Saturday, March 23, 2013

Drafting The Cut-in Horizontally-Pleated Sleeve

This sleeve has a real name. I'm sure of it. Unfortunately, I don't know it. If you do, please say so in the comments so we (i.e. me) can all learn, okay? Thanks! Until then, however, I'm just going to call it the cut-in horizontally pleated sleeve.

So... back to drafting this sleeve with the very catchy name.

First, you need your basic sleeve block. This would be a sleeve "pattern" that
  • fits a particular person (in this case, Kate)
  • does not have excess ease. In other words, if cut out in fabric and sewn into an actual sleeve, it would be like a close-fitting shirt sleeve. The length of the sleeve is not defining in a sleeve block - it's just the shape of the sleeve cap that counts, because from the armpit downwards, you can lengthen, shorten, flare or taper it without affecting the fit at the sleeve cap.
  • has a distinct front and back section. I have not seen many commercial sleeve patterns but I have heard that they are often completely symmetrical front-and-back. Were they sleeve blocks, this would be paticularly appalling. However, by the time a sleeve pattern gets into your hands from a pattern packet, it is no longer a sleeve block - it has been modified, adapted and had ease added to make it a sleeve pattern. And puff sleeve patterns, especially, which are veritable ease-fests, are so voluminous compared to their original sleeve blocks that I could see why maybe, just maybe, some people might tolerate them being front-and-back symmetrical. To me, though, it still feels like the equivalent of sewing a pair of pants that have the same pattern for the front (no buttocks) and back (with buttocks) simply because it's a loose design. No. Just no.
Commercial sleeve pattern (symmetrical front-and-back) vs. drafted sleeve block/sloper
So anyway, this is Kate's sleeve block. We're going to be modifiying it, so it will need to be redrawn a few times as we change it.

Begin by drawing one vertical line on paper. This is the center line of the sleeve.

Trace the sleeve cap portion (that's the rounded mountain thing) and a bit of the side seams. Put away the original sleeve block - we'll be working with our trace for the next few steps.

We're going to do adapt it in two ways. The first is in direct response to something we've done to the bodice.

Let me refresh your memory by repeating a photo from the previous post, in which we drafted the bodice with this cut-in armscye. 

Remember how we shifted that shoulder strap about 1 1/4" towards the neck to make a new, false shoulder point?

That 1 1/4" has to be compensated for by extending the sleeve cap to meet that new shoulder point. We're going to modify the sleeve cap by that same amount. Measure 1 1/4" above the center line of the sleeve cap

and draw in the top-of-the-sleeve-cap (in blue). Remember, as you sketch it in, to make the front different from the back - curvier, deeper. Scratch out the old sleeve cap.

Incidentally, if, instead of just that 1 1/4", you had cut in the armscye all the way to the neck and modified the sleeve accordingly, with appropriate shaping on both pieces (the bodice armscye and the sleeve cap), you'd get a raglan sleeve. See how the principle works? But I digress. And anyway, that's modification #1 finished- this is your new sleeve cap:

I'm going to repeat stuff from the previous post now, just so we're both on the same page. Here's what I mean by "cut-in" when I refer to this sleeve. In the photo below, Kate's shoulder point is indicated by the enormous blue arrow. If this were a normal set-in sleeve, the armscye would pass over that point. In other words, the seam where the pink sleeve joins the blue shoulder strap would pass over that shoulder point. In a cut-in sleeve, however, the armscye has been shifted towards the neck so that the sleeve cap covers more of the shoulder and the strap, subsequently, is less likely to slip off the wearer's shoulder. 

Modification #2 is to add pleats to the sleeve, for texture. If you've drafted a puff sleeve from a basic sleeve block (see our tutorial here), you'll know that it's as simple as widening or fanning out the sleeve cap to incorporate ease, which then manifests as vertical waves when you gather that sleeve cap back into its original shape.

Our pleats today are similar, except they're horizontal rather than vertical. So not scary, right?

The first thing to remember is that, with puff-type sleeves, all the action typically happens only in the sleeve cap.

So let's divide the sleeve cap into half-inch sections. I managed to squeeze in 5.
Q: Why half-inch?
A: Arbitrary. I thought the pleats would look nice if they were about a half-inch apart.

Next, cut that whole sleeve out. We're only interested in the sleeve cap, remember, so I didn't bother to include any more than an inch or so below the sleeve cap. Set this aside.

