Flat Assembly Method for Attaching A Sleeve with a Cuff, or How to Avoid a Set-In Sleeve on a Standard Shirt

Flat Assembly Method for Attaching A Sleeve with a Cuff: If a cuff and sleeve placket are involved you have to construct a set-in sleeve.   So I have been told.

Rebuttal: No you don’t.

Others who love to set-in a sleeve can do so to their hearts content, but for me, it is flat assembly whenever possible.

My hatred of the set-in sleeve engendered this little brainstorm.  Those of you handy at sewing blouses may already be doing this, but if you are, then there are a lot of us home-sewers at our machines using this technique and the pattern companies and sewing manuals are completely in the dark. 

Here is a run-through of the covert operations.

1) I sew my bodice, but of course, do not sew up the side seams.

2) I take my sleeve and sew the placket

Now here is where I part ways with most sewing manuals.  Most pattern instructions tell you:

  • sew the underarm of the sleeve
  • sew the side seams of the bodice
  • attach the two using a set-in technique
  • then attach the cuff to the nearly finished shirt.

The instructions tell you that because there is a physical fact of cuffs that must be dealt with.  Plackets do not lie in the side seams.  Most of the time the placket is a cut into the body of the sleeve.  The cuff does not go from side seam to side seam – it runs from placket opening to placket opening.  

Here you can see the cuff encloses the underarm seam and instead runs from placket opening to placket opening. The placket is not part of the underarm seam, it is a separate cut into the body of the sleeve.

Therefore the underarm seam must be sewn and finished before applying the cuff.

Or must it?

Must we sew the entire underarm seam?

I don’t.

3) Instead, I sew only three to four inches of the underarm seam coming up from the wrist. 

I sew three to four inches of the underarm seam closed at the wrist and then attach the cuff down to finishing details like topstitching and buttonholes. I leave most of the underarm seam open.

 4) Attach cuff: I don’t have to drag an entire blouse behind me as I attach the cuff. I attach it right then and there working with just the sleeve itself.

5) Sew sleeve to bodice: The wrist portion is in the round, but the sleeve cap is flat. I do flat assembly to the bodice shoulder. (One word of warning – As your sleeve has this cuff dangling from the end it can be harder to see right sides. Double and triple check you are right sides together at the shoulder and sleeve cap. )

Sleeve sewn into armscye flat assembly.


Here is what it looks like from the right side. You can see the completed cuff that is in the round and the flat shoulder seam with the upper underarm seams left open.

6) Now I have only to sew up the rest of the underarm and the bodice sides.  Sometimes there is a little discrepancy in fabric lengths.  At those times I decide between three solutions:

  • Using the feed dogs to ease excess.
  • Living with a tiny mismatch at the underarm.
  • Going ahead and taking some excess in at the armpit part of the armscye.  (Most often I don’t have to go this far.)

I sew from the joined portion at the wrist to the armpit and down the side seams.

This method has allowed me to have my cake and eat it too.  I can have flat assembly and still create standard oxford style shirts which I used to avoid for fear of the set-in.

Does anyone else use this method? 

Next Post: Tuesday, November 22, 2010: Vogue 7700 Basic Oxford:Pattern Review


How to Draft a Sleeve Pattern When You are Desperate and No One Has Ever Shown You

How to Draft a Sleeve Pattern When You are Desperate and No One Has Ever Shown You.

Simplicity 3786

We home-sewers are always going it alone it seems.  When constructing Simplicity 3786 I found I liked the bodice but the sleeve fit was abominable.  I would need to draft a new sleeve pattern.

The problem is that no one has ever shown me how

Prior to my sewing snit over this sleeve I had heard two solutions but I could not see either working.

Solution #1;Looks Like a lot of Work for a Sleeve that Still Might Fit

Butterick 5746:Fitting Shell or Personalized Sloper

There are pattern drafting books that cover drafting sleeves. However, their sleeve patterns are drafted from a personalized bodice pattern, often called a sloper.  Slopers are usually very form-fitting, more a carbon copy of you with some ease thrown in for movement.  Additionally, the sleeve drafting is explained in a separate chapter and there are no illustrations of the relationship between the sleeve cap and the curvature of the bodice shoulder. 

