How To Correct Armhole Balance

balance what is going on4 How To Correct Armhole Balance

Like I said here, armholes and sleeves are very tricky. Their tricky not so much because of the sewing, although distributing the 1/2″-3/4″ of sleeve cap ease evenly can be challenging, but because there are so many components that have to “fit” together in order for a sleeve and an armhole to look impeccable. One component is the shape of the sleeve cap. From shoulder to underarm, it changes from a concave curve to a convex curve. How much it curves and the length of the curve determines sleeve cap ease.

Another component, and the topic of this post, is armhole balance. When drafting the front and back bodice block, the back armhole should be ½”-5/8” longer/bigger than the front armhole (measuring along the curve). Everyone’s body is different, yes, but there are certain guidelines to consider – but not live by – when it comes to armholes and this is one of them. The back armhole should be longer because it covers the hump over the back.

Achieving a balanced armhole usually isn’t a problem when drafting a front and a back bodice block. It’s when darts on a block are manipulated when things get hairy. As you can see on Liz’s block, there are many darts that can be manipulated to create different designs or silhouettes. A common mistake is to raise the front armhole when “darting” out the bust dart (this is done a lot on knits as knits don’t need bust darts due to the nature of the fabric). As shown on the sketch, this is wrong and throws off the balance of the armhole. It results in the front armhole being higher than the back armhole and because of this, the back armhole is pulled up to meet the front armhole, causing diagonal drag lines on the back.

balance what is going on5 How To Correct Armhole Balance

The correction is easy. There are several ways to determine if the balance of the your armhole is off. First, check to see if there are diagonal draglines on the back. Diagonal draglines could be a sign of many pattern making problems but the draglines for this problem will “originate” or “point” to the armhole base. As a fitter, you’ll want to “pick up” or “take out” excess at the center back near the lower back. Another way to determine if the balance is off is to measure the front and the back armhole – along the curve – and see if the back armhole is more than 1/2″ to 5/8″ longer than the front armhole. The best way to determine if the balance is off is to cut the side seam from bottom opening to armhole base and let the fabric fall naturally. It’s super cool to see, and I sound like a total pattern making geek saying that, but the front panel will shift up, the back panel will shift down, and the drag lines will disappear. This is where the garment wants to be. This will also tell you how much to lower the front armhole and raise the back panel at bottom opening, which is the correction for such this problem (shown in diagram above).

Oh sleeves and armholes! What are we going to do with you?

tags: Pattern Making Comments: 32

32 Comments
  1. Anto

    I can’t believe the timing of this post. As we speak I am pinning the sleeves on my final dress. I had to adjust the sleeve cap on my pattern after I sewed up the muslin. I’m so glad I’ve only pinned the sleeves because I  can check if there’s anything else that needs tweaking. Great advice! 

    By the way, I was meaning to ask you something. I’m sewing this dress out of navy blue gauze with a circle skirt. What fabric would you recommend                for the lining of said skirt?

    Reply
    • Maddie964

      Anto, 

      I’m so glad this came in just the knick of time! See how things work out? Just check to see if there are diagonal draglines on the back of the bodice. 

      As for your dress, you can line the circle skirt with many fabrics (remember to hang the fabric for 24 hours so that the bias stretches), it all depends on the look out want. Use a nude lightweight cotton (cotton batiste) if you want the lining to NOT be noticeable. If you want to add a little oomph to the skirt, use a nude organza and shirr it slightly at the waist seam (1 1/4:1 shirring ratio). Of course, what I would do, and this is so typical of me and my style, is to add/sew a lace trim or ruffle at the bottom of said lining and have it peeking out from the bottom. 

      Reply
      • Anto

        This is so helpful and I love the idea of adding something pretty peeking out at the bottom. I have some gorgeous lace that I think will work perfectly.
        Thanks so much for your help Maddie!

        Reply
  2. sallieforrer

    Wow! Another great post Maddie!! These are always so helpful and informative!!

    Reply
  3. oonaballoona

    this is exactly what happened on my last garment.  of course, i didn’t know it until i read your post.  i’m totally going to do that geek out thing.

    Reply
  4. Antoinette

    OMGGGGGGGG — you are like this pattern making prodigy.  A veritable pattern making fairy, and I hope that doesn’t offend.  I mean that in a very affectionate way!  :)  Even though I’m an “end results” blogger, and not a “process” blogger, you make me want to show my pattern modifications and alterations on my blog, because I bet you will be able to point out the little places where things can be just a bit better.  Keep posting these.  You’re awesome!  

