Jacket Pattern Alterations

Pink JacketI think the reason most people give up on sewing fashions for themselves is because of fit.  Fitting yourself can be quite a challenge, especially if you don’t have someone to help you pin, measure, take a tuck in, etc.  To be honest it can be quite a hassle, depressing and a very long process. But if you would take the time to get that perfect or almost perfect fit it can be so rewarding.  It makes you feel and look great in your well fitted outfit, much better than a store bought fashion. Also the more you fit yourself, the easier it becomes, then the more enjoyable the sewing process will become.

In this article I am going to show you some of the steps I took to alter the jacket pattern for my Reversible Jacket.  We are all made of different shapes and sizes, so I know you won’t have the exact altering issues that I have, but I hope you can learn from these examples and apply them in some sort of way.  Example, if I had to add to a curve, you might have to take away from a curve.  Same basic process, I add and you subtract, basic math and geometry.

Front ViewI guess for you to truly understand how and why I do certain alterations I have to show you what I look like, flaws and all. LOL

Side ProfileI am only 4′ 11 1/2″ tall (yes, that 1/2″ has always been important, LOL.) I am short, but not necessarily “petite”.  I have many curves that become a challenge when altering patterns.

Butterick 6825The pattern I chose for the jacket was Butterick 6825, an Ellen Tracy design.  It is no longer in production, but I have seen it available on eBay.  I chose it from my stash because it would work the best to make as a reversible jacket and because of the princess seams.  Princess seams are the easiest way to form around a curvy bust. This princess seam jacket has four front pieces (Center Front Left, Right; Side Front Left, Right) and four back pieces (Center Back Left, Right; Side Back Left, Right).

When people teach how to alter patterns they all have their “own” order in which to do it.  I start with what adjustments I know I always have to do on every pattern first.  The more you sew for yourself and alter the patterns, the more you will see that you have to do the same types of alterations.  I know that I have to adjust the width of my shoulder seam (the seam from the side of your neck to edge of your shoulder.) Every pattern I have ever sewn has this measurement too long for me.

Front Jacket Shoulder

I fold in the pattern the amount needed, 1″ (folded that is 1/2″) and taper the fold out to nothing down the front of the pattern.  The reason I taper the fold out is because I only need it smaller through the shoulder and not through the bust area.

Very important, when you make an adjustment to one pattern piece you need to see how that adjustment will effect the pattern pieces that join to it.  Example, if I shorten the width of the shoulder seam on the front of the jacket, I then will have to shorten the width of the shoulder seam on the back of the jacket, because they will be sewn together at the shoulder seam and they need to be the same measurement.  When you compare length or width measurements of the two shoulder seams together, or any pattern piece that connects to each other, this is called Truing a pattern. If the front is 4″ then the back needs to be 4″. Center Back NeckAfter making the adjustments that I know I always have to make, I then cut the jacket out of muslin (cotton fabric), unless my final fabric is a stretchy knit, then I would use a knit as a “muslin”.  I baste it together, try it on and then see if there are any other adjustments that need to be made, this is where I will pinch in areas, add fabric, etc.  After making all the adjustments on the muslin, I take it apart and use it as my new pattern, or I trace it onto tracing paper.  The tracing paper I like was called Speedball Tracing paper from Blick Art Supplies, but when I just looked it up, I see the name has changed but the sku # is still the same, so hopefully here is the pattern tracing paper I like.

Why I had the muslin on, I saw that the neckline was too high in the back and that I needed to cut it down a little.

BUT, by cutting down the neck line in the back, it effected the back shoulder seam adjustment.  So now for the back shoulder seam width to stay 4″, I had to readjust my fold from 1″ down to 3/4″.

Next I adjust the length from the shoulder down to the waist on the back and then the front patterns.  The only reason I do the back first is because it is altered a lot.  The front sometimes is altered a little and sometimes not at all, on this pattern just the side front waist length needed a little adjustment.

I have to take the center back (nape of neck down to natural waist measurement) up about 1 1/2″, the side waist where the front and the back pattern pieces are sewn together (side seam, under arm to waist), I only need to take up 3/8″, that is 1 1/8″ difference.  Here lies a major adjustment. Go back and look at the side view of me, In this picture you can see because my bootie is so curvy and high it makes my waist higher in the back than the front.

Center Back Waist - NotesThe side back pattern continues the taper down to the side seam that only needs to be a 3/8″ adjustment. (Pattern piece not shown here, but there is a comparison between the original pattern piece and the adjusted piece picture later in the article.)

