Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Guide to Pattern Cup Sizes

While I was taking some time away from blogging these past few months, I spent some time thinking about what I wanted my blog to be.  As has always been the case, I wanted to continue to document my own sewing projects, both to keep a record for myself and to provide more information to other plus size or curvy sewists who might be contemplating or in the process of making a pattern that I've made. I also wanted to continue writing my pattern roundup posts in some way, but trying to keep up with so many new releases and writing a weekly post about them had gotten really stressful. Those posts take a long time to compile, and it felt like the busiest pattern release weeks nearly always fell when I had a ton of other things going on. Between my project posts and pattern posts, I had very little time or writing energy to devote to any other types of posts.

Introducing a new post series...sewing for the uber busty!

Keeping the above things in mind, I also realize that I spend a lot of time complaining about the lack of resources (largely patterns and fitting information) for those of us who fall into the "uber busty" camp (a phrase coined by Shams at Communing with Fabric, who has some great resources on her blog for fitting a large bust).  For the purposes of this blog, I am defining "uber busty" as having a cup size larger than a DD. Patterns with built-in cup sizes aren't available in those sizes, and most large bust-fitting tutorials target C-DD cups. Adjusted pattern pieces can look significantly different when you're doing a 1" Full Bust Adjustment (FBA) vs. a 3" FBA. (A 1" FBA is the amount you'll typically see in FBA tutorials.)   In short, once your cup size surpasses DD, you pretty much fall off the map of the sewing world.

Through experimentation and a lot of trial and error, I've learned a lot over the past eight years with regards to fitting my own body. Others may disagree, but I feel that a lot of fitting "rules" need to be thrown out the window or at least re-evaluated when your cup size crosses over into uber busty territory. At the very least, you'll likely have additional fitting steps, such as dart rotation, beyond just making a Full Bust Adjustment (FBA) to increase the bust size of your pattern. I'm not a fitting expert, but I'm planning an occasional series of posts that focus on the options and pitfalls of fitting a bodice when you're uber busty.

I'm kicking off this series with a post about pattern cup sizes, which should be helpful to most of my readers, not just the uber busty among us.

Pattern cup size vs. bra cup size

Pattern cup sizes are different from bra cup sizes. Just because you wear a D-cup bra does not necessarily mean that you will need a D-cup pattern or always require an FBA.

Bra cup sizes vary by bra maker, and it seems like there are about a hundred different ways to measure for bra size. Most of these methods involve measuring your under bust area, doing some math (or not) and subtracting that from your full bust measurement. To confuse things further, the volume for a particular bra cup size increases as bra band size increases. For example, the cup of a 36D and a 38C bra will have the same volume. Along the same line, the volume of a 40DD cup will be considerably larger than a 32DD cup.

Thankfully for those of us who sew and frequently need FBAs, pattern companies have a standard method to measure pattern cup size:
  1. Measure your full bust. Wrap the tape measure around the fullest part of your bust. Don't pull the tape measure too snugly, or you will end up underestimating your full bust measurement.
  2. Measure your high bust. Wrap the tape measure around your chest and under your arms. Pull the tape measure snugly.
  3. Subtract your high bust from your full bust, and use the difference to figure out your pattern cup size:
    • 1" = A cup
    • 2" = B cup
    • 3" = C cup
    • 4" = D cup
    • 5" = DD cup
    • 6" = DDD cup
For those of us with very large busts (larger than a D cup), I haven't yet found a patternmaker who specifically drafts for any size larger than a DDD cup, and only very few cover the DDD cup, at that. 


Why is pattern cup size important?

If you've ever gone to a pattern's size chart, picked a size by your bust measurement, and had the garment that you've sewn end up too large in the neck and shoulders, then pattern cup size should be important to you. Most commercial sewing patterns are drafted for a B cup, meaning that the pattern maker is assuming that the sewist making the pattern has about a 2" difference between her high bust. The neck and shoulders of the pattern are drafted with this assumption in mind. If you have a larger difference, for example, you're a DDD cup and have a 6" difference between your high and full bust, most patterns that you select by your full bust measurement will be much too large for your neck and shoulders.

If your cup size is larger than the pattern's cup size, you'll usually get a better fit by selecting a pattern that fits your neck and shoulders and doing an FBA to increase the bust size. The following fitting issues are clues that your fit might improve if you start with a smaller pattern size for your neck and shoulders:
  • Gaping at the neckline
  • Shoulder seams that extend past your own shoulders 
  • Gaping armholes
  • A pinch or wrinkle of fabric forming at your armhole above your bust
In my opinion, patterns with larger cup size options are a GREAT option for those of us with large busts. We might still need to perform an FBA, but we have a much better starting point. To make a baseball analogy, as a G cup, starting with a D cup pattern is like trying to score from third base rather than scoring from first.


