Pressing plays such an important role in producing great results when sewing. Unfortunately, many professional pressing aids are difficult to find and extremely expensive. They tend to be bulky and heavy which further contributes to the cost if you need to have them shipped. I’ll share some of my favorite tools and methods I use to make my own for very little cost. Warning: You need access to a few power tools or someone who has them.
I love this press buck for long, gently curved seams such as the back sleeve seam in jackets, hip curves for pants/skirts or center back seam with shaping at the neck and waist. I also works well for basting the canvas to the front of a tailored jacket.
This is about 28 inches long, 8 inches wide and 1.75 inches high at the highest point. To construct this, you’ll need two pieces of wood 8” x 28” x 3/4.” Print out the file for Press Buck here.
Trace onto one piece of wood. The pattern is for 1/2 the template, so flip and trace the opposite side. Cut out with a jigsaw. I used two unfinished short legs from Home Depot and attached them as shown. Attach the remaining piece of wood to the legs from the underside so the screws don’t show (countersink the screws so they don’t scratch or snag any surface).
I used a length of heavy wool and cut concentric shapes as shown. You want the thickest part on top of the right hand leg, tapering to nothing along the edges.
View from the top of layers. I cut a paper pattern the shape of the bottom layer and worked upwards. Cut a layer of wool fabric, trimmed the pattern down a little around the edges and continued until the shape was built up. View from the side. The thickest part is about 1 and 3/4 inch high.
Cover the entire top with two layers of wool. Staple the wool to edges of the wood base.
I added a finishing layer of wool felt (available in the utility fabrics section at JoAnn’s), wrapped it under the edge and secured with double sided masking tape.
Ease the felt around the curves, stick to tape and trim the excess.
For the cover, add about 2.5 inches all around the pattern. Cut from heavy muslin. Cut a bias strip about 1 and 1/8 wide long enough to go around the outside edge of the cover (piece as necessary). Starting in the middle of the larger curved end, turn end of bias under and stitch at 1/4 inch. Fold end under when you reach starting point.
Wrap the bias around a thin sturdy cord and stitch, making sure not to catch the cord when sewing. The cord will act as a drawstring to tighten the cover. I’m nudging the cord against the fold and stitching along the seam line (badly in need of a manicure; COVID hands).
Place the cover on the press buck, making sure there is equal amount to turn under on all sides. Place a few pins to hold the cover in place while you pull the drawstring tight and tie.
Adjust the gathers and steam to smooth out any wrinkles. I’ve added a couple of lengths of twill tape secured with safety pins along the underside of the long edges to tighten up the cover in that area.
The sleeve board is made the same way except instead of multiple layers of wool, the surface is flat.
Cut a piece of acoustical ceiling tile using the same template. Glue it in place. Cover with thick felt and a muslin cover. The muslin cover should be about 2.5 inches larger than the pattern template to allow for the increased thickness. The combination of ceiling tile and thick felt makes a pin-able surface to secure the work when pressing.
Cut 3/4 inch wood the shape of the pattern and mount from the underside. The base is 8” x 28.” Shape the point with a wood file and sand smooth.
I have more of my favorite makes coming: seam stick, pressing block and pin cushion which goes around the palm of your hand. I think it’s easier to use than the typical wrist location. Thanks for reading and enjoy making new tools.
Download and print the pdf file. Pages should be assembled as shown.
Be sure to set your printer to print at “actual size” or “no scaling.” The test square on page 1 should measure 2 inches square. The file is 7 pages. Tape together as shown and cut out the pieces. You will have an upper arm, lower arm, wrist cover, armseye cover, and shoulder attachment which will enable you to pin the arm to your dressform. The pattern has NO SEAM ALLOWANCES. This is to make any alterations you need to do easier. It is drafted for a bicep measurement of 11 inches. If you want a smaller or larger biceps, cut on the dotted lines and overlap or spread the pieces to desired measurement. Measure along the balance line located at the underarm on the lower arm and corresponding balance line on the upper arm. The length of the two balance lines added together are the finished biceps measurement. You can also lengthen or shorten the length between shoulder and elbow and elbow to wrist as desired. If you alter the biceps width, remember to add to the circumference of the large oval the same amount you added to the biceps. The wrist circumference can be increased or decreased in the same way. Adjust the wrist oval in the same way so that the circumference of the oval matches your desired width.
Here’s a sample layout if you want to increase the biceps width. Cut the upper and lower arm patterns apart on the dotted lines. Spread by the desired amount (if you want an additional 1 inch, spread the sections 1/4 inch). Notice I’ve increased the wrist only 1/8 inch at each cut line for a total of 1/2 inch more at the wrist circumference. You’ll also need to alter the wrist and armseye covers to compensate. This can be a bit of trial and error as the circumference of an eclipse (oval) isn’t straightforward math the same as a circle. Smooth out the seam lines over any spaces.
