Full Belly Adjustment for a 3XL Gentleman: Altering a Vest Pattern for the Fuller Male Figure

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:

From the NMSU Pattern Alteration Guide which you can download here (it’s been recently updated!)

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….

Hmmmmm….sounds familiar……

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“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:

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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:

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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!

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See the full outfit here: Georgian Picnic 2015

My Last Minute Habit: Simplicity 4923 for DFWCG’s Georgian Picnic 2015

Save a Horse; Ride a Time Machine!

I have a habit of doing everything last-minute. No matter how well I think I am planning ahead, I seem to be sewing wildly right up until the very last moment. This year’s Georgian Picnic was no different– though, to be fair, it wasn’t because I was lazy (for once). In fact, I managed to hammer out 3 full outfits in the space of 2 weeks!

It went about as well as you think.

It all started in October when I invited one of the ladies from work to go with me. She had no experience sewing or costuming, but she was willing to attend. I was thrilled! Costuming is fun and slowly gaining mainstream appeal, but it’s still a rather odd, nerdy hobby that takes a lot of self-confidence for the average person to experiment with outside of Halloween. Having someone say “Yes!” to wearing a historical costume with me was a huge, exciting prospect!

The pressure of sewing for someone else, meeting my and their expectations, is way to much pressure for me to deal with in most cases. But I liked having a friend take an honest interest in my odd hobby, so I offered to make her a Regency dress. I figured it would be a good introduction to the historical costuming world: simple in silhouette, romantic, fairly flattering, and, while stays make everything look perkier, no special undergarments are needed besides a good, firm bra. She declined to let me fully measure her which complicated matters somewhat, but I guessed that we would wear a similar size if I dropped the underbust to accommodate a natural-level bustline.
Since I made a Regency dress last year from Simplicity 4055, I knew the pattern fairly well and felt confident that I could make a dress that I would feel proud enough of to let someone else wear. Bonus points for the fact that we are both librarians and what better costume for a librarian than a “Jane Austen Blue” dress?

The Infamous “Wedding Ring Portrait
Modeled after Cassandra Austen’s watercolor sketch, but with Victorian flair. This image, however, is iconic and the blue is lovely!

Watercolor Portrait of a Woman by Cassandra Austen, circa 1804
Another painting purported to be of Jane. The blue dress may have inspired the color choice for the Victorian portrait above.

I went to Thrift Town to procure a nice blue cotton sateen sheet to make her a dress from. While there, Chris found some absolutely fabulous curtains that he immediately declared would make the perfect waistcoat. Here they are performing their intended function (I “borrowed” them for pictures of my bustle gown):

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But they wouldn’t remain curtains for long! Soon they would be transformed into something like this:

Portrait of an Unknown Man by Alexis-Simon Belle, painted 1712

When my husband not only volunteers to wear a costume, but gets excited to do so, I can’t say no! So into the cart went the curtains and onto my to-sew list went a waistcoat. Naturally, a new waistcoat would need a coat to go with it and breeches as well, so many shopping trips later (about 2 weeks of looking to be precise), I finally found a silvery sateen sheet and some grey slacks of a close enough color match.

Chris Coat 2015

The Plan.

So now I had two projects on my list: a Regency dress for my coworker and a whole outfit for my husband!

Since Chris was now going as an early Georgian gentleman rather than his cold-weather Regency look from last year, I fell into the inevitable trap: I needed something to match! (I have also gained about 15 pounds, so I’ve outgrown my purple 1780s dress). I had such wonderful luck using a sari for my ballet-night bustle dress, I decided I wanted to use another one with a gold border to make an earlier style of gown, specifically a riding habit like Countess Henrietta’s!

Henrietta Cavendish Holles (1694–1755), Countess of Oxford by Godfrey Kneller, painted 1714

Lady Henrietta Cavendish, Viscountess Huntingtower by Godfrey Kneller, painted 1715
Henrietta isn’t particularly famous, but she was a highly sporting lady. Her riding habits aren’t just for pretty: she one letter tells of her riding 40 miles on horseback during one outing!

Metallic trim! Fabulously fluffy hair! Cravats! And–most importantly–those stunning coats that look just like a gentleman’s coat! Indeed, unlike later incarnations which were more tailored to feminine fashion, early riding habits like these were pretty much exactly like men’s coats worn over a long skirt. Also: no panniers! Just a simple, rounded bell shape easily achieved with a petticoat. SIGN ME UP! I began hunting for a sari, but kept coming up empty-handed.

