Cut-on sleeves, 2C : Example, revise pattern

This is the final section on making a test garment to try out your cut-on sleeve pattern, and improving its fit and looks.
This section includes an example of making changes to the pattern, and how to revise the pattern to include the changes.

The final post on cut-on sleeve tops is about sewing your top.

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Example of changes

People tend to show impeccable photos of muslins on blogs and Instagram. I used to find that upsetting, now I just say ‘okay good for her but it’s not my way of working’. Otherwise I think that is irresponsible, as it gives viewers the impression that making a test garment takes a lot of effort. Personally I think muslins are a tool – I just do the amount of work needed to find out what I need to know about fit and style.

So the finished product of your fitting efforts may not be very elegant ! Neither the shape and patchiness of the pieces nor the quality of the sewing may look good. And it may [should !] have notes written all over it.

Here’s my test garment after all the needed changes had been made :
I had taken the shoulder slope of my starter pattern from another pattern with a shoulder slope I knew was right for me. So there were no changes needed there.
Most of the changes my starter pattern needed were to the back.
I found my starter pattern was tighter than I like across the upper back. And very tight around the hips over thick winter-warm pants ! So I added a vertical wedge to the back.
The armholes were tight, but the shoulder seam lay along the top of my shoulders. So I added an equal length both front and back to the upper body.
And I have a forward neck, and prefer to raise the back neckline.

Compare to what I started from :
This starter version of my pattern may look much better off a body, but it’s only good in theory, in real wear it is nowhere near a comfortable fit.
The result of making those changes to the starter pattern (previous photo) may look a mess off a body, but it looks much better on my body ! Turn this changed pattern into a ‘for real’ pattern (see next section), and garments made from that will fit, look, and feel much better than the starting point. Though they may not have ‘hanger appeal’.
For some of us, ‘our’ pattern may look very different from an ‘average’ commercial pattern, but celebrate that it suits you much better πŸ˜€

I sometimes write notes on my test garment, if there’s something I’ll need to remember. Such as :
Raised armhole – those numbers are armhole lengths, which need to match the sleeve cap – not an issue with cut-on sleeves πŸ˜€
raise armhole

Or, if you make several test garments, write a note on which one this is, perhaps what changes it includes.
Some people like to make a new pristine test garment each time they adapt their pattern, so everything stays tidy. I know someone who made 7 test garments when fitting pants, but that is not for me !
Some fitting instructions say you must keep making a new tidy pattern and test garment every time you make a change, but that is not essential – choose which way of working you prefer.

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How to get your usable pattern from the altered test garment

Here are several methods, which I use depending on which is easiest.
The seam allowances may no longer be 5/8″ (or whatever you use), so it’s important to work with the stitching lines, not the cut edges of your pieces.

Use the test garment as the pattern.
– run a marker along the main seam lines of the still-assembled test garment (for a cut-on sleeve top – the shoulder seams and side seams, not the seams attaching any fabric added during fitting). Make sure the marks show the stitching line on both sides of the seam.
– take the test garment apart, again only on the main seam lines (shoulder and sides). So with this style you finish with two pieces, a front and a back.
You can use these pieces as your pattern (check for regular width seam allowances). Lay them on your fabric to cut or mark around.

Trace the test garment to make a new pattern.
Take the test garment apart with marked stitching lines, as above, then :
– for both front and back : cover the test garment piece with tracing paper and trace around the stitching lines.
– fold each tracing in half along the centre line, and mark the best average of the left and right stitching lines (use a ruler or french curve to straighten wobbly lines).
– add seam allowances to the stitching lines.
And there you are πŸ˜€

Make the same alterations to the original pattern as you made to the test garment.
back yoke
(not a cut-on sleeve pattern piece) I have sloping shoulders. When I sloped the shoulder of this pattern, I needed to add in a strip to restore the armhole edge of this yoke to its original length, so the armhole and sleeve cap lengths matched up.

If the test garment pattern piece does not lie flat, or is not symmetrical – or the changes needed are so radical, or the altered test garment has become such a mess – you may need to make another test garment, to test the revised pattern.

– – –

The posts in this group on cut-on sleeve tops are :

1. The pattern.

2A. Reasons to make a test garment.
2B. Making a test garment, and adjusting for fit and preferences.
2C. An example of a changed pattern, plus how to revise your pattern – this post.

3. Making a cut-on sleeve top.

The third post initially included a section making variations. Then that section was separated off. That too became very long so has now been divided in three sections. And the suggestions are no longer limited just to changing cut-on sleeve tops.
Variations A. Change style elements.
Variations B. Pullover top to jacket/ shirt.
Variations C. Using textile skills.

