Shoulders.

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Shoulders: the topic has come up in almost all of my posts recently – coats, jackets, sweatshirts, et al. As I learn more about fit, here’s the question I keep running into: why is it so difficult to find information about shoulder fit?

I used to think I had little to no fit issues, and it’s true that my bust/waist/hip measurements usually fall somewhere within one size of each other. Ignoring shoulders, my measurements would indicate a mild pear shape. My experience with RTW taught me to ignore the tight armholes and straining upper back, and to focus more on a slimming fit through the waist more than anything else.

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Now that I’m aware of more than a fitted waist, I’m learning that fit through the shoulders and upper back changes everything. A recent sleepless night led to some late-night perusal of Susan Khalje’s site, during which I encountered a video on choosing size based on shoulder measurements (I can’t link to the video directly, but it’s called Choosing the Right Size and it’s on her homepage). Revelatory, and simple enough – I was completely on board watching the video, until I wondered how she seemed to just know what the standard Vogue shoulder sizes were. Rare, it seems, are the pattern companies that include this information! Measuring once you buy a pattern is an option, but so much depends on the intended style of the garment.

Marfy and Style Arc – both of whom offer single-sized patterns – are two notable exceptions, and I was rather shocked to find that that my shoulders were many Marfy and Style Arc sizes bigger than my bust and hips. I know that Susan Khalje recommends picking patterns based on shoulder size, but with such a dramatic difference, is it worth it? Would picking something closer to my hips and making adjustments be better? To complicate matters further, I’m somehow much broader in the back than in the front, to the point where I’m always surprised to see myself in photos from behind. I’m not the biggest fan of likening body types to sports, but I surely look like the high school swimmer I was!

I used to feel terrible when I didn’t fit easily into RTW. As I get older and sew my own clothing, I’ve been divesting myself of those sad, sweaty feelings and have a hard-won love and appreciation for my physiognomy. Now it’s just up to me to figure out the best techniques for my (quite) broad shoulders. They deserve it. And, someday I’d love to wear a long-sleeved button-up shirt without armpit wedgies.

Readers, are any of you gifted with broad shoulders and backs? Or perhaps you have to make adjustments for narrow shoulders and backs? Do you have any fitting resources to share, or tricks for fitting commercial patterns?

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116 thoughts on “Shoulders.

  1. Oh the timing! I have been struggling to make a button up that is very shaped and the sleeve/shoulder thing has been such an ordeal that I think I will just try working with another pattern that works for me. My shoulders are very square, my collar bone protrudes out of the shoulder line and my shoulder joint goes forward and is pretty prominent. But I have discovered an adjustment for the shoulder joint protruding forward and it seems to work. I would describe myself as a x body shape. I don’t think i have particularly wide nor narrow shoulders though they are about even with my hips. I have a very small rib cage so my front chest is pretty narrow. I don’t know what would happen if I just went by my shoulder measurements. I looked at the marfy sizing chart and I would wear a 44 according to my back shoulder measurement. My bust measurement though is smaller than their smallest size, waist puts me in a smaller size and so does my hip measurements. I wonder what would happen???

    1. Interesting! The protruding bones thing isn’t something I’ve had to deal with but it does seem like it would require consideration! I wonder what would happen, too. Just for laughs, my Marfy shoulder measurement is 6 sizes bigger than my bust! I also wonder would what happen… maybe somewhere in the middle with adjustments for bust, back and shoulders would be best?

  2. Oh about wearing button ups, I have one really close fitting one that is RTW. It is made of a stretch woven and it fits like a dream. The armholes are very close fitting and high up. I think the stretch fabric helps a lot though. I would love to have a pattern that is nicely shaped that gives my arms good range of motion.

  3. Morgan, I too have a shoulder shape different from those for which patterns are designed. And it can make such a big difference in fit. When I have to make major shoulder adjustments, I groan, as this affects so much more than the shoulder. Most of the time I can just redraw the shoulder line a little lower at the shoulder and add the extra bit of sleeve into the armscye with a little more easing checking to make sure I haven’t removed too much room in the armscye. I also need to move my shoulder seam forward most of the time, a little lower in fron, a little higher in back. Luckily not by much, so again the armscye doesn’t need to be reworked. When there is more to consider I slash the pattern vertically through the shoulder and horizontally under the armscye and move the complete armsceye into position front and back, then true the shoulder seams and side seams, checking, of course, for how this might affect the bustline and collar. For a broad back. I can add width and a shoulder dart to keep the shoulder where it needs to be without increasing the length of the shoulder line.I have a few printed sources for shoulder and broad back adjustments though no sources on-line.

    1. Thanks for sharing your methods, Marnie! I’ve been trying to get familiar with a few methods and I have tried moving the entire arm scye around for a blouse with sleeves. I think it’s yielded decent results, although it’s just a muslin at this point. Fitting shoulders seems like enough of a blind spot in online sewing resources that I’m considering looking for a good book on fit.

  4. I have the opposite problem – my shoulders are narrow and my hips are large. I’m basically a triangle! Nothing in RTW fits me. It’s the main reason I started sewing my own clothes.

    Yep – I can’t choose patterns to fit my shoulders – I wouldn’t be able to fit in the rest of me. All I can do is narrow the shoulders the best I can. Thanks for bringing up this interesting topic.
    🙂 Chris

  5. This is so interesting. I have the opposite problem, narrow shoulders/ upper back, and always need to adjust for it. I tend to fit size charts quite easily as I’m pretty hourglass shaped but tend to pay more attention to hip measurement first as I find it easier to adjust everything else. I do find myself making the same adjustments on most patterns. I almost always narrow the back and add length to the bodice. This is one of the reasons I’m working on developing my bodice block so I can have less fit issues. That Susan Khalje video makes sense but your right in that that measurement isn’t easy to find.

