Creating a bodice pattern that fits

SBA picSolution 1 – adjust the old pattern

Before my double mastectomy surgery, I wanted to try to get a knit shirt pattern that had a decent chance of fitting my post-surgery body. I naively thought this would be simple – I’d just take out the “dart” that my DDs had required. The rest of me should stay the same, right? I took my sewing pattern – a shoulder princess style – to my teacher and we eliminated the dart by doing a small bust adjustment (SBA) using a traditional method that essentially is the opposite of a full bust adjustment. You may  notice a big change in the arm scythe. That’s because the FBA puts a weird angle in that area (also shown in the angle of the shoulder seam), and the SBA takes it out.

first dressesI made up a few knit dresses and shirts with this pattern so that I’d have something to wear when I got home and could lift my arms above my head. Oddly, the garments didn’t fit well in the upper chest area, and I needed to remove some flare from the under arm area. You can see the flare in the before pic, above.

At this point, I put on the garments I had made and Marla pinned out the excess fabric from the princess seams (which is why I used this style, so they could be adjusted), and the fit was improved. Additionally, she modified my pattern to have a upper round back adjustment.

Solution 2 – try a new pattern

However, I wanted a pattern that really fit my new body well. At this point, Marla was off teaching a workshop and co-leading the ASG tour of NYC, so I was on my own. I decided to try a pattern that most people had good success with, seemingly regardless of bra cup size: The Lady Skater. This was a moderate success! I made the pattern up as a tank top and wore it several nights for sleeping. It seemed good. Then I made a test t-shirt with sleeves, and it slidskater tank back so that the shoulder seams were about 1″ behind where they should be. This was weird. (Spoiler alert – the problem was the sleeve. I was using the arm scythe and sleeve pattern from before surgery because they seemed to fit. However, the sleeve was drafted in a class I took, and the instructor did some fancy drafting to eliminate a wrinkle that happens at the bottom of knit shirt sleeves. Through an arduous process of elimination, I found that the sleeve was causing the shoulder problem. It was not a round upper back problem.)

In the middle of trying to figure out the shoulder seam problem, I decided to try another approach. Other post-mastectomy people have reported the issue of the shoulder seam sliding back. The theory is that the shoulder slides back due to having too much length in the front bodice in a women’s pattern in order to go over the bust. So, I downloaded the free Arrowsmith Undershirt men’s pattern from Thread Theory. Like the Lady Skater, I made just the tank top, and it fit well.

In my next post, I’ll write about Solution 3 – what I did next to solve the bodice problem (before I figured out it was the sleeve). I’ll also discuss my next steps to get going on sewing.

Developing a wardrobe – a visual approach

I had a crisis – I was going out to a nice place for dinner and needed to figure out appropriate clothes to wear. My first thought was to use a jacket from my tiny wardrobe and sew a dress (from fabric I currently have) twardrobe1.jpgo wear underneath.

In the past, I might pick out a color from a print and sew a coordinating piece. However, sometimes that resulted in two pieces that overall didn’t coordinate. It took me a while to  learn that picking out one color from a print to match a solid wasn’t a good strategy. Since it was critical for something to work the first time, I decided to try auditioning the dress fabric as if it were worn under the jacket. My dress length is approximately 40″, so I folded fabric to be about that long and put it on a hanger with the jacket over it. One thing this showed me is that the proportions may be better with a shorter jacket. The purple dress fabric is ok but not great with the jacket even though the purple color is found in the print. I find that this combination makes the red squares in the jacket catch my attention, which is interesting but not the look I wanted.

wardrobe2Next I tried a light navy blue fabric as the dress, and that didn’t work very well. I think blues are some of the more challenging colors to coordinate since they can be on the green/yellow side or the red/purple side or greyed out. If the coordinating piece is not the same undertone, the different blues really scream at my eyes.

(Try this out – put different reds together or different greens together. They may not completely harmonize, but maybe you’ll find they don’t put your teeth on edge like blues do.)


wardrobe6I then grabbed a different jacket and tried it with a printed jersey to use as a dress. There are hints of the aqua from the jacket in the print. In the photo, I’m not sure this coordinates very well, but I liked it in person. (Lesson learned here – photos do give a lot of valuable information!)

