How To,  Pattern Reviews,  Sewing Tips

How to Walk a Sewing Pattern

“Walking” a pattern is the process of matching up stitching lines of each seam, to determine if the seams will line up correctly when sewn in fabric. In some cases the stitching lines will be exactly the same length, which is straightforward matching:  center-front and center-back seams are almost always the same length.  Seams that need “easing in” extra fullness will have slightly different stitching line lengths and need to be measured:

  • sleevecaps of set-in sleeves that get eased into the armscye
  • waists that get eased into waistbands
  • princess lines easing over the bust apex
  • backs of shoulders which get eased into the front shoulder (in tailoring)
  • backs of sleeves which have extra fullness ease into the front at the elbow
  • backs of men’s trousers which have extra fullness eased into the front at the side-seam so that they will drape correctly

Every seam of every pattern piece in every size should get walked in alpha-testing.  When patterns are graded with a dedicated pattern-grading software system such as Accumark , walking is done automatically.  When grading is done manually, walking is done manually, using a measure tape or flexible ruler:


I’ll show you how to walk a pattern seam manually, using as an example the “Pumpkin Spice” dress by Heidi and Finn.  This is an adorable kids’ dress or tunic, with an extensive size range, and several variations on set-in sleeves….so there’s a lot of value for the price.

Last March a friend was having difficulty setting in the sleeves for this style. She sent me photos: strangely it appeared that the bodice was being eased into the sleevecap, instead of the other way around (lining, left…look how flat the sleeve is and how puffy the bodice is) and the shoulder-seam formed a strange peaked  bump-out, making it hard to set in the sleevecap (damask outer fabric, right):


Generally when you have a dressy set-in sleeve (as opposed to a casual dropped shoulder that is stitched flat), the sleevecap has  extra length to be eased into the armscye, so that the sleeve will shape over the upper arm…anywhere from 1/4″ to 2″ extra length depending on the size of the garment and the height of the sleevecap. I bought the pattern to see what the problem was.

I walked the armscye and sleevecap and determined that it was indeed incorrect.  I sent an inquiry to the designer through the Etsy convo system (twice) but didn’t hear back. Then I put the pattern in my “to do” pile (planning on making muslins and reviewing the pattern) and forgot about it until today, when somebody asked about the pattern on FB. Let’s look at how to walk the seam, and also how to fix it the discrepancy easily and quickly.

Here are the sleevecap (left) and armscye (right). Both are “mirrored” ie; there is no separately drafted front and back.  That’s a fairly high sleevecap but also a very large armscye cut-out that the sleeve needs to fit into:


Also the shoulder-seam ends in a “peak” which has got to make setting in the sleeve difficult (left), but it appears to be deliberate because it looks the same way in the instructions (right):


Before you start walking a seam, you should draw the stitching line/seam allowance onto the pattern pieces, for accuracy.  You are matching the stitching lines, NOT the pattern edges:


To walk the seam, you start by matching up one end of the stitching line, and then taking little “walking” steps, you match up the stitching lines as if the pieces were being sewn together:


The sleevecap at the fold is too short to meet the seam-allowance line of the armscye shoulder-seam:


I proceeded to measure the stitching lines; this can be done with a measuring tape (left) or a flexible ruler (right):


Edited to add : you can also use this nifty tool, suggested by a fellow sewist (I am ordering one today, yay!….product review coming soon):


Here is how the sleevecaps and armscyes measured up (stitching lines not including seam allowances):


It’s not possible to set in a sleeve correctly with negative ease in the sleevecap. But there’s an easy fix here, because the shoulder slope is  very shallow  and the corner of the bodice at the shoulder & armscye needs to be trued, both front and back (unless you want to  keep the jagged peak at the shoulder):


This reduces the armscye by 3/8 in sizes 12 month, 18 month, and 2T….and 1/2″ in the upper sizes, both front and back:


You could adjust size 5 and 6, and proceed. There’s personal preference involved in “how much” sleevecap ease is optimal: my grandmother believed in putting in as much as possible without puckering (in her mind the sure tell-tale sign of an amateur).  You can imagine this involved lots of steaming over a sleeve-ham. She would have slashed-and-spread the sleevecap, adding 1/4″ to each side of the sleeve so that it looked like this:


But it’s up to you; as long as you don’t have NEGATIVE ease, it’s okay. Tech guru Kathleen Fasanella writes that excess shouldercap ease is unnecessary.

Another reason that the armscye is too large for the sleeve is the shape: in my opinion the scoop is far too deep in the back and needs to be adjusted (left) ..and the back of the sleevecap accordingly (right):

.. IMG_9221IMG_9224

And then I would re-walk everything. I wish I had time right now but I’m backed up with orders.  I do plan on it however because it is a VERY CUTE design, and worth perfecting.