We're now going to make pleats. Find some new paper. Or old paper. Or any paper. Draw a vertical line in the middle, for the center line of the sleeve.

Mark out 1/2" marks, separated by 1" marks. The 1/2" marks will correspond to the ones on the sleeve cap you just cut out. The 1" marks will be the folds that become the pleats. I made five 1/2" marks (with four 1" marks between them) because that's how many 1/2" marks were on the sleeve cap.

Q: Why 1"?
A: Symmetry. 1" would pinch into a 1/2"-deep pleat, which is the same as the spacing between the pleats themselves. This gives nice, even pleats. You could always make them deeper (i.e. use more than 1") or shallower (less than 1") if you like. 

Draw horizontal lines through all the marks, dividing them into 1/2" sections and 1" sections. I've shaded the 1" sections in red just for visual effect. We're going to accordion-fold the 1" sections so that they are hidden away. See that purple dashed line? We'll valley-fold on that and mountain-fold on the blue lines flanking the red shaded region. 

Like this.

Repeat for the next red shaded 1" segment

and the third and fourth, until all the 1" shaded regions disappear and you are left with only the 1/2" sections visible.

Place the sleeve cap on your accordion-folded paper, lining up the horizontal 1/2" folds.

Shift the sleeve cap sideways until its vertical center line lines up with the vertical center line of the accordion-folded paper, and trace the outline of the sleeve cap onto the accordion-folded paper. You've just introduced pleats into a regular sleeve cap. Hurrah!

Now let's draw the rest of the sleeve and then we can cut out our new pattern. 
  • Measure (on the wearer) how long you want this sleeve to be from the top of the sleeve cap to the hem of the sleeve. That will be the distance XY. Mark it on the center line of your pattern and draw a horizontal line across Y. This is your sleeve hem. 
  • Now measure around the wearer's arm for an indication of how snug you want this hem to be. My sleeve ended at Kate's bicep, so I measured around her bicep comfortably and marked this distance symmetrically about the point Y. Then I drew the purple slanty lines from the bottom of the sleevecap to the hemline to form the side seams of the sleeve.

Cut it all out - this is your horizontally-pleated, cut-in sleeve pattern.

Open it out (you know you want to!) - it looks like a Christmas tree! 

Last step - notch the top of the sleeve cap in two places: one exactly at the center line, to mark the center of the sleeve, which should connect with the shoulder seam of the bodice. And two, anywhere along the back half of the sleeve cap - when you reproduce this mark on your fabric, you will know which half is the back and which is the front. 

Lay this unfolded pattern on your fabric and cut around it, adding seam allowances. The zigzag sides look unearthly but when you pleat your fabric and baste the pleats down, it will look correct:

You could probably sew this sleeve as a single layer and have it drape and puff dramatically -if a bit untidily - but I chose to stabilize it with a lining. The lining is unpleated. It is cut using the same pattern, but folded up (i.e. closed pleats). When sewn together, the drapey pleats on the outer layer will remain even and neat and not spread out and disappear. Summary: With the lining, the pleats are largely for texture, since they can't really open out. Without the lining, the pleats will also provide volume, since they will spread and open out. 

Everything in this sleeve is stretchy because it was made for comfort for a little girl who likes acrobatics even while being a princess. The outer sleeve is made from velour and the sleeve lining is jersey, so the entire sleeve, while fitted, is still stretchy. And since the pleats are stabilized by the sleeve lining, they don't collapse when the arm is raised or lowered.

Another happy side-effect of lining the sleeve - no icky raw edges at the seams or hem.

Here is the finished sleeve - looks puffed but isn't.

And it happily coordinates with the ruffled bodice bit above the corset.

Viability report: Kate wore this dress for four straight days after being presented it. Then she took a break from because (she explains), "I want to save it. I'll only wear it for birthdays and Easter and Christmas and ... seasons." 

I hope Halloween counts as a "season" because, if so, I've finished her costume 7 months in advance. Unheard of! 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Ugly Pattern Party!

This past fortnight, the girls at Simple Simon and Co, who are the same masterminds behind Project Runandplay, have been hosting the You Can't Judge An Ugly Vintage Pattern By Its Cover party on their blog. If you haven't been there to party with them, you have to go catch up with what's been happening. It's hilarious! And inspiring. Let me explain. See, in the spirit of indomitable optimism, they believe that even the most hideous sewing pattern has redeeming features worth adapting into something gloriously redemptive. A sewing pattern makeover, in other words. And who doesn't love a makeover? Especially when the Befores look like this

and this:

Words fail you, right? Yeah, same here.

