The February dress…McCalls 5094. The dress of a thousand muslins.

Good day cats and kittens. It’s currently 54 degrees in my house (give or take 20 degrees) and Lucy the stenchhound is earning her keep as a foot warmer. This isn’t stopping me from my dreams of sun and sundresses and flip flops and all other good things. Which brings us to the February dress, a cute dress that’s been a bear to fit. Mostly because of all the tweaks I added. Here’s the muslin… (note the elegant footwear)

So where to start? Perhaps with a bit of envelope art. Here are the technical drawings. I liked the look of the top/front of version A, but string ties don’t work for me. I don’t mind my bra straps showing during the summer, but string ties really are the utter limit. I thought the wider straps from the other version of the dress (circled in the far right of the top row) would work better, but they weren’t drafted to work with the top of view A. No matter, I thought I could make it work. The other change I made was that I wanted the top/back from version D – you can see that versions A/B/C have a sort of a keyhole thing going on in the back – cute, but not bra friendly! Again, the version D back isn’t really meant to go with the front of version A, but I thought I could make it work.

Another major pattern adjustment issue, was, of course, the general grading. I went with a size 18 – my normal size for big 4 patterns, using the high bust measurement to choose the size. After studying the envelope, it looked like there was 2.5” of wearing ease at the bust and the waist. Taking all that into consideration, I decided to aim to add around six or seven inches to the bust, and ten inches to the hips and waist. Sigh.

The first muslin. Grading up. And up. And up.

I was a bit flummoxed as to the proper order for the adjustments. Normally, I’d start with an FBA, then add to the waist and hips as needed. And I rarely add to the back pattern pieces, other than flaring out for a waist adjustment. Since this design is more fitted and has a separate midriff band, I wasn’t sold on my normal method as I thought it would lead to an oddly shaped midriff band, having to veer out four or five inches to get to the proper waist measurement. I eventually decided to add a few inches of my much needed width at the bust to the back pieces, and to do a five inch standard FBA to make up the difference.

Here’s a photo of the front bodice piece, with the FBA cuts outlined in pink. I also decided to add extra length right from the start, as I’ve been having a problem lately getting that pesky under-bust seam to sit in the correct spot. The extra length cuts are shown in green. I cut in a chevron rather than straight across as the pattern piece is so odd shaped – there wasn’t really a spot to do a straight line! I slid the whole bottom half down, keeping the center front lined up. This created a small gap on the side seam on the bottom of the pattern piece – I added a bit of wax paper there as well – outlined in green.

For the next step, I added to the width of the front midriff band. I lined up the center fronts of the front bodice and front midriff pieces and cut and filled with tissue paper to match what I had added during the FBA.

Next I worked on the back. As I said above, I had decided to add some of the width needed in the bust area to the back of the garment. The bodice back is in two pieces. I left the center one alone – I have narrow shoulders and straps always slip off them. I figured I’d be better off adding the width so that it would move the straps towards the center of the back.

The first adjustment made to the side back piece (#10) is shown by the two vertical pink lines. This was the one inch of the FBA inches that I had transferred to the back. After I added that, I added to the back midriff piece (#13.) Here I added about 2.5 inches. This, plus the width I added to the front midriff piece was theoretically enough to get from the size 18 waist measurement to my waist measurement. As the last step, I went back to the side back piece (#10 again!) and added that triangle wedge. All I did there was cut almost all the way through the piece, leaving a sliver of paper as a hinge so as to not affect the length of the armscye. Then I swung the side seam out so that it met up with the sideseam of the midriff piece. Note I had folded the seam allowances out of the way where pieces #9 and #10 meet up. I was concerned that I was adding even MORE to the bust area with this move, but most of the width was in the waist area, and the bust is gathered, so I figured I’d have enough wiggle room.

And BOY did I have wiggle room! Obviously, I either can’t do math or the ease in the pattern was more than I anticipated! This is what I get for not bothering with a tissue fitting. No matter! This is why I do a muslin!

And here’s a shot without me pulling at the muslin. Sigh.

Muslin #2 – adding and subtracting.

Obviously, I needed to do more subtracting, but I still had a bit of adding to do. First, I recut my FBA lines and swung the pattern pieces back together to remove about an inch or so of my FBA – I’ve attempted to show this with the wedge with the little cross-hatching lines drawn through it! That means “subtract”! I also added more length to the bodice – shown by the new chevron lines – that’s the amount of extra length I added! I also dropped the point where the two front bodice halves attach about an inch or so – more cleavagey, but less mono-boob effect!

Here’s a shot of the front midriff piece – again, I’ve used cross-hatch lines to show that I’d removed some width.

On the back pieces I removed ALL the width I’d added in the first muslin. Obviously, It wasn’t needed! I added length to the two back bodice pieces to match what I’d added to the front bodice. I also took a slice from the midriff piece – blending from the size 18 to the size 16 lines. I’m really narrow right under my bust (compared to the rest!) and need that for shaping!