Cut out pattern pieces and lay out on sturdy muslin. I use this heavy weight muslin: Cloning Couture ~ Products ~ Muslin, Heavy Weight ~ Shopify (myshopify.com) but cotton drill cloth is a good sub. Add 3/8 inch seams with these exceptions: 3/4 inch seam allowance around the armseye oval and 1/2 inch around the wrist oval. Cut two shoulder attachment shapes. I prefer to mark the cutting lines lightly in pencil. Tracing with dressmakers carbon paper can leave unwanted marks on the finished arm form.
Mark all balance lines and match points with an erasable marker.
Stitch two rows of machine stitching 3/8 and 1/4 away from the cut edge along the elbow. Pull bobbin threads to take up ease in the elbow area. Tie threads.
Steam the elbow area to smooth the seam. Make sure you don’t have any creases. Join the upper and lower arms along points A, B and C. Press the seam open.
Close the dart at the top of the shoulder. Press towards the back.
You can add the balance lines now. Either stitch along the vertical and horizontal balance lines with contrasting thread or draw lines with a permanent marker. The lines can also be added when the arm is completed but it’s easier to do now when it’s flat. Smooth out any little jog at the elbow.
Stitch the remaining seam along points D,E and F. Press the seam open. I use a sleeve board and seam stick made from a length of stair rail handrail with one flat side.
Stitch along the top of the arm with a longer (about 3.75mm) stitch at 3/8 and 1/4 from cut edge. Pull bobbin threads to create a curve at the top of the arm.
Steam the seam allowance to shrink excess fabric. Be careful not to press in creases. Tie thread ends. Place the two shoulder attachment pieces right sides together and stitch around the outer convex curve. Trim seam to 1/8 inch, turn, press and stitch close to the edge. Clipping the seam isn’t necessary if you trim the seam allowance to 1/8 inch.
Matching shoulder points, pin the shoulder attachment piece to the top of the arm. Make sure you orient so that front and back are correct. Start at the shoulder point and work out from there. The shoulder attachment will end just past the seams.
With the arm on top, stitch the arm to the shoulder attachment.
Turn the seam allowance towards the arm.
Cut the batting to stuff the arm. I use high loft quilt batting to stuff the arm. Using small bits of batting to fill out the arm shape will result in a lumpy, bumpy arm. A better way is to use a larger piece of batting rolled. I start with a piece of high loft (about 3/4 inch) polyester batting cut 30 inches by 24 inches. Roll up the 30 inch width and determine if that gives you a roll the measurement of your biceps. 30 inches of my batting loosely rolled results in a tube 11 inches in circumference. If you adjusted your biceps, then the 30 inch dimension might need to be adjusted. 24 inches is the length of the arm from tip of shoulder to wrist. If you lengthened or shortened the pattern, adjust as necessary. Tear, rather than cut one 24 inch side. This will give a smooth edge when rolled. Start rolling from the short (13 inch) side. The resulting roll of batting will be fatter at one end and taper to a smaller diameter which will be the wrist. Temporary quilt adhesive spray helps adhere the edge. Test the dimensions of your roll and when all looks good, spray the feathered edge with adhesive spray, roll and press the feathered edge down. You should end up with a roll that is fatter at one end and tapers at the other, like an arm.
To pull the roll of batting through the arm, pin a length of ribbon to the narrow end. Attach a weight and drop the weight through the top of the arm. Pull the ribbon through while pushing the batting in from the top.
Turn up 3/8 inch seam allowance at the wrist end of the arm. Cut cardboard the size of the wrist cover pattern. Hand sew a running stitch 1/4 inch from the edge of the fabric. Pull the threads to gather the fabric around the cardboard shape And tie securely. Press to flatten. Mark all match points. The wrist should be an oval with the longer side of the oval matching the marked balance line on the upper arm.
Check that all points match and whip stitch, using strong thread, the fabric covered oval to the wrist.
Cover the armseye oval in the same way. Handsew a running stitch around the edge, pull thread and tie, covering the armseye oval. Mark the match points. Make sure you have the underarm and shoulder points oriented correctly. The back armseye length is slightly longer than the front, so the shoulder point is slightly forward of center. Press to flatten.
Check that there isn’t excess batting in the armseye area and the arm will sit flat against the dressform. You want enough batting to fill out the top of the sleeve but not so much that the arm is pushed away from the dressform.
This is the hardest part: attaching the armseye cover. Pin match points at the shoulder. Work around to where the shoulder attachment ends on both sides, pinning in place as much as possible. I use a sturdy needle and upholstery or heavy duty polyester thread. Begin sewing so that you will attach the section along the top of the arm first, then moving towards underarm section. If you can use a thimble, it will help immensely. I’ve found stitching like this: bite into the arm section and take a small stitch parallel to the seam line. Pass needle through the fabric on the armseye cover along the edge of cardboard, then back to the arm. Pull tight every stitch or two. Keep an eye on your match points to be sure all will line up.
Take a couple of extra stitches where the shoulder attachment ends as that will be a stress point when you use the arm form. The area along the underarm can be sewn with a whip stitch as the arm is flexible and easier to sew along that area.
