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Altering Dropped Shoulders

Efw | Posted in General Discussion on

I am making a shirt from Taylor Made Designs – The Big Shirt – by Cindy Taylor Oates. I have used it before and made a shirt for myself. It was rather large but as I have large bust and large hips/tummy I can get away with it – at least no one has had the courage to tell me differently!!

I have decided to use the pattern to make my daughter a surprise birthday present. If the shirt is “snug” on me it will fit her.

I have adjusted the side seams satisfactorily (I hope) but I am having trouble with the dropped shoulder particularly in the back yoke area. I have the same problem in the shirt I made for myself. There is a lot of “extra” fabric there and it looks more like a man’s shirt – plenty of room for muscles! I am convinced that the pattern is a very large fit.

It may be that the “drop” is too long. If that is the problem my question is – is it possible to alter the amount of the “drop” of the shoulder by simply shortening the shoulder length and redrawing the armhole back and front and then adding to the length of the sleeve at the head?


it could be that I need to take out the excess fabric in the yoke by folding out a dart near my shoulder blades. Can I do that? If so, do I need to add length at the bottom the yoke so that the yoke/back seam sits straight?

Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks


  1. User avater
    CostumerVal | | #1

    Yes to #1.  You add to the height of the sleeve cap the same amount you take from the shoulder and blend the lines.  Double check your work by measuring the seams on both. (not the seam allowance)  The sleeve cap should be 3/4"-1 1/2" for easing into the top of the armscye.  A drop shoulder sleeve doesn't have curve at the top so it may have the same seam length right now. 

    #2, if you have a rounded back, the seam wont sit straight when you wear it unless the yoke seam is slightly curved.  The "dart in the seam" is a rounded back adjustment. 

    Do you want to bring up the armpit as well?  Raise the shirt side seam and the sleeve arm seam the same amount.  Measure the armscye seam length on both and bring the sleeve inner arm point in toward center until the cap measurement is what you want it and redraw the arm seam.  Double check this by measuring across the bicep line.  It should be a minimum of 3" larger than your bicep (I like 6-8") and around 3/4 of the total cap seam length.   If the armscye seam measurement is real close and the body of the sleeve fits it will look just fine.  I like to use a flexible ruler and play with the curve until the cap measurement is right.  Think of it as, the shirt armscye fits the body, the sleeve cap fits the armscye.  (bicep fits the arm, some people have fitting problems there)  Play and have a good time.


    1. Efw | | #2

      Thank you for your reply and apologies for the delay in my acknowldgement - I have been working. Re option 2 - You mention that "the dart in the seam" is a rounded back adjustment. I must admit when I thought of the dart it was not in the yoke seam but in the armscye. I have attached a jpeg of what I thought I could do. If this is not what you meant could you explain it please. I have the Palmer/Pletsch "Fit for Real People" but I cannot find the alteration you mention. I can see the alteration across the back but I don't really want to do that in this instance because my daughter doesn't need it.I guess I could be making things difficult for myself here because the alterations I can see I need to do are for the shirt to fit me nicely. As my daughter hasn't got my figure problems the shirt may fit her without too much alteration. Although, having said that, I think the drop shoulder is too dropped for either of us!I do know that the sleeves and cuff are too wide for either myself or her. Do I just take in more at the sleeve seam or should I fold out the excess on the pattern?Thanks for your help

      1. User avater
        CostumerVal | | #3

        I can't tell much by the photo, it doesn't have the complete pattern.  So I'm going to assume that the grading lines at the top left are the neck, the top slanted edge is the front shoulder, with the single hash for a matchpoint to the shirt front.  The right side is the armscye, with the hash mark being the top of the shoulder to match up with the top of the sleeve cap. 

        I just love that book you've got "Fit for Real People".  I've noticed that the alterations they do is for patterns that need to be added to, but it's easy to reverse.  An excellent photo is the Yoke photo on the right side of page 125.  If the shirt did fit in the back yoke and the armscye were too big then you would take the dart out in the seam and the pattern would still look just like that photo.  But I don't think that's your problem either.

        Chapter 19 "sleeves" on page 166 shows the difference in the styles beautifully.  It doesn't go into how to change the styles on a single pattern.  That falls into the realm of pattern drafting.

        So, the easiest way to alter your pattern style without learning drafting first, would be to change the armhole variation as shown on the  bottom of page 166, from a dropped shoulder to an extended shoulder.   Now in the photo above that at Sleeve Variations, you'll notice that the line drawing shows they are taking out of the armpit and not raising the cap.  This is for demonstration only.   The top one would have arms like a gorrilla.

        Now, you'll need to draw a line across your sleeve pattern from the armpit to armpit.  This is the biceps line.  And another perpendicular to that on the grainline up through the shoulder dot.  (Right side page 166 sleeve anatomy)  What you need to do is add to the top of the cap the same amount that you take from the shoulder of the yoke.  If you raise the armpit also, you'll need to add to the armpit of the sleeve above the biceps line and inward also.  If you don't take it in also you'll have too much to ease at the cap.  To determine how much to go inward, I use a flexible ruler and measure the cap.  The top of page 167 advises that an extended shoulder should have ease of about 1/2".  So when measuring the sleeve cap mark your ease amount first at the top of the cap and then measure to the mark you made above the biceps line and mark your curve similar to the existing pattern.  The angle should match on both at the match point on your existing pattern.  They are in that location for a reason.  Then pin fit.   I hope I helped.   



