Photos have been restored!

My apologies to any readers who have been unable to see the photos with my blogs.  It was my error – I am still on L plates with this blogging caper!

I have restored the photos and in the process I discovered that I had inadvertently deleted “Inserting Zippers Part 4  – Fly Zippers”.  It has now been uploaded again.

I hope the blogs are helpful and would love to hear feedback.

Thank you for your interest.

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Set-In Sleeves

This article was first seen in Australian Dressmaking with Stitches magazine – Volume 22 No 2.
Permission has been sought and granted for electronic use and the photos and text remain the property of Alison Wheeler – Sewing Lady.

There are many different sleeve styles.   Set in sleeves have a smooth, high cap.  They  may also have gathers, tucks or pleats at the cap.

What all set in sleeves have in common is the incorporation of ease in the cap area to facilitate comfortable movement of the arm when the garment is being worn.  The amount of ease can vary depending on the style of garment and whether it is intended to wear other garments underneath.

The Anatomy of a Sleeve

Anatomy of a sleeve.

Anatomy of a sleeve.

Sleeve Cap – the top section of the sleeve between the underarm and the shoulder

Armscye – the measurement of the armhole

Bicep – the measurement across the whole sleeve level with the underarm

Sleeve Length – the measurement from the shoulder point to the hem

Fitting the Sleeve

There are two important body measurements to check against a sleeve pattern.  These are bicep and cap height.

Where to measure the height of the cap.  Place a tape around the bicep, nesting it against the underarm.  Measure from the top of the tape to the shoulder joint.

Where to measure the height of the cap. Place a tape around the bicep, nesting it against the underarm. Measure from the top of the tape to the shoulder joint.

Draw a line from the shoulder point to the hem, parallel to the grain line.  Then draw a line at right angles to the grain line level with the underarm points.

The measurement from the horizontal line to the shoulder point is the cap height and the length of the horizontal line at underarm level is the bicep measurement.

Draw line joining top of underarm seams and measure from this line to the shoulder point.  This is the cap height.

Draw line joining top of underarm seams and measure from this line to the shoulder point. This is the cap height.

For comfort when wearing the garment the cap height of the sleeve should be approximately 1.5cm longer than the body measurement and the bicep should be at least 5cm more than the body measurement.  These measurements will increase for jackets which are to be worn over other garments and even more for coats.

If the underarm is too low, arm movement is considerably restricted.  Many will remember the large full sleeves of the 1980’s and 1990’s when large shoulder pads and low armholes were the norm.  Fashion today dictates a closer fitting sleeve so the underarm may need to be raised if using an older pattern.

It has been my experience from fitting many jackets and garments with set in sleeves that even if the bicep area has sufficient width, a cap height which is too high will result in a feeling that the sleeve is too tight.  This problem can be easily fixed by raising the armscye in both the sleeve and bodice sections of the garment.

Another important issue is the hang of the sleeve as it leaves the armhole.  It should hang smoothly down the arm without any folds.  An easy way to check  that the sleeve is well positioned is to thread mark a balance line across the cap of the sleeve, at right angles to the grain line.

Pin the sleeve in place matching the shoulder seam with the original match point at the top of the sleeve and try on the garment.  The balance line should be parallel to the floor.  If it is not, there will be folds in the sleeve which can be corrected by rotating the sleeve until the balance line is in the correct position.

Rotate balance line until it sits parallel to the floor.

Rotate balance line until it sits parallel to the floor.

Sleeve Cap Ease

In a sleeve which is to be set smoothly into the garment, the measurement at the seam line of armscye of the sleeve should be 25mm (1”) to 30mm (1 ¼”) longer than the seam line on the bodice.  This excess is the amount of ease.  To check the amount of ease in the sleeve, measure the front and back armscye sections of the garment separately.  Also measure the front and back sleeve caps separately.  These measurements can then be compared to find where the excess ease lies.

Easing the Sleeve Cap

There are many different methods and opinions on how to ease and set a sleeve.  I offer a method which has served me very well in lots of different fabrics over many years.

Select a stitch length of 2.5 to 3.5 (small stitch for fine, thin fabric and longer stitch for thicker, heavier fabrics) and reduce the machine’s thread tension to just below 2.0.  This will make the bobbin thread quite loose and the fabric will draw up very easily without making small pleats which are difficult to remove when the sleeve is sewn in place.