Solution #2 Which I Think Only Works if You Make the Same Kind of Shirt All the Time

I have also been advised to take my French curve and measure the armscye curvature on a blouse whose fit I like best.  But then there is the problem of matching sleeve to shoulder. Because I like a certain blouse does not mean that the pattern I am currently sewing was designed with the same curvature and fashion ease. Just a glance in the closet tells you that garments each have their own unique curvature at the armscye.

So what to do?

Here is what I did. 

It won’t win me any ribbons at a contest I’m sure, but it worked.

This design had a flat sleeve head.  By that I mean it had no gathers and minimal ease.  That made what I did easier.

Simplicity 3786:The sleeve from the pattern envelope. You can see how tightly it fits. Nothing I did to alter the original pattern worked.

1) I seam ripped the sleeve from the pattern company and threw it in the scrap bin. (That kind of made up for the previous night’s snit over the sleeve’s general chumpiness.)

2) I also ripped out the side seam so I could lay the bodice flat on top of a large piece of paper.

Then I winged it.

If you have sewn a lot of sleeves you will notice some commonalities.  The deepest armpit portion is curved away from the sleeve cap. A few inches in from the side seam there is usually a notch.  Any easing or gathering takes place between the notches most of the time at the sleeve cap. 

SOOOooooo. . . . . .

3) I put on the sleeveless shirt and got the shoulder seam and armscye I wanted.  Cutting and pinning until I got it right.

4) Then I laid the garment completely flat over a large piece of interfacing.

Shirt laid open over interfacing. Mark your notches, remember one notch for the front, two for the back, then trace the curve for the sleeve cap.

5) I guesstimated where the notches should be on my new armscye.  I marked both the interfacing that was to be my new sleeve and the bodice.

6) I traced the top portion between the notches, the sleeve cap, directly from the bodice.

Flip the garment over and trace the underarm curve portion. Remember to mark where the seam ends, that will become the underarm seam for your sleeve.

7) Next I flipped the bodice over, matched the notches and traced the armpit curve using the bodice as a guide. 

Remember to make a slash where the curve ends and the side seam begins.  That becomes the underarm seam of the shirt.

My new sleeve cap. I just had to tidy up the lines and draw the seams.

I had my sleeve cap.  From there I just needed to decide how long I wanted it.  Since Simplicity 3786 has a three

The sleeve not fit with the looseness it was designed to have.

part sleeve, I took the pattern for the cuff and gathered lower sleeve and altered them to fit my new upper sleeve.

I realize that this isn’t by the book, but if I had a book to show me how to redraft a sleeve for an existing pattern I wouldn’t have had to make this up.  You must consider the variables of your specific pattern and you must make a practice sleeve, but this a quick and dirty method that may be of help if nothing but a new sleeve pattern will work.

Next Post: Friday, November 19, 2010: Week Ten- I Can’t believe it! – Stash Bash Update

Further Menswear Design Details:Where is All of the Interfacing?

“But Hell, sleek Hell, hath no freewheeling part.”

XJ Kennedy from the poem “Nothing in Heaven Functions as it Ought” @1985

Home sewers have been told for years, interface, interface, interface.  At a sewing convention I once heard a pattern designer mention going without and the room erupted into a general flap and gurgle of protest.  Yet pairing the correct interfacing to fabric is quite tricky and often home-sewn collars and cuffs look too stiff in comparison to their RTW counterparts.  Still most sewing manuals and pattern instructions are staunch: they have women interface collar, cuffs, both sides of plackets, pocket edges and yokes.

It turns out this advice may be straight from hell.!!!!!!!!!

All of the overly-stiff collars, cuffs and front bands I have sewn have been hell for sure.   And they certainly weren’t freewheeling by any measure.

Imagine my astonishment when I took a hard look at my husband’s shirts.  I even held them up to the sunlight.  No interfacing.  The majority of his shirts are heavy cotton button-down oxfords – there isn’t a lick of interfacing in those things!  Apparently the weight of the cotton is enough.  Contrary to the warnings of various sewing manuals, sans interfacing, his shirts don’t look shabby; they look right.  (It’s my stuff that looks shabby when it is interfaced out the whazoo!)

I kept massaging this thing to make CERTAIN that there was no super-thin interfacing inside. (My husband wishes he got this kind of attention 😉 But like most of his work shirts this one went about its day looking completely presentable sans interfacing.

