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Fashion and Function: Sewing Stylish Shoulder Epaulets

When clothes shopping, I am constantly on the lookout for those styling details that make up today’s most fashionable looks to incorporate into my sewing projects.

Often its just a small detail that can transform a basic silhouette into a more updated, modern design. Epaulets are one of those details, and they seem to be showing up in lots of today’s most stylish tops and dresses.

Modernize your next dress or top pattern with stylish shoulder epaulets!

Dress with shoulder epaulet

Shoulder seams get an upgrade.

Some are there to draw direct attention to the shoulder and become an important focal point of the garment. But, many, as I have come to discover, are there to fit a wider range of customers with varying shoulder issues.

Typical shoulder seams of commercially made garments don’t fit everyone properly. For some, the seamline may fall a bit too forward or too far back from the body’s natural shoulder line. By adding a simple epaulet treatment, which essentially straddles the shoulder and comfortably conceals the natural shoulder line wherever it may lie, allows the garment to fit more customers.

Epaulets by definition are trim applications that both ornament and protect the shoulder. When one thinks of epaulets what typically comes to mind are the bold, fringed shoulder adornments that are part of military uniforms. However, in home sewing epaulets are far less demonstrative, but they too can serve to either embellish or improve the appearance of the shoulder area.

For those with a prominent forward (or backward) sloping shoulder adding an epaulet to the design of a top or dress can enhance the overall look of the garment at the shoulder area. By using the same fabric for both the epaulets and bodice pieces, any shoulder issue can be conveniently camouflaged!

Adorable decorative shoulder epaulet

But, epaulets are also showing up as important focal points or styling details on many garments. Done in a contrasting fabric or color they can turn a plain design into something unique and striking. Some fast ideas that come to mind include making epaulets out of leather or lace to add a little drama and contrast.

Decorative shoulder epaulet

Adding epaulets to any garment is a simple modification to the front and back bodice pieces. If the epaulet is to conceal a forward or backward sloping shoulder issue, it is important to first make that adjustment to the shoulder seams of the two bodice pattern pieces before drafting the epaulets. Whether adding epaulets as a prominent design feature or to simple conceal a shoulder seam issue drafting and applying the epaulet is the same process.

Here are the steps to adding leather epaulets:

Step 1:

Modify the pattern pieces. Take the front and back bodice pieces and pin or match the shoulder seam lines together as if attaching the front and back shoulder seams.

Front and back pattern pieces joined at shoulder seam

Step 2:

Draft the new epaulet by drawing the cutting lines (dotted) and seam lines (straight line) using a ½” seam allowance over the joined pattern pieces, evenly straddling the shoulder seam. The solid red lines will be the new cutting lines for the altered front and back bodice pieces.

Drafting a shoulder epaulet pattern

Step 3:

Draft the pattern piece for the new epaulet by placing a piece of tissue or drafting paper over the shoulder area. Secure in place with weights. Trace the cutting and seam lines onto the tissue paper and indicate both front and back orientation. In addition, note the shoulder seam points at the shoulder tip and neckline.

draft 1

Step 4:

Next, draft the shoulder tip and neckline curve. Starting with the back section, shift the new tissue draft over the epaulet seam line so it lines up with the bodice back shoulder seam line.

Using the bodice piece as your guide trace in the shoulder and neckline curves starting from the center shoulder seam point. This will ensure the cut pieces will match precisely when joined together for sewing. Repeat the same process for the front section to complete drafting the epaulet pattern.

new seam

Step 5:

Line up the bodice and epaulet pieces for sewing. Join the back edge of the epaulet to the back shoulder seam and stitch in place. Finish the seam (I serged the edge). Press the seam towards the epaulet and then topstitch the epaulet very close to the seam for a nice finish. Repeat for the front edge.

adding in a decorative leather shoulder epaulet
Sewing a shoulder seam

Step 6:

When the epaulets are completed, finish the shoulder and neck edges in accordance with the design of the garment which may include adding sleeves, a collar or facings using normal sewing application techniques. In the example the shoulder and necklines edges were faced.

leather shoulder epaulet

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