How to Make a Broad Upper Back Adjustment

Have you ever found it difficult to move your arms when you make a garment with a close fitting bodice, or just felt that the upper back was strained and tight? If so, you may need to make a broad upper back adjustment to your pattern. There are a few indicators that this adjustment may be of benefit to you. Do you find....
  • Tightness across the upper back?
  • Difficulty raising your arms up 90 degrees or more to the body?
  • Tightness at the front of the sleeve?
  • A high armscye (armhole) that seems too small? 
I've been making this adjustment for a while, and have mentioned it on my blog before, however I thought I should finally get around to showing how it's done as I don't think it's one of the more common adjustments although I'm sure I'm not the only one with this issue. It really was a huge source of frustration to me until I got it sorted out so I hope this will help someone else.

I'll show you 2 ways to make the adjustment. The first requires less alteration of the pattern pieces but adds a smaller amount of width: 

Method One: Adding On

Add width following the line of the armscye on the back pattern piece only. As a guide, I pivot out from the sleeve notch and would try a distance of 1/4" or 3/8" at the top first of all. A French Curve is helpful for this but you can freehand it too.

If required you can also add to the sleeve piece. You follow the curve of the back of the sleeve head to add width, going from the centre to the end of the sleeve piece. You can see from my adjustment that on this pattern I made two attempts at adding width, the first indicated by the red arrow and the second by the green arrow.

Make sure you add only to the back part of the sleeve, which is usually indicated by double notches. 

Method Two: Slash and Spread

This method involves more cutting and reassembling of the pattern piece but allows you to add more width.

Cut a section vertically from the centre point of the shoulder and across about 1 1/2"/2" under the armhole, and move out. You may need to use a bit of trial and error on this. I moved about 1" which will add 2" total to the back. This seems like a lot but on some patterns I really needed this extra width.

You will need to add to the side seam too, to graduate it back in to the body, as indicated below.

What you must bear in mind is that this method will add width to the back shoulder seam and it won't match up with the front seam. You will need to add a dart at the back shoulder to rectify this. Again, you might need to see what works for you but I found that a 3" long dart, the width of the added section, was perfect.

This method is great if you are broad only in the upper back. If you are generally broad in the back, you can just slash all the way down vertically from shoulder seam to garment hem which saves having to graduate in at the side.

Result = Freedom!!! You'll be able to move your arms and not feel as if your seams are straining!

You can see that my alterations were made on a pdf pattern which has been printed on regular thickness paper so it's easy to add on paper pieces. You may wish to use an appropriate weight paper if making additions onto regular pattern tissue or ideally trace the pattern piece to make adjustments and then once you're sure you've got them right, retrace a lovely new piece.

I found that this type of adjustment took a bit of trial and error to find out exactly how much to add. On this pattern shown, I ended up using all three types of adjustment.

I hope that's clear - let me know in the comments or by email if you have any questions.

I'm linking this up with Sew Grateful Week at My Happy Sewing Place.
My Happy Sewing Place
K x


  1. That's interesting, never heard of one of those before. I spend most of my time making FBAs o.O

    1. I hope it's useful, I've not tried any bust adjustments before but they seem more common that broad upper back issues anyway!

  2. great - thanks kerry! i can often get away without this but i have found i definitely need it with sewaholic patterns (i guess they are smaller on the top!)

    1. I think you're right, I've not had any success with the Alma blouse which I really wanted to make because it was crazily tight across the back

  3. Ooooh I need to do this on the banksia top pattern I have. I thought it was a FBA I needed but I think it was probably this instead as the FBA made it too big...!

  4. It's not an issue I've come across, but worth bearing in mind. Thanks for this!

  5. Yep, I've got this problem as well. I haven't tackled it yet, but it's become increasingly apparent to me it's an adjustment I need to make. Thanks for posting!

  6. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I thought I was just a freak K xXx

    1. You're so welcome - I'm delighted that this is helpful to you.

  7. This is great, thank you! I've had this problem a few times with things with longer sleeves & I don't think it's a huge adjustment I need to make, just a little one to make it more comfortable to move my arms. Thanks for the know how!

  8. Thank you for this! I realised the same thing recently that i need to make broad upper back adjustments to everything and I've been putting it off because I was confused by the options. This is really clear.

  9. I think this is exactly what I need! Using it for the Archer shirt -- which has a yoke. Just lined the pieces up and slashed together. Fingers crossed for a better fit.

  10. This is exactly what I need for a broad back. Thanks so much. Please add me to your list to receive your blog

  11. Great info, thanks! I have used your first method and it has been moderately sucessful. Next time I have the opportunity, I'm going to use the second method, the slash one. Nice to have pictures to visualize the process.


Thanks for reading and commenting - I love to hear what you have to say