Thursday, January 26, 2012

The 1938 Dress: Tutorial basting and setting in Sleeves

Here we go, today I'll show you how I first basted in, then set in the sleeves I so nicely prepared yesterday. I'll also explain the whole point of basting sleeves a bit later in the post:

Again, I am using the book from 1935 as a reference. It is a fairly small book, but there is so much information in it!

 This illustration is our reference for the basting:

The book suggests basting in the sleeve using the dress-form; First, pin the sleeve to the bodice, on your dressform, in the upper third of the sleeves (mine are 3/4 sleeves, so it's about half way up). This way, the sleeve's weight is held up nicely:

Now fold the sleeve cap down and pin the bottom of the sleeve cap from the inside, meeting the side seem with the sleeve seam (if you have a one-piece sleeve):

 Go as far as you comfortably can, then pin the rest from the outside:

Take it off your dress-form and baste it, sewing directly on the seam-line (and preferably with a touch smaller stitches than me). You'll have to take the pins out one by one as you are doing this.

Again, bear with me for not having finished this edge yet. Being a curved edge - and a sleeve on the bias - zigzagging would really have warped it. Besides, I promise that I have a much, much cooler technique to get rid of this mess. In just a few seconds, you'll see!

Now let me take a quick moment to talk about the point of basting in a sleeve. Did I make a muslin? Yes, actually, I did:

It's only pinned to the dressform because it doesn't fit over the shoulders anymore... I noticed that the sleeves are sitting a bit too low on the shoulder. But then, I actually sewed the bottom part of the dress to the bodice the wrong way - ugh!:

This was the point where I lost my nerves a bit. Because, well, that muslin fabric I used was horrific to begin with. It feels like wood, it just has no give at all and I felt disheartened having to keep sewing with this stuff. I was far enough with the muslin to know that it was generally a pretty good fit aside from the shoulder points, so I decided to start with the real material and just baste things before really sewing them - at least the few seams that were questionable fit-wise.


As some of you might know, I work in the theater. I have never in my life tried on a muslin for a costume. The costume people in theaters are masters of their art, and are able to cut and sew a dress that will fit you pretty well right away, just with your measurements as a reference. However, at the first fitting, pretty much ALL the seams are only basted, especially the sleeves. It's not unusual that they get ripped of right under your eyes and reattached with you still in it. They leave in much larger seam allowances, so that all corrections can be made right on the actual garment. This is a lot like the work in Haute Couture and it is a pleasure to witness the process every time. In my case here, with the messed up muslin actually not being so far off a good fit, I even worked with a normal seam allowance - if anything, it would have to be taken in.

I like the combination of a muslin AND basting for now... That way, I can make my muslins as messy as I want and still feel half-way good about it :-)

I basted the sleeve in a bit higher on the shoulder point than it was on my messed up muslin - I'm pointing at the future seam line in this photo:

After the first sleeve was basted in, I checked for obvious mistakes. First, a bit of a crease on the side was irritating me:

It also seemed like there was too much fabric in the back:

But then, I read the book... And look, at letter "d" they say you have to make sure you have enough room to move your arm...

So I decided not to change anything for now and basted in the second sleeve just like the first one. You should always baste in both sleeves... The weight of the garment can pull it over to one side and you won't be able to see if things really sit correctly if you only do one side... At first glance, my "crease" looks a bit like the one they show at letter "e", but then again, not really. Mine doesn't go diagonally over the whole sleeve...

So now: gymnastics! At my theater fittings they ALWAYS make me lift my arms in all directions:

...and I realized that all that material was definitely needed to be able to move comfortably. If I had pinned away what looked like excess material, there would have been no way to lift up my arms. Fitting sleeves is a very complex subject and I am not a specialist. I would have loved to have a professional seamstress giving me advice here, but I did as best as I could on my own. Maybe I could have turned the whole sleeve a bit farther to the back, but then I would have also had to change the pleats (so they are centered to the shoulder seam), or change the shoulder seam back a bit. That all seemed a lot of trouble considering the fact that I am not even sure anything was ever even really wrong with the fit... ;-)

I turned the seam-allowances on the shoulder seam under itself to clean it up (stitching it down by hand):

And here comes the cool bit: When pinning/sewing the sleeve, you include a bias tape like so:

When you get near the end, connect the bias tape first - ON GRAIN (a point they stress in the book!), so you lay the two ends on top of each other at a 90 Degree angle and sew it in the direction of the grain like so:

Cut back the corners:

...and finish the pinning. Then, take out the basting stitches and sew. This is the kind of seam you want to make sure you have enough thread left in the machine. If you run out and don't notice, you'll be really annoyed about having to re-pin all of it...

The book says you sew it from the sleeve side, as I did. Yet they end up with the bias tape attached to the other side than mine. In my case, the bias tape was the very top layer under my needle, then the sleeve, then the bodice. Maybe theirs was the bottom layer.

See, they make a big point about sewing the bias tape together grain-wise...
I strongly suggest you turn the garment outside in and make sure the seam came out right before moving on! If everything is cool, cut back the seam allowance and fold the bias tape over it. It gets stitched to the other side - by hand, preferably:

Were you doubting me because of all the fraying edges? Well, all cleaned up now! Of course, the step of folding under the seam allowance could have been done earlier, if I had decided on that in time...

This is the INSIDE of my garment

A commenter asked about the back slit being quite low and what I was planning to wear under this. Yes, it is low, right? First of all, they attach four hooks in the original, but I like it open at the top. Secondly, I think a bra strap would be low enough to be hidden. However, yes, I was actually planning to wear a t-shirt under it and it might not look good in the back. Maybe it'll have to be a tank-top. I will have to try it out and see. What do you think?

Again, this is the INSIDE...

I'm not 100% convinced about the sleeves when the arms are just hanging down... but the moment I start moving, it seems just fine:

If anyone out there has suggestions or knows more about this, please let me know!
I'll do a short break on this project to fit in my January-contribution to the refashion co-op (I have something cool lined up!) and to show you one or two projects I did to work off my fabric stash... here is a sneak peak:

I'll return to this dress very soon though, and we'll see a cool vintage way to add width to a skirt whilst still keeping the narrow silhouette, as well as that snap-button closure...!

UPDATE! HERE you get to the post of the finished dress, where you find all the links for the other tutorials/posts for this dress.

Best to all of you out there!


  1. Super, aber zu mich zu hoch. Ich glaube ich bin eher der schnell schnell Fabriknähertyp als die Haut-Couture Schneiderin.
    Ich finde aber deine Posts sehr interessant und lehrreich.
    Vielen Dank!

  2. Sieht sehr aufwendig und lehrreich aus.
    Was ist das denn für ein tolles Buch?
    Liebe Grüße

  3. Danke Euch! Das Buch sieht total unscheinbar aus und heisst "Grundlehre der Schneiderei", herausgegeben vom Otto Beyer Verlag, Copyright 1935...