Designer Joi - Perfect Fit Blog - Real Life Fitting

Real Life Sleeve Fitting with Designer Joi


Nothing illustrates how to fit better than a real person in a real life fitting situation. Text book is great for learning the basics, and when you delve into real life the possibilities are endless and text book at that point is only a guide.


This example is from a real student fitting evaluation that I worked on last summer helping her to correct fitting issues that she struggled with for years (something I hear all the time in live classes). When I fit my clients I am very picky, so as I discuss what is going on in these images, I am going to comment on lots of things. How this jacket was fitted shows what not to do in traditional sleeve fitting and the reasoning why will be obvious. At the end of this article I will show you the 3 steps to perfect fitting sleeves every time and it probably is not what you think.


I want to skip the fluff and give you no-nonsense tips for successful sewing. If you are a beginner you will see what not to do and avoid years of unnecessary struggles. If you are experienced in sewing then this should be a BIG eye opener for you.


So here we go and thanks for joining me . . .


At first glance this sleeve may appear to fit pretty good although it is being held out and away from the body creating this illusion. Initially, only a few things stick out.


  • Upon a closer look the armhole sits off the body and does not match the body underneath.
  • Notice the how low the sleeve is at the underarm compared to where it should match the body.
  • The lower armhole creates unnecessary excess fullness in the underarm and will restrict movement
  • The sleeve also sits out away from the point where it should actually match and fit the body.


If this was a heavy coat pattern meant to fit over many layers of clothing then the placement of these elements would be correct, but that is not how this garment is meant to fit, and when we evaluate the next image you will see many more issues that are preventing this student from having successful fit.

Designer Joi - Perfect Fit Blog - Real Life Fitting

Click photo to enlarge.

Click photos to enlarge.

Now the arm is a relaxed natural position and we can dig a little deeper to evaluate fit.


  • We know the original armhole seam is in the wrong place at a minimum. The sleeve is falling off the body rather than hanging from the shoulder point (the large dot). On a tailored or semi tailored garment your armhole seam should fall on top of the shoulder point. Basically you have a T-shirt fit on a garment that is supposed to look more polished creating a sloppy fit and look.


  • The dotted line illustrates a more polished placement. Take your hand and cover everything to the left of the dotted line. Look how clean the center front area is? Imagine the sleeve attached at the dotted line and how much cleaner it would look.


  • Hollow- because the sleeve is sitting away from the body, hanging off the upper arm and not supported by the shoulder point you also have a hollow in the garment where the fabric is collapsing. This helps to illustrate how clothing needs foundation weather the body or something like a shoulder pad, bra, or padding.


  • DRAG LINE! The infamous drag line! These can occur for two reasons on a garment. Drag lines occur because of movement when an arm bends or the body is moving. In that case there is not a fit issue but instead a line of movement. In this case the body is placed naturally and you can easily see a strong drag line. I will address this when we discuss the next image.

Once I received the back photos of this sleeve evaluation the problems really came to life. You see it too right?


  • Look at the forward shoulder point on the body compared to the pattern. See how it really stands out in the first image. When fitting a sleeve you have to get the arm hole right first before you add the sleeve and everyone forgets this. I got so excited when I saw this photo. It is such a great illustration of why a pattern out of an envelope is not a guarantee for a great fit, and also why evaluating the body up front is so imperative. (In the future I will do a full post on the forward tilting shoulder one of my specialties- well you grow them I fix them).


  • The armhole is totally off the body on the back. It should fall on the shoulder point and match the body.


  • The hollow on the back. This is actually caused by the forward tilting armhole not the sleeve placement. Again in the future I will do more on the forward tilting shoulder, but getting the armhole to match the body will help with this. Than all you need to do is add a small padding on the back half of the armhole to create a natural and leveled out shape.


  • THE GRAIN: The cut of this sleeve is all wrong. This student was told there were only a few certain ways to fit sleeves. Knowing that there are unlimited bodies, patterns and fitting variations my passion is to free my students from limiting mindsets and let you soar to real results- basically it is ok to go against the grain (no pun intended) if that is what is necessary to get a custom fit. Lucky for this evaluation you can visually see the grain line in the weave of this fabric. Look how off grain the sleeve is for this garment. Now, I am totally ok sewing a sleeve on the bias, or slightly off grain if fabric and fit will allow. That technique is perfectly fine, but when you deviate from the rules it does have to be done correctly and in this sleeve example it won’t work with an incorrect armhole shape. All the dynamics have to be executed correctly. In this example the grain, tilt and insertion in combination with a bad armhole are all competing with each other.

Click photos to enlarge.

Designer Joi - Perfect Fit Blog - Real Life Fitting

Click photo to enlarge.