I wasn’t worried, though. It was still October. Plenty of time to put things together!

At that point, Georgian Picnic was a full month away and the weather forecast was still up in the air. Trying to predict Texas weather is like reaching into a bowl of M&Ms someone’s mixed Skittles into. You take one day at a time and even then you often don’t know what you’ve got ’til you actually bite into it!

And since it’s Fall, Texas likes to mix in some Reese’s Pieces just because it can!

Predictions flip-flopped between a balmy 65 and a chilly 50 degrees. 15 degrees makes a lot of difference, so I planned for both. Cotton sateen would be breathable and cool enough if it was warmer, but since it’s a thicker fabric, with long sleeves and some proper under/outer garments, it could work well for chillier weather, too.

By the beginning of November, I had almost all of my materials gathered and got to work on the blue regency dress. Then, like terrible terrible clockwork, life snuck up behind me with a surprise.

My friend got a new job across town! Her new job will hopefully be a much better fit for her, but it meant that I would no longer get to see on a regular basis. Our schedules just would not mesh. We were both too busy! So I finished her dress and just crossed my fingers it would fit. It took a bit longer than expected to finish thanks to a a minor panic attack, lack of freetime, and a few mistakes, but it looked good enough I felt confident that if it didn’t fit perfectly, it would at least fit well enough! Sadly, I haven’t gotten to find out how well of a job I did guesstimating: she could not make it to the picnic this year thanks to weather and scheduling conflicts. But, now I have a blue Regency dress on hand, should I (or anyone else) ever need one!

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Minka approved!

Christopher’s outfit still loomed large on my list. Though he was initially interested solely in a waistcoat, I knew that he had been uncomfortably warm in his red velvet coat. I decided to make the same coat pattern again, Simplicity 4923, but this time in a single layer of cotton sateen, so it would be more comfortable for him.

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It took exactly 1 queen-sized sheet to make Simplicity 4923 in size XL (minus one set of cuffs since the outer layer is made of the curtain fabric). I had no room for mistakes!

Of course, being one layer, it wouldn’t have a neat bag lining to hide all my rag-tag seams, so I ran every raw edge through my Singer set to a zig-zag stitch since I don’t own a serger. That took FOREVER. Seriously. It was basically like triple-stitching every seam. I will not be doing that again! Next time I’ll just cut extra seam allowance and try french seams so I only need to straight stitch each seam twice.

I decided to use some of the curtain fabric on the cuffs and buttons to gussy up the plain grey sateen and tie the look together. Of course, by the time I finished the coat (triple stitching every seam, sewing things on backwards, ripping more seams than I finished, etc.), I had only two days left to sew everything else. The weather was predicted to take a turn for the worst and I didn’t want a repeat of last year. I needed to get started on a coat for myself! I ended up setting aside the rest of Chritopher’s outfit until after my outfit was wearable. I started his waistcoat at 11am the morning of the picnic, hemmed the pants fifteen minutes before we left, and finished sewing the buttons on in the car! He was an excellent sport about it, helping me iron the pieces, saving me a lot of time.

Despite its rushed state, I felt very proud seeing him wear it confidently. Sometimes men shy away from fancy stuff, but Chris has begun to actively embrace his inner Earl!

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He also actively embraced the sparkling cider!

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Christopher’s Outfit Breakdown:

Queen-sized grey cotton sateen sheet – $3.99, Thrift Town
Curtain panels – $12.99, Thrift Town
2 yards brown cotton – $4.88, Walmart
1 yard black cotton twill (interfacing for cuffs and pockets) – $4, Walmart
4 large button cover kits – $5.76, Walmart
3 medium button cover kits – $5.76, Walmart
3 packs of medium brass buttons – $4.32, Walmart
1 spool grey thread – $2.49, Walmart
Metallic trim – $8.79, Joann Fabrics
Grey trousers (for breeches) – $1.99, Thrift Town

Total: $50.97
(Hat, cravat, shirt, stocks, and shoes are all from previous years)

My riding habit uses the exact same coat pattern as Christopher’s, just in a different size. I had already made an XS version of Simplicity 4923 out of cotton duck, so I knew that with my corset, it would fit.

And fifteen pounds ago, it fit without a corset!

The brown cotton duck of the original, however, wasn’t the best fabric for cold-weather wear (it is surprisingly breezy) and would be too heavy to make into a skirt. There was no time to order a sari and I couldn’t for the life of me find a light blue and white striped fabric like I wanted. I did, however, have a silky poly/rayon blend I had bought a while back to (eventually) make an 1870s gown. Chris actually picked it out. The man has a knack for fabric!