Redraw Altered LinesRedraw and cut out any altered lines that do not connect or flow properly. The cut edge represents the new cutting line.

Side Front WaistBecause the Side Back waist tapered down to 3/8″ at the side seam, where the Front Side connects to it, the Side Front waist pattern piece has to be adjusted, bringing it up 3/8″ and tapering it out to zero where it will connect to the Center Front pattern piece. Below is the Front Center pattern piece that did not need a waist adjustment.Center Front Waist - Notes

Now for the bust adjustments. On princess seams I never have to add to the Center Front pattern piece, I add to the Center Side piece.Side Front BustWhen you add to the Center Front piece or at the fold line on a dress you are adding width basically between your bust points (to be real, the distance between your nipples {blush, blush}).  So on this jacket I only added to the Side Front piece at the curve and down to the hem. (On some patterns I don’t need to add all the way down to the hem, sometimes I stop just under the bust or taper it to the waist.)

After all adjustments are made to the muslin, then and only then can you determine the right length for the hem.  I plan to use this pattern again, so I made three different hem options.Hem Options - Notes Several years ago I took a jacket making class from Pam Howard, a great teacher and friend, and she taught a great alteration for collars that she discovered.  When a collar is folded over on shirts and jackets it tends to ride up a little and shows the neck seam.  She didn’t like that and came up with adding 5/8″ at the center back of the collar (sometimes a fold) and taper it out to 1/4″ This view is from a different pattern collar.Collar

CollarOn the reversible jacket I tapered it all the way out to zero, instead of the 1/4″, not for any particular reason.  I just did and it worked for this jacket.

I highly recommend taking classes from Pam, she is very knowledgeable, calm and a great teacher.  She has been featured in Threads Magazine many times and has several incredible classes on Craftsy.com. You will truly enjoy her classes.

Another adjustment I found when I had my jacket muslin on is when I turned to the side and looked in the mirror, I saw that the seam line wasn’t vertically straight down the side, it curved to the back starting at the lower waist down through the hips.  The reason it did this is because I didn’t have enough material on the Back Side (pun intended) of the pattern.  So I ripped out the basted side seam, added a strip of muslin by using a zigzag stitch. Then repinned the side seam until it would hang straight.

Muslin Side Vertical Seam ChangesIn the picture, on the right is the Side Back piece.  The black zig zag is where I added fabric to the Side Back seam of the muslin.  The green line is the original seam, and the pink is the new seam.  That is a big difference.  In the picture on the left is the Side Front piece.  Notice the green line is the original seam, but I had to bring in or take away fabric at the hips in the front to keep the side seam line perfectly vertical when it is on my body.

Now that I have shown how I made all the adjustments, the following pictures will show the comparison that all these adjustments look like compared to the original pattern.

Side Front Bust Comparison - Notes

Side Front Comparison High Hip - NotesThe Side Front pattern piece comparison at waist.

Side Front Hip Comparison - NotesThe Side Front pattern piece comparison at hip.

Side Front Full ComparisonThe whole Side Front pattern piece comparison.

Side Back Comparison - NotesBecause of the back waist needing to be shortened and then tapered out to the side seam it completely changed the tilt and grain of the pattern.  I then added to the sides below the hip to get that vertical straight again.

Side Back Full ComparisonThe whole Side Back comparison with top part now aligned and the new adjustments to get the straight vertical side seam.  There again notice the hem lines on the original pattern compared to the new pattern.

When you do your pattern adjustments, don’t get upset if the adjusted pattern looks really wonky compared to the original.  Because if you have correctly made the adjustments and trued the pattern pieces to all the connecting pattern pieces, then when you sew it, your garment should hang and fit perfectly.  Don’t be afraid to make changes, if it doesn’t work, just keep trying again.  Muslin fabric is cheap, so keep practicing with the muslin.

When making adjustments by yourself, put the muslin on, look in the mirror, carefully pin or mark with a sharpie what needs to be changed. Take the muslin off, correct the changes (sometimes your lines are a little crooked because it was difficult to pin or mark while trying to stand perfectly straight). Try it back on and continue the marking / pinning / basting process until you have it just right. It can be difficult, frustrating and you might feel like a contortionist, LOL, but it can be done, and it is worth all the trouble in the end.

Have patience, take your time, know when to walk away, but always come back to it. One minute, one hour, one day, or one month it will work and you will be so excited and happy. Then pretty soon you will know your body so well that the adjustments won’t take so long. You will then have beautiful well fitted custom made garments.

Work the Process, Enjoy the Outcome!


4 thoughts on “Jacket Pattern Alterations

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