This week, the sewing interwebs have exploded over a recently-released pattern. I won’t name names, but it’s easy enough to find. Said pattern is giving people fits (pardon the pun) over the fit of the bodice. I don’t own the pattern so I can’t comment on it, but the brouhaha did get me thinking (uh oh, she’s thinking again).
Let’s talk about fit. This can be a very long subject, with lots of subtopics, and I’m certainly not going to cover all of them here. But there’s one area that I’ve found is critical to the success of almost any garment: the shoulder. When I was actively singing, a voice teacher said to me in reference to how to hold the body, “Everything hangs from the shoulders.” Boy oh boy, that resonates for sewing enthusiasts, doesn’t it? You can play with ease and adjust things on other parts of the body to make your garment tighter or looser, but the shoulders are the area that need to fit properly for the rest of the garment to work.
In my years of sewing I’ve noticed that the shoulders on many patterns are simply too wide. Even if you pick the “correct” size by your high-bust measurement, the shoulder line on the pattern is too long and extends beyond the shoulder point. Often far beyond. Let me show you an example of a jacket. In this case it’s one of my favorites: Vogue Basic Design V7975. I’ve made this jacket twice, and I will undoubtedly make it again. The first time I made it, I made a size 14, based on my measurements. It turned out… fine.
But like many sewing patterns, especially those from the “Big 4”, it always seemed to hang off my shoulders, even though it fit my bust quite well. Now, looking at these pictures, you can see that the shoulders are significantly wider than Shelley’s. The jacket hung off my shoulders in the same way, and while I like it a lot and it’s comfortable to wear around the office, it just doesn’t have a designer shoulder line. Enter Susan Khalje. I took a class with her and I brought a muslin of a longer version of this same pattern, in this same size. She immediately set about fitting it to me, and the first thing she did was pin out a whole lot of width at the shoulder. This pattern is great for that kind of adjustment because it has a shoulder princess line. In addition to the shoulder, she pinned out excess ease at the top of the chest and a slight amount at the shoulder blade area to give a sleeker fit through the upper chest area.
All in all, we took about 1 1/2 inches from the length of the shoulder seam, tapering back out to the original seam at the bust apex. The result is a fit that looks far more professional, IMO.
I’ve illustrated this with a jacket made from woven fabrics, but the same holds true for knits. You’ll get much better fit and look if you adjust your shoulder seam to match your anatomy. So next time you pull out a pattern, check the shoulder against yours, and if you need to make adjustments, start there and then work your way down. You’ll be glad you did.