Posted in fabrics, sewing, Style

The Joy of Sleeves: Especially when you find the best length for you

Could there be any more distinguishing feature of just about any kind of top than its sleeves? Think about it. When you go shopping for ready-to-wear for the upper half of your body, unless you’re just browsing aimlessly, you probably have a general idea of one aspect of the top you’re seeking – the sleeves, in particular, their length.

Sleeve Length

Let’s face it: you can cut your sleeve at any place along the full length of your arm, but you might not like how it looks – or works. In the worlds of style and fashion, there are some specific lengths that have been discovered to be most flattering.

From sizechart.com

If you’re shopping for a winter coat, clearly, you’d be a fool not to look for long sleeves (notwithstanding fashion designers’ attempts to get us to think that three-quarter sleeves with gloves would be a reasonable substitute). If you’re looking for a cool, summer top, you probably aren’t looking for long sleeves, however, you might not be sure whether you want cap sleeves, short sleeves (and what length) or elbow-length. And it’s exactly the same when we create our own clothes. I think sleeve length, in particular, is one of the most crucial parts of a flattering and useful piece of clothing. And not every length works best for everyone, although a commercial pattern with a short sleeve view will be very specific. Be brave! Be adventurous! Throw caution to the wind! Cut the sleeves whatever length you want! Back up a bit with me: I’m interested in sleeves.

Sleeve functionality

Let’s start small. Sleeves are arm coverings. Let’s face it: sleeves are largely functional. Unless you live close to the equator, you likely feel the need for an arm covering from time to time. Of course, you could throw a wrap around you but think about it. Isn’t a sleeve a lot more functional? Consider getting into and out of your car with your keys, wallet, umbrella, child who has to be wrestled out of one of those booster seat contraptions – oh, and let’s not forget that you have to put on your mask in 2020. Oops, you forgot? Get back in the car, put everything down and start again. Then consider having to keep a wrap around you at the same time.

A vintage sleeve pattern – you could add a different style and/or length to any bodice.

Well, for my money, I’d prefer to have sleeves attached to my bodice. So, apart from strapless and one-shoulder evening gowns (oh, yes, I love strapless and one-shoulder evening gowns, or at least I used to) and summer tank tops (which I’m wearing less and less as I get older), the sleeve consideration is a big one when I’m shopping ready-to-wear or sewing for myself. And since I do sew, I can decide what sleeve would be best.

A blast from the past – the one-shoulder dress! Who needs sleeves when you’re in the Caribbean on a cruise?

Over the past few years, we’ve been subjected to all kinds of impractical sleeves. That’s the kindest way I can put it. If I’m being honest, I really think that hideous sleeves are being hoisted on us by designers every time we turn around.

Need I say more about the hideous-sleeve trend?

Don’t they know that a well-proportioned, simple sleeve will serve us best in the long-term? *sigh* Well, I just make my tops these days. So, when I got into my most recent one (and the last summer one for this year, I hope), the sleeves became an instant quandary.

Finding a Flattering Length

Not every sleeve length is as flattering as the next one – and not every sleeve length works for every woman. It’s a matter of proportion. And there are so many choices.

This reared its head recently – you may remember this recent shirt project. The pattern, Butterick 6324 offers a sleeve length that’s somewhere between an elbow length and a short sleeve. I opted to cut it according to the pattern and roll twice. Much better on me.

I’ve also found that I like a three-quarter sleeve on me when it works for functionality. There’s something very flattering about this length on most women. In fact, whenever I’m wearing a long-sleeved, collared shirt, I like the look of a turned-back sleeve even better than the sleeve left long. I even like this look on a man. It’s just my personal aesthetic.

I had a length of rayon knit that is very soft and has a lovely drape. I’d been looking forward to working with it since I’ve recently been making shirts which is great but different. When I started this most recent one, I had already made the pattern with long sleeves, so I knew that I liked it in general.

This time, I wanted short sleeves. And I know from having created my own bodice and sleeve sloper, that I have a few lengths that work for me. The short-sleeve length included in most commercial patterns is not it.

The good news is that my most flattering length is usually shorter than the one provided, so, I can always cut it as designed, then I can shorten to the perfect length. I’ve also taken to shortening RTW short sleeves lately.

The difference between lengths is often subtle, but when you find the right length, I think it can make all the difference. when you sew your own tops, you can experiment. I do every time I make something.