Attach the arm to your form with pins. I use Clover double forked pins and angle them so they are pointing inwards. Use one pin at the shoulder, one in front and one in back. Push them in parallel to the surface so that just the tiny curve is visible. There are no pin heads to snag on clothing. Determine the best pitch (angle) for your arm. Some arms are pitched with the arm more forward, others figures have the arm angled more towards the back. You can draw the shoulder line on the shoulder attachment when you’ve determined the ideal placement.
I use Clover forked pins to attach the arm to dressform. Angle the pin so it’s pointing downwards. It holds the arm securely and the rounded tip doesn’t snag on clothing.
The idea for a flexible arm came while watching Signe Chanel. The film gave an inside view of Chanel workrooms and all their mannequins were outfitted with these wonderfully flexible arms. I’ve tried the arms supplied with commercial forms which are rigid and heavy. I’m much happier with this version. No wonder this is what Chanel uses.
This pattern makes an arm for the right side. If you want an arm for the left side, just flip the pieces over and duplicate. You can also print the pattern at 50% and use it for a half-size dressform. If making a half-scale arm, use regular quilting weight muslin as the heavier weight will be difficult to handle. I keep seam allowances at 3/8, maybe trimming slightly, but 1/4 inch tends to fray easily and makes things difficult. Enjoy!
Dress is finally finished and I’m very happy with the finished result. I’ve also posted the progress of this dress on a few private Facebook groups and have many requests for detailed instructions explaining how I created the trim.
First, here’s some photos of the finishing details. Rather than attach the lining at the armseye seam, I took a tip from Valentino (this technique is often used) and bound the armseye of the lining with narrow bias cut from the silk crepe de chine. French tacks keep the lining in place and allow for easy movement. A thin shoulder pad is also covered with silk crepe.
Gutermann gimp and silk twist for loads of handworked buttonholes. I’ve read that Gutermann no longer produces gimp but I’ve managed to find a supply so click on the link if you’re interested. It does help produce very professional buttonholes.
Trim: here’s my process for creating this braid to match the boucle fabric. Finding this pre-made would have been impossible so there was no choice but to invent. I started with orange, turquoise and lilac silk double georgette. Cut bias strips 1.5 inches wide. Tissue paper is an immense help in taming slippery, stretchy silk. I put a layer of tissue on the cutting mat; tape in place. Place first layer of silk on top, square the grain and tape in place. A second layer of tissue paper next. Then the second color of silk. Another layer of tissue; third color of silk. Interesting that the turquoise and lilac silk ripped cleanly on the crossgrain but the orange refused to do so. All were ordered from Emma One Sock who carries a wide range of colors. A final layer of tissue paper covers all. A rotary cutter allows cutting without moving any of the layers but you can use loads of pins and scissors. I use my collection of antique irons to hold everything down.
Fold the bias strips in half and stitch a scant 1/4 inch away from the folded edge. Trim the seam allowance to about 3/16 inch and turn the tube right side out. A narrow brass hollow rod makes turning the narrow tube easier. I thread a large tapestry needle with sturdy thread. Take a stitch in one end of the fabric tube. Drop the threaded needed through the brass rod and pull gently. The fabric tube will easily turn right side out as it passes through the rod. I don’t try and make trim in one long length for the entire dress. I’ll do the hem in one length, another for collar and maybe one pocket, a third length for other pocket and sleeve hems. Pin the fabric tube to your ironing surface, pull gently and steam. You want to stretch the fabric and create a narrow tube of fabric. Try and keep the seam from twisting.
Thread the turned tubes of fabric back onto the metal tube. Using the tapestry needle, attach thread to a length of yarn (worsted weight wool yarn is soft and springy; works well). Pull on the thread to pass the yarn through the tube. Pull both fabric and yarn together to create a tube of silk fabric filled with yarn. The yarn adds a little loft and volume to the fabric but is still light and flexible. The goal is to keep the trim soft and easy to shape.
The brass tubes are similar to another product: Fasturn tubes, available on Amazon. The Fasturn tubes have larger sizes but I needed tiny tubes for this. I’ve sourced the tubes in sizes from 3/32 inch to 8/32 (1/4) and may offer the set if there is sufficient interest. Set of 6 tubes would include 3/32, 4/32, 5/32, 6/32, 7/32 and 8/32 inch; cost $25. I used the 7/32 size for this project and have additional trim tutorials in the works which utilize more sizes. Let me know in comments if you’re interested.
Secure ends of three strands (one of each color) with a short machine stitch. Use a standard three strand pattern to braid the strands together. Secure the ends with machine stitching.
Next I added a row of single crochet along both sides of the braid. Make a slip knot in the yarn. Insert into a loop of braid. Make single crochet. Single crochet in each loop of braid. I created custom lengths of braid for pockets, sleeve hems, collar and lower hem. Start a couple of inches short of the length you need. Crochet to where you want the braid to end. Make two single crochet stitches in the same loop of braid; that will form a corner. Rotate the braid and make one single crochet along the short side, then two single crochet stitches in the loop on other side of braid for the second corner. Work down the opposite side. Double check you have the desired length, turn another corner and work back to starting point. Joining the yarn along the straight edge is easier and less conspicuous than doing it at a corner. Overlap the yarn and secure with regular sewing thread and small stitches.
