Make Your Own Shoulder Pads: Tutorial

Happy Wednesday, sweet peas!

I thought that I would take a break from working on my newest sewing projects to write up a short tutorial on how to make the queen of all retro garment features – shoulder pads! Don’t make the mistake of thinking that shoulder pads live and die with ’80s fashion. Journey back a few more decades and shoulder pads were all the rage, as evidenced by my recent Big Vintage Sew-along make. V9127 was, in fact, my first run-in with real life shoulder pads and, despite my fears that they would give me an American football player vibe, they elevated the 1930s silhouette to a totally new level of authenticity. And, believe it or not, they are so easy to make from scratch.

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I worked with a pattern provided through V9127. But after measuring up and reading through my various sewing manuals, I’ve managed to condense the process into a few simple steps that should be workable for any garment.

What You Need:

  • Cotton Batting – I got a pack of 45″ x 60″ from Sew Essential which worked perfectly.
  • Lining Material
  • Thread and an embroidery needle

1. Measure Your Seams and Make Your Pattern

The key measurement that you’ll need for this project is the length of your shoulder seam – from neck to arm hole. You’ll want to take about half an inch off of this measurement as the total width of your shoulder pad (so, if your shoulder seam is 4.5 inches, you’ll be working towards a 4 inch wide shoulder pad).

Once you have this measurement, you’ll need to construct your pattern pieces. The first thing you’ll need is a circular base – draw a circle that is twice the length of your intended shoulder pad width (so, using the measurements above, your circle would have a diameter of 8 inches, and a radius of 4 inches).

Now for the confusing bit. You will need 4 semi-circles of decreasing size, with the first the same diameter and radius as the circle you’ve already made. The next three will be 1 inch smaller in diameter (essentially taking 0.5 inches off of either side of the diameter – when we place the pieces together, you’ll see the importance) and 0.5 inch smaller in radius than the previous.

So working with the above measurements, your first (and largest) semi-circle would have an 8 inch diameter and 4 inch radius. Your next largest would have a 7 inch diameter and a 3.5 inch radius. Your next semi-circle would have a 6 inch diameter and a 3 inch radius. And your final, smallest semi-circle would have a 5 inch diameter and a 2.5 inch radius.

Ultimately, you should wind up with a set of pattern pieces that looks something like this:

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2. Cut Everything Out

Pop your pattern pieces on the cotton batting and cut out. Remember that you’ll need two of each piece, since you’ll (hopefully) be making two shoulder pads!

You’ll also need to cut out two pieces of lining fabric that you will use to cover your shoulder pad. You can use the large circular pattern piece to do this but will want to make these pieces of fabric a little bigger than the base piece. This is because the lining will need to cover the shoulder pad and be stitched down (so essentially, you need a seam allowance) – I would suggest adding about 0.5 inch total to the diameter of the circle for this purpose.

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3. Pin Your Pieces Together

This is super easy. Start with the circle as your base. And proceed to place each semi-circle along the diameter of this circle, lining them up so that they are stacked pretty centrally. You’re basically constructing a tower out of your pieces. Once pinned in place, it should look something like this:

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4. Stitch The Pieces Together

You’ll need a thickish needle and any spare thread that you have lying around. Then work your way around the outer-edge of each semi-circle, stitching it down to those underneath. You can use any kind of stitch that works for you, as long as it’s secure. I used a basic cross stitch.

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5. Fold And Cover

Now you need to fold the loose half of the circle over and place the padding on top of you lining fabric, ready for stitching.

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6. Machine Stitch The Lining Over The Padding

Fold the lining over the top of the padding and pin down. You’ll then need to stitch around the edge, keeping nice and close to the padding, using whatever seam allowance you gave yourself when cutting out the lining fabric. I would suggest doing an additional line of stitching close to the edge of the seam allowance, for extra security. You could also use a bias binding on this outer edge if you’re concerned about fraying.

The finished product should look like a cornish pasty!

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7. Insert Into Your Garment

Place the shoulder pad along your shoulder seam so that the width of the pad runs centrally along the seam. You can then hand stitch along the seam, securing the shoulder pad in place, and keeping the stitches invisible by using the ditch that already exists. It’s also a good idea to tack the corners down somewhere – this will depend upon the shape of the garment, but tacking to the armholes is a good method. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t want to do this, it’ll just mean rummaging inside your dress/jacket when you put it on so that you can get the shoulder pads in the right place.

8. Be Bold, Bright, and Very Boxy!

Wooohooo! You’re done! And now you can rock that vintage style with appropriately square shoulders. Enjoy!

