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……


“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

Commercial Colonial Undergarments: Supporting a Slightly-More-Historical Simplicity 3723 – Part 3

18th Century Sewing Adventure #2 – Part 3

Undergarments and Accessories

In my latest project, I attempted to turn the less-than-flattering Simplicity 3723 pattern into something more obviously 18th century. By following the pattern directions (for the most part), you get this:


It’s not terrible, but…well…okay, so it is terrible.

The silhouette is too round and the front molds around the breasts, fitting more like a mid-20th century dress than a mid-18th century dress. Ideally, the dress should be flared out at the hips and the bodice should be a smooth cone shape (thanks to the lady’s stays):

“A lady showing a bracelet miniature to her suitor” by Jean-François De Troy circa 1734 (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)

I was aiming for a middle-class maid’s look for the 1740s, when panniers were in full swing. So to turn my gown into something presentable, I needed to get rid of the rounded skirt and smooth out my girlies. An 18th century woman would have worn a pair of custom-fitted stays, usually made of cane or whalebone sandwiched between layers of fabric. In the 18th century, the fashionable silhouette was a coned-shaped torso with ample cleavage. There were many styles of stays throughout the 18th century– some were one piece, some were two, some had stomachers–but they all achieved a triangular look:

Stays with Stomacher (reproduction), circa 1750

Mid-18th Century Taffeta Stays by the Staymaker

I do not own 18th century stays, at least not any that are finished. I have started many a pair, but I am not apt at fitting and I’ve pretty much abandoned the project after ruining two pairs and gaining 15 pounds. Not all of us can be stay makers or afford to invest in a pair, especially if you only costume occasionally, but there is a pragmatic solution in a surprising place.

Cheap corsets are the bane of many a professional costumer or corsettiere, but they offer a surprising benefit to casual costumers. Cost effective and easy to find, lower-end corsets often do not have the sumptuous curves of a Victorian or vintage-inspired corset. This is frustrating if you want an hourglass shape, but for 18th century costuming, a straightened silhouette is encouraged. The stiff foundation is what’s most important and the smoothed rather than enhanced bust is a plus. I bought an inexpensive, all purpose, steel-boned corset from eBay which has become my go-to for costuming (for everyday wear, however, I recommend a more sturdy corset):


It has 20 steel bones and can reduce my waist  3 or 4 inches, but for my Simplicity 3723 project, I laced it so that it only reduced my waist one inch (from 29″ to 28″). This particular style of corset (and many others like it) does not take a naturally large breast-to-waist ratio into account, so if you are top heavy like I am, the corset does an excellent job of flattening my front and giving me some stunning cleavage. The tubular shape of many low-to-mid range corsets is just fine for 18th century costuming. I’d advise getting a corset with plastic bones, however. Stick to one with steel boning, even if it’s only 10 or 12 bones. You do not have to lace tightly at all! In fact, unless you are making a huge fancy court gown, 18th century stays were worn for shaping and support, not drastic reductions.

A corset alone, however, is not enough to achieve the flouncy look of the mid-18th century. I need some hips, and at 35 measly inches, my tiny natural one fall far too short of glory.

Cane and Ribbon Pannier, late 18th century

Panniers and bum-rolls were widely used to fluff up a woman’s curves. Some panniers were more like squared walls than curves and could be made from a variety materials including metal, cane, or stuffed pillows. The higher up in society you were, the more extravagant the width of your pannier! I wasn’t going for a court gown, so I took American Duchess’s handy pannier guide into account and made myself some cheap-o pannier pillows out of leftover flannel and some bias tape.


Boom! Hips, baby!

These panniers are rather small compared to court panniers, but it would be unseemly for a lady’s maid to outdo her mistress’s bodacious hips, so my little bump-outs are just dandy. I read somewhere that these comparatively small hip pads were called considerations (i.e. I considered wearing panniers, but then…) and were proper for morning wear. But since I can’t find the source, don’t quote me on it. Anyways, panniers alone, especially cane ones, would show through the gown rather inelegantly, so wearing at least one petticoat helps soften the lines. I used my favorite old standby, a thrifted button-front skirt from Goodwill:


This skirt was probably the most useful thing I’ve even found at a charity shop. It looks great with modern clothes, dressed up to look vintage, or used under my costumes as fluff. In this case, a longer petticoat would have yielded a better shape at the bottom of the skirt, but being what it is, this old skirt does admirably!

As soon as that was done: voila! Instant improvement:


Silhouette is the most important feature of historical costuming. Even with the craziest, most inaccurate fabrics, a properly (or semi-properly) supported silhouette can make a dress look 100% improved!