Edited 7/25/16 to add: I decided to make a bodice muslin.  Here’s what it looks like before setting in the sleeve (left).  The shoulder slope has enough room for shoulderpads (right):


The shoulder-seam does indeed form a strange shape (left) which remains after setting in the sleeve (right) which required lots of stretching the bias of the bodice:


The problem with having a sleevecap smaller than the bodice is that the sleeve is “flat”, or collapsed, when it should be full and rounded (left) and also the shoulder has too much puff that needs removing (right):


Second muslin: after trueing the shoulder there is a smooth slope:


The peak bump-out shape is gone, so setting in the sleeve will be easier:


The sleevecap gets eased with 2 rows of basting thread to create shape for the upper arm:


And it fits the way a sleeve should:



You may notice the across-shoulder and bodice are quite wide:


This muslin is a size 4 and measures 11″ across-shoulder ; standard body-size across-shoulder is 9 1/2″. The garment chest measures 28″; standard size 4 chest body-size is 23″.  Even though this is a lined garment, so that will pull up some of the ease, it still seems too wide to me.  The bodice can be decreased in width by overlapping 1/4″ (left) front and back….this will increase the armscye depth 1/8″ which is fine because it was reduced when trueing the shoulder so this opens it up again (right):


From here I would go to the next fitting muslin (when I get time)….

7/26/2016 edited to add: a reader has advised that testers found the armscye very tight.  Keeping in mind that this style is completely lined, including the sleeves, the armscye needs to be increased.  I would slash-and-spread the bodice horizontally (where it is cut on photo above right) and increase the armscye depth by at least 1/4″.




  • Hélène Martin

    Thank you so much for another super informative post! I don’t do a lot of set in sleeves but I’ve had some trouble getting it all to work before and now I’ll know to do a quick “walk” before I drive myself crazy.

  • Sheena

    In Victorian times and earlier, long before the advent of the computerised gadgetry we have now, technical plans were drafted to build tunnels, canals and railway lines. A gang of uneducated, often illiterate men, working with the most primitive tools, would start at one end of a section of the route and work their way to the gang of men who had started at the other end. The two gangs would almost invariably meet to within a few *inches* of accuracy after many *miles* of digging, often through the most difficult of terrain.

    With all of today’s advantages, someone who can’t draft a technical plan – for that is what a sewing pattern is – for a sleeve and an armhole to satisfactorily fit together is earning a living by drafting and selling such faulty plans?

    Only in dressmaking, I think, would they get away with it. What that says about the seller is one thing; what it says about the buyer is something entirely different – although neither description is flattering.

  • Tibeca

    What a frustrating situation. There’s no way for the average seamstress to assemble this pattern as drafted and most wouldn’t even know WHY they were failing, only that it couldn’t be done. If I pay money for a pattern, I shouldn’t have to make these kinds of adjustments.

  • [email protected]

    Sheena, I’m lucky to have some of my grandfather’s building plans drawn to 1/16th scale….he was an architect in Pittsburgh….and even though those drawings are all done by hand, using just rulers and French curves and pen-and-ink, the buildings are magnificent. It absolutely makes you wonder why it’s hard to get 2 lines to match up on a sewing pattern. Maybe because the repercussions of an error in a stone building, or a transcontinental railway line, are so much greater than the results of a fabric dress?

  • [email protected]

    Hey Ti…the weird thing is, plenty of testers did make it, and were able to force the sleeve into the armscye (it can be done, with a lot of stretching on the bias)….and didn’t realize there was any problem. Sad because with just a few tweaks it’s so much easier……

  • April

    I tested Pumpkin Spice and mentioned the issue to the designer then as well, but she didn’t acknowledge it as a design flaw. I just couldn’t ever get that shoulder to fit in a way I liked it, so I didn’t make more. There were also MANY people in this test who couldn’t get the tiny dress sleeves on their child, period. The “fix” for that was to make a “wide” sleeve and a “narrow” sleeve in the final pattern. I’m thinking that maybe Christine doesn’t understand patterns. I’m so glad to have your tutorial so that I can make this cute little dress this winter.

  • [email protected]

    Hi April! The wide sleeve and narrow sleeve have the same armscye, so that’s not going to help…..I just edited the post to add that the armscye needs to be increased. Especially when you have a completely lined style, you need adequate room for movement. I really do love this style, and there aren’t enough fall/winter styles available….after I finish my outstanding orders I plan to continue making the next muslin for this style….with a larger armscye! Thanks so much for the info, I so appreciate it.

  • [email protected]

    Hi Helene! I remember being afraid of set-in sleeves….I still have my first set-in sleeve pattern. I’m sure it wasn’t very well done but I was SO proud! It’s tricky, and that’s not fair if the pattern makes it more difficult. Yes a quick “walk” is worth the time invested!

  • JustGail

    Nice tutorial, again.

    A word of warning on the flexible rulers – I have at 2 I’ve bought at different places and different times. Recently, while cleaning up the area, I held them up to each other to stuff into the ruler can and !!!?!?!?!?? Over the 18″ length, the markings are off by a bit over 1/8″. One matches the quilting rulers, the other matches nothing. Please check your rulers for accuracy, or at least consistency among them. I wrote a warning on the one that’s off, I really should just chuck it.

Leave a Reply

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