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Fit For You: Shoulder Savvy

Fit For You: Shoulder Savvy

By Barbara Weiland

Figure 1

What's Your Problem

It typically spans a distance of only 4 3/4" (misses' sizes 6 to 8) to 5 1/4" (misses' sizes 18 to 20) in a fitted garment--an insignificant measurement you might think. However, the shoulder seam plays a key role in the fit of garments that cover the upper body. Because coats, jackets, blouses and dresses all hang from the shoulder, well-fitting shoulder seams are imperative for a garment to look and wear well.
  • If the garment shoulder is too narrow for your shoulder width, the armhole may bind and the sleeve may ride up over the shoulder. Comfortable arm movement also will be restricted. If the garments you sew typically do this, your shoulders are broad in comparison to your pattern size. In contrast, if the garment shoulder is too wide, the sleeve will hang over your shoulder's edge. Your shoulders are narrow relative to your pattern size (Figure 1).

  • Shoulder width is particularly important in fitted garments with set-in sleeves. It may not be as important in the overall fit of loose-fitting garments with drop-shoulder seams or loose kimono-sleeve styling. Fitted raglans and kimono sleeves, as well as extended-shoulder styles, will require your standard shoulder adjustment for a comfortable fit and to maintain the look intended by the designer. Sleeveless styles, too, will fit more comfortably and look more graceful on your figure when you take the time to adjust the shoulder fit.

Determining Adjustments

Because shoulder width is related to your bone structure, it's one measurement that doesn't change much over the years. If you're broad-shouldered for your build, you'll always be broad-shouldered--and vice versa.
  • Pin the pattern tissue together and try it on to determine the required shoulder adjustment. An alternative method is to compare your actual shoulder measurement to the shoulder measurement on the pattern for a fitted garment--preferably a basic fit pattern offered by commercial pattern companies. To do this, have a sewing buddy take your shoulder measurement.

  • Wear a chain necklace around your neck. It will sit at the base of your neck. Find the pivot point at your shoulder's edge. When you swing your arm back and forth, find the small indentation between the two bones at the shoulder edge. Mark it with pencil or washable marker.

  • Measure from the necklace at your neck base to the pivot point (Figure 2). Compare this measurement to the shoulder length on a basic fit pattern. The difference between your measurement and the pattern is the amount of adjustment you'll need in most patterns.

Figure 2

Figure 3


Adjusting Patterns
  • Adjust a pattern with a standard set-in sleeve by narrowing the pattern or adding on pattern tissue at the shoulder edge, tapering the adjustment to nothing at the armhole notches. Use a French curve to help you maintain the appropriate curve. Make this change on both the front and back pattern pieces (Figure 3). Note: As long as this alteration isn't too dramatic, the sleeve ease should be able to accommodate this adjustment without making additional alterations to the pattern.
  • Refer to "Shoulder Seam Adjustments" for pattern alterations on other garment styles.

  • As an alternative to making an armhole adjustment on a garment with a princess seam that begins at the shoulder, let the shoulder seam out or take it in at the princess seam (Figure 4). If the garment is already finished, this can be an easier fix than removing the sleeves, recutting the armholes, and resetting the sleeves.

Figure 4

Figure 5
If you have extremely narrow shoulders--requiring an adjustment of an inch or more--you may need to extend the sleeve cap by an equal amount so it fits into the adjusted armhole (Figure 5). To do so, cut the adjusted sleeve from muslin and test-fit it into the adjusted armhole to fine-tune the fit.
  • Compensate for narrow shoulders by creating the illusion of a more balanced shoulder line. Many sewers with narrow shoulders prefer to add a raglan shoulder pad to the garment to visually extend their shoulders and create a better visual balance between shoulders and hips.

  • Narrow shoulders tend to overemphasize hip width. If you're already full-hipped, narrow shoulders will make your hips appear even larger. If you're extremely narrow-shouldered, some fit experts recommend purchasing a pattern size one or two sizes smaller than the size dictated by your bust measurement. This may ensure a better shoulder and sleeve fit, but remember it also will require additional fitting adjustments to make the pattern larger in the bustline and/or through the torso and waistline.

Achieving good fit is a learning process, requiring the desire and the commitment to experiment until you find the solutions that best fit your sewing needs.
Barbara Weiland is a Project Manager and Editor for Storey Communications in Williamstown, Mass. Her most recent book is "Secrets for Successful Sewing," published by Rodale Press, Inc. She also edited "Fit for Real People" by Pati Palmer and Marta Alto.


"Fit for Real People"
by Pati Palmer and Marta Alto is available at local fabric stores or from Palmer/Pletsch Associates, (800) 728-3784
Web site www.palmerpletsch.com.
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