    1. Reading these comments is really making me want to refocus my attention on my sloper as well! Will you design a lot of your own patterns after you’ve completed it?

  6. Shoulders are tricky because I always have to shave off almost an inch from most patterns’ shoulders. But then the armsceye has to be redrawn and the sleeve has to be adjusted. I’m excited to start making my own patterns again. I have my drafting books and Craftsy classes waiting to be taken. Because patterns never fit me right.

    1. I made up a bodice sloper last summer and it really is a nice resource. I really need to make a sleeve and skirt sloper so I can make more garments. In my very beginner shoulder fitting attempts, I have found adjusting the arm scye and sleeve intimidating.

  7. I used to be a swimmer and have broad shoulders/back. The problem I always encounter is that my bust measure (standard) is 35″ but I am pretty flat chested and my broadness happens above this. I’ve discovered, through experience, that a really easy and effective modification for me is to do what I call a broad back adjustment. I slash along the CB to create a wedge of about 5/8″ and this seams to sort out most of the big four patterns right off the bat for me. Sometimes I also lengthen the shoulder seam by about 1cm. These adjustments seem to help a lot.

  8. I have almost an extra 5″ of shoulder/back vs. my front half, and I don’t have a small bust. The first thing that was mentioned when my mom and I went to get help tailoring my wedding dress to me (Mom made it!) was, “Were you a swimmer?”. Apparently those of us with this issue are either drawn to swimming or swimming creates it. Regardless, it’s an indelible mark!
    The reason I’m in LOVE with McCalls 6696 shirt dress is the HUGE amount of room in the back. Most people take out 4-6″, but I’m fine as is and I can move my arms!!
    I actually used to panic when put into button down shirts because they felt like I was incapable of moving, lest I hulk out 😦
    In general, I ignore my waist measurement and go by high bust or hips and do an FBA and bring in the waist. That’s how I’ve been getting around my shoulders 🙂
    Or, you can do what we did for my wedding dress. Slash and SPREAD.

    1. My sister has this shoulder problem (runs in the Dutch side of my family) and also calls it hulking out – I’ve never heard anyone else call it that till now, haha! I have her shoulder, cross back, and cross front measurements so whenever I make her anything I have to adjust the pattern for those shoulders!

      1. Oh yeah, hulking out is a real thing!! My shoulder muscles also bunch up towards my ears, adding to my hulk-effect! Tight fitting shoulders are very annoying in that situation.
        Hey, the only button down shirt I have that fits is Grainline! Are you designing for hulkers?!?

      2. Jen, have you considered releasing those patterns as alternatives? I know it’s a crazy amount of work to put a pattern into production but I’ve always dreamed of a broad-shouldered pattern company. Burda’s tall sizes might come close, although I’ve only used one of those patterns.

    2. Now there’s a strategy – look for patterns that other people think have too much ease in the back! Yes, I’m not sure which came first – my broad shoulders/back or the swimming. My (proportionately) short legs were always short, though! That much I know.

      I’m not sure I understand the high bust choice option – I’m assuming you mean using your high bust measurement as a pattern’s bust measurement. Wouldn’t that mean ending up with a smaller size and smaller shoulders?

      1. I use the high bust measurement to pick a pattern size. If I go with the full bust measurement the garment would be way too big ALL OVER! This is what is most often taught. I can make a FBA and basically maintain the other measurements in the pattern. Even with a weight gain all over, I often buy the same size I wore 20 pounds ago because the shoulders fit. I make adjustments elsewhere.

      2. The high bust works for knits. Add a FBA, making sure you’re taking the measurement at the widest part of your chest, which depending on your shoulder blades may not line up parallel with your apex.
        Excess pooling for others or slash/spread works for woven.
        Example: For Dandelion, I fit to my bust/broad back, then take it back in sloping towards the neckline and at my sway back. I add the triangle removed from the sway back to the bottom of the pattern. The neckline fix depends more on the fabric. Anywhere from 2″ per side to 4″ per side. Yes, my bust/back yields an extra 4″ (or more) inches at my skinny neck leading to my pin-head.
        My legs aren’t as short, but the length from my hips-waist-armpit is missing ~10″ from “normal”… Oh well! That’s why we sew!

  9. I have a very similar problem to what you’re talking about – wide back and shoulders and narrower front half. Let me take you down a seemingly never ending rabbit hole…… I have to tell you from personal experience that I take issue with the method that Susan Khalje uses to pick a size because of the broad back and shoulders thing (ps, this is not to say that I have anything on Susan because she is a master – but I seem to recall that many who have taken her workshops say that this method is really just used as a starting point). I’ve picked my size according to this before and if I were to do it that way, I would fall in a size 10 sewing pattern (Big 4) and I fit the size 14 pretty on par in my shoulder area because of my broad back. This is the same method that Nancy Zieman uses too, by the way to find your true sewing pattern size. The reason being is that the shoulder/upper bust/neck and arm area is the hardest area on the body to fit. If this part of the pattern is off, then it’s a bear to fix.

    I think this method works better for gals who have an ample bustline though. It utilizes the same idea of the “upper bust” measurement that the Palmer/Pletsch people have become known for. If a gal who has a large bustline chooses her size based on her upper bust, the shoulder/upper bust/neck and arm fit a whole bunch better than if they were to choose their size based on their full bust measurement.

    I personally have found that those of us who sport a broad back and small bust get a better pattern size if we choose our pattern based on the full bust measurement. It’s ends up giving us enough room in the back and I find that the shoulder/upper bust/neck and arm work a lot better too. These are my thoughts based on fitting several shapes including my own. Just thoughts.

