Adventures in Retrofitting a Bodice Block

This week I’ve been working on a bodice block.

A bodice block has been on my list for such a long time, and my recent experience trying to fit the Etta dress bodice to my asymmetrical body made me so disillusioned with the idea of fitting a pattern that I finally decided it was time to start on a block. If I can get a block right, then I can compare it to patterns I make in the future and get a clear idea of what adjustments I need to make. Plus, I’m very excited about the idea of drafting my own patterns using the block as a starting point.

I’m actually using the Etta bodice pattern as a base for my block, as I already have the pattern, and it’s shift dress with a bodice that’s reasonably close to what a block pattern would look like:

I chose the high back neck version rather than the V-neckline version that drove me crazy before. To convert it into a basic block I’ve raised the neckline on the front and back, and removed the back neck dart – I already know from my fitting journey that I have a flat upper back so it won’t be missed. I also moved the closure from the back to the front by drawing in a seam allowance at the front centre and adding in the centre line at the back. This makes it way easier to fit (just with pins) and I don’t need to bother with zips. (I wasted loads of time on zips with my Etta).

So far I have done three rounds of fitting on one toile. I failed to photograph it on my actual body, so you’re going to have to use your mind’s eye for the next few paragraphs. Sorry friends 🤷🏻

First I did a toile with my standard shoulder slope modification. To do this, I cut out the armscye, lower it parallel to the grain by 1/2″, and then redraw the shoulder seam line. I do this on the front and back. It’s a dead easy adjustment that took me ages to discover – but now I do it on every pattern.

I sewed up this first version and found that the bust dart was a good size (Tilly and the Buttons draft with a B cup, which is a 2″ difference between high bust and full, which matches my measurements). But the apex was too high, causing the bodice to ride up a bit as the toile naturally wanted to sit with the apex in the right place. This led to wrinkling above the bust. So I pulled the bodice down to smooth out the wrinkles, drew on the correct apex, then unpicked the dart and sewed it with the new angle, pointing at the next apex. This worked perfectly! I’m pretty happy with the fit of the front at this point.

First toile, showing the lowered bust darts. It looks better on me, I promise! I think my dress form is an dressmaker’s A cup

Next I turned to the back, which is where I had all the issues on my Etta toile. The upper bodice was super baggy, which I expected after my Etta trials – but this time it was WAY less complicated to diagnose and fix because there was no V-neck or back dart! I just took a horizontal 3/8″ slice straight across the back. I also took a dart out of the centre back.

The fit looked reasonable at this point, although it is definitely more slack on my right shoulder than my left. So at this stage I decided to transfer all my adjustments to paper for my second toile. I moved the bust dart down properly rather than just pivoting it, and I converted that centre back dart by slicing the whole thing vertically and rotating out that excess all the way down to the waist. I also moved the shoulder seam forwards by an inch (really what is up with my shoulders? answer: scoliosis)

Pattern pieces after round 1. Not pictured is the adjustment I made to the sleeve head to match the 3/8″ removed from the upper back.

Feeling pretty good about round 1. I suspect I’ll still need to make an upper back adjustment of some form, and I’ll also look at the neck, length, and sleeve in the next toile.

As ever, here are some cat pics from the week! All taken from the same vantage point this time.

Thanks for reading, see you next week!