1930s Sew-along with Norma: Success! We have a sleeve with a vertical dart at last!


Thank you to Norma, Carol, Naomi and my other blog readers for your ongoing support.  Thanks to all the encouragement through my flops with drafting this sleeve.  You gave me the drive to keep going.  I’m am so happy to say that not only has the latest version of this sleeve succeeded but I also know where I went wrong.  What follows is the process of evaluation I went through.  At the end is a brief tutorial on how to create this sleeve from an existing pattern for a sleeve with an elbow dart.  I did not take photos of the process but I will upload a photo of what my finished pattern piece looks like as soon as I can.

Special Shout-Out

Norma, for getting this project going.

Carol, for the many scans of vintage pattern drafting instructions at the start of this project.

Every bit of info has helped from you and the readers.

Photos of the Half-muslin of the successfully completed sleeve

I used a half-toile since the bodice, neckline and flares have worked out in earlier versions of the toile.  The sleeve was all I needed to focus on now.




This ongoing loop of working with fitted sleeves raised my awareness of many points I had forgotten about.  This is because we tend to use unfitted sleeves so much more in modern sewing.  Points I realized are:

1.  Sleeves with vertical and horizontal darts will run straight on the lengthwise grain until the point at which the dart is placed.

2.  From the dart and downward, the lengthwise grain line shifts slightly towards the front.

3.  Above the elbow, the horizontal grain lines at elbow and cap level will run round the sleeve and remain parallel to the floor.

4.  This sleeve keeps the sleeve seam at the same point as the bodice side seam.

Why a sleeve with a vertical elbow dart?

Such a sleeve was used in some of the 1930s dresses I studied prior to drafting my pattern.  I was especially attracted to the contouring of this sleeve in Margaret Ralston’s book “Dress Cutting by the Block Pattern System”.  She recommends placing the seam of the sleeve 3/4″ to the front of the bodice side seam.  I took note of that.

This sleeve has a very old fashioned look to it.  But the main reason why I have wanted to persevere with this patternmaking exercise is because this sleeve is the basis for two variations I think are very elegant.

One variation is the sleeve that comes to a point over the wrist and right above the middle finger.  This is such a romantic and 1940-ish kind of sleeve.  I think with a few other details it could be the focal point of an elegant evening gown or day dress.

The second variation I really love is one where the dart is changed into an opening consisting of numerous ball buttons on one side and fabric loops for closure on the other side.  The possibilities to make the buttons a statement are endless.  Rhinestones, crystals, vintage Czech glass buttons, Lucite, pearl and so many more.

So with these visions dancing in my mind I continued to deal with several versions of the sleeve that did not work out.

Analyzing the problems and failures

Ralston’s recommendation to shift the sleeve seam 3/4″ to the front of the bodice side seam threw everything off.  The vertical grain at biceps and elbow level were not parallel to the floor.  The sleeve looked like it had swung around the armscye a few times and randomly settled into a position I’ve never seen on a sleeve before!

Another version of the sleeve with the sleeve seam matching the bodice side seam fared no better.  This time the cap had too much ease to deal with as well.  The vertical grain lines were not as off but the sleeve cap itself was a mess.

Alterations to reduce the cap width made for complications elsewhere in the sleeve.  As many of you know a big alteration in one part of a pattern piece always affects other parts of that piece and often other pattern pieces as well.

So I knew something was wrong with the pattern all the way from the start.  The starting point and origination is the basic sleeve draft.  That works up to the fitted sleeve with elbow dart.  From the elbow dart is derived the sleeve with vertical dart.

So I started going back to the beginning of the project.

The source of all the problems:  Too much style ease resulting in too much cap ease

The original dress I based my pattern on was a chemise with set-in sleeves, a low neckline and no closure.  Based on the illustrations only I assumed the dress was a pull-over.  Even the pattern instructions in the book the illustration came from “Paris Frocks at Home”, did not show any side snap closure.

I thought 4″ of style ease would create a roomy dress.  It did but the width was too much around the biceps level.  This resulted in a very wide sleeve cap that had almost 1 1/4″ to 1 1/2″ inches.  The alteration to reduce the cap width did not help.  It threw the sleeve off an resulted in the strange hang once it was in the armhole.

Things improved when I realized that a pull-over dress in a woven fabric is difficult to achieve when there are set in sleeves.  I think short kimono sleeves and a roomier kind of shape is better and more comfortable.  I’m thinking of the blouson type of dress with an elastic waistline, low U-shape neckline and short kimono or short dolman sleeves.

I decided to make an adaptation of the dress instead of sticking to a purely 1930s approach by foregoing the center back zipper. Changing the dress to one with a center back zipper meant I didn’t have to add so much style ease.   This freed me up to use the standard 3″ of style ease which always provides a good fit and comfort for smaller Misses sizes and Junior sizes.

With just three inches of ease at the biceps level the excess cap ease was just 5/8″.  I made the adjustments to the sleeve by moving the lengthwise grain line where needed.  This resulted in the balanced sleeve you see in the photos of this posting.

Tutorial:  How to create your own fitted sleeve with vertical dart

It is essential to have as the basis a fitted sleeve with horizontal elbow dart that fits you very well and is comfortable.  The bodice is best from the same pattern that uses this sleeve.  If you’re going to use pieces of different patterns do a good review of the measurements of the arm holes and the sleeve cap to make sure things will balance and the ease will be correct.

Once you have such a fitted sleeve with horizontal elbow dart proceed as described.

  1.  Trace your pattern without any seam lines.  You can add these later.  I find it makes for easier cutting.
  2.  Transfer all grain lines and markings and the dart.
  3.  Measure the curve of the wrist from back to front side seam.
  4.  Divide this measurement by 3.  Note the amount.
  5.  From the side seam of the back of the sleeve measure along the wrist the amount derived in Step 4.  Mark with a dot.
  6. Draw a line from the apex point of the elbow dart down to this dot.  It might be slanted.  That is ok.
  7. Cut open the vertical line.
  8. Cut the lower dart leg and close the horizontal dart.  The vertical dart will open.  Fill the space with paper and mark the dart legs.
  9. Lower the apex of the vertical dart about 1″.  Redraw the dart legs.
  10. The seam of the back part of the sleeve will need to be evened out above, below and at the point of the pattern where the horizontal elbow dart was.  The shape will be slightly curved.  This part of the sleeve will be eased into the front part that is straighter.
  11. You can use a curved ruler if you want to make the dart legs slightly curved if you want.  The outward curves can make the dart look like a wishbone.  The curve should just be slightly outward midway at the dart leg but end right where it should at the wrist.  Do not make the dart wider.
  12. After stitching the dart, run a second line of straight stitches 1/4″ above the dart leg.  Then trim and steam press towards the center.
  13. A tailor’s ham is very helpful when pressing the dart.



5 thoughts on “1930s Sew-along with Norma: Success! We have a sleeve with a vertical dart at last!

  1. I am so pleased you’ve done it. I remembered all the difficulties as I was reading. You’ve learned lots and so have I from all the processes.
    I love the idea of the two sleeve versions – I don’t know whether I like buttons or points best. Just delicious to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: 1930s Sew-along with Norma: Variations of the sleeve with vertical dart | Retro Glam

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