With the silhouette fixed, the dress part of this experiment is complete! However, I may cheap out on method and material, but I at least attempting a full outfit. A finished dress is fabulous, but without at least some accessorizing, even the grandest dress is incomplete. There are a few basic necessities like shoes, hair, and make-up which cannot be ignored. One of the biggest components to a complete toilet is a lady’s shoes:


These are my American Duchess Pompadours (version 1.0) that I dyed and decorated. They are the biggest costume splurge I have ever made, but they look so swanky, even the miser in me considers them well worth the money! Another reason why shoes are important: your hemline. These shoes add a full two and a half inches to my height. The first time I sewed the hem of the Simplicity 3723 dress, I completely forgot to take this added height into account and made the hem too short! I had to let it out and re-hem the whole thing, a step I could have avoided if I’d just remembered the heels.

Accompanying my Pompadours are my bright red knit stockings, which are O Basics in “Rust,” from the addictive website, Sock Dreams. If you could tear your eyes away from my magnificent hips, you can see the entirety of my stockings in the picture of my panniers. The socks reach over the knee and are quite warm– a boon in the winter, but right now in the summer heat, they can be a little trying. I have another version of these stockings in rayon and flax, which I absolutely adore as well. I highly recommend these over-the-knee socks, and at $7, they’re a great buy! They have stretch and stay up well on their own, but you can wear garters over them easily. I’d be wearing my ten-minute garters, if they weren’t packed away for moving.

Another essential outfit component is hair. I’m terrible at hair. Curling, braiding, ribbons, nets, clips, extension, and all that jazz have never worked for me. I can do most of it on someone else, but on me? Forget it. I was going to try something more elaborate this time around, but I got frustrated and ended up enlisting my sister to give me a simple bun. It’s not flamboyant, but it gets the job done and is quite fitting for a lady’s maid.

To dress it up, I wanted a little coif like this:

“Laundress” by Henry Robert Morland

But Amelia found this adorable vintage baby’s bonnet in the box of linens and–surprise!– it fit my bun perfectly.


With my adorably bonnet-ed hair finished enough to be passable, I decided that I needed to properly tart myself up, 18th-century style. A good lady should be pale, but with cheerfully pink cheeks and lips. So I powdered my face lightly and used a freshly sliced beet as a kissing companion to give myself a naturally unnatural rosy glow:


This photo was taken at the end of the day, after I’d taken all the other photos, hence the un-bonnet-ed, messy bun. I literally sliced the root-end off a beet and applied it directly to my face. It’s a red beet and has surprisingly little sugar in it despite its sweet taste, so it is not sticky. It is a semi-permanent stain. It will last very well, especially on your lips, even if you nibble on a snack or talk way too much too loudly.


And…done! At least done enough to be presentable. The only other accessories I used were my sleeve ruffles and a strand of faux pearls I borrowed from Amelia for a few pictures. I’d like an apron and a better fichu; my current fichu is too long to tuck nicely, especially since this dress’s neckline is too high. There are so many other accessories to add to an 18th century gown: hats, chatelaines, wallets, brooches, chokers, earrings, face patches, wigs, fans…the list goes on!

You can read more about my Simplicity 3723 project in these posts:

— Commercial Colonial: Part 1—

— Commercial Colonial: Part 2—

Commercial Colonial Results: A Slightly-More-Historical Simplicity 3723 – Part 2

18th Century Sewing Adventure #2 – Part 2

So, as you may or may not recall, I not-so-recently embarked on a sewing adventure: turning Simplicity 3723 into something more historically accurate.

Here is the dress as of two weeks ago:


Circa July 29th, 2013

It looks pretty much like the pattern envelope says it should, but it is hardly 18th century in appearance, aside from the “stomacher” and too-long-for-comfort sleeves. I made a few modifications, but otherwise, it was a generic “historical” gown with no real time period or purpose. It still needed a few little touches to make it less mundane and more like a magnificent mid-18th century gown–well, as magnificent as a mid-century gown can get on a peasant’s budget!
I was aiming to re-create this sketch I had done of a middle-class lady’s maid:

I normally don’t like pink, but coral has really gained my respect recently…

Since I had reached the end of the pattern directions, everything from here on out was created using a highly-complex process known as “mad libbing,” otherwise known as “making things up as you go along.”

Two very obvious things were missing from Simplicity 3723: the fold-over robings down the front of the gown that, on a real 18th century gown, would hide the stomacher pins and function as a decorative edge. I sewed two long belts of fabric and attached them at the shoulder seams, tacking them down the length of the front with fell stitching. What a difference they made, too!

