Monday, February 25, 2013

Narrower How?

It would have been nice to see more women wearing blouses when I was out on the weekend however, other than waitresses who typically aren't given many fitting choices with their uniform, all of the women I saw were wearing knits.  I'd never noticed that before. Perhaps it's because it was the weekend and not a "professional" day.

I love everything about the way the floral blouse turned out except for the excess fabric behind the back armhole. To me, it ruins the lines of the blouse. Just in case I was about to over-fit and the excess was actually necessary for mobility, I pinned two tucks, one each side, and then wore the blouse successfully for several hours with no pulling problems. I then went through Sandra Betzina's Fast Fit and Pati Palmer's Fit For Real People looking for alterations that would eliminate fabric behind the armhole and I am systematically working through the options sewing a series of muslins. I won't bore you with all of them - just some findings - since I'm still working on the solution.

The first thing to confirm was am I sewing the correct size? In this article by Nancy Zieman, she illustrates how to chose the correct size based on the upper chest measurement as opposed to the high bust measurement. My front measurement crease to crease is 14" which equates to a size 14, the size I've been sewing. YES!

When you measure across the pattern from center front or center back to the small dot in the middle of the armhole, the measurement should equal 1/2 the measurement crease to crease in the front or 1/2 the measurement crease to crease in the back. My back measurement is 14.5". As you can see, the pattern illustrated is 5/8" too wide.

Narrower is the answer. How is the question. The purple version of Butterick 5678 had a 1/2" horizontal tuck across the upper back and no shoulder adjustments. On the finished blouse, the shoulders are too wide. The floral version had a 3/4" narrow shoulder adjustment and and the same 1/2" horizontal tuck. With both, I had shortened the CF and CB length by 5/8". 

Two options to explore are a narrow shoulder adjustment which I did on the floral version and a narrow upper back and upper chest adjustment. To make a narrow shoulder adjustment, you measure along the shoulder seam, mark the new shoulder point, and then merge that new point into the existing armhole. To make a narrow back or a narrow upper chest adjustment, you create a vertical tuck that moves the entire armhole forward the necessary amount.  In Fit For Real People, Pati recommends a tuck from shoulder to hem and then notes to add back if you require additional waist or hip width. In Fast Fit, Sandra recommends a tuck from shoulder to waist and then says to blend the sides. Sandra also says that a horizontal tuck across the upper back and back sleeve are necessary however Patti does not mention this tuck. My goal was to determine which adjustments were the most effective and to eliminate any unnecessary ones.

Both books said to redraw the shoulder line as shown above. This trues the pattern but it also changes the angle of the shoulder seam. The difference was almost 3/8" at the shoulder point. Since the existing angle fit me well, this didn't make sense but... just in case... I tried it. LOL - I tried a whole bunch of things.

The purple version was my starting point. It showed that the shoulders needed to be narrower. Next, I made the floral version with a 3/4" shoulder adjustment. It fit nicely in the front but still had too much fabric behind the armhole. Pinning out the excess made it appear unnecessary. Next, I made a muslin with 1/2" narrow chest adjustment and a 1/2" narrow back adjustment through the armhole without the horizontal tuck. The back was okay but the front was much too tight through the shoulders. On that same muslin, I tested the trued shoulders seam and then stitched it back to the original shape. From these three samples, I concluded that...

...  in the back, the 1/2" vertical tuck for a narrow back adjustment extended to the waist to eliminate the unwanted fabric behind the armhole seemed to work with the side seam blended to maintain waist and hip width.  Note that I said seemed to work.
... in the front, a narrow chest adjustment is not required but a narrow shoulder adjustment is
... the original angle of the shoulder seam needs to be maintained because the trued version lifts the neckline away from the body.

With the next muslin, I wanted to sample the narrow back adjustment without the horizontal tuck and make a corresponding narrow shoulder adjustment on the front. This would show if the horizontal, upper back tuck was necessary. Because the tuck had been used successfully before, it seemed that it might be necessary but I wanted to test the theory because with the tuck the sleeve cap has to be altered and without it, there's less work. As you can see, it is pinned out here but in the dead of the night when I wasn't sleeping, I thought of another method to test that might eliminate the tuck so....

For this muslin, I did not alter the CF and CB length. The pattern is drafted with a 16 1/2" center back length and mine is 15 7/8". I wondered if the horizontal upper tuck was necessary, would that adjustment be sufficient or would both adjustments be needed? By leaving the original length and then pinning the tucks, I was able to determine that both are necessary. With this muslin, I also left off the sway back/high hip adjustment that I've made previously because it too could be pinned to evaluate. Again - although it sounds as if my goal is to confuse myself - it actually is to determine the least amount of alterations necessary. Also with this muslin, I went down a size in the hips because I felt the floral blouse had too much hip room. In hindsight, I probably should have tested with the same size.

