The past month has been occupied with a quest to develop a sleeve pattern for the French boucle jacket. Chanel was obsessed with sleeves. Axel Madsen writes in Chanel: A Woman of Her Own: “she would pin up a dress as many as twenty times to get it right. Armholes were her bane-and the engineering secret of her jackets.” Jackie Rodgers, a Boston-born mannequin, would recall: the armhole was never high enough, and she’d reset a sleeve six times. The high armhole gave the jacket the cleaner, closer fit she wanted.”
Also, just some interesting notes regarding us sewers referring to our projects as “Chanel jackets.” I’ve read that Chanel takes a dim view of this and states that “only Chanel can make a Chanel jacket.” True but Coco had somewhat a different take on those who copied her work. Axel Madsen also notes that: “Coco had always believed that any fashion not adopted by a majority of women was a flop. To see herself copied in the street was the greatest compliment. Piracy was the flattering result of success.”
We may not be able to make a “Chanel jacket” but Gabrielle Chanel would have been flattered by sewers devoting endless hours to emulate her work.
In order to avoid the “home sewn” look, you need to get the fit of your jacket perfected, especially the shoulders and sleeves. Too many jackets appear that are much too large through the shoulders. Most commercial patterns have sleeves which are much too wide and the whole effect of the chic jacket is lost.
The three piece sleeve seems to be the holy grail of Chanel jackets. I found almost nothing published on how to draft this sleeve and so began my quest.
This post will demonstrate my method of drafting a three piece sleeve from an existing two piece sleeve. Future posts will explore custom sleeve drafting and some radically different sleeve shapes.
First I’ll deal with the armseye shape. The scye, as it’s referred to in professional tailoring language, is the basis for beginning the sleeve draft. If your jacket has the wrong shape and size armhole, you have no chance of getting a correct sleeve fit. Perfect your muslin fit and make any changes necessary to the sleeve before proceeding. You will also need to remove all seam allowances from the pattern. All professional pattern drafting is done without seam allowances. If you try this process without removing the seam allowances, things will become muddled very quickly. Sorry to those who prefer to work with seams added.
The scye shape is easiest to visualize by laying the jacket body sections on a grid with the armhole seams just touching and all grain lines parallel.
Here is an example of a poorly shaped scye. It is too narrow, vertical and doesn’t follow the natural shape of the arm. The armhole is also too low. Much better drafts look look this:
The scye from a Chanel ready to wear jacket.
Scye shapes overlaid showing the small variations.
I’ll use Vogue 7975 as the example of how to draft a three piece sleeve. This is a pattern used by many as the basis for their Chanel style jacket. It also has a two piece sleeve, perfect for demonstrating how to transform it into the coveted three piece draft. The McCalls pattern shows what to avoid. It should also be clear from these diagrams that substuting one sleeve pattern for another can be risky. Imagine trying to get the sleeve from Vogue 7975 into the McCalls armhole. Sleeves are drafted to correspond to a specific armhole shape and size. You might get away with switching the Vogue sleeves but even that might require some tweaking.
The first step may appear counter-intuitive, but I found it easier to return the two piece draft to a one piece and then draft the three. Altering and combining the two piece into three created multiple issues and this approach worked better for me.
Start by aligning the grains and have the seams just touching. Remember, NO SEAM Allowances.
Trace the sleeve cap shape onto paper, either gridded or plain. Stop the tracing at the underarm match point on both front and back. You should now have a sleeve that looks like this. Don’t do anything with the lower sleeve yet; all you want is the shape and size of the armseye seam.
Connect the underarms with a straight line. From the shoulder match point drop a line straight down which intersects with the underarm line at right angles. Make it a few inches longer than the sleeve length. Measure and mark the sleeve length from the top of the sleeve cap to the hem. Mark back and front as its easy to get confused until you’ve done this a few times. The back will be slightly wider than the back. I’ve written 6 5/8 on the back and 6 3/8 on front.
Now mark A, B and C as shown. Cut along the sleeve cap line.
Fold point A directly on top of B and trace the underarm seam.
You should now have this:
Measure out along the underarm line 1 and 3/8 inch left of B. Measure 1 and 1/8 to right of B. You are starting to form the undersleeve piece.
Next you need to draw in the bottom of the sleeve. Measure the finished width of the sleeve hem. Size 8 measured 8 and 3/4 inches. The line down the middle of the sleeve is offset 1/4 inch towards the sleeve front; 6 and 5/8 along back underarm, 6 and 3/8 along front underarm. Therefore you need to offset the hem by the same amount.
Sleeve hem measures 8 and 3/4, half of which is 4 and 3/8. Add 1/8 inch to back and subtract 1/8 inch from the front. Your sleeve hem will measure 4 and 1/2 inches along back sleeve and 4 and 1/4 inches along front sleeve.
The sleeve needs to bend at the elbow to follow the natural shape of the arm. Every drafting source I found used arbitrary values to establish this bend. After measuring countless arms and sleeves I decided what made more sense was to duplicate the angle. A perfectly straight arm would have a straight line from top to bottom. Most peoples’ arms bend at about 175 degrees with the elbow as the pivot point. The dress form with sleeve showing this angle.
A Chanel sleeve from a ready-to wear jacket showing this angle.
This shows a two piece sleeve but the angle remained remarkably consistent with everything I measured. Therefore, I decided to draft the lower sleeve to reflect this angle. Draw a horizontal line where the elbow bends. Measure from the top of the sleeve. This measurement isn’t critical so just get close but don’t go crazy trying to find the exact point. This is the elbow line.
This pushed the seam 3/4 inch towards the right. In order to maintain the width at the hem, the center line and front seam needed to be redrawn 3/4 inch towards the right. Come straight down from the sleeve top, pivot at the elbow and continue to the hem.
To finish the under sleeve pattern measure out along the elbow line 1 and 1/4 inch towards the sleeve back (left of center) and 1 and 1/8 inch towards the sleeve front (right).
At the hem measure 1 and 1/8 inch towards back and 7/8 inch towards front. Connect the points from the underarm line through the elbow line and pivot to hem. Your undersleeve should look like this. It is is red.
In order to complete the back and front upper sleeve patterns, the width of the undersleeve needs to be subtracted from the upper sleeve pieces. Along the back seam, measure in 1 and 3/8 at the underarm, 1 and 1/4 at the elbow and 1 and 1/8 at the hem.
Along the front seam, measure in 1 and 1/8 at the underarm, 1 and 1/8 at the elbow and 7/8 at the hem. These lines are shown in green.
Add ease to the back upper seam to allow the elbow to bend. Measure down 3/4 inch from the elbow line and form a dart about 3 inches long. This will be eased into the seam. The seam needs to lengthened by the same amount so lower the hemline 3/4 inch and angle upwards to the front seam.
Trace off the under sleeve, shown in red. Be sure to mark front and back. The upper sleeve is for the RIGHT sleeve, the under sleeve is for the LEFT sleeve. This pattern gets flipped for the right sleeve. Don’t get confused. That’s just the way this draft works.
Trim the upper sleeve pieces along the green lines and along the center line. They can look similar so be sure and label them before you cut apart. You can also trace them to save your master draft.
Final sleeve draft.
Next will be a mock up to test the fit and adding a working vent. This post took hours to write and I hope not too confusing. I am going a little buggy now and hope it makes sense. Please let me know if any steps need clarifying and I’ll address questions in the next post. This was a while coming but I think most of the glitches are worked out. Next is custom drafting the sleeve cap.