New Project: 1950s Unique Chic

Happy Thursday, sweet ones!

Thank you so much for all of your wonderful comments on my dress for the Big Vintage Sew-along. I couldn’t be prouder of how it turned out and hearing such super kind feedback has been incredible. As long-time readers of Sew for Victory will know, I have a true soft-spot for late 1930s style and Vogue 9217 was the perfect make to really show off what the era has to offer in the way of fashion.

Working so hard on the Big Vintage Sew-along dress has left me a little drained. Managing such a big project on top of the PhD and general life tasks (eating, sleeping, and talking to my fiancé are obviously important things) was definitely a challenge. But I’m also determined to capitalise on the momentum I’m feeling and have been trying to seek out the perfect project to reinvigorate me with sewing energy. Fortunately, I went to my most faithful source of incredible vintage patterns and found just the right make – Decades of Style’s Objet d’Art dress.

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Beautiful, right? I’m really excited to give this pattern a go and I think it will result in a real statement piece, similar to the company’s Belle Curve dress.

I also had some really good fortune in July, winning a prize via the July Vintage Pledge organised on Instagram by Stitch Odyssey and Kestrel Makes. My darting detail on the Belle Curve dress won me a £30 gift voucher for The Splendid Stitch – an incredible online shop, stocking gorgeous fabrics and sewing knick-knacks. Searching through the stock of fabrics, I happened on the perfect fabric for the Objet d’Art dress – a blue, white and navy shirting that will really help accentuate the collar and pocket detailing on the pattern.

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I’m really excited to get started on this one. Stay tuned for the finished product!

Big Vintage Sew-along: My Make

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The day is finally here. After many hours of plotting, planning, and making, I can actually reveal my make for the Big Vintage Sew-along! Presenting my version of Vogue 9127:

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When browsing the selection of patterns for the Big Vintage Sew-along, this 1939 design immediately struck me as the most interesting and unique. I adored the structure of the garment and the fabulous panelling. Although I anticipated that this might be quite a complex make, I figured that it would give me a valuable opportunity to learn some new skills and put my own twist on the pattern.

I knew immediately that I wanted to make this pattern in a way that emphasised the unique shape of the dress. The examples provided by the drawings on the pattern sleeve and the photos on the website were all made up in one colour – although beautiful, this approach makes it difficult to see the fabulous design of the panels. I decided straight away that I wanted to have a go at using a contrast piping down the seams to really play with the shape. And I thought a sailor vibe with the colours would really give the dress a little extra va-va-voom.

Although adding the piping was pretty complex (the panels are sewn overlapping, rather than with traditional seams), it was worth the extra effort. Not only does it really elevate the dress to a truly unique piece, I think it successfully shows off those swerves and curves. I totally adore it. And I selected exactly the right fabrics, with both main fabric and piping fabric from Sew Over It’s collection of crepes (in this case, navy blue and red).

I added some extra contrast details to pull the piece together, using notions kindly provided by Sew Essential. The white buttons really bring home the sailor theme – emphasised by the fabulous 1930s dress gloves that I found in a vintage charity shop. I also put in a red zip to tie in with the piping. The pattern comes with a couple of options for belting – I opted to go with a sewn-in belt, so that I could cinch my waist. I found that doing this and piping the panel at the top of my back gave the dress added impact when viewed from behind.

One thing I loved about this pattern was the feeling of authenticity. Instead of a zip, the pattern gives an opportunity to use hook-and-eyes. I also got to make my own shoulder pads for the first time ever (a tutorial on this will be coming soon). I was a little concerned that the shoulder pads would make the dress look too boxy but, in the end, they gave the dress a truly 1930s silhouette. Delicious!

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My experience with this pattern had its ups and downs. I’ve only been sewing for about a year, so I’m still finding that every new pattern introduces me to skills that I haven’t yet developed. This pattern threw A LOT of new skills at me – added to which I’d already decided to take a chance with the piping. Fitting the panels together and making the front pieces symmetrical was a challenge. But I found that taking a slow and steady approach really benefitted me and allowed me to keep the patience needed to turn the piece into something great. There was nothing here that totally exceeded my abilities and ultimately the pattern turned out a gorgeously authentic 1930s dress that gives me a huge amount of pride.

I would absolutely recommend this pattern to anyone wanting to get involved with the Big Vintage Sew-along. In addition to contributing to a wonderful cause (pattern profits go to The Eve Appeal), this dress gives a real feel for vintage style. While I would caution beginners to take this piece slowly, it is well worth the extra time and effort required to develop the needed skills. So take this pattern, get creative, and venture into the 1930s!

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