Check out this full side shot and note the forward shoulder, sleeve placement, and the grain. The full length really shows everything. Again, I get really excited when I see photos like this because they are so much fun to work on. And remember fit is not a project class where you sew and are done. Fit is an ever evolving skill that you will continually excel at as you practice.


TIP: When fitting I LOVE to take photos, step away and then go back and check them a day or so later. This is a great tip especially if you are fitting yourself (I am realistic in that I recommend a fitting partner, but realistically I know many of you fit yourselves.) When you fit yourself a photo like this can really help. When I work with clients in my studio I encourage them to take photos and go home and look at them. I give them a time frame to contact me if they want to change anything or have questions.


Ok so do you want to know how to fix all of these sleeve and armhole fitting issues? Fitting a sleeve is actually very easy and is often made to seem more difficult than necessary. Skip the fluff and get to the real solution that works is my policy.

3 Steps to perfect sleeves:

1. Make a fit sample:

You cannot skip making a fitting sample until you have a polished pattern that fits your body. Most sewers I know make multiple garments from the same pattern so take the time to do it right. A muslin or fit sample is a simple muslin or similar fabric to your final garment with only key areas like shoulders, side seams and vertical seams sewn. Fit this to your body first. You can see why that is so important simply by this evaluation. None of these issues could be corrected, altered or fixed in the final fabric.

Designer Joi - Perfect Fit Blog - Real Life Fitting

Click photo to enlarge.

Designer Joi - Perfect Fit Blog - Real Life Fitting

Click photo to enlarge.

2. Address the body and the torso first:

Never fit a sleeve to any garment until you have fitted the torso. The biggest mistake in this entire illustration is the sleeve is attached to the torso. The armhole is incorrect and that one incorrect thing on the torso has now transferred itself to the sleeve and made many more fitting issues. If you are new to fitting and even my seasoned veterans have a difficult time knowing where to start when you are looking at all the things going on. So fit the body of the garment first. Also when fitting the torso address the foundation. I mentioned it earlier, but for that forward tilting shoulder you will want to add a small padding to the back of the arm to level out the shape. Now you can sew the sleeve into a natural shaped armhole. (sometimes a fitting solution is NOT a wonky pattern shape or adjustment at all)

3. Pin fit the sleeve to the torso:

Pin the sleeve to the body of the garment and try it on. Why rush and sew it into the garment until you are sure. Pin fitting saves tons of time. Check the placement of the shoulder point on the sleeve so that is matches the shoulder point on the body. It is absolutely ok to insert a sleeve slightly tilted toward the front to match the arm dynamics and shoulder points. More detail on that is a post for another day, but when you pin fit you can take them out, reposition, and obtain the perfect fit. If you skip pin fitting the sleeve then all bets are off. But after reading all of this I think you all will be a believer. Baste and try of if you like and then add your final stitching.

Designer Joi - Perfect Fit Blog - Real Life Fitting

Click photo to enlarge.

1.2.3 It’s that simple. 

This advice is for a tailored or semi-tailored garment. T-shirt sleeves and other garments have some variations, but the process to fit other garments is the same. Utilize the fitting sample and pin fit to the desired placement.

If you enjoyed this post send us a note. To have your fitting issues evaluated contact the studio.

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  • Marie

    22.01.2016 at 12:21

    This post was most helpful, the details were clear, the pictures made it easy to understand what was being discussed. It makes sense to see that in order to fit a sleeve, the bodice needs to be correct.

    Thank you for this post

    • joi

      02.02.2016 at 19:59

      Yes the biggest sleeve fitting mistake I see is trying to fit the torso and sleeve all in one step, but if either one has a fit issue it will translate to the other. So you must correct the torso first.

  • Lisa

    25.02.2016 at 02:58

    I can’t get enough of your blog articles! They are well written and so informative. Do you have any plans for a fitting workshop on the East Coast – New York, PA, MD, VA area? I would love to attend one of yours!

    • joi

      29.02.2016 at 15:52

      Thanks so much Lisa! I want to be the blog with REAL solutions and quality content. There are lots of blogs, but our time is limited. I don’t want to waste it by adding fluff you know, but I also want to keep it lighthearted, personal and fun to read. I hope I am doing that. I have several events in the planning this year. Seems a lot of what I am doing is West and South this year, however, I have my big Designer Joi’s Sewing Holiday event that you might want to check out

  • AmyInNH

    12.12.2016 at 04:06

    I’ve had to do this on my sister’s off the rack dress shirts. Petite, full busted, she has to size up to fit her bust, but the shoulder and sleeve placement are too big. So, we rip out the sleeves, sides, rework the shoulders, trim the sleeve caps and reinsert.

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