Off the Rack ~ Alterations Project: Shrinking a Dress Ribcage While Maintaining Bust Volume and Waist

Last month I did a roundup of all the Trashy Diva dresses I’ve tried, with scores for how boob-friendly they were. One of the dresses I featured was the Sci-Fi Rockets print “Rockette” dress, a halter with a big contrasting red collar and pockets.

I somewhat guessed on the boob score for that one, though, because the size 10 I have is really a size up from my usual 8. But the 10’s waist apparently ran smaller in this model, because it fit in that spot while being way too big around the ribcage. Yet it had the perfect amount of volume for my breasts. Since it’s made of a pretty sturdy stretch cotton, I felt comfortable altering it myself. Here’s what I did to shrink the ribs while maintaining volume in the chest.

Essentially, I added vertical darts where they weren’t any before, in the space between the waist and my breast apex. Secondly, I tightened the ribs at the existing side seams.

(In these photos, I’m wearing a Freya Deco Strapless in 30FF, and I measure 37”-29”-41”.)

Here’s the dress pre-alterations. You can see it bagging around my underbust area.

Here’s the dress pre-alterations. You can see it bagging around my underbust area.

And another view of the underbust bagginess. You can’t see it here, but it was also dragging down in back and exposing nearly the entire strapless bra band.

And another view of the underbust bagginess. You can’t see it here, but it was also dragging down in back and exposing nearly the entire strapless bra band.

I also noticed that under the collar, the halter was doing weird things.

I also noticed that under the collar, the halter was doing weird things.

Another view of the fabric under the collar.

Another view of the fabric under the collar.

I started by trying to pin the collar to get rid of the excess fabric near my armpit...

I started by trying to pin the collar to get rid of the excess fabric near my armpit…

But that made the collar look weird from the front instead of lying flat, so I gave up on that and concentrated on the ribcage instead.

But that made the collar look weird from the front instead of lying flat, so I gave up on that and concentrated on the ribcage instead.

I started by pinching the fabric vertically under each boob, folding the pinch over toward the center, and pinning it in place from the outside (that’s the pin going through three layers of fabric).

I started by pinching the fabric vertically under each boob, folding the pinch over toward the center, and pinning it in place from the outside (that’s the pin going through three layers of fabric).

Here’s a Photoshopped closeup with the pins highlighted.

Since the pins are hard to see, here’s a Photoshopped closeup with the pins highlighted in pink.

Another view of the pins. You can see how much more form-fitting it looks already.

Another view of the pins. You can see how much more form-fitting it looks already.

Next, I took the dress off and looked at the interior. You can see here that I managed to catch an extra layer of fabric, but that doesn’t matter. I drew a mark in chalk where the fabric is folded and where the pin is located.

Next, I took the dress off and looked at the interior. You can see here that I managed to catch an extra layer of fabric, but that doesn’t matter. I drew a mark in chalk where the fabric is folded and where the pin is located.

Then I took out the pin so that I could re-insert it on the interior. I folded it over at the edge mark and inserted a pin at the same spot it was located before. I’ve basically created the same pinch as before, only now it’s inside the dress instead of on the outer side.

Then I took out the pin so that I could re-insert it on the interior. I folded it in half at the edge mark and inserted a pin at the same spot it was located before. I’ve basically created the same pinch as before, only now it’s inside the dress instead of on the outer side.

Then I drew an arcing line from the waist seam up to the pin, then a matching line from the pin up to the edge of the fabric. The top of the arc should stop just under your breast apex, but distance will vary depending on your torso length and breast height. This chalk arc is the line you will be sewing.

Then I drew an arcing line from the waist seam up to the pin, then a matching line from the pin up to the edge of the fabric. The top of the arc should stop just under your breast apex, but distance will vary depending on your torso length and breast height. This chalk arc is the line you will be sewing.

Then I added a couple extra pins just to help hold the fabric flat while sewing.

Then I added a couple extra pins just to help hold the fabric flat while sewing.

Then you simply sew along the chalk line. Try to keep the ends of the sewn line as close to the fabric edge as possible so that you don’t end up with little bubbles on the exterior. (Apologies that this photo is actually the backside instead of the chalked side, but you get the idea.)

