1930s Sew-along with Norma: Draping a sleeve–an adventure into the unknown


Greetings to Norma of SheSewsYouKnow and all followers of the 1930s Sew-Along. This was a week of many developments and I’m happy to say the drape is completed. The next step will be trueing the seams and working on any adjustments the sleeve cap will need.

I actually completed draping a sleeve–my first ever. At French Fashion Academy, we never draped a set-in sleeve because we were told the process is too time consuming. Instead set-in sleeves were drafted. The only kinds of sleeves that were draped were mounted sleeves such as a raglan or dolman sleeve.

Illustration from “Draping & Designing With Scissors and Cloth 1930s” for draping basic set-in sleeve (Steps 15a-e).

The technique I’m using is from “Draping & Designing With Scissors and Cloth 1930s” edited by Sandra Ericson. The illustrations and instructions are detailed enough. The process is hard to explain, though. I found it required a lot of concentration and a length of uninterrupted time that spanned about 2 hours. It took that long because this was something I needed to take frequent breaks from. I ended up with something that is the strangest looking sleeve pattern I’ve ever seen but I need to proof the pattern, make adjustments and then sew the sleeve into a toile to see if it really worked out or not.

This is a very photo heavy post which I hope will give you an idea of how the process went.

Why I decided to drape the sleeve

I thought a capelet or cape collar would look good with a sleeveless dress. To get an idea of how the capelet would look I draped a scarf around the shoulders and neckline after pinning the arm to the form. Since the dress is flared on the bottom I thought the capelet would compete with that part of the dress. Also, I did not like the way the dress form was now divided into three parts. It was too much to look at.

Draping the Basic Set-in Sleeve with Elbow Dart

1. The muslin is cut by the measurement of the arm length by the width plus ease. An ease tuck is created which the book says should be folded in along the lengthwise grain line. But this would shift the ease all to the front or all to the back once the tuck is released. So I drew the orange line for the center length of the sleeve. Then I measured 3/8″ tuck to each side. The tucks were folded and pinned towards the center lengthwise grain line.

2. Close-up of the muslin. The center grain line is placed at the shoulder line above the point where extra length is allowed. Then it is pinned along the center grain line marked on the arm.

3. The muslin is pinned along the underarm seam. This was tricky because the arm is bulky and if not pinned securely can drop lower than it should or move around. After the underarm seam is partially pinned above the elbow the shaping up and around the sleeve cap begins. Excess fabric is evenly distributed (you hope!).

4. The same is done in the back. The screw plate on the dress form serves as the point where the front and back notches get marked on the armhole. Since the arm is in the way I marked the location with a glass head pin on the front and back of the form before pinning the arm into place.

5. A dart is pinned in the location of the elbow dart on the arm. The book said the dart would be 1/2″ wide but this dart is 1″ wide. When the toile is finished and I try it on I’ll adjust the location of the dart if needed.

Then the rest of the seam is pinned into place. The arm is bent and the sleeve pinned at the wrist. Tape or ribbon is pinned there to hold it in place.

6. Side view of the sleeve right after draping was finished.

7. This is how the sleeve drape looked after connecting the dots and pin marks. It will be reviewed and corrected with the rest of the pattern next week.

8. After marking the ease tucks are release and the seam allowances turned under along the cap. The sleeve dart and seam are also pinned into place. Then the sleeve is pinned to the dress along the armhole.

Note: I’m really glad I didn’t cut the armholes for a sleeveless dress.

At this point I also decided to use bias binding to finish the neckline. The dress will have two ties in the front. This idea came from an illustration in “Paris Frocks at Home”, a 1930 sewing book published by Butterick Patterns.

9. This is how the sleeve cap looks when the tucks are released and the sleeve is pinned onto the armhole with the arm on the form. I tried the pinned sleeve on and it was comfortable and did not have the droopy areas you see in this photo.

I learned that the maximum amount of ease in a sleeve should be about 3/4″ divided evenly between front and back (3/8″ each). I have to measure the front and back armhole and compare those measurements with the front and back cap on the sleeve. I’ll make the adjustments to the paper pattern.

The Drape Pressed and Ready for Review

I always press the drape after unpinning. Then take a break for a few days before starting to measure, repin, proof and true the seams and other markings. Here is how everything looks so far for the rest of the drape.

Back of flared skirt.

Front of flared skirt.

Front of bodice.

Back of bodice that’s still wet when the iron spit water onto it.


7 thoughts on “1930s Sew-along with Norma: Draping a sleeve–an adventure into the unknown

  1. I was really interested in the amount of ease in the sleeve – I’ve never thought about it before. I’ve thought plenty about it in other parts of the garment, but neglected sleeves.
    The drape looks really good – very exciting!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! I’m loving every minute of this. Ttueing the pattern is the next step. I plan to detail that since, like you say, there are things it’s so easy to skip over. Also I need a guideline to stick with since it’s easy to have distractions throw everything out of kilter. Everyone who does alterations of any kind know that one part of a pattern change necessitates changes in other areas so a checklist is good to have before starting.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s very easy to miss things out when you’re in a hurry – I know I’ve done that. I try to take it carefully like you do now.
        I have notions ideas for my next ’30s skirt – my thread works. Might make the ’30s blouse first though.


      • Norma, this is for the project using locally made materials? Anyway I’m going to enjoy seeing what you come up with next. I think taking a break from making skirts is good. The blouse will offer a new challenge. What kind of thread did you select?

        You know I just realized that if I’m going to do the 1930s dress authentically, maybe I should try using 100% cotton sewing thread instead of polyester and rayon seam tape instead of lace seam tape for the hem. Hmmm…you gave me something new to consider!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I have decided to do the 1930s skirt with back & front pleats as part of the local materials project. Not so much thread selection as thread making, I think. I have to do a post to explain it because it’s complicated.
        I think you should consider 1930s style notions – they were a big part of it for me. Somehow it was a more exciting project.

        Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.