Fitting a Knit Kimono Sleeve for a Small Bust and Narrow Forward Sloping Shoulders

Since I have been sewing for myself for a couple of years now, and reading just about everything I can get my hands on about fitting, I have started to notice things that I have never noticed before.  One of these things is vertical seam lines and how much they can tell me about whether something I am sewing is a good fit.  Or not.

Things that I previously may have sewn or tried on in RTW and thought it was OK now screams at me “poor fit”.  Its a blessing and a curse.  A blessing because I now know what a good fit actually is.  A curse because it makes me extremely fussy.  Anyone else have this problem? I am sure I am not alone.

Anyhow, since I have been sewing a fair few knit kimono sleeves, mostly from indie pattern company Cake Patterns I have worked out a few personal fitting issues for my particular shape and wanted to record it here for myself (I have a SHOCKING memory, really, its awful) but also to share with the wider sewing community.  There is alot out there for full bust adjustments but not so much for my set of fitting issues (small, puny forward sloping shoulders combined with a small bust), in fact I googled these issues extensively and found no post at all on this so I’ve tried to figure it out on my own.

For anyone who may happen to stumble across this just a disclaimer here: I don’t claim to be an expert in anything other than fitting my own body.  Obviously, my way may not be the “right” way or work for you, we are all so wonderfully different.  But this has worked well for me in understanding the unique quirks of my own shape, so here goes….

I’m using the Hummingbird Top from Cake Patterns (with permission, thanks Steph!) as an example but this is the same theory that I now use for any knit kimono sleeve pattern (it worked 100% for me for the Cabarita Top as well. 

A large bust in a knit top pulls the fabric down (from the shoulder) and out (from the side), as well as up.  To accommodate this most knit patterns have extra height in the front (shoulder to bust) and width at the side just under the armscye (resulting in an angled side seam) as well up more length or a more pronounced curve under the bust or at the hem.  Even a B-cup needs this to give the girls some breathing room, as knit tops do not usually have darts.  For us A-cup ladies, we really don’t need that space.  Our bust does not pull the fabric down or out or up much if at all.  I find this applies even when I am wearing heavily padded bras.

Try it: Take a knit top with a shoulder seam sitting too far back and a diagonal side seam and give it a good tug at the bust area, creating an imaginary bust.  What I noticed is my shoulder seam is pulled into the right spot and side seam is now vertical.

Combine this with forward and sloping shoulders and you get a hot mess from the armpits up in a knit top, especially a kimono knit top…

When I tried doing a basic forward shoulder adjustment on a knit top the seam line sat in a better place but I still had excess fabric in the back and wrinkles in the front and a diagonal side seam.

Try it: If you have some shoulder pads try them on with your top with the diagonal wrinkles.  If the wrinkles magically disappear (well, they did for me), you have your self some sloping shoulders, like me.

So this figure combo is a little challenging as a combination of adjustments need to be made.

So here is what I did:

Fitting the Front of a Kimono Knit Top (Hummingbird illustrated)

Pinned the wrinkles on my first Hummingbird top.  Eyeballed the amount I pinned, reasoned “well, I need less length and width in that area” and duplicated the fold on the paper pattern.  Here is a shot of the adjusted pattern overlaid on the top of the original size 30 Hummingbird:

That fold is widest at the underarm curve and tapers off to nothing at the neckline.  Another small dart is pinned to make the pattern sit flat that also acts as an (accidental) narrow shoulder adjustment. 

If you look at the underarm curve, its almost an inch further in and the line of the pattern to waist is almost straight.  Not quite though.  If you look at the centre fold line it is still at a very slight angle.  And I found that is all that my a-cup needs.  Just a bit.  This is more obvious when you look at the photo below of the two adjusted pattern pieces on top of each other for comparision.  This “bringing in” happened automatically when I pinned the diagonal wedge out, and I just had to true up the armhole curve to the side seam a little.

At the shoulder line, I have also trimmed the angle of the shoulder curve away.  I don’t have a photo of that but it looked similar to the adjustment off the top of the back piece shown just below. 

Fitting the Back of a Kimono Knit Top (Hummingbird illustrated)

The adjustment on the front did nearly everything I needed by pulling the front shoulder seam forward.  However, the back needs a sloping narrow shoulder adjustment to get it to match the front.

Here is mine:

And here are my before and afters after making this adjustment:

To make it really easy here are my notes for an A cup with narrow/sloping/forward shoulders:

  • Side seam on bodice front does not need to be on an angle.  Move the underarm curve in from 1/2″ to 1″ to make side seam more straight.
  • Less height is needed from underbust to shoulder line as an A-cup does not pull the fabric forward and down like a larger cup size.  Shave 1/2″ to 1″ off the shoulder line starting from the neck and tapering off to nothing at the sleeve hem.  If you have square(or square-er than me) shoulders follow original curve (notice it goes straight out and then down which works great for most ladies with um, actual shoulders).  If you are more like me, you don’t need that angle, a flatter line works better.
  • The length of the side, the angle of the sleeve hem and the angle of the bottom front hem I found needed to be adjusted/straightened to account for new angles.  Just carefully “walk” the pattern front and back pieces together on each side (or pin them) and note anything bits that need to be “trued”.
  •  I also needed to do a swayback adjustment on the Hummingbird to get the waist to sit straight at the back.  A graphic of how to do this is provided by Steph on the Flickr Group Hummingbird Sewalong page here.

The above picture shows the finished adjustment front and back on top of each other.  The front is outlined in aqua/blue the back is outlined in pink.  The front sleeve is now at the same angle as the back (those who have the Hummingbird pattern will be able to see the change from the original pattern)

So that is my comprehensive notes on fitting this very specific garment type to my very specific body shape.  I’ve tried this with a few of the Cake Patterns kimono sleeve knit tops (I have needed to do this with the Cabarita and the Hummingbird but not the Tiramisu as the wrap top allows for all these adjustments to be made during the fit check when attaching the waistband) and have got consistent results so I am confident that this method does work.