Shoulders. While I’ve grown to accept my genetic makeup and everything that comes along with it, having broad shoulders definitely presents a challenge in my sewing. Maybe I’m biased, but I feel like adjusting the fit in the shoulder area is one of the trickiest adjustments to make, perhaps second only to the mystical crotch curve. There’s just so much going on in that area, and a simple change can easily affect nearly every major pattern piece. The fit issue is really noticeable too – just look at how far away the shoulder seam of my Renfrew is from my actual shoulder point!
There are plenty of sewists out where who are similarly blessed with broad shoulders and a broad upper back, including Morgan, Sunni, Erin, and countless others. Morgan recently wrote a great post on fitting her broad shoulders, essentially an open letter to the sewing community for suggestions and support. Go read the comments on that post – they’re full of shoulder fitting wisdom and camaraderie!
Inspired by Morgan’s post, I wanted to add a bit to the conversation. Specifically, I wanted to illustrate how fundamentally different the drafting has to be to accommodate broad shoulders, at least in my (admittedly limited) experience. So, I whipped out my bodice sloper and compared it to my adjusted Renfrew pattern, focusing on the back bodice pieces. Granted, the sloper is drafted for a woven fabric, and the Renfrew is drafted for a stable knit, so they aren’t really directly comparable. However, I still think the comparison nicely illustrates a few basic points, even if the numerical differences have to be taken with a grain of salt.
Here are the two back bodice pieces, with my sloper laid on top of the Renfrew. To make the comparison as fair as possible, I lined up the center back and shoulder seams. (Note that my sloper only has seam allowances along certain seamlines, so I’ve highlighted the seamlines in the photos below so you can directly compare them.) You can see right away that the armholes are substantially different in size and shape. Let’s take a closer look…
I see three major differences between the Renfrew, which is drafted for the narrow shoulders of a pear shape, and my sloper, which was drafted specifically for my broader-than-usual measurements. (Note that the Renfrew was my first and last Sewaholic pattern purchase. I love Tasia’s designs and business sense, but she’s simply drafting for a different body shape than mine.)
(A) The sloper (red line) is over 2 inches wider across the upper back (that’s 4 inches total across the back!) than the Renfrew (blue line). This results in an armhole that’s much more of a vertical line than the typical concave curve you see on the Renfrew. The shape of the armhole is fundamentally different to accommodate the extra width across the back. I don’t know if this is typical, but it’s what I found in my personal fitting journey.
(B) On my sloper, the bottom of the armhole sits lower and wider than the Renfrew. My broad shoulders are also tall, which means that I need more height between the shoulder seam and the underarm. The extra width comes from my broad high bust measurement (which is actually the same as my full bust measurement – 36 inches).(C) The shoulder seam on my sloper is substantially longer than on the Renfrew. Here, the difference is about 1.75 inches, highlighted in the yellow circle. I didn’t include the difference in length near the neckline, as this simply represents a difference in design (the Renfrew has a wider neckline than the sloper).
What I find most interesting about this analysis is that a typical broad back adjustment, which simply moves the back armhole horizontally outward by slashing and spreading, doesn’t take into account the different shape that may be needed. Also, I assume adjusting the armhole shape so severely has implications for the sleeve cap shaping, but how exactly do you adjust the sleeve to match the new armhole?
As a home sewist with no formal training in drafting or fitting, I find the world of shoulder adjustments to be rather perplexing! I don’t have any answers, but I suspect that the only way I’m going to achieve shoulder fitting perfection is to add sleeves to my sloper and draft my own button-down shirt from scratch. One day…
Many thanks to Morgan for planting this seed in my brain and getting me thinking about shirt-fitting victory for us broad-shouldered gals. If you’re interested in this topic, let me encourage you once again to check out the comments on Morgan’s post. If nothing else, I learned that my lifelong desire to bust out of too-tight woven tops is called “hulking out.” I find that hilarious. 🙂