With the sleeve flat, the stitching is done from the right side of the fabric between the notches and across the cap of the sleeve, with the first row right on the seam line.  Stitch a second row parallel to the first and within the seam allowance (place the edge of the presser foot against the first row of stitching to assist in keeping the rows exactly parallel).  (Photo 3)  Be sure to leave thread tails on either end so that the stitching can be pulled up easily.

Stitch ease lines while sleeve is flat.  First row on the 15mm seam line and the second row within the seam allowance approximately 6mm away.  Both rows should be parallel and evenly spaced.

Stitch ease lines while sleeve is flat. First row on the 15mm seam line and the second row within the seam allowance approximately 6mm away. Both rows should be parallel and evenly spaced.

Stitch the underarm seams working from armhole to wrist.  Press seams flat and open over a sleeve board or seam roll.  Finish edges as desired.

Pin or thread  mark the shoulder point.  Before setting the sleeve into the garment, pull up the easing from the wrong side of the sleeve using both threads at the same time.  The easing is pulled up quite tightly but not in the shoulder area for 1cm on either side of the shoulder point.

Pull up easing to within 1cm of top of sleeve.

Pull up easing to within 1cm of top of sleeve.

Using your thumb, work the easing back until the seam area is perfectly smooth.

Carefully smooth easing back along the ease row nearest the seam line.  The outer edge will remain fluted while the seam line area fits the armhole perfectly.

Carefully smooth easing back along the ease row nearest the seam line. The outer edge will remain fluted while the seam line area fits the armhole perfectly.

Carefully press just the seam allowance to remove any fluting or small pleats at the seam line but do not allow the point of the iron to go past the seam line.

To position the sleeve in the armhole, place the bodice and sleeve right sides out and beside each other on a flat surface.  Reach inside the bodice armhole and pinch the top of the sleeve and the shoulder seam together.  Flip the bodice over the sleeve.  This will position the sleeve perfectly.

Working inside the sleeve, pin the shoulder and underarm points.  I usually pin the underarm area in place first and then the cap area.  Be sure to keep the outer edges of the fabric together and pin at right angles to the seam line with just a small bite of the pin at the seam line.

Pinned right on seam line from inside the sleeve.

Pinned right on seam line from inside the sleeve.

Starting  about 5cm ahead of the underarm seam, stitch along the seam line.  Follow your machine’s measuring guide and not the original stitching line used for the easing.  When the easing is pulled up, the bias sections of the sleeve cap stretch and the original easing line will no longer be 1.5cm from the cut edges.

Black rows are ease stitching - red row is permanent seam line.  Easing causes the bias sections of the cap to stretch so seam line moves.

Black rows are ease stitching – red row is permanent seam line. Easing causes the bias sections of the cap to stretch so seam line moves.

When reaching the original starting point, simply overlap the stitching for about 1cm – there is no need to backstitch.  Stitch a second row approximately 6mm from the original line in the underarm area only and trim the seam allowance back to this stitching line.

I do not trim the remainder of the seam allowance which is pressed flat and sits inside the sleeve to act as a small sleeve head to support the cap line.

The seam allowance can then be finished as desired and appropriate to the fabric of the garment.

Press the seam allowance only and allow it to sit inside the sleeve.  The result is a smooth sleeve which rolls nicely into the armhole with ease evenly distributed and no puckers.

Sleeve should roll nicely out of the armhole.

Sleeve should roll nicely out of the armhole.

Sleeve Heads

Sleeve heads are strips of thick fabric or batting that lift and support the sleeve cap and enhance the sleeve’s drape.  They are usually inserted in jackets and coats.

They are rarely used in dresses with today’s fashion but were quite prevalent in the era of the big gathered sleeve.  This type of support was usually provided by a gathered tulle or silk organza sleeve head.  Since the many past fashion elements often influence current fashion, we can probably expect to see these sleeves again at some future time.

Pre-made sleeve heads are available for purchase but often they do not fit the shape of a ladies’ sleeve.

It is quite easy to make sleeve heads to exactly fit your garment.   Use the top of your sleeve pattern and mark a bias grain line in the cap area.    The bias grain makes the sleeve heads mould to the shape of the upper arm.

Mark cutting lines for sleeve head on sleeve pattern; trace off and cut from thin wadding/batting.  Bias grain helps the sleeve head mould to the upper arm area.

Mark cutting lines for sleeve head on sleeve pattern; trace off and cut from thin wadding/batting. Bias grain helps the sleeve head mould to the upper arm area.

