Fitting thoughts: Picking a pattern size for full bust adjustments – what’s your take?

Hi folks!

Something a little different from me for this post. I wanted to discuss that perennial old favourite – the full bust adjustment (or FBA) for a minute or two and I would love your input on my burning question (ooh what could it be? what could it be? I hear you all mutter excitedly to yourselves), which is about how you pick your pattern size.

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Before I go any further, I want to qualify all the following with the fact that yes, I know that there is no 100% correct answer and everyone, ultimately, is decidedly different and unique and special (like, literally different, apart from exact identical twins and/or clones) and so whichever answer I pick, I know I will always have to make some adjustments anyway, so, you know, why am I even bothering to pin this down?

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But the thing is, this has been bothering me and I’m one of those people that likes all the jigsaw puzzle pieces to fit. That is basically the reason.

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Alright, so here’s the thing. I am a D cup in pattern sizes. That is, I have a high bust of 40 inches and a full bust of 44 inches – the conventional wisdom being that 4 inches difference = D cup. Most patterns are drafted for a B cup and this is really what I’m discussing here. There are certainly patterns with multiple cup sizes (woohoo!) and also patterns drafted for a larger cup (woohoo! x 2), but the industry standard is a B cup.

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The advice you often get if you are a D cup-boobed lady, trying to fit a B cup pattern is to “pick the bust size based on your high bust measurement, not your full bust” and this is what I often do. I do have smaller shoulders/frame than my D cup boobs, so this does give me a better fit through the shoulders and armhole and then I do a full bust adjustment and grade out at the waist and hips, if necessary. This method definitely gives me a better fit than picking the pattern by my full bust measurement. Nevertheless, this suggestion does not totally make sense to me.

FBApalmerpletsch

Even Fit for Real People suggests the straight high bust measurement

Why not? Well, because the numbers don’t add up. Yes, I am a numbers gal and it bugs the life out of me and I spend much more time than I ought to, staring at numbers and tutting to myself and trying to work it out. I really wanted to start a little mini-project and experiment with several types of full bust adjustment on the same top (Inari tee by Named if you were wondering), but I decided that before I could do that I needed to once and for all sort out my dilemma until I was happy and satisfied. So here we are.

Let me show you what I mean. I picked this pattern table because it has some good numbers.

FBA query1

In the chart above, if I picked by my full bust size, I would make the 18, with a finished garment size of 46.5 inches. I know, however, that the fit around the shoulders and armhole would be too big. Many, many companies (and advice on the internet) tell you to use your high bust measurement. Mine is 40 inches, so I would therefore pick the 14. Now, often, the same instructions tell you to make a one inch FBA on your pattern piece for a D cup adjustment, which is a total of 2 inches (two boobs). This is explained (in several different ways, but ultimately the following) as the “difference between a B cup and D cup is 2 inches”. Can you see the problem though?

FBA query1_LI (2)

If I take the 40.5 inches here and add 2 inches in total (with a one inch FBA), my finished garment size is only 45 inches in circumference. That is, it’s the finished garment size for the size 14 of 43 inches, plus the added 2 inches from the adjustment. My bust is 44 inches around, which only gives 1 inch of ease – a fairly tight fit – and certainly not the 2.5 inches of ease if I’d used the size 18. So where did that extra 1.5 inches go? It drives me nuts I tell ya. Every time I think I’ve sorted the FBA issue in my head, it pops up again in a new pattern when I’m reading the instructions. I can tell you that I’ve done a LOT of internet searching to check I wasn’t missing something obvious or going crazy.

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And here’s the thing: what a few pattern companies tell you to do (but only a few that I’ve seen) and also what I also found in some of my fitting books and in a Craftsy class is not to use the straight high bust measurement. You use the high bust measurement PLUS 2 inches. That is, if you know the company drafts for a B cup you use 2 inches. If it were a C cup, you would use the high bust measurement plus 3 inches, and so on.

FBA query1_LI

In the example above, I would use 40 inches (my HB measurement) plus 2 inches = 42 inches. I would therefore select the size 16 instead and do my 1 inch FBA. The finished garment size of the 16 is 44.5 inches + 2 inch FBA = 46.5 inches! Hooray! The exact same measurement as if I’d used the full bust adjustment, but with different proportions. This makes SO MUCH MORE sense to me. Another way to think of it is: if there were another set of measurements showing the high bust measurements, what would they be? Well, they would be the full bust measurement minus 2 inches, so I would see very quickly that my 40 inch high bust measurement would appear under the size 16 and would immediately choose that size to make. Logical, isn’t it? Is it just me?

