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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’ve been sewing for years, more than 50, and you are right: this is a measurement I have never used. Thank you.

    Trish on
  • Hi Betsy. Pleased to see this overlooked shoulder measurement matter being addressed here, especially as you’re going to show us the adjustment. Thank you.

    Jan DI Marco on
  • I just ran into this on a dress I made this week-end. I’m confused on where I need to take it in though as the above the bust, and across the bust measurement was good. I have what I guess would be narrow shoulders. Because the shoulder seam goes out past my arm, it makes the underarm lower also. I am looking forward to your comments on making the alternations.

    Carol on

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