Here is the gown now:


What you can see: an improved Simplicity 3723
What you can’t see: the 101°F heat

Simplicity 3723 out of the envelope has a few functionality problems, including being a tad too wide in the shoulders and long in the waist. The biggest offender, however, was the much-detested zipper in the back (I wasn’t surprised to get backlash on that one; I just wasn’t expecting it to be so intense. Whoa!). Originally, I planned to cover the zipper with a draped, triangular piece of fabric that snapped on to mimic a Robe à l’Anglaise’s enfourreau back:

Robe à l’Anglaise back, circa 1770-75

But then I discovered that I had more pink fabric left over than originally thought from all my other additions, so I threw modesty to the wind and went for something more dramatic: faux Robe à la Française! So fancy…


I draped the pleats about 6 times on my wonky dress form before I was mostly satisfied. The pink dollar-per-yard-faux-linen-whatever was way too wrinkly, yet it didn’t keep my pleats well at all. Thank heavens I used it all up! I only have one little 12″ by 14″ piece left, just enough to make a matching purse. That stuff is the devil…

The sack-back was more in keeping with the earlier look I was going for, about 1740, like this gown:

Robe à la Française, circa 1740
My gown is nowhere near this fancy. I have fly-fringe and other trims around, but after tacking them onto my dress, it just looked fussy and didn’t match the rough-quality fabric. So I’m waiting for another opportunity to use it on a finer gown.

I used two giant, heavy-duty snaps to attach the panel so I can zip myself up and attach the sack-back without help.


A horrid picture, but it’s murderously difficult taking a photo like this…

Another addition was my engageantes, a.k.a. sleeve ruffles!

The original pattern called for fabric-matched ruffles to be sewn onto the sleeves, but those was too wide and ungainly, so I scrapped them and made some separate ruffles of my own from wide cotton lace, completing my dress and HSF Challenge #15 simultaneously! I love it when something multitasks for me.


HSF Facts:
18th century Engageantes (sleeve ruffles)
Fabric: Technically, none
Pattern:Based off of the measurements of ruffles from various museum, but no real pattern
Notions: Cotton lace, poly-cotton thread
Historical accuracy: 90% Proper engageantes would be silk, but I’m poor.
Time to complete: 1 hour
Total cost: $10 for two yards of lace

I tapered them so that they have a long and short side. Tapering your engageantes lets them hang nicely rather than puffing out awkwardly:




The gown in review


Resting your elbows on your panniers is uncouth, but my face says it all: Manners be damned! It is much too hot to be wearing fake linen…

Pattern: Simplicity 3723 with modifications


Smaller, contrasting front skirt panel
Extended back darts
Finished skirt side panels
Bound, free-floating stomacher edges
Front robings
Shortened sleeves
Separate sleeve ruffles
Snap-on “Watteau(ish) Pleats”
Plastic bone to the stomacher for rigidity


6 yards of pink faux-linen-whatever from Walmart – $6.00
1 embroidered crewelwork-on-linen sample – FREE!
1/2 yard floral print decor remnant from Hobby Lobby – $10.64
Recycled cotton sheets for lining – FREE!
22″ zipper from Walmart – $2.55
GIANT size 10 sew-on snaps – $2.97
Zip tie for boning the stomacher – FREE!
2 yard of lace for the engageantes – $10
Thread – $1.55
Total: $33.71

Time – Who knows? 40 hours total? I didn’t keep track, but I worked on and off on it for about 3 weeks after work.

Despite making all these changes and having issues with the fitting, Simplicity 3723 is not a horrible pattern, but there are better patterns out there. I recommend this pattern to people who like to play around or need multiple gowns for theatrical productions. It could really be a show-stopper with the right styling! It is hardy and has survived lots of yanking, finagling, abuse, and wear from being pulled on and off. It is an excellent stage gown, but it’s probably not going to be well-received at reenactments or other historical events (be prepared for farb-shaming if you do wear it). However, I am very pleased with it. It looks good and feels right, aside from being too long in the waist– a common problem for short-waisted moi!

My fabric choice was not ideal because that pink stuff…ick! No matter how I ironed, spritzed, or steamed it, there were always weird wrinkles that just would not hang out! Laying it down for even a moment would cause new ones to form. With a better-quality fabric (in a cute print!), my dress would look really nice. The cut of the gown straight from the envelope reminds me of Laura Ashley gowns from the late 1960s and 70s:

Laura Ashley cotton sateen print dress, circa 1971

The calico print looks very fetching and with a split-front and a bumroll, that Laura Ashley dress would look 18th century worthy. I really love the floral decorator fabric I found at Hobby Lobby. A gown made of that would look fantastic–sadly the fabric isn’t available anymore and at $22 a yard, would be much too expensive for my budget anyhow. But a girl can scheme…er…dream!

