Altering the Shoulders on a Jacket

A customer brought me two jackets to take in at the shoulders.

Both of these jackets had shoulder pads, too, which she wanted removed.

You don’t see those much anymore!

The other jacket can be found in the post entitled, A Finely Tailored Jacket.

Both were custom made in England for my customer and they were a delight to this former tailoring student!

For this jacket, as I mentioned, she wanted the shoulder pads removed which meant that the jacket shoulder hung off of her natural shoulder. She wanted to see what I could do to take out that excess.

So, I had her try the jacket on and I put a pin marking the spot where she wanted the sleeve to be moved to.

See the white pin head about one inch in from the armscye (sleeve seam)?

Altering the shoulders on a jacket close up of the shoulder

The fabric was a quilted silk.

Doesn’t the pattern just scream “1980’s” to you?!

front of Anne from England's jacket

That’s one fun thing about living in this world of sewing…you get to see all sorts of fabrics from all over the world and styles from all decades!

Let’s get started.

The first thing you want to do is, turn the jacket sleeve inside out.

You are going to open up the sleeve seam of the lining only.

We do this to access the shoulder seam easily and when we close it up at the end of the alteration, it’s super easy and this seam doesn’t show when you take your jacket off.

Inside lining of English jacket

Open the seam up about 5 or 6 inches (I usually open it around the elbow area and up towards the shoulder) using your seam ripper.

Then, pull the shoulder area out so you can work on it.

Unsew the lining seam with your seam ripper. :

Unsew the lining seam of the English jacket

If you have sewn blouses or jackets with a pattern, you know that there are notches on the pattern of the sleeve.

Your jacket may not have notches in it, like the diagram below, but just open a large section of the seam.

This diagram shows how far you should take the seam out:

Diagram of how much to rip out of shoulder seam of jacket

Next, take out the shoulder pads.

These particular ones were made of foam rubber!

That’s the first time I’ve seen foam rubber shoulder pads….ick!

They just disintegrated:

photo of disintegrated jacket foam shoulder pad

Shoulder pads are usually just attached with tacking threads.

Just clip those threads to free the pads.

In rare cases, however, you may have to open up the shoulder seam, take out the shoulder pads and restitch the seam together again before doing any alterations.

Once you take out the shoulder pad, you’ll notice that there are a few items you may not be familiar with.

One of them might be the white interfacing strip (or a strip of seam tape).

It is there for support

The second might be a  flannel-like sleeve cap (or one made of a similar material).

In this case, it is the lighter grey fabric strip:

flannel like sleeve cap of English jacket

This gives the sleeve stability and shape.

Take that off.

Before you take apart the shoulder seam, put in a tailor tack instead of a pin at the top of the sleeve.

Use a contrasting color of thread so you can see it against the jacket fabric.

You will put it in the seam allowance of the sleeve, where the shoulder seam meets the sleeve.

You need this tack in order to match up the sleeve after you make the alteration:

Tailor tack on inside of shoulder sleeve at the crown of the sleeve

Next, match up the tailor tack mark to the new pin mark you made earlier on the shoulder of the jacket:

lining up the new seamline of shoulder with the tailor tack I made

Be sure you are matching the seam allowance of the sleeve to the pin mark, not the cut edge of the fabric to the pin  mark.

Next, pin the sleeve all around the arm seam. Use the stitching line as your guide and make sure it looks nice and smooth and natural as you pin.

If it fits well, just stitch over the original seam line and you’re finished.

However, if you have more sleeve than armhole, you’ll need to make that sleeve circumference smaller.

That’s easy to do.

Let’s say it’s too big by 1/2″.

Take a pin and place it 1/2″ down from the seam allowance right under your tailor tack (which isn’t showing on this photo.)

pinned area of sleeve cap in English jacket

Now, your new seam line will be similar to the original one, but it will look like this (where the dotted line is drawn). I don’t actually draw a line on the jacket, but you could, using a washable marker.

IMG_7789 diagram of new seamline when altering english jacket shoulder area

Then, stitch the new seam of the arm, all along the dotted line, to close it up.

Once you’ve sewn that seam, check how the sleeve looks by turning the garment right side out again.

Make any adjustments, if necessary, and sew again.

Next, don’t forget to sew the grey matter back in there! Just use the same stitching line.

resewing the shoulder on with a new seamline English jacket

If it looks good, trim off the excess fabric:

photo showing the stays on the shoulder seam of the English jacket

If your jacket came with these “stays” (this one has blue stays), be sure and sew those back on. One end should be sewn to the jacket on the seam allowance and the other end gets sewn to the shoulder seam allowance of the lining.

sewing the blue stays back in the English jacket

These keep the jacket and lining from straying too far from each other.

They are not necessary if your jacket doesn’t have them.

Stitch the opening closed in the sleeve lining down by the elbow.

sewing up the lining in the English jacket

Make the same alterations to the remaining sleeve and the lining on the other shoulder of the jacket.

It is easier than it sounds and I hope it gives you incentive to give it a try!

Update: 2/28/12:

Below in the comment section, you’ll see a comment from a Linda M.

Here are the photos which go along with her comment (below).

She adds pleats in the seams to take in any extra fullness, if you run into that problem.

Its another option if your customer would like that look.

(Or you could add gathering stitches. It really depends on what your customer would like.)

Since one of you posted a reply asking for photos, here they are:

Linda M's idea of making pleats in the shoulder area
Linda M's jacket with pleated sleeves

You can see how they look in the photos above.

Thanks Linda, for sending those to me.