3 essential pattern adjustments

essential measurements

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Let’s face it.

There are endless ways you can adjust your pattern and fit your garment if you don’t restrict yourself.

If you’re sewing couture garments or work as a tailor for a living, a lot of these adjustments are imperative. You’d want your customer’s clothes to look it’s best. For the red carpet, for a wedding, or even for the catwalk.

But are they relevant for the everyday wardrobe?

My advice?

Find a handful of essential pattern adjustments for getting the right fit that works for you.  Your comfort is the most important. Add them to your sewing routine and memorize them then, skip the rest.

Or, save the advanced adjustments for that special garment, when the occasion calls for extraordinary fit.

A couple of these adjustments are more essential than others. In this post, I’ll cover three areas you may or may not have thought of checking when making pattern alterations for a top, blouse, or, shirt.

So what are they?

No need for stalling, let’s cut to the chase.

Essential pattern adjustment 1

The shoulder width

Are you constantly pulling up your sweater or adjusting your shirt neckline? Are your bra bands showing and does your shoulder seam slide down your upper arm? Your shirt most likely has a too wide shoulder width.

Why it’s relevant

For comfort, ease, and to skip the annoying nonstop fidgeting. With the right shoulder length, your garment hangs correctly on your shoulders. This solves a lot of other issues like neck gaping, upper sleeve draglines, and fabric bunching at the lower back. 

Tips for the advanced!

A note on shoulder width vs shoulder-length vs the shoulder to shoulder measurement.

I define shoulder width as the measurement from the inner shoulder tip (towards your neck) to the outer shoulder tip on one of your shoulders. In my research, I found that this measurement also is called “shoulder-length” depending on where in the world you’re at.

The measurement I’m referring to here is not to be mistaken for the shoulder to shoulder measurement.

Where to take it

Option 1: Measure one of your shoulders with a tape measure.

Option 2: Measure the shoulder seam of a top or shirt, made of woven fabric, that already fits great on your shoulders.

width of shoulder

Essential pattern adjustment 2

The vertical waist measurement

Do you have a puddle of cloth piling up at your lower back causing garment creeping and not sitting where it’s intended to? You notice it because you’re frequently pulling down your shirt over your hips, trying to prevent “the crop top look”.

Why it’s relevant

To prevent your garment from slinking around at the back, causing draglines, because it neither feels nor looks nice.

Sometimes this happens due to an actual recess in the back. But, before you start re-drawing the pattern’s sewing lines, save some time and check the waist height of the pattern and compare it to your own.

Tips for the advanced!

The swayback adjustment is popular among sewists. It’s fixed by removing width at the center back right in line with the waist.

However, altering the sewing lines of a pattern changes the balance of the garment. In the worst-case scenario, you’ll end up with an uneven hemline. Or worse, skewed side seams which in turn cause other visual fit issues like draglines.

There are several areas to check before making a swayback alteration.

The vertical waist measurement (also known as back length) is the first one. The second one is the measurement around your hips.

If the garment hipline is too narrow it causes the same effect as if you’d have a swayback. The garment creeps up and bunches at your lower back, when it’s actually your hips that need more wiggle room.

Where to take it

Mark the waistline of your favorite t-shirt, with chalk or draping tape, then measure from the middle of the back neck to the mark.

waist height

Essential pattern adjustment 3

The vertical bust measurement

Whenever a garment has a bust dart, it should point directly at the widest point of your bust.

The larger your bust, the longer and wider the dart. It should stop at about 2-3 cm, or,  ¾-1 ¼ in from your bust point.

If your bust is flat, you can reduce the dart width or remove the dart altogether. That way you’ll avoid excess fabric and gaping at your chest and neckline.

Why it’s relevant

If the dart points too high, it looks like the garment is too small and that your bust is sagging. If the dart points too low, the garment looks too big and you can also end up with fabric bunching up over your bust.

Tips for the advanced!

It can seem complicated to adjust a flat pattern to your round bodyparts. But the darts are there to conform to these “bulges” so don’t skip it.

When the part of the pattern drafted for the most protruding part of your body ends up on a flatter area, it will distort the garment and feel awkward.

Where to take it

Measure from your inner shoulder point to your bust point with a tape measure.

In the Bust height paragraph in this post, there’s a photo of how to do it: https://www.morphidesign.com/do-you-need-a-bust-adjustment/

vertical bust position

Next step

Often, we focus so much on girth measurements that we forget that the vertical dimensions are at least as important.

Start with the vertical first. Then move on with the horizontal.

If you usually make a lot of adjustments on your pattern, working in this order will likely cut your preparation time in half, and you can start wearing your even better fitting garment much faster.

I’ve gathered some of the most important measurements for fitting in a checklist you can download here below for free.

It includes the measurements we’ve covered here, plus a few more, and a guide for you on how to take them so you can get started quicker.


Get the Better Fit Checklist for free

Sew great!

signature flaming needle

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