Perfect tailored sleeves

Create a smooth cap on your jacket sleeves for a figure-flattering, professional finish.
Nothing is more aggravating than an unplanned pucker on the top of your sleeve.  Yet apparel makers can create jacket after jacket with smooth sleeve caps.  How are they able to do this without hours of handwork?
The best way to find out is to go inside top-of-the-line jackets and see how the professionals do it.  The secrets are so simple and straightforward, you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it first!
Let’s think about why shaping the shoulder is important.  A well-made sleeve cap is a thing of beauty in itself.  And it boosts the appearance of the wearer.  You are making the jacket, not buying it off the shelf.  That means you can control how flattering the jacket is to you – or your client.
A jacket sleeve should extend ½” from the shoulder tip, then fall straight down.  This puts your shoulders in proper proportion to your neck, head and the rest of your body.
Plus, it’s good camouflage!  If you’re like me, your shoulders are sloped from spending hours at the sewing machine, then hours at the computer swapping e-mails about sewing.  The right size and thickness in the shape squares up the shoulders and hides the roundness at the top of the arm.
It also helps to hide if one shoulder is higher than the other.  I call this the “books, bags and babies” syndrome.  A shape can balance the height.
If you practice yoga or lift weights, you still need a shape to support the sleeve cap and seam.  You just need less.
Some words about sleeves
A sleeve cap is the curve at the top of the sleeve.  It can have as little as ¾” ease for a blouse in smaller sizes or 1½” ease for a coat in larger sizes.
Ease is the difference between the measurement for the sleeve cap and that for the armhole.  It pushes the sleeve away from the shoulder tip for a proper fit.  But it’s the source of puckers.
Your sleeve pattern could be symmetrical, asymmetrical.  Symmetrical are easiest to sew.  Most two-piece sleeves are asymmetrical.
Prepare the sleeve
1.  Sew sleeve pieces together.  If your sleeve is symmetrical, don’t sew the side seams.  Sew the following steps “in the flat.”  If not, sew together all seams and do the following “in the round.”
2. Gather the sleeve cap between the front and back notches.  That makes the sleeve cap and armhole the same length.  Use one of the following favorite factory methods.
– “Crimp” on light to medium-weight fabrics. Keep the stitching within the seam allowance.  Use a regular stitch length.
Place your finger in back of the presser foot as you sew and push.  The fabric “piles up” against your finger.
Try the sleeve in the armhole.  If you need less ease, snap a thread.  If you need more ease, pull the bobbin thread or stitch another row of crimping.
Light fabrics take a regular-length stitch and light pressure.  Heavier fabrics take a longer stitch with more pressure.  If the fabric is very heavy, you may have to do two rows, or —
– Use bias strips. Measure the sleeve from notch to notch over the sleeve cap.  Cut a 1”-wide strip of bias to this length.  Place the strip against the wrong side of the sleeve cap.  Line up raw edges.
Sew from the shoulder tip down to one notch, stretching the bias strip as you sew.
Then sew from the shoulder dot down to the other notch.
Leave the strip in as you attach the sleeve to the garment.  It gives your sleeve cap extra support.
3. Place the gathered sleeve cap on a ham or rolled up hand towel.  Pin in place with glass head pins.  Steam and shape the cap with your hands.  Don’t remove it until it is cool and dry.
4. Sew the sleeve to the body of the garment with the sleeve toward the feed dogs on the machine.  The feed dogs help ease in the sleeve even more.  I call this putting the sleeve “to the dogs.”
Sew symmetrical sleeves from at one side of the sleeve cap to the other.  Then sew the side seams from the bottom of the garment to the bottom of the sleeve.
Asymmetrical sleeves start at one notch and sew around the sleeve cap.  Overlap the first stitches with the last stitches.
Reinforce the base of the armhole between the notches:  Stitch on the sewing line a second time.  Trim the base to ¼”.  Steam the sleeve allowance toward the sleeve.
Support your sleeve cap.
Buy a shoulder pad.  It will fill out and flatter the shoulder line from your neck to your sleeve.  About ½” or thinner works best with today’s fashion tastes.  Better yet, make one.  It fits your shoulder better and gives you exactly the shape you want.
Cut a sleeve head from polyester fleece or cotton felt. The sleeve head fills out the sleeve cap seam, hides any ripples in the seam allowances and lets the sleeve hang smoothly.  Make it the length of the shoulder pad’s armhole edge and 1-3/4” wide.
How to make a shoulder pad
1. Pin the jacket’s front and back pattern pieces together at the shoulder.
2. Copy the armhole along the cutting line from front notch to back notch.
3. Draw another curve.  Start one inch from the neck stitching line at the shoulder seam.  Blend the line to front and back notches.
4. From this pattern, cut graduated layers of polyester fleece or cotton felt.  Make as many layers as needed to give the desired firmness, height and shape.  Use three layers for most jackets.  More if you have sloped shoulders or need to balance your shoulders’ height.  Maintain the same curve at the armhole edge for all layers.
5. Cut a layer of hair canvas or other firm interfacing the full size of the pattern to give firm support across the top.
6. Stack all layers with armhole edges even, largest layer uppermost.
7. Curve the layers.  Put the hair canvas to the dogs.  Beginning at the top center, sew a few stitches 1” apart in a zigzag shape.  Stitch the entire pad to hold a curved shape.
Sew the shoulder pad and sleevehead to the sleeve cap seam
1. Sandwich the sleeve cap seam between the shoulder pad and the sleeve head.  Center the shoulder pad on the body side.  Match the armhole edges.
2. Fold up by ½” one long side of the sleeve head.  Center it on the sleeve side.  Place the fold next to the stitch line, fold side up.  Pin in place.
3. Check the position on you, your dress form or your client.
4. Place the garment in the sewing machine with the sleeve head up.  Lengthen the stitch length to 3.5 (8 spi).  Sew from notch to notch through all layers, 1/8” away from the fold.
5. Turn the shoulder right side out and smooth the garment over the shoulder pad.  Pin.
6. Repeat on the other side.  Make sure your shoulders match.
7. Attach the peaks of the shoulder pads to each shoulder seam allowance with a short zigzag stitch.  Loosen the tension to allow the stitch to move as the wearer moves.
8. Stitch a 2”-long piece of ½”-wide rayon seam binding or selvage to the seam allowances to join the jacket to the lining. This keeps the two together but allows movement.
Voilà!  Time to celebrate the beauty you have created!  Then sign up for Britta’s tailoring class.

Casual Jackets

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