So, some time ago, Liz and Elizabeth picked some of their most unfortunate vintage patterns and mailed them to fellow bloggy seamstresses with the invitation to give them a new face. Then, all fortnight long, Liz, Elizabeth and their guests at Simple Simon and Co. shared their makeovers! So much fun.

Now it's my turn! The girls invited me to join the party and were soooo nice to overlook the fact that I actually know squat about commercial patterns, vintage or otherwise. My pattern arrived while I was in Singapore and when I got back home, I opened the mailer and -whoa! Demure Maiden Pastel Curtain Frock.

Stunned. Showed it to Emily, who stared at it for a long time before hesitantly and carefully saying, "I like the cloth. But I wouldn't wear the dress, Mom."

Here's the odd thing: the dress is really not vile. Yes, it's old-fashioned and pastel and stiff cotton and feminine in ways that none of the females in my house will ever be. But it isn't avert-your-eyes unfortunate like that tulip-bikini pattern in the previous picture was. It's not even ridiculous; some people might actually call it "sweet". And I'm quite sure I remember actual folks wearing similar frocks in church recently. Like just-last-month kind of recently.  It's just... not my style. And therein lay the problem: It wasn't bad to the point where I could revile it and totally dismiss it as hopeless but at the same time, I couldn't bring myself to use it because I was personally allergic to ruffles, gathers, calico and pink.

Well, man up, you wimp, I finally told myself. You've never used a commercial pattern in your life. Now's the time to at least touch one. 

So I did. 
So this is what commercial patterns look like! 
They have instructions with pictures! 
And the pattern pieces are all cut out! 

Um... they look big, though. 

Let's go get our slopers (or measure our children) and compare them. I picked Kate's.

Here goes.

SCREAM! Did I miss the fine print saying, "Life vest not included?" Because it sure looks like this dress will have to be worn over one!!!!!! 

Oh, wait a minute. 
Seam allowances. 
That's right. LiEr, you moron! Commercial patterns 
have seam allowances added in, like invisible borders!

Okay, let's try that again, with seam allowances this time. 

Am I not using this pattern correctly? 
Because that's still way too much ease.
Might still need that life vest.

Oh well, moving on- 
sleeves now.

Now, let's examine all the facts. This sleeve is a puff. Actually, the technical term is "leg-of-mutton", but let's go with "puff". What do we know about puff sleeves?
Answer: They have high and wide sleeve caps. Check.
But that sleeve pattern looks suspiciously uniform.
Let's fold it in half. 

It's completely symmetrical. The front and back are the same. That breaks drafting rules! You all know that the front of the sleeve block (see blue arrow and dashed line) has to be deeper/more slopey) than the back (black arrow), right? Because of the movement of the arm and the ball of the shoulder joint? See sleeve block drafting post here

Although... this is a puff sleeve. And a very voluminous puff sleeve, by the look of it. So maybe, just maybe, under all that extra ease, it doesn't matter whether the front and back are the same, or if they're shaped like squids or whatever. So Ding! Today's Benefit Of The Doubt goes to McCalls!

Wait... wait... what's this?

Perhaps the instructions will give us a clue.


It can't be true.
Shoulder pads. 
For toddlers.


See here - I can work with gathers. And mountainous sleeves. And even bodices to get lost in. But I might have to draw the line at shoulder pads for children. It's just cruel. This pattern is officially Not Viable.

So! Words, having now failed me on the subject, are hereafter devoted to a tutorial on how to draft your own shoulderpadless pattern for the makeover. 

Let's not make that dress, though.
Let's make this dress.

See the similarities?

Both have drop waists!
Both have full skirts!
Both have princess seam styling!
Both have puff sleeves (okay, one doesn't really)!
Both have smiling models!

Let's get started.

Here are the sloper bits - front bodice block, back bodice block, sleeve block and random bit of newspaper that was cut into a circular skirt block.

So, Step One is to find a picture to copy, because we are too lazy to draw one ourselves. Look - Barbie wore a dress like that! Let's do a Barbie-vintage makeover!

Step Two is to trace the bodice slopers on our drafting paper. Notice how I'm indecisive about the waist height on the front bodice? 

