How to re-shape armholes

Reshaping armholes to facilitate proper range of motion is probably my least favorite thing to do. After setting it all up -aligning pattern pieces along the grain and matching join points- this is what my pattern looked like today:


…and if you don’t know what the above is, that is one ugly armhole …after which I decided I had something -anything- more pressing to do. Like, going to see if the dogs were out of food. Or checking my email to see if anything interesting came in. Maybe somebody will call me? Yes! Sean did (that’s why I was really long winded Sean, I didn’t want to do this). So now I’m back with this ugly armhole staring me in the face.

add_CF_to_sidepanel_sm_step_two_displayIf you have no idea what I’m blathering about, you can find more in sleeve cap ease is bogus. If you do the heavy lifting of redesigning your armholes to match the range of motion, you don’t need sleeve cap ease to compensate for a poorly made armhole and or sleeve. And an idea of how you might go about doing it for this style is shown at right.

This makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like making big changes to a draft. This new shaping (red lines) will require cutting a new back (actually two of them because this has a vent and each side has its own pattern piece) and a new side panel  (see black lines). Actually probably the front too because it needs to be scooped out some. In the forum thread where we are discussing this, there was a too large fold of fabric in the front armhole.

Then of course, you have to cut a new sleeve. Scratch all the above. My absolute least favorite thing to do is fixing sleeves. Second least favorite is fixing armholes but you have to do the second least liked thing before you are subjected to doing the least liked thing. Complain complain complain… I’d never complain like that if I were working for someone else though. This is a pattern for Mr. Fashion-Incubator because he’s ready to learn a new sewing project.

If you’re going to do something like this, you have to lay out your pieces correctly to get an idea of the armhole shaping. Here’s how:

1. The first step is to align the back on grain.

2. Mark off the seam allowance to find the match point of the side panel (see below)


3.  Find the match point on the side panel Then lay the side panel on grain to match that point at the back (below). I have mine joined with a push pin so I can pivot the side panel freely until the grain is just right.


4. Then rinse, lather and repeat for the front piece as shown below.


These are the essentials; I will be posting a deeper discussion of this on the forum because I don’t want to bore anyone with this if it’s not of interest or is too technical.

Feel free to post questions and discussion as appropriate, hopefully it is clear.


  1. dosfashionistas says:

    It is interesting to me. I always like to see what you do to patterns and it is interesting to see the work of someone who is an expert on tailored clothing.Report

  2. Lisa Laree says:

    I’ve been following all this with great interest; sleeve/armsceye fitting is still one of the Great Illusive Goals of my personal home sewing life. But there is no ‘measure and adjust’ recipe for fitting armholes, so I’m watching and learning to see how I can make a blouse work in the armhole without going through three or four or more (still haven’t hit on Right yet) muslins to tweak and adjust until I find the sweet spot of high armhole and sleeve cap so that I can have a rather fitted sleeve and still move my arms. Thanks so much for sharing this information!!Report

  3. E A says:

    PLEASE bore me.. This has always been a key point of interest since I can remember. Armholes and sleeves are always an issue for me and even if some of the technicalities may escape me, it’s still worthwhile to see what a decent armholes look like.Report

  4. Linda L says:

    I have to ditto Lisa’s comment above. My biggest issue with sleeve/armscye fitting is for sleeveless tops/dresses in the front area. They always are too low or expose to much of the underarm and when you are more mature (old) that is sometimes not a good look. This was helpful information and would love to learn more.Report

  5. Liz says:

    Kathleen, please continue this discussion on the public blog, if you feel comfortable doing so.

    [I’ve been unable to renew my membership in the forum due to personal/financial issues. I miss it, that’s where all the real technical discussion takes place. Anyone else reading this, I urge you to buy Kathleen’s boog and keep renewing your forum membership. It’s worth it.]Report

  6. Terri says:

    Are you going to pivot the underarm panel so it will line up as sewn before you redraw the back part of the armhole?
    I see this incorrect shape constantly in men’s drafts. Why?Report

  7. Donna says:

    Technical does not bore me in the least. When I first started drafting patterns one of the hardest concepts to master was that they did not look right based on my years of experience using commercial home patterns. It must be so much easier for someone who learns from scratch with out the poorly done home patterns as a reference. Once I draft a pattern that fits my body it looks really weird buy I stay with it.Report