The dress cotton shirts had interfacing at collar, cuff and buttonhole side of front opening. The yoke was not interfaced, nor the side of the opening with the buttons.  The dressiest shirt with the softest fabric was not interfaced at all.  If the manufacturer had followed the instructions given the average home sewer that piece would have “needed” the most interfacing for support.  But it looks and feels better without it.

One of my husband's dress shirts in a very soft fabric. I pulled the front bands inside out and was surprised that there was no fusible interfacing. The material acted as its own interfacing.

Such loosey-gooseness of fabric parts would not have been tolerated by my early sewing instructors.  But in comparison to the rigidity of fabric and advice I have endured, following the manufacturing example just might be heaven.  Apparently men’s’ clothiers don’t waste money purchasing the stuff, nor do they want to pay someone to cut and fuse it – if there is no need.

Menswear manufacturers churn out a gazillion shirts, most of them so comfortable that they are readily purloined by wives and girlfriends.   They must know something. 

I think home sewers are being told to over-interface.  Isn’t it only the top lap of the placket that needs interfacing since it is showing?  Collars and cuffs have to “stand” and they may need the extra stiffening, but do yokes need to be stiff?  Is interfacing both bands of the front opening what is making your shirts look too unbending?  If the material is already hefty, does it need interfacing, or is that going to be overkill?

Some of my husband's oxfords used denser material for facings in a pleasant contrasting color.

Home sewers are told to interface both sides of a shirt opening thereby treating them both equally. But is that necessary? Does doubling up the interfacing when you lap the shirts closed make the fronts unbending instead of finished? This shirt has only the buttonhole side interfaced which makes sense. The button side is soft and un-interfaced.

Next time I sew a cotton shirt I am going to think more critically about whether or not I need interfacing irregardless of the pattern instructions and the imagined tight lips of disapproving ladies of my past.

I am going to be freewheeling as the song says!

(Or is that freefalling?)

I never get my songs right:)

Next Post: Tuesday, October 19, 2010:Butterick 3457 Pintuck Blouse:Pattern Review

Attaching a Skirt to a Divided Yoke:Sewing Tutorial

Wherein I Sew Construction Paper

A lot of nightgowns and little girl’s dresses utilize the divided front yoke.  It is a yoke that overlaps and separates allowing the wearer to pull the garment over her head.  Most are closed with buttons.  Here is an example from a recently sewn granny gown.

This is from Kerstin Martensson's book "Beautiful Lingerie". You can see where the yoke is divided.

Warning Let me warn all of you experienced seamstresses right now, for the remainder of this post you are going to think, as my daughter says, “I already knnneeww that!”

But when I was a newbie making what appears to be a simple dress front would have presented some problems for me.  I have never seen an instruction sheet that clearly illustrates what you need to do here.  I would have taken it to heart that I didn’t know what to do and felt very discouraged. 

The remainder of this post is a short tutorial for very new sewers.  If you are stymied by attaching a skirt to a divided yoke I will show you in photos what I do.   I have used construction paper to simulate fabric and I will go step by step.  Though there are quite a few photos, when you are sewing it is a quick process.

Let’s get started.

Attaching a Skirt to A Divided Yoke

1. Sew facings to yoke fronts, turn seam and press.


Sew your facing to the yoke front. Most instructions will include the back yoke in this process but I have left it out for clarity's sake.

2. Overlap yokes at front.  Use a long basting stitch.  Start a half-inch or so before your overlap and end a half-inch or so beyond the overlap.

Yoke fronts are turned, pressed and overlapped.

3. Now the skirt must be attached to your yoke bodice.


Your skirt will have to be attached to the yoke.

4. But you have a problem.  There are these folds in the way. 

Your yoke seams have created folds in the fabric.

5. No matter how you flip your yoke you can’t get a full seam.


You push your material one way and another but you can't get a continuous seam edge.

Start snipping


6. Snip the inside portion at the fold.  Normally I cut up to my basting stitch as it usually has the seam depth I desire.  Snip the outer yoke at the fold, again up to the overlap basting stitch.


Snip the inside yoke fold up to the basting stitches.

Snip the outer yoke fold to the basting stitches.