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There was only 5.5 yards of the green fabric (the coat pattern alone called for 5), but I managed to eke both the coat and skirt out of it by 4 am the morning of the picnic. I used the classic skirt trick beloved of Renaissance, Rococo, and Victorian costumers alike: whatever part of the underskirt will be hidden, make out of a cheaper material! So the back panels of my skirt I supplemented with some plain brown cotton panels. It has a simple and poorly-executed drawstring waist. I lined my coat with some white cotton flannel I had intended to make into a renaissance petticoat, but, hey, necessity overrules maybes! It was very warm and the flannel adds wonderful body. I may line all my winter bodices in flannel from now on!

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My shoes are American Duchess Pompadours. They’re from the old run of the design, so they are slightly different from the newer version. This is only the second time I’ve gotten to wear them, though, so they are still fairly new to me! They are great tromping shoes so far.

My shirt and attached cravat are 100% polyester courtesy of the 1980s. For a bit of fullness, I wore one of my many broomstick skirt petticoats, also courtesy of the 1980s. Together, they make a pretty classy western school marm outfit:

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This series of photos were all taken in a local park. Thanks to the cold weather, Chris and I had the park to ourselves for about an hour, but then more people showed up. I’m sure they were initially entertained as I wandered around in my “pirate” getup, only to be suddenly scandalized when I started taking off layers for “underwear” pictures!

My hair I kept simple. Henrietta’s hair in real life was actually the same color as mine, but in many of her portraits, she has fashionably curled and powdered hair/wigs. I planned to curl and powder mine as well, but with the wind blowing mercilessly the day of the picnic, I opted for a simple low pony tail.

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To add some character, I added some fullness to the sides by pushing two haircombs forward into my hair, creating subtle bumps that (in my mind at least) imitated the fashionable double-peaked hairstyles while allowing me to still wear my hat:

Portrait of Rich Ingram, 5th Viscount Irwin, and his Wife Anne, c.1715-20 by Jonathan Richardson
Both men and women wore their hair with a strong center part with their hair mounded up on either side. Men generally didn’t have facial hair, but there is no way Christopher will ever willingly shave his beard, historically accurate or not!

I also wore the portrait miniature I painted of Christopher in his first 18th century coat and a cheap Halloween tricorn with the worst coppery braid on it that I was too tuckered out to change.

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My Costume Breakdown:

5.5 yards of green poly/rayon – $29.16, Hancock Fabrics
2 yards white cotton flannel – $6.98, Walmart
2 yards brown cotton – $4.88, Walmart
1/2 yard black cotton twill (interfacing for cuffs) – $2.00, Walmart
5 packs of large brass buttons – $7.20
Spool of green thread – $2.49, Walmart
1980s cravat-embellished blouse – $4.19, Goodwill
1980s broomstick skirt/petticoat – $5.49, Goodwill
Fleece-lined tights (to keep out the chill!) – $8, Walmart
Gaudy Halloween tricorn – $15

Total: $65.39
(Not including shoes, corset, tank top, and portrait miniature which I already had from other costumes. Oh, and $40 worth of gold braid to trim the whole thing with. Trims always cost more than most of the outfit! I need a rich patron to buy trims for me so I don’t have to. *wink*)

You’ll notice my riding habit is a bit plainer than Henrietta’s. It isn’t anywhere near complete in its current state! I still have pockets to apply and yards of gold trim wadded up in a Joann’s bag just waiting to be sewn around every edge. But that’s a project for later. For now, I am taking a hard-earned break!

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The picnic itself was much more pleasant than anticipated! While the wind was blustery, we had some shelter in the park pavilion and in the grassy area below it. The sun was out, the trees were turning lovely shades of gold, and there was a whole crowd of us wearing 100 years worth of fashion! Christopher and I were the very “oldest” of the group, barely squeaking into the Georgian era with our 1715 costumes. We were like the great-grandparents at a strange Highlander family reunion!

Then we all did battle!
(photo courtesy of Jen of Festive Attyre)

We drank cider, ate cookies, chatted, and played Pall-Mall with the “grandkids:”

(photos courtesy of Kaycee Cheramie)

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Jen got a great shot of Christopher looking just like the Wikipedia illustration for Pall-Mall!

More pictures from Georgian Picnic can be found here and here.

And if you are interested in joining us next year (or sooner, for one of the many Guild events), visit the DFW Costumer’s Guild webpage, including this FAQ about Georgian Picnic!