  8. Armholes and crotches, please!….That sounds like a line from Porky’s, haha. Those two things are my worst enemies, probably because I learned from home patterns ( I feel ya, Donna)! I have been working on a sleeve, for one of my jackets, and I’m completely at brain fart stage. Another problem I have is drafting the sleeve to match my armhole….mind blowing!Report

  9. Barbara says:

    I second and third all the above comments asking for more. Also, I hate buying a book and then having a new edition come out right after I buy it – so are you planning a new edition of your book? ThanksReport

  10. RobinDenning says:

    Boy, I know how you feel about armscyes and sleeves. I am so glad I am just fitting myself, because the initial work is behind me. I just use my basic bodice pattern as a template when altering a new-to-me commercial sewing pattern. But if I am tackling a very different design with interesting seams, I find myself looking for cats to feed and phones to ring, too. Is there a weed in the garden?
    Fitting shoulders is, imho, the hardest body part to get right. For a person with non-standard measurements, anyway.
    Blessed are those with measurements falling within the bell curve.Report

  11. Barb Taylorr says:

    As long as everyone seems to be giving you a wsih list here, I’ll chime in and voice my hope that you’ll write a post regarding fit of raglan sleeves someday too. I have a lot of pet peeves with those and would love to see your take on them. It is always such a help and pleaure to get to look at these things through your experienced eyes. Thank you, as always.Report

  12. Deanna Bartee says:

    I am not an expert in men’s wear…but for women’s wear I would want the front shoulder lower than it is in relation to the back…I think you had mentioned that in a previous posting as being a problem (front is too long) I definitely agree after seeing the pattern laid out…Report

  13. Alexandra says:

    Very interesting and not too technical. Just right. I recently got around the whole issue of armhole fitting by making a blouse with cut-on sleeves but I would love to know how to fix armholes so I can make a shirt that has them.Report

  14. ClareInStitches says:

    Please be technical, Kathleen, and please, continue this on the public site. I need all the help with my sleeve fitting that I can get. Even to hear how you decided quite how much to add between the original pattern edge and your new red line, would be very interesting. Is it a particular ratio or something based on your own experience?Report

  15. Theresa in Tucson says:

    Darn, you’ve managed to sidetrack me again. Now I’m going to haul out my jacket patterns and look at armholes instead of finishing what I started before I was sidetracked the first time! Keep ’em coming Kathleen, we are learning lots! And thank you.Report

  16. Lisa Blank says:

    Definitely not boring, so I’ll be following along either here or in the forum.

    Like Clare, I’d like to know how you determined where to draw the red line. Was it just by your experienced eye?Report

  17. Sandy Peterson says:

    ….”This is a pattern for Mr. Fashion-Incubator because he’s ready to learn a new sewing project.”

    Your so funny!! Not boring at all. Love it!!Report

  18. Eve says:

    On topic: I have used a “formula” (Armstrong) for drawing the crotch curve which has worked well. Is there a “formula” to develop the arm hole curve?

    Off topic: How is your pattern labeled?Report

  19. Kathleen says:

    Off topic: How is your pattern labeled?

    Can you be more specific?

    If you’re asking about piece labeling conventions in general, see this entry. The first part might not apply to you but there is a sample at close (with explanatory text in between).

    If you are curious about piece naming conventions, there is this.Report

  20. Donna says:

    I am curious – is what you are doing here part of cleaning up a pattern or is it a step before and called a correction or something else? I would love to see a tutorial on cleaning up a pattern.Report

  21. Kathleen says:

    I posted a long entry in the forum with about 25 photos step by step.

    Yes, it is mostly by eye but I substantiate where I can.

    A formula is the elusive grail. I may work off Castro’s instruction to test draft the sleeves to match or fix the ones I have, depending on whichever takes less time.

    I was serious when I said Mr. F-I is going to sew one. I have to prove the pattern first tho, mostly because I picked a plaid. Woe is me. Iow, the fabric pattern will match going all the way around the body including the sleeve.

    This is a pattern clean up, correction or whatever you want to call it. The pattern I’m working from was used at a company I used to work at but this is not my draft. The company went out of business and I inherited some of the patterns they used. Iow, altho I worked there, I came by what patterns I got from them honestly.