    Just referencing your button-up in the photos, I would say that you should take a look at this really awesome Threads article on shoulder slope:

    http://www.taunton.com/threads/pages/th_127_072.asp

    If you’re a Threads insider you can view the full article, but if not, send me an email and I’ll send you the article. It’s AWESOME and it would fix the diagonal lines you’re getting that originate from the neckline and go into the armhole, I think. It’s something I usually check because it can affect the way the rest of the garment hangs.

    Hopefully any of this helps you! I know I have struggled for years with the broad back thing – it really doesn’t ever seem to be addressed! And it can be most frustrating! Ugh!

    1. Sunni, your blog was one of the very first places I learned about broad back adjustments. (Yep, it took me a few years to really want to dig into fitting shoulders and the back, but I’m getting there!) I’m surprised you get a smaller size when you pick a pattern by your shoulder measurement, though – based on mine, I would probably be buying 4 sizes up from my bust!

      The button-up in the photo was an attempted square shoulder adjustment that perhaps went a little too far. I may also need a forward shoulder adjustment, too? Either way, I would love love love to read that article, and I’m not a subscriber! crabandbee (at) gmail (dot) com.

  10. I just saw the same advice on choosing a patten size in an old Threads article by Nancy Zieman. It’s called “Pattern Alteration Made Easy” and it’s in the 1994 book Fitting Your Figure. It gives the whole chart of front width to pattern size, where 14 inches is a 14, and each half inch takes you up or down a size.

  11. Yes! Yes! I also have broad shoulders/back and have no clue how to address it. Also I always feel that my bust measurement gets screwed up because of my broad back. I am small busted so the number is thrown off.

    I have never owned a button-up that I had full range of motion in. I an excited to read more of your shoulder-fitting journey.

    Liza Jane from Liza Jane Sews has a few posts that address her shoulders/back and the adjustments she makes.

  12. YES. Like you, I’m broad shouldered. Unlike you, I’m several sizes smaller from my underbust south. I had the same discussion with Susan in the class of hers I attended – the reasoning being that your shoulders don’t change, whilst your bust/waist/hip/whatever measurements might fluctuate. Also, you fit from top to bottom (hello, gravity) so picking your size based on shoulders makes the most sense, as it can be bloody difficult to fit, whilst there is information aplenty around for fitting most everything else.
    I find that the size 14 Vogue fits my shoulders beautifully, but I do buy my Marfy size based on the shoulder measurement. For other nested patterns, I usually compare to a favourite Vogue/Marfy that I’ve made before and love the fit of, and pick my size based on what shoulder measurement matches best.
    As Sunni says though, this is really just a starting point, getting the first puzzle piece in place so you can adjust down as you go to get the rest where it needs to be.

    1. Your comment (and thinking about shoulder fit in general!) has emphasized my suspicion that working with new patterns is much tougher than altering ones that you’ve already invested time in! But then, I’m also wondering if you find that working with couture techniques makes approaching a new pattern more accessible since you fit so much along the way?

  13. Ok, I won it in a giveaway and was pretty skeptical. But I tried it and it worked! Joi Mahon’s Create the Perfect Fit gives step by step instructions and photo illustrations on where to measure the patterns to fit, muslining and how to make those changes more clearly than anything I’ve read ever.
    She divides the body into separate sections including front and back which I’ve never seen done before. I tried it on a simple top pattern it it was incredible! My back shoulders are broader than commercial patterns and my front shoulders are actually concave so I have to take fabric out of the front and add in the back. I would have never known how to do this or even figure that much out without her book.
    I know I sound like a salesman but it really changed my outlook on sewing patterns and clarified a TON for me!

    1. I too was sceptic of Joi’s book but it offered a new to me, take on the narrow chest adjustment. My feelings on fit are to fit the easy parts and to buy your pattern size according to that. I buy based On High bust which takes me to a 6/8 but i still need to do a NCA adj. crazy what we go thru.

  14. So excited to see what you dig up on this. I have the same fit issue and was also a high school swimmer! The pattern recommendations here in the comments are great too. Thanks!

  15. My shoulders are my biggest fitting issue and I’ve been on a mission to figure out how to fit them. They are square and broad and I also usually need a forward shoulder adjustment. I use a lot of Burda patterns and generally trace a size larger in the back from about halfway up the armscye upwards. Then I do my forward shoulder adjustment. My results doing this have been ok but never perfect, so I decided to try to find one pattern per category that fits my shoulder. The idea is that if I have one pattern that fits, then I can use it as a block to adapt other patterns. So, I’ve had the most luck so far with Mccall patterns. A shirtdress I made fit perfectly right out of the enveloppe. Same thing with a close-fitting knit dress. I have used that shoulder on other knit patterns with set-in sleeves successfully. I would also like to find a jacket shoulder that fits. I did try a Palmer Pletch for McCalls jacket that was a disaster, so I guess I’d better stick to their regular line.

    1. Finding a pattern per category sounds like an excellent approach. I have tried something close to that with my heavily altered pants pattern and I think the results are better than starting with a fresh pattern! What you said about Palmer/Plesch vs. McCall’s regular line is interesting – are all of the regular line based on the same set of measurements?

      1. I really have no idea. It’s all really touchy feely for me, and I bet they probably don’t, you know. Maybe I was just lucky, but these are the patterns that worked for me: Mccall 6600 for the shirtdress (reviewed here: http://blogmixedemotions.blogspot.fr/2014/09/mccall-6600-shirtdress-in-radiant-orchid.html) and 5975, for the knit dress. I sewed that one pre-blogging, and it was also a perfect match for my shoulders. Come to think of it, the shoulders on Mccall 6559, a wrap cardigan, were also perfect for me.

