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How to Draft an Action-Back Pattern Piece

Add an action back to a jacket.
The feature I like most about this vintage jacket is known as the action back.

This jacket from the 1950s probably was worn in the country. I’m surprised that no effort was made to match the plaid on this otherwise well-made garment. It has some nice detail, though, such as the cargo pockets. The feature I like most about this vintage jacket is known as the action back. You generally see this detail on hunting jackets.

vintage jacket with cargo pockets front
This circa 1950s hunting jacket has cargo pockets and an action back.

vintage coat with action back detail

The action back consists of a pleat on each side, extending from the shoulder seam or yoke, over the shoulder blade, and finishing at the waist. The extra fabric in the pleat allows the wearer to move his or her arms forward for strenuous activity.

action back vintage jacket flange pleat

The action back can start at the shoulder seam or start from a yoke seam, which it does in this jacket.

action back vintage jacket flange pleat outline

The outer fold of the pleat is called the flange. I will show you how to draft this detail.


I’m using a classic, three-panel tailored jacket for this example. It includes a back panel with a center-back seam and a side panel. This is generally the cut used when making a jacket like this.

action back vintage jacket pattern

Begin by drafting the yoke and flange style lines onto the jacket back pattern (drawn in pink).

action back vintage jacket detail

Determine the depth of the pleat for the action back. This is called the return.

action back vintage jacket pattern 'return'

Draft the return onto the main pattern piece (drawn in green).

You will draft a new panel, the side-back panel, which creates the underlay portion of the pleat. To create the side-back panel, trace the shaded area shown onto fresh paper.

action back vintage jacket pattern back panel

Also, on fresh paper, trace the yoke portion and the remainder of the center-back panel.

There are three pieces generated from the main draft.

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  1. user-6175145 | | #1

    Thanks for this -- this was actually the article that finally pulled me into becoming a Threads insider. I have an old cowboy dress of my mother's with this kind of action back, that I was trying to figure out how to replicate! I look forward to trying it, many thanks!

  2. theresa_in_tucson | | #2

    I have the Japanese military jacket book and there is a pattern in it for the M65 U.S. Army field jacket with a very similar action flange. But I love me a classic cowboy jacket with a yoke so I'm going to incorporate this into the jacket I'm working on for the fall Tailoring class. Great pictures and a good tute.

    Theresa in Tucson

  3. User avater
    kennethdking | | #3

    Thanks for the kind words! And to user-6175145, I'm glad my posting enticed you to become an Insider!

  4. user-2126926 | | #4

    Two years ago I made my husband a walking length jacket out of a military OD green wool blanket (his choice). This is what is missing; the action back. The jacket turned out sweet with its antler buttons (he made) but the flange would have allowed more movement. Thank you Kenneth King for this simple but priceless lesson. I will use it again.

  5. user-6111877 | | #5

    This is so awesome! In Downton Abby, Cora Crowley wore this gorgeous dress where the front was a solid and the back was a beautiful floral pattern that draped loosely down the back yet was still attached to the side seam. This pattern design will work! I've been searching and searching for that particular dress Cora wore (to make a pattern) with no success. Now I can make my pattern!

  6. User avater
    kennethdking | | #6

    It's a useful concept, that can be adapted to many kinds of garments!

  7. SueC56 | | #7

    I will definitely include this in the future project. Thank you very much!

  8. User avater
    barbara_t | | #8

    Oh my, the wheels are turning in my brain now! I like a fitted winter coat/jacket, but arm-restriction can be a problem. The action back with elastic stays is an excellent solution. I find it odd that the plaid seems beautifully matched and planned out on the jacket body—even the lapels are thoughtfully cut—but the sleeves are not matched at all. Weird.

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