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.