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Jenna Dress Sewalong - How to fix a tight back (broad back alteration)

This week we're all about nailing the fit of our Jenna dresses! Just as shop bought clothes have been drafted and produced to a "standard" chart of proportions, so too are sewing patterns. Very few people will fit a pattern perfectly right out of the box, so we find it helpful to think of sewing patterns as a foundation for limitless possibilities - not only in terms of the design, but crucially in terms of the fit.

*To be taken to all the posts in the Jenna Dress sewalong, please click here*

How to fix a tight back

Step 1

How do I know if I need a broad back alteration?

  • If you have a particularly broad or muscular back
  • If your toile feels too tight across the back and as a result the back of the armholes are pulling away from your arms making it uncomfortable to bring your arms forward
  • You have horizontal stress wrinkles across the upper back

We first need to figure out by how much we need to increase the ease in the back by, and this is made possible by making up a toile you can try on (and it really helps to either have a friend to help you with this part!). Open up the centre back seam of your toile and pin a scrap length of fabric to one side of the centre back. Try your toile back on and pin the centre back closed at the point where the bodice back now feels comfortable. In adding this extra slither of fabric at the centre back, we can work out how much extra width is needed across the upper back in order for the bodice to fit you better and feel more comfortable.

Remember that we're working on one side of the bodice back, so whatever the width of fabric added at the centre back, that needs to be halved when doing the alteration on the pattern paper. For example, if you added an extra inch of fabric at the centre back, you'll be increasing the bodice back pattern piece by half an inch.

Step 2

Take your bodice back piece and using a ruler and the image below as a guide, draw a reverse 'L' shape from the neckline out to the side seam, just under the armhole. Make sure that the horizontal line doesn't intersect with the dart.

Step 3

Cut along these lines so you have something like this:

Step 4

Place your bodice back pieces onto a spare piece of paper and tape down the bottom part of the bodice (the part with the dart). Now you can carefully and accurately position the top part slightly to the left, thereby opening up the vertical slash line by however much you need to increase the ease in your bodice back. Tape it all down. 

Re-draw the side seam and the curve of the neckline (shown in pink below) and cut out your new bodice back piece. You're all done!

And there you have it! With all alterations, we highly recommend that you make another toile to check that you're happy with the alterations that you made before cutting into your delicious fashion fabric! 

Comments on this post (2)

  • Jun 28, 2019

    Hi Elena, thank you so much for your comment!! Our intention for this tutorial was indeed to create more space in the back neckline as well as the upper back – we should have been more clear about that. Your tips on how to adjust for a broad back but not the back neckline are brilliant, so thank you very much for your input!

    Elisalex xxx

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Jun 28, 2019

    Thank you for doing a post on a broad back alteration! I have a really muscular upper back and do a broad upper back alteration on all my patterns. However the way you outline it here is going to make the neckline wider, therefore throwing off the fit in the shoulders and neck. So unless your intention is to also make the shoulders and neck wider, you need to remove the extra width from the neckline. You can do this by creating a dart, tucks, or pleats in the back neckline. My favorite way, though, is to draw and cut the L shape from the shoulder rather than the neckline. This will add the extra width to the shoulder instead of the neckline. Since the shoulder is cut on the bias, most of the time you can simply ease the back shoulder into the front shoulder. The gathers created this way are usually totally unnoticeable. You can, of course, create a shoulder dart, tucks or pleats instead. (P.S. I love your patterns.)

    — Elena

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