the Quest for a Perfect Fit

I have a thing with getting just the right fit in a garment. It’s one of the plethora of reasons why I sew now instead of buying RTW – though I do still purchase clothing here and there. I had long avoided making anything that required a perfect fitting bodice with sleeve. But then I decided that I really wanted a perfectly fitted shirtdress. That one dress that brings out everything I love about my body and gives me a little Oooomph in the upper body. Now, you may ask, “Why? Why, Sunni, have you avoided a making a piece with a perfectly fitted bodice?” I’ll give it to you straight. Two words ~ armscye and sleeve. Enter my Christmas Break project. Come on now, don’t be shy…

This is the shirtdress folks. The bodice anyway. Originally it started its life as McCall’s 4769, but there is so little left of the original pattern that I’m terribly tempted to say it’s mine. Fine, I’ll just say it. It’s mine with a collar and button down placket from McCall’s 4769. And this thing fits like a glove.

Let’s get back to my piece on the armscye and sleeve, shall we? Yes, let’s, because I’m quite sure that you are all dying to know what my big problem with this thing is. Well, let me tell you. Not only do I have a very forward thrusting shoulder (this means that my actual shoulder, actually thrusts forward more than what is considered the norm)(it also means that it thrusts forward a good whole inch more than a traditional commercial pattern) but I also have a very broad upper back (this means that only the upper back is broad not my entire back – and it also means that its quite broad by about 1.5″ beyond traditional commercial patterns). What it all comes down to folks is that when I make a bodice on anything – shirt, dress, jumper, jacket, etc. – I can’t put my arms comfortably out in front of me. Daily activities like driving, eating, opening a door feels restrictive and quite frankly, by the end of the day it starts hurting because the fabric has rubbed my skin raw in the front shoulder/upper arm area. In fact, I stopped buying woven shirts altogether because of this very issue.

So, now I’m sure you’re wondering what this all has to do with McCall’s 4769. For starters, I made about 7 or 8 (maybe more, there were so many that my memory is a bit shaky) of that particular bodice. It’s really just a basic sloper bodice – two darts in front and one in back – and I put sleeves in each and every one and in not a single one could I put my arms comfortably in front of me. Finally after exhaustive thinking and doing, sewing and cutting, slashing and spreading, I had a serious epiphany and reached for Simplicity 2724, something I had completely forgotten I had made with much success (this is the Naughty Secretary Dress btw). This is the one bodice with sleeve dress that has worked like a charm. And it is now my sloper/fitting shell, etc for the top portion of my body. Granted I had to lengthen it, put the darts back in and take the puffiness out of the sleeve, but in the end, I think I’ve got something that is nothing short of a revelation for me. I intend to start using it to see what I need to change on a pattern before I go directly into creating a muslin. I’m rather excited about it to say the least.

What’s that one item you are afraid of making? Do you fear/dread the awful adjustment of trying to fit it just right? When you fit something, are there things you are willing to live with and things you just won’t? Arms being able to drive my vehicle ranks rather high for me. And now, I can! Yay!

I have a few things to finish up on this dress (as you can see) before I give you all the big reveal, but don’t worry. You will be jealous. Guaranteed. Indeed, I do believe that you should be after 7 or 8 (possibly 10-ish) muslins.


  • Jessie Heninger - Oh my that is so wonderful. I am currently making a pencil type skirt (up to now I’ve mostly made dresses and a-line skirts) when I came to the awful (on so many levels) realization that two children have left my waist for then two sizes off from the rest of my body. Eeep! I’ve already bought the fabric. So I’m trying my best after reading fitting chapter in various sewing books to change the pattern trace the new pieces and will start my muslin soon. Oh how I am dreading the entire thing. Maybe I’ll get lucky and it will work like a charm.ReplyCancel

  • Melanie - Have you read this article:
    it explains how to use a basic slopper to analyse patterns and figure out where adjustments need to be made. I’d love to be able to test this method out.
    I get so frustrated with fitting sometimes! Especially the back. Even with my home-made dress-form, I’m not always able to get something sleek and wrinkle-free. I have a narrow back and it’s hard not to over-fit patterns that are supposed to be close-fitting. I tend to go for fabrics that have a bit of stretch to them for that reason.
    This dress looks lovely, I’m eager to see pictures of you wearing it!ReplyCancel

  • Kristin - I have the exact same problem! Every time I try on a RTW woven shirt or jacket I have a “fat man in a little coat” moment (remember Tommy Boy from the 90s?). Since I’m still pretty new to sewing, I fear fitting in general. I tend to gravitate toward sleeveless or loose-fitting patterns. But I hope to get over it some day so I can actually wear a woven top with sleeves and not feel like I’m going to split the seams like the Hulk.ReplyCancel

  • Lavender - I have the same exact issues when it comes to moving my arms in front of me. And you know what, I just picked up that pattern again (god, I’m so inconsistent!). Glad to know that the Simplicity has your dream bodice, and here’s hoping it will be mine, too. This year I really really want to get good at fitting. Wouldn’t be great if Kenneth King would pop in, analyze you and send you on your merry fitting way?!
    Lavender recently posted..Bust a moveReplyCancel

  • Jo - Wow. Congrats on a winning pattern! What you have described sounds exactly like common issues I face: the broad back, the forward shoulder. Would you be able to show your new pattern laid over the “original”, so we could see where adjustment were made on the flat pattern? I find myself so lost for ideas on how to make adjustments, that I’m hoping seeing a fix might make it all make sense!ReplyCancel

  • the Dress that Nearly Killed Me! - [...] it is. That dress. Pretty cute huh? I’m so completely in love with it, that I’m just about to cut out [...]ReplyCancel

  • Vicki Kate - Your dress is Amazing and you look stunning in it! I’ve back tracked to your shoulder fitting post here and it’s exactly what I need as I’m fitting my first set in sleeved top at the moment and have that whole arm binding / tight across the upper back when I reach forward but otherwise the fit is perfect! So massive thank you!
    Vicki Kate recently posted..Down then Up!ReplyCancel

  • rebecca - I also have forward shoulders and shoulder blades that protrude. I decided to make a dress form of my body to help with the fitting of my back. i just made a romper that used this form. it seems like it works out really great. it was hard trying to ask my boyfriend to help me fit the back after altering so many muslins. Now I can do it myself.ReplyCancel