Monday, September 2, 2013

Shoulder Talk

Thanks so much for all of your feedback on my jacket!

Recently, I have received questions (some via email) about narrowing a shoulder, similar to this comment from MaryMary68 on my last post:

The jacket looks great!

Please, please, please do a tutorial on narrowing shoulders. Or link us up. Or refer the book you used to learn this technique.

I'm seriously struggling! I see this topic frequently on PR and know I'm not the only one.

I sometimes hesitate to share my particular alterations, as I am not a fit expert. I am pretty good at fitting me, but I do not see myself as a fit expert in general. A lot of my particular alterations are things that I just figured out, so they most likely do not represent what a professional pattern drafter (or other alterations expert) would suggest.

Given this disclaimer, let me tell you how I deal with this situation. My shoulders are, apparently, narrow. I took a proportions class once with Sandra Ericson, where we traced our shape onto a giant piece of paper (by standing against a wall in bare feet and working with a partner). Once we did this, we overlaid proportion lines on our silhouette to determine how we varied from "classic" body proportions. You can read more about the workshop here.

What I learned from this exercise that surprised me is that my shoulders are not particularly narrow. They are quite in proportion to the rest of my body.

Another interesting note is that when I sew a Style Arc pattern, I only have to remove maybe 1/2" from the shoulder. When I sew a Vogue (or one of the Big 4) I have to remove 1-2". Before I lost weight, and was sewing larger sizes, I typically had to remove closer to 2". Now that I've lost weight and am sewing smaller sizes, I typically remove closer to 1". If you sew from these patterns, you already know that the pattern companies think that, if you weigh more, that you are taller, have longer arms, wider shoulders, and so on, resulting in more alterations unless you are taller with longer arms and wider shoulders. ;)

But, as far as the pattern companies are concerned, I do have a narrow shoulder. So, how do I narrow a shoulder?

There is a pivot and slide technique. I am aware of it, but have not learned it.

The "technique" I use (if you can call it that) is a direct result of taking a tailoring class at Cañada College back in the 80s. I remember well when I got to that point in my jacket and learned, much to my chagrin, that the shoulder of the jacket was too wide. I was making a Claude Montana jacket with triangular suede appliques on the shoulder. I had gotten to the point where I had carefully attached the triangular appliques. Ronda Chaney, teacher extraordinaire, was about to hang the sleeves onto the jacket while I was wearing it.

Ronda told me that I would have to narrow the shoulder, meaning that I would have to chop off the tips of my carefully applied triangles. I was mortified and worried that the aesthetic design of the jacket was compromised.

Ronda marked where the sleeve should go. I cut it down and attached the sleeves.

Pshaw. Such drama! It was fine.

Here are the steps I follow:

  • I get to the point where the shoulder seam is sewn and I need to attach the sleeves.
  • Try the garment on and mark the desired shoulder placement with a pin.
  • Take the garment off and lay it flat. I cut off the excess fabric, tapering to nothing approximately where the notches are - where the armhole seam goes under the arm. I do this for the front and back, so what is removed looks like a sliver of new moon.
  • The sliver that I removed from the Anne Klein jacket - the back is on top and the front is on bottom. Note that I remove more width from the front of the garment than the back.
    Actually, this looks more like a Eucalyptus leaf!
  • I save the bits I cut off. I keep them in the plastic gallon bag with the pattern and samples of the fabric. If I make a pattern multiple times, I cut those slivers off the pattern, too.

The next question is, what about the top of the sleeve?

First, I always cut my sleeves at the very end of the process of making a garment. I have short arms, so I never cut the sleeves until the shoulders have been adjusted.

I pin the sleeve hem up on the pattern tissue and pin the underarm seam so that it's shaped like a tube. (For a 2-piece sleeve, I pin all the seams together.) I put the garment back on and pin the paper sleeve to the top of the shoulder with a single pin to check the sleeve length. (Note that I am not checking the fit of the armhole sleeve on the body, I do that while the garment is flat on the table.) I shorten the sleeve pattern, if needed.

Another interesting note. When I weighed more and was sewing larger sized patterns, I almost always had to shorten the sleeves by 1-2". Now that I am sewing smaller sizes, I sometimes don't have to shorten the sleeves at all, or I shorten them 1/2-1".

I guess the bottom line, is that if you are sewing Big 4 patterns, and the shoulders are too wide and the sleeves are too long, and you hate pattern alterations, just lose weight. ;)

But to be serious, another reason to cut out the sleeves later, is that once the shoulder is modified, you can then check to make sure that the sleeve will fit into the armscye. In a set-in sleeve, the top of the sleeve is drafted to be larger than the armscye, usually about 1-1/2" larger, though it can vary. This is why, of course, setting in a sleeve can be a bit of a pain - because you are squeezing a larger amount of fabric into a smaller area. (If you want to see a very compelling, opposing view to this accepted bit of drafting wisdom, see Kathleen Fasanella's post on Sleeve Cap Ease is Bogus.)

I compare the top of the sleeve to the armhole. Usually it is fine - in fact, it is pretty much always just fine. If there is still a question as to whether this will work, I cut a sleeve out of a muslin (or test) fabric, sew it up and baste to the garment, to be triply sure of the fit.

Once I am confident of the armhole fit and the sleeve length, I cut the sleeves out of the fashion fabric, and proceed.

You can see why I sew half dressed. I do lots of trying on and tweaking. For me, this is key to achieving a good fit, especially when using new patterns, but I even tweak the fit of TnT (Tried 'n True) patterns.

This is another reason I love Style Arc patterns. I find that they fit better through the upper chest and shoulder area. I still need to tweak the fit, but much less than for the Big 4 patterns.

But YMMV (your mileage may vary).

I am interested in hearing from other folks who narrow shoulders. What have you tried? What works? What doesn't work? Please share!