My Standard Pattern Adjustments

This post was updated in June 2020.

My standard pattern adjustments have to be done to almost every single sewing pattern. Maybe you do too? Lucky is the unicorn that doesn’t need to adjust a pattern.

I am not a unicorn. Unfortunately.

When it comes to sewing from a pattern, whether it be commercial or independent, I know I will ALWAYS need at least 3 adjustments. But it can be many more.

Most commercial (and lots of indie) patterns are drafted for a 5’6” (1.7 m) woman with a B cup bust. As a 5’3” (1.6 m) woman with a D cup AND short-waisted to boot, I’m already at a 3″ (7.5 cm) deficit in height against this “standard” woman.

My Standard Pattern Adjustments

So what do I do to overcome these fitting challenges? At the very minimum to I do the following two things:

  • a full bust adjustment: usually 1-2″ (2.5-5 cm) depending on the pattern ease
  • raise the waist: this can be up to 3″ (7.5 cm) or the difference between 5’3″ (me) and the 5’6″ pattern model

Raising the waist also adjusts the overall length for me as well.

My bodices, after adjusting for the bust and the length, tend to look something like this:

It looks like cubist art, if you ask my husband.

Not pictured here is the narrow shoulder adjustment. This is tied to the full bust, too.

Typically choosing a pattern size by your high bust measurement (as opposed to the full bust one) will give you a better fit in the shoulders. You just do a full bust adjustment from there to make it fit in the boobs. Except I still need to make the shoulders even narrower than that.

Typically I chose a shoulder 2 sizes smaller than the bust I’m going to adjust anyway and blend out. That mostly works.

More Standard Pattern Adjustments?

So those adjustments make the front fit, then it’s time to conquer the back of a garment. I also always need to adjust my back height.

First, there’s the high round back adjustment. I’ve spent too many years in front of a computer developing bad posture. This adjustment also shifts my shoulder seams forward.

Then I’ve had to admit that I need a swayback adjustment, too. This happens when the extra fabric around the waist pools or bunches up just above the butt.

Sometimes this is due to a shelf booty (which try as I might, I don’t actually have). Or, according to Skinny Bitch Curvy Chick, because your hips are too large for the pattern.

Neither of those apply to me. I’m just shorter in the back length than the pattern calls for at my size. So fabric bunches up in that area. I’ve tried to ignore it, but my short waist is probably responsible for this too.

Aren’t I so lucky?

My height, or lack thereof, has become particularly challenging in trying to make pants. Actually, pants are a whole other level of challenge. It’s more like a warrior quest!

Being petite, I’m overall shorter in most areas of the body. This includes my pelvis, which makes for interesting crotch adjustments.

I get extra fabric right at the crotch because I’m a good 2″ shorter there than the typical woman. I’ve tried all kinds of fixes. I think my standard pattern adjustment in this case is going to become simply cutting the front smaller than the back. I hope that works *fingers crossed!*.

Pants in general can be a tricky garment to fit, requiring a Ph.D. in garment fitting as well as some mystical alchemy for good measure.

Then there are my shoulders. It turns out that my shoulders are 2 sizes smaller than what my bust needs in pattern sizes. So I can either start at a typical size 16 and blend out to a 20 (that’s a great way to cheat at a full bust adjustment),

Neverending Standard Pattern Adjustments

Once you start seeing fit issues, it’s kind of hard to stop. The quest to perfect the fit can feel neverending. I’m always learning new things!

Like the petite adjustment I learned about thanks to Whitney of TomKat Stitchery. You can see how I used it for my Misty Cami.

I’ve also recently noticed that my shoulder seams aren’t in the correct alignment with my shoulder point. So it looks like I have to figure out my shoulder slope.

Argh. Like I said, it feels like it never stops!