    Even if it were my draft, when you work at a company, you don’t always have the liberty to fix things. Long story.Report

  22. kenna says:

    So timely! And definitely not boring! I am having a devil of a time communicating armhole and sleeve cap shape to my factories. The photo-essay is really helpful. It’s great to see a pattern master at work.Report

  23. ken simmons says:

    I believed you meant, …rinse, lather, repeat…rather than rinse later repeat. Although I love the idea of people rinsing all this later and trying to repeat it.Report

  24. Matthew Pius says:

    Count me as another voice in favor of seeing more about armholes and sleeve caps. I know you lurk on a couple of the yahoo groups and have probably seen some of the discussions I’ve participated in there regarding sleeves. I’d love to hear more of what you have to say about armhole and sleeve cap shaping.

    I’m heartened to see that your corrected shape is similar to my patterns. I’d be curious to know how or why a pattern winds up with that odd angle between the back panel and side panel?Report

  25. Amy says:

    Yes! I was waiting for something like this since your original sleeve cap post. It’s not boring at all, and I love all the extra detail in the forum. You know, I did two drafts of the bodice and sleeve from European Cut and the armhole looks very similar… I remember thinking how strange it was compared to just about every other armhole draft I’ve looked at. Looking forward to seeing Mr. Fashion Incubator’s finished garment, if you are willing to share.Report

  26. Adrienne Descloux says:

    I realize how much you *hate* draping, but that’s the method I’ve used, since my flat skills are at this time quite poor, not having your book just yet. However, Every. Single. Time. without fail, the back armscye looks nearly flat and shapeless, meanwhile the front is a deep notch. It was years of me trying to “correct” this series of adjustments back to the traditional, mirrored horseshoe shape as found in consumer patterns. I finally gave in after some years of reading your site here. And you do tantalize with your 25 picture corrections, forum only! But it works. I still don’t know how to make a sleeve fit in that hole the way I want, but I think the big secret is that I don’t want to work that hard just yet.

    Anyway, thanks greatly for just this little snipit. Many tantalizing clues could lead to liberation from terrible armholes!Report

  27. MandySA says:

    Got dog food (and cat food) and absolutely no e-mail more interesting than “boring” (wrong) and technical (yippee) tutorial from fashion-incubator – please add my name to this petition!
    Many thanks.Report

  28. That I prefer drafting because it is more efficient doesn’t mean that I hate draping. The only thing I dislike is the claim that draping is superior or more efficient than drafting or that drapers are more skilled than drafters but how can this be if drapers are limited to one skill set and drafters necessarily have both? Even those who prefer drafting will often drape a given element of a garment, say a sleeve or collar etc. Draping is but one tool in a craftsman’s repertoire. If you can’t draft, then drape.

    I think draping is an excellent method designers can use to express their ideas or even, to design in a holistic natural way if their drafting skills don’t permit full expression. That a designer creates a drape (especially if they can’t sketch) to explain what they want me to do is practically a godsend -so how could I hate that? Fwiw, I spent several days at the beginning of the month, teaching a designer to drape and I wouldn’t have done so if I “hated” it.Report

  29. Xochil says:

    Thank you for this post! I read through the forum posts as well, and am looking forward to seeing how this progresses. I have come across similar issues with clients’ patterns and love that you’re going so deeply into this. Bring on the technical! :)Report

  30. Quincunx says:

    Eve: If the handwritten labels are too small to easily read, they are labeled on the third line of the label, from left to right, (L) Back, Side Front, and Front. The full labels read:

    Sz 42
    (piece name, underline, then)
    v. 2

    I can’t read what is going on under the arrow on the left back piece either, but it’s likely nothing to do with this entry, so.Report

  31. Jeanne Bradfield says:

    I’m really grateful for your information…I’ve been searching for a way to accomplish the European way to achieve the sleeve and armscye fit…I think I’ve seen or can figure out how to draft a sleeve that will fit this bodice from your plaid thing, if not please elaborate. This fit is really striking on women and I don’t think ease is compromised. I would like to learn whatever you have to offer on this subject. And yes I’m used to trial and error.Report

  32. Debra says:

    Oh my goodness, what a tease! I have been searching all over the internet for a visual explaination of how to re-draw an armscye and corresponding sleeve to raise it for more range of motion and lo and behold! an explaination from the goddess herself…and then it’s incomplete! I do not qualify for the forum, I’m gonna go cry in a corner nowReport

  33. MandySA says:

    Debra, it was exactly this “teaser” that got me to buy Kathleen’s book after months (years maybe) of humming and haaing. And although I haven’t fully participated in discussions yet I am learning an enormous amount. If you do go ahead I don’t believe you will regret it for a moment.Report

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