    Reply
  5. Jacqui Pardue

    hmmm… brilliant.  Thanks Maddie.  I have a lot to learn, but I’m filing away all these little nuggets, adding to my  fitting/pattern drafting arsenal. 

    Reply
    • Maddie964

      Nuggets. I like that word!

      Reply
  6. TJ

    such a creative post. i really need to to learn how to sew asap!
    xo TJ

    Reply
    • Maddie964

      It isn’t hard. I promise!

      Reply
  7. Jo

    I really love your posts on fitting and pattern work.  They are so insightful.  I’ve been thinking a lot about armholes lately but I still have so much to learn!  Might have to get out the old measuring tape eh?

    Reply
  8. Maddie964

    Thank you everyone for your comments. You all are telling me you love, eat up, and are hungry for more little pattern making tips and tricks like this one. I have notebooks filled with sketches and tons upon tons of books with this kind of information and I plan on refocusing my future posts to give you more of what you want. Please let me know if there are any pattern making issues or lessons you want me to cover :) I believe and think everyone should look impeccable everyday and this starts with a perfect pattern :)

    Reply
    • Sewing Princess

       I love these geeky patternmaking stuff. I have loads of problems with armhole and sleeve fitting. my shoulder blade faces outwards, my shoulders curve slighly forward so I have some extra fabric at the back, e.g. vertically. I have been looking everywhere for info but I am still far from a solution. My current fitting nightmare is Colette Crepe

      Reply
  9. Amanda

    Maddie- thank you so much for these tips! I’m booking marking them all away for reference- armholes cause me quite a bit of grief so this will be tres helpful :D

    Reply
  10. Amanda Russell

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom :) Fitting for me, is a step process; first I learned how to identify and execute the major fitting adjustments like bust, waist, darts, etc, but as I am getting past the basics of fitting I am able to actually see, and start focusing on the finer details, and it’s these details that I am more and more interested in perfecting :)

    Reply
  11. Amy

    Armholes are really fascinating. I totally geek out on this stuff. I’ll remember this when I get around to drafting my coat block this year! (Right now drafting a vest block for my man… men’s bodies are so different!)

    Reply
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  13. Janice Garingo

    Great post! Very informative!

    Reply
  14. Roxy

    Ahhh this makes so much sense!!  I get a lot of this and gaping (I will never know the right way to spell this) aroung the front armhole. I think it is because I have such a narrow back compared to a larger bust so the front pulls and the back gets all crazy. All the more reason to get a perfect block to start with.

    Reply
  15. Worker_b

    Maddie, I had reason to use this tutorial just now and I’m happy to say it solved the problem like magic. I had those diagonal drag lines on the front of a tank top. I figured the back armhole must be lower than the front and was pulling it down. I did your side seam trick and hey presto, it was 1 1/2″ out of alignment. So thanks for the help. Fixed!

    Reply
  16. IngeMaakt

    this helped so much while fitting the blouse I’m working on at the moment! It looked like a disaster when I tried it on, but one little adjustment and the fit is much, much better. Thank you!!!

    Reply
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  19. Laura

    Hi Maddie,
    I am really enjoying these posts and am happy with my progress so far, thank you! I should point out, as it caused me some confusion, that in your instructions you say the correction for armhole “unbalance” is to lower the back armhole and to raise the front panel, but your diagram suggests you lower the front armhole and raise the back panel.

    Thanks!
    Laura

    Reply
    • Maddie Flanigan

      Laura, I feel so embarrassed! Thanks for calling this out and the post has been updated. I hope this tutorial helped you!

      Reply
  20. MrsStepford .

    Hello – I know this is a rather old post but just wanted to thank you for it. My last sewing project nearly broke me and now I realise what the problem was. My current project is also showing similar drag lines. I have unpicked the side seams and let the panels drop as you suggest with fab results. With the previous project I had to manipulate the pattern so drastically to make the bodice sit properly I was beginning to think it was my “freaky” body that was to blame – maybe it was just a poorly constructed pattern (these are “independent” patterns which is a shame because I want to support indie designers). Thanks again so much for this post.

    Reply
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  23. lynn

    hi maddie, i can’t seem to click on any of the pattern making tutorials anymore since you changed the blog layout…are they locked? thanks, lynn

    Reply

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