I started to consider if I wanted a printed dress to wear with a solid jacket – how would that work for an overall strategy? It seems like (when I’ve got such a limited number of pieces) it would be better to have either printed/attention-getting jackets or printed/attention-getting dresses. The mixing and matching would go better if one element is the focal point. It’s a bit beyond me to do print mixing (though others are so good with it).

wardrobe3I looked at future jacket alternatives for if I sewed the print into a dress. I like this option with the soft navy (same as the second picture above). This is probably one of my favorite combinations of the pairs I tried during this experiment.

I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve been working with Anne Whalley, an image consultant, to rebuild my wardrobe, and I think she might say this is a safe combination. She’s been encouraging me to get more creative in my choices, and this combination is definitely something I’d be very comfortable with. That’s an indication to me that it’s likely too safe.

I tried one more color combination with this print (below), and I really like it. While the aqua solid may look like the picture above, it’s a darker color and coordinated really well with the print. (I do love wearing aqua/turquoise/teal. : ) I didn’t get a photo of the combination in terms of proportion, and I’ll likely do that before moving forward. I think the full length photos are really helpful in determining what will work for me.

wardrobe5This exercise was really helpful in terms of visually mapping out what pieces best coordinate. In the past, I would have done this same thing with small swatches and in my head. Sometimes that worked, and sometimes I was disappointed.

In the end, I decided to wear the first jacket shown here and modify a dark navy blue dress. While I was looking at jacket options in my closet, the dress caught my eye, but it had 3/4 sleeves. I cut them off to a short length  It worked well and I felt appropriately dressed. As is often the case, I needed the jacket to stay warm in the air conditioned restaurant.





So excited!

I’m thrilled that people have found the blog, and I very much appreciate your comments here and on Instagram! Please let me know if you have specific questions or issues you are dealing with in terms of sewing, and I’ll work on finding resources.

Please take a look a the Helpful Links page where I’m collecting lists of resources.

Just for fun, here’s a part of my statistics that delight me – the countries my visitors are from! (US, Australia, Canada, UK, Taiwan, Greece and India)


An alternative compression garment

During my first physical therapy appointment, my therapist mentioned compression garments and how some people like them because they can help reduce swelling. A distant memory flickered in the back of my head. Several years ago I had created an Alabama Chanin (AC) corset. I wondered if this would be a reasonable alternative to a compression garment. Some experimenting was in order.

The corset pattern is available as part of the Alabama Stitch Book or  you can order a kit from the AC site to make one. (Disclosure – these are AC corsetnot affiliate links, but I am a huge AC fan!) I dusted off the pattern I had used in the past and shaved off the full bust adjustments I had made. These garments work best using “old school” jersey – no lycra.  I used two layers and decided to put the seams on the outside so that I could easily take in a seam as needed. Additionally, I thought there was a small chance the seams could irritate my sensitive skin or scars. This turned out to be a helpful decision since I did take in several seams.

I didn’t finish the neckline or armholes so that I could continue to take in seams as my swelling went down. Therefore, my corset looks unfinished, but it fits great!  I wore it until the weather turned warm; then it was just too hot for comfort.

A tiny capsule wardrobe

After surgery and before I could lift my hands above my head, I knew that I needed some tops to wear. (To recap, I had made two front-opening tanks to wear after surgery while I had two drains in. A drain is about the size of a small lemon, so I had to add ease to my tanks so they wouldn’t bulge open.) I like to wear dresses or a knit top and a skirt, and my sewing teacher and I had modified the 38DD top and dress patterns the best we could. The next question was what to do with the patterns?  I felt I needed a clear strategy so that I could wear what I was going to sew – no wardrobe orphans.

Courtney Carver’s Project 333 and the Vivienne Files wardrobe planning concepts were very helpful to me. At the same time, I was thinking, “33 pieces in my wardrobe? I wish!” I started with three skirts, the two front-opening tanks, and one knit jacket that were hanging in my closet. I planned colors that would coordinate with these pieces and made four t-shirts. Then I made three dresses. As I mentioned in a previous post, they all fit well enough to wear outside of the house, but they needed tweaking. I also was desperate for more jacket/topper options. v9091

I’ll devote at least one other post to this topic, but I decided to work with Anne Whalley to have professional help rebuilding my wardrobe. She encouraged me to move toward jackets with large (relatively speaking) collars and to be bolder and more creative in my color choices. I tend to err on the mix-and-match, neutral color side of the spectrum. With Anne’s push, I made up Vogue 9190 as my first jacket project. I still love it!

