Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Doctor Said I Need A Backiotomy

 Ten points if you can name the movie.

Well, it looks nice on my dress form...
...but once again, it doesn't fit my back.  I need help, sewing buddies.  This is a recurring issue I have with commercial patterns.  I can't tell you how many dresses I've made and either had to scrap or have never worn because of fit issues through the back.  It hasn't happened on every dress, but generally fitted, woven dresses that cover the whole back and shoulders.  Neck darts seem to help, like in my Simplicity 3833, but they don't take care of the whole problem.  I'm hoping someone out there in sewing blogland has some advice me.  I'd like to finally figure out a solution.   This is Vogue 9668, by the way, in a really awesome batik.  I had high hopes for this dress.

And yes, I did make a muslin of the bodice, just so you know.  I did not, however, put a zipper in my muslin.  Does anyone do that?  Baste a zipper in?  I tried on the initial muslin and everything looked great.  In fact, the front bodice does fit perfectly.  I should have had J pin the back where the zipper would be, but I was by myself.  I basically just pinned the top of the back and tried to reach around and hold the back closed while judging whether or not it fit.  I even tried on the dress several times before I finished it and didn't see any issues.  Looked fine to me.  Then I put in the 22 inch invisible zipper.

My dress form doesn't have to move so it's hard to see what the problems are.  The main issue is not enough width across the back at the bottom of the armscye.  I can put the dress on it looks like it fits just fine, but the minute I try to move my arms forward I have an incredible hulk moment where I feel like I'm going to rip it right up the back.  Also, when I lift my arms up the whole dress shifts up and wants to stay up even when I put my arms down.  I tried to take pictures of all this, but you really can't tell whats going on from photos.

The other issue is too much width (height?) in the upper back across the shoulders.  The back is really tight across the middle and then at the top of my shoulders (and back of the neck) there is way too much fabric.  I have basted in a neck dart in the picture below which made a huge difference.  I pinched out the fullness on both sides, though I think it's skewed a little too far forward.  There is also a lot of fabric that sits up at the back of my neck.  I obviously need to lower the back neckline.

According to Fit For Real People, I have a broad back.  The alteration they recommend is below.  The problem I have with this alteration is that it also widens the shoulders, which I do not need.  I do not have broad shoulders. 
  I've made up an adjusted pattern piece below but I'm not convinced it will work. 


In addition to the shoulder dart, I think I'll also need a neck dart.  Is this normal?  Do you ever have to adjust something so drastically to fit?  Do people actually do these major alterations on a regular basis?  Is it worth it?  Am I related to the hunchback of Notre Dame?

I'm wondering if there is an adjustment where only the lower armscye is extended and nothing changes about the shoulder.  I feel like that might help.  Is that common, to have to lengthen the lower armscye?  Would that take care of the incredible hulk moment?  If I did that, I'd have to draft a new sleeve as well.  Yuck.   Or maybe I'm cutting the wrong size.  Do I need a bigger size back piece and then just adjust the shoulder with a dart and lowering the neckline?  I'm at a loss my friends.

Ok, sorry for the needy post.  I'm hoping someone has a similar issue and has some advice.  I'm going to try out this adjusted piece and see if it works, but not before taking a break from this dress for a little bit.  I leave you with a gratuitous kitty picture.


  1. I don't have this problem but I think if you either just use the next size bigger in the back or do that broad back adjustment only for the armscycle and side that might work. But I'm only guessing, otherwise it's a really pretty dress!

  2. Ooh, ooh, oooh! Trena (the Slapdash Sewist) does a broad-back alteration all the time! Here's a link to one of her photos for it:

    It's similar to the FFRP one but pivots at the shoulder rather than spreads, so it doesn't add width there.

    I recently have figured out my standard alterations for Simplicity patterns (just the bodice):
    --petite armscye,
    --add 2" length to sleeve
    --square shoulders.
    --Small-bust adjustment recommended if I don't plan on wearing an uber-padded bra with the dress. At least it cuts down on the temptation to just cut a pattern rather than trace it.