To complete, chain stitch around using metallic thread. Keep the chain stitches fairly loose. I’ve attached a couple of videos. This actually takes longer to describe than to do. The first video demonstrates how to add the single crochet border; second video the chain stitch. Note that the chain stitch is done through only one loop of the underlying row.
The mockup was done on a half-scale mannequin but a full size pattern worked better for the collar draft. Here’s my final collar pattern which I tested with hymo canvas and a piece of scrap boucle.
When looking closely at couture designs, I’ve noticed that a horizontal weave in the fabric travels straight across the the upper body and continues through the sleeve, creating an unbroken line in the fabric. This half scale jacket illustrates the difference.
The right side of the jacket has been cut with the princess seam ending at mid shoulder. For the left side, the princess seam was shifted from the bust apex to a point closer to the neck (about 1 inch). This pattern adjustment makes the princess line on the side panel more vertical and requires less manipulation of the fabric. Refer to the previous post linked above for a more complete explanation of the pattern changes.
Here’s the full scale side panel being steamed and shaped.
Here’s a preview of the custom trim. I rarely use pre-made trims as most are too stiff and rigid. This one has been created with tubes of matching silk georgette fabric and yarn. This one turns corners easily and compliments the boucle.
Looking back through my years of posts, I’ve had many, many inquires as to where to purchase some of the specialty supplies I use. Some items are difficult to find, such as Gutermann gimp which is used in hand worked buttonholes. The gimp is available in multiple colors, but don’t worry about an exact color match. It isn’t seen but gives a smooth base for the silk thread. My favorite silk thread for these buttonholes is Gutermann silk twist, R753. Red Rock Threads has a good color selection. I’ve written a detailed description of how to use gimp when making handworked buttonholes
Petersham ribbon makes wonderful waist stays, waistband facings and zipper guards. It’s usually a blend of cotton and rayon, but I’ve managed to locate a 100% pure cotton version. It’s a little heavier than the rayon/cotton version and is available in white, ivory and black. The narrow 1/4 inch version is wonderful for hanger straps to give extra support to strapless or heavy garments.
While researching products, I was surprised to find much of what’s sold as beeswax for sewing is a mix of beeswax and paraffin. These cakes of pure beeswax are made from filtered wax.
Heavyweight muslin makes a wonderful and durable cover for a custom dress form. This is the muslin I use for the final cover. It tightens up when steamed, making small wrinkles in the finished form disappear. It’s also great for ironing board covers and makes a nice press cloth when working with wool.
Helen Haughey and I teamed up to teach a class on French jacket construction in Palm Beach Gardens. We were looking forward to more classes but unfortunately the Corona virus had other plans. Thank you Sarah Gunn of Goodbye Valentino for the photo. Sarah chose a beautiful Linton tweed with a silk print lining. She describes the jacket she created during class here.
While the in-person classes have been suspended due to Covid, I am teaching via Zoom. Choose the project you would like to work on. Your class will be recorded and available for you to download and watch as often as you like. Send me a note to discuss details.
Creating a custom dress form has been a popular topic. Social distancing and travel restrictions make it necessary to also teach this via Zoom. I’ll lead you through the drafting process as you create a pattern to replicate your shape. We’ll pad the form and finish by installing the custom cover. Bodies come in all sizes and rarely match the model shape of a commercial form. Here are a few of the custom forms and a blog post describing the process. Message me for more details.
There are several more projects in the works. I’m finishing the Chanel inspired dress described in the last post and working on some interesting trims. Thanks to all for reading and stay well.
I’ve written about the process of drafting a skin tight pattern to duplicate your body and using it as the basis for creating a custom dress form. Now that you’ve invested hours in perfecting a draft of your own body, what can you use it for?
Here’s an image that was posted on one of the dressmaking FaceBook groups I follow. It’s a button front Chanel style; looks fairly simple but it has several design elements that elevate it to couture level.
The shoulders are slightly extended with a squared shape. I’ve marked what looks like the sleeve seam in yellow. It’s narrower than a standard shoulder and the extended shoulder width comes from clever shaping of the sleeve. The collar sits away from the neck and looks like it has been worked into shape using ironwork rather than being cut to shape. The shaping appears to be concealed by princess seams which end close to the neck rather than mid-shoulder, as many princess seams do. Moving the princess seam closer to the neck allows the horizontal lines in the boucle fabric to carry across the front chest into the sleeve as one unbroken line.
I’ll walk through the steps I use to recreate this dress. Start with your moulage draft. This draft is done to half scale and fits my half-scale mannequin. Working in half scale is easier to show the entire draft and design yet is large enough to demonstrate details.
This will be a slim fitting dress so I’ll add minimum wearing ease to the draft. The changes are shown in red.
