Sunday, July 19, 2009

Step By Step – Sewing together a simple top pattern

It’s been blazing hot here in Northern California this last week so I’ve been spending some time inside in the AC sewing up a nice, simple cotton top. Here’s a photo of the model and the four simple pattern pieces needed to sew it up.

Because this top has an empire waist and I have a fuller bust than a B cup I need to add some length to the top bodice in front to make sure the seam hits under my bust not across it. Anyone who has a larger than average bust knows the frustration of trying on a really great top in the store only to find the empire seam looks like it’s trying to cut your bust in half. This is one of the many reasons I sew.

Below is a photo of my altered front bodice pattern:

You can see where the original pattern piece was drawn and the extra I needed to tape on to extend it long enough to cover my bust. I added about 1/2” at center front rounding out to 3/4” at the fullest area, under the gathering, and then tapered back up to meet the original drawn pattern line at the side seam. This redrawing of the under bust seam was necessary because, as you can see from the pattern in the first photo, the cross, where you would make your lengthen line for the pattern piece, is below the bust area. There is no opportunity to use the lengthen line to extend this piece.

Because of the simple shape of this top I won’t make any more alterations to the pattern. There shouldn’t really be any issues for my square shoulders or slight sway back.

Now with the pattern altered I can cut out all my pattern pieces in fabric.

I have a bodice front and back plus their facings and a lower front and back. All of them include 1/2” seam allowances and a 1” bottom hem for the lower pieces. I decided to extend the front facing all the way to the bottom of the bodice front. It will be anchored more securely this way in the empire seam. If you are going to use interfacing now is the time to cut it and attach it to the facings.

My next step will be to stay stitch any edges that are cut on the bias to avoid stretching while I handle them. This would include the neck edges of the front, back and facings, the curved armhole edges and the top and side edges of both of the lower pieces. The bottom edges of the lower pieces are actually bias too but I want the bias to stretch naturally there before I hem the garment.

You may wonder why the tops of my lower pieces are cut on the bias. If you look closely at the first photo you’ll see, near the lower portion of both front and back lower pieces, there is a grain line drawn at a 45° angle to the fold line at center front and back. These are only small pieces so I folded my fabric carefully at a 45° angle and cut the pieces on this fold. This puts the center front and back on the true bias of my fabric and thus the top edges of my fabric are as well.

OK, with all the edges stabilized I can start sewing. Did you see the wavy line at the bottom of the front bodice pattern? This tells me I need to make gathering stitches just under the bust area.

The real construction begins now. I start with the shoulder seams of both the bodice pieces and facings. I recommend you press your seams as you go to make any matching of seams easier later. Next I serge the outside edges of the armholes and the facings. This step is not completely necessary but I like to control the raveling. Next I sew the center front of the bodice and it’s facing.

Sewing in the neckline facing is my next step. Before I turn it to the inside I like to do a little trimming to insure it lays nice and flat. I trim the seams to about 1/4”, clip the curves around the shoulder and back neck area and clip to the stitching at the “V” in front. Now I can press the facing toward the seam allowance to make it easier to under stitch. Here’s a close-up, at the shoulder seam, with all these steps done, right before I turn the facing to the inside:

With the facing turned inside I give the whole neckline a good pressing and then secure the facings at the shoulder and center front seams. My bodice now looks like this:

The facing lies nice and flat and there’s no worry of it flipping outward when I wear my top. The threads you see dangling down are the gathering stitches. If my pattern had sleeves this is when I would attach them. I find it easier to sew them in when the garment is still flat, before the side seams are sewn.

My lower halves have been hanging on a padded hanger while I sew the top bodice. I want the bias to relax as much as possible before I attach them to the bodice. Now I can sew them to the front and back bodice. I will first baste them, sewing from the center to the side seams since I am sewing a bias piece to a straight grain piece. This will just make it easier to control the bias when I serge them together. With the seams now serged I can press the empire waist and move on to the side seams.