Sewing Sleeves In

And of course, sleeves have to be set in well. My personal sleeve-setting journey started back in sewing classes in junior high school where I learned to properly set-in a sleeve. As a result, that’s the method I’ve adhered to for all my sewing life – until recently.

Although I did sew with “knits” when I was very young, those knits were not like the knits of today. They were, in fact, more like stable knits of today. Remember crimplene? (If not, I wrote about it back a while ago). I mention this because you can use the traditional set-in sleeve method with these kinds of fabrics. Anyone who sews with today’s jerseys etc. with a stretch factor of something like 35% knows that this is next to impossible. So, I’ve had to learn to sew in sleeves (they are not really “set-in” in the true sense) before sewing up the side seams. And I’ve had to force myself to use this method when sewing shirts. Of course, sleeves in shirts are quite different from sleeves in jackets. A sleeve head in a jacket is so important. In a shirt, not so much.

Anyway, here we are in August and I’m just finishing up summer sewing. I think it might be time to move onto fall planning – I just hope the fall isn’t as unpredictable as the spring and summer of 2020 have been! (And I don’t mean the weather!)

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket

Sleeves for my Little French Jacket (#3)

What would a jacket be without sleeves? Well, a vest, I suppose. But the truth is that a sleeve is not a sleeve is not a sleeve. In fact, when I look at this season’s runway collections (and everything in ready-to wear from the most expensive to the cheapest fast fashion) it seems that it truly is the season of the sleeves.

The fashion writers are calling them “statement sleeves.”

There would be this monstrosity from Gucci…

gucci fall 2017

 

Or this equally hideous one from D & G…

d and g fall 2017

 

Or this from Prada (as my husband would say, before WTF?, there is WHY?)…

prada fall 2017

But even more ubiquitous than all of the rest are various iterations of bell-shaped sleeves…

statement sleeves

I don’t love big sleeves, although an understated bell sleeve would be my style. So I’m not very adventurous…but I’m true to my style and really, doesn’t a sleeve have to have some practicality? Wouldn’t it be nice to wear sleeves that won’t drag in your pasta sauce, get caught in the escalator, elevator door, car door, subway car door, snag on someone’s enormous backpack, strangle you in a revolving door? Or is it just me? Anyway, this does bring me to the topic of beautiful, well-fitted jacket sleeves à la Chanel style.

When I made my first Little French Jacket I did a bit of research on what Chanel was really going for when she designed the three-piece sleeves in her original jackets. Apart from the fact that the three-piece sleeve fits better than the two-piece, which fits better than the one-piece sleeve, there was a bit more to it. For Chanel, the sleeve design began with the armhole. In these jackets, they were meant to have higher armholes than other jackets so that you could raise your arms without the jacket pulling up very much. If you think about it, that’s not a bad idea. Anyway, before we go there, I have to do one more thing with the lining of the jacket body: the lining has to be basted to the armholes so that when I set in the sleeves, I can then finish the armhole seam in the lining by hand. Now, on to the actual sleeves.

In the past I’ve wimped out and made only a two-piece sleeve, which does have its charms and offers considerably more opportunities for a good fit than a one-piece sleeve. This jacket, however, has a three-piece sleeve with a vent that will be trimmed and have two buttons with matching buttonholes. These sleeves are lined in exactly the same way as the body of the jacket: the silk charmeuse is machine-quilted to the fabric and the finishing is all done by hand. Only the actual setting in of the sleeve itself is done by hand: the lining is hand-stitched at the armscye.

The pattern’s designer (Claire Schaeffer – Vogue 8804) wants me to trim the sleeves before I quilt the lining on. However, my trim has to be sandwiched between the lining and the fabric. That means that I’m hand-stitching the trim to the underside of the fabric before I finish the lining edges around the vent opening. In fact, before I do any finishing.

trimming the sleeve vent

Setting in sleeves is a wonderful challenge in my view. So many people who sew seem to complain about this, but with practice, it gets easier. With this kind of wool tweed boucle, once you have two or three lines of machine gathering stitches in the head, the shape can be eased in with both the stitches and a lot of steam over the tailor’s ham. Claire Shaeffer also suggests that if you’re not going to set the sleeves in immediately after shaping, you should stuff them so that they keep their shape. Seems like a good idea to me, but I plan to shape them one at a time and set them in.

setting in the sleeve
Hand-basting the sleeves before final setting. 

Ever since I was in junior high school and set in my very first sleeve, I have always basted in the sleeves. If I don’t I have hordes of pins that continually stick into me. So I’m hand-basting as always with my Japanese cotton basting thread. Once I have it the way I want it, it’s time to sew it in. but this time around there is also going to be one more step.

