How to do bust adjustments on a pleated bodice

Tilly and the Buttons - bust adjustment on pleated bodice

Do you ever feel like your clothes would fit slightly better across the bust if there was a little bit more fabric, or conversely a little bit less fabric in that area? If this is something you agree with, then you might benefit from doing a bust adjustment to your bodice pattern pieces. 

You may already be familiar with doing adjustments on bust darted bodices, dartless bodices and even on pattern pieces for knit fabrics. But what about bodices with pleats at the waist?

After searching high and low on the internet and in my trusty fitting books, I couldn’t find anything that covered how to do bust adjustments on a pleated bodice. As I wanted to do a full bust adjustment myself on my Skye sundress pattern, I knew that other people would want to do one too. So, I had a play around with the bodice, did some testing and came up with a system that has worked for me. I mean that’s the best thing about sewing isn’t it – you can make your own rules! 
How do I know if I need a bust adjustment? 
There’s a technical and a not-so-technical answer here! The answer depends on your own unique shape and the fit of the garment – you may not need to do a bust adjustment to a loose top or dress, but might have to do one on something more fitted. If you find that things are generally either too tight or too loose in the bust area, then I’d recommend making a quick toile of the bodice, or wearable toile of the whole garment to test the fit around the bust and take it from there. I’m going to briefly cover how you would work out how much to add or subtract from your bust in the adjustment, but do remember this is just a rough framework, and you might not need to do it at all. 
Measure your high bust (your upper chest, just under your armpits). If you’re making a pattern in our sizes UK 6-24 size band, add 5cm (2in). If you’re making a pattern in our sizes 16-34 size band, add 10cm (4in). Choose the pattern size with that bust measurement – this is the size you’ll do your bust adjustment on.
Now measure your full bust (fullest part, around the nipples) and compare it to the bust measurement on the pattern size you just selected. 
If your full bust is 5cm (2in) smaller than the pattern, you’ll be subtracting 5cm (2in) from the pattern; if it’s 7.5cm (3in) bigger, you’ll be adding 7.5cm (3in) and so on. If you need to make the bust bigger, you’ll need to do a full bust adjustment (FBA) and if you need to make it smaller, you’ll need to do a small bust adjustment (SBA). 
Since the front bodice pattern represents one half of the top, as the fabric is cut on the fold – or one boob – you’ll be adding or subtracting half of that difference. So, if you want to do a 5cm (2in) full bust adjustment, you’ll need to add 2.5cm (1in) in total to the pattern piece. We’re going to add this fullness, or subtract it inside the pleats, you’ll need to divide the number of you wish to add to or subtract from one half of the bodice between the number of pleats you’ll be adjusting – don’t worry if this sounds a bit complicated, there is more info below!

To do a bust adjustment you will need: 

a ruler (or pattern master if you have one) 
glue stick and/or sticky tape 
pencil 
paper 
scissors 
extra paper 
As you’ll be merrily snipping into your pattern piece with wild abandon for these adjustments, I thoroughly suggest tracing off the front bodice pattern piece so you can keep the original one intact in case you need to make any further adjustments. Make sure you trace all the notches, the pleat lines and ‘lengthen or shorten here’ lines onto the new pattern piece. 
Got your scissors and ruler at the ready? Ok, let’s go. And remember, you’ve got this!

Full bust and small bust adjustments (the Nikki method)

The first stages of a small or full bust adjustment of this method are the same – once you finish the steps in this section move on to the ‘small bust adjustment’ or ‘full bust adjustment’ steps below. 
The first step is easy peasy, and that is drawing some lines on your pattern piece. I’ve drawn mine in different colours to make them easily identifiable. 
Tilly and the Buttons - bust adjustment on pleated bodice

Firstly, draw a line from the middle of one of the pleats, starting at the waist and stopping at the lengthen/shorten line. Try to draw the line at an approximate right angle to the waist line. Then, continue this line from this point to the armhole. 
Next draw a line from the middle of the other pleat, again starting at the waistline and stopping at the lengthen/shorten line, and then drawing to the armhole. If you have a third pleat (or more!), do the same. 
Draw a horizontal line between the pleats – if you have more than two pleats, draw more lines. 
Draw another horizontal line nearish the bottom of the bodice, from the centre front to the closest pleat line. To make explaining the adjustment easier I’ve labelled the different bodice bits from 1-5. 
Tilly and the Buttons - bust adjustment on pleated bodice

It’s time to grab those paper scissors and get snipping! Starting at one of the lines on the waistline, cut upwards and pivot towards the armhole, but don’t cut all the way to the end. We need to create two “hinges” on the pattern which will allow us to move the paper without it separating. This is achieved by stopping cutting a smidge before the end of the line – don’t be shy about getting right up to the line, but try as hard as you can to not actually snip through! Do the same for the other pleat line(s). 
Next, cut the horizontal lines between the pleats and the other one near the bottom. 
Full bust adjustment (FBA)
Get a piece of paper a bit bigger than your pattern piece, and put your partially snipped bodice on top. 
Tilly and the Buttons - bust adjustment on pleated bodice