Then you simply sew along the chalk line. Try to keep the ends of the sewn line as close to the fabric edge as possible so that you don’t end up with little bubbles on the exterior. (Apologies that this photo is actually the backside instead of the chalked side, but you get the idea.)

Here’s how it looked!

Here’s how it looked!

And another view. I actually had to go back and re-do one of the darts because it didn’t come up high enough. But if you’re making the dart longer, then you don’t even have to unsew the first one—just start at its apex, and then angle a little further into the fabric and bring the dart’s tip up higher than the first attempt.

And another view. I actually had to go back and re-do one of the darts because it didn’t come up high enough. But if you’re making the dart longer, then you don’t even have to unsew the first one—just start at its apex, and then angle a little further into the fabric and bring the dart’s tip up higher than the first attempt.

So now the boobs were more form-fitting, but the back was still not tight enough to stay up. So the next step was to shrink the overall circumference. This also had a side effect of making the weird excess fabric under the collar be less noticeable. I ended up doing nothing with the collar in the end because the red flaps covered it up anyway.

I started by folding the dress where it already had a seam, and pinning in place. Then I drew a line in chalk leading from the waist (which again I did not want to shrink) up to the top, and added pins along the line. This is taking approximately an inch off at the top (the top pin is half an inch from the edge).

I started by folding the dress where it already had a seam, and pinning in place. Then I drew a line in chalk leading from the waist (which again I did not want to shrink) up to the top, and added pins along the line. This is taking approximately an inch off at the top (the top pin is half an inch from the edge).

Then you simply sew a straight line along your pin line.

Then you simply sew a straight line along your pin line.

Here’s how it looks at the interior when it’s unfolded.

Here’s how it looks at the interior when it’s unfolded.

And here’s how the completed alteration looks on me!

And here’s how the completed alteration looks on me!

And from another angle.

And from another angle.

Big improvement in my opinion! I wore it the next day. It was really hot and I was carrying a bunch of heavy things outside and sweating a lot, though, so the fabric around my ribs loosened up a bit and starting falling down in back again and showing off my bra band. I’m sure it’ll tighten back up once it’s freshly laundered, so I’m hesitant to tighten the ribs any further for fear that I won’t be able to zip it up. So instead I’m going to shorten the neck strap just a little. Luckily, it narrows to only about an inch wide in back and lays flat, so I’ll just have to pinch it in half and sew it without any cutting.

 

Éprise and Me in Paris: Finding Full Bust Fit with Lise Charmel

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Given the gorgeous Lise Charmel collections at Curve every season, you can understand the flutter in my stomach as I approached their flagship store in Paris last May. Every Lise Charmel brand is available in A-E cups, but its Éprise, Antinéa and Antigel lines include larger cups. I couldn’t wait to try each beautiful piece that would fit my current UK size of 32FF.

While I didn’t get to try everything*, I came away with an even better understanding of which Lise Charmel styles fit which large breasts best. Basically, the right Lise Charmel bra for a large chest comes down to three factors: size, shape, and fabric.

Size

  • Don’t dismiss all French bras simply because they follow a different sizing sequence from the UK. I wear a 32FF in Freya, but I wear a 32F in Éprise.
  • Don’t dismiss all bras in a French brand simply because one style doesn’t fit you. My breasts bubbled over the edge of a 32F half cup , but they settled nicely into a full cup bra.
  • Basically, begin with the size you think you are and experiment with cup and band combinations,  remembering to factor in cup shape and fabric.

Cup Shape

Women who wear 32-34 bands and F+ cups should focus on full and 3/4 cups. Sadly, I was told that Éprise, Antinéa and Antigel half cups work best for full-busted women with broader shapes . . . think 38-40 bands. Don’t give up entirely on half cups, however. My fitter also felt there was a good chance that the 30G Guipere Charming would have fit me if it had been available to try.

On a side note, last year I heard the phrase “tulip cup” for the first time and assumed it was the same as a 3/4 cup. My fitter clarified the difference. A 3/4 cup covers less of the chest than a full-cup and comes in three parts, like the Antigel 2386 below (the bow and tassel in the photo at the beginning of this post belongs to this bra).