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Cut-on sleeves, 2B : Fit and favourites

The posts in this second group are about making a test garment, and improving the fit and look by trying it on and checking several features.

The original post on fit became too long, so has been divided into 3 sections.
The first section is about the reasons for making a test garment.
This second section is about making a test garment, so you can check the fit, and improve the garment to meet your style preferences, including :
– how to make a test garment.
– check the :
– – neckline.
– – size – how wide it is.
– – shoulder slope.
– – lengths.
The third section covers :
– an example of making changes.
– revising the pattern to include the changes.

The post after these is about sewing your top.

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FIT a test garment, and choose your favourite STYLE proportions

Make a test garment from your cut-on sleeve pattern

I like Pattern Ease for an initial test garment, as you can trace the pattern and sew it up, which leaves out one stage of most test garment making methods. Though it is a little stiff, not for testing garments which need to be made from soft drapey fabric.

Or use medium weight interfacing, muslin US/ calico UK, any cheap fabric such as a sheet from a charity shop, or some ‘why on earth did I buy that’ fabric from your stash.

If you’re using woven fabric for your test, much of the neckline edge is on the bias so it can easily stretch out of shape. Best to stay-stitch the edge to give it support. Or handle with care.

Baste the shoulder and side seams, and check for fit and favourites – suggested sequence below. Even on such a simple garment there can be many little decisions which may make a garment more or less what you enjoy wearing.

Try on the test garment with the other clothes you will wear it with.
My test garment (photo in first post, and below) would work well as a dress.
But I plan to wear it as a winter pullover layering top, and it was nowhere near big enough to be comfortable with several other layers underneath !

Though try not to obsess about fitting. Every little step can make an improvement, which is the most realistic fitting goal. Living bodies change shape with every breath (and meal !), perfection of fit is impossible. But better fit is possible, try for it a step at a time.
And you may not yet know what is your personal style, so try out the options to find what you like best.
You may find you loathe cut-on sleeve tops πŸ˜€ If so, take what you find helpful here and move on. . .

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Suggested testing sequence


Start with just sewing the shoulder seams, so you can check :
– you can get your head through the neck hole (if not – trim out 1/8″-3mm at a time, a small amount can make a surprising difference),
– the neckline isn’t too wide (add more material to fill it in), e.g. it covers your bra straps.

– the front neckline is a comfortable depth : it doesn’t dig into your neck, or reveal too much or too little cleavage, See the ‘Depth and balance’ section in this post for advice about neckline depths to go with your head measures. Anything below the lower balance point, and no-one will be able to stop looking at your cleavage !

– the neckline is a flattering shape, width and size for you.
Some style-advisor-suppliers sell test necklines made from fabric. It’s cheaper to cut neckline shapes out of kitchen paper. That will stick to your clothes, so you can lay the ‘neckline’ down on your top and look at how well the shape goes with your jaw shape, facial features, body proportions.

Not to worry if you don’t know the ‘rules’ for doing this. There’s no clear advice on this. Some advisors tell you to match the neckline shape with your jaw shape, while others tell you to do the opposite – angular neckline with curved jaw and vice versa. Straight sided V or softened line V?
Try some alternatives and choose which you like best.


Sew the side seams, so you can check :

– you can get into your test top,
– it has enough ease (the difference in size between body and garment) for comfortable wearing and movement, at bust and hip levels, neckline, armholes.
People differ in how much ease they like. Though when you have a garment that fits you well, you may be able to wear it tighter than a bought ‘average’ garment – which has to be big enough to go over your largest area so may be huge elsewhere !
– the armholes and sleeves are wide enough for your arms, they feel comfortable not tight,
– and movement is easy, if that is important for you : try sitting down, waving your arms around and reaching forward.

If the top isn’t big enough, slash and spread to add in strips to your pattern, along these green lines :
slash spread
The Lou Box Top as in the first post, this time with full length sleeves. I added the lines.

On these very simple patterns the back and front are exactly the same, except for the neckline. Perhaps that is not true for your body. Does your test garment feel tighter across the front, or tighter across the back? Would it be more comfortable if the front was wider than the back, or the back wider than the front?

If so, widen pattern between neck and armhole (vertical green lines).
I baste one side of a strip which is wider than necessary. Then pin the other side of the strip, try on, and adjust the pins until the strip width is what is needed. (You can do this with fabric strips too.) If you add the same amount to both front and back, both left and right sides, the final garment will be 4x bigger than the width of your inset strip.

If you add strips to make front and back different widths, the front and back shoulder edges will then be different lengths. When sewing the shoulder seams, either gather the longer edge or add a pleat or dart, to make the front and back shoulder seam lengths the same.