Since I’m dealing with bias pieces on the lower half, I make sure to sew both sides from the sleeve to the bottom hem. All the seams are sewn now so I will press those last two side seams and give the whole garment a good pressing. If you had a sleeveless garment this is when you would attach armhole facings or bind the armholes.

Here it is on a hanger with no hems yet:

I’ll let it hang in the closet for at least 24 hours before I sew those bias hems.

Here it is all done:

I felt, when I tried it on, that the shape was much boxier than I had expected so I sewed down the seam allowance of the back empire seam, from side seam to side seam, to form a casing. Then I ran a small cord elastic through the casing to cinch the back a little tighter. I’m much happier with this fit.

So let’s sum up the steps.

1. Cut pattern pieces, facings and interfacing. Don't forget seam allowances and hems.

2. Stay stitch any bias edges.

3. Sew any darts or gatherings

4. Sew shoulder seams and facing seams; serge or zig zag outside edges of facing to prevent raveling.

5. Don't forget to press seams as you go along.

6. Attach neck facing.

7. Trim seams, clip curves and under stitch before turning facings to inside.

8. Press facing to inside and secure at shoulder seams.

9. If the garment has sleeves, attach them now.

10. If this is an empire waist top then attach the lower front and back pieces. Press seams.

11. Sew side seams. Press.

12. Attach armhole facings or bind armholes if this is a sleeveless top.

13. Turn up hems on sleeves and bottom. Hem to desired length.

Note: Don't forget bias cut outfits must rest for a day or two before hemming.


  1. I just found your blog, after reading Thank you for doing this - I have dabbled with lutterloh patterns, but probably needed some general support to keep my interest.
    Could you address the "fuller figure" patterns - specifically in what way they are different? Are they a bigger bust cup size? - after all you can make any pattern to your own general measurements. Or is it just a matter of appropriate style?

  2. I haven't used the fuller figure book with the blue tape measure. Is that your question? I seem to be able to make any pattern fit from the general books. I know they have some fashions in both books, I'd be happy to draw up a pattern from each place and see what the difference is. Would that be helpful?

    In looking at the fuller figure patterns at a glance I'd say they are designed with a loose style with few waist treatments and more general fullness type styles.

  3. Hi Cherry,
    I would tend to agree with Fonnell's first glance assessment of the full figure patterns. I don't believe they are designed with a larger bust cup in mind.I really think there would be direct mention of this in the manual somewhere if they were. They just appear to be less fitted styles with fewer details at the waist.

    I did read that the fuller figure pants have a longer crotch length and are sometimes recommended for taller women. I tried a pull-on pants pattern since I am 5'8" but apparently that's not tall enough. The fit was fine everywhere except the crotch length for me. I needed to cut off nearly three inches from the top before I put in the elastic for the waist. I imagine the extra length is designed to go over fuller behinds and rounder tummies.

  4. I have sewn for many years and don't have trouble in making patterns fit me. (I'm at the high end of regular sizing, or just into plus with Burda) My question, which I obviously phrased badly, was really - what are the differences in pattern drafting between the regular and fuller-figure patterns? Is a different sloper used?
    I haven't used the fuller-figure book, but have tried a couple of ff tops from the regular supplements.
    If I knew how the fuller-figure patterns were drafted, I could make an informed decision on whether to start with those designs.
    Any insights welcomed!

  5. I must mention that using the Golden rule means all the patterns are designed with the balance or body in mind. I do know Lutterloh designed the fuller system with a blue tape top it begins at 110 and goes to 170 where as the normal tape begins at 50 and goes to 140. The spacing on the tapes is the same, however the normal top starts with 0 at the 98 hole and the fuller tape starts 0 at the 140 hole.

    There used to be a classic supplement and many of the styles worked nicely for me. It used the normal tape and was nicely shaped without being too form fitting. It had several nice princess lines in the fashions. I recommend this supplement. Check the Lutterloh sites on our right and see if any of them have the classic supplement.

