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Your frequently asked fitting questions answered by Rae Cumbie.

[Q] What is the best method for fitting the shoulder area of a jacket?

[A] Fitting techniques for jacket shoulders also apply to other upper-body garments, such as shirts, blouses and dress bodices. However, if you make an adjustment to one pattern, don't assume that you will need to make the same adjustment to every pattern. For each new pattern, always make a test-fitting sample with clearly marked grainlines and horizontal balance lines. Make any needed back and bust adjustments to the fitting sample before focusing on the shoulders.

In order to make accurate adjustments and inform your fitting decisions, locate the shoulder line on your body. The shoulder line is a section of the trapezius muscle which spans the neck, shoulders and back to connect the skull to the collarbone, shoulder blades and the arm joint. To find it, run your fingers around the base of your neck and locate the soft spot between the front and back of your body. From this spot, run your finger along the muscle to the shoulder line edge where the arm begins.

As the shoulder line isn't always easy to identify, you have a bit of leeway in placing the line. In a well-fitting garment, the shoulder seam originates around this neck hollow and runs along the shoulder to the arm joint. However, as a sewist, you have the power to decide where you want your shoulder line to be. The leaner your body type, the more prominent your shoulder line appears, so placing the shoulder line close to the actual location on the body is most flattering. If you have a softer body type, there's more flexibility in the shoulder line location and a little nuance in the placement allows a garment to look more balanced. Try on the fitting sample and determine which shoulder line adjustments are needed:

* Does the entire shoulder line need to move forward or backward?

* Does length need to be removed from either the front or back shoulder or both?

* Does the angle at the neck or armscye edge need to change?

In her book The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting, Sarah Veblen suggests applying a piece of narrow dark tape or yarn to the fitting sample at the desired shoulder line placement. Evaluate the placement from the front, back and side before deciding if it's ideal. Once you've established the shoulder line, mark it on the fitting sample as a reference point for future pattern changes.

To make the needed changes to the paper pattern, add paper if the shoulder needs to be extended and cut away paper if the shoulder needs to be reduced. You'll need pattern paper, tape, a pencil and scissors to make these alterations. Three common shoulder adjustments include moving the entire shoulder line forward (1), moving the shoulder forward only at the armscye (2), and moving the shoulder back only at the neck edge (3).

After adjusting the pattern front and back, make the same adjustments to any corresponding facing or lining pieces. On pieces that connect to the shoulder, such as sleeves and collars, move the pattern dots so that each piece reflects the shoulder changes. Stitch another fitting sample to test and tweak these adjustments before constructing the finished garment.

[Q] When fitting a jacket I've sewn, wrinkles or "dimples" often appear between the shoulder and bust. How can I get rid of them?

[A] Dimples between the shoulder and bust usually reflect a fit that's being stressed. In a jacket, don't over-fit the hollow of the body between the shoulder and bustline. Make sure there's enough length between the shoulder and bust and enough room for the bustline, which allows the garment to hang without stress. Make a test-fitting sample with clearly marked grainlines and horizontal balance lines in order to see where you need to increase the bodice. A shoulder princess-seam jacket or a square armscye style might be a good remedy for this fitting problem as well. When you're ready to construct the garment, support the area from the shoulder to the bust with interfacing or underlining to prevent the fabric from collapsing and forming dimples.

[Q] I have a large chest and midsection but small shoulders and arms. When jackets and shirts fit in the middle, the shoulders look like I'm in episode of Dallas from the 1980s. How can I balance these proportions?

[A] This is a very common fitting issue for women. The standard suggestion is to buy a pattern that fits the shoulder line, and then adjust it through the bust and torso to fit the fuller areas. Take the high-bust measurement by placing the tape measure under the arms, across the back and above the bustline. Use this measurement as the bust measurement when choosing a pattern size.

Consider choosing a pattern with shoulder princess seamlines to achieve a closer fit. These styles allow you to shape the area between the bust and the shoulder with a seam (4). For a looser look that camouflages the dramatic change between the shoulder and bustline, use a pattern with a square armscye and side panel. This style accommodates your curves while still giving you a clean shoulder line (5). It's also possible to find patterns that accommodate different bust sizes, making the bodice adjustments more streamlined. Always make a fitting sample with clearly marked grainlines and horizontal balance lines. As you adjust the bustline and waist areas, keep the marked lines straight to achieve a smooth, balanced fit (6).

[Q] One of my shoulders slopes deeper than the other. How should I alter my garments to appear more upright?

[A] Fit the garment to the higher shoulder, and then cut and construct the garment using the high shoulder fit on both bodice sides. Place a small shoulder pad in the low shoulder to equalize the slope. If needed, stack shoulder pads to achieve the needed shape. If you're making an unlined garment, cover the shoulder pad to match the outer fabric, and then stitch it in along the shoulder seamline. Loosely tack the pad to the front and back armscye seam as well.


As you explore options to make your clothing fit your personal curves, consider utilizing these resources.

* Books: Research various methods from fitting experts. Sarah Veblen's Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting offers step-by-step instructions on determining the changes needed when fitting a test sample.

* Find a sewing coach: The Association of Sewing and Design Professionals offers an online listing of members at Most of these professionals work with you on an hourly basis to assist with fitting and pattern adjustments. It's much easier to master the perfect fit if you have someone to help you.

* Patterns: The following patterns are good choices for solving the fitting challenges mentioned in this article because they include fitting advice and options. The Fit for Art Patterns Tabula Rasa Jacket offers a square armscye and bust-size options. Janie's Jacket #1350 from Silhouette Patterns offers a shoulder princess line with bust-size options.
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Title Annotation:Fitting FAQs
Author:Cumbie, Rae
Publication:Sew News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2015
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