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A tulip cup comes in only two parts, like the Antinéa 6213 below. It is best for firmer tissue and offers some décolleté.

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Fabric

Fabric can change the fit equation. Although the breathtaking Exception Gitane below is a full cup, my bust pillowed slightly above the 32F that I tried. The heavy Guipere embroidery means less give for full-on-top breasts like mine, while someone whose breasts are full on the bottom could wear this style easily.

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Guipere isn’t off limits to all full-on-top busts, though. The Guipere embroidery on the 3/4 cup of the Jardin d’Ete below is in a narrower strip that is also softer and more elastic.

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Simple Calais lace designs offer even more adaptability. My fitter explained that although this Poésie Bohème bra might seem too shallow at first, its heavy tulle base and light features of embroidery would allow it to fit within 10 minutes.

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Impressively, EVERY Éprise, Antinéa and Antigel bra designed for large busts includes a tulle lining at the bottom half of the cup to offer greater lift and longevity while simultaneously adapting to a wearer’s shape.

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In Real Life

Happily, I found a bra in the store that fit me, and the company even gave it to me as a gift: the Depart Aux Iles full cup bra in 32F. Although I received the bra for free, all opinions in this post are my own.

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The Depart Aux Iles isn’t the most eye-catching bra in the Éprise spring/summer 2016 collection, but once on, it was so pretty that I wanted to show it off under my white shirt.

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Of course I never wear it under white, but I wear it under absolutely everything else, even knits. With its pastel shades and delicate leavers lace (soft, not scratchy!), I feel fresh and summery every time I put it on.  The lace and seams may show up a little bit under thin knits, but not enough to be distracting, and I really like the lift and shape.

big bust eprise shapeHere’s what else I love about it:

1. Other than occasional glimpses that remind me that I’m wearing something special, I never think about this bra during the day. There was no break-in period to stretch it out, and there is still no band movement on the loosest hook after over two months of many, many wears.

2. Sturdy straps and cushioned underwires are standard in a good full bust bra, but they feel positively luxurious in my Éprise. At 7/8″ inch wide, I own only one bra with wider straps–my Panache sports bra. However, the feminine color and lace applique keep the straps from looking industrial.

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While it may not look industrial, the wide straps extend down the length of the leotard back, making it feel incredibly secure. Do any of your bras have this feature? In every other bra in my drawer, the strap ends where it attaches to the ring on the band, and the band is simply hemmed with a zig-zag stitch to the hooks.

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Here is a closeup of the cushioning on the underwires.

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For reference, the underwires are very flexible.

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3. Finally, the 32F fits me perfectly. A Swarovski crystal dangles from the perfectly tacked center gore. There is no spillage at the top of the cups and no empty space at the bottom. The wire length is ideal for someone with high set breasts like mine: long enough to contain all breast tissue, short enough not to poke the soft skin beneath my armhole. I’m pointing to where the underwire ends in the photo below.

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As you’ve probably guessed, this is my favorite souvenir from our trip to Paris.

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*In some ways the Lise Charmel store is like a showroom. You can see all the styles, but they may need to special order your size. With this in mind, if Lise Charmel is on your Paris itinerary, it wouldn’t hurt to contact them ahead of time to make sure that the sizes and styles you want to try are available during your visit.

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DIY Swimwear with a Built-in Big Bust Bra that Fits!

I bought swimsuit spandex on a whim a couple of years ago, when I was in a very ambitious mood and thought I could make my own cup-sized swimwear. But once I had it at home in my sewing room, I panicked. Spandex scares me!

Then in May of this year, I came across this awesome tutorial about how to sew a built-in shelf bra. The bra shown in the tutorial is definitely not supportive enough for larger busts, but I figured I could make some adjustments and get it to work. There are some things I would definitely improve next time, but overall I am happy with the final result!

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I’m not going to do a full tutorial, since the Burda Style tutorial is really great at explaining how to make the built-in bra. I will tell you the supplies you need in order to do this yourself and provide photos of the full-bust adjustments I made!

