Measuring the Upper Chest & Troubleshooting Sleeve Issues

Now the following is written as support for the Feisdress pattern as many folks don’t really measure the upper chest correctly.  But, regardless of the bodice pattern that you use, this is just good information for making sure your bodice fits well.  

(Author: Susan; Models: the reluctant Divas)

It is easy to mis-measure the upper chest and shoulders. These measurements are used to determine your pattern size, so it is important that you get them right.

Start by marking the body landmarks. Yes, I mean MARKING. You have to consistently measure to the exact same points, otherwise your measurements are guesses and your pattern alterations won’t line up and make sense. If you don’t want to actually put marks on skin, put a little piece of adhesive tape on the area and put a measurement dot point on it.

You want to mark the upper chest points and back shoulder blade points (RED), the neck center front and back (PINK), and the outside and inside shoulder points (YELLOW). I’m going to be using photographs here, and these points are difficult to determine without a real body in front of me.

Here is our first example:

To mark the upper chest points, I’m looking at the creases that come up from the armpit. Often they angle inward, around the line that would be the armhole. Here, they point outward, so I’m going to come in from them slightly. Look at the second photo, you can see a the slight dent between her chest and shoulder muscles. You want your point to be in that divide. Too far over on the arm and movement will be restricted. Too far into the chest and it is too constricting. Our little gal here is fairly wide-chested. The upper chest is the measurement between these marks.

The pink dot is placed at the base of the neck. Technically it falls at the base of the clavicles, but go ahead and mark your finished neckline point.

Mark the outside shoulder points. To find these, you’ll have to ask the dancer to let her arm go limp and allow you to manipulate it. Place a finger at the shoulder point and move the arm up/down/around. Move your finger until you find the point where you don’t feel the shoulder movement. You want to be completely on the body side of the shoulder joint, not on the arm side. For team dresses, where there will be overhead arm movement, it is better to come a little further away from the arm. This will give you more arm freedom. Measure from the outside shoulder points to the neck center front point. Yes, it angles, but you have your “landmarks” for pattern alteration, so you can handle it.

Mark the inside shoulder points. Ideally, you would like this point to fall straight below her ear. You will probably need to move it towards the back so the seam won’t show from the front – especially if you will be using different colors in the bodice front and back around the neck. The point you mark will be the spot the shoulder seam ends at the neck line. Measure form this point to your outside shoulder point. This will be the length of your shoulder seam line.

Mark the neck center back. This will be the neckline point. Measure from the outside shoulder points to back neckline point.

Mark the shoulder blade points. This determines how wide the back of the dress will be from armhole to armhole. She is standing in “dance” posture and very straight, you’ll need to add more ease than if she’s standing casually, or rounded, so note her posture when you measure. This gal is wide across the back and not forcing her shoulders back and blades together. She won’t need much ease added in for movement.

Second example:


Note that her creases point inward, and I’m able to just follow them around to mark the upper chest points. She is standing without her head jutting forward, so her inside shoulder point is pretty much straight down from her ear.

Third example:


Although she isn’t standing with her head jutting forward, because of the slope of her chest/shoulders, the inside shoulder point has been moved back so the seam falls on the top of her shoulder and won’t be seen from the front. (I think she may have her head turned away from us rather than facing forward in the photo).

So you can’t move your arms…things to try:

1) Arm movement can be impaired if the bodice is too big. Check to make sure it is not too wide across the upper chest, that the shoulders aren’t dropping and/or that the armhole is too low or too big. You want the sleeve/armscye seam to fall at the pivot point of the shoulder joint. If it falls on the sleeve side, movement will be restricted. If it falls on the bodice side, it may feel uncomfortably small.

2) Is the armhole cut high enough? You want a high armhole – an inch at most below the armpit. Make it as high as you can without feeling like it is cutting into you. Depending upon the shape of the dancer, you may have to pivot the whole armhole more towards the front. (The FeisDress Designs™ pattern already has done this for you, but you may have to adjust the pivot or scoop out some more in the front if the dancer has muscle build up – tennis player or swimmer for instance. Remember, any changes you make to the armhole REQUIRES changes to the sleeve cap. There is no extra ease in the sleeve cap to accommodate any alterations in the size of the armscye.)

3) Shoulder seam length – make sure it doesn’t extend beyond the joint. Dropped shoulders decrease movement. You may even have to make the shoulder seam slightly shorter than actual body length. (If you are accustomed to only seeing your dancer in loose/casual clothing, a fitted shoulder might look “too short” to your eye.)

4) Widen the sleeve. If you are using a FeisDress Designs™ pattern, the sleeve cap is already rather low. Just add on to the width of the sleeve at the underarm sleeve line. If you are using a standard pattern, try lowering the sleeve cap and widening the sleeve keeping the cap seam the same length as before. (Pivot at the center point of the seam.) If you widen the sleeve and lengthen the cap seam, your resulting sleeve will be puffier. This may or may not be acceptable – just bear it in mind.

5) A gusset. No matter what you do, sometimes on some girls your only option will be to add a gusset. You can add a gusset to the normal sleeve bodice or you can experiment with cutting the gusset as part of the sleeve. Usually, it should be off-center, with more of the gusset in the front bodice than in the back. An oval is the best shape. Start small and gradually increase the size until you achieve the desired results.

If you are adding a gusset to an existing dress, open up the under arm sleeves –the sleeve cap, sleeve and bodice side (4 open seams). Do it a little bit at a time and them will all probably have to be opened different amounts. Have the dancer try to raise her arm. Open it up some more if you need to. Keep going until she can comfortably lift her arm. Look at the size and shape of the resulting hole that gaps when the arm is up. That will tell you the length, width and placement of the gusset for that dancer.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. emeraldrose
    Jan 29, 2008 @ 13:34:40

    Thank you so much, Susan, Ann and Divas for such a detailed, clear and concise explanation! I really appreciate all of your helpfulness.

  2. taoknitter
    Jan 29, 2008 @ 13:44:09

    You are so welcome!

  3. cincysewer
    Jan 29, 2008 @ 17:48:41

    Many,many thanks Susan-feel like it’s back to the drawing board for me! I had originally cut the bodice too big(long story)but did correct it-so now am thinking it’s the armsyce-wish I could email you a photo of the bodice as it looks now-but will use the wonderful guidelines above to re-evaluate the situation.

  4. Trackback: Dressmaking for Experienced FDS « Taoknitter

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