Shoulder Pad Surprise

1 shoulder padsHere are two types of shoulder pad.  The one on the left – cheap as popcorn – is a slim slice of shaped foam, symmetrical about the middle.  On the right is the crescent which I’ve talked of before.  It has a flatter end which goes round the back and a  more meaty side which sits at the front, filling out the hollow of the shoulder.

Hobbs coat and Marianna, years ago in Dungeness

The Hobbs coat and Marianna in Dungeness, YEARS ago

In making my McCalls 5766 coat, I got to the stage where I tried it on after setting in the sleeves (but before making the lining) to determine which shoulder pad to use and where to place it.  The convention is for the straight edge to extend 1.5cm beyond the armscye.  But I couldn’t help noticing that with either of the pads, the  shoulders of my almost-finished coat were acquiring an edgy, Mafioso look!  It’s probably not something a casual observer would notice as their eyes skim over the garment as a whole but it sure would bug me, so I did some investigative work!  I took my seam ripper to the lining of a lovely, well-fitting and good quality RTW coat I own, which has been hibernating in my wardrobe waiting for fashion to call it back into the limelight.

I discovered the Hobbs shoulder pad wasn’t like the ones I’d bought.  There were other surprises too in the construction, more of which below, but here is the pad:

1 Hobbs coat shoulder pad1 Hobbs coat shoulder pad side viewIt’s roundish, like a flannel rosette, or more precisely, like a large raviolo with a light sponge filling.  Here’s the side view showing its attachment to the shoulder seam (I’d snipped the tacking off the armhole allowance).  Easy to copy, huh?

How to make a soft-edged shoulder pad

You will need: a small amount of a soft fabric like flannel or thin fleece (I used leftover curtain interlining), thin sponge or wadding, and preferably pinking shears.  A compass may be useful for drawing circles, plus needle and thread.

I have based the measurements on the pads in my coat which is a size 12.  If you’re making a larger garment, size up a couple of cm or more.  Don’t worry if your ovals aren’t perfect; our bodies are not geometry either and every pad will mould to your own shape eventually.

Step 1: Cut a flannel circle of 15cm (6") diameter.  Use pinking shears for a blurred edge

Step 1: Cut a flannel circle of 15cm (6″) diameter. Use pinking shears for a blurred edge

Step 2: Fold in half and trim some 1.25cm from each edge to create an oval

Step 2: Fold in half and trim some 1.25cm from each edge to create an oval

Step 3: repeat with a 12.5cm (5") circle

Step 3: repeat with a 12.5cm (5″) circle

Step 4: cut a 3cm x 7cm rectangle and sew it to the long middle of the oval

Step 4: cut a 3cm x 7cm rectangle and sew it to the long middle of the larger oval.

Step 5: cut a 10cm (4″) across piece of sponge or wadding with good recovery. The piece may be circular like in my RTW coat but I used the filling of the cheap shoulder pad.

Step 6: sandwich the layers together with tacking stitches making sure not to pull tight.  If possible, create shaping by holding the pieces in a 'lens' shape curving away from the strip as you sew.

Step 6: sandwich the layers together with tacking stitches making sure not to pull tight. If possible, cup the pieces in your hand into a ‘lens’ as you sew, curving away from the strip. This will create a desirable shaping to the pad.

Step 6: the reverse

Step 6: the reverse

Step 7: attach strip with loose tacking to the shoulder seam.  Don't pull tight: you're anchoring the pad but it shouldn't pull or alter the garment

Step 8: attach strip with loose tacking to the shoulder seam

1 attach short end

Step 7: attach the short end of the oval to the shoulder seam


Step 8: .... and at the other end, tack loosely to armscye SA, at front of sleeve and back

Step 8: …. and at the other end, tack loosely to armscye SA, at front of sleeve and back

Once your pad is in place, the soft layers should merge and flatten to your own shape.

Other investigative discoveries1 Hobbs coat lining

Finishing off seams takes time so I was surprised on opening the ‘perfect coat’ to find that the lining seams weren’t finished at all.  They have frayed, yes, but not dangerously, considering how much wear I got from this coat (we’re talking quite a few winters!).  This got me thinking: is this the reason why certain bloggers are able to produce garments at a rate with which I couldn’t possibly keep up; they don’t waste time on non-necessities.

Also, notice how the stitches are long.  That too is a time saver.

1 Hobbs coat fusingBut the biggest surprise is that the wrong side of the wool fabric is fused throughout with some kind of a weave.  It probably helped keep me warm but nevertheless I feel slightly disillusioned as the glue which was involved and the woven fabric weren’t specified on the label.

On the other hand, this machine-tailoring tactic ensures that there’s no need to finish the seams.  More time saved.

Here are a couple of links which got washed up in my research.  You may find them of interest:

a: Different shoulder pad shapes: in McCulloch and Wallis and on the catwalk

b: Detailed instructions on making the traditional crescent shoulder pad

Being new to making coats, I confess this is completely virgin territory to me.  If you’ve a shoulder pad story to share, please do! (Alexis Colby, if you’re reading this….)