SUPPLIES:

  • Sewing machine with a zig-zag, triple stretch, or elastic overlock stitch (or a serger). Any of these stitches will work just fine.
  • Ball Point/stretch sewing machine needles
  • Tank top sewing pattern, or a well-fitting shirt to make a pattern from (I drafted my own pattern, and will show how I did it)
  • Spandex swimsuit material
  • Swimsuit lining, if desired
  • 3-4 yards of strong 1″ elastic
  • Foam cups, either purchased from a garment supply retailer (they typically go up to a E/F cup) or cut from an old bra

I actually used an Urkye top that I own in order to draft a pattern. It has a princess-seamed bodice, which I thought would make for a great fit on a peplum tankini. It definitely did help, but if you’ve never sewn a princess seam before, a swimsuit may not be the best place to start. They’re a little tricky to copy from existing shirts, and they are a little funky to sew on spandex. That being said . . . I know I never listen when people tell me something is difficult and I should start with something easier, so do whatever you want 😉

Here is how I got the pattern for my swimsuit top (don’t worry, I drew on my shirt with this awesome erasable highlighter — it disappears when you iron it. It’s my favorite sewing tool!):

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Trying on my Urkye top, and drawing where I would want swimsuit straps and the waistline to be

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Final tracing lines for the front/back

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I use a roll of aisle runner to trace my patterns – you can also use tracing paper or a roll of paper

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My three completed pattern pieces – center front, side front, and back.

I didn’t add a seam allowance – except on the arm holes, neck line, and waist – in order to make the fit snug enough for a swimsuit. I wish I had taken the pattern in even more! It fits snugly enough, but it does shift slightly more than I’m used to with swimwear.

For the built-in bra, I used cups from an old Freya Deco that was falling apart. The cups were still in tact, so it worked for my purposes! Instead of joining the cups with a piece of bias tape, as outlined in the Burda Style tutorial, I overlapped them slightly in the center. This worked fairly well and suited the shape of the cups. If I did it again, I would probably trim the cups and join them with bias tape instead, but this works fine. I used a sturdy 1″ wide elastic for the band, and attached straps directly to the back center of the band (trying to align with the racerback I had cut). Originally I had used 2 sets of straps per side, but that was overkill and totally hurt my shoulders. Haha!

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Outside (the part that you don’t see from the inside of the suit

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Inside (what you see on the inside of the suit

I had a HUGE struggle with the swimsuit lining that I chose to use. It was flimsy and provided ZERO support. I actually added two strips of thin elastic across the back, parallel to the band, in order to help with support. I chose the lining so I wouldn’t have to cut and sew another princess seam top (it was stretchy enough to fudge the seams a bit). Next time, I would definitely stick to using the outer spandex as a lining, and I would make an exact replica of the outside top to attach the cups to. This would provide much more inner support.

I added a 6″ peplum skirt using a basic circle skirt calculation (there are many amazing circle skirt tutorials out there!) . . . and then I discovered a problem on the back. The lack of support from the swimsuit lining also led to a lot of bunching from the straps/inner support elastic. I solved this by adding a gathering band around the back, to make it look intentional! No way was I going to waste all of the work I’d done and start over from scratch. Haha.

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bunchy/baggy back, gathered strap to match the bottoms.

Et voila, it is finished! The polka dot bottoms were salvaged from an old one piece suit that didn’t fit me anymore. I chopped off the top and added an elastic waistband, to make some quick high-waisted bottoms.

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I feel GREAT in this suit, and love wearing it! Unfortunately I still haven’t had a chance to give it a complete trial run in a pool/body of water. But when I wear it to chase my kids through the sprinkler, I feel totally contained and supported! Nothing is falling out or jiggling more than is comfortable. I call that a success 🙂

The only other minor issue is that it’s just a bit difficult to pull on over my head . . . as with all small band/large cup items designed to pull on. Next time I may try to add an interior hook to the band, so it could be looser when taking it on/off but still tight enough while being worn. It was such a fun project, I can definitely see myself trying this again soon!

Let me know if you attempt to make your own swimwear this summer–I would love to see it! Let me know if you have any questions.