Now you did all this.  And you still can’t get a full seam.   You are still annoyed!  What is going on?

You have snipped your folds but still you are unable to get a continuous seam edge. You can barely see it, but where I have drawn the black line, snip that. Again cut to the basting stitch.

7. Look at the black line I have marked on the yoke front.  On the yoke front only, not the facing, cut along that line up to the basting stitch.


Now you can fold the fabric back and see that there are two continuous edges for a seamline 🙂

 What a relief!

In three simple snips you have a seam edge!

Now You are Ready to Sew Skirt to Yoke

8. Fold back your facing so it isn’t caught when you stitch the skirt to the front yoke. 


Fold back your facing so it doesn't get caught in your stitching. Then lay the skirt and front yoke wrong sides together and sew.

9. Wrong sides together sew your skirt to the yoke front.  And voila!  You have attached your skirt to the that bedeviled divided yoke.


Skirt attached to Divided Yoke.

All That is Left to Do 

 Finish the Inside Facing

10. Now finish your facing.  Flip to the inside.  You may have serged your facing edge, or you might want to turn the raw edge under. 


Flip garment. Press seam edge up into the enclosed yoke. Then lay facing flat covering seam edge. Facing may have its own edges serged or folded.

11. Then a typical finish is to stitch in the ditch from the front to secure the facing on the inside.


Stitching into the seamline from the top, called stitching in the ditch to secure inside facing.

 12. Here you see it.  Facing secure.  And you can remove the basting stitches if they still show.


Normally the edge would be serged on my garments. Here the facing is secure and the basting stitches are ready to go.

Three little snips. 

Problem solved. 

A long read for a quick solution but I hope it helps any newbies who have gotten waylaid at this step in their sewing.

Next Post: Tuesday, September 21, 2010;Slips and Camis from the Martensson Book

Let the Fur Fly: Sewing Fake Fur for the First Time

Warning – this post is photo-laden even for my liking and I like a lot of photos.  I also had to make the photos fairly large so you could view the stitching.  Even on super-duper up-to-the-minute computers the post may take just a minute to load.  I have tried to include links whenever possible to decrease number of photos. Thank you for your patience.

The off-white material I used for the wearable muslin of Vogue Pattern 8605 did not quite suit me.  I knew it when I started but thought, “Oh, well.  If it works out I’ll make sure to wear a flattering turtleneck.”  After a bit of futzing with various finishing ideas for the collar, binding, cording, etc., I decided that nothing I did was going to make ancient double knit polyester look up-to-date.  That is when I laid it on Millie, my fitting mannequin, and took a long hard look.

I had achieved my desired fit in the poly and I could have just stopped there and cut the fashion fabric.  But Millie being a vintage darling herself, a refugee from the basement of a co-worker’s newly purchased mid-century built home, has a figure that is very reminiscent of the fashion illustrations from the 1950’s.   The coat seen on Millie gave me an idea.

I have a bag of fake fur remnants bought for cheap from my local thrift, small unmatched cuts that won’t make a full garment, but could be used for accent. I pulled the fur-bag out and decided on the leopard(?) .  (I don’t know my furs.)

During all this I had to contend with another fur-bag, my tomcat, Groucho. Once I flopped the plastic grocery bag of fur bits on the table, he got a wild look in his eye.  In his little catty mind a dream had come true. Here before him was the great motherload of feline fun:


  •  a plastic bag to lick, a gross habit some males have because the plastic gives off an odor similar to feline estrus- something to think about at the grocery checkout 😉
  •  and, a pile of soft pile of fur to luxuriate in, while he licked his plastic bag.

He must have imagined I had been keeping secret the feline equivalent of a blow up doll. I had to keep removing him from the table scolding in stern language.  Finally I hung the bag on a hook close to the ceiling in my laundry room in order to finalize Groucho’s dating relationship with this most intoxicating, and compliant!, of partners.

The fur did fly a bit fending off the cat, but I still had two more problems. 

  1. The pattern did not include a traditional facing.
  2. I had never worked with fake or real fur before. 

The facing

I decided to trace out a facing from the collar pattern using a spare piece of art paper.  I knew that it might take some jiggery-pokery, as Dr. Who says.  After sewing the fur facing to the collar I went ahead and loosely pad stitched the two together to give some heft. 

