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Altering shoulder width-purchased item

Blondfire | Posted in General Discussion on


I despertely need to find out how to properly and efficiently make shoulder width alterations on clothing that I have purchased. I am a plus size, but have narrow shoulders. When I buy something, the shoulder width on the garment is always too wide, and the shoulder/sleeve does not fit properly. The shoulder width causes the sleeve to begin on my arm (creating a drop-shoulder), rather than beginning at my shoulder joint. Since the garment is not a drop-shoulder style, it just looks sloppy. The rest of the garment fits fine. The most I would have to take the sleeves up (or shorten the shoulder width) is 1″. With the styles I wear and the way I’m built, the alteration should not cause a problem with the bustline. My dilema is finding a way to correcly curve the alteration from the shoulder down to the bottom of the sleeve (side seam), and to make sure that both sides as well as both sleeves have the same measurement alterations.

Any help on this would be greatly appreciated. How do professional tailors do this? Thank you so much for your help.  Sincerely – JoAnn


  1. sanderson | | #1

    If the sleeve is a set in I would take out the sleeve seam from the bust point (most patterns have a notch about there) to the parallel point on the back of the sleeve.  Narrow the shoulder width as necessary and resew the sleeve.  Shoulder pads often help the line on these alterations. 

    1. Blondfire | | #4

      Thank you for your response! That is the process I was doing, but needed a way to evenly make the new cutting curve from the shoulder down, on both sides of the sleeve as well as both sleeves. I am new to this site, but I think you are able to read the response from Carol with the shoulder/sleeve adjustment trick. How wonderful! I am a plus size and don't wear things tight, so adding a little 'foo-foo' at the shoulders is just my style. It should look quite nice and stylish! Thank you again. It's so nice to know there are people out there who take the time to care.



  2. carolfresia | | #2

    Joann, I posed your question to one of our editors who has sewn and altered for loads of people of all shapes and sizes. She has a quick-fix solution that doesn't involved messing around with the armscye seam at all--which is a place where, as you've gathered, you can run into some tricky situations.

    If, indeed, all you want to do is narrow the distance between the neck and the shoulder joint by about 1 inch, and your garment is unstructured (although you could do this with a tailored jacket, too--it would just be a huge pain in the neck!), here's what you do:

    Unstitch the shoulder seam partway, starting at least an inch from the neckline (this will depend on how the neck is finished--you might be able to go closer), and ending about an inch or so from the armscye. Now, put the jacket on, and pinch out a dart in the front shoulder seam till you think the armscye falls where you like it. Pin this dart into position all the way to its point--it's up to you how long and narrow you like it, but this will add some shaping through the bust at the same time. If the dart isn't too deep (less than 1/2 inch or so, I'd say), you might be able to ease in the back shoulder. If the dart is deeper, you'll probably have to create a matching dart in the back shoulder so the seamlines are the same length (this dart could be shorter than the front dart if it fits over your shoulder better that way).

    Whichever you decide, do the same on the other shoulder as well. Stitch the dart(s) first, and press then over a ham, then resew the shoulder seam, and press it open. Voila! And it's all entirely undoable if you end up not liking how it turns out.


    1. Blondfire | | #3

      Dear Carol - You are a wonderful woman!  Thank you so much for the shoulder trick! I am 52, and have been sewing since I was 9, but alterations were not covered in Home Ec. class nor by my mom! My mom always made all of our clothes, so I guess alterations weren't needed. I knew there must be an easier way than taking the garment apart. With the phenominal clearance sales going on at the end of the seasons now, I can buy something for myself and alter it cheaper than I can make it...leaving more time to sew for the grandkids! Their clothes are more expensive to buy than mine, even with a sale! You are an angel. When my husband passed away last year, I asked God to send me angels when I needed help, and evidently you're one of them! It was so great of you to go that 'extra mile' for me. Please thank your advisor for me as well. May your kindness come back to you double fold. I know it will. Please take this email to the 'powers that be' at your company as a testimonial to you. Obviously you contribute greatly to their success. They should give you a raise! Thanks again!


      1. carolfresia | | #5


        My pleasure--I hope this works for you. I personally am not one who loves making alterations to RTW clothes, so I, too, can appreciate a quick fix. And if it frees up your time so you can sew things you'd rather do, all the better!


  3. grandma598 | | #6


    THANK YOU Carol and JoAnn,

    This was exactly my problem & now I have a solution.  

    Elaine A.

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