The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

How to Pick Out The Right Sized Pattern

This is a typical question from a lot of my student and subscribers.  Here’s the bottom line on this:  what is the hardest part to alter?

I know you’re saying all of it – well, not so fast, there really is a pecking order here and it goes something like this from easiest to hardest – at least typically it does (there are always exceptions – sorry, but just being truthful here).

  1. Hem (duh!….is that really an alteration?  Yep – sure is!)
  2. Center Back/zip – yeah this sounds hard, but it’s one of the easiest and fastest ways to take in a girth all the way around, but no more than 1½” – more than that do the…..
  3. Side Seams – there are two, but again, do the same on each side and it’s a piece of cake
  4. Waist – this is more the height of the waist than the girth of the waist and not really that hard – if you need to shorten, do it in the bodice with a line through (widthwise) below the armscye.  If it needs to be longer, same place just add instead of taking up.  Doing this in a RTW is a lot harder – shortening is easier, but lengthening is tough.
  5. Bust – FBA – actually this is a lot easier adding through the bust than purchasing pattern for bust measurement and taking out of shoulder.
  6. Torso Lengthwise – this is the area between the waist and the crotch and very difficult in RTW pants – you have to curve that crotch seam just right or it’s a mess;  in a pattern much easier, just slit widthwise through the pattern halfway between top of inseam and waist and lengthen or shorten.
  7.  Torso Widthwise – just as the lengthwise, this is a toughie….you gotta handle that crotch curve with extra special care or it can get messed up really fast….this is even harder than the lengthwise adjustment and almost impossible as an alteration in RTW
  8. And for the final entry – the SHOULDER – why?….because you will have to redraw the curve of the armscye making it true on the x axis but altered (widened or shallowed) on the Y axis…..that means the curve has to come more toward or further away from center front but not dropped or raised at the lower part.  Is that confusing?  Well imagine doing it!  It’s a real toughie – even when you’re doing it on the pattern, because after you do it on the pattern and you get the measurement right in front for the bust (taking in the shoulder but letting out the bust) you have to be careful that the back shoulder will match and then you don’t want to take in any more in the body or back, and then you have to worry about the collar and make sure that the collar isn’t too small and if it is then you have to redraw/recut that curve dealing with yet another axis – the Z axis.  OK – confused more?  Yeah – enough NOT do to this alteration

OMG – This should scare the daylights out of you making any sort of shoulder alteration so that your bust and shoulder are fitted by doing this through the shoulder rather than through the bust, it gets really clear that the FBA is going to be much easier, even though that will NOT be the largest measurement, which goes against your natural instincts.  After all shouldn’t you buy according to your largest measurement?  Well, in this case – no!


So here’s the rule:

Buy according to your shoulder.  This is also the same as your upper bust across the front of the bust.  The problem with that is that this upper bust start and ending point is very hard to find.  The shoulder is easier to find.  Where is it?  It’s at the point where your bra strap fall off – that’s the “zenith” or highest point of the shoulder – after that point the bra strap or shoulder strap falls off the shoulder.  That’s a clear point.  From that point, I come across to the top of the spine and base of the neck which is a little higher that if you were to measure from shoulder apex to shoulder apex.


See between the two dots on the shoulder and the dot on the neck how the neck dot is higher….this is the way to take this measurement.

Of course take half of that and measure that on the pattern, and THEN add the FBA – and if you need add two FBA’s add ’em!

So….repeat after me:


Aaaaaaaaaaah!!!  Now don’t you feel a lot better?!!!!!


OK – we now return you back you your regularly scheduled program!!!


  1. I am rather new to sewing, but I don’t know too many patterns that give shoulder measurements. Am I missing them?

  2. I totally agree about starting with the correct shoulder measurement!

  3. Good information to keep. Thanks for the post.

  4. Very good advice…………thank you!!!
    Very few people put any importance on the shoulder measurement and it is crucial.
    As one with narrow shoulder outpaced by a ‘growing’ body I concur with what had been said.

    Please……….more good advice!!

    • Thanks Maggie – yes, it’s one of those simple solutions that really makes the garment work!

Leave a Reply