Very loose padstitching done to give the collar more heft and keep the fur from shifiting too much over the poly.

Heads Up! – Cutting fur is a furry business.  The fur really did fly.  The dogs kept sneezing and my tee resembled a hairshirt by the time I was done.  And this was only a facing.  I don’t know what my house would look like if I was making an entire coat from this stuff.

Sewing Fake Fur

I have always been intimidated by this because I haven’t met someone who had made a garment with fake fur.  Then I saw Sunny Hickey’s fur vest at the Ohio State Fair Style Revue.  Though Sunny is years ahead of me in experience and skill, just seeing another home-sewer successfully take on that material gave me a lot of confidence.  It turns out that fake fur is not the bad boy I imagined.   It is actually kind of sweet and forgiving, with mabye just a wee bit of insouciance – like my cat.

Seam Edging

Technically it is a knit so the edges do not ravel.  When you turn over fake fur you see a tough pliable knit backing.  You do need to finish your edges because I don’t think it will stand up to the abuse of wear, but the material is not as delicate as I originally imagined.

As you stitch give yourself more than the traditional 5/8ths due to shifting. You can always cut it back later and you might need the extra edge if you decide to bind.

Also, after seaming you will need to open the seam and cut back the excess fur until you have a short burr left. Again, this is a very hairy experience.   After several seams you will begin to resemble the animal from which the fur is derived.

Cut back the excess fur on the seam edge.


Cautiously I set my machine and placed the material under the foot.  I expected the machine to bind up or the stitching to fall apart.  Five inches into my seaming I nearly fell off my sewing chair. 

The zig-zag stitch once again shows itself to be a miraculous invention!

Use a wide zig-zag stitch for seaming. I hope the stitches show up in the photo.

Now I am on the Hello Kitty machine, no less, and using the biggest zig-zag it offers, it made a strong lovely seam.  I placed my fashion fabric on the bottom and the fur on top.   Lacking any special sewing machine needles in my stash, I simply used a fresh 90/14.  I can’t tell you how surprised I was by how smoothly the fur sewed. 


I bound the one exposed edge in one-inch cotton twill that I lucked into at Hancock’s.  Warning – Buy more than you need.  I estimated by draping the twill around my neck and was lucky to have four inches left on finish.  A lot of length gets sucked into the fur. 

I used a one-inch cotton twill binding sewn with a zig-zag stitch.

What to do when Seams Show

Another huge surprise and another mystery solved.

As my original remnant was not very long I had to add a bit at the bottom of each facing.  This created a seam that showed.  Per the advice of an old sewing manual this is what you do.

Get out a dog grooming brush and brush into the seamline fuzzing it up.

Purloined from my dog's grooming kit the wire brush really did a lot to hide the seamline. You might want to purchase a fresh brush, but I thought, "Hey, we're all family here . . . "

This makes sense as this stuff is supposed to be fur and brushes are what we use to neaten animal coats.  Yet I was surprised.   Fake fur garments we see in RTW must have seams yet we don’t see them.  Brushing the seams must be part of the process. (And I thought those seemingly seamless coats were created from some kind of mysterious sewing technique not available to the masses!)

My seamlines were markedly improved after brushing though they still show a bit.  I imagine most sewers work hard to make their stitch lines vertical instead of horizontal when using fur.  In the future I will try to buy enough length to have only vertical seaming, or think of a way to incorporate a horizontal seamline into the design.

The Finished Jacket

This was my maiden voyage with a lot of new techniques and the jacket is not perfect.  A lot of the time I didn’t know what I was supposed to do so I got creative and let tidy stitching, I hope, cause the final finish to appear deliberate.   The closure I got from a bag of vintage buttons.  It is a bit worn and I wondered if I could ever use it.  When I was looking for closures this one looked the best as the fabric and style are also older, and I think the old buckle makes the garment appear as if it were made “back in the day.”

A vintage buckle. Though worn I thought it gave the jacket an authentic vintage feel.

The only thing left to do now is to find places and ways to wear it!

Next Post: Tuesday, August 31, 2010; Altering a Shawl Collar using Vogue 8605

Sewing Snit: Too Stiff Interfacing

Interfacing Irritation

This is my second rendition of Simplicity 2929 sewn in a lightweight denim.  Though the pattern calls for it I toyed with not interfacing it at all.  I wish I had gone with my initial instinct.

