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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.

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?


  1. Reply


    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



      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


        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!

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  3. Reply

    M Lichtenwalner

    These posts are so incredibly helpful! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Reply


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

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    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.

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    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!  

  7. Reply

    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


      Nuggets. I like that word!

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

    • Reply


      It isn’t hard. I promise!

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    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?

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    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

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    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 😀

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    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 🙂

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    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!)

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    Janice Garingo

    Great post! Very informative!

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    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.

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    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!

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    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!!!

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    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.


    • 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!

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    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

      Maddie Flanigan

      I’m glad this post helped you and thanks for sharing!

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    Ana T. Garcia

    In regards to present day fashion, the fitness world has created a
    craze of certain items such as gym tank tops and yoga pants that are worn as casual wear by many people on a daily basis, whether they attend a gym or not.tank tops for men

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    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

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    I can’t believe that this arm whole balance has made it all work!!!
    I had completed sewing up the front and back sloper and was starting to tug it this way and that way thinking I have to add a bit here and take a bit out there when I decided to read some more posts people had written, then I saw this tutorial. I ripped the side seams open and let the muslin hang. It was an uplifting moment I couldn’t believe how it sat much more comfortably. Though mine did the opposite the back lifted and the front moved forward and down ( I have boney shoulder blades )
    Thanks so much for all the work you have put into this site. It has given me hope to sew with better skill and actually end up wearing what I make because it fits well .

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    Hi Maddie,
    I want to make a muslin that is incorrect so I can cut it and watch the magic. Give me more of your wonderful logic. Im hungry for your wisdom. And so young too.

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    I came across this post by chance and this fitting tutorial seems to confuse me.

    What is shown in your pattern draft sketch, is that the bust dart is removed and thereby the armhole seems unbalanced. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems inaccurate to determine that the armhole is unbalanced since you only closed one dart on the front bodice, yet the rest of the darts on the both bodices remain as they are.

    Second, if I were to cut the muslin based on your above pattern, close the remaining darts, and sew the pieces together, this is no different from putting together a regular front (with bust darts) and back bodice. This is because when you get rid of the bust dart by closing it, the waist dart will open up and become wider (cut a mini bodice block and its dart lines to, but not through the dart point – shift pieces to close the bust dart and you’ll get what I mean).

    The concern here with the drag lines, I believe, is not the case of unbalanced armholes, since the side seams are of equal measurement on the pattern draft; but due to the lack of contouring on the back bodice to compensate for the removal of the front bust dart (knit fabrics or not). By fixing this “unbalanced armhole” problem here by lowering the front armhole and raising the back panel may seem feasible but it is not logical in cases where you’re working with a set of measurements.

    Of course, this is just my two-cents worth of opinion and based on my current knowledge. Do advise me if I’m incorrect 😉 Still, this is a great blog for tutorials and discussions with the community.

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    I came to this post from pattern review.
    The issue you are fixing is not an armhole balance issue in and of itself but an issue with the fit of the body. If the body balance is incorrect ie front is too short in relation to the back or vice versa it can be shown by letting the side seam hang free and repinning where it sits as you show.

    Yes, the armhole may need to be redrawn as part of the fix but it is not the culprit.

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