Further adventures with shoulder fitting

Goodness, it’s been awhile! Since I last blogged in late February, I started a new job. It’s actually with the same company and team that I left when I wrote this post, but it feels very different and exciting. Nathan and I are working hard to practice what we enjoyed so much when we were both not working – cooking for ourselves, getting enough exercise, and being mindful while I embrace this new, decidedly full-time job.

I’ve been sewing steadily (if a little less frequently) over the past couple of months. Shortly before my post on shoulders, I had started experimenting with fit on a buttoned shirt pattern I’d made a couple of times in 2011 and 2012, McCall’s 6436. Armed with a working diagnosis of my shoulder fit – rather broad, a few degrees shy of completely square, and slightly forward – I decided to revisit it.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436

You saw this first iteration a couple of times in my post about jeans – a sleeveless swiss-dot shirt. When I made it, I was trying out a couple of theories: that I could trace one pattern size as long as I made a major SBA, and that I could adjust for my square, forward shoulders by adding 1/2″ to the outside of the back shoulder seam. It was pretty flattering but I found myself taking shocking amounts of ease from the side seams. (I use the finished measurements when I work with patterns, so normally I’m not surprised by the amount of ease.)

After some wear, I realized the neck was huge – an issue I’d never encountered.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436

Well, I went back to fix my pattern and realized I’d forgotten to subtract out some seam allowance when I converted it into French(ish) placket. The horror! I did take a little more width from the bust, but not nearly as much as I thought I needed to. For my second try, I wanted to try a new variation with a bias-bound neckline. I also cautiously threw sleeves into the mix and cut into some lovely cotton-linen from Sanae.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436

I have very nascent understanding about how sleeves are drafted (although Ikat Bag’s post – holy cow, what a revelation – and the Fit For Real People book have been helping). After removing some width from the bust and raising the arm scye, the sleeves were much too upright and tight (probably also due to the fact that the bodice of this pattern is supposed to work with sleeves and without and I made some adjustments based on the sleeveless version). I used FFRP’s “Very Large Arms” adjustment and it worked perfectly. I’m actually ambivalent on the appearance of the sleeves, but I think they fit pretty well for a first try. And just look at this shoulder seam! Never have I beheld its like on my person.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436

So overall, mistakes aside, I’m excited to say that the fit adjustments I made on this shirt have become my new standards – at least until I learn enough to become dissatisfied with them! (Isn’t that just the way it is with sewing? I love it.) I’ve also started adding 1″ wide seam allowance to any shoulder seams just for good measure; it’s so little fabric but it can make such a huge difference to the fit for me.

I did muslin a bodice for my matron (!) of honor dress using these adjustments and the fit was nearly perfect. Yes, I was shocked. I’m still not sure I believe Fit For Real People when they say that all Big 4, Simplicity and Burda blocks are exactly the same, but I will say that I’ve had success with my two-pattern sample. I did find it surprising that I was able to use one pattern size to get the shoulder fit I wanted, especially after seeing I would need to go up many sizes in the two pattern brands that provide shoulder fit information – Marfy and Style Arc.

How are your fit experiments coming along? Any revelations about fitting shoulders or any other body parts?


37 thoughts on “Further adventures with shoulder fitting

  1. As always, you are an inspiration Morgan. I just packed up my sewing machine in preparation for our move and your post has me seriously considering unpacking it to sew a new sleeveless blouse. Thank you for sharing more links to alterations and shoulder fittings. I’m looking forward to some sewing experiments in the coming months.

  2. I don’t have time to sew at the moment, but just popping by to say enjoyed reading your post. I have different fit issues (almost the opposite) – but struggle just as much! You have made two beautiful, wearable pieces at the end of your experiments. I think once you have cracked fit, sewing becomes much easier.

    1. Hi Philippa! Thanks for stopping by – I hope everything is going well with your new job. I think it’s helpful to know the opposite for your fit problems – sometimes it’s as simple as doing the exact opposite adjustments!

  3. Ohhh, that has made quite the difference! Just quietly- that is a shoulder seam of radness!
    Thank you for the post to Ikat Bag- I’ve saved that for later digestion 😀 I have been toiling away at FBAs this year with very mixed success- one day, bust measurements., I will crack you!