These jackets are meant to be a bit slouchy, but only a bit. I guess you’d say they are meant to be soft. This means that generally there are no shoulder pads or other such underpinnings. However, my recent research suggests that a sleeve-head “cigarette” is often inserted. I’ve seen such a thing that looks a bit like a rolled cigarette, but more often than not when searching for a “sleeve-head cigarette” you’ll find it’s more like flat tape. I decide to make my own by measuring from notch to notch on each sleeve and cutting a 1 ½ inch wide strip of quilting that I used when I customized my dress form (Gloria junior). I then attached it by hand to each of the sleeve heads before drawing the lining up to the sleeve head, turning it, pinning it, hand-basting it then finishing the had-insertion. I use doubled silk thread for this since there is relatively more strain on armholes than there will be on the rest of the lining edges.

sleeve head cigarette

As for the results with the sleeve-head “cigarette,” well they are spectacular!

one sleeve with head one without
You can clearly see the difference between the right shoulder with its cigarette already in place, and the left shoulder before I put it in. 

My jacket is taking shape! I’ll be doing the fun part of finishing with buttons choices and those four lovely pockets, but that will have to wait. My husband and I are celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary on Tuesday and are off to South America for a vacation to celebrate. See you in November!

 

Posted in sewing, Style

Commercial or self-drafted pattern duel: We have a winner!

I can’t remember exactly when it was I decided that I wanted – no, needed – to learn to draft my own patterns. In my past sewing experiences, I confined my own designing to making changes in commercial patterns. You know: you change a sleeve, or tweak a collar, you make creative fabric selection, or ditch a zipper. In the end you believe it is truly yours. Well, that’s okay, but it does limit creative expression, and when I found myself continually having to tweak commercial patterns for fit, that’s when I realized I really needed to create my own patterns. So I started the courses to learn.

After a year of following several courses, creating a personal bodice sloper from a personal moulage, then learned a thing or two about operations necessary for creating patterns from that sloper, I finally created my first pattern. By the end of my last post I had completed the final muslin for my first totally self-designed pattern, and was ready to embark on creating a muslin for the commercial pattern that was also in contention for a particularly nice piece of shirting fabric. Here’s how that process went.

When I first clapped eyes on McCall’s 7546 earlier this spring, it was the sash that drew me to it. I like the idea of tailored shirts with body-conscious shaping. My own design this spring incorporates that idea, but does it differently.

First, my own design has princess seams.

first pattern

Although 7546 looks as if it has princess seams, it really has slashed darts from the armholes that end some distance above the hem in both front and back.

line art

The sashes are also different. The one I designed is sewn into the side seams leaving the back unencumbered. The McCall’s pattern has a wider sash that originates in the back seam resulting in a bit of a bulge – at least it was in unbleached cotton. I could only hope that it would be smoother in a smooth shirting fabric.

The necklines are also quite different as you can see. My own design has a mandarin collar – a design I love. The commercial pattern has an open collar with a collar stand. And of course, the sleeves in the dueling designs are so very different: my own is sleeveless, while the McCall’s has full-length sleeves with a cuff – one version with a so-called cold shoulder, the other without.

chicos cold shoulder
My ready-to-wear cold-shoulder…

It was not in any way the cold-shoulder sleeves that attracted me to this pattern. This design feature is certainly ubiquitous in spring/summer 2017 ready-to-wear, and I have to say its popularity puzzles me a bit. Maybe it’s the Toronto weather: too cold in winter for cold-shoulders, too hot in summer for any sleeves at all. Anyway, I did buy one this year, but I’m not really sure where I’ll wear it other than on a cruise through the Panama Canal this fall. I never wear prints, and on pain of death avoid the “boho” look. Wonder what got into me? Anyway, I decided that I’d make up one of those sleeves when I created the muslin. Hmm. That was interesting.

 

So many sleeves, so little fabric! I decided that in the interests of making a decision, and the fact that I was unconvinced about the cold-shoulder, I should cut and sew two different sleeves for this test garment.

I first cut and sewed the cold-shoulder with the cuff, then drafted up a three-quarter length sleeve using the armscye of the pattern and my own sleeve sloper – since the sleeve from the pattern seemed a tad wide for my arms in any case. So here’s what I got on the first try.

