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Bodice/sleeve problems

ampound | Posted in Fitting on

A typical problem I have when making shirts/jackets for my daughter is that the armhole hangs way too low.  (She shows horses and the look is very fitted).  I used several fitting books which suggest shortening the bodice and making an accomodating tuck in the sleeve cap to match.  Is there a maximum amount that works best?  She needs (in a misses pattern) at least 1″ shortened, and this has resulted in all sorts of problems!  I still end up with way too much (nearly 1 1/2″) fabric in the cap to ease without looking ‘homemade’ and if I slip the sleeve into the armscye the amount needed the sleeve binds like the dickens.  Raising her arms would be near impossible!  Is there a particular location that is best to shorten the bodice?  If I have a 2-piece sleeve do I change only the upper sleeve?  One other question on the 2-piece sleeve-does the rear seam match the seam in the back of a princess-seamed jacket?  I looked at jacket in the closet and the front princess seam doesn’t match the forward sleeve seam, but the rear one does.


  1. user-51823 | | #1

    i once made a bridesmaid dress (1980's, style was casual cotton dress with cap sleeves).
    she came by for her final fitting before i set the sleeves and i was surprised to see the same problem you are having- low, too big armholes.
    after pinning in several complicated ways that produced a domino effect of other problems, i realized that just taking up the shoulder seam worked beautifully for this particular woman. i started at the original point at the neckline, and tapered it down the shoulder. this was all i needed, but you might need to place it differently depending on your DD's shoulder slope.
    i kept the sleeve pattern the same and just eased the fullness in the cap a little more.edit to add:
    --ideally, the rear seams should match as you described, but it may take some tweaking for you to arrive at a match while getting the proper fit.
    --i wonder... would cutting a 1-piece sleeve on the bias help with her movement?
    --also: i have found that when binding in the back occurs from arm movement, it helps to widen the back past the area of the sleeve opening.
    -- re the too-full caps: in desperation in the past, i have had to fix this problem by adding 2 or more gradual curved darts to decrease the length of the stitching line along the top of the sleeve. it wasn't ideal, but it worked since i had no extra fabric for new sleeves. hopefully someone will suggest a beter remedy.

    Edited 9/30/2007 12:20 am ET by msm-s

    1. ampound | | #2

      I think I tried that on the shirt I made last time-same sleeve troubles.  Do you remember if you took much in at that seam?  My daughter is pretty small (size 6-8 in rtw) and after looking at all the different posts/suggestions for sleeves etc I am wondering if I need to be making a bodice adjustment at all!  Perhaps a smaller pattern with a bust adjustment would work better!  All I know is I am getting pretty discouraged by this.

      1. user-51823 | | #3

        it was a long time ago and she was very heavy-set, though i don't know if this would make a difference in your trying the same thing.i angled her shoulder seam down quite a bit because she had a pronounced diagonal shoulder line which definitely made the armholes sag. i don't know why i didn't notice that detail early on.
        if your daughter has more squared shoulders, like mine, try reducing the length of the bodice along the shoulder seam on more of a parallel with the original seam instead of angling it down. you may need to make minor cutting adjustments in the neckline, facing and lapel if you do this. one way i have gotten around altering complex necklines (like those that lead into lapels) is to cheat a bit by starting at original neckline and curving down just a bit so i can lower the seam with less of an angle, which can get quite deep by the time you reach the armhole in the bodice.
        try making a quick muslin, or even a tissue mock-up combining those 2 adjustments: adding width to the back as well as taking it up a little at the shoulder. please post your findings, and good luck.

        Edited 9/30/2007 12:47 am ET by msm-s

  2. jjgg | | #4

    Aside from the armhole, does the shirt/jacket fit your daughter in all other areas? If yes, then what you need to do is just raise the underarm. It's easier to do this with the item made up in muslin - When you cut the muslin, leave a good 1 - 1 1/2inch seam allowance on the underarm.(yes, I know you will have to clip it, but leave the large seam allowance there. )NOw, with the jacket on un-stitch the bottom portion of the underarm, oh lets say from notch to notch, you may need to go past the notches but for now, try it from the notches. Use a pen or sharpie to mark on the muslin (the body part of the jacket - not the sleeve.) where you think the underarm seam should be (it may only need to be raised 1/2 inch or perhaps the entire 1 1/2 inches.You will be making the entire armhole opening smaller, but she will be able to lift her arm without pulling up the jacket or shirt. You just don't want to make it too tight.Mark with your sharpie on both the sleeve and the body where you opened the seam to(at the notches or beyond)Take off the jacket, take out the sleeve if its a 2 piece sleeve, open the back part of the sleeve, on the body, open the shoulder seam so you can lay it flat with the side seam together. See where you marked the body at the height where you want the underarm seam to be, using a french curve ruler, connect this point with the other point you marked ( ie. at the notch). Now, on the sleeve, you need to add this same amount to the underarm portion. If it's a 2 piece sleeve, you can lay the sleeve flat because you've opened the back seam. If its a one piece sleeve, leave the underarm seam sewn while you draw in your line. Then open the seams, and you are finished.Remember, these are your sewing lines, you will have to add seam allowances on top of it.American patterns are notorious for having a low armscye. This is the reason the shirt rides up when you lift your arm.Hope this helps solve your problem. Taking up the shoulder seam works a bit too, esp if its sleeveless, but if you take up the shoulder seam you have to adjust the sleeve cap. this way you don't mess with anything else.

