Monday, January 7, 2019

Sewalong Week 7: Constructing the Sleeves

Time for our next sewalong blog post, a guest post from Rachael and today is her birthday! woohooo! Thanks dear!


I swear Debi asked me to write the hardest bits of the sewalong right?!  So in this section, we are going to make the sleeves and then sew them onto the bodice.
1.     First off, let’s start easy. With right sides together, match up the notches on the raw long edge of each sleeve (individually, we’re not sewing the sleeves to each other! ) Pin in place.

2.     Using a 1/2” seam allowance, stitch a nice straight, easy line down the long edge, backstitching at each end.

3.     Press your long edge flat first of all, finish your seam with pinking shears (or however you are finishing your seams), and then press the seam open.

Next the pattern instructs us to finish the cuff. This isn’t always the order of sewing, but we’ll just behave and follow the pattern this time. There are a couple of different ways to finish this cuff/edge, depending on the sleeve length you’ve gone for and what you most fancy. I of course needed to do it the hard way, given I wanted a bit of volume at the bottom. Honestly, I am unable of making my life easy. So I’ll explain that way in a minute, but first off, I’ll start with the most basic/common way.

Cuff Type One

1.     Put the sleeve on and decide where you want it to end. There’s also a line indicated on the pattern. You don’t have to follow this. You can rebel if you want!

2.     Fold the raw edge over to the wrong side where you want the sleeve to end and press to make a nice clear line.

3.     Then on the inside, fold the raw edge in to your nice clear fold line, so that it will be hidden. Press flat.

4.     Pin and then slip stitch by hand the edge. Again we do this so there is no visible stitching on the outside, unlike modern clothes. It’s simply a much cleaner finish.

Cuff Type Two

So idiot I am, I wanted volume at the bottom of my sleeve. And then idiot I am measured wrong and didn’t get as much as I had intended. Oops! Anyway, personally I wasn’t bothered enough to change it, soooo not a perfectionist, but if you wish, your sleeve can have more volume.
Fundamentally this sleeve is quite roomy, but it doesn’t have any elbow pleats/darts, so depending on your fabric choice, you need this volume to be able to move your elbow! But leaving it very loose at the cuff, well it’s just not as elegant as 40s clothing so often is; this trick will add another design feature to your dress, whist keeping that elegant 40s style.
1.     First off, we are back to our friend gathering stitches yay! Because we haven’t done enough of that on this pattern already. Using the largest stitch on your machine (4 in my case), run a line of stitches about 3/4” away from the raw edge, crucially this is within your 1/2” seam allowance, and then run another row of stitches about 1/4” away from the first row. Don’t backstitch down anything, and keep nice long tails of thread too.

2.     On the bobbin thread side (whatever side you had facing down on your machine), take the two tails and tie them together at each end. (I did my ends either side of the seam line for ease).

3.     Then tie together one end of the top threads. Supposedly gathering is easier when the bobbin threads are tied, I don’t really know but this always works for me.

4.     Measure the sleeve width flat and then try the sleeve on to get an idea of how tight you want it to sit on your arm. Remember you want to be able to get your hand in and to allow blood circulation!

5.     Mine was 7” flat and I had intended to gather 1 1/2” smaller, but I seemed to lose the ability to count and only went to 6” when gathered, not 5 1/2” as I had intended. Rachael doofus!!

6.     Grabbing the free tails of the gathering thread, pull gently, GENTLY! Snapped gathering thread is really irritating. And pull along the thread to gather the sleeve in to your desired width.

7.     Measure and once there, tie off the threads to lock down that width. Then ensure your gathers are nice and equal.
Oh look, bias binding again yay! (Yes there is a fair bit of sarcasm in my instructions). We are going to do exactly what we did for the neckline.
8.     Unfold the narrower edge and line this up against the cut edge of the fabric on the right side of the fabric, so that the fold is upwards.

