we can rotate the dart, we need to move the gather/pleat to underneath the bust point. Cut a box around the pleat and move it across.
  17. Position the pleat so the bust point is directly above the centre of the pleat. Tape in place and fill in the gap with tissue.
  18. Cut up the pleat to the bust point (following the original cut lines). Spread this cut and half close the underarm dart (we are going to share the fullness between both pleats). Tape extra tissue in place.
  19. Cut along the top of the underarm dart, extending to above the second pleat, and then down between the pleat markings.
  20. Fully close the underarm dart and tape tissue in place.
  21. Now draw on the cutting and stitching lines to fill the gaps on the added tissue.
  22. When you get to the pleats, fold the pleats together and mark the lines on the under layers at the fold. Use a pen for this as you need the marks to bleed through the tissue.
  23. Join the dots using a ruler.

    Nearly there…

    Anna FBA part 4

  24. The FBA is now done. Make sure all the layers are taped down securely. You might want to trim away the excess tissue paper layers on the back.
  25. Now we need to add the sleeve piece we removed in step 9. Carefully join the stitching lines (in red) and tape in place.
  26. Fill in the hole with more tissue and tape. There! We have finished the adjustments!
  27. Check the fit by pinning the front and back bodice pieces, making sure you have pinned the pleats and darts closed. My waist was a bit snug so I redrew the pleat markings a little closer together. If your waist is too big, you could easily extend the pleats to nip in the waist some more.

And we are done! It sounds like a lot of stages, but it really does make difference to the fit around the neckline and shoulders. Before you cut into your yummy fabric, it is a great idea to make a muslin in cheap cotton (or similar weight to your fashion fabric). My fabric for the sew-along was only £1.50pm (it has a tiny fault every 75cm) and I got plenty so I am going to make a wearable muslin of the whole dress.

I really hope this is useful. If there are any questions or if anything isn’t clear, please ask in the comments below and I can try and explain.

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23 thoughts on “Anna Dress FBA – how to use your high bust for a great fit

  1. Oh my goodness!! That is a lot of work – thanks so much! I read it through and could follow it, now to see if I can do it in real life! I think these changes will help me with my muslin for Simplicity 2444 as it also has four waist darts. Thanks so much.

  2. This is brilliant, thanks so much! I’ve made one Anna, but definitely need to do a FBA on my next. Thanks for such a comprehensive tutorial, the pictures really help 🙂

  3. Wow! Thanks so much, I h ave been eyeing up the Anna for ages but just not sure it would suit me as I have a petite frame up top but with a substantial rack! I don’t have the time at the mo to be fiddling around mudslinging adjustments. Thanks for all the time you took to figure this out and photograph it all !!!!

  4. Brill! Thank you for this. Cannot wait to get going on an Anna. My only concern having read through the instructions is whether I will actually be able to try on the tissue version – I’m an an H cup so I fear the tissue will end up in shreds… I guess we will see…

    • If you pin the side seam of the tissue, you will be able to get an idea of how much to add without pulling it too tight. Trace a copy of the front bodice first before you chop it up, so if it rips you can trace another copy.

  5. This is a great tutorial thanks! I’m probably being a bit dim but I didn’t quite understand steps 22 and 23. Are you just lengthening the lines of the pleats? Otherwise I’m ready to cut!!

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  9. Thank you so much for this tutorial, I used it and my bodice fit perfectly first time with a 5cm FBA. These instructions are beautifully detailed, making them easy to follow. Thank you for spending the time creating them.
    Two finishing issues I would raise after this FBA:
    – As with many FBA adjustments using this method, this adds an equal amount of fabric at the waist as with the bust. In my case I certainly don’t need an additional 10cm at the waist. Therefore, as a final stage to the FBA I removed a chunk going from the underarm curve down to 5cm in from the side seam at the waist, and this meant the waist fitted well.
    – when I rotated the dart into the pleats I forgot to check the alignment of the adjusted pleats with the side front seam – it is a small issue, but getting the alignment of the front seams right does make the finished product look better.

    • Thanks for your comments. I’m glad you have a great dress and I can’t wait to see it.
      I’m so used to doing gathered skirts I forget about the skirt panel, but you are right that matching seams makes everything look so professional.

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