FBAs for Everybody!
As a top-heavy woman, I often have to do major pattern alterations in order to get a garment to fit my bust correctly. In the lingo of the sewing world, this alteration is called an FBA or Full Bust Adjustment/Alteration:
An FBA involves slashing and spreading the tissue pattern to accommodate the excess width and length the extra curve of the beasts adds to the front of the pattern piece. At this point, it’s become second nature to me since it’s a needed adjustment on nearly every pattern.
My lovely husband, Christopher, puts up with me and my humongous stash of craft supplies; plus, he will often join me at costume events wearing whatever wacky get-up I concoct for him. Since he puts up with my shenanigans so well, when he found some curtains at the thrift shop and requested I make an 18th century waistcoat out of them, I wanted to make darn sure that I made it look the best it could!
I have made a few things for him before, including an 18th century suit, so I just re-used the same pattern since I knew how it worked and how it fit him. However, with much more practice and experience behind me, I now noticed some fit issues with the pattern. I knew from the previous years of working with the waistcoat pattern that the armholes were too small and neck too small, and now I noticed when we tried the waistcoat on from two years ago, it would hardly close in front even though it was gaping with extra fabric at the back….
“Make a face like mine! It’ll be cute!”
<Chris makes a grouchy face>
“Seriously?! You think I look like that?!”
<Chris makes this face>
Christopher is a big man. He’s 6′ 2″ and his chest is 54″ around (and his thighs are each the same size as my waist!). Christopher carries some excess weight in the front as many men do. His belly is about 52″ around which, according to the finished garment measurements printed on the tissue pattern, would mean that the waistcoat would be a tad too small, but he could close it if he sucked it in. While having a full belly and a tight waistcoat straining over it is perfectly period (perhaps even fashionable) in the early 18th century, it’s less than ideal from a comfort and craftsmanship standpoint:
Portrait of a Gentleman by Louis-Michel van Loo, circa 1734
Many portraits from the first half of the 18th century show men with full bellies and waistcoats in various states of unbuttoned-ness. It was quite fashionable to pose in a portrait like this, displaying a luxurious, studied nonchalance that being wealthy afforded you the time to practice.
Henry Burgum of Bristol by John Simmons, circa 1775
A very closely fitted waistcoat from later in the century. Tastes swung towards a more fitted, put-together look as the Industrial age rolled onto the scene. Mathematical precision, clean lines, and scholarly neatness were the new marks of the gentleman.
While a perfect fit wasn’t required by the period, as evidenced by his old waistcoat’s triangular gap at the front that tended to pop open unexpectedly and the excess fabric at the back, something really should be done to make the costuming experience more enjoyable for us both. Christopher’s full belly would require an adjustment similar to my Full Bust Adjustment, only his would be a Full Belly Adjustment!
When I searched online, there was lots of info about altering trouser patterns to accommodate a full belly, but nary a one for a shirt/vest (I even checked my Victorian Tailor book, but it was of no help, and my sewing books pretty much assumed you were fitting exclusively women. Bleh). I even searched for pregnant belly alterations since the shape is similar, but not much luck there either. I did, however, find three mentions of altering for a full belly: one on Male Pattern Boldness (showing a page from a book called Shirtmaking by David Coffin), a full belly adjustment on Get Creative geared toward women, and this one by Off the Cuff:
Since I was starting this waistcoat a mere 3 hours before the event, I decided to go with the simplest looking option of slicing and spreading the pattern. I pinned a piece of tissue into the gap of the old waistcoat over Christopher’s belly and used it to measure how much to spread the pattern open. It’s the triangular piece of tissue to the right:
In this photo, the pattern piece in the photo isn’t spread enough yet. Heck, it’s a miracle I even remembered to take a photo of it at all considering what a mad rush I was in!
I ended up swinging not just the side, but also the front until it filled the full width of the fabric (which was 45″ wide folded in half) like this:
A very crude drawing of what I did. Sorry!
Yellow: Tissue pattern outlines
Orange: Fabric outline
Blue: Tissue pattern of the gap I needed to fill over Chris’s belly
Green: The pattern gap swung open to match the belly gap
Red: other pattern adjustments made to accommodate Chris’ large arms and neck (not related to the FBA)
A proper seamstress or tailor might tell me that swinging the front screws up the grainlines, but as far as I can tell, it worked just fine for a costume waistcoat to be worn maybe once a year. Simplicity 4923 has a slightly curved center front, just like real 18th century waistcoats:
Waistcoat, circa 1720
Waistcoat, circa 1770-80
Later-era waistcoats were shorter and often have a sharper curve to swoop back at the bottom, matching the cut of the coat.
The FBA I performed does increase the width of the bottom of the waistcoat, so it fits loosely over his hips. For the era I was dressing him for, the 1710s and most of the 18th century, having a wide flare over the hips was a design feature rather than a problem. However, if you desire a close fit that pulls back in under the stomach, you will likely need to add some darts just like you would for a lady’s FBA, just lower.
Waistcoat, circa 1740
This waistcoat bears evidence of a FBA! Waistcoats often were pre-embroidered or came with a pre-woven design that would be cut according to the new owner’s measurements. In this case, you can see the woven design ends before the side seam, which is wider and not as sharply angled. Since a gentlemen always wore a coat out in public, the bare edge of the waistcoat was covered. You can see another, later example of a pre-embroidered waistcoat that is larger than its decorative design here. Chris’s waistcoat ended up with a very similar shape. It is less dramatic than smaller waistcoats, but it functions much better!
Here’s Chris’s final waistcoat fit. You’ll notice that it has no button holes. I had no time to add them since I started the waistcoat so close to the event (I was still sewing buttons on in the car), but, as you can see, I got the fit pretty spot on since the center front meets without needing to be held in place! Huzzah!
See the full outfit here: Georgian Picnic 2015