    1. Your FBA efforts have been very inspiring! It seems like identifying your issues is a first huge step – knowing is half the battle!

  4. A really helpful post for me, thanks. I have broad shoulders and have yet to crack that magic combination of fit adjustments, other adjustments like FBA are much more common, it seems, so there is more information around

    1. I really think that companies should include their shoulder measurements on their patterns! I think that would take a lot of the mystery out of it. If you think your shoulders might be square as well as broad, I highly recommend giving yourself wide SAs at the shoulder seams! It takes almost no fabric and gives you a lot of flexibility.

  5. This is so timely! I almost always make sleeveless because I prefer no sleeves. I’m a sweaty person and sleeves always make me anxious (sweat marks and all that). Of course I wear sleeves in winter! I’ve been toiling away on a long sleeved peplum top this last week and had the first occasion of humungous shoulders in garment. And to make it clear, I don’t have wide shoulders. It was totally weird, like it would have fit my four year old… maybe. I performed my first wide shoulder adjustment and it turned out perfectly! Thank goodness I had enough fabric left to remake the bodice. Thanks for the links! Lots to read and absorb. And your adjustments look incredible. Isn’t getting a great fit so incredibly satisfying?

    1. Oh gosh, yes – I’ve avoided sleeves for years and only recently realized it was because they never fit well. How odd about your peplum top shoulders! It does seem like the relationship between the shoulders and sleeves can’t be underestimated in terms of how it impacts fit. Your top is looking gorgeous, though 🙂

  6. Looking good, Morgan! I have yet to achieve a fit across the upper back and shoulders nearly as good as this, so I’m giving you major props on your shoulder fitting skills. 🙂 I’d be curious to see your pattern pieces for the front and back armscye if you’re willing to share. I’ve been playing around with the armscye on the Archer but have a feeling my on-the-fly adjustments didn’t work out all that well. It’s a journey!

    1. Thanks, Carolyn! I’d be happy to share the changes I made – I’ll try to add an image to this comment today. It really is a journey, and it’s hard doing it by yourself!

    2. Ok, took me awhile, but here’s an image of what I did! The grey is what I removed in my makeshift SBA and the blue is what I added. The only change to the arm scye was in the back shoulder seam, and needed to be translated to the sleeve.

      Edit: pretty sure I did my SBA differently, so these are two options for the back square shoulder adjustment instead – adding extra or slashing and spreading.


      1. Ah, interesting! Thanks for sharing. I often wind up adding about an inch in length between the shoulder and bust, which lengthens the armsyce as well. I like the idea of your adjustment – just adding length along the side without disturbing the center front. More food for thought. 🙂

  7. I’m so impressed (re: jealous) with your dedication to achieving what looks to be a great fit through the shoulders. It’s worth it though, since now you know what alterations to make in the future! I don’t doubt the Big 4 + Burda are all similar…but I’ve found that Simplicity blouses fit me much better through the shoulders than Vogue/McCalls. I haven’t done the flat pattern comparison yet but it seems to me the shoulder seams for Simplicity are moved forward a bit more compared to Vogue/McCalls and it makes a huge difference.

    How is your Vogue 1412 progressing? Mine’s been placed on hold after I thoroughly messed up the sleeve plackets…

    1. It’s not progressing at all!! I’ve put it aside for awhile while I finish my sister’s dress – I’ve only been able to take on less challenging projects. I practiced the front placket on my muslin and it ended up bulky; I think I’ll need to make some changes to how I interface it. I still love the design and think it’s worth it, though.

  8. So great that you’ve made a breakthrough!! Good Shoulder and armhole fit are like some sort of holy grail… I’ve seen that Ikat Bag post, and whoah! Such. good. information. I began to muslin the Sewaholic Granville and have stalled, due to needing to fix some craziness in the shoulders… this is inspiring me to get back on it!

    1. Yay, and it only took 6 years! Now that I’m on a shoulder fit quest, I’m super curious to see your Granville… have you posted it on IG? I thought the Renfrew shoulders were particularly sloped.

