How to Add a Shoulder Cut Out to Any Pattern

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The cut out shoulder (aka the cold shoulder) is more popular than ever this summer and lucky for us it’s really easy to DIY. A great alternative to going sleeveless, it will keep you cool, but the cut out gives a major boost to your glam factor. And even better is that unlike a lot of other strappy summer tops, you can wear it with a normal bra.

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You can add a cut out to almost any pattern and at the end of the tutorial, I’ll show you some ideas for how you can adjust other sleeve types. For this project, I’m going to show you how to hack a drop shoulder pattern. I’m using the Hemlock Tee pattern, a free pattern from Grainline Studio (sign up for their newsletter to get the pattern). It’s a loose fitting one size fits all with a drop shoulder design (this means the seamline of the sleeve and body is hanging off the shoulder, sitting on the upper arm). This pattern can be used for either knits or wovens so there are lots of possibilities open to you.

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I made versions of this hack in both knit and woven fabrics. The steps are very similar, just remember to use stitches that stretch and a ballpoint needle when you are sewing with knit. For my knit version (the solid beige with flecks of gold shown above), I shortened the sleeves and added a split hem feature. The woven version (lavender and navy print) uses the length of the original pattern. The sleeves do taper quite a bit so you might want to double check that it won’t be too tight on your arm.

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A couple notes on knits before we get started. When I’m sewing knits, I like to use a combination of my conventional machine and my serger, but when I first started out I only had a conventional machine. Using only a conventional machine is completely fine and the great thing about the BERNINA 350PE is that it comes with the Walking foot #50. You might be familiar with using the Walking foot #50 if you’re a quilter but it’s also great for knits. The Walking foot #50 will help move those squishy knits evenly through the machine by pushing it along the top just like the feed dogs do on the bottom. Remember to also use a stretch stitch or narrow zig zag and a ballpoint needle with your knit fabric.

Materials to Add a Shoulder Cut Out to Any Pattern

  • Fabric
  • Matching thread
  • Sewing machine with Walking foot #50 (for sewing knit fabric)
  • Twin needle (optional for knit fabric)

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Instructions to Add a Shoulder Cut Out to Any Pattern

Step 1Print out and assemble the Hemlock Tee pattern. Hold it up to your body and mark on the shoulder and armscye/side seams where you want the cut out to be. For my version, I made the cut out 2.25 inches from the neck and 5 inches above the notch for where the sleeve joins the body. You may want a smaller or larger opening. Remember you can always start smaller and make it bigger if needed.

Trace your new front and back pieces using a french curve ruler to make the cut out openings. In the diagram above, the part that is cut away is shown in gray.

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Step 2: Cut out your fabric. Cut one on fold for the front and one for the back and two sleeves. Also cut strips for the neck and cut out bindings. A general rule of thumb for binding knit openings is to cut a strip 90% the length of the curve.

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Step 3:
Stitch front and back together at the shoulders, finish the seams and press.

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Step 4: Finish the edge of the cut out using your preferred method. For woven fabrics, a bias binding finish would create a very clean finish. For knit fabric, there are a few methods for finishing the raw edge. You can serge the raw edge, fold under, press and topstitch. Or, use a self-fabric binding and the same method that the pattern instructs for the neckline. Or, use this method for a narrower binding, as I did here.

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Step 5: Finish the raw edges of the sleeve side seams and hem using one of the overcast stitches on your BERNINA sewing machine or serger. (We’re leaving the sleeve cap unfinished for now, it will be finished together with the side seams later.) With right sides together, pin the sleeves to the front and back matching the end of each sleeve to the notch on the sides. Stitch. If you’re using knit fabric, remember to use a stretch stitch (stitch #9 on the BERNINA 350 PE).

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Now, finish the raw edge of the side seams and sleeve cap together.

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Step 6: Press the seam allowance towards sleeve including the seam allowance of the sleeve cap. Topstitch the seam allowance to the sleeve, stitching from one notch to the other. If you are using a knit fabric, use a zig zag stitch or a twin needle to topstitch.

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Step 7: With right sides together, pin front to back at underarm and side seams. Stitch. Press seams open.

Step 8: Attach neck binding according to the original instructions. Hem the sleeves and bottom of the tee using your preferred method.

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So, what if you want to add a cut out to a different top or dress pattern? Well, not to worry, I made a handy little illustration (above) that shows where in the pattern you will need to make the cut out. The exact size and placement can take some experimentation so it’s always best to make a muslin first. The first time I tried out this hack I made the cut outs too big, so err on the side of smaller because you can always make it bigger. Also, be aware of how the top of the sleeve that is now cut out is going to hang. Gravity will pull it down and make the cut out look a little bigger than it actually is.

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I love this feature for tops but it would also look fabulous as a dress. This is such a fun style to make and to wear and I love it even more because it’s so easy to do. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can add extra detail to the cut out by applying contrast piping to the edge. It creates a really polished look and can add a great pop of color.

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