Thursday, March 21, 2013

Shoulder Pads are not the Enemy: A Tutorial

In fact, they are often there for a reason!  Shoulder pads are an easy way to balance out a silhouette.  And there is no need to look like a character from Dynasty.  The idea is to extend the shoulder line, which, by the way, will make the hips appear narrower!

There are certainly body types that do not require much in the way of padding at the shoulder line – and you probably know who you are!  But if your bra straps are forever sliding off, then a bit of batting can make a world of difference.  And it would be hard to find a tailored jacket that does not include some kind of shoulder pad or structure through the shoulder area.

Paper (to draft your preferred shoulder pad shape)
Cotton Quilting Batting
Chalk or Fabric Pen
Lining Material (to cover finished pad)

Many shoulder pads are shaped as half of an ellipse.  I have seen quite a few triangular shaped pads in vintage patterns, but the pointed edges can create a problem with lighter-weight fabrics.  And, of course, dolman sleeves require another shape entirely.  Next time you are in the notions aisle, take a look at the variety of shoulder pads.  Finding what works for you and for your particular project is a matter of trial and error.

I use cotton quilting batting to make my shoulder pads.  You can certainly purchase them, but I find that they are often oversized and poofy and made of synthetics that do not shape properly. 

The diameter can vary, but I like to use pads that are anywhere from 8.5 to 10 inches.  It should be wide enough so that the edges fall over the shoulder enough so they do not jut out at the edges.

To build thickness, concentric arcs are layered one on top of the next.  

My personal preference is a single half circle/ellipse.  But if you want to add a bit more oomph, you can cut a full circle/ellipse and fold it in half after any interior layers are sewn into place.

Of course, the pad needs a covering.  Generally, I use my lining fabric, but any light-weight fabric will do.

Lay the cotton batting on a folded piece of lining fabric, and, adding seam allowance, draw in the cutting line.

I like to run a line of basting at the seam allowance and pull up the threads to make it easier to press the raw edges under.

Next, the batting is place inside the lining, folded in half, and stitched along the outer edges.

For even more shaping, take up a few darts on the underside of the should pad (this step is optional).

If your shoulder pads turn out to be too thick for the garment, run multiple rows of stitching through the pad following the arc.  This will compress the loft a bit.

If you are concerned that adding shoulder pads will make you look like a linebacker, a rectangular sleeve head made of batting can be substituted.  This extends the shoulder line, but will not add thickness.  This works particularly well with lighter weight fabrics.

Whatever shape you choose, the finished shoulder pad is hand stitched to the armscye seam after pinning to the garment to check placement.  I like to draw a line in chalk or with a fabric pen at the center of the pad to match back to the shoulder seam.  This may or may not end up being the final placement – make sure to pin it in place and try on your finished garment to find the best placement.

I hope you try adding a pair of shoulder pads to your next garment!  They really can change the silhouette, often for the better!

[This post is sponsored by Britex Fabrics.]


  1. Thanks for this! I remember shoulder pads from the 80s and am always reluctant to try them, but my 40s dress I am making now calls for them so I will give them a go again. Besides, if I don't like them I can just take them out!

  2. This is great! I have narrow shoulders so I really need shoulder pads for 40s looks but I hate the store bought kind.

  3. Thank you for this Laura Mae. Why do I find myself craving blintzes...?

  4. thanks so much for this tutorial!!! I think growing up in the 80s and 90s has left us with an organic and irrational hatred of shoulder pads ;-) yet they are a must for some projects to get the proper fit and the shape. Thanks to your tutorial I'm so encouraged to try some of the patterns in my stash that have intimidated. Happy wekend to you and your sweet puppy!

  5. Great tutorial--thanks! I am egregiously narrow-shouldered, so shoulder pads are a must.

  6. What a fantastic little tutorial - I shall have to bookmark it. Great being able to make the size that fits as well. Thank you!

  7. Thanks for the tutorial!
    I have a question, I love the idea of the sleeve heads but I don't know how to add them to a lightweight sleeve! (I always do this with jackets but now with dresses and blouses!) What is the easiest way to do this?