  16. Oh how I can relate. When I first made a Grainline Archer (based on my bust/waist sizes) I was amazed at how perfectly the shoulders were. Until I realised that the shoulder was supposed to drop over the shoulders. Oh dear. I realised quite quickly that I have not other choice than to make things based on my shoulder size, or clothes won’t fit me AT ALL. Especially woven tops. My other measurements vary so much as well thanks to a tiny bust and a sizeable rear, which means fitting woven tops always kind of fill me with dread. I think I need a more methodical approach like you. If you would want to share any tips on shoulder fitting, it would be veeery welcome 😉

    1. Haha, I’m not sure I would call my approach methodical! I’ve been sewing for almost 6 years at this point and just realized in the last year or so that I avoid shirts with sleeves because they never turn out quite right. I think I’ve said this before, but our figures sound really similar! We can share adjustments 🙂

  17. My go-to is the book Fit for Real People. I has been my fitting bible ever since I started looking into proper cloth fitting. I never used to pay attention to my shoulders, focusing more on fitting my bust and waist (often time overfitting everything). Until I read the book and realized I could fix some of the problems I thoughts where bust fit issues by fixing the shoulders first. I now sistematically do a forward shoulder adjustement on fitted garments, as well as a sloping shoulder adjustment on my right shoulder, and on Burda magazine patterns, I generally take in about 4cm the center back at the neck, tapering to nothing at the waist.
    As far as choosing a size, I’ve never heard about using the shoulder size. To me it seems like adjusting the shoulder fit is easier than adjusting everything else. But I know I have read about using the upper bust measurement as opposed to the bust measruement, which kinda made sense when I read about it. Anyways, as I mentionned, Fit for real peoplehas tons of fitting advice and examples for the back and shoulders, I’d say take a look at a copy and see if that is helpful to you!

    1. Just found a used copy – I’m excited to dig into it! It’s a book that I keep hearing referenced over and over again. After reading some of the comments about using the upper bust measurement to choose a pattern size, it sounds like it may benefit gals who are getting an inflated size everywhere other than their bust. My high and full bust are the same, which surprised me!

  18. I forgot to mention: I’ve also been adding shoulder darts to most fitted garments. it helps in removing gaping in the armhole with a rounded back. it’s a pretty simple adjustment and makes a world of difference.
    Good luck in your shoulder-fitting explorations!

  19. Interesting topic; I do not really have any useful insights to add as I am relatively new to fitting/altering patterns. I do however have broad shoulders as compared to the rest of me, so curious to see what you will find out! I usually choose a size based on shoulder width. I am from the Netherlands, so use lots of Burda patterns, they seem to fit broad-shouldered people nicely. Then again I like my clothes loose-fitting, so do not really alter patterns much even if they aren’t a perfect fit from the shoulders down.

  20. I have wide shoulders too. Before I sewed I thought I had a broad back as I assumed these went hand in hand but since starting to sew, apparently not. I generally do about 1″ broad shoulder adjustment based on the tutorial on the colette anise sewalong (sometimes I am lazy and just extend the shoulder line but this can give sleeve problems as it changes the shape of the armhole). I also often do a square shoulder adjustment which gets rid of bust to shoulder drag lines that I often get.

    You are not alone! But then that’s why we sew isn’t it?

    1. I’m a little uncertain of the difference between a broad back and broad shoulders! I think I may have both (as well as square shoulders!), although my back shoulders are probably larger than my front shoulders.

      I am truly surprised by how many of us there are 🙂

      1. From a tech POV, the “across back” is measured from armhole to armhole at about 5″ down from highest point of shoulder (think of a fitted shirt back yoke seam). I suppose if one has a rounded back vs a flat back that might not be reflected in the x-shoulder measurement.

        My own shoulder fit issues are related to having narrow sloped shoulders. I do usually chose a pattern size based on my high bust measurement because I’m super busty and I have a flat back. If I went with my full bust the shoulders and back would be a huge saggy mess.

      2. So nice to have your expertise, Grace! Your comment is making me wonder if I don’t have a broad back as much as broad shoulders. They narrow down to my waist quite precipitously.

        Sounds like you and I are complete opposites when it comes to fitting the torso!

  21. What a timely and interesting post for me about something I have never thought about until last night! I have been attending a coat making workshop and last night learned how to place, fit and sew shoulder pads into a lined coat. It was only when I put it on I realised that my shoulders were so much wider and that the shoulder pads had only accentuated that as my shoulders were now protruding from underneath. I have read all of the comments with interest and it’s something I’ll have to consider in future – who knew we had a shoulder size?!

  22. Shoulder fitting is my nemesis…I’d rather fit pants a thousand times over. I am a pear shape with square shoulders. I also have a broader back than front. So I share your fitting pain!!

    Whilst my shoulders are square, the actual measurement of them is a little tricky, and I wonder if perhaps you are having the same problem if your shoulder size is way above your bust size. I recently enrolled in the Craftsy course by Suzy Furrer for drafting a bodice sloper. When she demonstrates measuring the shoulder, she measures to a different place than I would have expected. In the past, I have measured to the end of my shoulder, where it starts to turn over. She stopped much short of that, at the end of the collar bone.The shoulder of my final sloper ended up several cm shorter than where I was first measuring.

    When it comes to square shoulders, I have had a much better result with Burda patterns than any other. They also include the shoulder measurement in their size chart in the Burdastyle magazine.

    1. Wow, we do share fitting pain!

      I agree, there are a lot of different ways to take shoulder measurements. I noticed that when I was working on my bodice sloper, too, and was comparing different methods. Marfy’s shoulder measurement is from the back. I had my husband measure for me and it appears it is indeed 6 sizes larger than my bust! The difference between sizes in shoulders is less dramatic compared to the 2″ increments in the bust/waist/hip measurements, though.