Cut two pieces of thin batting in the shape of the sleeve cap, between dots.  I prefer to use cotton or wool quilt batting for this purpose.

Custom fitting sleeve head with shoulder position marked with a snip and corners rounded.

Custom fitting sleeve head with shoulder position marked with a snip and corners rounded.

Clearly mark front and back on each sleeve head.

Find centre of the sleeve head and align it with shoulder seam – wider section of header should be against sleeve, narrower section on top.  Either machine or hand stitch the heads just inside seam line.  IMG_3236If machine stitching, loosen the thread tension and use a long stitch so that the sleeve head is not too tightly in place.

Pressing Matters

Portions of this article were first seen in Australian Stitches magazine – Volume 22 No 4.
Permission has been sought and granted for electronic use and the photos and text remain the property of Alison Wheeler – Sewing Lady.

One of the key construction elements affecting the finish of a garment is Pressing Techniques.

Many sewers who learned from their mothers and grandmothers were repeatedly told to never sew a garment together without pressing each seam as you go.  While many other techniques have come and gone, the importance of pressing in garment construction remains.

When buying fabric, take particular note of the composition of the fabric and the care instructions attached to the fabric bolt.  They should be your guide when choosing iron temperature.

Tip:  If you have a smart phone, take a photo of the swing tag.  Otherwise, write the details on the reverse of your sales docket and store it with your fabric for later reference.

So what do we equipment do we need; what are these techniques and how do they affect the final finish of the garment?

Pressing equipment:

1: Seam stick and organza press cloth 2: Tailor's ham 3: Seam roll 4: Clapper 5: Point presser 6: Sleeve board 7: Spray bottle

1: Seam stick and organza press cloth
2: Tailor’s ham
3: Seam roll
4: Clapper
5: Point presser
6: Sleeve board
7: Spray bottle

A heavy based iron with good steam delivery is the key. If you do not have a good steam iron, you can mist your press cloth with a plastic spray bottle.  If your iron is lightweight, lower the ironing board so that you can press down easier to achieve the necessary pressure.

  • A well padded ironing surface. This can be an ironing board or a pressing surface made by covering a piece of plywood with an old blanket and a calico cover.   In my studio, I have an ironing surface made from a cork notice board that I have covered with an old wool blanket .  A heavy cotton  duck fabric cover was made with elasticised sides (like a fitted sheet) so that it can be washed.
  • This large flat surface is perfect for fusing interfacing and pressing garment sections flat during construction.
  • A press cloth is essential to avoid damaging your fabric. It should be used every time your iron comes into contact with your fabric. My choice of press cloth is a piece of silk organza.  It is really tough and handles high heat and pressure well and has the added benefit of allowing me to see what I am doing.  Make sure you use silk and not polyester organza which would burn on to the base of the iron.  Tip:  Half a metre of silk organza can be trimmed with pinking shears and cut into two or three cloths for reasonable cost.  Use a separate cloth for fusing interfacing so that you do not inadvertently damage your iron or fabric.
  • A seam stick is very useful to place under the seam so that, when it is pressed open, the seam allowances do not make an imprint which can often show through to the right side of your garment. It can be made easily from a piece of 3cm dowel cut in half and sanded smooth.  If your fabric is delicate or needs more steam, you can make a pocket of fabric from wool flannel to cover the stick so that the timber does not touch your fabric.
  • A tailor’s ham is a reasonably priced and very useful piece of pressing equipment and are used to press any sections of the garment that fit over curved areas of the body. Hams take their name from their shape and are usually covered on one side with a sturdy cotton fabric and on the other with a woollen fabric.  The cotton absorbs the steam and the wool increases the effect of steam on your fabric where extra is needed.  Tip: Store your ham in a clip lock bag so that the wool side will not be eaten by insects and to keep the ham clean when it is not being used.)
  • Similar to a ham, a seam roll is made in a sausage shape and used for pressing seams open in trouser legs, sleeves, etc.  They allow the fabric of the garment and seam allowance to fall away from the surface of the iron so that the chance of an impression of the seam allowance on the right side of the fabric is greatly minimised.
  • A clapper is used to pound a pressed seam so that it smooth and flat once cool. They are also available with a point presser attached.  The point presser is used to press open seams when facings are applied as well as lapel and collar seams which would be difficult to access with just the iron.  These tools work by drawing the moisture from the fabric and allowing it to cool smooth and flat.
  • A sleeve board makes pressing sleeves, pants and difficult to access areas a breeze. They are particularly good for children’s clothes and smaller sized garments.
  • A plastic misting bottle for where extra moisture/steam is required.
  • A natural sponge which has been wet and wrung out well can also be used to place moisture exactly where it is needed to achieve the desired result.

