I love button-downs; they are virtually the only shirts I’ve bought and worn in the nearly two years since coming out. So naturally, when I started to get back into sewing, most of the projects I was planning and buying for were outrageously patterned button-downs. Unfortunately, as a trans man, finding a pattern that would fit me without serious alteration wasn’t going to happen. Then there’s the issue of how over-gendered the entire sewing community seems to be. The language can feel incredibly discouraging or completely isolating to folks who don’t fit the expectations most sewists and tutorials seem to have about their community. Sadly, I’m pretty good at stomaching that kind of language, so I forged ahead.
As someone who has been sewing for most of my life, I know the hardest part of a pattern to alter is the armscye and sleeves. Meaning, I was probably going to have the most success using a “women’s” pattern that fit my shoulders, and eliminating the bust darts. I, of course, had no idea how to do this, and after trying a few ideas of my own I caved and started looking through tutorials for the answer. I was able to find two methods and decided to test them both. While I am trying to eliminate the bust darts, these methods would also work for lessening the darts if you have a smaller chest but still need some ease. There are mathematical ways to find out how much you need to reduce the dart, but that is not my strong suit, so unfortunately that won’t be included in this tutorial.
The first thing I did was copy out my pattern. This step isn’t necessary, but it can be helpful for reference or if you make a mistake. I also chose to cut out the dart; again, not necessary, but it does make the alteration easier. If you do choose to transfer your pattern make sure to transfer all of the notches and markings you need. I chose not to mark the grainline because it was parallel to the center front. I also left out pocket placement markers since I don’t plan on using them. Also very important: be sure to label the pattern. There is nothing worse than spending all of this time altering a pattern piece only to find it a few months later and have no idea which pattern this piece belongs to. I have learned that lesson the hard way.
One more thing before you start: you need to find what is commonly called the “bust apex”, though for this tutorial we will be calling it the chest point. This is the fullest or highest point of the chest and is often in line with the nipples. While you could paper fit the pattern or even make a toile to find out the exact placement, we don’t need this mark to be super accurate if we are eliminating the bust dart. I chose to simply draw a line directly through the center of the dart and eyeball where I thought it would be.
The first method I tested seems to be the most common; it uses three lines all originating from the chest point. The first runs directly through the center of the dart, the second extends about a third of the way up the armhole, and the third runs parallel to the center front straight down to the bottom of the pattern piece. If your pattern includes seam allowance, it’s important to mark wherever these lines will intersect with it. When we cut our lines to manipulate the pattern, you want to cut right up to the seam allowance on either side, leaving a pivot point. This keeps the seam allowance the same so we don’t have to worry about adjusting anything else. Next, you will cut along the lines, leaving a hinge at the seam allowance and the chest point.
To eliminate or reduce the bust dart, you want to overlap the long cut running down the length of the pattern piece. This involves moving the side with the dart up slightly. It’s important to keep the overlap parallel; I drew a few guidelines on one side to make sure it was. Once the chest dart is reduced the desired amount, check to make sure that everything lies flat before taping it down. Next, you want to even out the bottom of the pattern piece. Be sure to transfer any marks you may have cut off.
The second method uses the same slash and shift technique as the first, but with different line placements. Once again, we start from the chest point and extend out. The lines through the center of the dart and up the armscye have stayed the same, but instead of one running parallel to the center front we have a line running perpendicular through the other side and another extending to the waist. Again, remember to mark out your seam allowances and cut up to—but not through—them from either side, creating a hinge.
This time, we overlap the line perpendicular to the center front until the dart closes the desired amount. As with the last method, the overlap needs to be even, so I added some guidelines on one side for reference. Again, make sure everything lies flat before taping it down and securing your pattern piece in place.
Even before trying these methods, I was pretty sure I knew which one I was going to prefer. After testing out both sides in a toile, I was sure. They both seem to fit my chest the same, but if you lay both modified pieces on the original pattern piece, you can see that the first method reduces the overall width of the front. This is easy enough to fix, but the second method keeps the overall fit the same. For that reason, I decided to move forward with the second method.
I did see while trying on my toile, however, that there was a little extra fabric around the armscye. This is likely because this armscye was designed with ease for a larger chest. It is only a small amount and isn’t very noticeable, but I am a bit of a perfectionist so I decided to try to fix it. Funny how my goal was to avoid altering the armscye and sleeve, but I found myself here. I pinched the extra fabric and used a pin to hold it where I wanted it. According to my pin, I needed to take about a ¼ inch off. I tried to keep this reduction from extending to the underarm because it was already a little too low on me. Of course, if you alter the armscye, you need to make the same alteration to the sleeve. Luckily, there was a notch in the middle of this alteration, making it easy to see where I needed to adjust the sleeve.
As for personal adjustments, both fit, and to assess preference I made a few. As seen above, I also decided to reduce the curve in the side seam, since my body does not look like that. I did this to both the front and back pieces. I also chose to combine the center back and side back pieces into one, since I’m personally not a fan of the princess seams. I plan on using two darts instead. To achieve this, I folded the seam allowance back where I would stitch them together and pinned them with the top and bottom touching. I then traced around the outside and made sure to transfer all notches and marks. I also did a full bicep adjustment on the sleeves, adding an inch. Finally, I cut out some gussets to add to the underarm because I hate how my shirts rise and become untucked while reaching for things at work.
I had intended to have photos of the finished shirt here, but I am a very slow sewist so it’s only about half done. Finished photos will be posted to my Instagram.
Edward is a (nearly) 22 year old trans man living in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, with his cat, Arthur Hastings. He is just getting back into sewing after unintentionally taking many years off. This return was inspired by the difficulty finding clothes that fit and the general nightmare that is fast fashion. Follow him on Instagram at @empathetic_vibrations.