      I had a good experience with Burda, too!

  23. I’m totally in the broad shoulders club. Recently I have been sewing knit tops because I find it so hard to work out what adjustments I need to make for wovens and knits are wonderfully forgiving. I found it so frustrating to make a couple of muslins for a top and not really get any closer to the right fit. Shoulders aren’t really something you can measure yourself either!! Really interesting to read the comments and I will have to come back to this post when I decide to tackle the shoulder fit issue once again. Good luck with perfecting fit – please do post again if you have a revelation!

    1. There are more of us than I would have thought! It’s heartening. It’s funny because a Sewaholic Renfrew was one of the first projects I even attempted to change the shoulders on. I was using a stable, thick knit and even then I could tell that the armpits were too tight and I was pretty sure the shoulder seam was creeping towards my neck. I will post any revelations, for sure, but I’m guessing this is a family of fit issues that I’ll be working on for quite awhile…!

  24. No pearls of wisdom for you I’m afraid. I’m more a narrowed shoulder kind of girl. My personal fit demons still revolve around the lady garden, so the less said about that the better. No doubt you will solve your dilemma – I’m highly impressed by all the advice offered thus far!

    1. Hahaha, oh dear! Maybe you will single-handedly remove the stigma of sorting out lady garden fit? I’ve always wondered about using one of those moldable rulers to get the right curve – I can’t remember, have you ever tried one of those?

      1. No but I’ve tried using foil. I’m afraid my issue seems to be a really subtle shaping one. I think I’ve got a forward pelvis…. I’m really hoping that when I get around to making some style arc pleated pants the skies will open up, a shaft of light will come out, Angels will sing and I can use their c-curve forever….

  25. Be happy you don’t have a broad back but narrow shoulders and a large bust but hourglass shape. I often have to add width to the back but take up to 1″ off the shoulders, do a FBA, do a range of motion adjustment to the sleeves, and then it’s wearable but not perfect. I think I need to actually make a shoulder dart in the back bodice of everything and take the same amount out of the front, that was my latest revelation. I always choose my pattern now based on my high bust and that works best for me but I think that’s a good choice for large busted ladies who are not large everywhere else.

    1. That sounds terribly complex! And thanks for pointing out that choosing based on high bust may be better for the larger-busted. After reading Caroline’s comments, I took my high bust measurement and it was exactly the same as my full bust, so I’d be back to square one!

  26. I have the opposite shoulder issues to you! I had the realisation that my shoulder size *could* be my starting size last year when I read something about basic sewing pattern sizes coming from your bone structure, that you then make fit adjustments to for all the curves. Although maybe I’m not remembering the details properly, suffice to say it dawned on me that seeing as I used to be a straight size 10 in vogue patterns when I was a gangly teenager, and seeing as my shoulders haven’t grown since then, even though my size through the bust and waist is now a few numbers higher, my shoulder size should still be a 10. When I can be bothered I now sew vogues with a size 10 in the shoulders, a size 12 bust and size 14 waist. It seems to work and it’s a lot easier than trying to adjust a size 10 pattern to fit :). Good luck in sorting out your shoulder fit issues!

    1. Funny how having the opposite issue feels like having the same issue! I may give your method a try – glad to hear that grading between sizes is a viable approach for you!

  27. I’m in a similar situation. My bust waist and hip measurements are standard, but it took me a good three years of sewing to fully realize that I have a broad upper back (and also a flat bum, but that’s another story). I think I’ve finally reached the point where I won’t put up with wearing things that pull across the back or restrict my arm movement, whether I’ve sewn them or bought them, so I’ve finally started making adjustments for it. I recently made a tank and a blazer that both fit my back properly and it’s WELL worth it!

    The funny thing about being wider in the back than the front is that you might need to add a shoulder dart, or make your back shoulder seams a bit longer and ease them into the front seams, which feels a bit weird. So far I’ve just been adding a bit at the center back though and got away with it, but I only needed an extra 1/4-3/8″ room.

    As for choosing patterns based on the shoulder measurement, it makes a lot of sense for anything with set in sleeves. If you were going to buy a RTW jacket and then get it tailored to fit, you would buy one that fits the shoulders and upper arms because it’s the most difficult bit to change later. Plus everything hangs down from there, so any adjustments at the top have a knock-on effect further down and you could end up making more work for yourself if you don’t fit that part first.

    Good luck!

    1. Funny you mention easing the back shoulder seams into the front – I just saw this on a shirt pattern I’ve been working with! And my sloper has a back shoulder dart. Definitely something to consider keeping in the ol’ fit arsenal!

  28. For me was always puzzling the idea of choosing a size based on your bust circ. The distribution of the masses around the bust can vary enormously. Some of the italian patternmaking tradition teaches you to create/choose a size based on frame and the measurement that is considered to give the frame is the upper chest circ. – the “boniest” part of our thoracic cage. The soulders are thought to be in a constant proportion with this measurement. In fact half of that measuremet in italian garment sizing is (was) often considered the size of the garment. It is easier to do a bust adjustment than to reconstruct the entire upper part and a shoulder slope adjustment is not difficult. The difficult part is getting the correct measurements off the pattern especially when you have no declared garmet ease.

    1. Ah, ok – I think I ran into that when my husband and I were shopping for his wedding suit! American sizing just didn’t work for him. I wonder if this method would work for me as my shoulders are so much larger than the rest of my frame, though?

      1. I think you have amazing shoulders … I envy you for them so much! I think when you are a swimmer (I’m looking for example at my fiancee – he is a swimmer/ diver) not only your shouders get to be overdeveloped but also your breathing system i.e. you thoracic cage. The problem that I see with choosing a size based on the shoulder width measurement is that there are so many methods and points of taking it… you are absolutely right though – the shoulders should be fitted first.