Next I’ll relocate the princess seam to end near the neck on both front and back. I’ll also narrow the shoulder to compensate for the width added by the altered sleeve. Deciding how wide to make the finished shoulder is a personal design choice. I want this to be slightly extended yet not look like football padded shoulders. I decided to make the shoulder 3/4 inch narrower. I’ll add about 1 inch to the shoulder in the sleeve. The added width will be supported by a small shoulder pad.
Moving the princess seam closer to the neck is important as it allows the horizontal lines in the boucle fabric to span the upper chest in an unbroken line. Here’s how the pattern will match if the princess seam ends at mid-shoulder and what happens if the princess seam gets shifted. Additional shaping and perfect pattern matching can be achieved in the side panel by coaxing it into shape using heat and steam.
Sample dress on the mini-mannequin. I’ve drawn horizontal lines to demonstrate how the fabric will match. I use Osnaburg fabric as it replicates the boucle fairly well. The weave is looser than ordinary muslin and can be shaped much like a boucle.
Views of the shoulder, sleeve and collar. Also one shot of how the horizontal lines would mis-match if the princess seam had not been repositioned.
The collar is cut straight on the crossgrain and shaped with heat and steam into the necessary curve. I’ve created a collar stand, attached the outer collar and positioned it so it doesn’t hug the neck tightly.
Height has been added to the sleeve cap and darts added to produce the extended, squared shape. Here’s how to draft the sleeve:
The diagram on the left shows the armseye of the dress. On the right is a short, one-piece sleeve drafted to fit that armseye. Notice the length of the back and front seams are the same for both armseye and sleeve head: no sleeve cap ease is wanted for this alteration.
I’ll raise the sleeve cap 3/4 inch and dart out the resulting ease. I’ve positioned the sleeve cap darts one inch either side of the shoulder point. Draw a horizontal line connecting the front and back underarm point. Draw a vertical line from the shoulder point to intersect the underarm line at right angles. Connect the dart points to the point where the two guidelines intersect.
Cut open the pattern as shown. Raise the center of the sleeve cap 3/4 inch tapering to nothing at the underarms. The top of the sleeve cap will spread open. Position the triangle of original pattern section midway to divide the sleeve cap opening in half. The original sleeve cap shape is shown in red, new line in black. Draw two darts the width of the opening and 3/4 inch (the amount the sleeve cap was raised) long. Measure the length of the seam (front and back) and compare to the armseye. If the seam line of the sleeve cap is longer, increase the width of the darts slightly to compensate. The necessary ease has been added by the darts and extra ease will alter the “squared” shape of the finished sleeve cap.
Crease the paper and fold the darts closed. I fold both darts towards center. The original sleeve cap line will need to be smoothed out as shown. Also note that the darts will create a fold just beyond the original seam line. In this draft, that distance is 1/4 inch. This is what will create the straight line for the “square” shoulder shape.
Leaving the darts folded, cut along the new seam line. Your completed sleeve pattern should look like this.
I’ll tackle the collar and collar stand in full scale in the next post. Stay well and happy sewing.
I’ve written about this in the past but have revised the method slightly. I’ve seen converting the two piece sleeve to a three piece by simply splitting the upper sleeve at the shoulder point. This method results in a wide under sleeve. The classic Chanel design has a much narrower under sleeve section. I’ve found the easiest way is to convert the two piece pattern to a one piece sleeve; then split the sleeve.
First cut off the seam allowances from your pattern. Pattern drafting is always done with no seam allowances. You will add seam allowances after all drafting is completed. Extend the grain lines the full length of the pattern. If the elbow point isn’t indicated, measure your arm and determine your elbow point. Line up the upper and under sleeve patterns along the underarm line. Make sure the grain lines are parallel to each other. Trace the top of the sleeve from the underarm point on the under sleeve around to the front of the upper sleeve.
Shift the pattern to complete the top of the sleeve on the right side. Draw a horizontal line connecting the underarm points. Draw a horizontal line to indicate the elbow position; also draw the finished hem of the upper sleeve.
Determine the midpoint of the underarm line (line which will divide the sleeve in half lengthwise). Extend this point to the bottom of the sleeve.
Determine the finished width of the sleeve hem. Divide by 2. Mark 1/2 finished hem width on either side of center. Connect the underarm points to the points on the hem for side sleeve shaping.
Shift the midpoint of the sleeve about 1/2 inch towards the right (front of sleeve). Extend this point up to meet the top of the sleeve. This moves the shoulder point, also known as the pitch point, a little further to the front and places the finished sleeve more in line with the natural position of the arm.
Fold the left (back of sleeve) underarm point to meet the just marked offset center point. Trace the armseye seam from the side seam to fold.
When you unfold the paper, it should look like this:
Repeat for the right (front side). Fold the right underarm point to meet in the center and trace. You should have the underarm curve duplicated in the center of the sleeve.
Draw a horizontal line indicating the elbow line. If the elbow isn’t indicated on the original pattern, measure your arm either from the underarm or shoulder. Cut the pattern from the back side seam to sleeve center. Cut the pattern from the hem along the center to just before the elbow line, leaving a small hinge point of paper. Rotate the paper to open up a dart along the elbow line. The dart should be about 3/4 inch wide. Tape extra paper underneath the opened dart. Tape the overlapping pattern at the hem. The width of the sleeve hem will be shorter due to the overlap. Measure the amount of overlap and add that amount to the right (front) sleeve at the hem. Extend up to meet the elbow line.