Determining your starting pattern size 


If you're a B cup choosing a B cup pattern, select a pattern by your full bust size. If you're a D cup selecting a pattern by a company that drafts for a D cup (for example, Bluegingerdoll), select your pattern size by your full bust. From there, things get a little more complicated:
  • If you're a D cup selecting a B cup pattern, choose the pattern size whose bust measurement corresponds to your high bust (not your full bust) measurement. This size should give you a decent fit through the neck and shoulders. Depending on the ease of the pattern, you may need to then do an FBA to increase the bust size of the pattern.
  • If you're a D cup selecting a pattern that has separate cup size options, such Vogue's Custom Fit patterns, determine what your pattern size would be if only the B cup option was available. In other words, choose your normal Vogue Patterns starting size (typically, going by your high bust measurement), but then select the D cup pattern piece for that size.
What happens when your pattern cup size falls outside of the range of the pattern itself, though?  For example, what if you're a G cup (9" difference between your high and full bust measurement)?
  • If you're selecting a B cup pattern, select by your high bust measurement and expect to do a large FBA, depending on pattern ease. (I'll talk about options for a large FBA in future posts.)
  • If you're selecting a pattern that has separate cup size options, like the aforementioned Vogue pattern line, select your starting size based on high bust size, then choose the D cup pattern piece for that size. You will probably still need an FBA, but your FBA will be much more reasonably sized.
  • If you're selecting a pattern from a pattern line that drafts for a D cup, remember that the patternmaker is assuming a 4" difference between your high bust and full bust. Add 4" to your high bust measurement and start with that size.
Let's walk through this example with real numbers. We'll assume that you have a 51" bust and a 42" high bust measurement, for a difference of 9", then pick your starting size for a Bluegingerdoll pattern, which will be drafted for a D cup:

Bluegingerdoll size chart
Take your high bust measurement of 42" and add 4" for a hypothetical bust measurement of 46". Find the 46" bust measurement on the above size chart and see that it correpsonds to a size 20, which is the size that I'd suggest starting with for these measurements. You'll likely still need an FBA, but it will be a smaller FBA than if you were to start with a B cup pattern.
Now, if you're uber busty, you might have other methods that you use to select your starting pattern size; however, I will usually use the method that I've just described, and it works well enough for me.

I do highly recommend making bodice muslins unless you're really familiar with a company's sizing. You may find that you need to go up or down a starting size based on your own personal body.


Cup size reference chart


A question that I see frequently asked in the online sewing community is "What cup size does [Pattern Company] draft for?" I compiled a chart of the most popular and a number of larger-bust-friendly pattern makers to help sewists evaluate what pattern size to start with and identify companies that help make FBAs a little less painful:

Pattern Company
Cup Size(s)

Custom pattern draft based on your own measurements.
  • C (Misses)
  • D (Plus)

  • B 
  • Small selection of cup size patterns
B5917, B5966 have cup sizes D-DDD in the Women's range.
By Hand London

Custom via grading
Connect-the-dots and lines to grade Cake patterns to your own measurements.
Closet Case Files

Colette Patterns
Sarai has mentioned in blog posts that she officially drafts for a C-cup, but makes sure that her patterns will fit her own D-cup figure.
Deer & Doe

Grainline Patterns

C (for base size 16), Increases and decreases with pattern size
Cup size decreases and increases as the pattern is graded for smaller and larger sizes, respectively.
In-House Patterns
  • D (early patterns)
  • A-D (recent patterns)
Early patterns were drafted for a straight-up D-cup. More recent patterns have cup sizes A-D included.

Kwik Sew
  • XS & S = B
  • M = C
  • L & XL = D
  • 1X = D
  • 2X & 3X = DD
  • 4X = DDD

Custom pattern draft based on your own measurements.
Maria Denmark
  • B
  • C (option for select patterns)

  • B
  • Small selection of cup size patterns
M6436, M6473, and M6927 have cup sizes D-DDD in the Women's range
Muse Patterns
  • B
  • Some patterns have D cup option

New Look

Ottobre Woman

  • B (sizes 1-7)
  • C (sizes 6-10)