      2. Excellent point – I did extensively practice holding my breath for the entire length of a pool! The less you have to breathe, the faster you can go. 🙂

  29. YES! I’m totally on the broad shoulder/broad upper back spectrum. And it’s only getting more exaggerated as I’ve been working out. I haven’t looked at the Marfy patterns, but I know on Style Arc my shoulder size is a good 3-4 sizes bigger than the rest of my measurements, and like you, my bust/waist/hip is usually within a reasonably close range. I understand the premise of choosing size based on shoulder width, but I feel like in practice, if you have a wider shoulder, this doesn’t really work because you end up having to take SO much in on the rest of the garment (especially on Big 4 patterns that tend to go heavy on the ease) that I think the balance of the design gets thrown off. That’s just my opinion. Also, I think it is important to take the visual as a whole into account. Sometimes when I’ve made things that are broader through the shoulder – so the armhole starts at my actual shoulder tip – I think this actually creates the optical illusion that my shoulders are even BROADER than they are. I like things to fit, obviously I’m a big fan of, you know, being able to move, but I also like my clothing to flatter. So I actually find myself making narrow shoulder adjustments on occasion to get the shoulder seam to sit in a little bit past my shoulder tip. My husband also has the broad shoulder/back problem (lord help our little linebacker children should we ever decide to procreate…) so I find myself futzing with this area quite a bit. Anyway, I don’t really have any great resources or tips or anything… just thought I’d commiserate!

    1. Yes, that’s what I would be worried about with choosing from shoulder size too! With shoulders this broad, is it better to start somewhere between my shoulders and the rest of me? I will say that I’ve found the ease in Big 4 patters to extend to the shoulders; going up one size in that area seems sufficient which is why I was so shocked to hear how much larger my shoulders were in Marfy/Style Arc.

      Little linebacker children!! At least you’ll know how to fit their shoulders by then! 😉

  30. I do feel you. I don’t think my shoulders are as broad as yours (six sizes!) but they are broader than the norm, and fitting them so as to get range of motion in my arms has been a process. I can’t even articulate what it is I’ve done. I guess it’s mostly slash and spread. I try to make sure that the shoulder point is where it should be to hit at my shoulder and then move the armscye out to meet it.

    I’m very skeptical about those “use this measurement to find the best pattern size to start with” things. My high bust is not a good indicator of my shoulder back at all, b/c my high bust is fairly normal and not at all in line with the broad shoulders. And it seems to me that whether I start with shoulders (and then adjust back length, bust, waist, and hips) or bust (and then adjust shoulders, back length, waist and hips), I’ve still got a pile of work to do to get a pattern that fits properly. And don’t get me started on FBAs. After a certain point an FBA just turns everything into a princess seam. May as well just start with a princess seamed pattern and go from there.

    I wish you much luck with your shoulder fitting challenges!

    1. So many of my fitting adventures start with “I can’t even articulate what it is I’ve done”! I feel grateful that I don’t have to do FBAs, although the prospect of making huge SBAs (oxymoron? ;)) because I’ve chosen my shoulder size on everything isn’t appetizing either.

  31. Morgan, thanks for this post highlighting the often-overlooked shoulder plague. 🙂 The discussion in the comments has been really helpful. I have a very similar body type as you – broad shoulders and upper back, with a relatively small bust. My high bust measurement is the same as my full bust measurement.

    I don’t have any brilliant insights or suggestions to add to the discussion, but I definitely feel your pain in struggling to alter patterns to fit broad shoulders. I’m convinced that the only real way to get around this is to draft my own button-down shirt from my sloper (which still needs sleeves). Drafting my bodice sloper was a revelation in that (a) my shoulder seam is several inches longer than most patterns, and (b) the back armholes extend much further out horizontally. The back armholes are almost vertical lines instead of the typical inward curves, if that makes any sense. Just goes to show how fundamentally different the draft needs to be to accommodate a broad upper back.

    Good luck and don’t give up! We should start a broad shoulder sewing posse. 🙂

    1. I’m in the same sloper boat! I need a skirt and sleeves to make the blouse styles I like work, and right now I’ve just got the bodice. And oh my gosh, it appears my high bust measurement is also the same as my full bust! I never knew.

      Agree on the posse – sounds like Meris from Fabric Alchemist is ready to join up, too.

  32. Armpit wedgies… *snort* The idea of choosing size based on shoulder measurement is very interesting. I often find, with woven garments, I have a tighter fit though the back of the shoulders when I choose patterns based on my waist/bust measurements. I sometimes allow for that by adding a pinch to the side seams of the back bodice piece only. It’s probably not the correct thing to do, but it helps me feel less restricted and enables me to continue slouching… I have terrible posture; I attributed the fit to that. Now, I’m curious to have someone take my should width measurement and see how much larger it might be than the patterns I’ve been using.

  33. I have broad shoulders but I finally learned (thanks to an awesome day spent with Beth of Sunny Gal Studio) to compensate by making changes only to the armsyce of my sleeve. I have to add a bit of height and more fabric in the front armscye of almost every sleeve pattern. I suggest spending a day with someone who is pretty good at fit to help drape a fitting shoulder and sleeve onto you since it’s really, really, hard to make sleeve adjustments on your own body. I’d be happy to help!

    1. What a great idea, finding an expert! Sometimes I think I need to figure these things in books or on the internet exclusively, and it’s not true at all!

  34. It is always so wonderful to find out your not alone. I can’t wait to come back to this comment thread and read everyone’s suggestions. My shoulders – broadness and the way they angle – have caused problems with many garments. (I had assumed this was a half Chinese/half euroamerican quirk – I get my small bust from my mom and my shoulders from those Saxon ancestors on my dad’s side). Adjusting the bust to be smaller always makes the armholes and shoulders tighter.
    Thank you, Morgan, for calling attention to the lack of shoulder alterations. I look forward to this “broad shoulder sewing posse” that Carolyn speaks of.