Here it is – an example of too stiff interfacing.


You will first advise me to use a lighter weight interfacing.  I used sheerweight and I still got chicken wings.

Too stiff interfacing is dorky.  But no matter how low I go in interfacing weight, often the result is too stiff.  I have stopped using it in many instances and liked the result. 

However, having started sewing during the “just so” era, I have ambivalence about chucking the stuff altogether.  

What are you using for interfacing? 

 Does it have a brand name?

And if you love your interfacing – where do you get it?

Next Post: Thursday, June 24, 2010; What to Do with a Dress that Makes Me Look Like Moses Coming Down from the Mountain

No Pattern EasyPeasy Gathered Skirt

Back in the mid-nineties I bought this fabric for about $17.00 a yard and I had sixty inch wide – 2 ½ yards of material.  It is a burnt out velvet chiffon with an intricate border and frankly for years I was too chickenshit to cut it.  I spent so much money, the fabric is so lovely, and my past experience with wadders so extensive.   

This year I am working hard to reduce my stash and finally decided to wear this fabric instead of being perpetually intimidated by it.   With such a gorgeous border I knew I wanted to highlight that detail making a skirt the best garment to meet that objective.

This fabric presented three problems. 

  1. The see-throughness had to be dealt with.
  2. Where was I to cut so I didn’t mess up the border.
  3. Avoiding choosing a design likely to be a wadder.

My Solutions

First the design: As the material was chiffon I thought that a simple gathered waistband would be easiest and would not compete with the skirt hem for attention.  The waist could be gathered with elastic, giving me gathers without needing a waistband or zipper insertion, thereby eliminating two techniques that offered me a chance to mess up in cutting, sewing and fitting.  Normally I have more confidence than this but as I said before this was very expensive, very lovely fabric and I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks.

The border: A gathered skirt required only one seam and gathers would hide any small imperfections in matching the border design.  Additionally, a woman my size needed the full yardage at the hemline.   I decided to not cut the fabric at all.  I sewed up the seam following the original cutline of the store worker who cut out my yardage.

The transparency:  I was going to need an underskirt and dreaded buying more material, making a lining from a pattern without one included, then inserting zipper and waistband around a slippery lining and equally ornery fashion fabric.  The burn out velvet was placed only at the bottom leaving pure chiffon at the top.  Any pattern would have me cut off that top portion of chiffon.  Instead I decided to fold the fabric in half and use the upper portion of the material as my underskirt.

Here is the process

Right sides together I folded the fabric in half and sewed it into a big tube.  I only had to true up a tiny portion of the seam edge at the top of the fabric as the original cutline from the shop associate was surprisingly straight.

Then I folded the tube in half pulling the inner chiffon a few inches short of the bottom edge of the outer skirt.  When I folded in half for my seam I put cut edges together.  This time I folded the selvedge edges together.

Basting the folded edge of the waistline.

I basted that edge at the waistline so it wouldn’t slip when I sewed on the elastic.  I made sure the skirt length kept the same measurements.

I sewed on the elastic.  I had 34/36 or so inches (can’t remember which) of elastic and it took all I had to stretch it over 2 ½ yards but I just made it.  I did not make a fold over band to insert the elastic into as this makes my waist look pudgy.  I laid the elastic on top of the skirt with both the skirt and elastic to the left of the needle.  Then the elastic flipped upwards creating the appearance of a waistband.

I Photoshopped the original so you could see the black elastic.

The skirt was technically finished here but I wanted to edge the hems which were the original selvedges.  I finished the underskirt with 1 ½ inch black lace, and the outer skirt with a simple black cotton crochet edging.

You can see the lace edging of the underskirt through the sheer outer layer edged in triangular crochet trim.

Now I have a lovely skirt for winter parties from a fabric that I dreaded for so long.  I think my worry got in the way of my thinking clearly about the problems presented and how to realistically confront them using my current level of expertise.   This skirt took no time and from now on I am going to try to let my panic go and concentrate on problem-solving.

I lightened the original photography so you could better see the design though it is still rather hazy.

Next Post: Tuesday, May 11, 2010; Gaping, but not Staring: Getting Rid of the Ghastly Armhole Gap

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