    A lot of the 70s patterns I make have shoulder darts, either to the back neck or the back shoulder, and they certainly seem to make a nice fit. But I've never tried adding them to a pattern. If you really have narrow shoulders you could also try cutting a smaller size at the shoulder, as well as doing the broad-back alteration.

    You're not a freak. You're you. If something needs to change, it's the pattern! Once you have something with a basic bodice fitted how you like, you can use that to compare and alter any other patterns you meet. Or just take elements from other patterns and make your own, if you enjoy drafting ;).

    Good luck! That really is a gorgeous dress, I hope you can fix it!

  3. Your dress looks wonderful on the dress form and the fabric is absolutely gorgeous. It is so demoralising and frustrating to finish and then find the fit isn't right even after doing muslins.

    I'm afraid I can't help with the fitting issues, I'm struggling myself with trying to fit a dress at the moment - I'll be interested to see what other sewers suggest, and hopefully you will get some feedback that will help overcome your problems.

    Robin who blogs as enjoys the challenge of pattern alterations - it may be worth contacting her to see if she has any suggestions.

  4. i agree with miss isis, the PATTERN is the freak. and they are all different types of freaks, unfortunately. i used to hate doing so many adjustments to patterns but now i see it as a sort of super power, and every time i learn a new adjustment i gain hero-ness. after all the cursing and stomping of feet.

    you've helped me here, i think i need this adjustment too! wish i could help you back... umm, you're very pretty. and your dress is too. you could always add panels up the side seams to get some extra width-- it's a print so you wouldn't really notice...

  5. Tanitisis- Ack! You just made my day. I think I'm going to try pivoting instead of spreading. Makes perfect sense. Thanks!

    daisydonut- That's exactly the feeling I get- it is demoralising to finish something and think it's going to work but doesn't. Hope you solve your issues, too.

    Oona and Molly- Thanks for the moral support! I may try and add some sort of panel (gusset?) at the side seam so I don't have to totally redo the whole dress. But like I said, I'm taking a break from it first...

  6. Oh no! It's such a gorgeous dress and gorgeous fabric. I have a similar problem with roominess in the upper back. In FFRP, I feel like the high round back or a forward head may provide clues, but both require more height in the back piece, not less. Anyway, I look forward to hearing about your adventures (and learning from them!!) -- and I sincerely hope you find a way to utilize this dress, it's so beautiful :)

  7. As you stated you have a wide back which is why the dress is pulling towards the upper back when you move or raise your hands.
    My best guess is to
    (1) do a wedge like a triangle from the base of your neck to the waist. This way you have excess width around the waist but these can be removed from both sides.
    (2)remove about 0.5" (curve) around the upper neck so that the dress can lay nicely on the back.
    These are my best guesses, as I have encountered something similar before and number 2 seemed to work for me.
    I will suggest you try this out on a muslin first.
    That is a beautiful fabric you got there. Good luck

  8. It is a really pretty dress. How frustrating that it doesn't fit well. Since fitting your back is an issue, when making muslin of a bodice you might try sewing up the back seam, and leaving one of the side seams open to put on muslin. The side is easier to pin closed too. Backs can have unique proportions and shapes just like fronts. I make all kinds of alterations for my back. Fast Fit: Easy Pattern Alterations for Every Figure By Sandra Betzina has a couple paragraphs on wide back, narrow shoulders combination. Page 110. But it is not the best explanation I have seen. Assuming the shoulder seam is the right width for you, I would pivot the back arm hole (isolate arm hole curve with an "L" cut vertically from shoulder point to horizontal cut in from underarm seam) until the back width on pattern equals your back width. Back width is the measurement from the crease in one arm to crease in other arm across the back. On a pattern it is where the armhole starts to curve out to the side. Then redraw the side seam from the top (which should be further out to the side) back to the original waist. This method doesn't change the armhole opening so no sleeve changes are needed.
    If you ever have the opportunity to take a pattern drafting class where you draft a bodice sloper based on your measurements and have a professional fit it on you, take it. It is so hard to fit your own body, specially the back.