    1. Yes, I hope a posse is forming right before our very eyes! Any thoughts on what forum we could use to support each other? Even just reading more blog posts from people working on shoulder fit would be welcome.

      (Funnily enough, my shoulders come from my asian side and the small bust is from my caucasian side!)

      1. Would a Facebook Group or Google+ Community work for people? We could share blog posts and tutorials related to shoulder fitting. Both of these formats are a bit more stable than a Twitter or Instagram Hashtag.

      2. I’d totally be in on this! I can’t commit to posting anything on a regular basis, but it would be awesome to have a place to share ideas.

  35. I’m with you, sister! Broad backs unite! I did not have this “problem” in my younger days. I know this because I still have garments from 15 years ago that used to fit me well, or even a bit large, that are now too tight just across the back. Though you don’t want to liken your fit issues to sports, I’m convinced that my back became broader to years of indoor rowing, as well as a bit of aging.

    Last year when I made the Victory Patterns Roxanne top, I was surprised to see the across back finished measurement listed. My bust measurement put me in a size 2 for that pattern; my back in a size 14. Yikes!!

    It takes a lot of diligent research to figure out which fitting adjustments will get you to where you want to be, and I think it’s an ongoing process since bodies change over time. But I find it kind of fascinating, and I think you do too. So much to learn! And we are still way ahead of the fit of RTW, even if we don’t have everything fixed yet!

    1. You called it, I love thinking about this stuff! And I think the fit improvements I’ve been able to make on RTW are heartening enough to keep me moving forward on fit.

      I haven’t swum seriously in over 10 years , and I have noticed my issues with RTW fit are less pronounced. The shoulders are bones, though – could activity really change their width, or is it just the muscles around them? (Not that it really matters, but it is interesting!)

  36. That would be frustrating! My shoulders aren’t particularly broad — at least not out of proportion to the rest of my body — but I do always make sure that the size I pick will fit my shoulders. I mainly do this because it’s so much easier to make adjustments in the waist and hip than in the shoulders. I’d rather get as good a fit as possible there straight out of the envelope and then adjust as needed to nip it in at the waist and hips. Though on patterns like Sewaholic (where my measurements put me in 3 different sizes), I just grade among the three as I trace the pattern and usually end up with a pretty good fit!

    1. Funny you mention Sewaholic – based on my bust-waist-hip measurements, I had assumed I was a good candidate for their patterns! I started to notice on both my Renfrew and Minoru attempts that my shoulders require significant adjustments.

  37. Gah! I totally feel your pain with the broad back/shoulders problem. My bust/waist/hip measurements almost always fall in the same size range, but oftentimes my woven garments are tight in the back from armpit to armpit. I’m still a novice, but I used the technique of adding width from shoulder to hem, detailed in this Threads article: http://www.taunton.com/threads/pages/t00103.asp. It definitely helped when making my second Scout Tee. Good luck!

    1. I can’t believe how many of us there are! Thanks for the link! Interesting that they suggest choosing a pattern that fits your upper front chest – I guess you just have to measure that?

  38. You know I’m in the exact same boat as you! My broad shoulders definitely dictate the style of shirts I can wear! The couple times I have made a button up shirt, they have ended up tight across the shoulders! Who knew growing up swimming would lead to lifelong broad shoulders!

    1. We’ve got to take the power back, Teresa! Or at least the possibility of wearing long-sleeve shirts! I started realizing I’d been avoiding sewing shirts with sleeves in a looong time and I realized that I had no clue how to fit my shoulders.

  39. Interesting post! I never thought to choose a size based on the shoulder measurement. I don’t have this issue personally, but I’m fascinated to read about all sorts of fitting issues and fixes!

    1. I do, too! I’m just fascinated by how flat patterns turn into shapes that fit our complex curves and lines. I will admit to feeling a certain amount of smugness when I thought I’d never had to make bust adjustments but it’s becoming clear that some SBAs are in my future!

      1. It’s funny, I’ve been thinking about this shoulder thing since your post, and I’m starting to wonder if I don’t have a similar issue… I’ve always been perplexed by some front neckline gape on woven blouses (such as the scout tee). I always assumed it was due to needing a SBA (which I’ve tried to do… though probably not correctly since there are no darts to fiddle with). Perhaps I need to visit the idea of needing different front and back sizing! Ah fitting… so perplexing at times!

  40. I have the opposite problem, in that my back is somehow narrower than my chest – and I’m only a 30A in front so I am basically without a back? Maybe that is why I have always been a terrible swimmer! But seriously, I have never in my life made or worn a handmade garment that wasn’t too big across the back, nor worn a bra without racer back straps that will actually stay up. So I feel your pain in your struggle to fit this one tricky area that lurks behind you. I don’t often have anyone that can help me with fitting a garment, making it even harder. Sometimes I can just pinch a bit of fabric out (reverse of Debbie’s advice above), but it doesn’t always take care of the problem. I will follow this thread closely in the hope of some advice working in reverse, as well! Thanks!

  41. I thought I was the only woman in the world with broad shoulders and back and a small bust! It’s the main reason I sew because it’s impossible to buy clothes to fit. Luckily my mom taught me to sew when I was really young so by the time my fitting problems became apparent I was equipped to deal with it. And as an added bonus I was a teenager in the 80s and wore a lot of big baggy clothes so I really didn’t have to worry too much about my unusual body shape until I was an adult.

