Pattern Drafting: Basic Blouse for Forward Shoulder/Broad Back Fit

Over the last weekend, I decided to knuckle down and try drafting a pattern for a shirt from my own measurements. As I’d ranted previously, despite sewing something in the ballpark of 20 shirts over the last year from various patterns and with various modifications, nothing would end up fitting correctly without looking like a feed sack. So I consulted the Esther Pivnick Fundamentals of Patterndrafting book (freely available for download here) and proceeded to measure myself and fire down some synaptic pathways that have not been used since high school geometry. It was, essentially, a Klingon ritual of pain.

 

If I ever do it again I will a) draw actual lines on my body with a cheap eyeliner pencil so that there is no risk of measuring from different places and b) compile a worksheet to fill in measurements and label points for easier translation when actually drafting them. Hopefully no one catches me doing this because it might look a little too “it puts the lotion in the basket” for non sewers to understand. My measurements must have been a bit off, because the garment I ended up with was bigger than needed and didn’t really fit my midsection. The dart I ended up with in the front is, well, huge, which seems incorrect because my bust/waist/hip measurements are all within a few inches of 36, so there is almost no need for dart control to take in difference. BUT IT DID FIT MY SHOULDERS, which means IDGAF about having to redraft the waist.. I’m almost finished with the third test garment, which is a totally wearable buttondown blouse that allows for super fantastic happy funtime full motion of my arms. I can drive in it, I can raise my arms in it, I can EXERCISE in it (highly unlikely, but possible). Photos to come!

So here is what I learned about fitting a broad back and forward/curved shoulders:

-Adjust the angle of the shoulder seam on the front and the back bodice pieces. It’s easiest to lay them out so that they are butting up against each other at the shoulder seam. Adjust at the actual sewing line, not the seam allowance line, and add seam allowance back to your pattern pieces afterward. Consider the point where the shoulder seam meets the neck an anchor point. This does not change. The armhole also doesn’t change position. But the point at the end of the shoulder seam should be moved forward, usually just a small amount–for me about 1cm was perfect. Then redraw the shoulder seam line from the center anchor point to the end point on both the front and the back pattern piece. You’re essentially adding fabric to the back piece and subtracting it from the front. For me this makes the garment hang much better. But again, don’t move the armhole itself. Some things I’ve read have recommended shifting the curve of the sleeve pattern piece so that the sleeve cap ease is situated with the most fullness exactly over the ball of the shoulder, but I’ve found this adjustment to be unnecessary.

-Don’t mistakenly think broadening the shoulder seam and/or enlarging the armscye will add more freedom of movement. Been there, failed that. What you really need is to isolate the shoulder, which, almost counterintuitively, means the bodice comes high into the crook of the arm (think of what a gusset would cover). It also means the end of the shoulder seam should be behind the shoulder point, not quite on top of it. For me finding my shoulder point, subtracting about 3/4″, and angling the whole armhole back to meet this point made an enormous difference. It places the ball of the shoulder in a position to actually utilize the space in the sleeve cap to move.

-For the broad back/big shoulderblade area, I have in the past tried adding extra fabric at the lower third of the back and front armscye. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it works but looks a little more 1950s dolman sleeve than I would like. But this time, I adjusted the bodice. In the Pivnick instructions she points out that the point at the tip of the side bodice, where the bodice side seam meets the sleeve seam, can be extended out horizontally up to 1″ to allow for greater movement (with no necessary change to the sleeve pattern, as I understand it). I did this and blended it into the previous line of the side seam and it seems to have worked very well.

And now that I have a basic pattern that fits, with a bit more refining, I should have a basic block to use for experimentation and I may, just *maybe*, be coming out of my shirtmaking rut.

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Sewing Stagnation: Fitting Woes and The Basic Button Down Blouse

Ever since I began seriously sewing, I have been struggling to attain the perfect button down ivory shirt. It never ceases to amaze me how difficult this is. Almost every pattern I have tried has been too tight for my man shoulders and large rib cage or fit me like a burlap sack. I just tried another (McCalls 4922) and as soon as I finished the set in sleeves found the fit is, once again, awful.

I am so picky some of my woes are self-inflicted. I don’t like the shapelessness of jersey or the places it clings unflatteringly to the body (looking at you, lower belly pooch), so I lose out on the simple fitting joys of stretchy material. I also don’t like the way the seams look in anything but a straight stitch, which is silliness, I know. I want the crisp look of woven materials but I also want to be able to streetfight with no range of motion loss in my tailored blouse. My wardrobe desires are truly ridiculous. This is what happens when you watch too many comic book movies with women who are basically doing acrobatics in a corseted skin tight suit while they fluently speak seven languages hurling perfect one liners at bad guys. SUPERWOMAN COMPLEX INDEED.

But where was I? Oh, fitting issues. I have sewn probably 20 shirts, and I still haven’t found the pattern I want to settle down with as a tried and true reliable basis for further modifications. I have tried draping a sloper on my poor duct tape dress form but that just hasn’t ended well. What looks good on the form does not translate into a flattering shape on my moving body and I don’t know exactly what I’m doing wrong, but it is seriously pissing me off. My sewing skills have come so far in the last year, and yet, virtually none of my sewing projects are making me happy because the fit just isn’t as good as my favorite ready to wear shirts. Even tried dissection of one of these, and somehow the block I drafted from those pieces still didn’t work.

So here’s the problem(s):

1. wide rib cage + nonexistent bust combination is not something most patterns fit well

2. short torso + nonexistent waistline is not something most vintage patterns work for

3. forward shoulders make sleeve fitting suck ass

4. broad shoulders + forward shoulders + hatred of the poofy sleeve cap means you will never be happy in your sewing life ever.

5. I don’t even know if there’s a name for my broad-at-the-bust-line man back but it makes me sad that the princess lines of my back pieces are easily confused for the front pieces bc there’s almost the same amount of muscle mass there as in my itty bitty titty committee case study goin’ on up front here. Shirts always, always, always pull at the back underarm when I try to move because of said mass. On the plus side in the zombie apocalypse I have serious farmer/ax swinger muscle genetics going on.

All of this is a long way of saying I am giving up on set in sleeves for awhile. The cumulative effect of all of this sewing failure is that I’m not even excited at trying new patterns because I know how it’s going to end up: 1980s shapeless boxy shit that only David Bowie could make look sexy (see below), or another thing that makes me unable to move my arms. It’s time for the gusset/kimono sleeve to come into my life in a big way.

80sbowieOh, David Bowie. You make everything better.

Wanna know who else makes everything better? Esther Kaplan Pivnick, that’s who. Sewing guru extraordinaire whose vintage pattern drafting book Fundamentals of Patternmaking can be found at the delightful blog of the awesome TJ at A Perfect Nose (here). After some kimono sleeve sewing therapy I may, once again, under the masterful tutelage of Esther Pivnick, try redrafting a blouse from my own measurements because, let’s face it, the set in sleeve is a part of virtually every awesome garment I see on tv and lust after for my own.