Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The 1938 Dress: Tutorial Preparing Sleeves

 Today: Applying the stripes and preparing the sleeves!

It's funny, even though I am going at an extremely slow pace, reading up every stitch I make in my vintage sewing book and stopping to take pictures after each move, I feel like I am moving along nicely!
Gone are the days where I thought I could finish a dress in one evening, here are the slow-paced precision days! :-)

I'll first show you how I applied the velvet stripes, but you can just scroll down to get to the sleeves if that's what you stopped by for...

For the velvet band applications I had to cut stripes myself. Velvet ribbon would have been simpler, but my store only had it in black and white. I want them to match the belt piece perfectly anyway and used the same fabric I'll be using for that. I cut them twice as wide as I wanted the stripe to be in the end, so that the two edges will abut nicely to make the stripe lie flat:

I first pinned and then sewed laying the stripe right side to right side (the seam allowance was just a touch less than 1/4 of the stripe, due to cloth allowance of the fairly thick velvet):

Then I folded it over, pinned again and sewed it down very close to the edge:

Now I folded the bottom edge under, so that the edges abut, and sewed it down close to the other edge:

PS: See how important the grain-line is on fabric like this? At the top left of the stripe, you see a bit of unevenness, due to slightly crooked cutting/sewing!...

Done! Cut off the excess fabric at the edge:

What I thought was interesting is that the pattern wanted me to sew a stripe directly over the bust dart:

I was curious whether that would work out without much warping, and it did! Look from the inside; surprisingly smooth, isn't it?

Now on to a less pattern-specific topic: SLEEVES

I was attracted to this pattern for several reasons, many of which have to do with the higher complexity and intricate details of vintage patterns versus modern ones.
This sleeve, for example, is cut on the bias (see the diagonal line in the photo below!), and I can't wait to see what that does to it's drape. Also, even though it is a one-part sleeve, it has fabric ease for the elbow. You will see how a small detail like that will give the sleeve a much more tailored look! In the photo below, my scissors are pointing at the area that I'll be easing in:

Here is the page in the book that I refered to. It's in German, and I will not give a word by word translation, but I thought you might enjoy a glance at it.

They teach you to ease in with remarkably small stitches, 2mm (1/8 inch) they say! It makes a big difference though and the easing will be that much easier if you stick to it. The first thread is inside the seam allowance:

 The second one I made on the other side of the seam line:

The beginning of both threads are held in place with one back stitch.Now you pull the threads so that this edge of the sleeve becomes the same length as the other one:

See how different the lengths were before (scissors pointing...):

...and after:

Spread the fabric out evenly over the length of the threads and wrap the loose ends around pins to hold them in place (you wrap the thread around the pin in a figure-8 movement. The way I placed the pins is so that I can sew right over them):

This picture is before spreading the fabric out evenly and before pressing!

Give it a good steam press. Don't skip this step, even though, miraculously enough, I didn't take a picture of it. I swear I pressed it though, seriously.
Take it to the machine, stitch the sleeve seem and marvel at it:

See how beautifully the fabric bulges out a bit? That's exactly what we did this for - to allow room for the elbow! Yet the fabric lies totally flat at the seam. Perfect. If I may say so...:-)

Then my pattern called for some pleats in the sleeve cap. I always pin them from the right side, because I very often pin them in the wrong direction otherwise...

There are three important rules for pleats:
  1. the marks must meet
  2. the fabric edges must match up not only at the mark, but also the folded-away edges
  3. the angle of the pleat must be right, especially at the sewing point
Just for you, I did the third one in the picture below wrong. The marks are matched up, believe it or not. But the edge within the pleat is peeking out, as you see, which makes the angle of the pleat wrong. This messes up the general shape of the pattern piece and will cause strange directions in your garment drape:

So here I fixed it. Notice how I put my pins in really close to the edge. And notice how the over-all shape of the sleeve cap is smooth and has no weird angles anywhere:

I give the pleats a quick press just up to the seam-line, using a tailors ham:

Then I stitch the pleats in place real close to what the actual seam line will be. The pin indicates the seam-line:

After this I zigzagged the edges - only the sleeve seams though, not the sleeve cap (I will finish those differently). In my book, they suggest cutting in the seam allowance in the elbow area, so that the seam gets soft and doesn't pull when you move. And believe it or not, they hand-stitch around each triangle that they cut out of the seam allowance!

Since my sleeves are only 3/4 length and cut on the bias, the fabric stretched out when I Zigzagged and I really don't find this step necessary. I'm not sad about that

Look how beautifully this sleeve hangs already, even just pinned to the dress-form, see that bit of elbow shape it has to it? Lovely!

Tomorrow, I will show you the fitting, hand-basting and setting-in of the sleeves! All vintage style by the vintage book. They do, by the way, machine sew. Not everything, but they give you the machine and hand-stitching option. One of these days though, I just might try and sew a vintage garment all by hand... :-)

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.

Hope you are all well! As always, feel free to ask questions!


  1. Wow - the sleeve is looking amazing Katja! I love bias sleeves, but always tend to forget about that option - must remember!

  2. That sleeve came out fantastic! I look forward to reading more (^_^)

  3. Ah, 30er Jahre-Klamotten! Immer wieder fein die Kombination aus schlicht und etails, die den metaphorischen Nagel auf den Kopf treffen. In anderen Worten: Ausschnitt und Streifen sind einfach großartigst. Und Deine detaillierte Beschreibung des Arbeitsprozesses ist auch super anschaulich. Dickes Danke dafür. Am rücken scheint der "Schlitz" ja ziemlich tief zu sein. Was wirst Du drunter ziehen?

  4. You are lucky to have such a fantastic reference book. These sleeves are looking fabulous.