Common Pattern Adjustments: Shoulder Adjustment (Basic Style)

One of the most common pattern adjustments I have come across when testing garments has been the need for a narrow or broad shoulder adjustment. In fact, before starting my own pattern line, this is the adjustment I needed most often, and a major reason why I skipped making clothing with sleeves for the longest time. I just hated how I felt wearing sleeves that were too tight across my shoulders, limiting my range of mobility. Yet I never bothered to make this super simple adjustment to my patterns which was quite silly of me to do.

But how do you know whether you need a shoulder adjustment for the pattern you are working on right now? You may already know that most patterns are too wide/ too narrow for you, but short of making up a toile to check the fit, is there an easier way to determine what adjustments might be needed before cutting into any fabric?

Indeed, there is!

Because pattern companies are so different and all use different blocks, knowing how to take the flat measurements of your patterns before ever making a single cut into your fabric will help you determine what adjustments you might need for each. individual. pattern.

Below are a few supplies you might need when working on this alteration:

  • Measuring tape
  • Tracing paper
  • Washable marker or colorful tape
  • Clear tape
  • Pencil
  • Paper Scissors
  • Ruler

Before we get in to adjusting your pattern, let's first take a few basic measurements. To start, slip into a comfy tank, your undergarments, or even a towel wrapped around you would work! You just want to have as little material from your bust to your shoulders to get the most accurate measurement.

Next, place your hand on your shoulder and raise your arm up and down until  you feel where your arm and shoulder meet. It will feel like a little hinge and is typically not too far from where your back shoulder bone is.

Once you find your "hinge" take a piece of tape or a washable marker/ pen and mark it on your body.

Now, standing as straight as possible, take a measuring tape and line up the starting point right in between your collar bone. This is your Center Front line. Bring the other end of your measuring tape to your marked shoulder point. If you need to, check your tape measure in a mirror to make sure it is sitting parallel to the floor and then note the measurement you see.

For me, that measurement is 7.5" (19 cm). Write this measurement down someplace permanent! This measurement should not change unless you are expecting your bones to go through a growth spurt of some sort! You can now use this measurement to compare it to your current pattern piece (and all future pattern pieces that have a set in sleeve).

Take your current pattern front bodice piece and trace it. I always like to trace my patterns when making adjustments so that if I make a mistake, I still have the original pattern, unaltered, to refer back to.

Lay your traced pattern out in front of you and with your ruler, mark the seam allowances on your pattern.

Grab your measuring tape or ruler and line up the front end of it to your center front line. Just like you did when measuring yourself, you are going to take the other end of your measuring tape and bring it to the stitching line on the shoulder of your pattern piece (this is where you just marked your seam allowance!). Make sure  your measuring tape is perpendicular to your center front seam.

Compare this measurement to the measurement you took for yourself. We can use my pattern as an example. This pattern measures out to be 7.5" (19 cm). When compared to my own measurements (7.5" [19 cm]), there is a 0" (0 cm) difference, meaning I actually don't have to make any adjustments if I don't want to!

However, if the garment measurements had been smaller than my own, I would  have needed to make a broad shoulder adjustment. And if they had been larger than my measurements, I would have needed to make a narrow shoulder adjustment. Below, I will walk through the steps for each adjustment!

BROAD SHOULDER ADJUSTMENT

To make a broad shoulder adjustment you will need to start by drawing two lines on your shoulder piece. First, find the center point on your shoulder seam and mark it.

Then, connect your newly marked point to a point about 1/3 of the way down your armscye.

Your second line will connect to the first at a 90° angle and go through the shoulder point.

Now you will need to snip those lines and make little hinges so that you can easily spread your pattern piece to the proper place. Start by going through line 1 at the top of the shoulder and cutting to - not through - the stitching line at the armscye.

Still on line 1, snip the teeniest of bits from the armscye to - not through - the stitching line. This will allow the most mobility of your pattern piece.

Repeat the same steps for line 2 at the shoulder point.

Place a scrap piece of tracing paper under your pattern piece and tape the non-shoulder-point edge down so that it does not move.

Make a small mark from the seam allowance at your taped point out to where you need to adjust your pattern so that it matches your measurements. For example, if my measurements were 8" (20,3 cm) and the tops measurements were 7.5" (19 cm), then I would mark 1/2" (1,3 cm) from my cut edge. 