And here are the results. Better than muslin #1, but still a far cry from what I was envisioning. I’m not gonna lie, folks. At this point I was considering making another Parfait. A whole year of parfaits. A parfait of the month club.

But then I focused and remembered how cute I thought this dress was. How much I wanted it. I grabbed some pins and started pinning away. From the bottom up, circled in blue (because that’s the order I pin in!) There was a lot of extra fabric in the midriff band right in the middle. Then, over to the left, around where a horizontal dart would be, a big horizontal fold. Once I pinned those two spots, the top neckline was gaping in a big way, which is normal when I do an FBA. Once I got all that under control, the strap still felt a bit loose (although much less so than when I started pinning!) so I tightened that up as well. I wriggled out of the muslin (can I just admit right now that I rarely put zippers in my muslins? I just yank them on. I’m surprised anything fits at all by the time I’m done, the way I treat my fabric!) I got a gatorade and some sharpies and got ready to work on the next muslin.

Muslin #3. Fine. A horizontal dart it is. Also, transferring markings back to paper.

I know I’ve gone over this in past how-to-type posts, but here we go again. My method for getting those pinned flaps of muslin fabric into a meaningful change to the garment.

After I wriggled, drank a bottle of blue G2 and started a new audiobook on my ipod, I uncapped my sharpie marker. This one was pink. I drew a line on the muslin at the base of the fold (while still pinned) – sort of outlining it.

After marking, I unpinned and smoothed out the fabric to see what my marks looked like. This one is straight forward – a V-shape. I considered putting a dart right there in the center of the midriff band, but decided that would be silly. I took measurements – the legs of the V are 1.5” apart, which translates into .75 inches per pattern piece.

See? I considered the dart so seriously, I even drew it on the pattern piece! In pink! Just ignore all the pink marks and instead look to the left side of the midriff piece. I cut a wedge from the side of the piece. – I cut it the full .75”, which in hindsight wasn’t too clever. I had to make the same cut from the midriff back piece so the seams would match up, which meant I removed 3” total from the garment, not the 1.5” I was aiming for. Luckily, it still fit around me!

I transferred the pinned flaps to the front bodice using the same sharpie-outlining-my-flaps method.

Using my ruler and my eyeballs, I basically traced these wedges onto my paper pattern piece – marked in yellow below.

I cut out the wedges.

I cut the wedge in the neckline deeper, so that the point met up with the horizontal wedge (you can see the paper that I cut away in the picture.) I did this to prepare for some dart rotation. Which sounds exceedingly painful.

First I swung the side of the pattern piece up to close up that neckline wedge. I trimmed that triangle (circled in yellow) from the top of the bodice. It was pointing out awkwardly after taping the wedge shut and after envisioning the way the pattern piece would work, I thought that the armscye might be too high if I had left it!

The next issue was that horizontal wedge. I had two options (perhaps more, I only considered two) First was to rotate that wedge so that all that extra space would be moved to the bottom of the bodice to be gathered up. The other option was to add a horizontal dart. I went with the dart, partially to provide some more shaping and partially because I was concerned about adding too much fabric to be gathered. I filed in with wax paper and used a ruler to add the dart point right in the center of the wedge.

Here’s the bodice piece with all the alterations made – hardly looks like a pattern piece any more!

The final adjustment was the length of the straps. I measured the flap (1/2” folded) and removed that amount from each end of the strap.

This fit on muslin #3 was much closer to my goal. The straps were lying a bit wonky on the bodice – no doubt from all the tweaking and the whole problem with how I was using the wrong straps for this front bodice. The other major fit issue was a overly generous amount of fabric length in the center of the front bodice pieces. I pinned and went back to the drawing board again…

Muslin #4. Finally nearly cleared for take-off. Also, a comparison with the original pattern piece.

I have a confession. Thanks to super-sales at Hancocks, I own three copies of this pattern. This comes in very handy for my (maybe) final adjustments (and possibly in handy for a future giveaway!)

I outlined the folds where I was having a bit of a length problem. These aren’t the most accurate of marks – it was difficult to get this area pinned. Also, I was trying to keep in mind that there was a whole skirt yet to be added to the bodice – a skirt that would undoubtedly weigh down the bodice a bit and smooth out some of those wrinkles!

As I looked at the marks, I realized that the bottom of the bodice had gotten progressively more curved throughout the adjustment process. Here’s a photo of the original pattern piece (on the left) compared to the adjusted pattern piece – I’ve outlined both in black. It’s clear how much the adjusted piece dips down on the bottom.

Here I’ve laid the adjusted piece over the original piece, lining up the center and side seams. The edge of the adjusted piece is marked in black, the original pattern piece in green. I trimmed the adjusted piece to match the original green line.