The cold-shoulder sleeve was hideously large, gaping even more than the photos show. My own ¾ sleeve, on the other hand, wasn’t so bad. But it didn’t seem quite finished. So I unpicked them both and cut the commercial sleeve without the cold shoulder. I also re-drafted my own slightly shorter and a tad wider to accommodate an external facing. Here’s what these two looked like.

 

So here I am, having to make a decision before cutting into the Mood fabric. I really loved my own design – the look and the fit. But I realized that the fabric might not be the best for it. So the winner is: the commercial pattern. But I’m making it with my second three-quarter length sleeve. So, I guess it’s my own design? Not so much.

IMG_1935

I have cut it out and begun to sew, but I’m off to the Toronto garment district this week to find the perfect fabric for my own design!

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing

A sleeve sloper at last: May I begin designing now?

With a well-fitting bodice sloper for woven fabrics (OK the first well-fitting one wasn’t so well-fitting after all, but the current one is!), enough dart manipulation and neckline knowledge to be dangerous, and a passing familiarity with creating front closures for blouses and jackets, I should be ready for my first major design project. Well, not quite. Sleeves, I need sleeves.

vintage sleeve pattern 1950s
Vintage McCall’s pattern featuring so many sleeve variations. I think they should come out with a modern one!

So after my vacation and the thrill of planning new projects that I’ll get to over the next few months, I had to get back to my basic sloper work and draft a woven sleeve sloper. But before I get to that, I thought it would be fun to look at some interesting tidbits about sleeves and their history.

 

Did you know that during the middle ages sleeves were cut straight out from the main bodice of the garment with a triangle of cloth added as a kind of gusset underneath for ease of movement? It seems that sometime in the 14th century the rounded sleeve cap was developed paving the way for our modern notion of set-in sleeves. Just as an aside, I think that in sewing, learning to set in a sleeve to perfection is one of the first things newbies ought to get. I mastered that one many years ago but I still find setting in sleeves in my test garments in muslin annoying. The fabric I use is so unforgiving even the slightest hint of a pucker shows! But I digress…

Sleeves are functional: they protect our arms from sun, wind and cold weather. But they are also fashionable. When we see clothing from the 1920’s it’s clear to us that it’s actually representing that era, for example. But if you look at the sleeves on their own, you can see how these sleeves might be incorporated into a modern design aesthetic.

sleeves 1920s

On the other hand, sleeves that were clearly in style during the Renaissance, for example, might have a harder time finding their way into twenty-first century clothing. Although, maybe someone might like a medieval-looking wedding gown? Sleeves have come a long way I think.

 

I used what I have been learning from Craftsy’s Suzy Furrer as I continue along this pattern-making learning path. She provides quite a detailed, professional approach to drafting and so I dutifully measured the arm elements – with a little help from my husband who is a meticulous measurer.Then armed with pencils (erasers), rulers, curves and all manner of other drafting tools, I set about following her instructions.

First, though, I had to draft a blouse/dress template from my bodice sloper since ease has to be added for this kind of garment. I was very pleased with the fit of the mock-up I created with this new template and actually deiced to put it on poster board for blouse creation in future. That way I won’t have to begin with my sloper itself – I already have a template with that ease – and which has the sleeve sloper fitted.

suzys perfect sleeve sloper
Suzy Furrer’s perfect sleeve sloper from my course notes. It illustrates the drafting points but doesn’t include the forward slope for the elbow that has to be added.

 

The first mock-up of the sleeve was, to my great distress, not perfect. It had a great fold of fabric at the front while the back fit perfectly. I had the sense to set in only one sleeve so was able to mark the changes on the first sleeve, cut it out of the bodice and use it to redraw the second sleeve (which I had already sewn together – seam ripper to the rescue). My plan at that stage was to suck it up and start the sleeve sloper draft all over from the beginning if the second one wasn’t perfect. But it was! Advice for sleeve sloper development: test slopers one sleeve at a time.

sleeve progression
From toile to draft #2 to final sloper on poster board.

 

With that done, I cut apart the entire toile and used it to create the blouse/dress/sleeve sloper set. I’m closer to designing my first blouse or dress than I have ever been!

IMG_1787
My final set of blouse/dress template and sleeve sloper.

 

[PS I highly recommend the pattern drafting classes offered online by Craftsy.com. And I don’t get paid to endorse them. I just think they offer a good product at a very reasonable price.]

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket

LBJ*: My Jacket Now has Sleeves

[*Little Black Jacket sometimes referred to as the LFJ or Little French Jacket]

sleeve pattern
A vintage pattern for nothing but sleeves!