      1. No, I haven’t posted it on IG (my muslin fabric is super fugly! haha!). I always got the impression that the Sewaholic patterns were more narrow-shouldered, based on my Renfrew and Minoru experience. But for this shirt I need to bring in the shoulder seam by a good 3/4″. Crazy! Also, the sleeve cap is too symmetrical, which limits range of motion, sleeves are strangely tight… Just not what I was expecting at all. I think I have all my issues worked out, I just need to re-muslin the sleeve/shoulder fit. I have some Liberty lawn tagged for this shirt, so it needs to be spot on!

      2. Haha! I like to use the fugliest of fabrics for muslins, but sometimes it ends up obscuring the pattern!

        Is Granville supposed to be off the shoulder or something? I didn’t get that sense when the pattern debuted but when I did a quick search of the pattern, it looks like it is. I don’t think you’re alone!

  9. Is it odd that I didn’t realize I have a shoulder issue until after I’ve finished and worn the garment? It might just be an armscye issue. Who knows. But I will be bookmarking that fitting reference for when I’m ready to tackle it. Thanks!

    Your blouse came out a treat!

    1. I’ve been so focused on bust/waist/hips in the past that I feel like shoulder fit has fallen by the wayside until recently! I don’t think it’s odd at all. And I’m finding the back shoulder/arm scye especially is hard to address.

      PS I just emailed you!

  10. Oh sleeves oh sleeves, this is an area that I’m still coming to terms with, especially on a woven. I think I’ve got to the point where I think I’ll draft a sleeve based on my body measurements and then use that, which just leaves tweaking to the bodice pieces to fit the upper body – that’s all still therodical and I’m yet to do a little trial and error!

    1. Ooh, I hope you post about your process if you end up drafting a sleeve! That sounds like a great way to go. I’m actually hoping to use this pattern as a block for similar silhouettes, although I haven’t tried it in a long sleeve. I’m curious about trying some elbow darts when I get to that point!

  11. That sleeve close up looks great – major victory! I tackled my first ever narrow shoulder adjustment last summer, and it was very satisfying. Most of the styles I’m usually drawn to don’t have a fitted shoulder, but it’s an important fitting area, for sure. Best of luck with the wedding sewing!

    1. I think we have similar tastes in tops, and I agree – not a lot of what I like to make has very fitted shoulders. But it is so gratifying to not be afraid of of shoulder fitting!

    1. Yay for posting! I actually have a few more projects photographed, so get ready to hear more from me, dammit.

      It’s really weird to experience adequate shoulder room and placement. It’s actually very gratifying to sew something I truly could not buy off the rack!

  12. I think I have similar shoulder issues–broad, square, and slightly forward–but thus far I have been desperately avoiding them by making a lot of things without sleeves. I’ll have to face it eventually, I guess.

    1. Yep, I hear that! I started avoiding sleeves as soon as I realized I had more to learn about fitting them. I found it less intimidating to start working on the shoulders first with a sleeveless shirt!

  13. After your first post on shoulder fitting, I started to analyze my own shoulder fit. Since then, I realize I almost always need to do a narrow shoulder adjustment. Depending on the neckline, my narrow shoulder adjustment means I have to do a square shoulder adjustment, but petite style, so I usually angle the seam down towards my neck, the reverse of a standard Square Adjustment. Also, when I mess with the shoulders, I have to re-position the sleeve cap on my shirts to keep the sleeve from twisting. There’s SO much to consider. But, now that I’m starting to make clothes with these changes, I don’t want to wear the ones that don’t fit me perfectly. 😀 THANKS for starting me down this path.

    1. Oh yay! It’s a cascade effect. I’ve always been long through the chest, so I hadn’t even considered that you could reverse a square shoulder adjustment to make it petite. There are a lot of moving parts when you start adjusting the shoulders but I agree with you – it’s very worth it!

  14. Wow you are dedicated! I think these both look fantastic! I think I need a bit of a shoulder adjustment too, but I’m not sure where to start. Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned!

    1. Thanks, Heather! It took me quite awhile to figure out what was going on with my shoulders. I knew that they were broad, but I didn’t realize what a difference doing a square/forward shoulder adjustment would make! It’s a complex area, to be sure. Good luck on your fitting journey!

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