The Empire Line Maillot

Let's Have A Try At Shaping Under The Bust

The empire line is one that runs around the body just under the bust. Its functional purpose is to rotate the dart to under the breast, allowing for a certain amount of fitting which can both lift and shape the bust without the use of an underwire.

This design principle is well suited to larger busts if used in conjunction with wider straps or a halter. The thin bound straps used in this exercise are suited to a B-D cup. Empire line designs do not really suit busts smaller than a B Cup unless padding is used.

This is one of my empire line maillots from back in 2002. It's not really the best example as the model is too long in the body for the standard sized garment, so it doesn't show how much lift can really be achieved. The bra section has been covered with metallic, bronze coloured sequins. Photo by Chris Huzzard

Step One

Trace around your front and back one piece blocks. Draft in the empire line on the front block only. A true empire line would actually wrap all the way around, but for the purposes of swimwear, the front is all that's needed. The line should form a right angle at the centre front, pass about 1 cm below the underwire line and form another right angle at the side seam. Draft in a guide line vertically down from the bust point to the empire line. Draft in another guide line from the bust point to the armhole as shown.

Step Two

Close the side dart by opening the guide at the armhole and rotating the pattern section down. Because we're going to end up closing the dart below the breast, we need to lose a little circumference from the pattern below the bust around the empire line region. We do this by shaving about 1.5-2cm from the front panel at the empire line and about 1cm from the back panel. See the illustration for how to do this. The important thing to remember is that the side seam must be the same length between front and back.

Step Three

Now that we've narrowed the area under the bust we need to allow extra fabric length from the bust point down. We achieve that by raising the top of the front block by about 1cm (C cup), 1.5cm (D cup), 2cm (DD/E cup), etc. The new bust point is the higher of the two. Remember to lift the underwire line and repoint the armhole dart (don't worry that the dart sides are different lengths).

Step Four

Remove the unnecessary guide lines and separate the bra panel from the front.

Step Five

Close the armhole dart by opening up a new dart along the guide line below the bust point. Draft in a straight guide line running from the bust point to form a right angle with the shoulder.

Step Six

Place the bra section alongside the back panel at the side seam, making sure to line it up correctly. Draft in your neckline design, peaking about 8-10cm up the guideline from the bust point. It's ok to drop the neckline a bit below the bust line on back panel, but be sure to keep it above the empire line. It's best to keep the neckline at or slightly above the bust line at centre front or the darts will lose their lift.

Step Seven

Pull the dart back 1.5cm from the bust point. 


Remove unnecessary guidelines. If necessary retrace the front and back panels. Add seam allowance to the pattern based on how you intend to assemble it. I've shown this pattern with 10mm allowance for overlocked seams (8mm to blade plus 2mm off cut) and 10mm allowance for folding over 9mm elastic. If you were to use a binder attachment to apply the elastic and casing fabric to the edge, then you wouldn’t need any seam allowance on those particular seams. If you use wrapped elastic binding, bind the back neckline first, then the front, running an extra 30cm before and after to form the straps which affix at the back (use the appropriate plastic sliders). Finally, be sure to clearly label your pattern pieces with a title, panel name, garment size, cutting instructions, author’s name, date and revision number.

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