Tutorial: Low/High Bust Adjustment on an Empire Waist Bodice

If you’re like me, you hate making muslins and just want to get on with making an actual garment. I have little patience for muslins, and I always want them to magically work on the first try. Though we all know this is rarely the case, I always get frustrated when something needs to be fixed – especially if it’s complex enough that I’ll need to make another muslin after making the adjustments. Since I have many upcoming projects that require muslins (all of them are from either Japanese pattern books or vintage patterns – both of which aren’t tailored for the average 21st-century American figure), I decided to just do all my muslins at the same time, and then have them out of the way for a while.


I have been most excited about my vintage McCall’s 5142, which was a bit expensive for a vintage pattern, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it and had to have it. I’m lucky, with vintage patterns, because I have a B-cup (in patterns but not really in retail size, meaning the measurement taken above the bust, just under my armpits, has a 2″ difference from my full bust) and if I buy a pattern marked with a 34 bust, the only adjustment I have to make is for the waist (because vintage patterns seem to always have impossibly tiny waists).

With most patterns, my bust tends to be a bit lower than on the pattern. Usually this is fine, and worst case I just have to lower the darts. With my vintage McCall’s, since it has an empire waist that is cinched just under the bust, my muslin was not looking good (the midriff “band” wrinkled upward toward my bust). In my internet research I couldn’t find much on a low-bust adjustment (LBA from here on out) for an empire waist dress – so here’s how I managed to do it. I’ve seen a lot of vintage patterns in a similar style, so this probably won’t be the only time I have to make this adjustment.


Start by tracing off your pattern pieces (ESPECIALLY if you’re working with a vintage pattern). Make sure to mark the grainlines on both pieces, and if it’s marked on your pattern, trace off the lengthen/shorten line as well (marked in pink). If this line isn’t marked already, you can approximate it somewhere between the armscye/armpit and the bottom of the pattern piece. Note that the marking is perpendicular to the centre front, not the grainline.


Cut along the lengthen/shorten line.


Next you’ll have to lower the bottom half of the pattern piece by the amount you need to lengthen the bust. Ideally, the bust point would be labelled with a + with a circle around it, but my pattern didn’t include it. If the bust point IS labelled on your pattern, determine your bust point by measuring from the top of your shoulder to highest bust point (the nipple in more common terms). Now measure from the shoulder to the + on the pattern (don’t include the shoulder seam allowance) – the difference between your body measurement and the pattern measurement is how much you’ll need to add.

If you don’t have the + mark on your pattern, you can do what I did. I slashed my original muslin horizontally across the bust, and pull the midriff band down to fall under my bust (just warning you that this will look a bit funny). I measured the gap created where I slashed, and used that measurement (for me it was 1.5″).

For our example, I’ll use 1″.


Make sure the grainline stays lined up. Place a piece of scrap paper underneath and tape it down.

Using a ruler (or a french curve if the seam line is curved, as it is on the right side of my pattern piece), true up the side seams.


Trim away the excess paper and the main bodice piece is done! The same process will have to be repeated for the back bodice piece so that the side seams line up.


The same length we added is going to be taken away from the midriff band. For my pattern, there were notches indicating where the band is to be matched up with the bodice. I drew a line above these notches, perpendicular to the centre (marked in pink). Then, measure up, using the measurement you added to the bodice, and mark a parallel line across (marked in black). Since our measurement is 1″, there is a 1″ gap between the lines.


Now, fold the pink line to meet the black line (make sure you fold evenly the whole way across) and tape the fold down.


The curve will look pretty jagged, but we’ll fix that. Tape a scrap piece of paper under the top of the pattern piece.


Now true up the curve – you may have to chop off the part where the notches are, but just make sure that the line blends into the original curve before you reach the side seam – ideally you don’t want to shorten the side seam.

Mark the new placement of the notches (marked in pink). Trim along the new line that you’ve drawn.


And you’re done! Make sure you make a muslin to be sure that it fits.

It’s important to note that this process will lengthen the bodice – I’m pretty tall, so lengthening patterns is often a step I have to make anyways. If lengthening the bodice will bring it below your waistline, I wouldn’t recommend this process – unless the midriff band in your pattern is quite wide at the side seam. In that case, you can probably shorten the midriff band at the side seam. In my case, I didn’t have the width to spare.

This adjustment is also meant for those who don’t require a small/full bust adjustment – in fact, a full bust adjustment also requires the pattern to be lengthened slightly, so it should also help with the low bust issue. (You can find a tutorial on a FBA here).

This adjustment should also work for a high bust adjustment, if you shorten the bodice and lengthen the midriff band.

If you have any questions, please let me know!


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