There is nothing quite like setting in the sleeves to make a jacket look like – well, a jacket! Sleeves are interesting, aren’t they? I was browsing some vintage patterns online the other day (like you do), and stumbled upon a pattern from the 1930’s that was nothing but sleeves. I thought, what a great idea! Well, it’s part of a great idea. You have to have a garment body that suits them!There is little doubt that the same body with different sleeves can look vastly different. Even the pattern I’m using for my homage to Chanel’s Little Black (French) Jacket has two sleeve variations.

 

I’ve chosen to make it with the two-piece, bracelet-length sleeves for this time around (I’m already considering the next one!).

Even Chanel herself gave a lot of thought to her sleeves. In the past when I’ve put sleeves in jacket-like garments, they have always tended to be a single pattern piece. If you think about it, this kind of construction doesn’t give much leeway for what our arms are really like – that is, they bend. A real Chanel jacket always has at least a two-piece sleeve and usually a three- piece one which allows for having some ease in one of the seams at the precise place where our elbows bend. In addition, the multi-piece sleeve permits the sleeve to be narrower which gives it a more polished, well-fitting, custom look.

Another of Chanel’s concerns about sleeves was that they have a relatively high armhole. This vintage photo of Chanel herself shows her holding up her arm to demonstrate that a higher armhole allows the jacket to remain in place when the wearer raises her arms. What a great idea.

coco-chanel_sleeve
Coco Chanel demonstrating the advantages of the high armhole (Smithsonian)

 

Anyway, all of this research leads me back to the challenge of the day: preparing and setting in the sleeves on my own jacket.

I have already joined each sleeve’s two pieces ensuring that the requisite ease has been included. I have also machine-quilted the lining to each of the pieces. Now I am ready to construct them.

I pin back the lining along the seam just as I did when constructing the jacket body so that it doesn’t get caught up. Then, using a 3.0 mm stitch length and my trusty walking foot (could not live without it) as always with this bouclé, and remembering that I’m using a 1-inch seam allowance, I sew the seam. Then I add the two rows of ease stitching (5.0 mm stitches) over the top of the sleeve head.

IMG_1078
Seams are now sewn and the lining needs to be finished.

 

I begin pressing the seam by pressing it flat first, then using a seam roll (or in my case a rolled up towel since I’ve been too cheap to buy an actual seam roll), I steam the seam allowances open with the tip of my iron. Then I steam it lightly from the right side to finish the pressing. I trim the seam allowances then it’s time to deal with the lining.

Using the same technique I used with the body of the jacket, I first secure the one-and-a-half-inch hem with a catch stitch, then use a lapped seam for the lining along the seam and fold under a half-inch above the hem. Then I use that ladder stitch to hand sew the lining in place. Now I’m ready to shape the shoulder.

IMG_1083
Using my tailor’s ham

I use my tailor’s ham (fortunately I wasn’t too cheap to buy a real tailor’s ham which in my opinion is an essential sewing item) as a stand-in for a shoulder, I ease in the shoulder shape. It’s now ready to be set in. I am sewing the fabric (without the lining) of the sleeves to the fabric AND the lining of the body (I basted the lining to the jacket body fabric at the armholes ages ago in the process). Many people simply pin-baste the sleeves. I am going to do what I always do with set-in sleeves – I thread baste it in. This is a challenging situation since there is so much fraying fabric and open lining pieces that will eventually have to be hand-stitched into place, not to mention a plaid that has to be matched that I do not want to take a chance on losing pins or having the sleeve shift while I’m sewing. So, working inside what is akin to a paper bag, I slowly sew the armhole seam. When I finish, I hold my breath for a moment as I turn it right-side out. The sleeve is beautiful without a pucker in sight and even more fantastic is that the plaid is perfectly matched. The I have to do it all again on the other side!

 

Finally, they are in and my jacket looks like it is a real jacket. I just have to trim the seams and then hand sew the sleeve lining to the body lining. They are finished and I am delighted.

I try it on with a bit of trepidation. I altered the shoulder length a bit at the muslin stage and now this is the moment of truth as regards the shoulder fit. There is nothing worse than a jacket that droops over the shoulders when it is designed to be perfectly set at the shoulder line. I adjust things and look in the mirror. Perfect. Well, perfect enough.

I’m getting close to the end of the project although there are still many hours of hand sewing ahead. I first have to consider pockets and trim, but that’s the next step.