I wish when I made the cut in the sleeve that I'd done one vertically and one horizontally to determine whether more cap height or more cap width or both were needed.

It stands to reason that if you move the shoulder point inward you need more cap height and it also stands to reason that if you require the same width of sleeve to wrap an inch further that you might require more cap width. The sleeve in the floral blouse fits well.

Here's the comparison. The pattern on top is the muslin above. The pattern underneath is the floral blouse. It has 3/4" more cap height and a 1/2" horizontal tuck through the back of the sleeve cap. I added the cap height on the floral version because that's what I've been trained to do with a narrow shoulder adjustment HOWEVER, nether Pati nor Sandra mention altering the sleeve cap for a narrow back adjustment. Since I have both drafts, I could test one of each.

This back view has the excess behind the sleeve pinned narrower and was drafted with a 1/2" horizontal upper back tuck, 5/8" less center back length, and a 1" sway back adjustment. Comparing this image to the photo of the muslin back shown earlier, I'll eliminate the sway back adjustment.

If you could see this image more clearly, you'd see some excess fabric just above and to the outside of the bust point. Did you notice the pulling on the front image of the muslin? Strangely enough, the bust point of this pattern draft is too low for my actual bust. In the past, I haven't had to adjust the bust point; it was good as drafted. I wonder if this is because of exercise ? ? ?

What do I think? Besides the one shown, I've sewn four different muslins. With each one, the shoulders are not nearly as comfortable as this floral version and the body is much tighter. With several, the sleeves have increasing issues, especially twisting. So far, the floral version looks and feels the most flattering. It could be I'm over fitting. It could be that I'm exploring the wrong alterations. It could be that a slight adjustment at the back underarm seam might resolve the matter as much as the matter can be resolved because it's more important to me to be able to move and that the sleeve hang straight than that I get rid of that excess however...

...the most successful alteration so far has been the horizontal tuck in the back with the narrow shoulder adjustment. The tuck raises the underarm point. The adjustment above from Sandra's book makes the narrow shoulder adjustment by creating a template of the armhole and tipping it forward. This method also raises the armhole - about 1/2" for a 3/4" shoulder adjustment. That's interesting information. It duplicates the results of the horizontal tuck without making one. Perhaps this narrow shoulder adjustment method, no upper back tuck, a center front/center back length adjustment, and a slight decrease in ease at the back of the armhole would be enough... and minimal... and less complicated that what I've been doing. That answer intrigues me because of an alteration I used to do so... me being me... I'm off to compare drafts and make another muslin to test this theory. 

Talk soon - Myrna

Grateful - my grandbaby is due in eight weeks. My daughter has lost 30 pounds so far plus whatever the baby weighs. This is very good news and may point to a reversal of the syndrome responsible for her previous weight gain, something we've prayed about because there was a 5% chance it might happen. LOL - it's very unusual to be falling out of your regular clothes when you are this pregnant. She's looking forward to shopping for new clothes after the birth.


  1. I admire your persistence and curiosity. I'm so happy you are sharing your results with us.

    I have trouble w/ Big 4 blouse patterns and I didn't realize until I started sewing with Burda that part of the problem is the straight shoulder seam lines. Our shoulders are curved and the Burda patterns fit me perfectly.

    Now, I trace the Burda shoulder line to Big 4 patterns and get a better fit. Have you tried that?

    1. Interesting ? ? ? I'm going to try this shoulder adjustment before side tracking my brain with a new idea but once I see how it works out I'll compare the results with a Burda pattern. Thanks for the suggestion.

  2. If I were you, the first adjustment I would make would be a sloping shoulder adjustment. Then make the others. It's a lot less fiddly than the narrow back adjustment and would solve that excess fabric problem immediately.

    1. When I stitched the shoulder seam as shown earlier and then reverted it back to the original position, that "new" line raised the shoulder point however then the garment did not sit nicely around my neckline. It was raised away from the body.

      Interesting that you suggested this alteration because several people have and I've tested it a few times and even had a seamstress pin out my shoulder line at one point. Unfortunately, it's not the issue. It certainly would have been easier.

    2. And then again... I realized that the stitched shoulder example above included a narrow back adjustment so it wasn't a good evaluation of your suggestion. The purple blouse with the polka dots shown last week was sewn with no alterations. I just pinned it to raise the shoulder seam and you are correct, it made a substantial difference and would mean considerably less work. I will explore this option further. THANK YOU.


Thanks for commenting. I appreciate the feedback and the creative conversation.