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1940s shoulder pads | diy

1940s shoulder pads

triangular shoulder pads are a staple of dresses and blouses from the 1940s, the fashion style accentuated the shoulders of the female. the designs have wider and straighter shoulders than the actual body.

these vintage shoulder pads are not difficult to make though and just like most things, it gets easier over time. every time you make a set, you get a new chance to shape it to your liking.

the general height of a pad for dresses or blouses is 3/4″ or 2cm at center tapering to nothing. first, you shape the cotton batting, then you sandwhich it between two squares of muslin. you tack together all three layers with light stitches to stabilise it. then the square is cut in half diagonally, so that you are left with two triangles, one edge 2cm thick which will eventually sit at the shoulder seam.

after your pad has been made, it needs to be covered in your working material. the covering should be cut on the bias, which will reduce bulk. all edges should be stitched by hand and cleanly closed. you can shape your pad much better if you stitch it by hand. when your vintage shoulder pads are cleanly covered, you can attach them to the seams of the design. avoid stitching into the body of the design, the pads should sit well but be invisibly connected.

how to make vintage shoulder pads

makes 1 pair

what you will need

  • fabric scissors
  • 1-2 sewing needles
  • 1 spool matching sewing thread for tacking and stitching
  • 1 spool contrast sewing thread for basting (optional)
  • 2 squares of 15x15cm or 6″x6″ muslin (lightweight and tightly woven cotton fabric)
  • 1 square of 15x15cm or 6″x6″ cotton batting + some extra to shape ( note: final thickness should be 2cm/3/4″ sloping to nothing)

to cover

  • 2 squares of 17x17cm or 6.75″x6.75″ blouse material (cut on bias if using triangle scraps to cover)


first the batting is shaped or formed, then the batting is tacked between the fabric squares. finally, the pads are covered in blouse or dress material.


  • thread your basting needle with contrast thread.
  • have your scissors handy.
  • collect the 2 squares of 15x15cm muslin + your cotton batting.
  • measure the thickness of your batting to calculate if you need to cut-out or build-up thickness to reach a height of 3/4″ or 2cm.

form the pad

in order to form the pad, you will need to remove or cut-out excess height at the edges, tapering up to the center which should be 2cm high. building-up or layering is needed when the batting is too thin. layer the center of your square to 2cm, while still tapering to nothing at edges. when finished, the batting held in profile should look like a tiny mountain.


you build up the batting by layering extra batting at the center, the edges are mixed in and thinned out with the use of a needle tip, similar to needle felting. work on a table or other hard surface.


with the use of your scissors you can trim around the square to create a sloping effect.

sandwhich the layers

after you create your sloping mountain, sandwich the batting between your 15cm cotton squares. secure the layers with long basting stitches running around the edges. for this, use contrast thread, it is easier to removal later. thread your needle with a matching thread and whipstitch all edges. remove basting by clipping long stitches with the scissors and gently, pulling through.

tack the layers

using the illustration below as a guide, the pad can now be stabilised. thread your needle with matching thread and secure the thread with a back stitch when starting and finishing. enter at the bottom position of the farthest column to the left, stitching up, over and down again, as illustrated.

the first column leans to the left, while the second is stitched closer to create an upside down V. try to make equal lengths of stitches on front and back. after tacking, finish with a secure back stitch + cut thread.

cut in two

create your two triangle pads by cutting the square diagonally in half. there should be no need to stitch over the cut edge, because we will finish this with a cover.

cut your batting square
seperate after tacking, to make 2 triangles.
making a cover

to complete your vintage shoulder pads, create a cover. place 1 square of 15x15cm dress or blouse fabric, right side up on the table. fold the top, left point down to bottom, right point to form a triangle. these are now bias triangles. press your triangles with a warm iron before stitching 1cm from edge along the left side. press seam and turn, forming pockets.

slip-stitch closed

slip your triangle pad into the pocket you created, then turn in loose edge and slip stitch the last side closed. don’t stitch too tight, make sure the pads don’t move around inside the cover though, but don’t compress them either.

attach the pad

affixing your pads to your dress or blouse, is done invisibly. the work should be done on the mannequin, if possible, for the best results. turn your piece inside out and dress your mannequin, checking that the shoulders sit correctly. safety pin your pads in place and try on for fit. adjust when needed.


once you have the desired fit you can attach the pads to the inseams of the piece. once again on the mannequin for added stability, tack to top shoulder and armhole seams, as illustrated. stitches should catch the inside seams and not show on the outside.


  • mannequin: no mannequin, no problem. you are the best mannequin alternative. try on the piece on inside out and pin your pads in place. check the fit, right side out. if everythings good, roll up a small towel to use as a substitute shoulder. with your piece once again inside-out, insert the towel roll into the armhole to stabilise the shoulder curve and tack down the pads to inseams.
  • cover.1: use a skin tone or lingerie color of similar weight & material to cover.
  • cover.2: create a 3 piece pad cover of remnant material. for 1 pad: cut two triangles the size of the pad. the third being 4cm high x the length of the thickest edge. for all edges add 1cm seam allowance. if using woven material cut these pieces on the bias.
  • prewash: remember to prewash all your materials, shrinkage after the fact is really disturbing and unnecessary.
  • batting: though cotton is recommended here, there are alternatives. leftover wool yarn scraps can be felted and used, as well.

if you are searching for vintage patterns, take a look at my Etsy Shop: tammysueatmoss . info provided by Tammy Sue Steffens Textilwerkstatt in Hamburg, Germany