How to Fit My Body

I’ve seen alot of fitting issues in the sewing community and I wanted to throw my two cents in of the fitting issues I have of my own. This is labeled as part I because I’m sure there will be a part II and III and IV and however many. Let’s just say this is going to be a journey for me and if you have the same fitting issues I do then your in luck, and if you don’t well, these types of adjustments can be made to other areas of a sewing pattern as well and I’ll mention those as I go along. Let’s talk about my biggest fitting issue, because well this is about me and I enjoy telling you all about myself. I’m a pretty average girl, a little on the small side. And I like to sew. And I like to sew with sewing patterns. And this is my story of where it goes wrong:

Biggest fitting problem – Shoulder Blade. Yeah. I know. Weird. I have a fairly broad shoulder for someone my size. Even funnier, I’m a small chested lass, barely filling out an A Cup. It’s been hard to know what to do for this. A year ago, I couldn’t even tell you, but I was sure that if I added inches to the back of the bodice I just knew it would work. Which I did and found that for some reason the back was baggy especially at the waist area when I would do this. Silly me. I was adding to the wrong area. I was finally enlightened by Adele Margolis’ book How to Make Clothes That Fit and Flatter. It’s an inspiring read and makes you feel, normal and not like a malformed mutant. It’s out of print at the moment, but can be found through some online used book sites. Ok, back to me. Here’s the lowdown. I like to have movement in my clothes, meaning that I can actually move in them. Normally I don’t have a problem with this, except when it comes to the arms. Garments that have sleeves are the pits. It makes me want to wear sleeveless tops forever and pack up and move to Hawaii, which I want to do anyway by the way. I knew I had broad shoulders, I just didn’t really know what to do about it. Then I found out and it’s changed my life forever.  So here it is.

Do you have the problem of sewing a top in which you are not able to move your arms forward to say, grip the steering wheel of your car, or type on a keyboard, or hand write a letter to a friend? This is the adjustment for you. This is what your final adjustment will look like. You’re adding a little more allowance to the sleeve and the armsyce at the back. (Just in case you didn’t know, you can tell the sleeve back by the notches. Typically there are 2 notches – you know, those triangle things – in the back as opposed to the 1 notch in the front)


Now how do you find out how much to add? I have to test this always, on a toile. I mock up the top or bodice with both sleeves in muslin. Then, I try it on. If I can’t comfortably move my arms forward I need an adjustment. To see how much I need, I slice open the shoulder on each side and then try it on again and move my arms forward and have a good look in the mirror. This part, you’ll have to eyeball. I typically need approximately 1 inch added to each side. Take that measurement and divide it in half because your going to be adding this to two adjoining pieces. In my case, I would add 1/2 inch to the sleeve and armsyce of each side.

I begin by taping my pattern piece to a piece of paper. I take my trusty old ruler and mark 1/2 inch from the seam allowance.  Then, I use a french curve to blend out the top and bottom. You see, I don’t need the entire sleeve and armsyce to be adjusted, just the back, so that I can bring my ding dang dern arms forward. And I only need that little section from the top of the shoulder blade down the back of my shoulder to the underarm to be wider. Does that make sense? If it’s pulling too much, you’ll need to take the adjustment down a little further. Meaning that you’ll need to add a little seam allowance to the “underarm” as well, but typically only on the back piece.

So how do you know if you need this adjustment? Well the obvious answer is if you can’t “comfortably” bring your arms out in front of you. Sometimes this little adjustment is a little sneaky though. You can see it when your arms are straight down at your sides and there is still a little bulging or I prefer to call it “riding” at the sleeve right in the front. It’s riding up, because it’s pulling wrong. Clear as mud?

Hopefully this is a tip and trick you’ll find useful.

PS ~ Thank you for so bravely seeing past this exotic flesh colored fabric I’ve muslined in, in these last two posts. I’m seeing color and fun in the future. Promise.

