Sunday, May 19, 2019

Additional Tips for Set-In Sleeves


To say that I've spent a lot of time on this blog talking about set-in sleeves in the context of late medieval costuming would be an understatement. As I worked on the sleeves for a new chemise, however, it occurred to me that there are a few items about sleeves after patterning that might be helpful tips for those who are still new to or having trouble with their sleeves. The easiest way for me to do this was via photo examples.



TIP #1: Since your wrist is a cylinder, the end of your sleeve isn't going to be a straight line. If you've been having trouble with the two sides of your seam not lining up right, or you always get excess length on one side, a straight line at the wrist may be the culprit.


With your test sleeve on, draw a line (or have someone help you draw one) around your wrist to guide what this line should look like.

TIP #2: If the two sides of your sleeve seam are not identical because one side has a gusset (or an integrated gusset like mine) it's very likely that the side with the gusset will need to be eased into the side without.


Take your time with pinning the seam together, and double check that your top and bottom are lining up as close as possible. You shouldn't have excessive easing to deal with here, though. If you can't get one side to play nice with the other, double check that something didn't go wrong in your patterning.

TIP #3: If you have a gusset on the sleeve, don't be worried if your sleeve doesn't lay flat. It does this (and it should do this) because of the gusset, which three-dimensionalizes your sleeve. Which is a good thing, because you're a three-dimensional creature.


If you've patterned additional sleeve shaping like Mistress Mathilde outlines in her instructions, then you'll also see this sort of creasing. As long as your seam edges are lining up together, this is appropriate shaping that should help your sleeve fit comfortably around your arm with the seam line falling where it should.

TIP #4: You can easily locate the center top point of your sleeves by matching the curves on the front and back. Your gusset may make the not an exact match (like mine did here) but you should be able to get pretty close. Mark these points with pins to easily get them lined up with the top of the armhole on the garment.


If you do have a bit of extra like I did, you can carefully use the curve on the front side to trim this off. This will make getting things lined up when you go to insert the sleeve a bit easier.


Just be cautious with this if you aren't already mostly confident the sleeve is correct.

TIP #5: The side you place the integrated gusset will directly relate to how high the seam sits on the back of your arm. If you add your gusset to the side with the lower curve (your armpit), the seam will be higher. 


If you would prefer the seam to be lower, create your integrated gusset on the side with the upper curve (the shoulder cap). In either case, there is no technical right or wrong- it's primarily a matter of preference. Don't, however, attempt to split the difference. One side has to have the majority of the gusset width. Otherwise, you'll create a triangular shape that will throw the entire sleeve head S curve off. #askmehowiknow

TIP #6: Unless you've gotten things exactly measured perfectly (which can happen!) your sleeve head will likely be a bit bigger than your armhole. This means you need to ease the sleeve to the garment. The easiest way to do this is the pull the garment fabric tight but not the sleeve fabric, and to use as many pins as it takes to get the sleeve fabric mostly flat.


If you discover that no matter what you do, you have excess fabric in the sleeve that you can't get flat, this means that your sleeve head is too big for your armhole. You can correct this a few different ways depending on what you're comfortable with.
  • Reverse a few steps and remeasure your armhole and sleevehead, then recut the sleevehead as needed to fit better. Be sure to keep seam allowance in mind- measure at your seamline, not the cut edge.
  • If you believe that your sleeve is larger than needed for your arm, you can work the excess fabric over to the back seam and take the seam in as needed to fit. This is risky if you aren't certain your sleeve is too big.
  • Carefully trim the armhole to be larger. Only go this route if your armhole is already on the small side. When I use this method, I adjust the lower backside to be larger, rather than the front.
Conversely, if your garment has excessive cloth, your sleevehead is too small for the armhole. In order to fix this, you can try either of these three solutions:
  • Open your sleeve seam and insert a gusset to make up the difference.
  • If you have fabric to do so, remeasure everything and recut your sleeves to the correct size.
  • If your armhole isn't already small, you can attempt to take the seams in at the armpit and shoulder to slim down the armhole. I do not recommend this option as anything other than a last resort, as it will affect the fit of the garment's bust.

TIP #7: You may find it easier to get the sleeve ease to stitch nicely on the machine if you sew the seam on the inside of the sleeve. You will have a better view of the fabric that needs to be eased and can make on-the-fly adjustments to prevent creases and folds as you go. I like to hold the seam in front of and behind the sewing foot and gently tug away from the machine as I go, allowing the machine's feed dog under the fabric to advance the seam for me while keeping both the top and bottom layers of the seam taut. (This is something that is easier shown in person and comes more naturally with practice.)


I like to start my sewing at the back seam since this will more conveniently help conceal if my stitchline doesn't exactly match up once I make it all the way around. Note too that I've folded the long sleeve seam allowance over so that I don't have to mess with that being flat when I do to flat fell that seam allowance with my hand finishing. Another way around this is to finish the sleeve seam before sewing it into the armhole.

TIP #8: Watch out for fabric bunching on the underside!


To make sure that you aren't accidentally sewing creases of the garment into the seam, push the bulk of the garment fabric toward the back from the underside. Sew for 1.5" to 2", stop, rotate the entire bulk of garment slightly counterclockwise to line things up again, then adjust the garment smooth on the underside before starting back up. Repeat all the way around.

Of course, one last tip that encompasses all of these is to take your time and be patient. There are many other things that can go right or wrong in the process of getting your patterned sleeves into your garment, but these are the things that I routinely encounter every time I'm going through this process. 

I hope any of these additional tips have helped you, and good luck!

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