    The XXL or fuller system's patterns are all full with lots of ease. Too much for me. I do have it however if you have other questions.

  6. What a pretty top! Nice pattern. Which supplement did that come out of? I'm making a dress with an empire waist, # 246 of supplement #275.

  7. Thanks Toni,
    My top was from a 2005 supplement #259. The kimono style sleeves made it super simple. I have since made two more with a collar added for work.

  8. I understand that the Lutterloh is for bust size B. I am a C could you tell me how to draft the pattern

  9. I'm sorry, that is incorrect. You make the pattern in your own size. It is a graded pattern. It will grade to your bust size. The problem some people encounter is their upper body, shoulders, etc are a smaller size than their bust size. I am built that way. I draft my Lutterloh upper dots to my chest size not my bust. Then at my bust to my waist I switch my tape measure to my bust size. The other thing I do is make the whole pattern in the chest size and do a full bust adjustment. Have you made anything from your system? It's fun. Make the vest and see how it fits. We can help you along. There are lots of great hints in our postings on the right. Click away and see what you learn. We've covered a lot over in posting


  10. Hi, I know there has been alot written in books, magazines, blogs, etc regarding adjusting for busts larger than a B cup... what about those of us with the opposite, for instance an A, AA or heaven forbid AAA? I don't personally have much trouble usually as I'm about an A+/B-, but mine are like ski jumps ;) so the chest area tends to gap in some styles, esp princess. Should I be using the high bust measurement? Thank sew very much for your wonderful blog!! Keep up the good word/work!!! M

  11. Hi, I have an E cup and have so far drafted a fairly loose top and dress with my full bust measurement. They ended up ok but were loose. After reading your comments I think I'll try to use my high bust measurement for the top parts of the shoulder and my full bust below and see how that works out.

  12. I fully understand the use of the two bust measurements. Is this a way to adjust the regular patterns to fit the full figure or do you also use this method when you use the "Full Figure" patterns. I have just bought the Lutterloh System and both both the Classic 2 & 3 books as I am a "Full Figure"

  13. I just now found your web site/blog and I have to tell you I am SO grateful to have found it! I have a client I need to sew for who likes to have patterns manipulated for different styles (but for the same fit) and I was wondering if I could use my Lutterloh system to do this - you have such a wealth of information, ideas & instruction and I can't wait to start studying!!! Thank you so much!

  14. yes! All styles are just adjustments to some basic forms...straight, princess, A-line etc. This is so doable but make sure you do a good job on the test fit of the vest or sloper in the posting on how to make a sloper out of your vest.....Happy sewing!

  15. Ok Ruth,
    The reason we measure the chest and bust is because so many of us are larger busted. Our shoulders and upper chest are smaller by enough that our patterns would dangle off our shoulders if we didn't make a smaller size and do a large bust adjustment.

    The full figure patterns in the regular books are wonderful! They make the tops longer and a little looser and the styles are better for people that are round in the middle. You will love the classic books....Most and I have to repeat this....Most people do not need the XXlarge book and tape. Enough said.

    Read all you can of our blog and ask questions as you need to.

  16. Many, thanks for the fast response. Not only am I new to the Lutterloh System I a new to this blogging, thus you will also notice my question on another site. Promise I won't do that again. sorry.
    You have answered my question very clearly. I am a Med/large on top with adjustments for the Bust. Small shoulders. Bottom is Large/XL. Fitted pattern, I adjust for large thighs. I have no problem adjusting regular patterns, similiar to the Lutterloh system, I use two sizes one for top and one on bottom. Lutterloh appealed to me probably the same reasons it has appealed to you. Thanks again, and I will now take a look at a few of the regular patterns.

    I will certainly be reading all I can from your blog. May even learn how to blog, but in the meantime I think I will stick to knitting and sewing.