Alternatively, it’s possible to add a vertical strip lower in the pattern, without changing the shoulder seam length. Sonya Philip shows how to do it on a cut-on sleeve top, in her The Act of Sewing book, p.72.

– check the garment is not too big for your taste.
If it is, pin out fabric and re-stitch along the side and/or sleeve seams.

Once you get to very-loose-fitting styles (more than 8″-20cm ease on tops, 12″-30cm on coats), the range of possible ease levels can be huge, so it’s a good idea to measure some favourite over-sized styles and find if you have a preferred level of ease. I like over-sized clothes, and my preferred ease is about 12″ on layering tops, possibly 20″ or 30″ on duster coats.

Shoulder slope

If there are strain or sag lines towards your outer shoulder points, changing the shoulder slope is an added refinement.
– Strain lines indicate square shoulders : add in strips along the shoulder seams.
– Sagging indicates sloping shoulders : pin up along the shoulder seams.

Best to have a full-length mirror – so you can see your top in relation to your body proportions.

Things to check :
– the relative length of front and back (related to fit),
– the overall length of body and sleeve (this is a style and comfort decision).

Check – the shoulder seam lies along the top of your shoulder.
For many people it pulls to the back.
If so, you may need to add length to upper back only, see the green insert line on upper body in above diagram in Size section. (This will also affect the sleeve width needed. I don’t test a sleeve pattern until the body pattern is finalised.)

Or of course if the shoulder seam pulls to the front, add length to the upper front.

Allowing for a larger bust
If you prefer you could add length to the front below the armhole, though it is more work. You have to add a dart, so your style is no longer a ‘box’ top !
Unpick the side seam, except for 1-2″/3-5cm below the armhole curve.
Pinch a dart (post here on how to sew them) which looks about the amount needed (you may need to make several test garments with different dart amounts until you find the look you like). Angle the dart towards the most protruding area of your bust, and end the dart about 1.5″/4cm away from that area.
Add fabric across the entire bottom of the front so the front and back side seams are the same length.

For a comfortable armhole
Do you have an average size armhole ? Try pinning the top of the side seam closed so the armhole is deeper or shallower. Does one of them feel more comfortable ?

The trouble with this change is you will need to change the sleeve width to match.
Hopefully you have a pattern with many sleeve sizes together.
Easy enough if the armhole shape and sleeve cap are straight lines. Simply measure the depth of your new armhole, and choose a sleeve size which :
– for a full width sleeve pattern – has twice the armhole depth + 2 seam allowances,
– for a half width sleeve pattern (cut on a fold) has a width of (armhole depth + 1 seam-allowance).
Best to try the new sleeve in a test garment, to check you can bend your arms and move around as you want to.

Check – you are happy with the sleeve and body lengths: they are comfortable, ‘your style’ and flattering.

Do you look good in an above-waist crop top, a high-hip length top, or crotch length, mid-thigh tunic length ?
Do you like full length sleeves, full length sleeves you wear pushed up (so they may need to be wider at the hem), 3/4 sleeves ?

Hems are change points which attract attention. So it’s best not to have the main hem of a top at your widest point, unless of course that length is a look that you love πŸ˜€
Also avoid having your sleeve hem at a level where your body is wide (when your arm is hanging loose at your side).
If you want your hem at a not-recommended point, try minimising the contrast either side of the hem line. Lower contrast attracts less attention.
Or of course, flaunt it if you want to – combine some wildly contrasting prints and colours πŸ˜€ or add strongly contrasting hem bands.

Add on or fold out strips of pattern material to change the pattern length.

Some stylists suggest the 1/3 rule : have the main horizontal lines of your outfit at 1/3 and 2/3 the distance between shoulders and ground. On me that hits my widest points, so is best avoided πŸ˜€

If you’re making something longer than down to mid-thigh, you’ll need to check the width is okay. Test it by taking long paces and lifting your knees. Do you need to widen the pattern at hem level, or add a side seam split, so it is easier to move in?

Even with such a minimal pattern as a cut-on sleeve top, there can be many adaptations to make, to get it to the best for you. Celebrate that you have learned much about your body special features and your length, ease and shape preferences, which you can apply to choosing or adapting other patterns πŸ‘ πŸ˜€

– – – – –

The posts in this group on cut-on sleeve tops are :

1. The pattern.

2A. Reasons to make a test garment.
2B. Making a test garment, and adjusting for fit and preferences.
2C. An example of a changed pattern, plus how to revise your pattern.