19 thoughts on “Shoulder Pad Surprise

  1. Thanks so much for this – definitely bookmarking for a future foray into coat-making. Very interesting to see the guts of your coat and the “time saving” machine-sewing details as well. Great stuff.

  2. This is very much deja vu to me. This is exactly how my mother taught me to make shoulder pads although she used cotton wool instead of the foam and old flannel from my dad’s worn out PJs. I never make jackets that require shoulder pads so haven’t had to revisit this technique but how lovely to see that somebody still uses it (a reaction to having been a professional woman in the 80ties ).
    BTW she also taught me to use a narrow zig-zag stitch when doing linings and have quite a large seam allowance if there was enough fabric for that. This avoids the finsihing of SAs and also helps the lining not tearing when it gets worn especially at the underarm. She absolutely hated repairing and replacing a lining was about the worst she would have to do. Thanks for sharing

    • Thanks for your tips, and memories. How nice to use old pyjamas – making a connection to past garments and family members.

      I remember in the 80s watching an older friend/neighbour getting ready for a date. She tucked loose shoulder pads under the straps of her bra thinking this would make her look more trendy. I’ll have to ask her if they managed to stay in during all that teenage fumbling.

  3. Interesting. Very brave of you to take apart your Hobbs coat. I think I have seen shoulder pads like this for sale in McCulloch and Wallis.

    Would love to know more about that fleece they have glued in

    • Hi Jane, I probably wouldn’t have dared if the lining hadn’t been past its best (unlike the rest of the coat which is still in fine condition). I’ll rip the whole thing out and remake soon as the coat is required again.

  4. I think I know now that I am never going to make a coat. I am not brave enough. Your shoulder pads tutorial was very interesting though – I might get round to a jacket one day.
    I find shoulder pads fashion confusing. I have a couple of really nice jackets but, when I put them on, I feel the shoulders might be too wide now. Not that anybody would notice or care in my rural French backwater but I think there should be a chart somewhere which shows the acceptable width of shoulders on a yearly basis.

    • That’s a good idea: Shoulder-pad-o-meter! As you seem to have overcome your fear of plaid, a jacket is on the horizon I’m sure.

  5. Great shoulder pad tutorial. Thanks. The fabric you see on the back side of the wool appears to be a fusible weft interfacing. I love this stuff and use it all the time. It keeps the garment’s nice hand but gives the oomph required by a coat.

    • Wow, Bunny; I’d never heard of fusible weft interfacing! Thanks so much 🙂 🙂 🙂
      I’ve just looked online and apparently this soft, knitted, fusible interfacing, with a stabilising weft thread, provides structure in tailored garments while maintaining the drape and feel of fabrics. Used for speed tailoring.

      78% viscose, 22% polyester 150cm wide Medium iron, dry clean only

      That’s exactly it!

    • right on, bunny. many high-end designers use this in their ready-to-wear. usually used in sports coats, outerwear, etc., just as you said.

  6. I have been making my own shoulder pads for a while and usually use layers of fabric with some loft, but the tip about stitching a recangle for attaching to the shoulder seam is going into my future shoulder pads, thanks for that! I like to interline my coats whenever the fabric seems to need it, but haven’t come across a warm iron on lining like the one in your coat. On seam finishing, its often said that lining is itself a finishing and you don’t need to finish the inside seams. I finish the seams on lined garments if I think there will be fraying though, because nothing is more annoying than finding threads peeling off and showing under the hem. Pinking fraying lining fabrics is often a good compromise – it helps to stop fraying but doesn’t show through.

    • On seam finishing, its often said that lining is itself a finishing and you don’t need to finish the inside seams.

      That too is helpful. I wonder if I’m prone to over-sewing. My coat lining completed today features pinked seams, thank you!

  7. Lovely, interesting post. I have made shoulder pads before but don’t generally bother these days. But those cheap foam ones are a bit nasty. I put some in a jacket that I will take out when I get the time. Sometimes just sleeve support is enough. Like Jay, Ilove the tip of sewing on a sewing-on strip. Hope the coat is coming together before it gets too warm.

  8. Thank you Marianna,
    This is incredibly useful information. I am going to pay more attention to the shoulder pads from now on, and for the winter Melton wool coat that I will soon be making (wrong season, I know). Although, if my shoulders are already quite square, do I still need shoulder pads??? Hmmmm…

  9. I will definitely be block fusing my upcoming jacket, so much quicker than other approaches and I think since it will be the first toile of a self drafted I wouldn’t want to spend too much time on hand tailoring techniques. I’ve just located a block fusee here in Sydney, you probably have one in a garment manufacturing area? With all their clever machinery, like a roller that the fabric and fusible is run through, they don’t have trouble with bubbling and the fabric becoming off grain. Here’s a link to an interesting blog post from a NZer about her experience with block fusing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.