Big 4 pattern ease?

This leads me to ask then: why do many companies say just to use the straight high bust measurement? I also saw it a lot in pattern forums from sewists who sounded like they had a ton of experience/knowledge. Now, in these places, it was mostly the Big 4 patterns that were being discussed, which led me to wonder if that was an issue. I think we’ve all experienced the rather large amount of ease in Big 4 patterns. At least, I have, and have had to size down numerous sizes. So I guess I’m wondering if for the Big 4 patterns, getting more brutal with your downsizing is necessary to get a good shoulder and armhole fit? I saw one sewist say “oh no, I had to go down from a 16 to an 8 to get a good shoulder/armscye fit and that’s not unusual”. That does really seem like some excess ease then!

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Is there a Big 4 ease issue involved?

Perhaps that’s why some of the books that are teaching tissue fitting use this too? Most tissue fitting is done with Big 4 patterns. Plus, once you get the shoulders right, you can slash the pattern to get your required extra bust room and not worry about working it out with a ruler and pencil. It’s only a guess.

Indie patterns adjustments

My understanding, and I hold my hands up – it is a generalisation – is that many indie pattern are designed with less ease than Big 4 patterns. I suspect potentially both wearing ease and design ease, but of course it varies with the company. And so perhaps that explains why on some indie patterns, I’ve made the suggested adjustment using the straight high bust measurement, but it seems a tad pinched in some areas. One crucial factor seems to be this advice to use just the one-inch increase – I don’t think it’s enough.

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More bust pics – a tad tight

Of course, if I use the smaller size I can just make a bigger FBA adjustment instead and, in fact, that is what I inadvertently started doing for a few patterns. On some occasions, there were no clear instructions, so I started adding FBA inches that were bringing me up to the same finished garment measurements as the full bust measurement column. However, it meant I was starting to do minimum 2-2.5 inch FBAs on a smaller size, which also meant adding quite a bit of width to the bodice. In a few cases I felt it was slightly starting to warp or fundamentally change the design draft.

Most recently, I did a 2 inch FBA on a princess-seamed pattern and the piece looked rather odd. I’ve since discovered advice that once you get past 1.5 to 2 inches, it’s advised to switch to a different method that doesn’t add more width (at least that’s what it says in some of my fitting resources, but they are, obviously, all completely bleedin’ different as well, heh), but that’s a whole other discussion.

FBA extra width

Seems like a lot of width for a B to D cup adjustment?

Now, the main issue with all this musing is that unless I try it out I won’t really know the answer. Which means making a lot of muslins! And… that’s a lot of work. It’s also entirely possible that I will make the high bust + 2 inch muslin and it will be too broad in the shoulders still! But I wonder if that would simply mean I actually need a narrow shoulder adjustment at that point and that I am, nevertheless, still muslining the bodice with the correct intended proportions for that garment with regards to the bust – shoulder ratio.

In the meantime: what do you think? In case I’ve lost you with my ramblings, the burning question is:

Should you pick a size based on your high bust measurement or your high bust measurement plus 2 inches? (assuming B cup drafting and a D cup bust)

Is this something that has kept you awake at night too? Is there a good reason I’m missing for any of this? Is it all rather obvious? If you agree with me, then why is it explained like this? Does it even matter? I can ask a lot of questions in one paragraph, can’t I? I will probably try and find answers by concurrently asking in some forum or other, but the only time I saw this exact question being asked, it seemed like the questioner wasn’t understood at all. I could see her getting frustrated repeating herself, and if it hadn’t been back in 2014 or something, I would have jumped in. She could have stopped sewing in frustration by now for all I know. Wouldn’t blame her actually. Joke.

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To reiterate what I said at the top, ultimately we all have to make personal adjustments anyway, so I do view this as just a starting point. But I like my starting points to be logical, and then move from there, goddarnit! I would be quite happy to have a rule-of-thumb: eg. Big 4 patterns use HB measurement; indie patterns use HB + 2″ as a starting point. I’m asking because I genuinely do appreciate any insights. If nothing else, I find it all rather random and interesting, which my husband decidedly doesn’t and which led to me writing this as his eyes glazed over for the 546th time as I tried to explain it to him.

