Wednesday 22 April 2009

Setting the sleeves

One of the things I did earlier in the week when I had a blitz on cutting the fabric, was to quickly make a start the sleeves. I only sewed them together to get a head start, and now I am setting them in the coat body which has been assembled ready, I’ll recap all I did with the sleeves.

Sleeves are always one of those easy things to assemble, but if I haven’t done them in advance, can slow down assembling the coat.

I first cut the sleeves (see above left) in Alcantara. Notice the marks for sleeve apex and three parallel lines for the sleeve head formation. I also cut the lining using pinking sheers, which proved to be a sucessful exercise on the test coat (see above right).

Firstly I stitch the longer back seam and press it flat, but with all of the seam allowance folded towards the front of the sleeve. I then topstitch the seam, within 1 to 1.5mm away from the edge. The sleeve is then closed off by sewing the front seam, which is just conventionally pressed flat.

I am using the slightly adjusted pattern I did for the calico coat, which is designed to give a more roomy fit at the back, while still being quite tailored at the front.

These two photographs show what I mean: (left) you can see the sleeve is set in cleanly and is well fitted (right) you can see a series of puckers at the seam, which is giving it a fuller fit. To mimic this I need to adjust the level of gathering in the sleeve head so it is smooth at the front and across the apex of the sleeve, but allowing it to pucker slightly as it falls down the back of the sleeve.

When I made the calico test, I explained how I formed the sleeve head by sewing three parallel lines of stitching along the top of the sleeve. I transfered where I had done this back to the pattern, so it becomes a quick task to get started on shaping the sleeve (below - top left). I also marked the apex of the sleeve on the pattern, and I transfered this onto the inside of the sleeve, giving me a marker of where it intersects with the shoulder seam. I line these up, and pin the whole sleeve circumference, easing in at the underarm to resolve any short fall, or excess. 

I then try it for fit, to make sure the sleeve is hanging right. It invariable is not, so there is always a certain amount of adjusting and re-pinning before I am happy. If the sleeve is creasing a lot at the back, the sleeve needs to rotate forward a little; if it is creasing across the front it needs to go back a bit.
After sewing the sleeve in, I add in the padding, centered on the shoulder seam, sewing as tight as I can to the existing seam stitching (see below - top right). It is never a good idea to try and do this all in one single pass through the sewing machine!

I am then a little naughty, and wonderweb’ing the shoulder pad directly to the shoulder itself. I have done it on this occasion as I am doing the absolute minimum amount of interfacing in this coat to keep it as free, limp and flowing as possible. I think it had been a mistake to interface (even lightly) my previous coats, as even just doing the fronts above waist height seemed to make it to rigid and fitted. I am using this to give the should some rigidity (see above - bottom left).

I then cut two strips of wadding and fold then together, the outer one of which I fold unequally, creating a stepped thickness of wadding (see right).
This I then sew to the sleeve head, on the sleeve side (see above - bottom right).

This wadding gives the roll of the sleeve head a better, softer finish. It also stops the shoulder pad being too visible beneath the sleeve, blending the edge. Below is without the wadding (left) and with (right), which shows the more rounded top and less noticeable shoulder pads.

To finish the sleeves off, I pin the length I require (below - left) and trim the seam allowance inside, cutting a triangle away where the cuff folds, and thinning the allowance in the hem (below - middle). This just makes it fold flatter without bulking on the cuff line. Finally I press the cuff nice and sharp using a pressing pad which prevents damage to the far side of the cuff (below - right).

There are lots of different ways to set a sleeve, some more involved that others. I went for a simpler approach as I wanted, but if you want to read more about setting sleeves, here is a very good description with clear photographs, going into a bit more detail than I have.

The practice I had while making the test coat made doing the sleeve heads far real less intimidating compared to before. Making the test coat always seemed like an irritating delay in getting started, and I had always skipped it as a stage of the process, but it has been paying dividends all the way and the results have been speaking for themselves!

I have a real good feeling about this coat now!

Here are a quick couple of picture I took of the coat at this stage, sleeves set, awaiting the lapels and collar.
It does look like an old sack on a hanger, but when the collar is in it will hold it together a lot better, so I am not too worried right now.

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