Superman has Lex Luthor, Harry has Voldemort, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg has social inequality. Me? I've got sleeves. Or rather, I didn't until now. I've posted a few times on my adventures in sleeve-land, but to be quite honest I've never been completely happy with the way they've turned out. Fitted, set-in, woven sleeves are my arch-nemesis. Until now.
(Hello! It's the first Monday of the month, which should mean I have a monthly draft project for you. Today's post is full of drafting, but not in a start-to-finish kind of way. This is due in equal parts to a lot of wedding dressmaking excitement as well as pre-Christmas Etsy shop preparations. Things will calm down again soon, but in the meantime, get ya inner sleeve nerd on because we're diving down deep!)
The abridged version is as follows: I drafted a sleeve, it was atrocious. I made a lot of muslins, it improved slightly but I gave up around mark 6. I bought a pattern (Butterick 5526) - its sleeves were generic enough to fit anything with an arm, I modified it slightly and made a shirt that I like and wear a lot, but the sleeve is still only a few points above average. A B+ at best. The logical side of me is fully aware that this is a silly problem to have, and obviously the fabric shopping side of me was confident in my ability to solve this problem, based on the amount of fabric in my Short Term Stash that is specifically earmarked for things with fitted sleeves:
This past weekend, I rediscovered an old body block (three years old, to be exact) folded up between the pages of one of my drafting books. For fun, I mocked it up in muslin to see how much my body had changed in the past three years. Much to my surprise, the thing fit almost perfectly! I do have some bunching right under my chest that I need to fix, but other than that it was spot on. I took one look at that perfectly fitting armhole and decided to see if the World Wide Web had any suggestions for drafting a sleeve based on an already-fitting bodice. Sure enough, it did.
Guys. Girls. Homies. (Sew-mies?) This is the most beautiful sleeve I have ever had the pleasure of putting on my body. I practically lept for joy when I first pinned myself into it. (Actually I did that thing where you skid into a room in your socks with a big smile on your face to show your significant other your Great Sleeve Accomplishment and all I got for my efforts was "Why is there only one sleeve?")
(for the record, I took this photo after I'd already started making alterations... hence the wonky lines everywhere) This sleeve was easily an A-, right off the draft. I removed 1" of ease from the cap (too puffy) and changed the curve of the front part of the armscye (about halfway up) to get rid of a small stress wrinkle, but in its second version, this was sleeve perfection. Seriously, I'm considering framing this pattern piece. (After I make some copies, of course!)
It would seem that my faithful pattern drafting book had failed me in this instance. The instructions for the foundation sleeve in M. Rhor's book are completely different from the Threads instructions I used, and they result in a completely different looking armscye curve:
Here, I compare my successful sleeve(in brown) to the sleeve of my heavily modified Butterick pattern. Also- recycling in action! I deconstruct paper shopping bags to use for drafting, and this is one. I wish I had a copy of the sleeve I made from my drafting book, but it seems I've thrown it away. As it turns out, I don't have mutant shoulders at all, I was just working with bad information. Could it be... that fitting the sleeve became...fun? The blasphemy! I'll forgive my drafting book for this singular sin, though, as it's given me plenty of other amazing results (keep reading!)
At this point, any illusions that I'd be going back to the altered Butterick pattern I was fussing with before were shattered, and I decided to draft a shirt pattern from my new block and sleeve. Enter a dilemma: The point of a block is that it fits skin-tight, which is awesome for testing fit but it's the kind of skin-tight that pops stitches if you happen to inhale at full lung capacity. (askmehowIknow). I nearly went the cheater's route and traced around my blog with 1/8" of wiggle room to allow for breathing when the shirt was finished, but really. After all the highly precise work I did to fit that beautiful sleeve, the last thing I wanted to do was take a silly shortcut and ruin my perfect fit. To be honest, the only reason I considered it is because I couldn't come up with a better, less...fudged... solution.
It occurred to me, as I was flipping through the pages of the aforementioned drafting book, that the answer lie not in arbitrary enlargement, but in pattern grading. Grading is generally used to scale a pattern proportionally through a range of sizes after it's been drafted so that it can fit all the people (or none of the people, as is often the case...) and be used for mass production. That could either be a sewing pattern, or something that gets manufactured and sold off the rack.
It's not something I've had a lot of experience in, because I (and if you're making your own clothes this is you, too) - sew 'custom'. My clothes aren't a size two or a size medium or whatever the kids call it these days - they're a size Kat. That's kind of the point of sewing your own clothes, isn't it? Anyways. I've never needed to grade because I'm not pattern-designing or mass-producing, so I've always skipped over that section in my book, but the concept turned out to be uniquely applicable to my needs in this case!
In order to add room to my block - room to accommodate a big lunch, an exclamation of surprise, or any surprise dance parties - I decided to grade it up a half-size. I knew there was a risk of losing the perfect fit, but it was the safest way I could think of to proportionally size my block up in a controlled way. I followed the guidance in M. Rhor's book, and added small amounts in prescribed places to make everything just a hair larger. Seriously, the alterations range from 1- to 3/16ths of an inch. Minuscule, but immensely important.
Because I am a rebel, I went straight past the 'quick n' dirty mockup' stage to the 'wearable muslin using fabric I'm emotionally attached to' stage. Short sleeve, though - because I didn't quite have enough for long, and also because even if the sleeve turned out to be a bit wonky, it would still be wearable. As a side note, I have never, ever, in my memory of my life, worn this color before. It's a delightfully avocado-y shade of green that happens to match beautifully with 'blood of my enemies red' which is the other highly represented color in my wardrobe. Also, when I put this shirt on for the first time I thought it made me look very olive-y and tan which, let me tell you, are two words I have never used to describe my skin tone before, and that was a very strange development.
Construction was a breeze - french and enclosed seams all around for this unravelly linen, only slowed down by the fact that I tried it on for fit every single time I sewed a seam. And yes, I did have that holy-crap-this-is-beautiful moment when I put it on with both the sleeves in for the first time. It was glorious. I'm serious, angels sang in perfect harmony as they gazed upon the perfect sleeves before them.
I posted a variety of bathroom-mirror selfies in my Instagram stories as this shirt was coming together, and I got a lot of messages about it. More than usual. Even when it was in its one-sleeved, collar-pinned-on state, you guys seemed to really like it, and I'm so glad! I'm not sure what's so universally appealing about it, but I love that everyone else seems to love it as much as I do!
I haven't got a lot to report for the rest of construction, really. As for the finished object? A good color, and a good fit. I left off the front underbust darts for now... looking at these pictures I might still add them in... although I like the more relaxed look with the lightly rumpled linen. It's unlike anything else in my wardrobe so I can't yet comment on wearability, (although it does seem to match lots of things I have!) but the very good news is that pile of sleeve-destined fabrics is finally on the top of my to-do list!
In the spirit of the monthly draft: What have we learned? Not all sleeve drafting instructions are created equal, for starters. I'd love to go through exactly how to draft a sleeve with you, but I'm still working on figuring out how to recreate this small miracle, so bear with me. Second, anything is possible if you've got a well fitting body block! I don't think we're going to be able to get much further into the Monthly Draft series without a bit of guidance on making a body block of your own - it's the starting point for well fitting customizations, after all! What do you think? Should we dive into the world of fitting blocks?