Hi! We’re talking about customizing your patterns again today. There are so many things you can do if you know how… so – here’s another tutorial this week (previous one here) on how to help make any pattern into your own creation!

Adding gathers to a shoulder seam can do a few things. First – it will add extra width to the top or the whole bodice – especially nice if you have a fabric with a great drape, or if you need a bit of extra wiggle room in the width of your pattern. Second – it adds a nice feminine touch and a bit of visual interest to the shirt – especially if it is a straight-forward simple pattern.

Wanna try it?

You will need:

  • bodice pattern piece – must include shoulder area (I used the Skipper Top from Sew Much Ado – pattern review here)
  • paper the length of the bodice
  • pen
  • ruler or straight edge

Here we go:

(1) Determine how much of the neckline on your pattern piece will be taken up with the seam allowance and/or neckline finish – mark this on your pattern piece. This pattern, for example, has a hemmed neckline and a neckband finish. Since I was using the neckband 1/2″ from the seam allowance would be removed from the visible shoulder area.

(2) Determine where to put the extra width for the gathers.

  • (2a,b) Because I used a dolman sleeve top it is not immediately obvious where the gathers should be placed because the sleeve has no shoulder indication. I measured my daughter and found about 2″ of room before her shoulder started. I decided to leave 1″ between my seam allowance mark from Step (1) and where the gathers would start.
  • OR If you are starting with a set in sleeve pattern this is a much easier process. Because you know where the shoulder starts, draw a mark at the centre of the shoulder seam area.


(3) Determine how you would like the final shirt to fit.

  • Do you need extra width in the top of the shirt only, or also through to the bottom of the bodice (say, to cover a toddler belly!)? For my daughter’s shirt I picked a size width that would cover her belly and added the extra width only to the top 2/3 of the pattern. I ended up cutting a size 5 width, with a size 4 everywhere else.
  • Top only (Track A): (3a) Pick and mark a spot about 2/3 of the way down the bodice along the centre line – Draw a line from your Step (2) mark to this new mark. ** The area above this mark will have added width – so be careful with your choice!  Do not place your mark too high or the fit of your sleeve and/or neckline will be off due to the extra width that only occurs around the top of the shirt.
  • Through the whole shirt (Track B): (3b) If you like you can add width all of the way through the shirt by drawing your line from your Step (2) mark to the hem, parallel to the centre fold line. ** Be careful, the width you add will be doubled – once on each side of the shirt!

(4) Cut the line you just drew.

  • Track A: (4a) If you followed Track A cut the line ALMOST to the edge of the centre seam. Leave a little “hinge” of paper.
  • Track B: (4b) If you are following Track B you can cut your line all the way down the pattern.

(5) Determine how long you want the gathers to be. I decided to add in 1 3/4″ of extra space – though, I think looking back I should have only added 1″ because the added width distorted the top a bit much. 

  • Track A: (5a) Spread the top of the paper by the amount of gathering space you want to add. Tape another piece of paper underneath the entire area you just opened up.
  • Track B: (5b) Spread the pattern pieces apart by the amount of gathering space you want to add. Tape them to another piece of paper the length of the pattern piece, matching up the hemline. Make sure they are evenly spaced all of the way along.

(6) Cut away the extra and even out your pattern lines.

  • Track A: (6a,b) Draw a line from neckline point to sleeve point along the shoulder/sleeve seam.Cut along the line to remove the excess paper. Add in paper to straighten the bodice centre line. Tape the paper in and draw a line from neckline centre to hemline centre. Cut along this line.
  • Track B: (6c,d) Draw a line from neckline point to sleeve point along the shoulder/sleeve seam. Draw a line along the hemline from side to side. Cut along these  new lines to remove the excess paper and straighten your pattern lines.
  • NOTE: If you have curved lines (say, at a hemline) eyeball a curve instead of straightening the pattern line.

YAY! You now have your new pattern piece!

(7) Cut out your pattern pieces as per the pattern instructions. * You may need more yardage if you are adding a lot of extra width.

(8) Line up your new pattern piece with the shoulder seam of your fabric. Now you will mark the area you will need to gather. (8a) Mark 1 edge even with one edge of your added width, I chose the right side. (8b) The gathers will need more space than the width you added, so mark 1/2″ to 1″ extra on the other side of your extra width, I added 1/2″ extra. Mark the other shoulder seam in the same way* If you do not have the room and are making a set in sleeve with a skinny shoulder seam, you can gather the whole shoulder seam. Or, distribute the extra amount by adding 1/4″ – 1/2″ on either side of the extra width instead of on one side only.

(9a) Make two lines of basting width straight stitches within your seam allowance area. (9b) Gather the area to match the shoulder/sleeve width of your back bodice and tie off the ends of the gathering stitches to keep them in place. Continue following the pattern instructions as written using your newly gathered shoulder!

I’d love to know how your project went. Post your project on Facebook and it might end up in a “You Made It” post on the blog! I’d love to hear if you liked this tutorial or any changes you might make.