That's because this sloper was drafted last October and there was this epic battle going on between the various aspects of my split personality:

Mother: She hasn't grown a nanometre since then. Leave the waistline as is.

Physics Teacher: Pfffft. I can smell denial a mile away. Look, Queen of Mush, the rules of life dictate that she's elongated at least an inch and therefore one should lower the waistline to reflect that. In fact, let's extrapolate her impending growth over the next two years and lower it even further to get more mileage on the dress.

Granddaughter of Professional Tailor: Oh, bosh. Where's the child? Measure her and be done with it. Oh, we can't. She's in school right now. We'll have to use rules-of-thumb.

Crisis Counselor: Friends! All your viewpoints are equally valid. What about a  happy consensus? Let's start with a lower waistline and cut it higher later if it's too low when we measure her after she gets home from school. How do you feel about that? 

Pre-motherhood LiEr: Shut up, all of you. My head hurts. It's too early in the morning for this.

Step 3 is to make adjustments so the sloper looks like the dress we want.
Let's work with the front bodice first (all adjustments in blue).
  1. Draw in the princess seam dividing the front bodice into two sections.
  2. Cut in the armscye so that the shoulder "strap" thing lies closer to the neck. Two reasons: one, because it looks nice in this fake-corset design and two, so that the strap stays on the shoulder more securely. Often, wide-open necklines, particularly if imprecisely drafted, may gape and shoulder straps may slide off shoulders. Scratch out the old armscye. Remember this change, because we will later have to adapt the sleeve block (next post) to accommodate it.
  3. Drop the waist at the center front and curve it along the waistline back up towards the side seam.

Whatever you do to the front shoulder has to be done to the back shoulder so the shoulder seams will meet and match. So measure the width and placement of this new shoulder strap on the front bodice (see ruler) and reproduce it on the back bodice (see pencil).

Now draw the new back bodice. Later, we will extend that vertical shoulder line downwards into a princess seam and cut the back bodice apart into two sections, just like the front bodice. I have left it as a single square-necklined piece for now because there are already too many intermediate sketching lines - again the result of my experimenting with different neckline heights and widths to see what they look like. Sorry about the mess - thought you might enjoy seeing the imperfect, undoctored version so you could see how my brain works (or doesn't) as I am drafting. If you want to keep the back darts, you should incorporate them into the back princess seam now. I didn't- I forgot. 

Notice that I didn't include any ease in the new patterns. A dress like this doesn't need it. Plus, remember: we're working with puff sleeves, right? 
Puff sleeves+well-fitted dress = stylish, whereas 
puff sleeves+loose dress = just loose.

So cut out the patterns, lay out on fabric, etc. etc., and sew up the bodice. Lots of fancy details and lining and layering and whatnot went into the construction up to this stage but that's beside the point. The point is that it all comes from that one draft - princess seams with cut-in shoulders. 

Let's do the skirt now. I thought I'd show you how to do the drop waist. I've realized, after writing this blog for a while, that some things I take for granted as being obvious are not really so for other people. So I'm trying to slow down a bit and explain some basic concepts - things that, as a beginning seamstress or drafter, a person might not even think to ask about because they might not realize it needs asking. I think this drop-waist thing might be one of them.

I'm starting with a semi-circular skirt block. I decided that a full circular skirt was too heavy for this dress and tossed out that random bit of newspaper from the earlier photo. We want it to be swirly and swishy but not ballgown-fussy. The original vintage pattern has a gathered skirt, which is full and bulky at the waist (good for those of us who are superslender and would like to add fullness to the hips) but it does not swish.
A circular skirt is wonderfully swishy and drapes beautifully but it also adds a lot of bulk to the hips. It's good for dancewear and (again) tall and  slender figures.
A semi-circular skirt is swishy and drapey and just skims the hips but does not bulk up the hips or waist as much. If you have a fuller lower body or are vertically ungifted, you might want to pick a semi-circular skirt over a circular one. Better still, pick a bias-cut Aline. Whoa! How easily I digress.  

So, semi-circular block. This new newspaper thing is the front half of the skirt (so it's a quadrant, which is half of a semi-circle). The top concave edge of the skirt matches the bottom hem of the bodice.

If the bodice had a straight lower hem (i.e. if it wasn't a drop-waisted thing), we'd just attach the skirt to the bodice as is and call it a day.

Our bodice, however, has a dropped waist. If we attached the skirt's waistline to that dropped waist, the front hem of the skirt would sag correspondingly. Wrong and, more importantly, hideous. 