I also use an ironing press for large fusing jobs, for example when fusing a whole garment to support open weave fabrics or lighter fabrics which I am using for more structured projects. My ironing press is at least 30 years old and does not have a steaming feature – this is where the misting bottle comes into its own.  If you have a press with steam, be very careful to completely empty the tank when the press has cooled and then heat it to make sure there is no moisture left.  Any moisture left in the tank can cause it to rust, causing marks on your future projects.

Pressing versus Ironing:

Pressing involves a lift and lower motion over sections of the garment and is useful for flattening seams and moulding the fabric into the desired shape during construction of the garment.

Ironing  uses a gliding motion over the right side of the garment and is mainly used to remove creases  after laundering and on-going care of the garment.

Melding the stitches:

Most dressmaking these days is done using polyester sewing thread.  While this thread is strong and durable, it does not meld with the fabric unless it is pressed when the seams are sewn.  Just stitch a seam and run your finger over the stitches.  You will feel the thread lying on top of the fabric.

Take your sample to the ironing board and press the seam flat as it was sewn.  Now run your fingers over the stitches and you will find that they have melded into the fabric and no longer feel like a ridge against the fabric.

With the thread melded into the fabric, your seams will sit smoother and flatter when pressed open or to one side.

Pressing seams:

Once you have pressed the seams flat to meld the stitches, seams should be pressed open from the wrong side of the fabric.  Place seam over the seam stick or seam roll and use a press cloth.  If you do not have a seam stick or seam roll, place some brown paper or tally roll paper between the seam allowance and the garment fabric.  Do not use waxed paper as it will not absorb steam.

Be sure to press lightly using the tip of the iron.  If you are using a springy fabric, once the seam has been pressed open, pound it with the clapper.

For very springy fabric, use a sponge to moisten the line of the seam stitching, cover with a press cloth and press again.

Do not move your fabric until it has cooled down.

Seams can then be pressed to one side (again using the seam stick and press cloth) and pounded with the clapper.  This gives a really flat seam line to follow if you are topstitching.

Pressing Hems:

To aid in pressing an even hem width, cut a piece of manilla card stock to the width of the finished hem.  Hold it against the wrong side of the hem allowance and flip the fabric up so that it aligns with the top of the card and press in place.  This method results in a crisp hem crease and avoids marking the front surface of the garment.

Using a manilla strip cut to the hem depth makes pressing an even hem allowance very easy.

Using a manilla strip cut to the hem depth makes pressing an even hem allowance very easy.

This technique is also very useful for pressing under the edge of patch pockets .

Pressing pleats:

If your garment features pleats, you will find it much easier to stitch them if the crease has been pressed in place first.  Use tailor’s tacks to mark the crease lines; fold the along the marked lines and press using a cloth; pound with a clapper to set the crease.

Continuous tailor's tacks stitched through both sides of garment piece to mark fold line for tucks and pleats.  They can be clipped apart between each tack to separate fabric layers.

Continuous tailor’s tacks stitched through both sides of garment piece to mark fold line for tucks and pleats. They can be clipped apart between each tack to separate fabric layers.

Press tucks from right side using thread marks as a guide to the fold line

Press tucks from right side using thread marks as a guide to the fold line

Pressing gathered fabric:

Once your gathered section has been applied to the rest of the garment, use the tip of the iron to press at right angles to the seam.  Applying a gentle pull to the fabric will help to position the gathers with the iron.

Press gathers towards seam, spreading them with the point of the iron.

Press gathers towards seam, spreading them with the point of the iron.

Pressing sleeve caps:

Once a set in sleeve has been eased, place the sleeve cap over a tailor’s ham and pin it in place along the seam line.  Without touching the fabric, steam the sleeve cap.   Press the seam allowance gently with your fingers to smooth it and allow it to dry completely before setting the sleeve into the armhole of the garment.  This method results in a pucker free installation of the sleeve.

Place sleeve cap over small end of the ham and pin in place with glass head pins. Keep the pins on the seam line.

