The Frump Factor: An Extended Sleeve That Extends Too Far

Often beginning sewers are urged to make a basic shell blouse because the construction is simple.  But the results are often disappointing.  For years I have avoided sewing them mystified as to why those I tried on in the store looked fine but my perfectly home-sewn ones looked dorky. 

Finally I have figured it out. 

There is a frumpiness factor built into many of the patterns. 


This is how the revelation came about.

I was constructing Simplicity 2929 in the fashion fabric.  As it is a basic shirtwaist dress and my material was very lovely and accomodating I was bemused and terribly disappointed on my first fitting.  I looked so frumpy.  My fabric being dark, and so much extraneous material surrounded me, I actually resembled a medieval monk . 

I was astounded bymy lackluster results as I had first made a practice muslin and very carefully fit my smaller neckline and sloping shoulder.  Aware that too much extra fabric on a plus-size figure can be overwhelming I allowed just enough fitting ease at the sides for the waistline to pouf above the belt- just enough but not too much. 

What could be wrong?

Perplexed I stared at myself in the mirror. The top of the dress resembled a shell blouse and this had given me problems before.  Then I saw that most of my extra material was on my arms.  I tucked in the sleeve hem until I achieved a cap sleeve look and my problem was solved.  I tucked back two inches at the underarm seam and three inches at the top.  I was surprised to take in such a huge amount but then the dress looked as it should! 

In that moment I realized what had been bugging me about so many basic shell patterns in the past. 

The sleeves were too loooong for the design.

I wanted my shells to resemble this.

But they usually came out like this.


With something vaguely off.

What is off is the length of the cap sleeve. 

The sleeve hem should shoot up at an angle away from the body, but instead comes down too far on the arm, sometimes hugging the arm which looks funny.  Look at the two illustrations and notice the subtle difference in sleeve length.

Ready-to-wear does not often carry the extended shoulder too far down the arm in basic work blouses.  I guess it is unflattering to many figure types.  So why are sewing patterns cut in this way sticking a lot of beginning sewers with a frumpy outcome which may discourage them from ever sewing again?  How is this good for the home seiwng industry?  It is a mystery. 

But my guess is that if you want to make a simple unstructured shell you will come across such a pattern. 

 Here is how to alter a sleeve cap for a basic shell that extends too far.  

If you find an extended dropped cap sleeve to be frumpy on your figure and you have a sewing pattern that looks like this:

You may want to consider altering the sleeve to look more like this:

As always, make a practice muslin even for such a simple top because there are still finer fitting points about your individual figure that can make or break a look.  Cut your practice muslin per the pattern, but know that you may have to seriously alter this area, and be prepared to spend some time finding the perfect spot on your arm where you want the sleeve to hit.  Just those few inches at the arm can make a huge difference in how a garment looks on you.

Next Post: Thursday,Saturday  April 17, 2010: Best Basic Wardrobe List I Have Ever Seen:Harper’s Bazaar “Great Style”:Book Review


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