Petite Plus
Petite Plus are drafted for curvier women 5'4" and under
Seamster Patterns
C (for base size 6), Increases and decreases with pattern size
Cup size decreases and increases as the pattern is graded for smaller and larger sizes, respectively.
Sewaholic patterns are drafted for a small-busted, pear-shaped figure.
B, C, D
All patterns have options for cup siszes B-D
  • B
  • Small selection of cup size patterns

Skinny Bitch Curvy Chick (SBCC)
B (smaller sizes) DD+ (larger sizes)
SBCC patterns are drafted for women under 5'4". Here's a great blog post explaining their cup size draft:

Tenterhook Patterns

  • B
  • Small selection of cup size patterns


Research methods

I used three methods to compile the information on this chart:
  • Some pattern companies list cup size information their websites.
  • I contacted a handful of indie pattern makers directly to ask about cup size drafting.
  • A small amount of information came from Pattern Review threads (e.g. Kwik Sew), but I have not been able to find/verify that information elsewhere. I did, however, want to include those entries for the sake of completeness.
If you think that an entry contains an error, let me know, and I'll follow up. If the entry does, in fact, contain an error, I will correct it on my chart.


Final Thoughts


I hope that you found this post helpful! I don't know how frequently I'll write these since I know that not everyone is interested in reading about fitting a large bust. Also, I do want to continue to document my own sewing projects and will revive my pattern roundups in some form sometime soon.  My goal with this series is to document the type of bust-fitting information that at some point, I wished that I could find, but that I was unable to find in a fitting book or via a Google search. I've learned a lot through trial-and-error over the years when it comes to fitting my own bust, and I hope that I might be able to save a few other busty sewists out there a few headaches.


  1. This post is so helpful--especially the reference chart for the cup sizes different pattern companies use. I'm going to be returning to that chart frequently. Thank you for putting it together!

    I still find bust fitting issues intimidating. I've read a lot about FBAs, I know how to execute an FBA, I know how to calculate how much to add, etc. But, like you said, I still feel like there's a gap in my knowledge because most FBA information isn't geared towards someone with my bust size--and I just fall into the "uber busty" category as you've defined it, so I can imagine how frustrating it is for those women with larger busts than mine. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of your tips on fitting for the uber busty.

    1. This post originally started out largely as the reference chart, and then I felt I had to write a bit about how to use it, and the whole thing snowballed from there. :P

      My goal for the series is to pull back the curtain on what certain fit problems and alterations look like "in real life" on someone larger than a D cup.

  2. Thank for pulling all this information together, FBA or patterns that require them are something I've avoided until now so pleased your are writhing this from the uber busty perspective.

    1. Totally understandable. And it's not just the FBA that some of us have to deal with--if you've got a large FBA, you might need to rotate part of that dart somewhere else. Or, if you have a small waist, what do you do with the extra fabric that you've added to the waist area so that the garment doesn't hang off your bust?

  3. Fascinating! This is very helpful, and I must say, the whole issue of multiple cup sizes for patterns vs. bras vs. RTW and so on is confusing. Also, it seems like there is a consistent assumption in many companies that a larger body must mean bigger breasts (to a point) that reminds me how they also assume (often disproportionate) largeness in arm length, calf size, etc. such that plus patterns/ larger size range is just cut big and boxy everywhere.

    Some of these aren't surprising (Jalie, I'm lookin' at you). But Tenterhook is a disappointment. A specialty plus drafter using a C? Colette has only recently and partially entered the market above an 18 and manages to fit a larger than that.

    1. I agree that the cup size things confusing. Several of the indie pattern designers that I contacted asked that I call out the difference in this post. I was initially just going to call it out and then realized that it needed more explanation.

  4. Very informative. Thanks for this. Makes it easier to find patterns that require only a small amount of alteration.

    1. I agree. I will usually focus my energy on making garments from patterns where there's at least an option to start from a D cup, which puts me into a much more reasonable territory for an FBA. Interestingly enough, even though StyleArc told me that they draft for a B, I actually use what would be a "D cup" starting size from them for tops and jackets.

    2. I'm making my first Style Arc pattern, Cindy Jeans Jacket and did not have to do an FBA for my D cup. I was very surprised by that.

  5. Thanks Michelle. Bra cup size doesn't always mean full forward projection of the mass. I wear an38H, but only need a d or dd projection..the mass is spread out over my tall body's chest surface area.

    1. Right. In my case, I have back fat, so I do a combination of both a broad back adjustment and an FBA on a lot of patterns. I need the BB for my back, but it also helps decrease the size of the FBA that I need.