And here I’ve laid the newly trimmed bodice piece over the muslin pieces – they’re a bit on the stretched out side, as I pulled muslin #3 apart to make muslin #4. I trimmed the bodice pieces and reassembled the muslin. I’ve also highlighted a few other markings in this photo. The original gather markings are highlighted as red dots on the bottom of the pattern piece. The gather markings I’m using are marked in green. To keep with bustier-type styling, I wanted the gathers to be quite compact, instead of stretched across the entire bottom edge of the bodice. Also note the two turquoise dots near the point of the horizontal dart. For muslin #4, I slid the dart point towards the bust apex by about 3/4 of an inch.

And here we are! There’s still a bit of horizontal folding (circled in pink) on the bottom of the bodice that I don’t like. I may trim a bit more from the bottom of the pattern piece for my next version. I also got the straps somewhat under control. The ends were angled, and I just couldn’t get them to attach in a way I liked. I ended up gathering the ends and fastening them right at the top of the bodice where there’s a point where the armscy meets the top of the bodice. They lay much nicer now, but really show off the bra straps underneath!



  1. TracyKM says:

    Wow, wow, wow. I did almost the EXACT same process, with the exact same issues (uni-boob vs cleavage, etc)/results on a dress last summer, an extremely similar dress, New Look 6557. I had made it previously (the cross over bodice) and wasn't happy with the coverage over my full bust, but no one seemed to have the answers how to fix it. So, I just cut, rotated, expanded, sewed, cut, rotated….At the time, I worried about how much I had expanded/changed the pattern and my seamingly unorthodox methods. I am so thrilled to see a 'real' sewer doing the exact same things!!!!! I wrote three blog posts about it last Sept or late August (Empire Strikes back series). I never got quite the finished result that I wanted, and like you did, but I ran out of time, LOL. Maybe now I'll give it another go, knowing that it can be fine tuned that much more!

  2. angie.a says:

    I would have given up at #2. I would have never thought to trim away from the bottom of the pattern to match the previous, my instinct would have been to recurve it or some other incredibly hard and complicated alteration that would have led to more tears and frustration. ;)

    I'm enjoying your blog. I have to make a lot of the same alterations and adjustments and its inspiring to see someone actually succeed (sometimes it takes me so long to muslin I don't have the energy for fashion fabric!)

    Here's what I do to bodice muslins that will eventually be weighted by a skirt…I just pin it to whatever pj pants I'm wearing. Especially if they're knit, it works especially well, but whatever I'm wearing I pin to. Sure I get a bit of a wedgie (ha) but it weights the bodice into place and lets me see what wrinkles are likely left over with skirt.

  3. Paunnet says:

    I admire you for being so persistent, I would have given up and made another Parfait.
    The final result is very cute and I think the skirt really flatters you!

  4. Josie Thames says:

    I've been lurking for a couple of weeks now, and I have to say this is going to be a gorgeous dress. One of my favorite things you've made, so far. Can't wait to see the finished product!

  5. PepperToast says:

    Wow, are you ever persistent. Want to hear something funny? As I am reading I am thinking, "Good Lord! Why doesn't she just make another Parfait with this skirt bottom!" LOL! Hmmmmm – a Parfait of the month club. I like the sound of that. With all your hard work, this dress will turn out great too.

  6. Karen in VA says:

    Another great post (tutorial)….I'm hoping to make the last muslin of my Crepe today to get rid of the last fitting challenges in the front…

    Sewing plus-sized is not for sissies!!!!

  7. dotted lines says:

    Can I just say thank you? I have similar fitting issues, with large bosoms and small shoulders. It's so inspirational to see you document the process you go through in fitting a bodice, and also seeing what the final pattern pieces end up looking like.

    Now I think I'm less scared of reworking the dress I've been trying to make. :)

  8. lazystitching says:

    What a mission – but it looks amazing!

  9. tanitisis says:

    Whew, that was amazing! But so worth it, it's such a cute dress even as a muslin. I agree with Andrea, though, when do we get to see you start to draft your own?

    I'm curious how your altered pieces compare with the Parfait pieces after you were done with them, though, since the general lines are similar. Maybe you could save yourself a little time next time. :)

    Or, y'know, not. It's looking so good!

  10. K.Line says:

    This is freakin' impressive. I've gone on these crazy adventures and they are HARD WORK. And unknowable. But your final product is fitting so nicely. Now I want you to make me one. And I'm with Andrea. Maybe, at some point, if you drape to your dress form and pin, you can more easily create the same garment. Check out the book Draping which I'm thinking of splurging on, now that I have my new dress form.

  11. Karen says:

    Your muslin is cute enough to wear!

  12. Andrea says:

    That's an amazing journey — thanks for documenting it. I'm wondering (for myself, but maybe in your case too) if there reaches a point where learning to draft a pattern from scratch would actually be easier than altering a store-bought pattern. Right now I use patterns that fit well to guesstimate alterations for other patterns with a similar basic shape, which kinda works.

  13. Sølvi says:

    Wowza – that is a whole lot of muslins, you must be the most persistent seamstress in the universe! great work, and I love the style of this dress. I am too sooo longing for summer, and are dreaming of light summer dresses all day long…

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