Using a glue stick or sticky tape, stick down the centre front part of the bodice only (section 1). Once this is firmly in place, grab a ruler and draw a vertical straight line, continuing down from the straight centre front seam (shown in orange). 
Tilly and the Buttons - bust adjustment on pleated bodice

As I said above, we need to split the amount we are adding to the bust across the pleats. For example, if you want to add 5cm (2in) to the bust in total, you will add 2.5cm (1in) to the bodice pattern piece, as the bodice is cut on the fold and therefore represents half of your total bust. If you’re making the Skye sundress for example, we’re going to divide this number by two if we’re adjusting the UK 6-24 size band version as it has two pleats (2.5cm (1in) / 2 = 1.25cm (1/4in)), or divide it by 3 if we’re adjusting the UK 16-34 version as it has 3 pleats (2.5cm (1in) / 3 = 8mm (5/16in)). 
Now, here comes the fun bit! In the diagram, I’m want to add 1.25cm (1/2in) to each pleat. As there are quite a few moving parts of the bodice, I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to move sections 2, 3, 4 and 5 around until it resembles something similar to the above diagram. To do this, move sections 2 and 3 slightly to the left, and sections 4 and 5 down until they’re in line with the waist seam. Hold down the sections with anything a bit weighty so they don’t move at the slightest gust of wind. 
The objective here is to add 1.25cm (1/2in) – in this example – to the middle of each pleat. So, once your pattern looks like the above, move the sections around until there is exactly this amount between the green and blue lines. As a FBA adds length as well as width to the bodice, move sections 4 and 5 down so they’re in line with the lowered waistline. Make sure the straight edge of section 5 aligns with the straight line you drew down from section 1. 
Tilly and the Buttons - bust adjustment on pleated bodice

Once you’re happy with the positioning, stick the pattern pieces down. You may notice the armhole seam looks a bit uneven – draw a new line to smooth it out here. Connect the waistline seams at the bottom with some more smooth lines. These examples are shown in the above diagram in pink. 
And that’s it! When sewing, your pleats are a little wider than normal but you can sew them in exactly the same way 🙂
Small bust adjustment (SBA)
Get a piece of paper a bit bigger than your pattern piece, and put your partially snipped bodice on top. 
Tilly and the Buttons - bust adjustment on pleated bodice

Using a glue stick or sticky tape, stick down the centre front part of the bodice only (section 1). 
As I said above, we need to split the amount we are subtracting from the bust across the pleats. For example, if you want to remove 5cm (2in) to the bust in total, you will take 2.5cm (1in) from the bodice pattern piece, as the bodice is cut on the fold and therefore represents half of your total bust. If you’re making the Skye sundress for example, we’re going to divide this number by two if we’re adjusting the UK 6-24 size band version as it has two pleats (2.5cm (1in) / 2 = 1.25cm (1/4in)), or divide it by 3 if we’re adjusting the UK 16-34 version as it has 3 pleats (2.5cm (1in) / 3 = 8mm (5/16in)). 
Tilly and the Buttons - bust adjustment on pleated bodice

Now, here comes the fun bit! In the diagram, I want to remove 1.25cm (1/2in) from each pleat. As there are quite a few moving parts of the bodice, I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to move sections 2, 3, 4 and 5 around until it resembles something similar to the above diagram. To do this, move sections 2 and 3 in slightly so they’re overlapping each other, and sections 4 and 5 up until they’re in line with the waist seam. Hold down the sections with anything a bit weighty so they don’t move at the slightest gust of wind. 
The objective here is to remove 1.25cm (1/2in) – in this example – from the middle of each pleat. So, once your pattern looks like the above, move the sections around until the green and blue lines at the waist seam are overlapping by your desired amount. As a SBA removes length as well as width to the bodice, move sections 4 and 5 up so they’re in line with the raised waistline. Make sure the straight edge of section 5 aligns with the straight line you drew down from section 1. 
Tilly and the Buttons - bust adjustment on pleated bodice

Once you’re happy with the positioning, stick the pattern pieces down. You may notice the armhole seam looks a bit uneven – draw a new line to smooth it out here. Redraw Andy uneven parts of the waistline seams at the bottom with some more smooth lines. These examples are shown in the above diagram in pink. 
Depending on how much you’ve taken from the bodice, you may find that the pleats overlap. If this is the case, draw the pleat lines back in. When sewing, your pleats are a little narrower than normal, but you can sew them in exactly the same way 🙂
And that’s it! I hope you’ve found this post useful 🙂 Don’t forget, if you’re a bit nervous about making this type of adjustment you can always trace off the pattern piece and have a practice first. I promise you’ll get it in no time! 
******************
Author: Nikki Hoar
Model: Andii Melody Mae @melodymae
Photographer: Jane Looker 

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