by Elena Tran
Sleeves can make it or break it when it comes to couture garments. Coco Chanel was obsessed about making perfect sleeves and I know why. Not only do you need to worry about matching the plaids or stripes pattern of the sleeves to the front of the jacket, but you also need to worry about the way the sleeve cap sits and, quite frankly, looks on a model. This is the most difficult section of the tailored Chanel-inspired jacket and I will do my best to give you as many tips as I can based on my personal experience. I used Vogue V8804 pattern in this tutorial but you can apply the same techniques to any other pattern. In fact, I would encourage you to experiment:
We will cover the classic sleeve with a cuff and also the sleeve without a cuff for a simpler look.
Here is the video to help you learn the techniques:
Tip #1: Don't get confused between the three parts of the sleeve. Study the pattern to figure out which one is which. The more sleeves you stitch, the better you will be at recognizing your patterns and how they get pieced together. It really comes down to experience, so please don't get frustrated on day one. Rome wasn't built in a day and your dressmaking skills will get better every day until you become natural at it.
Tip #2: Don't be obsessed about matching the pattern of the undersleeve to the sleeve front and sleeve back. it will never match because of the way you cut this piece. It goes without saying that the undersleeve will be hidden under your resting arm and I doubt that people will be looking under your arm to see if your pattern matched. Keep your sanity and forgive your imperfection at this point.
Tip #3: Relates to attaching interfacing (time stamp on the video 1:18 and 14:38) I don't always follow this tip and I regret when I don't do it every time. Trim away seam allowance before you attach interfacing to the bottom of the sleeve. This reduces bulk inevitable created by tweed fabric. When you observe the way I stitched the sleeve without the cuff, I didn't trim the interfacing. I did not like the final result. It is always best to trim away the extra fabric.
Tip #4: Attaching the trim to the sleeve (time stamp 5:34): I used a crochet trim in this video which must be prepared based on the required length. I measured the pattern first, taking into account when the trim starts and ends and allowing for 5/8" the seam allowance on both ends. Only then I made the exact amount of the trim for the sleeve. You cannot crochet a long strip of the trim and then cut the sections that you need. This will make the trim unstable. It has too start and end on your crochet or needle hook.
Tip #5: Finishing the lining on the sleeves (time stamp 9:35): There are different ways of finishing the lining of the sleeve. You can attach it to the seam allowance or you can stitch the lining by hand the way I did on the video. There is no right or wrong way to do it. You need to try both ways and check which one gives you the best look. If you notice that the sleeve 'pulls' and looks unnatural, then this was not the correct way to do it and you can try another method. Please don't be afraid to experiment. It is your garment and you will do whatever it takes to make it look perfect on you. There is no haute couture police going around inspecting your creation. You may find the best perfect way to do something and when you do, please share it with the world because sewing spreads kindness and love. We can all use a bit more of that.
Tip #6: Finish sleeve extension (time stamp 10:40). If you wondered about how on earth would I complete it, you are not alone. This is the tricky part and there is no shame in watching the video over and over to get it right. Your eyes are not deceiving you: you sew the entire sleeve extension by hand. Your buttonholes are finished by this stage. There is no need to do the faux bound buttonhole finish on the sleeves because the entire back of the buttonholes will be hidden.
Start by trimming seam allowance on extension being careful not to touch the lining. The lining will wrap around the raw edges of tweed fabric to seal it. After you finish this part, you will then sew the extension invisibly at the top and a little bit at the bottom to secure it and prevent it from opening. This extension is for decoration purposes only, in case you are wondering.
Tip #7: Fitting the sleeve cap (time stamp 22:05) This is the most exciting part of the sleeve construction. The trick here is to shape the sleeve cap before sewing it. This will make your life so much easier, although it may seam like an extra step. My advise is try fitting the sleeve without shaping it first and then follow this method. If it makes no difference for you, then stick with whichever method you prefer.
I loved the pre-shaping method better because there were no puckers created during machine stitching, I had no trouble with basting or zigzag finish, the sleeve just melted in with the opening. I am doing the sleeves the same way on men's shirts, lady's blouses, all dresses, and jackets. But I didn't start that way. I cannot tell you the number of times I had to use the seam ripper to undo the stitching on the sleeves because they had ugly puckers. Pre-shaping the sleeves is a game changer.
Tip #8: Create room at the bottom of the sleeve (time stamp 28:36). This is a very important step for the comfort of the wearer. The idea behind the sleeve and to have it fit the smallest comfortable opening. You need to be able to put your arms in and out comfortably. When you trim away a bit of fabric at the bottom of the sleeve, you create just enough extra space without making huge armholes.