Ciao for now! xx

40 thoughts on “Fitting thoughts: Picking a pattern size for full bust adjustments – what’s your take?

  1. Oh you are awesome Claire! I am getting to the same place in wondering about these questions, but about 10 steps behind! In fact, i got fed up and have only been using patterns that have different cup sizes (how wonderful is that), not that I have had time to sew much lately. However, next I am going to try the Gathered Dress by the Avid Seamstress, who drafts for a B cup. I was going to do my high bust (39”) size and add a 1.5” FBA. BUT, like you I suspect, that adds a lot around the hips that I don’t need. I did a slide and pivot FBA that worked well one time but I cant find how I did it anywhere :-(. I think adding 2” to my high bust wouldn’t work for my narrow shoulders. I always measure my new pattern pieces off something that I know has worked (kind of like a cheater block). Maybe you should work on an upper body block???? Once my weight stabilizes (ha!) I am going to do that I think

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    1. Thanks for replying Linda and reassuring me I’m not ridiculously over-complicating things, lol. Yes, you are 100% right – blocks and/or slopers are on my to do list. They have been for a while. I think ultimately with so many different companies and approaches measuring, measuring, measuring would help. I find that both approaches work for me, depending on the garment and company. The one that doesn’t work is the smaller size with the smaller adjustment. Which makes sense, I just can’t figure out why it’s recommended so often. I’m looking forward to seeing your dress – I’ve been interested in the Avid Seamstress patterns for a while!

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      1. It’s just awesome that people like you are spreading the word and sharing resources, both on your blog and Instagram. I will post a photo of my Dress – promise!!!

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  2. I’m in the high busy + 2″ camp (or whatever the bust size is) as that always made a lot more sense to me. For the big 4, I would tissue fit before making a muslin because it will give me an idea of whether the shoulder sits anywhere near where I want it.
    And yes, I’ve spent a lot of time on this question as well *lol*

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    1. Oh thank you! I’m glad it’s not just me! Yes, I have to admit I haven’t made as many Big 4 patterns as I’d like because the sizing seemed pretty crazy the few times I tried. I think you’re absolutely right about tissue fitting or making a muslin. I think with the indie patterns the sizing is more realistic (for want of a better word) but I have ended up with some crazy width and length issues with too big a bust adjustment before, which is a pain to get rid of! I will keep experimenting though – thanks for the comment! 🙂

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  3. I hope I’m not muddying the waters but recently I watched Linda Lee’s class on Craftsy/Bluprint called Fitting Solo. She says to use the full bust measurement for any pattern, then gives a nifty little trick for fixing the shoulders so you don’t need to deal all the FBA fallout (extra length, width…). I can’t speak to whether her trick works, as I usually need an SBA rather than an FBA. She also stresses measuring the ease on the pattern yourself, so you can made a better guess as to the size you should make. I did try this recently on an indie pants pattern — and it was really helpful in figuring out how to grade from my hips to my waist.

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    1. Absolutely not Susan! I am very excited to get recommendations, so thank you for taking the time to comment – this sounds really interesting! I have just added it to my Craftsy queue! Funnily enough, I got a comment on Instagram (where I posted a link to this post) recommending another class: Adjust the Bust: The Complete Guide with Kathleen Cheetham and actually that is the one I watched which made me realise I wasn’t totally nuts. Kathleen recommends the starting point of HBM + 2″ as I talked about in my post. I kept my question here quite specific because there are soooo many factors to take into consideration and, in a way, I was trying to take my personal fit requirements out of it and just check the logic of the numbers. But I am all about learning about new ideas and this one sounds right up my alley, especially when it comes with a bona fide recommendation! I’m definitely intrigued to hear what she says, because I often get major armhole issues as well as shoulder and upper back, so count me intrigued! Thanks so much!!