Draw an elbow dart 3 inches long and 3/4 inch wide (the amount the paper was opened). There will be extra fabric, indicated in green. This is to provide ease over the elbow. The angle between the sleeve midline above the elbow and sleeve midline below the elbow will be about 175 degrees. A little more or less is fine.
The undersleeve on classic Chanel jackets is about 2.5 inches wide at the underarm tapering to 2 inches at the wrist. This is for smaller sizes; you may want to adjust for larger sizes/ fuller bicep. From the center line, measure towards the sleeve back 1 and 3/8 at underarm, 1 and 1/4 at elbow and 1 and 1/8 at wrist. For the front, measure from center towards sleeve front 1 and 1/8 at underarm, 1 and 1/8 at elbow and 7/8 at wrist. Connect the points to form the undersleeve. Shown in red.
Now remove the corresponding amounts from the side seams. Shown in blue. Trace the undersleeve onto pattern paper. I place the upper portion of the undersleeve on the bias. The lower portion won’t be on the true bias but it will be off grain. This will allow the undersleeve to stretch when worn for comfort. Chanel sleeves are intended to be slim fitting and the bias provides a little wearing ease. Trace the upper and lower sleeve sections. Your patterns should look like this:
Using the hem length from the original pattern adjust the bottom of the sleeve. The sleeve back which joins the undersleeve should be 1/2 to 3/4 inch longer than the corresponding seam along the undersleeve. The excess length in the back sleeve will be eased in the elbow area. The seam joining the sleeve back to sleeve front will be the same length on both back and front. The front sleeve seam which joins to the undersleeve should be 3/8 to 1/2 inch shorter than the undersleeve seam. The upper sleeve seam will be steamed and stretched before sewing to give the sleeve proper shape. The sleeve hem should be slightly longer in the back and angle upwards to the front. Add vent extensions for buttons if you want. The top of the sleeve cap can be curved to decrease the amount of fabric needing to be eased into the armseye.
Ever wish you could clone yourself? How much easier to make fitting adjustments if you could just step outside your own body and work on you. Here’s how: pad a standard dressform to your measurements and cover it with a custom drafted muslin to replicate your own shape.
Why construct your own form? Once you have a duplicate of your body, fitting becomes SO much easier. You’ll also have an understanding of pattern drafting so style/ fitting changes to commercial patterns are less of a mystery. If your size changes you can adjust the padding and cover to reflect those changes. Couture houses create custom forms for their clients so why not do it for yourself?
The process begins with accurate measurements. Those numbers are used to draft a custom pattern which duplicates the body.
The pattern is cut in muslin and any adjustments made. It’s a skin tight fit.
The pattern is cut apart and transferred to heavy weight muslin. Additional seaming is added to the bust area for better shaping.
Use a dressform that’s SMALLER than you. If you start with a form by bust measurement, it’s invariably too large across the back and shoulders. I usually chose a form that’s at least 3-4 inches smaller than the bust.
The cover is sewn together at the shoulders leaving the side seams open. That makes it easier to get the cover into place without dislodging any of the padding. Start at the shoulders and work down the body. Bra cups fill out a larger bust; shoulder pads can be used to fill out the hip area. Polyester quilt batting works well to smooth out the shape. Tear rather than cut the batting to eliminate ridges. A small steamer helps compress the batting and makes it stick to itself. This is like sculpture. It can be helpful to have a photo of your body: front, back and side views. Work from the top down. Fold the cover down to check if you have padded too little, too much or in the wrong place. Pin the sides closed to check. When the cover is filled out you’ll hand sew the sides closed.
Fold seam allowances under and whip stitch the sides together using strong upholstery thread. Draw some registration marks every couple of inches to keep the sides aligned while you’re sewing.
Steam the cover well. It will shrink slightly and tighten up. Draw balance lines (bust, waist and hip) with a permanent marker. Vertical balance lines at center front and back can also be added.
For a custom arm, here’s the pattern I use. There are NO SEAM ALLOWANCES. I use either heavy muslin or cotton drill cloth for the two main arm pieces and shoulder. Lighter weight muslin covers the cardboard ovals.
I’ve traced the stitch lines in blue dashed lines and am adding 3/8 inch seam allowances. Transfer the vertical and horizontal balance lines also. I use washable marker. Notice the vertical line down the upper arm pivots at the elbow.
There is ease on the upper arm at the elbow point. If you try and match up the stitching lines there is excess fabric which needs to be eased in to create the elbow shape. Stitch the back seam first.
If your balance lines are slightly askew at the elbow, blend into a smooth line across the seam. The marks will dissolve with water after you topstitch the line. Press the seam open. I use a topstitching (has a larger eye) needle and two strands of black thread to trace the balance lines using a 3.5mm stitch length. There are three horizontal balance lines, one at the elbow, one at the underarm and another about 2 inches up from the underarm. Extend the upper balance line to cross both sleeve sections.
