A Handy Guide to Bodice Alterations

Not all bodies are the same shape, so it’s natural to need to do a small adjustment or two to get the bodice sitting nicely.  It is easy to alter a pattern if the place that is too big or small is the side-seam or center back, but here are a few ways to correct ill-fitting bodices focusing on the shoulder, armhole, and neck (with a quick mention of lengthening and shortening).  I prefer to fit the bodice front and back without a sleeve first, as some adjustments can affect the armhole (which affect the sleeve).  Once I’ve taken care of those adjustments, I’ll add the sleeve and try it on again.  Be sure to clip into neck and armhole curves, or they will seem too tight, even if they really fit fine.
 
**Update!** Further alterations pertaining to the Embroidery Bodice add-on can be found here.
 
(Most pictures expand when clicked on.)
 
 

SHOULDER HEIGHT – Sloping Shoulders

Effect: Loose rippling at top of shoulder.
-Pin the excess into a ‘dart’ at the shoulder seam.
-On the pattern: angle the shoulder down the width of the ‘dart’ on both the bodice front and back. (Ex: If the dart is 1/2″ wide, that means 1″ of fabric total is being taken out.  So take out 1/2″ each on the front and back)
-Alter the sleeve pattern as described below.
 

SHOULDER HEIGHT – Square Shoulders

Effect: Strain at the top of shoulder and puckering towards the neck.
-Release the shoulder seam starting at the armhole and continuing almost until the neck edge.  Measure the width of the gap at the armhole edge.
-On the pattern: angle the shoulder up half the width of the gap on both the bodice front and back. (Ex: If the gap is 1″ wide, add 1/2″ each to the front and back)  Smooth the armhole.
-Alter the sleeve pattern as described below.
 

SHOULDER WIDTH – Width across chest or back is too narrow(A) or too wide(B).

Effect: May create puckering.  Sleeve may be stretched tight(A) or appear loose and saggy(B).
-Re-draw the armhole so that it sits along the crease of the shoulder joint.
-If the armhole curve increases or decreases in length by more than 1/4″, alter the sleeve pattern as described below.
A – Bodice too narrow
B – Bodice too wide

 

PROMINENT BUST (FRONT)

Effect: Front armhole ripples at the side of the bust.
-Pin a dart from the bust to the armhole.  Measure the width of the dart.
-On the pattern: Draw the newly created side dart on the bodice front pattern piece.  Slice the pattern piece vertically up the side of the main bust dart and across the bottom of the new side dart.  Rotate the side piece on the bust point and match up the two lines of the side dart so that it disappears.  The main bust dart should have increased in width.  Smooth the armhole.
-Alter the sleeve pattern as described below.
 

HUNCHED SHOULDERS (BACK)

Effect: Back armhole ripples to the side of the shoulder blades.
-Pin the excess fabric at the armhole into a dart.  Measure the width of the dart.
-On the pattern: Transfer the new side dart to the bodice back pattern.  Its point should extend to directly above the back waist dart.  Draw a line from the new dart’s point up to the center of the shoulder.  Cut along the shoulder line and the top of the new side dart.  Rotate the side piece on the dart’s point and match up the two lines of the dart so that it disappears.  You now have a dart in the shoulder.  Draw a dart reaching no more than 3 1/2″ for teens and adults (2 1/2″ for small girls) and smooth the armhole.
-Alter the sleeve pattern as described below.
 

NECKLINE – Neckline is too low(A) or high(B).

Effect: May create gaping or puckering.
-Redraw neckline so that it sits nicely at the base of the neck.  If using the collar, draw a new collar line parallel to the old one coming off your new neckline.
-If using the optional collar, pin the collar pattern piece to the neck edge.  If the circumference of the neck edge has changed substantially, the collar may have to be lengthened or shortened(C).
 

SLEEVE MODIFICATION

You should not have to modify the sleeve unless you have modified the armhole.  If your alterations have made the circumference of the armhole more than a 1/4″ larger or smaller, you may need to alter the sleeve to ensure that it sits as intended.
-On the pattern: Cut horizontally across the sleeve cap approximately 1″ above the darts.  Move the top piece up or down as needed and smooth the lines of the sleeve cap.  A good rule of thumb is: for every 1/2″ increase or decrease in the armhole, move the top piece of the cap up or down 1/4″.

 

LENGTHENING AND SHORTENING

To lengthen the bodice, cut the bodice front and back pattern pieces horizontally within the range marked.  Spread the pieces apart the desired length and smooth the side seams and darts.
 
To shorten the bodice, cut the bodice front and back pattern pieces horizontally along the bottom of the range marked.  Overlap the pieces the desired amount, with the bottom of the bodice laying on top, and smooth the side seams and darts.
 
The skirt can also be lengthened or shortened (at the hem), but it is unadvisable to do more than 1″ of lengthening or shortening in the skirt hem, as the width of the skirt will be affected as well as the length.  Too much removed in the hem will end up with a skirt that does not stick out at all, and too much length added can cause the skirt to become comically wide!

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