Sewing for treatments & post-op

Before April 2017, I had been full hourglass shape (or an 8), and I had a very reliable set of patterns that I used for dresses, jackets, t-shirts, etc. A huge percentage of my wardrobe was handmade, and  I primarily wore fit-and-flare dresses in a knit or betzina p104woven for work and at home. Most of them were based on a shoulder princess seam design (so easy to sew the bust curve) with different necklines. I had a few skirts, too, which were a faux-wrap style based on a Sandra Betzina concept in Power Sewing. Those were very important during my medical appointments and chemo treatment phase. It’s much easier to take off a top verses a whole dress when you need an exam.

During chemo, I wore button down tops (made from knit) so that the nurses could easily access my port. They said that they could access my port in pretty much any top except a turtle neck! I didn’t want them stretching out any necklines on my handmade clothes, but so many people probably don’t even think about that.

I knew that it would be challenging to modify my dresses to wear after surgery, so I cut off my summer knit dresses and made them into tops to wear throughout the autumn and winter. The skirt section provided fabric to make button plackets (for port access).

The next thing I needed was something to wear post-surgery.  After meeting with my post op topsewing teacher, Marla Kazell, I realized we’d be able to use some of my existing patterns, and we started out by altering a t-shirt pattern that fit the 38DD me by taking out the dart. I made a couple of front-opening, sleeveless t-shirts to wear right after my surgery. I put in drain pockets, inspired by the Pink Pockets concept. These were serviceable, and when I started to feel better after surgery, I decided to make a few more things to wear.


I focused on making knit garments that I felt would be more forgiving in the fit    departmfirst dressesent, and I again used a shoulder princess design. I also added a center front seam. It seemed that this style would allow me several seams to adjust if I needed to take things in or let them out. In general, this worked pretty well. It took several weeks before I could put my hands far enough over my head to put on a regular t-shirt or dress. Then it took a while to get the drains out so I could really see if these would work or not. Stay tuned!

Sewing is a really important part of my life – it provides stress relief and joy in handling the fabric. The bonus is that I have something to wear! I was so glad to have a few projects to do when I felt up to it during chemo treatments.

How did I get here?

In October,Brenda 2017 2016, I found a lump in my left breast. Wait. Is this too much too soon? I’ll back up a little.

I started making garments when I was about 6 years old and could steal scraps from my mom’s sewing table. She got pretty irritated because the rule was that I could have the scraps after the project was finished. But I was always enamored with whatever she was sewing, hence the thievery.  I made “garments” that were glued and stapled together doll clothes. Fast forward a couple of years, and I remember laying out patterns for my step-mom to make me school clothes. It’s a good thing I waited for her approval to cut these since I had laid out against the nap on corduroy! After several more years, Mom was not sewing my summer clothes fast enough for me, so I decided to learn how to do it myself. Those were some short, mink-colored velour shorts in 1970something!

I sewed off and on throughout college and into adulthood. Then I could afford to buy clothes, and they fit. So, I stopped sewing for a while. Next I realized I was ready to move on from living in Lands End knit skirts and tops, so I went back to sewing. At the time, I was a 38DD and needed help getting patterns to fit. I found a sewing teacher and blissfully sewed my way through about a decade.

That’s when I found a lump, and it turned out it was invasive ductal carcinoma. Then there was another spot of ductal carcinoma in situ. In sum, HER2+, ER+, stage 2. I went to my sewing teacher and told her everything would be fine because we know how to take out bust darts. (Except that it turns out the sewing solution may not be that easy…)

I finished chemo in March 2017 and had a double mastectomy surgery in April. I’m still swollen from the surgery, but it’s time to figure out how to clothe this new body! I’ve done some serious web searching, and there’s a vacuum where there should be information about how to sew for women who what to live flat.