    The best resource I’ve found is fashion-incubator.com. I can’t recall the specific post, but I’ve completely changed my armscye and sleeve cap shapes and I can move again! If you search her website for “armscye”, ” sleeve” or “range of motion” you’ll find all kinds of good information. I still have to add 3/4 – 1″ to each shoulder, move the shoulder seam forward, and do a SBA, but all those are minor compared to the armhole shape.

    1. Ah, I think I have seen some of those arm scye posts on her site before, and hadn’t put them together with back/shoulder fit. I will take another look!

  42. I have the exact opposite problem – relatively tiny shoulders/narrow back/hollow upper chest – and I can’t believe how long it took me to realise it! ‘Oh every pattern gapes at the neck and this sleeve cap is halfway down my arm…’. Now I preemptively slice generous wedges out of the front and back neck before sewing (the proper way would be to cut a smaller size and do an FBA/grade up the waist, but it’s doing the trick for now). Once I realised that all of the big 4 are based off the exact same blocks too, I know that one adjustment will work across ’em all.

  43. Yes, broad back and broad shoulder (and sloping apparently) girl here. I’m coming back to read all these comments later as I’ve yet to find a great solution. I do a pretty sloppy broad back alteration when I sew things from the big 4 because I know I need it. I do a cut and pivot outlined in fit for real people. But it doesn’t seem to be a perfect solution. I’m less certain with indie patterns, though. Good topic! I’ll be following.

    1. I’ll admit that not having info on shoulder fit keeps me from wanting to try new indies! And I just ordered Fit for Real People, which I’m excited about.

  44. This is so interesting to read. I have the exact same problem. I don’t have any solution other than I made a papercut patterns blouse last year, cut my bust size and messed around with the shoulders to try and slash and spread to create more width. It kind of worked but it doesn’t sit brilliantly. It then occurred to me that, at least for blouses / shirt it might be possible to cut one size on the shoulders and armhole and then grade down under the armscye. I haven’t tried it yet but I plan to do this for my next jacket or shirt. We’ll see what the results are! Is be interested to know what solutions you come up with and am hoping to check out the video you mention. Good luck!

    1. Sounds like some other folks are having success with that method! Good luck with your shoulder fitting adventures! I’m sure I’ll be posting about any methods I end up using as it seems I’ll need them on everything I sew 🙂

  45. Hmmm, fit is such a complex thing! I’m loving this conversation.
    I’ve only just started venturing away from knits and skirts and attempting to actually fit a bodice….I’ve been having bust issues, but can’t get a nice fit with an FBA…now I’m wondering if I have a shoulder thing too. I’m very small in height and extremely short waisted but my shoulders are broadish….petite patterns don’t seem to work and maybe that’s why….?
    Wouldn’t it be marvellous to be able to go to a super experienced dressmaker/fitter and have them personally analyse all your fit issues and provide a map for your sewing? Maybe it’s a new niche

    1. A few people mentioned that idea of consulting with a master fitter, and I love that idea! I’m going to keep my ears open for someone I could work with.

      My grandmother was under 5′ but had a more standard torso length and broad shoulders! She was a seamstress/tailor and I think she used regular bodice sizes with shortened arms. I wonder if standard sizes with a shortened torso would work for you?

  46. i think i have broad shoulders for my size, but i’m really not sure. i do subscribe to the fit at the shoulder first theory! when i started shaving 5/8s off my back shoulder, swayback & pooling fabric disappeared.

  47. As a member of Team She Hulk (strongest and coolest team ever), I hear you on the broad shoulders and upper back. I am starting to tackle this issue myself after making my first blazer and button up. Looking forward to seeing what you dig up!

  48. My first thought when I saw your photos was that you have square/straight shoulders ( I also have this shape). I think It accounts for the drag lines that can be seen a little. I’ve had to add as much as 5/8″ to back and front shoulder seam pieces at the armhole edge (blending to neckline edge). The lack of sloping in your shoulders might also explain the pinching underams – the armhole gets pulled up by the high outside shoulder edge. Another sign of a very straight shoulders line is when the neck edge of a rtw top seem to sit up away from your inner shoulder at the side of the neck. I hope this makes sense and helps a little with fitting if I’m diagnosing it correctly lol!

    1. I believe I do, too. I did a square shoulder adjustment on this shirt (will post on it later!) but I added to both sides of the shoulder seam. I think I have slightly forward shoulders, too, so may try just adding to the back. I think they might be asymmetrical, too, just for good measure!

  49. I’m a bit late to the party, but I too have broad shoulders and back in addition to being tall and therefore having monkey arms. My upper bust is the same as my bust measurement, and is increasing slowly as I continue to rock climb. Tucked-in men’s slim fit button downs have been a life saver, except my arms aren’t quite as thick as the average man’s so the sleeves are rather huge at times. After looking at men’s shirts, I do think some of the fitting for broad back in particular needs to happen in the upper sleeve, otherwise the shoulder extends further than it should and causes more issues. In any case, I made a fitting shell based off Fashion Incubator’s saran wrap and tape method and now have something that works beautifully, but it looks SO bizarre. I have the nearly straight armhole, but also massive front shoulder darts and very curvy side seams. In fact, the front and back pattern pieces look very similar to one another (it’s like my shoulder blades and all the muscle there is a second set of boobs volume-wise…so strange looking on paper). Now that I have that, it’s become so easy to draft or modify a pattern to whatever style I want.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Sheila! I’d actually love to see your shell – it sounds quite interesting! Did you draft a sleeve as well?

      I was just thinking that my bodice sloper might look more like a man’s up until the bust darts.

      1. I’m away from my sewing things until mid August, but at that point I’d be happy to share. 🙂 My plan for August is a TNT button down, so sleeve drafting will be in the works as well, but doesn’t exist as of yet.

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