Monday, February 27, 2012

Fitting sleeves - it starts with an armhole

Would you agree that fitting takes the most time when working with a new style or pattern? Fit is one of the most important factors for the success of a couture garment, next to the design, fabric, construction and engineering. And for me, it is the most challenging step in the entire process of making a couture garment.

So, now I am working on the fit of V8646, the dress Susan Khalje chose for her online couture class. Fitting the bodice requires number of fitting steps, and the sequence is the key. I usually check the fit from the top to the bottom.  In the following fitting sequence I wanted to share some tips on armhole depth since I wanted to focus on sleeve fitting, and the correct armhole shape and size is very important.

1. Shoulder and Neckline - correct fit at the shoulders and the neckline is the foundation for the alignment of the dress. Start checking the neckline and proceed to the shoulder slope.

Establish the shoulder point. To find the shoulder point lift your arm at right angle to the side of your body and look for a dent where the arm and the shoulder comes together. This is quite location placement of the shoulder point.

2. Back width and armhole - Armholes are often cut too low in commercial patterns, so this is a very frequent alteration that should be done after the shoulder and neckline adjustment. After finding the shoulder point and correcting the shoulder length, start re-drawing the armhole line. (you will very likely need someone to help you with that. I do often end up doing it on my own - takes longer, but possible)

Armhole line should start vertically from the end of the shoulder seam on both, the front and the back. Continue drawing making a curve towards the side seam. The armhole should be as small as possible, but should not hamper your arm movement.

So, how low should the armhole be? High-cut armhole is more comfortable, because, by following the shape of the body, it allows wider range of movements.

The height of the armhole is determined with the help of the ruler. I read about it in a fitting book by Jan Minott (out of print unfortunately, but you can find affordable old copies on Amazon and elsewehre). Raise your arm at the right angle to your body and hold a ruler under your armpit. The lowest point of the armhole in a sleeveless garment should be just below the point where the ruler touches the flesh, or where the imaginary sideseam starts to curve under the arm.

In a garment with sleeves, drop the armhole depth some 1/2" (1cm to 1,5) lower. One of the factors you want to consider when determining the depth of the armhole is fabric characteristics: thickness, flexibility, etc... 

3. Darts - proceed checking the bust darts, waist darts, etc.

4. Bodice length - this is the last step in fitting the bodice.

I realize that there are maybe some deviations, but this rough sequence, recommended by many fit experts works for me. I hope it helps you too! By the way, a moulage - tightly fitted custom sloper - is an immense help, but making a moulage requires a lot of experience and help.

Finally, check this excellent article by Sarah Veblen: "To Get the Right Armhole, Fit the Bodice" on

What about you, readers? Do you follow any particular fitting sequence? Share tips and links!


  1. Thats was really helpful, I'm sat here with my arms up looking for dents and imagining rulers to find correct spots!  Thanks

  2. this is funny! when I first learned how to do it I was examining my armpits in front of the mirror, yuk :)) imagine being caught while staring at someone else's armpits - for the sake of comparison, of course! very embarassing!

  3. Thanks for this post, so helpful!  I used to sew years ago, but kinda gave up because everything looked homemade.  I have the urge again, but this time, I'm aiming to do it right.  Fitting, #1 on my agenda.  I also took Susan's class, just waiting for the pattern to arrive, and today, the mailman brought me my Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire Shaeffer. This go around, I want my garments to look handmade, not homemade.  The fitting scares me really.  Yet, I am determined to do it right this time :)

  4. I usually start off with the back, I usually have to do a back adjustment. Then I check my front so I can do the FBA, at width in the waist and hips and then check the sleeves.

  5. Very helpful post

  6. i'm using your post right this second, thanks marina!

  7. I will be using this info tonight if I manage to sew together my muslin. Then I can try all the movements you describe... Thanks so much for this great post, Marina

  8. This is incredibly helpful, thanks!! I just finished fitting my first bodice and it was so hard!! I had no idea how to fix all the problems i saw so I just guessed and hoped for the best! This makes it much more methodical and logical, and that's a good thing when it comes to math stuff LOL.

    Does the Couture Dress class cover fitting in this kind of detail? I'm thinking of taking it, because I really want to work on my fitting with a more defined 'checklist' of sorts, rather than looking at a bunch of pictures of wrinkles and guessing which ones mine are LOL

  9.  I am also taking the online couture class-and I agree, I start at the top and work down
    when fitting most everything

  10. Thank you for this post, it's really helpful as I'm struggling with fitting.  Would you make adjustments for a forward shoulder and high round back prior to the back width stage?

    I've also signed up for the on-line couture class.

  11. Now this is what I call helpful post. Thank you so much!

  12. Can you tell me the name of the book by Jan Minott please?



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...