3. Making a cut-on sleeve top.

The third post initially included a section making variations. Then that section was separated off. That too became very long so has now been divided in three sections. And the suggestions are no longer limited just to changing cut-on sleeve tops.
Variations A. Change style elements.
Variations B. Pullover top to jacket/ shirt.
Variations C. Using textile skills.

= = = = =

Cut-on sleeves, 2A : Make a test garment

This is part of a group of posts about making a cut-on sleeve top.
If you have worked through the first post, you now have your pattern.

The next posts are about making a test garment and improving the fit and look.
Many people think you have to change a pattern by taking measurements, and using those to get the pattern ‘right’ before you ever make anything from it.
I’ve found it suits me much better to make my fit adjustments on a mock-up garment, rather than trying to alter the pattern before I ever cut out.
Of course there are some things which I now know well, so I may want to copy from a previous pattern rather than doing them again. For me that means depth of front neckline, and slope of shoulders.

So these posts suggest how to do this alternative method – make a test garment and try it out on your body to find what sort of changes you want to make.

This became a very long post, so I have divided it in several sections :
A. reasons for making a test garment.
B. how to make a test garment, and check the : neckline, size – how wide it is, shoulder slope, lengths.
C. an example of making changes, plus revising the pattern to include the changes.

The third and final post in this group on cut-on sleeve tops is about sewing your top.

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Reasons to make a test garment

When you make your own pattern it’s a very good idea to make a test garment! (may be called a ‘muslin’ because often made from US muslin/UK calico fabric, or a ‘toile’, pronounced twaal, the French word for a test garment).

Well, you could try all this out to improve a commercial pattern too πŸ˜€
Many people get ‘hung up’ on the belief that something terrible will happen if they deviate from the pattern. Think instead of the first version of a pattern as a starting point on the way to getting a version of the pattern which is best for you. A pattern is not untouchable, it’s just a tool to use on the way to getting a garment you want to wear. You can change it in any way you like, and making a test garment is the best way of finding if you want to make changes.

Of course if you feel you may want to go back to the original, it’s best to work from a tracing of the pattern, not the original. Making a tracing is one of the things beginners think is a waste of time. Most of us find that we have complete freedom to do what we like with a tracing, and we can learn so much from playing around, so it’s well worthwhile to make one. Each of us has different preferences about how we spend our sewing time. I’m one of many who find that making tracings and test garments takes most of the project time, and actually making the final garment is only a small portion of our investment of effort. And that distribution of effort is worthwhile because the improvement to the final project can be huge.

If you’d like to watch 30min. of chat about making a test garment here’s a YouTube from Sew Essential. She uses making a test garment as a way of learning about the pattern and garment – how it fits, how it’s made, how well it suits you, how to alter it so it’s better for your body and your style. So you know what you’re letting yourself in for when making it up – reduces the uncertainties before you do any ‘serious’ sewing with expensive materials! May seem a lot of extra work, but the pay-off is no nasty surprises with fit or shape, no big disappointment when you put a lot of effort into making something only to find you don’t want to wear it, perhaps even that you can’t wear it. (I once made a cut-on sleeve top direct from the pattern in a special fabric without bothering to check anything, “it’s very easy so no problems”, only to find I couldn’t get my arms into the armholes.)
The Sew Essential video includes sections on how to make a test garment, how to alter it, and how to adapt your main pattern (see time line sections). (UK ‘calico’ = US ‘muslin’).

Here’s a pdf on making a test garment for a rather more advanced pattern than the one in this post, from The Thrifty Stitcher.

Here’s an article from Seamwork summarising reasons why makes can be un-worn. Making a muslin is first on their list of cures !

Some people think that making a muslin is ‘bad for the planet’ as you’re making something that is not used. But actually making one is a very responsible move, as it protects you from making a throw-away garment from good fabric !

Different reasons for making a test garment affect how much trouble you take :
For fit and proportions testing : you only need a minimal make with no added style elements, as described in this post.
For sewing practice : use something like the proper materials, and follow all the instructions. You might find you’ve made a ‘wearable muslin’ πŸ˜€

– – – – –

The posts in this group on cut-on sleeve tops are :

1. The pattern.

2A. Reasons to make a test garment.
2B. Making a test garment, and adjusting for fit and preferences.
2C. An example of a changed pattern, plus how to revise your pattern.

3. Making a cut-on sleeve top.

The third post initially included a section making variations. Then that section was separated off. That too became very long so has now been divided in three sections. And the suggestions are no longer limited just to changing cut-on sleeve tops.
Variations A. Change style elements.
Variations B. Pullover top to jacket/ shirt.
Variations C. Using textile skills.

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