The Dowager's Hump
by Sue Bennett
From Threads #76, pgs. 24, 26, and 28
A rounded upper back needs extra length at the center back, as well as darts to shape the excess fabric at the neckline. These are both necessary, regardless of the style of your garment, to ensure a comfortable neckline, a smooth-fitting collar, and a hem that doesn't ride up at the center back.
Begin by determining your back-waist length. We'll assume that your pattern has already been adjusted, if necessary, to accommodate any variation in your height or waist position from the original pattern. Measure from the base of your neck, where a necklace would naturally fall, to your waist, and compare this measurement to your pattern. If you don't know where the normal neckline is on the pattern, or if the back waist isn't marked, you can find the standard measurement for your size in the back of the catalog for your brand of pattern. The difference between your measurement and the pattern is the amount you need to add.
|To prepare for curved upper back alteration , arrange pattern back against guideline on large sheet of paper after drawing slash lines 1, 2, and 3.|
Cut on the first slash line to, but not through, the armhole, leaving a hinge of paper at the seamline. Slash on the second line to, but not through, the first line, again leaving a hinge of paper, this time between sections A and B thus created. If your back-waist-length difference is 1 in. or less, anchor the lower section (below line 1) and slide section A up along the guideline the amount needed.
|For upper-back adjustments under 1 in., slide section A along guideline to add needed length. Allow hinge to break if necessary to keep section A aligned with guideline.|
As you can see, a dart will have opened up along the second slash line, but it will need to be trued. Lightly pencil in new dart legs about 3-1/2 in. long, then fold the dart as it will be sewn and pressed; with the dart underlay toward center back, trace over the neckline to get the correct seam-allowance shape.
If you need to add more than 1-1/4 in., the process is the same as just described, but the dart that will open between sections A and B will be too severe, and you'll want to distribute some of the excess fullness elsewhere. You can do this by any or all of the following means: adding a center-back dart to be absorbed into a center-back seam, adding a shoulder dart and/or ease, or adding length to the back armscye. This last approach is a good idea if you're adjusting by more than 2 in.
|For 1- to 2-in. upper-back adjustments: If you added more than 1 in., you'll probably want to distribute some dart shaping to center back by allowing section A to pivot away from guideline. This will reduce dart between sections A and B. True all darts to 3-1/2 in. long and fold in place to shape seam allowance at neckline.||To add a shoulder dart, slash on line 3 and pivot section B to open dart space in shoulder, then true. You can combine this with center-back dart, and/or convert shoulder dart to ease.|
|For upper-back adjustments over 2 in., slash completely across pattern on line 1 and slide all sections up along guideline by as much as 1 in., then add additional length using steps previously described.|
If you need to add more than 2 in., slash completely across on line 1, and slide up the entire upper back, moving it up to 1 in. above the slash line. Then slide up section A separately to make up the total adjustment needed, incorporating either or both of the dart distribution options just described, if necessary.
Before adjusting the sleeve to match, cut out the pattern in mus-lin using a 1-1/4-in. center-back seam allowance. Pin the front and back together at the sides, the center back and darts to the outside, and overlap the shoulder seams. Contour the darts slightly and reposition them as needed; they should release over your fullest area. If you need more width, let out the center-back seam.
Next, look at the fit in front. It's not unusual for rounded backs to be combined with shortened fronts, particularly above the bustline. If you have horizontal wrinkles across your upper chest, pin out an even tuck from midarmhole to midarmhole. Once you settle on the needed amount, correct your pattern. If the neckline feels a little high in front, lower it by clipping until it's comfortable.
|To adjust sleeves, draw a horizontal line from underarm to underarm, and a vertical line from front and/or back notches (depending on whether your previous alterations changed front and/or back armscye) to horizontal line. Slash on front vertical line and corresponding horizontal section and overlap by amount of front armscye change; slash on back vertical and horizontal section and spread by amount of back-armscye change. True sleeve cap and blend changes into underarm seams at elbow.|
It's important with each of these changes that you don't overfit; just keep the fabric smooth and unstrained across your back. For the same reason, avoid fabrics with a stiff hand; natural fibers that shape easily with steam to follow your curves will combine best with all the seam shaping I've described.
Sue Bennett teaches patternmaking at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York.
Drawings: Kim Jaeckel