So here's how we adjust the skirt pattern to accommodate that dropped waist.
First, measure how much below the side seams that dropped waist has uh... dropped.
You can measure the paper pattern directly, but this way is visually more interesting - put a ruler across the bodice and measure.

1.25", says the ruler.

Q: Why are all the edges so irregular? Did you use unmatching seam allowances for all the various sections of the bodice? 
A: Yes and no. I was working with satin (woven), jersey (knit) as well as layers of both. Satin has an unstable weave and frays like there's no tomorrow. This means that it shifts as we work with it and the shape changes. One way to avoid this is to hand-baste all layers to stabilize it (I did). Another way is to stabilize it with interfacing (I didn't, because makes it stiff). Another way is to cut the lining layers a little bigger i.e. with wider SA and trim after sewing. The light pink fabric is jersey, which also shifts and, worse, stretches. I simply cut that piece much longer than the darker pink satin in front to allow for all the fabric shape-shifting. It all gets trimmed neatly later. 

Q: So, with all those funky SAs, how do you know which is the real stitching line?
A: It's in my head. And, after all the layers and colors were patchworked together, I re-measured the bodice and re-marked the final stitching line again.

Now fold the skirt pattern in half so you get the center front fold line.

Measure that same amount - 1.25" from the top of the waistline of the skirt.

Draw a curve from that point to the side seam of the skirt.

Cut off that arc,

and open up the skirt pattern. This skirt pattern can now be attached to the dropped waist of the bodice

and the hem of the skirt will be perfectly straight.

Here is the dress on Kate, standing on the coffee table, to show you what the bottom hem looks like on the actual wearer. Note that this hem is literally the raw hem - I didn't trim it or doctor it in any way. It is perfectly even because it has been drafted to hang from a dropped waist.

Here is the completed dress - front

and back. The bottom hem of the skirt was faced with leftover satin not only because it was fun but also because velour (the skirt fabric) doesn't hem well by folding and gets all wonky with serging. A faced hem (see this post for instructions) is crisp and neat. 

I didn't add the buttons afterall!

The sleeves- I like them. They're pleated 

and drapey

and lined.

They look puffed but they're not! Ha ha ha ha! Take that, traditional puff sleeves. 

Some notes on the effect of those cut-in shoulders from Step 3 now. Remember I mentioned not wanting the neckline to gape or the straps to slide off the shoulders? Done this way (i.e. with cut-in shoulders), the back neckline and armscye are snug without being uncomfortable. And if you look at the photo below, you can see what a cut-in sleeve looks like - Kate's actual shoulder point (blue arrow) doesn't lie at the shoulder seam of sleeve and bodice. 

Here's the semi-circular skirt in motion- swirly!

Next is a photo to show you the fit of the back. I forgot the back darts, as I confessed earlier, but by the time I remembered, it was too late to alter the princess seams to include them. So I took in the sides, which is a highly inferior alternative but Kate is going to grow and fill out the dress in all kinds of ways, regardless, so I let it go. Anyway, notice the back neckline does not gape- the cut in shoulders (and the lack of superfluous ease) help with that.


No gaping.

Since we're nitpicking for the sake of sharing sewing and drafting tips, I'm going to say that I'm pleased with only one of the shoulder straps. The other one pops a bit and doesn't sit as neatly on Kate's shoulder. This was the result of manhandling the bodice in its half-finished stages for tutorial photoshoots. Satin is not the most resilient fabric and normally, I'd baste and sew and face each satin edge as soon as possible and handle it only minimally. This time, though, for the sake of the tutorial, I dragged it through mud and hell. I can tell that it is the mud and hell and not a poor draft that are to blame because it's only one shoulder strap that went astray. Poor shoulder strap. I feel so guilty. Moral of the story: do not drag your unfinished garments through mud and hell just to take photos for tutorials. Go right ahead with your bags and stuffed toys and zippered clutches and key fobs and crayon rolls but be gentle with your garments, okay? Don't be like me.

So that's my makeover! No shoulder pads! I did my best to keep as many of the original features  as possible -the dropped waist, the princess seams, the full skirt (although I swopped out the rigid gathered skirt for the swishy semi-circular one to earn Good Mother points with Kate) and the puffish sleeves. 

In the next post, I'll show you how to draft that cut-in, horizontally pleated, not-really-puff sleeve. Too long to include in this post. See you soon!