  • Tenshi - Wooow, I have been enlightened. Thanks a lot! I have two blouses in which I can barely lift my arms but that otherwise fit perfectly. They’re the only ones I made form non-stretch fabric. Usually, I use stretch wovens for blouses, cotton with 1-4% of lycra, which is enough to give me freedom of movement. But this is…. it’s genius! Really, thanks a lot for solving this mystery for me. I’ll use this technique for my next blouse.
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  • The Cupcake Goddess - I had this same problem! And I was always on the look out for those stretch fabrics because then I could drive and wear the shirt at the same time. Ha ha ha. This little adjustment works every time. And I’m always suprised by it. And it looks good and fits fabulously! So glad someone else has this problem too!
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  • Amy - I am trying to learn to fit better and this is an awesome little tutorial. have you ever done or thought about doing a fitting shell? I am working on one now. The idea is that you fit your self once, in essentially a basic sloper block, and then use that to adjust other patterns so you don’t have to try and fit every pattern every time. I am not finished with mine yet but it was a concept that appealed to me.
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  • senaSews - Wow, i feel enlightened! I have broad shoulders, too. Finally i know what to do for a better fit. Thanks a lot!
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  • The Cupcake Goddess - It’s so crazy that you would bring up a fitting shell because I found one the other day at a flea market for 50 cents. It’s so cool and I can’t wait to try it out.
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  • Angela - Thanks for showing us your tips on making this adjustment! I need to begin to make muslins to see how things fit. I will have to keep this one in mind.
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  • Uta - I just found out I have the same predicament! I made a coat from a pattern I’d already made a jacket from which was uncomfortably binding in the upper arm movement. I added to the back at armscye height. I didn’t alter the sleeve, but it worked like a charm! I also have very straight shoulders, but leaving out the shoulder pads usually takes care of that (should I ever sew a blouse I’ll need to think about that!).
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  • karen - I’m in awe of how much care and attention you pay to your fittings. One day, if I am very good, I will have the same amount of patience and dedication.
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  • The Cupcake Goddess - I’m so glad this works for you too! And I’m so glad that someone else has this problem too! Isn’t it crazy how just adding that little bit really works?
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  • Tasia - Thanks for sharing your fitting tips! I don’t have the broad shoulders but several friends that do, and I’ve only really mastered the fitting tips for my body. Now I know what to suggest 🙂
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  • Rachel - I have broad shoulders too – and will certainly be using this process in my coming projects. Thank you so much!
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  • Ripple Dandelion - Loved reading this post. I’m currently fitting/muslining a jacket and I’m working on the very same issue. Don’t feel like a mutant! I have many of the same fitting needs as you (except I have to do an FBA). I have very narrow shoulders but a relatively broad back. And forward, sloping shoulders. And a swayback. Enumerated like that, I sound like the Hunchback of Notre Dame!
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  • Diane Drexel - We must come from the same people–broad back, large shoulders, small waist, small bust (AA). I started sewing more to fit my long torso, but I have since discovered the other necessary adjustments. I refuse to call them “flaws”, they are merely “features”.
    I find the broad back adjustment where you cut out the armscythe corner of the pattern and slide it out to be most successful for me. Yes, it requires a dart at the back shoulder seam, but the dart works well with my protruding shoulder blads, so I can’t complain too much. 🙂
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  • Luckie - wow, this always happens to me but I always tried adding fabric to the back unsuccessfully, can you please post a pic or 2 regarding this:
    “I begin by taping my pattern piece to a piece of paper. I take my trusty old ruler and mark 1/2 inch from the seam allowance. Then, I use a french curve to blend out the top and bottom.”
    I got a little lost! great post!
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  • Claire Cooper - I think I have the same issues as you. I’ll remember your tut. when i next make a dress with sleeves in. I’m also long waist-ed and have to remember to add an inch or so at the bottom og the bodice. I seem to be getting the hang of it. Am following your lovely blog.ReplyCancel

  • Vicki Kate - Thank you so much for this as my sleeves are OK but I can’t get my arms forward. I know I have broad shoulders / back from years swimming and I’m hoping this will fix it! Dreading taking the scissors to the shoulders though….ReplyCancel

  • Salma - Sunni you just saved like my confidence and like a gazillion projects I was ready to give up on. I’m also a smaller bust with a broad shoulder and nothing ever seems to sew up right! Thank you!!!ReplyCancel