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  4. I’d never heard of the HB + 2″. There is no easy answer. I find that trying to work with the ease that was designed for the pattern does help. I got tired of having FBA’s that were too roomy so I tried some patterns that had cup sizes, Love Notions. That way the appropriate amount of ease from the designer was already there. @sew_sister

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    1. That is very true! There’s no easy answer and no right answer either 🙂 Funnily enough, I have found my FBA more successful than using pre-drafted cups in some cases. But I never looked at the numbers to try to work out which proportions and measurements the designer was using, such as the ease – I will be trying to decipher that from now on (if I can find it). I would say in my internet searches it was about 65:35 recommended to do a high bust vs a high bust + cup inches, so there was a decent division. Interesting stuff! Thanks for commenting – I appreciate it.

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  5. I definitely also ask and wonder about these questions! You are not alone! I wish more patterns would actually list the high bust measurements, that would solve a lot of this… but I guess if they draft for a b cup, then the high bust is 2 inches less than the full bust, so maybe that’s another way to get to the high bust measurement… I have often used the cashmerette patterns which have all fit me with very few adjustments as a base for other patterns, I guess kind of like a slopper. I’ve also rarely (maybe never?) made a big 4 pattern. I’ll definitely be following the comments here and I’m curious what others do to solve these conundrums!

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    1. Funny you should say that, as I just traced out the Appleton dress the other day. I’ve heard very good things about the Cashmerette sizing, but have never made one of their patterns, so I’m excited to see how it fits! I’m sure I will be posting about it soon. I have found the Big 4 patterns I’ve tried tricky to fit because of the huge amount of ease anywhere. In one pattern I remember starting off two sizes lower than the packet measurements and then had to take the armholes in with darts 1.5 inches wider than the seam allowance! Wowsers. Having said that, I would LOVE to crack my Big 4 sizing as it opens up so many great patterns! There were a bunch of interesting and useful comments/suggestions left on my Instagram post as well if you’re interested in this topic and use IG. It’s over at @belle_citadel.

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  6. I haven’t thought about this before because I’m between a B and C cup, so most of the time I don’t need an adjustment or can fudge it a bit, but I wanted to say that your post makes total sense to me! If there was a high bust measurement listed I’d use that to pick the size, so the high bust +2″ is the closest to that when it isn’t listed.
    The other method seems weird to me, not only because the numbers don’t add up, but also because of using one measurement for another (would we use a waist measurement as a hip measurement before doing a full butt adjustment? I don’t think so! Same principle).

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    1. Yes! That’s exactly my point and a good analogy with the hip/waist measurements. Thank you! 😀 I mean, it could be that it just doesn’t work well to do it like that for some other unknown reason, but the confusing part for me is why all these very experienced designers and sewists suggest it. I feel like I must be missing something… hence my ponderings about the ease factor. I will give it a go and see how it works out!

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  7. I have tried various methods, the latest is to go with the size closest to my high bust, if my high bust measurement is the same or a centimetre or 2 smaller. Then I check the finished measurements for that size and check to see if I’m happy with that amount of ease. If not, I add the difference between that and my actual bust size. A lot of the time I only need to add depth, not width. All depends on the cut and style of the pattern chosen, of course.

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    1. Thank you Anne! Yes, I have definitely employed that on some patterns and it’s really worked well sometimes. I always work with the finished measurements too and end up trying to use some sort of gut feel whether it will work or not, combined with reading many pattern reviews and Instagram pictures, heh heh. The problem definitely comes when you can’t find the finished garment measurements – argh. To add depth and not width do you FBA with the long vertical slash in a diamond shape (and bust hinge?). That’s the main method I’ve seen for a one-step process.

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      1. I simply draw a line across the front at bust depth, cut along it and drop it by the amount required, then add a dart at the side seam. If there’s already a dart, I cut through the centre of it to the bust point, then go from there perpendicular to the centre front or grain line.

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      2. Aha – I’ve got you – you mean literally just depth. I was thinking about it incorrectly. That would definitely come in useful those times I end up with a slightly shorter front after the adjustments!

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  8. I wish I could console you, but I ‘got nuttin’ on Big 4 sizing! As a teen I discovered that one size of ‘one of them’ fit, and went with that. Since then it’s been a frog shoot. (Basically I’ve concluded that I can measure and they can’t.) This is SO PROBLEMATIC – not even taking an FBA or SBA into account.
    Meaning… there seems to be a basic problem with shoulder to bust sizing. I am presently a B cup, and when I choose my pattern size based on bust measurement the garment tends to be too big. Period. (I used to blame this on boobage, but not since the Big Boob Deflate of 2019. Wait for it. It comes about the time your doctor stops harping on you about your weight… )
    I went on a rampage about this on a to-be-nameless website awhile back and got all sorts of advice. One well respected (and oft advised) book I ordered had revised information in it when I received my copy. Lololol.) So I’m thinking that even the “experts” are scrambling now that home sewists COMMUNICATE!!!
    So… yea Claire! Let’s keep it up because I think THEY ARE LISTENING! (McCalls is naming patterns now.)
    We live in exciting times!