ALL of My Standard Pattern Adjustments

To recap, I make all of the following adjustments to most sewing patterns:

  • full bust adjustment: at least 1-2″ (2.5-5 cm) depending on the pattern ease
  • raise the waist: this can be up to 3″ (7.5 cm) or the difference between 5’3″ (me) and the 5’6″ pattern model
  • narrow the shoulders: about 2 sizes difference
  • high round back adjustment: 5/8″ (1.6 cm)
  • swayback adjustment: 2″ (5 cm)
  • petite adjustment: can be up to 1″ (2.5 cm) depending on the pattern

And one soon I’ll figure out the shoulder slope issue, too. Here’s a great resource:

So I’m basically too short overall, have bigger boobs, a bit of a “dowager hump,” and narrow sloping shoulders (yay weightlifting) for the patterns I choose. There’s nothing actually wrong with my body. It’s just I’m not in the “standard” mold that the patterns are drafted for.

And that’s okay!

Once I recognized what my standard pattern adjustments are, I’ve been able to make them immediately when attacking a new pattern. And I’ll instantly have a better fit. This is true even when I make a toile or muslin. That first test piece will already fit better than if I hadn’t made the adjustments (and I can sometimes—rarely—skip the test piece completely!!).

Of course, there’s the opposite problem. My #sewingtall sisters have to ADD length to almost every place I remove it from. They need longer hemlines and sleeves while I’m over here lopping 4″ off a sleeve lest I look like a child in my older sibling’s too-big hand me downs.

That’s the story of my sewing life and that’s okay. Patterns are just starting blueprints. The map of my body requires a set of changes to better fit ME. And why else am I making custom clothes if not to fit my body precisely?

Do you know what your standard pattern adjustments are? Let me know in the comments below!

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Mar 23, 2018 8:30 pm

I'm 5'3" with a very short waist and always have to do a petite adjustment. I am a B cup so no adjustment there. I'm also one size smaller in the back (full belly instead of bust!).

Diane G
Mar 22, 2018 10:30 pm

I always have shoulder and back problems. Forward rolling shoulders and a bit rounded too. Looks like you have your adjustments down to a fine art.

Paulette Erato
Paulette Erato
Mar 21, 2018 9:59 pm

Ooh I bet on those occasions when the Burda fits as is it’s like heavens open up!

Claire Cooper
Claire Cooper
Mar 21, 2018 9:53 pm

SBA and adjustments for a long torso, small waist, wide shoulders – I also have large hips, so often hve to grade to lager sizes for the bottoms. Very occassionally patterns fit straight out of the box. Burdastyle magazine fitted dress patterns are usually quite good straight up.

Mar 21, 2018 1:09 pm

I have to make almost identical adjustments, only more so, as I'm 5'2", F bust, short-waisted.
My waist is also size or 2 bigger than my hips & underbust as I have no gap between hip & rib bones, so I shorten at waistline instead of midriff & high hip, deleting the waist I don't have. Also have wide back, & large bicep and thigh muscle (from exercise) so fitting sleeves and legs is tricky.
It sounds odder than it is. I just look small and solid rather than slender lol.

Paulette Erato
Paulette Erato
Mar 20, 2018 5:37 pm

Thanks for the tip about Handmade PhD! I didn’t know about her but what a find!!

Paulette Erato
Paulette Erato
Mar 20, 2018 5:36 pm

Yay, twinsies!

Kathleen Meadows
Mar 20, 2018 5:36 pm

I have to always do an FBA, FSA and sometimes a lengthening (I'm 5'8") depending. I think you would find HandmadePhD blog really handy for pants! I've been following her pants fitting for the past couple of weeks and have found her work/explanations so helpful! also Heather Lou of the Ginger Jeans pattern has wonderful fitting tutorials on her blog. I'm planning on tackling pants AGAIN this year for sure too. I'm sure like most sewists we all share a fantasy of the perfect fitting pair of pants! Heaven 🙂

Fiona H
Fiona H
Mar 20, 2018 3:37 pm

I have to make identical asjustments …. as a 5ft3in, short waisted, D-busted woman too! Fiona