Remember my lament that the stomacher was too high to display luscious 18th century cleavage?


Boobs, baby!

The major thing that’s making this gown work is the styling and undergarments. More on that later!

— Commercial Colonial: Part 1—

Silver & Gold: Adding Ribbon and a Rand to American Duchess Pompadours

You Spin Me White Rand, Baby, White Rand!

In my on-going Pompadour project, I had finished the first step– dyeing the shoes green— and was ready to decorate them! Even though American Duchess shoes can be painted in a variety of ways, I wanted to decorate my Pomps with a wide band of gilt ribbon characteristic of the early 18th century:

Shoes with Silk and Silver Gilt Trim, circa 1720-30

Not only that, I also wanted to add the distinctive white rand that marked high-quality shoes at the time:

Shoes with Silk and Gilt Trim, circa 1730-55
White rands around the toe of a shoe were in fashion from around 1680 to about 1760.

I was so excited the night I ordered my shoes that I stayed up appallingly late searching for just the right gilt trim! The gilt trim on extant shoes varies in width.  Some is so wide it covers the whole top of the shoe. Others have trim of more modest proportions.

Shoe with Silk and Gilt Trim, circa 1730-35
This shoe has exceptionally wide trim with an abstract and floral pattern.

I considered sari borders, modern “gold” ribbon, and metallic lace, but I settled on some antique woven gilt trim with a lovely grape-vine pattern that I found on eBay. The trim on extant shoes is wrapped and folded over the point of the toe before the upper is attached to the shoe. Since my Pompadours are already assembled (and I have no desire to take them apart!), I mimicked the effect by glueing the ribbon down using E600. I used my fingers to mold the ribbon over the toe as the glue stiffened, then used scissors to snip the excess off. The glue keeps the edges from unraveling.


It would be very unusual to find a richly-decorated shoe like this without the distinctive white rand! The new Pompadour 2.0 design has one built in, but my version doesn’t have one. In order to create the look of having a rand around the front half, I used some puffy fabric paint in matte white, which imitates the look of leather with surprising accuracy.


I applied the puff paint after applying gold trim in order to hide the raw end of the ribbon, so it would look like the ribbon was attached to the sole. Just like on extant shoes, my “rand” goes from latchet seam to latchet seam. To help hold the shoe steady, I flipped a glass upside down and put the shoe over the upturned end.


The puff paint wasn’t as puffy as I hoped, but it puffed enough to look passable since the rand spends most of its time nearest the floor. Plus, it looks super classy, puffy or not!


All that’s left to do now is apply ribbon to all the edges and seam lines of the shoes!


Part 1: How to Dye Your American Duchess Shoes with Rit

More Ways to Decorate American Duchess Shoes:

Painted Designs
Fabric Covered
Shoe Clips

Pompadours: New 17th-18th Century Shoes by American Duchess

If the shoe fits…

There they are!

Lauren at American Duchess has done it again! I can’t tell you how excited I am to finally get to see a finished prototype of this magical shoe! These shoes, aptly named Pompadours, are softened versions of the famously pointy (and abhorrently uncomfortable) court shoes of the late 17th and early 18th century like these:

Late 17th century shoes are famously skewed into a boat-shape, thrusting the foot up and forward with deep-set heels in a variety of colors and heights. American Duchess’s Pomadour, however, is designed with modern tastes in mind, providing less pinch and more width– all the better to tromp around in at rocky reenactments! If I had to pair them with any gown, it’d be this amazing construct that Doña Inés de Zúñiga, Condesa de Monterrey is modeling:

It’s so bold! So powerful! So Spanish! She’s even got a little golden pistol resting on her enormous skirt! With some fierce, black damask Popmadours, she’s be super fashion-forward (this painting is from 1660, a little too early for historical accuracy, so she’d be really fashion-forward) and oh-so-fabulous! The Pompadours are also going to be available in white, so if you prefer the light French silks to rich Spanish velvet, you’ve got options.

(But, seriously, the black damask looks amazing!)

Preorders will open Monday, May 14th, 2012…just in time for my birthday! As soon as preordering opens, you can reserve a pair of Pompadours at the discounted price of $115. Don’t wait too long because once preordering is over, the price jumps to $135!