Friday, March 9, 2012

Happy, Sleevey, Doc

(Part 13 of the series "The Island of Misfit Clothes")
Chapter 57

When we last left our jacket project, we were working with the sleeves. The lining and wadding were basted in place, the sleeve pitch was set, and the arms were basted into the armscye. In fact, it would look to the casual observer that we were nearly done. 

Well, almost. Now isn't the time to start cutting corners, so to speak. It is a maxim even amongst professional tailors that bad sleeves can ruin a perfectly-cut coat. Now, our sleeves are already made, so we don't have to worry about that aspect of it -- but a sleeve that has merely been badly sewn-in can be just as bad as a poorly-cut sleeve when all is said and done. Things can look "off," asymmetrical, uneven; pulls and creases can develop out of nowhere just from the weight of the sleeve itself. Now is the time, while we're still at the basting stage, to make sure the sleeves are as perfectly set as it is possible for you to get them.

The first thing to do is get out your measuring tape, and compare the two sleeves against each other. Are they the same distance from the center-back seam? Are the bottom of the arms the same depth? If they are not, you need to determine why not. When both sleeves came off, they were perfectly matched, after all. We haven't changed the sleeves themselves one whit. Are both arms put in with the same amount of round? Does one looks like a long oval, while the other is a wide oval? 

If so, now is the time to fix it. I find the top of the shoulder and down the front is less likely to be off, than down the back and under the arm, due to the thinness of the material at the back. Usually, things can move around a bit, so don't be discouraged if you find yourself a half-inch off or so when you compare the two. (I won't tell anyone if you won't.) Just take out the basting stitches along the error and try again. It's perfectly acceptable to "fudge" the shape of the armscye a bit to make both sides look even.

Basting under the arm can be especially tricky: you're working in tight quarters, in an awkward position, with thin fabric, in a critical area. You can pretty much expect to re-position this area more than once.

A common mistake is to put the back of the sleeves in too tight. You need a little ease at the blades, to give you room to move your arms. You may have seen bespoke jackets that fit very smoothly all around the arms. They are very tricky, and need a very small armscye to give the right freedom of movement. We don't have that luxury, so give yourself a half-inch or so of extra fabric; enough to pinch like this. It's called "drape," and is a legitimate way to tailor a jacket's back, so don't worry about that. Without that little bit of drape, you may find the sleeves are too restrictive.

It may take several tries to match the sleeves perfectly, but the result will be worth the extra effort you take. It's going to be necessary to try the jacket on several times, to make sure the fit and sleeve pitch is right, and you need someone who can observe you from the back and tell you if the sleeves are symmetric, well-shaped, and there are no pulls or wrinkles across the back. Even with a mirror, it's nearly impossible to do this by yourself. (Be careful not to pull out the basting threads when donning and doffing the jacket, and don't catch your arm on the edge of the sleeve lining -- it's annoyingly easy to do.)

I myself had to re-set both sleeves three times and readjust one of the side seams, before I was happy with the results. Every try will be different, so I won't bore you with endless pictures of the process. You may end up with a forest of contrast thread around the sleeve seams. That's will all be worth it. Promise.

After the last try-on, after you have the "hey--I've got it right!" moment, it's time for the final stitching. Actually, you'll stitch the sleeves twice around each. The first time will be from the outside, using the same old running backstitch with which you've become so familiar over the last few months. Remove the marking and basting stitches that get in your way as you go.

Then, from the inside, stitch together the layers of wadding, canvassing, and all, just inside the stitch you've already sewn. This will be the anchoring stitch that holds everything together against the strain of moving your arm. Make this one a single backstitch: instead of loading the needle with running stitches as you've done before, simply go two-stitches-forward-one-stitch-back, all the way around. It's a good deal stronger, with more elasticity; which is just what you need here. The trade off is that it takes a lot longer to sew. 

When you are done with the inside stitching, pull out all the basting and marking stitches that are left. Now we're getting somewhere! With the arms properly sewn in, the sleeves should flow gracefully down from the shoulders in a smooth arc, without pulls or wrinkles. (If you made my tailor's form from last year, you have "stub arms" on your shoulders, which may slightly disrupt the flow of the arms on your form. You may want to check it on a suit hanger; but of course what really matters is that it looks good when you are wearing it!

There are only a few steps that remain until our jacket project is well and truly finished -- the bottom hem has to be turned under, the lining has to go back in place, the front buttons will be set, and finally, the sleeve length will be fine-tuned. And we'll continue with that next time. Stay tuned!

Click here to go to Part Fourteen of The Island of Misfit Clothes.

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