        1. Efw | | #5

          Thanks for your help. I am going to "play" with the pattern as suggested and then make a toile for myself. I will have to get my skates on though as my daughter's birthday is only about a month away. I work full time and usually only sew at the weekends. I will let you know how I get on but don't expect anything for about 6 weeks.

        2. Efw | | #9

          I have finished the shirt. I decided to abandon the original pattern I was trying to alter and go with a pattern that I had used before - no dropped shoulders. I will keep trying to get the shirt pattern to fit but decided I was running out of time. I have attached some photos so you can see the finished garment. Remember, my step daughter is smaller than me so (hopefully) it will fit her better than it fits me. Also, the armhole/sleeves don't look as bad as the photo suggests. I think I need to press them again because "in real life" they don't look too bad. Thanks everyone for your help.

          1. User avater
            CostumerVal | | #10

            Now that is what I call the ultimate shirt!  Wow!  I love that style on you. 

            I like that pattern because it has a nice collar stand, back yoke, interfaced button placket, pleated sleeve at cuff, and I assume that there are also pleats at the back where it joins the yoke.

            I particularly like the designer details on your pattern, like the rounded edge on your turned back french cuff and the double offset collar.  Your topstitching is impeccable!  Your fabric selection outstanding.  Your daughter will be absolutely proud to wear a shirt like that.

            One suggestion, if you press the seam allowance at the armscye, toward the shirt body and topstitch it (similar to mens dress shirts) it will take those wrinkles right out of that seamline and the sleeve will hang real nice for you.

            You did an awesome job and you'll get alot of comments on that shirt.  Your daughter will be very proud.


          2. Josefly | | #11

            Great finished shirt - nice work. I especially like the combination of fabrics.

          3. Teaf5 | | #12

            A lovely shirt and nice fit!  However, if you'd like perfection, take out the top part of the sleeve seam, ease the gathers slightly more toward the top and back, and then re-stitch them. 

            Even if you've already trimmed and graded the seam allowances, the sleeve will hold together enough to slightly change where the bulk of the ease falls.  That way, the sleeve will be flat in the front where it meets the bodice, and the shirt will be even more flattering to the wearer. 

          4. GailAnn | | #13

            You did a great job of work!  Love the fabric combination!  Gail

          5. Gloriasews | | #14

            Beautiful shirt, beautiful fabric choice and, as Val said, impeccable stitching!  Good for you!  What a relief to have it finished, eh? 

            I really like the double collar idea - was it part of the pattern or your own design?


          6. Efw | | #15

            Thanks for your lovely comments. The double collar was my idea. I did a "shirt workshop" about 18 months ago and although I have forgotten lots the double collar was part of that so I knew I could do that bit. I did have to work out the cuffs though. That was not part of the pattern and I have never done that before.The fabric comes from one of our local quilting shops. I have a very poor choice of fabric shops where I live so often go to the quilt shop. The ladies are very help and good with colour combinations. I have given the shirt to my step daughter and she loved it so I am not going to get it back for myself. My next project is going to be a pair of pants. At the speed I work that will take me months and months!!

          7. Gloriasews | | #16

            Glad to hear that your step-daughter loves the shirt!  Guess you'll have to make one for yourself to go with your new soon-to-be sewn pants, eh?  Yes, the quilt shops have wonderful fabrics that can be used for garments - the cottons seem to be more substantial, with good body & they wear for ages.  Many sewists buy their cotton fabrics from quilt shops (unfortunately, the cottons ARE more expensive) - but, as I said, they are of very good quality & wear for ages.  Happy sewing!


          8. flossie | | #17

            What  a lovely shirt - I think the collar and cuffs are very impressive and a real "designer" touch. 

          9. dionna | | #18

            Great job I love the shirt

      2. jjgg | | #7

        If the dart in your picture is want you want to remove, then take it off the bottom edge of the yoke, - it becomes your seam line between the yoke and the shirt, you will have to reshape the bottom edge of the yoke a little to make it smoother, Think how waist and bust darts are taken out in a princess line - they become the seam, just a more curved shaped seam.If you take this much out of the armscye, you will have excess fabric in the sleeve cap. You will have to reshape the sleeve cap to remove some of it.

        1. Efw | | #8

          Thanks for your reply. I am going to "play" with the pattern and see what I come up with. I am thinking that I might alter the pattern from dropped shoulder to an extended shoulder. I have a commercial pattern for a blouse with extended shoulders so I can compare my alterations. Thanks

  2. suesew | | #4

    I would go for the dart idea. Chances are you would not have to add fabric at the bottom of the yoke - that part is already sagging because of the dropped shoulder. I think you would actually be supporting it more by taking in the dart. And that method would keep the whole sleeve/ armhole size untouched.

    1. Efw | | #6

      Thanks for your e-mail. As I mentioned to Val, I will have a "play" with the pattern and then make a toile. I will let you know how I get on. Thanks

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