Close the remaining seam matching the stitched balance lines. Press open. Close the dart at the top of the sleeve. Cut the shoulder piece (looks like a shoulder pad) from drill cloth. It needs a seam on one side only. I serge the outer edge to prevent fraying. Using a 4.5m stitch, sew along the top of the sleeve. It will gather up slightly which is all you need. Don’t try and ease it like a set-in sleeve.
Clip within the seam allowance on the shoulder section. Mark the mid point and attach it to the arm, matching the mid point to the dart on the sleeve. Make sure you have right sides facing each other. It should look like this.
To stuff the sleeve I use soft polyester fleece. I cut a piece the length of the sleeve plus about 2 inches. Roll up the fleece, not too tightly, and gauge about how much is required to fill out you sleeve. I want the sleeve to be full but not tightly packed and stiff. The wrist and lower arm needs less fill than the upper arm so I shape the fleece like this. I’ve used about 30 inches an have cut off one corner so that the lower arm has less stuffing than the upper.
Begin rolling at the shorter end forming a soft cylinder which is fatter at one end. I safety pin a length of ribbon onto the slimmer (wrist) end, insert the ribbon through the top and pull it through. If you want more or less fill pull out the roll and adjust the amount of stuffing.
Trim the fill at the armseye end leaving enough to fill out the top.
Cut ovals from cardboard for the wrist and armseye covers. I use lighter weight muslin (the drill cloth is too stiff to gather) and add about 3/4 inch seam allowances. Stitch around the edges, insert the cardboard and pull the threads up to create the covers.
I place the armseye cover against my form and mark the shoulder seam point. Notice that I’ve angled it towards the front to better replicate my arm position. Human arms tend to fall slightly in front of center. Line up the wrist oval to simulate the wrist shape. Again wrists aren’t circular; they are wider when viewed from the top of the hand than the side.
Hand sew the covers in place with a whip stitch. Your new arm can be attached with a few pins (I use flat head pins and push them at an angle to avoid snagging the garment). This pattern is for the right arm. If you would like two arms just flip the pieces and make a matching form for the left side. See how easily her arm bends and I’ve found this version much more workable than the premade ones.
This will make a fairly slim arm. If your arms are larger and you want to adjust the pattern I would suggest this method. Trace the pattern onto your preferred paper and slash the upper and lower arm sections. I don’t cut up my master pattern until I’m happy with the changes. If the first alteration doesn’t work I haven’t destroyed the original and it’s much easier to start over.
Divide the amount you want to adjust by 4 and spread the pattern sections by that amount. It doesn’t need to be the same for the entire length of the pattern. You might want an extra inch at the wrist and an extra 2 inches at the bicep. Overlap the sections if you need a smaller arm. Likewise the length, both above and below the elbow can be adjusted. The ovals for the armseye and wrist covers will need to be adjusted and I would just use trial and error. There is a mathematical formula for figuring out the circumference, long and short axis of an ellipse but you don’t want to see it. Anyone with a math background will understand..
I’ve received requests to teach this and have done several workshops. With the current stay-at-home situation, on line classes are a necessity. I’ve taught this remotely using Zoom and it worked well. Those who participated had a buddy to help with measurements but it is possible to fit yourself. I’ve done it and it’s not impossible. There are a few tricks like putting a separating zipper at center front to make the cover easy to get on and off. When the fit is perfected, the zipper is removed and side seams opened. It’s also more accurate than pinning. A few measurements (like the cross back width) will need to be calculated rather than direct measure.
The dressform cover pattern can also be adjusted with ease added to create a custom size master pattern block. You can use this to either create your own designs or help with adjustments to a commercial pattern.
If you’re interested and want more details, leave a comment and I’ll get in touch. Everyone stay safe.
Although many machines can sew acceptable buttonholes, there is nothing like a handworked buttonhole to distinguish a garment as couture. Now for the good and the bad. The good thing about making buttonholes by hand is there is one basic stitch and you simply repeat it over and over. The bad is that it takes hours, and hours, and hours of practice to get the stitches narrow and evenly spaced with just the right tension.
There are a few hints that can make this process easier. Using professional materials does make a difference. After making hundreds of buttonholes I’ve found there really is no substitute for Gutermann gimp. It’s not easy to find outside of professional tailoring suppliers but it makes a tremendous difference in the quality of the finished buttonhole.
Gimp is a stiff cord that lifts the stitches off the surface of the cloth and gives a smooth surface for the buttonhole stitches to sit on. Silk buttonhole twist also comes in various weights. The thicker size F is easier to work with and requires fewer stitches but produces a bulkier buttonhole. My preference is Gutermann R753 which is just a bit thinner and makes a finer buttonhole.
Cutting the buttonhole is also easier with a couple of tools. I found an antique buttonhole cutter which cuts the circular hole and slit in one step. This probably isn’t sharp enough to use.
What works for me is a sharp hollow punch for the keyhole and a chisel for the slit.
