If you’ve followed me for a while, you know that the #1 adjustment I make to patterns before sewing them up is to lower the armhole. Mostly its a personal preference… I just can’t stand anything touching my armpit. But I also feel like many home sewing patterns are made around a more classic, modest silhouette. Many women prefer I tighter armhole to cover any under-arm wobbly bits. This girl, in the Texas heat, prefers to have a lot of breathing room.
There are several ways to make this adjustment, both in pattern form and in garment form. This version covers how to lower the armhole on a top that has bias-finished armholes. You can use this technique on hand-sewn or purchased garments.
The first thing you must do is try on the top and mark (with tailors chalk or a disappearing fabric pen) where you would like the new underarm to fall at the side seam. You only need to mark one side. I generally end up dropping my armholes about 1″.
Transfer this mark to the other armhole. You also need to make two small marks a little more than half way up the front and back each armhole. This is to make sure you are starting and stopping around the same spot on both sides.
Using a seam ripper or a sharp razor blade, unpick the bias binding of the underarm. Start about 1/2″ above each of your mid-armhole markings (this is to give yourself some room to maneuver your presser foot into position. If your bias binding has been back stitched (it probably has), you will need to remove just the back stitching an additional 1/2″ past where you started, so you will be able to get your needle on top of the original stitching to start your new line.
Hopefully, your bias binding has a seam somewhere in the area you have unpicked, joining it together in a circle. Unpick that seam as well, creating an opening in your bias binding.
Since we are dropping the armhole we will essentially be adding length to the armhole seam. Which means we will need to extend the bias tape. To do this we will be cutting an extra piece of bias binding to add to the existing bias binding. First, measure the width of the original bias binding. Then determine how long your extension piece will be. Do this by adding the amount you are dropping the armhole (in this case 1″) with an additional 1″ of seam allowance (1/2″ on each side). Once you have your measurement, cut a new piece of bias binding out of similar fabric, the same fabric (if available), or out of store-bought bias tape of the same width in a similar color.
With right sides facing, place your new piece at 90 degree angle with the original piece, and sew a diagonal line of stitching as pictured above. Repeat on other end. Press seam allowances open and trim.
Now you simply follow the usual steps for attaching bias binding. I generally do things by eye, but if it helps you can draw in your new stitch line leading to the new lowered armhole mark with tailors chalk. Re-stitch the bias binding, following a natural curve to your lowered mark.
Carefully trim out the excess fabric from the old armhole to about 1/4″ of the stitch you just made.
Now for the easy part, do your back stitching, pressing, turning, and topstitching as usual when attaching bias binding. Being sure to use thread that matches the original topstitch thread.
Give everything a nice press, use a tailor’s ham if its helpful to you.
Voila! You are free to wear your new breathable top with no worries of deodorant marks or sweat stains! If you have a top or dress that has a facing as opposed to bias binding, the technique is essentially the same. Stay tuned for a tutorial on how to make this adjustment in pattern form, as well as how to make the adjustment on garments with a full lining.
Happy sewing and altering folks!