French Jackets

The Chanel Shoulder

One of my latest projects has been to reshape the shoulder line on two Chanel jackets for a client. These are not couture but from the Chanel RTW line. Chanel does produce some of the very best RTW clothing and many of the techniques can be incorporated in home sewing. The first jacket was long, almost a coat. I’m not sure who they intended this coat to fit, but the sleeves were inordinately long. There is a white cotton cuff, attached by tiny buttons, which gives the illusion of a tailored shirt underneath. I’m fairly tall with longish arms so imagine how this looks on a petite figure! Also notice how the plaid matching is slightly off from sleeve to jacket body.

The sleeves needed to be shortened by a whopping 5.5 inches. In addition the shoulder was too wide and needed 3/4 of an inch removed and 5 inches of width removed from the body.

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The width alterations needed to be done at the side back seam as that was the only seam without pockets or vent. Chanel leaves wonderfully wide seams in both the outer garment and lining. 3/4 inch or 2 cm. seems to be standard. Notice the hand sewn hem. Chanel also finishes each garment piece by individually overlocking so that taking in or letting out seams is a dream.


The sleeves needed to be shortened from the top down, leaving the working sleeve vent intact. My method is to remove the sleeves and open all seams except in the area of the sleeve vent. I certainly didn’t want to redo that detail! Trace off the sleeve patterns without seam allowances.


The completed sleeve pattern needed to be narrowed by 2 inches at the bicep, tapering to 1/2 inch at the hem. I slit the pattern and removed the excess width.


Place the altered pattern down the required length to be removed and recut the sleeve. I thread traced the new seam lines.


Notice that Chanel presses the center 3 inches (1 and 1/2 inches each side of center) open. The remainder of the seam is pressed towards the sleeve. The blue thread is my mark for the amount to narrow the shoulder when the sleeve is reinserted. I use Japanese basting cotton as it has some texture and tends not to pull out during construction.

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Here is a second jacket getting similar treatment of narrowing the shoulders.


Notice the little shoulder pad with built in shape for the sleeve head. Here is my pattern for making these. I make my own shoulder pads and find them far superior to purchased ones, not to mention being almost free.
I posted two variations of shoulder pads Chanel uses in RTW on November 18, 2014. One of my readers, olden bears, kindly sent me pdf files for these and I’m inserting the link in case you want those patterns.

Shoulder Pad Pattern

This post has been edited to link to a pdf pattern. Click on the above link and the pattern should open in pdf format.
(I’ve scanned the new pattern but don’t have software to convert to pdf. I think if you open the picture and print, scaling to 8.5 x 11 paper it should be close to size. The size isn’t too critical and you can add or subtract according to your shoulder length.)

Here is the pattern for another shoulder pad with a built-in sleeve head.

Shoulder Pad Pattern
For each shoulder pad you will need to cut pieces 1 and 2 twice, piece 3 once and 4 once. Piece 4 is optional. Use it if you want an additional layer for more lift in the pad. Butt the edges together and sew. I use a three step zig-zag stitch.

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You will have two (or three) dish shaped pieces. If using piece 4, place inside the sewn outer layer sections; Place piece 3 on top and pin the layers together.


Baste through all layers. I just discovered the basting stitch on my Bernina. Maybe I should read the manual. Your machine may have a similar stitch. Loosen the tension so you don’t wind up with a puckered mess like this.


Fit the pad over a tailors ham and steam heavily to set the shape. Let the shoulder pad dry before removing from the ham.


Completed jacket with a beautifully shaped and supported sleeve cap. I was also able to get a better pattern match between jacket body and sleeve.

50 thoughts on “The Chanel Shoulder”

    1. Happy this will be useful to you. If the sleeve has a simple hem, then shortening from the bottom is always easier. This is handy if the sleeve bottom has details not easily reconstructed.

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  1. Actually they are lovely jackets; all the more so since they not fit. Thank you for all the wonderful details you have included here, and for information on how to shorten and reduce a sleeve.