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    1. Haha! Great reply. I think my Big Boob Deflate started after the birth of my kid, but… I guess I will await the Big One. I love your info – it’s interesting that the experts are revising their work too. I mean, ultimately we know we all have to make adjustments to suit our own particular “idiosyncrasies”, but some things so seem a bit out of whack. The fact you’re a B cup and it’s still too big is important. Is it Big 4 patterns you’re referring to or just in general? Also, since you sound like you have a lot more experience with Big 4 than me, I’ve always wondered: when you get a good fit on say, a Butterick pattern, will the adjustments work for all Butterick patterns for you? It seems like they should if they’re using the same block, but is it more arbitrary than that?

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      1. Big 4 is 2 big! (Yes, I was referring to “them”). I don’t have that “swallow me up & spit me out” look & feel in most indy patterns.
        (And FYI, I was a wee lass in Edinburgh…)

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      2. Excellent! That’s what I figured. You mean you were born in Edinburgh? I’m guessing you are in the States just because you used the term “frog shoot”, but please correct me if I’m wrong. I lived and worked in Edinburgh for around 2 years and it’s such a wonderful city. I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up back there some day, even if I’m from near Glasgow, so it’s something of a betrayal. 😉

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  9. I’m with you on the HB+2″ measurement. Using the high bust never made sense to me and always resulted in garments that were far too tight across the shoulders. I sort of wonder if the high bust thing became popular in that not-too-distant age of overfitted bodices on fit & flare dresses? Where people were making garments with so little ease anyway that sizing down eliminated any design or wear ease and essentially achieved the intended fit.

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    1. Siobhan, you read my mind. So, right under that excerpt I posted above from Fit for Real People, there’s a picture of an, I guess, Victorian era lady in a very, very fitted bodice. That matches the description they have saying “From our historical research, it appears this is the method used at one time” (referring to using the HB measurement”. I thought to myself, well, if THAT’s what you’re talking about – then I’m sure it’s true! I mean, it’s hardly a good comparison to modern clothing.

      On the other hand, I have to say that if I use the high bust measurement, I do often get a good fit across the shoulders. My main issue is that perhaps it’s proportionally then throwing the rest of the adjustments out of whack. It might not even matter in the end, but with some garments (like the Inari) I’m trying to retain the intended shape and fit as much as possible, so perhaps HB +2, a smaller FBA and then a narrow shoulder adjustment would be better? Happy birthday by the way! I’ll be donating!

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      1. Thank you so much! And I love talking fit adjustments so this is all very interesting to me. Maybe you have narrow shoulders and the choosing the HB measurement is kinda a narrow shoulder adjustment? I have the opposite problem – I have broad shoulders and often Hulk out of garments so the HB never worked for me. In general I use the Burda size that matches (or exceeds!) my bust measurement and it’s a perfect fit across the shoulders/upper arm.

        Agreed on the Inari – it seems to rely on loose fit so I just used the added ease without thinking about bust adjustments. That said, my bust isn’t *that* big in proportion to the rest of my body, including HB, so it’s not an option for everyone.

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      2. Yes, that’s kind of the opposite problem to me. I wouldn’t say I exactly have narrow shoulders, but pretty average for my frame. Because I’m overweight in the tummy area (just the front though – I’m pretty sure my back is a size down from my front) it throws everything off. Ultimately though, the net result is the same. And yes, choosing the high bust does often get me a good shoulder fit. I’m just wondering if, in some designs, it’s throwing off the integrity of the design too. God, that sounds super pompous-fashionista, lol.