    2. Karen thanks for mentioning this! I'm also a tall 38 H. I've been too chicken to do a FBA but I also have a broad/ fat back so maybe it won't be too traumatic. I also have crazy narrow shoulders... like 6 sizes smaller than the rest of me... gulp.

  6. Wow! What a lot of work obviously went into this informative post. Thank you! I have no clue if I'm considered plus size, curvy or what, but I'm definitely not a B cup and have to do aFBAs in almost every garment. This is great information!

  7. What a fantastic post! One thing that I've found interesting is that I measure myself for bras with no bra on, which gives me a much larger cup size (DD to F depending on the brand/pattern company) but when I take measurements for the cup-sized top patterns I come out at a C, which I found was the right size (at least in the butterick sloper pattern. The bras I like significantly change by shape and measurements!

    I do hope you'll talk a little bit about ease too because I am wary of using the measurements advertised on the packages based on body measurements because I have found them to be at least but more often 2 and 3 sizes too big, even going by my high bust.

    1. Exactly. I probably should have mentioned something about measuring yourself for your pattern cup size using the bra that you would most likely wear with the garment that you're making. My measurements also vary slightly depending on what bra I'm wearing.

      And you're very right about taking wearing and design ease into consideration. Among the bloggers who talk about these things, I know that a lot of us can get away with smaller FBAs (or no FBAs) than you'd predict by the garment package because of the ease included in the pattern.

  8. Sooo excited about this Michelle! The table will be fantastically useful.
    Your summary of bust measurements is very helpful, but from my own experience I would caution against going exclusively by measurements - for the uber busty some trial and error by muslin may be required. My own high/full bust measurements give me a 4” difference i.e. a D cup. However, I wear a UK FF-GG cup (bra dependant) by bra size, and I can testify from experience that using a pattern drafted for a D cup would not fit by some margin. I think my issue is that once your bust gets to a certain size not all the volume goes out and sideways (i.e. unlike pinoccio’s nose your bust doesn’t keep getting longer and longer) - there is a significant spread over a larger area, so any single full bust measurement does not represent the total extra volume which needs to be allowed for. A related issue is that my bust spreads sideways beyond the edge of my ribcage creating a concave curve beside my bust which the tapemeasure does not include in my measurement, but closer fitting garments do need to cover this surface.
    Interestingly, Oona recently started a debate ( about how you measure your bust size, and one method she discussed was doing so in ‘table top’ (bending forward with your back flat then measuring your bust with gravity pulling the girls straight down). This gives me a 8” difference between my full and high bust – double doing so standing upright and much closer to my bra cup size. The actually size of FBA I do as standard with regular success is 4” total added to a B cup pattern, which gives me a full bust of 6” larger than my high bust – not a match for either of my full bust measurements, but slap bang between them – an interesting coincidence.
    Can’t wait for more!

  9. What a fantastic post with an enormous amount of helpful information! With a G cup, I am with you in the uber-busty camp and have always struggled with fitting woven tops. I've grown to appreciate and love shoulder princess seams and am no longer afraid of two-dart tops because I know how to convert them.

    Even though Jalie drafts for a smaller cup, I've had great success with picking a size using my full bust measurement. I've sewn the jacket (2559) a few times in a straight up size Z. I recently purchased the shirt pattern and will (eventually) make a muslin also in size Z.

  10. Fabulous post. Thanks so much. I say this as I work on my 4 th muslin for sew liberated pattern. I was just going to email Debbie Cook in frustration and ask her which patterns fit a 3" plus FBA.

  11. Michelle, you are my hero! I may have to print and frame your uber busty posts! Thank you thank you thank you.

  12. I do not visit PR as much as I once did and have wondered why that happened. When I joined there were a lot of plus size ladies posting and that group has dwindled away. I miss those women.

    I'm a huge fan of CSC and have gained a lot of confidence from reading about and looking at the types of clothes these young women wear. Their reviews give a lift to my day.

  13. I just found your blog last night and boy, did I time that right!! As an "uber busty" gal myself who has been sewing for over 50 years, fitting myself is still such a huge challenge that I frequently just give up and buy a cheap knit shirt or ten. I would love to be able to make things that actually fit me. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all this great information! You've given me hope!

  14. This is so what I've been looking for. I only recently discovered that most of my fitting issues stem from being uber busty and that an FBA can fix them. I got that all worked out only to discover that I need to redo the math for each designer. Knowing where to start helps so much. I'm looking forward to the rest of your series. Thanks. BTW: Violette Field Threads is drafted on a C/D.

  15. Great post, thanks for sharing! It's really difficult to find well-fitting bras in larger cup sizes so it's great to read such a useful post.