Now gently hinge your shoulder point out to meet your new mark. You want to make sure that the seam allowance on your shoulder seam is touching that mark and that your shoulder seam looks to be parallel on either side of the slashed line.

Your hinges will be overlapping at various points and it is a good thing! It means we are nearly there!

Once you have everything properly positioned, tape your shoulder pieces down.

True up your seams so that they are all nice and smooth before cutting off the excess paper around your pattern piece.

Et voila! You have successfully mastered the broad shoulder adjustment! To finish up, make these same exact adjustments to your back pattern piece and then give yourself a high five cuz you freaking did it!

NARROW SHOULDER ADJUSTMENT

To make a narrow shoulder adjustment you will need to start by drawing two lines on your shoulder piece. First, find the center point on your shoulder seam and mark it.

Then, connect your newly marked point to a point about 1/3 of the way down your armscye.

Your second line will connect to the first at a 90° angle and go through the shoulder point.

Now you will need to snip those lines and make little hinges so that you can easily spread your pattern piece to the proper place. Start by going through line 1 at the top of the shoulder and cutting to - not through - the stitching line at the armscye.

Still on line 1, snip the teeniest of bits from the armscye to - not through - the stitching line. This will allow the most mobility of your pattern piece.

Repeat the same steps for line 2 at the shoulder point.

Make a small mark from the seam allowance at your taped point in to where you need to adjust your pattern so that it matches your measurements. For example, if my measurements were 7" (17,8 cm) and the tops measurements were 7.5" (19 cm), then I would mark 1/2" (1,3 cm) from my cut edge. 

Now, gently hinge your shoulder point in to meet your new mark. You want to make sure that the seam allowance on both sides of your shoulder seam are touching one another

Your hinges will be opening at various points and it is a good thing! It means we are nearly there! Just be sure to fill in those points with some paper.

Once you have everything properly positioned, tape your shoulder pieces down.

Fill in any gaps in your paper with another scrap piece of paper. True up your seams so that they are all nice and smooth before cutting off any excess paper around your pattern piece.

Et voila! You have successfully mastered the narrow shoulder adjustment! To finish up, make these same exact adjustments to your back pattern piece and then give yourself a high five cuz you freaking did it!

SLEEVE ADJUSTMENT

Depending on how much you have altered your pattern piece, you may want to also think about adjusting any accompanying sleeves pieces that have come with it. To adjust your sleeve pattern piece, start by measuring (along the stitching lines) your front and back armscye as well as your sleeve cap.

Most patterns draft anywhere between +1/2" - 1 1/2" (1,5 cm - 4 cm) of ease into their sleeve caps, so you will want to make sure that your sleeve cap measurement is within those parameters as compared to your armscye measurement. If it is not, then you can adjust your sleeve cap by raising it (narrow shoulder) or lowering it (broad shoulder) until it falls within that amount of ease.

And when in doubt, make a toile just in case!

 

I hope this tutorial has helped to make the fitting process a bit easier when it comes to your shoulders. I can't believe I spent so long myself not having done this super simple alteration to my garments. Oh the shirts I could have worn!

4 comments

Brittani Bumb

Yay, Maura! Oh that is so exciting to hear! I do hope this tutorial helps to correct that last little bit of trouble you are having with your shoulder seams. Shoulders have been my Achilles heel, but learning how to do a shoulder adjustment has really helped fix a lot of issues I always seemed to have.

Maura

Fabulous description! excellent tutorial! I’m going to be able to do this to my patterns and correct the annoying shoulder-seam-is-sticking-out-too-far problem I have with almost every pattern! I don’t have small shoulders, but even when I size down and make an FBA, often the shoulders are not flattering. I have filled in the space with little shoulder rolls but this is going to be MUCH better I think!! Looking forward to trying it on a muslin.

Brittani Bumb

Hi Molly!
I am thrilled to know that this tutorial was helpful! That’s so exciting :)
As for adjusting your patterns for your shoulders, I am actually going to send you an email! I am not 100% sure about the adjustments that are necessary for prominent trap muscles, but I bet we can figure out a good alteration together to make the fitting process a bit easier!

Molly McLean

Thank you so much for this tutorial – I have exactly the same problem with wide shoulders!

Do you have any advice regarding shaping bodice patterns for triangular shoulders? I have prominent trap muscles and though I’ve had a little success in altering patterns from toile, I wish I knew a better way.

Thank you again for the clear instructions, can’t wait to try this!

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