9.     Pin it on first, and then you are going to sew using a normal stitch, just a spot away from the fold line towards the outer edge. This allows the bias binding to fold on the fold line easily. I usually remove the tray from my sewing machine so I can more easily get the fabric in the right place to sew.

10.  Press flat and the. Fold the bias binding over to the inside. Press again.

11.  Pin and then slip stitch on the inside.
You’ll see that the outcome of this is a tighter band hidden on the inside, which allows a lovely ballooning of fabric at the bottom, like the shorter green dress on the pattern cover. Nice!
 This is Jumper supporting the sewalong process with Rachael--dear little Jumps passed away right before Christmas...her adorable spirit is missed greatly but this photo is such a beautiful reminder of her!!

Stiffening (oo er missus!)

This is a step if you are using sheer fabric.
I made my dress in a semi-sheer 40s rayon, so I followed the instructions to add stiffening in the form of organdy, which is used to provide body for the typical pronounced 40s shoulder shape. Otherwise my fabric is so floppy, the volume in the shoulder would just fall and be lost. My organdy seemed to provide a lot more volume than I was intending though!
Now all of you clever people will have of course realised the pattern indicated what shape to make the organdy - I of course did not pay attention to this and created my own shape, which thankfully was exactly the same as what I was supposed to be doing. See, genius level me. Ahem.
The pattern says to use a double layer of organdy, which is what I did, however I really do feel this is very pronounced, you may wish to use a single layer.

1.     First off, baste (large stitch) your organdy to the inside of your sleeve - being of course careful to transfer all pattern markings so you can see them later. Ahem. Baste within your seam allowance too.

2.     And we're back to gathering stitches - see you're expert level at this now. Run two lines of stitches within your seam allowance (I did them either side of the stitching keeping the organdy on) in a large stitch and don't back stitch the ends. The pattern indicates where you run these lines, between the marked crosses.

3.     Tie together the thread tails at each end, on the bobbin thread underneath (whatever way up you sewed them doesn't matter).

4.     Tie together one side of the upper thread tails. And use the remaining thread tails to gently pull the thread to gather the sleeve. It does work ok with the organdy but it is stiffer. No I didn't trust it either, but it does works I promise.

5.     At this stage, I leave my tails un-knotted so that I can adjust them finally once we pin the sleeve to the bodice.

6.     Do all this for both sleeves.

Pinning the Sleeve to the Bodice

Right, serious time now, look at us go!
1.     Look at your sleeves and look at the bodice arm pits - both have notches/marks to tell you where to line these up. There's a double notch marked on the pattern as 16, and a single notch marked as 17. Then there's the circle at the top of the sleeve which matches to the seam line on your bodice. And the seam line at the bottom of your sleeve matches with the seam line at the bottom of the arm pit. It doesn't matter where you start, but with right sides together, start matching and pinning on corresponding notch to its counterpart.

2.     Work your way all around, and now is the time to finalise your gathers so that they perfectly match the armhole. Tie down your gathering thread tails at this point.

3.     Now you have about 50 million pins keeping everything in place, it's time to head over to the sewing machine and lock this down! Ahem, sew. Keeping our 1/2" seam allowance, sew a nice even line around. I usually remove the tray from my sewing machine to make it easier for me to get the fabric in the right place to sew. Backstitch the ends.

4.     Press the stitches; you may benefit from a tailor's ham which makes pressing easier. I don't have one, so I just make do. Press the seam inwards towards the bodice.

5.     Do all of this for the other sleeve. Woop woop we now have a dress with sleeves!


  1. Hi Rachael! Just wondering if this pattern, which is older than I am, gives a name to the organdy piece that you made to support the upper part of the sleeve? I know that soft, drapey rayon fabric was very popular for ladies' dresses with gathered fullness in the sleeves.

  2. Hi sorry I tried to reply and it deleted my comment! Sorry for the delay in replying, but it’s not my blog so I don’t get notifications. I generally just say organdy or shoulder pad. If I ever find another name, I will report back!


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