THINK: The Power of Statement!

    Dress by Valerie Mayen   Thank you Valerie!

Not everyone will be creating a backless dress for Project Runway, but fitting the anchor points for movement will always be the same in everything you create.  Nothing makes a statement like a comfortable,  backless dress.


The anchor points of a backless dress, or any dress, begin with the shoulders.  The shoulders and upper chest must match the slope of the body.  The sleeve seams will match the contour of the shoulder, and follow the crease at the armhole.

When you shape the movement points on the upper body, the dress will not slip back, nor forward.   The base of the bodice, under the arm should be cut high to allow for movement and stability.  The bust can shaped with a princess line, eased, or darted. 


The planning of this dress was amazing... a huge burst of creativity. 

How-to Start...

The planning stages begin at the top of the bodice, and sleeves, without the skirt.  A paper pattern can be pinned to the dress form to check the shoulder line and bust points, and across the back and torso, before you even cut the dress in muslin.  

The Fitting Sequence is key in everything you create.  It will change any pattern from "loving hands made at home", to handmade...GUARANTEED.   Thank you, Mary for sharing your beautiful dress and your challenges.



The skirt is working, but the top will need to be re-aligned. Remove the sleeves and skirt from the bodice.

Shoulder, Princess and Armhole Seams

Anchor the shoulder seam to match the slope.  Match the princess seam to the curve of the bust points.  Match the bodice to the sleeve seam at the crease of the arm.  If this were a drop shoulder (not meant to be) then the sleeves could be re-adjusted to match the dropped sleeve cap seam. The intention of this design is to anchor at the shoulders.



Fitting this dress need not be complicated, but a few basic principals must be followed.  The biggest issue is that the pattern was intended for a dress that falls from the shoulders, yet the shoulders on this dress are dropped.  Therefore the bodice is slightly too big in size. If the dress is too large for the body intended, the adjustments are made at the front and back vertical center by pinching or releasing the fabric.  Here' how...

CHALLENGE: Picture 1


Before you address the sleeves, the bust or torso,  look at the bodice' upper chest and arm crease.  With one slight vertical pinch, you can see that the bust points would match hers, and the sleeve seams would sit into the arm crease.  If the pattern had not been altered at the torso, the pinch would continue to the bottom of the hem.  Since the skirt pattern has been altered, the fit from the waist looks like a successful "cheat"...which always makes me laugh and smile.  Stay with it.  1. Release the pins on the top at the princess seam. 2. Pinch the bodice (vertical front line) from the waist to neckline until the arm seam matches the crease of the body. (That being said; If you decide to manufacture this dress for thousands of brides...come back...we'll need to talk about why some changes are only good on a one time basis). 

CHALLENGE:  Picture #3.  

There is not enough room to move comfortably because the fabric does not follow the body at the side seams, and the sleeve is not eased for movement.  Pinch a vertical seam in the front and back to remove the gaping and align the shoulders for balance.


Remove the sleeves. Shape the bodice to match the body, following the crease of the arm.  Ease the fabric at the bustline on the side seam 3/8 inch over a 4 inch spread so that pressing makes the wave invisible.  If the pattern front does not allow for ease at the side seam bust...slice it, and create it...wherever there is a curve.  There is no rule about ease.  Sometimes 1/4 inch ease over a 3 inch spread is fine.  Test the fabric, and you will see.

CHALLENGE:  Picture # 4

The bodice is the stability and balance in this dress.


Shape the bodice to match the body at the arm crease, shoulder seam and princess bust line.


Think of the bodice as a front and a back; with sleeves.

  • The front anchor points will be your shoulder and upper chest.  Match the seams to the shoulder; slightly toward the front.  Fit the top of the bodice at high chest and across back.  The bodice is the stability of the dress.
  • The sleeve seams at the bodice, must match the crease on the arm for movement and balance in this design.  Otherwise, a drop shoulder design would require a sleeve re-shaping to allow for underarm movement...and that's OK too.  If you decide to drop the shoulder,  fabric can easily be added to the shoulders, and the sleeve re-adjusted after the front and back are pinched to straighten the grainline which removes the gaping.  The fabric must fall straight on the grainline. The grainline creates balance.  Be it the straight grain, the cross grain, or the bias; fabric must fall on a grainline for absolute comfort without pulling or dragging.  
  • Princess seams allow for the shape of the bust.  Place the seam just across the bust points, and down the front as planned, shaping the bust with the curve.  Slightly ease (3/8") the front side seam at the bust point. Begin the ease 2 to 3 inches from the armhole and spread the ease over a 3 inch area.
  • Match the bust points to the princess seam on this design.  If the side seam on the pattern does not call for ease, slice the pattern and spread the paper to create it.  (Fill in the "slice" with more paper and when you cut the fabric, the ease will be allowed for.)  

how-to steps...