    Edited 9/30/2007 8:09 pm ET by jjgg

  3. stitchagain | | #5

    Just my two sense:  The improper fit might have more to do with wanting a fitted bodice but also wanting full range of movement in the arms.

    Check out equesterian patterns


    1. sewingkmulkey | | #8

      I totally agree and have sewn with patterns from your recommended link for several years as my daughter was quite involved in show riding.  She is quite small (size 2 rtw) and these patterns worked perfectly for her.  But I know every body is different and requires at least some adjustments.  I always choose a pattern that fits the neck and shoulders as these areas are the most difficult to adjust.  If the person is petite shortening above the bust can be almost as important as shortening above the waist.  Yes, setting the sleeves can be the most troublesome if arms are not slim. 

      I urge all sewers to make trial muslims and perfect the fitting before cutting the fashion fabric.  If you simply can't make the muslim fit, try a different pattern.



  4. Tatsy | | #6

    I have this problem all the time.  What I've found is that the pattern can be too big in three different places: shoulder width, side seam width, and the depth of the bodice between the shoulder and the bottom of the armscye.  On some RTW tops I have just pinched and serged out whatever was extra on both sleeve cap and shoulder edge.  If the sleeves are too long, this is where to start--at the shoulder.

    Do the sleeves fit the thickness of her arms or are they way too big? If they're too big, superimpose a smaller size pattern that fits her arms onto the bodice, fill in the armscye with tissue so it fits that size, and use the smaller size pattern for the arm.

    If the bodice is too long above the bust, you can pin out the extra and still use the sleeve that fits that armscye.  It's easier to lenghten the sleeve than to reduce the sleeve cap.

    If you can actually look down into the armholes and see extra space hanging away from the body, refit the side seam, pinching out most of the extra and blending back into the waist. Again, use the sleeve pattern that fits and adjust the armscye to match. 

    Sleeves that hang too low restrict movement as much or more than close fitting sleeves.

    1. Cathie | | #7

      Very helpful tips, and great basic question. I have been pulling out my hair and obsessing about armscye, sleeve/sleeve cap on sloper-type T. One person said the size of individual isn't the question. So true. I was looking at some dog walking photos of me to-day, in 90's, and much lighter in weight. But, the bodice front needs to be shortened above bust, back needs a little more width, under armscye. And, yet to be worked out, the sleeve needs serious tweaking. Thanks for the help!!!!!!!! Sewing room, here I come. Coco, the sewing cat too.

  5. Teaf5 | | #9

    Besides the equestrian patterns already mentioned, you might find better success using a pattern with a "European fit." Although it seems the opposite, a high tight armhole and less fabric in the sleeve/armpit truly allow more arm movement. (As a teacher, I need this freedom or movement, too.) 

    Almost all American brand patterns have way too much fabric in the upperchest/armhole area and armholes that are way too low.

    In the archives of this forum is an extensively discussed coat for a conductor, complete with photos, that shows how the higher, tighter armhole works.

    1. ampound | | #10

      Huge thanks everyone!  I've put the jacket aside temporarily and moved on to the pants just to free up some brain cells, so I haven't attempted the many useful changes you've all mentioned, but I will.  I'll keep you posted how it turns out.  For many years I've used Suitability patterns, and found them to be the largest by far (on her anyway)  in the chest area.  Quite by accident we found a Neue Mode pattern that was designed like she wanted, and this European pattern is smaller where it needs to be.    I did make a mistake when I added my seam allowances, since none are included in these patterns, which threw things off a good bit.  You can sometimes squidge things in/out when sewing but sometimes it's best not to try it!

      I will check out the archives on the conductor coat, I imagine that is about as extreme an arm movement as there is until you get to playing sports.

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