The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

The Shoulder – Follow-up

I knew there would be a lot of response to this shoulder business, and it’s really hard to put all this in one post.

But here are some common issues that might cause you frustration when you’re designing and fitting this part of the bod.  As a matter of fact RTW has come out with some new shapes rather than the just standard triangle, inverted triangle, rectangle, hourglass, diamond and rounded.

The place where there’s trouble is when the shoulders are small and the bust, waist and hips are larger than the shoulders.  The whole idea about shoulders and making them work for you, is to make sure that not only there is a fit, but also that your shoulders are in proportion to the rest of the body.

The eye naturally wants to travel from shoulders (broad or wide) to waist (in) back out to the hips.  This is that natural line that we all want and are looking for.

But if your shoulders are thinner than your waist or at best the same from the straight view, then you need to make some other adjustments.

Here’s the example of this.  This is the only time I do not measure exactly at the shoulders, and will broaden them just a bit.  Most of the time 1/2″ to 1″ is all it takes.

How do you tell how much?  You will need a croquis (that’ in Monday’s post), and this will help a lot.  These are the diagrams I’m using above – they are all croquis.

So here we have the classic small shoulder in A.  I’ve corrected it in B.  What I did was bring out the shoulders just a bit to balance the hips.  You don’t need to make this exactly the same width as the hips, but as close as you can get makes this much more pleasing to the eye.  A croquis helps you determine just how much or how little you have to make this transition.

Be sure when you do this, you keep the under arm, and side bust area clean – that means fitted, and maybe more than one side bust dart.  It may be that a princess line may be the best solution here.

OK – in this illustration you can see (left) how much the line from the shoulder to hip extends out (at the hip) this is the cause of all the problems.   In the right, that line is straight and look how much more pleasing this looks.

This is the diagram without the lines.  It’s dramatic the different between the two and the one on the right is much more pleasing to the eye.

There’s just one more adjustment we can make here to make this look just a little better.  Notice at the waist how the shape comes out dramatically at the waist – in what the kids call a “muffin top” look.  Let’s deal with that this way.

The blue line on the left is the true waist.  When we raise dress waist to about 1″ above the waist line – look how much smoother the side seam from underarm to hip is.

You can see the dramatic difference here in the waist.  Yes the waist on the left looks thinner, but look how much smoother the dress on the right looks.  It’s worth it to smooth this line out.

For some fashion notes.  This technique is particularly effective these days as higher waists are in, and so are broader shoulders.  Not the shoulders of Alexis Carrington.

Now, I’m not talking about this sort of extended shoulder, but modified, this can be a very effective tool.

I’ve done this numerous times with my “grande dames” and they all look very nice, and very well put together.  In case you think this can’t be done….here are some folks who have this type of figure that look very good, and there’s no reason why we can’t learn from what the designers are doing for them.

This is what started it all - Camilla looked really great for her wedding.


Another great look in a jacket


A real clear picture of how good the lines were on Camilla

This is what started it all – Camilla looked really great for her wedding.

This is a great photo.  The Queen looks like the Queen.  Kate’s  mother looks like an older Kate, and Camilla, the horsey Camilla Parker Bowles that we all knew and loved is NOT a horsey woman in this photo.  What happened?  The dress made her look absolutely fabulous.

  1. So, we buy a pattern for the shoulder width, like Zieman says, then FBA it to fit the rest? Well, some of us, maybe 1 inch bigger than our shoulders… 🙂

    Thank you so much for the drawings, photos, thoughts! You are a blessing to many of us.

  2. I really enjoy your posts and so appreciate how you break down the issues. I have often noticed the difference in the way things fit my Mother,who made her own clothes, beautifully, in the 40’s and 50’s and had a very “statuesque” body. Those sewing patterns were much more “chic” as she would call it, than many of ours are today, and had a lot more areas for fitting “Easy” doesn’t mean it looks good and fits well, but then people get frustrated. I haven’t done much garment sewing lately, but I am inspired to have another go at it. Mother’s been gone for 3 years, and I miss having her help me. I am anxiously awaiting the croquis post! Thanks again, for taking the time to share all your insights.

  3. I guess I should stop taking off that 3/4″ at each shoulder. Thanks for the great advice. I am planning a dress and this is invaluable help.

  4. Dear Claire,
    Thank you so much for being so generous in posting all this invaluable fitting advice.
    My goal is to make well fitting garments, like my Mom did when I was very young. I so remember her tweaking and refining the fit at the shoulder, under-arm, and bust area of her clients until she was happy with it and telling me just how important it was.
    I am so grateful for your amazing blog, for not only bringing back memories for me, but also for showing us the way.

  5. Thanks so much,Claire. This is great info. I sort of figured this out for my narrow shoulders/wide hips some time ago. Its great to hear an expert voice validate my efforts.

    I find about a bit under a half inch is just what I need. Doing this though also means I need to support that extension with a sleeve head or shoulder pad so it won’t look like its falling off . I am anxious to hear the rest of your shoulder info. Greatly appreciated.

  6. This is so fabulous! I have narrow sloping shoulders and then move into a 39″ bust, a short wide waist and narrow hips. So the shoulder work you are describing is very helpful for me. I guess I should be putting in shoulders pads even into my shirts?? I have been tempted to pad my hips (really) to give that hourglass but am using peplums instead.

  7. Love the info. I have the opposite figure challenge – broad shoulders – but I can see how to use this to my advantage. Thanks!

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