 

 

Off the Rack ~ A Weekend in the Country with Miss Candyfloss

I spent the Fourth of July holiday weekend at my parents’ cabin in the middle of nowhere in Central New York farmland, but there was no way I would let that stop me from wearing my awesome new Miss Candyfloss items! Plus the natural surroundings were a nice backdrop for the photos.

After trying a few Miss Candyfloss pieces (read reviews here and here), I’ve become totally hooked! This brand fits me better than any off-the-rack, non full-bust-specific company I’ve ever tried. Plus, the items are really nice quality yet still easy to care for—the dress and top I’m sharing here are both machine-washable and seem pretty wrinkle-resistant so far.

This time I managed to snag the much coveted Juanita Sunset dress for an absolute steal on eBay after my size sold out on the MCF website. The dress features amazing bright colors, a super flattering neckline, and a full skirt. Made of 63% polyester, 35% viscose, and 2% lycra, the dress drapes beautifully and has a medium amount of stretch. I’m wearing a size medium with measurements 37”-29”-41”.

The dress perfectly matched my mom’s orange and red flower bed:

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My little doggy couldn’t resist making a cameo as well:

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I wore the dress around the property while my dad teased me for being a “city gal” and “not dressing for the cabin.” But Juanita is so comfy, it’s way better than old ripped jeans (his uniform of choice out there). Just look how well it fits up top:

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As with most MCF items, Juanita features strategic gathers that expand for a full bust or remain as pleats for a small bust. The bodice’s stretch and softness make it comfortable while limiting the appearance of lumps or bra bumps. And the matching belt can be used to cinch you in further, or wear on a looser setting after a full meal (something I found myself doing a lot this weekend).

I found the smallest setting of the belt to be just a touch snug early in the day and slightly too tight after eating lunch. The next setting up is a touch too loose early in the day, still a tiny bit loose after eating a lot, but perfect for the long car ride home. The grommets are rather far apart and there are only three, so I might add another in between each setting if I can find matching black ones.

After the flowerbed photoshoot, my husband and I drove to a nearby cidery and farm that we always visit when we’re in town, where we made some friends:

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These two goats had gotten out of the fenced pasture. There are gumball machines of pellets for people to feed them, so they’re very friendly and walked right over to us. Then after petting them for a few minutes, they followed us all the way up the hill to the tasting room! They were such sweeties. The bartender said this pair regularly get themselves out of the pen and then go right back in it when they’re ready. After that little adventure, we enjoyed a lengthy tasting of cider and beer:

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And when we got back home, I couldn’t resist taking a couple pinup shots with my parents’ tractor—it, too, was the perfect shade of matching orange!

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The Juanita dress is definitely going to be my uniform of the summer. Last month, MCF released it in a new “Sky” colorway, but I’m heartbroken to report it’s already sold out in all but sizes 2X and 3X. If they re-stock it, you can bet I’ll immediately be buying it at full price!

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Next up is the Margit-Ilene top in light blue. This is my first MCF top, and while I like the design it’s not quite the same success as the dresses have been.

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Made of 96% cotton and 4% spandex, the fabric is soft and stretchy and not too thin. But it definitely has a clingier fit around my midsection that isn’t the most flattering. It also isn’t long enough on me to be worn with anything other than high-waisted bottoms. It only just reaches past my belly button, and the length combined with the clingy-ness means it scrunches up a lot. A high waist is necessary to hold it in place and hide the scrunching happening below the waistband.

I’m tempted to try a large next time, but I’m nervous to do that since returning or exchanging items is so much trouble with international orders. Plus other styles may fit differently than this one. So I’ll probably continue with size medium unless a cheap large pops up on eBay.

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As for the style, well the shirt’s adorable! It features puff cap sleeves that are split and crossed over on the outer side, a keyhole in the back with a functional button, nonfunctional buttons on the front, and some creative seams around the bust.

The bust seams are a little awkward on me since they are quite high up onto breast tissue. To be honest, I might skip this style in the future unless there’s a color I absolutely must have, or I’ll stick to dark colors where the seam isn’t as visible since I still like all the shoulder details.

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