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Information and tutorials for folks interested in antique Italian lacework, nouveau fashion, sewing techniques and much much more!

Tutorial: Shoulder Pads are not the Enemy

March 12, 2013 by Lilacs & Lace 4 comment(s)

Hello, again. Here is the shoulder pad tutorial I mentioned in my Sunglasses and Sunshine post. These days, shoulder pads have a bad reputation.  They really are not the enemy, but rather an excellent way to balance out a silhouette!


Paper (to draft your preferred shoulder pad shape)
Scissors (one pair for the paper, one for the fabric)
Cotton Quilting Batting
Chalk or Fabric Pen
Lining Material (to cover batting)

Most shoulder pads are shaped as half of an ellipse.  I have seen a few triangular shaped pads in vintage patterns, but the pointed edges can create problems with lighter-weight fabrics.  And, of course, raglan armholes require a different shape entirely.

The length can vary, but I like to use pads that are anywhere from 8 to 10 inches long.  They need to be long enough so that the edges fall over the shoulder and do not jut out at the top of the shoulder.

To build thickness, concentric arcs are layered one on top of the next.  My personal preference is a single ellipse that is layered with smaller pieces of batting.

If you want to add a bit more oomph, you can cut a full ellipse out of batting and fold it in half after any interior layers are sewn into place.

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

Lay the shoulder pad made of batting on a folded piece of lining fabric, and, adding seam allowance, mark the cutting line.

I like to run a line of basting along 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, stitch up a few dart-shaped seams 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 edges.  This will compress the loft.

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, and 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.  This may or may not end up being the final placement – the only way to make sure is to try on the garment with you new shoulder pads.

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

4 Response to Tutorial: Shoulder Pads are not the Enemy

  • nancy2001 says:

    Liz, this would be a very complicated and time consuming modification. It would be unlikely to turn out well unless you are sewing at an advanced or high intermediate level, have made your own tailored jackets before, and have done a fair amount of pattern drafting. To do this you'd have to take the jacket half way apart and put it back together again. First, you'd open the jacket lining,trhen remove the sleeves and shoulder pads, cut down the sleeve cap, reshape the jacket armholes, lower the jacket shoulder line, reinsert the sleeves, cut down the shoulder pad and reinsert it, and close the lining. In short, if you have to ask how to do it, you shouldn't attempt it.

    March 20, 2013 at 8:20 am

  • Britex Fabrics says:

    I'm sorry, but we don't have one. That is a great idea for a tutorial though!

    March 18, 2013 at 4:09 pm

  • liz says:

    Hi - do you have a tutorial on how to alter a shoulder after you remove a HUGE shoulderpad? I have a couple of cute jacket with HUGE shoulderpads. If I remove them, the garment loses its shape. What can I do to restore the garment's structure?

    Thanks! Liz

    March 15, 2013 at 11:00 pm

  • Maopa L. says:

    Good to know! Thanks for sharing this tutorial :)

    March 27, 2013 at 11:28 am