  9. As others have mentioned, it sounds like you only need extra width in the lower armhole and underarm area.
    Rather than removing the extra at the waist from the just the side seam, I would remove some of it from the back waist dart as well - ie the back dart becomes larger.
    Good luck! I know what you mean about having a rest from it for now, but it will be worth it in the end, especially if it is an alteration you need to do on everything!

  10. Ali, Aminat, Audrey, Valerie and Sherry- THANK YOU! Oh my gosh, y'all are awesome!

    Not only is there really great advice here, but you've all made me want to forge ahead and figure this out. I'm going to try out several things you've suggested...

  11. I put zips in muslins. It is a hassle, but the muslin is not much use without it.

    I leave the shoulder where it is, and widen the armscye a little and then take it out a bit past the side seam and blend back to my size about 2 inches down the side seam.

    I blame years of swimming training building up those lat muscles.

    I have to do lots of alterations to get a bodice to fit. Every dress project is a major fitting project.

    It may be worth drafting your own sloper and using this to adjust dress patterns, now that your drafting skills are coming along so nicely.

    This person has done that recently.

    Audrey shows how she uses this sloper to adjust a pattern here.

  12. always toile your patterns to the point you feel comfortable with making it, and always put in the things that alter the fit/shape of the garment.

    if you find your back is broad you can always decrease the darts/ seam allowance in back pieces, always do it on a big stitch, try it on and if its wrong you can always pull the thread right out and start again. toiles are very very very important for this, so write notes and keep them with the pattern.

    you can pivot the shoulder dart into the neck line, and close up the shoulder one, (you literally cut out the dart, cut a new line where you want to go, swivel the loose piece and close up the old dart with tape. you can do it with most darts, but never move the dart point

  13. Another belated thought for this particular dress---remember the little under-sleeve/gusset on Sherry's cocktail dress earlier this year? Maybe you could insert something like that into the upper sideseam/bottom of the sleeve. It was shaped like a little house, with the flat end going at the end of the short sleeve.

  14. I feel your pain! I don't have the exact issues you have. I mainly have a sway back problem in the back area but I some how felt compelled to work out this puzzle!

    And because I'm pretty terrible in explaining in words I whipped out photoshop to do some geometrics. A little overboard, I know but otherwise trying to explain it would just be all jumbled in my brain.

    Ok, so I know this pic looks like a hot mess and I also know that my theory may be totally wrong but it might be worth a look.

    I think you've got the right idea with the broad back so I started with your adjusted piece and went from there.

    Next I tried to address the excess fabric by the shoulders near the neck opening. So we need to cut some of that out. I imagined you having a center back dart where all that extra fabric is and to cut that out I pivoted the whole pattern piece.

    The green line is your center back. The pink to the left of that line would be that "dart" I'm cutting out. But pivoting makes a big gap to the bottom right of the green line. So then I pivoted that gap into the bottom dart making the bottom waist dart bigger.

    Then I wanted to eliminate the need for the shoulder dart if I could so I moved that dart into the bottom waist, too.

    This makes the waist dart super big but it might work because it makes the upper back smaller in the places it needs to be while your original broad back adjustment is still there.

    The red line is the new drawn shoulder line from eliminating that shoulder dart.

    Looks like a big fat mess, right? Well, that's what I might try. Obviously I did all that without proper measurements and without an exact back pivot point but you get the idea.

    I also really like Tanit-Isis's link where the person did the broad back adjustment but just pivoted the cut piece at the shoulder instead of sliding it out evenly.

    Sorry for the long comment!

  15. No advice on fixing the dress, but the movie was Half Baked....took me awhile to remember that one.

  16. Ask and ye shall receive, eh?

    dixie- you went over and above! I've got a list of several things I'm going to try soon. I'll post about it, of course.

    miq- Ha, you win! Ten points to you :)

  17. All great suggestions and well worth Sherry's suggestion to make this particular dress work for you!
    For the next time you make up this pattern, I was going to make the more simple suggestion of going up a size in the bodice... as it just sounds like it is simply too small to me... Don't go down that rocky path of over-fitting...
    If the skirt section fits then stick with this size for the skirt and just go larger in the bodice. I have the opposite problem; I make a smaller size in the top than the bottom for myself...