1930s Sew-along with Norma: Adjusting the cap of the draped sleeve


Greetings!  I’m slowly making progress with my dress for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.  This past weekend I took another journey into the unknown:  truing a draped sleeve and then making an alteration I’ve never done before.

Deciding on the Alteration

In school I learned that set-in sleeves should never have more than 3/4″ ease.  The ideal is for 3/8″ in front and 3/8″ in back.   I’ve never had an excessive amount of ease to adjust so I was always able to adjust the paper pattern by folding out the excess ease at the sleeve cap and then tapering the fold to zero at the elbow or wrist.

The draped sleeve had 1 1/4″ excess ease that I had to get rid of.  The book I’m using recommended making a tuck down the sleeve.  I tried that but the result was a very tight sleeve.  All the comfortable width the ease tucks added was gone.  So I hit my modern patternmaking and sewing books to find a solution.  “Paris Frocks at Home”, the 1930s sewing book I’m using for the construction details, only offered the most basic of sleeve alterations.

Illustrations from “Patternmaking for Fashion Design”, Third Edition, by Helen Joseph-Armstrong.Prentice Hall, NJ, 2000.

I found what I think will be the solution.  The sleeve cap is lowered to remove the excess ease.   The width is not affected so the arm will be able to move when the dress is worn.

Sleeve Alteration in Progress

1. The armholes of front and back bodice are measured and 3/8″ is added to each.  This is the total amount that should be on the sleeve cap in front and back.  The bodice armholes were:

Measurement     +    Ease    =     Total measurement needed for armhole

8 1/4″                      +       3/8″ =     8 5/8″ for Front Armhole of bodice

8 3/4″                      +       3/8″ =    9 1/4″ for Back Armhole of bodice

2.  The amount of the armhole measurement plus 3/8″ is measured upwards from the end of the sleeve cap at the side seam.  Where the measurement ends is marked with an “X”.  The amount left between the “X” and the center of the sleeve (Red and Purple line) is what has to be removed.

For the front 1/2″ and for the back 7/8″ excess ease must be eliminated.

3. The drape is transferred to pattern paper.  Not shown are the alteration for the elbow dart and the side seam.

The pattern is cut across the sleeve cap.  Then the cap is cut along the center line.  A line from the center of the sleeve is drawn upwards onto the pattern paper the lower sleeve is taped to.

4.  To each side of the line the amount of excess ease is marked.  Here you see the sleeve cap of the front with the  of 1/2″ measurement marked to the side of  the center line, on the left.  The cap is matched at the side seam and then lowered until the “X” marked in Step 1 touches the center line of the sleeve.  On the paper pattern this is marked “l” by mistake instead of “X”.

The other “Xs” you see lower on the cap are match points for the armholes.  I never make notices like commercial patterns do.  I just mark with a dot or X and use that to match with the corresponding dot or X on another part of the pattern.

5. The back sleeve cap is lowered until the X touches the Center line of the sleeve.  By lowering the cap the excess ease is now removed.  Again, I forgot to mark “X” and put “l” instead.  But the idea is the same.  Lower the cap tuntil the mark touches the center line of the sleeve.

After lowering the cap, draw the center line upwards into the newly adjusted cap.  Then redraw the biceps level straight across.  Mark the center line at the end of the cap with a dot.  This dot will match the shoulder seam.

6. Here is how the altered paper pattern compares against the original muslin drape.

7.  Completed paper pattern after alterations are completed.  What was important overall was to keep the measurement of the overarm length, the side seams and the elbow dart level in agreement with the original measurements taken on the arm.

I’ve no idea how this will turn out.  I’ve not had good experiences with some of Helen Joseph-Armstrong’s patterns.  We’ll have to see how the toile turns out.  I plan to cut it  out next week.  I think  that front part of the sleeve cap needs a little bit scooped out so I plan to lay the pattern over the armhole to check before I cut the muslin.


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