Match her body on the dress form by rotating the shoulder pads forward.  Place the bust pads at the vertical position of her bust line.  Measure and shape the form to match her body, wearing the ultimate underclothes. If she is not wearing a bra to the wedding, take off the bra for the fitting.


Even though the shoulder seam will be narrow from neck to shoulder point, added ease of 1/4 inch to the back of the shoulder will also give the added movement to the shoulder slope.  (4.) The ease is slight, so you can stretch the front shoulder to match the back shoulder and sew it.  Press out the "wave".  (I know...I know...But have you ever questioned why a recipe called for a "pinch" of salt?  Same thing...)


When the bodice is wider than the body, and not intended for drop shoulder, do this. Pinch in the vertical center front and back until the grainline is straight.  (5.)  By pinching the front and back bodice, you will see the wrinkles on the shoulder disappear. (See ARTICLE 3 "The Power of Play".)

Match the shoulder and sleeve seams to the shoulders (slightly forward) and armhole to the body duplicate on the dress form. Matching the sleeve seam to the armcrease gives stability on a backless dress.  On a drop shoulder, match the arm crease at the lower arm and under arm crease. Check the examples, and adjust the bodice to match the fitting points, (shoulder, armhole, upper chest, bust).   Re-check the changes.  Re-cut the neckline.  Sounds complicated but here's how easy it is...

Here is the key.  The top of the bodice is the anchor;  just above the bust line and highest chest, (across the front chest at the middle of the armhole). Shape the fabric under the arm, side seam, and around to the back opening; matching the body.  This will keep the sleeves from pulling when she hugs.  

1.  Fit the top of the bodice so that the armhole seam meets the crease of the arm.  (If the bodice is narrower than the body, the sleeves will pull the bodice down.  If the bodice is wider than the body, the front will gape.)  

2. Match and mark the area on the dress form and then to the body across the front high chest and high to mid-back.  Test the movement and mark the fabric at the arm crease with a pencil.  

3. Cut the armhole high unless you might be working with heavy satin. When the bodice is matched to the movement at the shoulder, and armhole, and sleeves have ease for movement at the elbow, the dress will be comfortable all night long.  This fitting is easy...keep it simple.


Shape the bust so that it molds to the front of the dress without pulling the back or underarm.   Ease the fabric at the bust along the princess line.

Be sure to only add enough ease to press out.  Never to be seen after pressing.  The vertical curve of the princess seam should match the bust point.



Slightly ease the back sleeve at the seam to allow for elbow movement.    

As the arm bends at the elbow, it causes the fabric to pull.  The back of the arm looks pulled, and it's tight.  With a slight shoulder pad, (as in a jacket) the pull on the arm pushes the pad into a bump on the shoulder.  The pull feels and looks like it's caused by the back, or the back of the arm.  CHECK EASE PLACEMENT ON THE ELBOW.    

  • The bodice fits the body, and the armhole follows the shape of the arm.
  • Sleeve cap follows arm movement with ease on top at the shoulder.
  • Movement in the sleeve is at the elbow position with ease placement.  

Each of these areas covers a lot of territory, but basically that's it.  Whatever the issue, follow the fitting sequence; starting with the adjustments at the shoulders, center back, center front, and armhole seams.  


The elbow position is key in sleeve movement.  Measure the elbow from the top of the shoulder to the middle of the elbow when bent.  Place 3/8 inch ease above and below the elbow point.  If the ease is not built into the pattern, then slice the muslin and spread the paper to add more fabric to the back of the arm at the elbow.  The elbow must have ease to move.


All adjustments on this beautiful dress will be made with ease, and by carefully measuring the FITTING POINTS on the body for movement.


Across Chest

Full Bust

Back Width at Bottom of Armhole

Full Bust at underarm

Elbow length for ease placement on sleeve

It is such a good start.  Cannot wait to see the dress!


I've been hearing lots of questions about uneven bodies, needing clothes that are disguising issues; challenges that are even more to us than just appearance.  Breast cancer, scoliosis, Lymphodema.  Next time, I want to touch on these quickly, but if you would like for me to slow down, and go further into individual issues and other scary challenges that you might just forget about once you start thinking about the clothes and creativity, we can go over every detail.  Fashion is in our favor when it comes to easy and comfortable clothes!


Wishing you Fabulous Clothes!


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