        Anyway, what I’ve done is to trace the Inari in both the (HB + larger FBA) and then the (HB + 2″ + FBA + potentially narrow shoulder adjustment). I’m planning to try an FBA which puts in a dart, and then a dartless FBA (maybe two different methods) and I’m trying to see which version retains the design lines best as well as which I like best! There’s a good chance it will prove nothing at all, but I’m willing to give it a go! 😀

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  10. It’s a brilliant solution.. Starting from what would be your size if you were a B cup should get you harmonious proportions when you add the difference to your real cup size. I often do a simple pivot and slide fba so it adds 2″ total. Except I have a belly too so the extra room all the way down is welcome. It makes perfect sense to add only to the front when that’s where you need the extra room. But the big 4 are just too crazy for me, not worth the struggle

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    1. Yes, exactly right – I am trying to figure out harmonious proportions – that’s a very good (and succinct) way to put it! In real life, of course, I also have a belly and the extra width from a large FBA often avoids have to grade out at the waist and hips, so actually saves me some work, but… that’s not the point! Haha! I actually haven’t tried the pivot and slide method as someone told me it didn’t work well for larger busts. But I keep seeing it, so I will have to try it out. The Inari tee might be a good candidate actually! Thanks for your info! 🙂

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  11. Vogue patterns give the high bust measurement in their size charts at the back of the catalogue. This measurement is 2 inches less than the full bust measurement. For example, my high bust measurement is 36, giving a full bust measurement of 38. I then use size 16 in order to get a good fit through shoulders and high chest, but make a FBA of 3 inches ( 1.5 inches each half of top).

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    1. You know, I only read that as part of the internet searching I did recently around this topic. I really do want to try and get a good fit with some of the Big 4 patterns, so I will be scrutinising those numbers! The one time I used my high bust intentionally, the armhole was crazy! I had to redraft it and close by an additional 1.5 inches! Thanks for commenting – I’m really enjoying everyone’s input.

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  12. Hi from England. Yes, a quandry! I usually use high bust plus 2 inches and use the extra that it gives below my bust to increase my waist. Maybe this isn’t the way to increase the waist but as we say heyho. Even though this should work for me I still have to adjust via the seam allowance but not enough to alter the shape. I always still have to do a narrow should adjustment. On top of this I do a rounded back adjustment and.forward shoulder! My patterns look a mess when finished! If I was neorotic I would think that I had a peculiar body but the sewing community lets me know that all these alterations are normal, yeah! Yes, a block is on my to do list!

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    1. Hello back to England! I’m actually Scottish and I can tell you the weather in Seattle this winter is an exact replica of an English/Scottish winter, so I’m feeling quite at home this year! If I had to make a list of the adjustments I think I would need, I actually think my list would look very similar to yours! I don’t have forward shoulder to adjust, but the others are very familiar. I also find the same with the extra width from the FBA: helps with the old tummy. 🙂 Let’s make this the Year of the Block!

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  13. I am the opposite to you in that I have a broad upper back, but narrow shoulders . I have a HB 46” FB48” but DD bra cup. I usually do the 46” HB size and add a broad back adj and take in the shoulder seam and a 1.5” bust adjustment. It is a minefield and as all companies use their own block I don’t think there is any easy answer. I think find a system that generally works for you and run with it! I go with Kathleen Cheetham ‘s classes on the bust , the back and shoulders and pants fitting. I just find her approach makes sense to me!

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    1. Yes, you’re quite right! I have the rest of Kathleen Cheetam’s class queued up to watch today with a cup of tea! 🙂 Thanks for giving me your adjustments though – it’s really interesting to hear how you approach it. I will have to go and look at your adjustments in FFRP to picture it better. I’m intrigued! Have a lovely Sunday! 🙂

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  14. Hi Claire, I couldn’t get back into the feed, but yes I’m from the US. (Mrs Frog Shoot – A little too Mark Twain I guess!)
    My dad did his research and got his PHD from the University of Edinburgh. (My mother waited in the states to have me, later finding out the merits of national health in Scotland when she needed an appendectomy and my dad was in hospital for quite some time with a mystery meningitis.) Sooo, besides ancestry, my family has a strong Scottish bond. (Someone once told my mother she “lived in Scotland too long”. ??? We took it as a complement and my carbon footprint is fairly small as a result. 😉 Talk about stereotypes! … Sigh.)
    I wouldn’t worry about the Glaswegian thing after reading the “44 Scotland St” series. Bertie loves Glasgow, which I’d love to visit on my next trip! (I love reading about my old neighborhood!)

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