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  2. Thank for your generosity in sharing your amazing expertise AND the detailed instructions for the shoulder pads. This info is crucial for me: since my right shoulder is lower than my left by a full 1.5 inches, I have to build all my shoulder pads from scratch. So far, not very successfully, so I can’t wait to use your pattern.

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    1. I would use the large outer layer only in your higher shoulder and add enough padding layers to compensate for the 1.5 inch difference. You might find the armhole on the side with the lower shoulder needs to be lowered and that sleeve width increased at the underarm to compensate for the increased armseye circumference. Hope I have helped.

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  3. What a terrific post! Impeccable work as always. Thank you for the detailed information on your alterations and the shoulder pad pattern.

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    1. It’s actually easier than dealing with duplicating the sleeve vent, which would have been impossible due to fabric being trimmed around the original. Also no messing with the existing buttonholes. Chanel always uses working vents so the buttons aren’t just stitched on. Thank you.

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  4. So exciting to read about these alterations. Just in the last few months I’ve started adding shoulder pads to my casual tops using snaps so they are removable for laundering. Amazing what a difference a 1/4″ shoulder pad makes as aging shoulder start to slope down. When I get around to making my Chanel jacket, will LOVE making my own shoulder pads–THANK YOU for the patterns. Can you tell me what material you use to make them? LOVE YOUR BLOG as I’m new to the sewing blogs–where have I been. I know, my nose has been stuck in quilting books, but now back to sewing clothes.

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    1. Thank you. I use cotton quilt batting. If you are making a quilted Chanel style jacket cover the pads with the lining fabric and tack them in after finishing the construction. Don’t try and quilt through them. I would love to see your completed jacket.

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      1. Thank you. Was thinking more of a traditional Chanel jacket, but you have given wings to a new idea of a quilted style Chanel jacket. Two Chanel jackets, I can do that, but it will be about a year before I get started on them. Appreciate your response.

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  5. OMG…I could not stop staring at the screen and wishing and wishing I could be with you to see all this close up!!! What a cool alteration and the result makes the plaid match so well…fabulous! The shoulder pad pattern is a real gift and you made me laugh about reading the manual! Thank you so much, Mary!

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    1. The jacket body was narrowed by taking in the side back seam so the armscye was made smaller by the same amount as the sleeve. One of the photos shows the excess pinned out of the jacket but perhaps it was unclear that that alteration extended into the armscye. I pin-fit the sleeve into the armscye to double check before sewing.

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  6. Thank you Mrs. Mole. I’m sure you are drooling at the sight of those immense seam allowances and how neat and tidy the interiors of the garments are. No picking apart tiny overlocked seams that leave you nothing to work with. Some of your fixes have been much, much harder!

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  7. I found this to be so interesting, so helpful, and full of interesting information! Your client must be thrilled. Thank you for sharing the shoulder shape pattern – it looks like it works like a dream.

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  8. I would love to receive information on printing your shoulder pad patterns. I have tried printing but cannot seem to get a size that seems appropriate. Love your blog. Breathes new life into my sewing. Rita

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    1. How are you trying to print? I just did both patterns and they printed out to the correct size. Be sure you check “fit to page” on your printing options. Please let me know if you can’t get them and I’ll find a way to make it work for you. You can email me privately at MF953 at aol dot com.

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  9. What are your thoughts on why the sleeves were so long? Was that not a deliberate design choice by King Karl or one of his associates, a whimsical overly long sleeve, purposely covering the fingers, looking like the tailored shirt cuffs are hiding the hands and fingers? Note the overly long sweater sleeves that we have seen recently. Or did House of Chanel, RTW division, screw this one up?

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    1. It probably was intentional like the long sweater sleeves you mentioned. Maybe the jacket was intended to have the sleeves pushed up for wear but the fabric was too heavy for that to be practical. Sometimes what looks interesting on the runway doesn’t translate to everyday wear.

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