Place sleeve cap over small end of the ham and pin in place with glass head pins. Keep the pins on the seam line.

Steam the section being eased - do not allow the iron to touch the fabric.

Steam the section being eased – do not allow the iron to touch the fabric.

The result is a smooth seam line ready for insertion into armhole.

The result is a smooth seam line ready for insertion into armhole.

The sponge method can also be used on wool fabrics.  Be careful to test on a scrap to make sure your fabric will not water stain.

Pressing darts:

The dart stitching should be pressed flat first to meld the stitches into the fabric.  The darts are then pressed against the garment, usually towards the centre back or front for vertical darts and towards the waist for bust darts. Place the fabric right side down over a tailor’s ham and a small piece of manilla card stock under the dart.

Place dart over ham with manilla card under the fold and press.

Place dart over ham with manilla card under the fold and press.

Cover the fabric with press cloth and press over the ham to shape the fabric.  Always allow the fabric to cool before removing it from the ham.

If the garment is underlined or a lining is to be inserted, slash the darts open  for a smoother, flatter line.   Press using a press cloth and pound with clapper while fabric is over the ham.  Again, allow the fabric to cool before removing it from the ham.

Dart slashed and pressed open will give a flatter garment surface in lined garment.

Dart slashed and pressed open will give a flatter garment surface in lined garment.

Stretching and Shrinking:

Used in tailoring, these techniques can be used in dressmaking where you do not want to clip seam allowances; for example, if working on a white or pale colour garment with princess seams or if stitching a dart would make a plaid garment less visually appealing.  It is also a useful technique beacuse if the seams are not clipped, future alterations are made much easier.

Curved side seams will not press flat. Most patterns mention clipping them so they will lie flat.

Curved side seams will not press flat. Most patterns mention clipping them so they will lie flat.

Pressing with steam, stretch the outer edge of the seam allowance.

Pressing with steam, stretch the outer edge of the seam allowance.

Top seam allowance pressed flat after being stretched. Bottom seam allowance clipped.

Top seam allowance pressed flat after being stretched. Bottom seam allowance clipped.

Straight piece of fabric cut on the crossgrain.

Straight piece of fabric cut on the crossgrain.

Outer edge of seam allowance of concave curve is pressed and stretched.

Outer edge of seam allowance of concave curve is pressed and stretched.

Upper edge shrunk into a curve; lower edge stretched into a curve.

Upper edge shrunk into a curve; lower edge stretched into a curve.

I hope you will give these techniques a try.  You will see a marked improvement in the finish of your garments and understand that our mothers and grandmothers did indeed know a thing or two about quality construction and pressing techniques.

Why sew your own clothes?

“Do people still sew?”

“When clothing is plentiful and cheap, why do people bother sewing?”

These are questions I have often been asked when I mention that my business is teaching people to sew their own clothes and I expect such comments are made to many of my students too.

While sewing your own clothing in 2015 is not strictly necessary and will not always save money – as it was and did for our grandmothers – there is much to be said for all the other benefits of  “making your own”.

In a world of mass produced, cheap and often poorly made garments which do not fit properly and do not last beyond a season, there is most certainly a place for a garment which has been made to measure for its wearer and finished to a high standard.  Not only will the wearer have a unique, custom made garment to be proud of, this new favourite for which the style and fabric were chosen especially to flatter, will last well beyond the next season – and when it does reach the end of its life, it can be copied to make another!

For me, the main benefit of making my own clothes is that I know they will fit and flatter and be one of a kind.  I can choose exactly what I want in terms of style and colour.  I can go shopping and look at all the new styles, especially details like collars, pockets, trims, etc. knowing that, with a little ingenuity and technique, I can put my personality into the details I choose to wear.

I really love the creative outlet; trying new techniques and the wonderful sense of achievement when a project comes together.  I love the feel of fabric and the possibilities in each piece I buy.  Every piece of fabric is unique and with the on-going developments in textile manufacturing we always have something different to try and new handling techniques to learn.  Sewing is NEVER boring.

Helping my students discover a passion for sewing is such a joy.   Many new students are surprised at how much they can accomplish after a couple of sessions and that sewing is much more intricate and fascinating than they had expected. Sewing can become a haven of peace where we can control our level of achievement – an opportunity which is often hard to find in a world where our lives are busy, noisy and stressful,

My intention is to post a blog each week, sometimes about my own projects and sometimes a tutorial on a particular technique.

I look forward to your feedback.