Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sleeves, Round Three!

I was telling my sewing teacher about the little cheat that Mary told me about putting in sleeves, and she just stared at me for a moment—which meant that she didn’t agree with it.  Then she said that extra fabric is what’s allowing my arm to move and told me to put on the bodice (this was when I was planning on putting on my full dress anyway) and see how it fits.  No point in redoing it if it didn’t affect the fit.  When I realized that it did restrict my movement in an already restrictive garment, she demonstrated how I’m supposed to handle tricky fabric that won’t ease well.  She told me if I try once and it doesn't work, I might as well do this and not try the other method again:

1. Stitch a line within the seam allowance from one end of the sleeve cap to the other (or the upper sleeve for a two piece sleeve).  Don’t use your longest stitch, the stitch you use to baste/gather.  Use the one down from that, so that the gathering is more controlled.

2. Gently pull on the thread to start gathering a little bit, but not enough that it would produce tucks if sewn.

3. Stand up your tailor’s ham so the smaller end is up, then drape the sleeve cap over the ham to similate its placement on your shoulder.  Press, with steam if your fabric can handle it.

4. Using a basting stitch and stitching just shy of the actual width you’re supposed to sew (usually 5/8” but for the bodice it’s 1/2”) stitch the bottom part of the sleeve as you would anything else.  Ease the upper sleeve.  As you stitch lightly tug on the thread as you go in small spurts.  Essentially this and the pressing/steaming draws up that pesky ease that you’re left with at the end.
Now, when my teacher did this, the sleeve wasn’t perfect.  The sleeve cap was a bit puffy, and there was one small tuck.  But by the time I stitch where I’m supposed to stitch, easing out that tiny part, and pressing, the sleeve will be fine.  The one I tried didn’t look so hot…but I’ll take small tucks that are easily eased out than a huge pleat at the end any day!  It's the difference between redoing a couple of inches and redoing the entire sleeve cap or sleeve.
She told me that this is actually a couture technique, which is probably why I’d never heard of it before, but it makes sense.  I love learning and using couture techniques.  Some of it is tedious, to be sure, but it makes the garment that much more beautiful when you're done.
It's getting down to the wire, and of course now I start to get sick.  Probably just a cold.  'Tis the season.  But still, I need to press onward.  Especially since it looks like it's going to be colder than I expected and I may need to make a head covering.  Tempting to focus on that and not finish my hat since I'll wear one or the other, but the forecast could change.  It could rain, which means that all of this was for naught since I'm not slogging through the mud in my new dress.  Not happening.  Please no rain?  It would literally make my day.


  1. Ya, no sewing teacher is going to like my cheat. That's why it's a cheat. ;p

    Next up on your schedule, learn all the ways to modify sleeve caps. I read somewhere that some Armani suits have zero ease in the sleeve cap. I'm going to try that one day when I do a modern jacket.

  2. I thought it was ingenious. Except it's probably not the best for Victorian sleeves. Now, do that in a stretchy material, and that'll definitely work!

    My teacher and I were talking about how sleeves, especially set-in sleeves, are one of the most difficult things about sewing a garment, and she's seen people give up making shirts and jackets (or sewing altogether) because of it. I totally agree. If a sleeve goes in correctly, it's a miracle.

    Oh man, if I had to actually modify sleeve caps...I'd give up on sleeves too. Still, it's a challenge, and one of my bucket list projects is to make a fully tailored wool suit for myself. I've been drooling over that Vogue 8333 pattern since the first time I saw it, and I want to make it so badly. In that color too. So pretty, tailored things...

  3. Ooh, yes, that's one of those things I've read in Couture Sewing Techniques and gone "... gosh, that sounds tricky."

    1. Yeah, I tried doing it last night, and it's not as easy as it looks. Gather too much and you're left with the same problems as if you gathered the sleeve. Don't gather it enough and you're left with a lot of fabric at the end. And if that thread breaks when you're trying to gather...yeah. I think out of the four sleeves I need to do, only one went in successfully. SO FRUSTRATING.