To actually make this buttonhole first carefully mark where you want the buttonhole and baste all the layers of fabric together. This prevents things from shifting around while you are working. I forgot to take a photo of just the basting so this photo shows the buttonhole cut. Blue thread is the basting.
Before cutting anything (this is especially useful if you’re working on a loosely woven boucle type fabric) machine stitch around the buttonhole. I run two rows of stitching using about a 0.8 to 1.0 mm stitch. The machine stitching will really hold everything in place.
How’s the time to cut. Unlike machine buttonholes which are cut after stitching, the handworked buttonhole is cut first. I use the hole punch pliers to cut a clean hole. Then carefully place the appropriate size chisel along the center of the buttonhole and tap the chisel a few times with a hammer. I use thick cardboard or a piece of heavy scrap leather underneath both the hole punch and chisel to prevent damage to the tools.
I prefer the look of a teardrop shaped buttonhole so I carefully trim away the little triangles at the base of the circular hole.
I begin stitching the buttonhole with the rounded end away from me and begin work on the left side. Thread the gimp on a large eye needle, put it between the fabric layers and bring it up just inside the cut edge. Wax and press the buttonhole twist. Rule of thumb is that 1 yard of twist for 1 inch buttonhole. Stitches are worked by inserting the needle about 1-2 mm from the cut edge. Wrap the thread in the direction you are sewing; in this case I’m wrapping the thread around the needle clockwise. Pull the thread through and upwards forming the purl knot on the top edge. Using a traditional tailor’s thimble is helpful to control your needle and place the stitches accurately. Putting you left thumbnail where you want the needle to exit the fabric also helps. You want the stitches almost touching but not crowded. Practice definitely helps. Your 10th buttonhole will look much better than the first and number 100 even better.
Work up the left side, fan the stitches around the circular end and down the right side. Turn the cloth so you are always making the same stitch from the same position. The cloth moves, your hands and stitches don’t. Bend the gimp around the buttonhole as you work.
When you get back to where you started pass the gimp between fabric layers and cut it off. Take three stitches across both sides of the buttonhole with the silk twist and bury the thread. Baste the edges of the buttonhole together and use a bodkin to shape the end into a nice circular shape. Press and leave the basting in place until the garment is finished.
In my quest to replicate Chanel jackets, I did a little sleuth shopping. These are from the new spring cruise collection. Looking at the price tags, I’m happy to be creating my own.
The trim was what I was most interested in. I’ve managed to create a fairly good duplication and am working on refining and variations.
Here’s my version.
Buttonholes, advanced garment shaping using ironwork, Chanel style trims and more in a French jacket class, Palm Beach Gardens, FL February 10-15. Only 2 spots left; more classes coming. Dates to be announced.
In this post I’ll explore the seemingly little details will make your completed jacket look professional. I love the look of a patterned fabric perfectly matched across the seam lines. Here are the changes I make to the pattern. I also shape certain garment pieces using heat and steam.
A basic princess line pattern. I’ve drawn it on grid paper. It has been cut so that horizontal threads in the fabric match along the lower portion but look what happens in the upper chest area.
Here’s what happens if I’m able to manipulate the fabric in the side front.
In order to minimize the amount of shaping required, I’ve shifted the front princess seam from the bust point upwards and brought it closer to the neck. The violet pattern shows the original; in the red I’ve shifted the princess seams (both front and back so they match at the shoulder) closer to the neck. Overlaying the patterns shows the changes. The same amount of fabric removed from both center fronts and backs has been added to the side back and fronts.
Here is an illustration done on a full figured model. The first photo shows the fabric without shaping. Second photo shows how the fabric pattern matches and gives a much less disruptive line.
The ironwork does push a lot of fabric into the armseye area and makes the grain quite unstable. I deal with this by cutting a piece of silk organza using the original pattern and baste it in place. The armseye can be further stabilized by taping the seamline. The lining is cut according to the pattern and basted in place before quilting (this is a sample and the lining wouldn’t stop below the armhole).
Here’s the front of my white jacket. I’ve moved the princess seam and manipulated the fabric. The horizontal lines in the weave are continuous. I’ve chosen to add a standup collar. It is also cut as a straight piece and shaped with the iron. Cardboard cut to the shape and size of the finished collar helps press a smooth curve and keeps both sides identical.
An easy way to match the fabric design when cutting sleeves is to pin the muslin sleeve onto the jacket body. Pin scraps of fabric to the muslin sleeve, matching the fashion fabric along seam lines. Remove the muslin sleeve, lay it flat keeping the scraps of fashion fabric in place. Carefully trim along the seam lines. Now you have an exact guide to cut the sleeves and be sure they will match. The sleeves should be mirror images of each other but check to be sure.
Next I’ll tackle handworked buttonholes. If you would like hands-on instuction, I’m teaching a French jacket class in Palm Beach Gardens, FL from February 10-15, 2020. We’ll cover fitting, ironwork using professional equipment, jacket construction, custom trims, handworked buttonholes and more. If you’re interested, leave your contact info and I’ll send further details.