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The #1 Measurement You are Overlooking When Selecting Your Size

Posted by Betsy C on

Comparing your chest, waist and hips to a pattern sizing chart is a no-brainer to select your size, right? However, there is a crucial fit point that you may be overlooking. One that really makes or breaks your fit: the shoulder width. Garments that fit well in the bodice but have saggy shoulders, just look a little sad. And if you are petite, it really looks out of proportion. The reverse is also true. If the shoulders are too narrow this throws everything off-your sleeve is tight the armhole becomes too high and there is pulling at the neck. 

SBCC, and many other pattern companies, give finished garment measurements. SBCC finished garment measurements consist of critical fit points, one of which is the "Across Shoulder" or "Shoulder Width." It's best to consider the finished garment measurement rather than a body measurement for this because correctly measuring shoulder width on the body is difficult without contortionist moves. Also, style-wise, I prefer to modify the shoulder based on what the style dictates. Sometimes you need narrow and cute, other times you need big and oversized.

The best way know what works for your shoulders is in your closet.

Whenever I am unsure of what measurements I need a pattern to be I consult one of my RTW garments in similar fabrication and styling to compare. For instance, if you have a RTW t-shirt that you love, then measure the shoulder width and compare it to the pattern. You can add or subtract based on this measurement that you know fits well. Take the guess work out! 

Here is How you Measure: 

On the back of the garment you will measure straight across from shoulder seam to shoulder seam. Pretty simple, right?

Next, you will do the same to the pattern, just make sure you take seam allowances into account (and multiplying by 2 if you have a back piece on fold). You will add or subtract as needed.


Stay tuned for more shoulder talk next week. I'll show you how make this adjustment-- the easy way, no slicing and dicing! and what considerations go into making a shoulder alteration.

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  • I wish bra manufactuers would realize how shoulder measurements affect fit. If the band is a larger size, the makers put shoulders wider, and the straps fall off. A larger size does not mean wider, it often means a deeper torso. I buy 36" bras that fit except the band and use an extender for a better fit.

    Liz on
  • Thanks, I’ll have to try that.

    Heather Lorraine TODD on
  • Been sewing for five decades and yes, the shoulder width is a key measurement for all garments with a bodice. I make a lot of ladies coats and have found that if the shoulder width is off, the whole garment is off. Thx for the great advice.

    Debra on
  • Hi Dorie- The Gimlet top is a bit of an exception for shoulder width measurement since there is no clearly defined shoulder seam so shoulder width is not really an issue for this style. Also, the extended shoulder correlates more towards sleeve length rather than shoulder width.

    Betsy on
  • Found your website through another and have been reading your blog posts, they are great! Thanks so much for sharing this information..I am a beginner and have had struggles with too much fabric at the back and I see why now! One question, I love your gimlet top, but there is no shoulder width measurement in the finished size, could you provide it?

    Dorie on

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