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The shaping of a sleeve

jefferyd

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It has occurred to me that there is a great amount of discussion about fabric, canvas, basting and padstitching, but that there is another element of tailoring which is misunderstood, or not understood at all. I will say that pressing, which includes the shaping before, during, and after tailoring, plays one of the most important roles in shaping a suit, more so than many of the sewing operations. IT is not only about making a seam flat or free of wrinkles. To illustrate the point, let's look at the shaping of a sleeve. On a well-made suit the sleeve is made to curve gracefully, following the shape of the arm. To do this we need several seams and some careful pressing. The elbow seam follows the outside of the sleeve, but the seam at the front of the sleeve is tucked 3/4" to 1" inside the fold of the sleeve in order to conceal it. In the photo below, observe carefully how the lines of the check on the undersleeve are straight but the top sleeve are very curved. This is not at all natural and very important.
Normally we need a seam at the exact place that shaping will occur, that is to say, right along that front fold, not 1" back. If I fold the topsleeve back in its natural state, observe below that not only is the front of the sleeve straight, but the curved edge goes in the opposite direction from that which we want. Here comes one of the bits of tailoring magic.
I will use a great deal of steam and pressure, holding the iron in one hand, pressing down in a very specific method, and carefully stretching the top sleeve the length of the curve. There is technique to this that must be learned properly or the sleeve will never hang properly. Using steam and heat, I have re-shaped the top sleeve and re-set the shape, much like using curlers or a curling iron on hair. It is no longer a flat, two-dimensional piece of cloth, but has a shape. Folded into position, the seam now takes its proper shape and the sleeve will curve with my arm.
Just the way I used steam to shape the sleeve, if I use steam on the sleeve without holding its stretched, curved position, I will undo this shaping. The sleeve will relax and hang straight (its natural position) instead of curving, and the tension created will cause a small break just below the elbow. It is a subtle thing to some, but to tailors it is glaringly obvious. It is one of the first signs that a suit has been mishandled. You probably never noticed before, but maybe now you will. And this is only one piece of a suit; not one piece of a suit (and there are many) is left flat, without any of this sort of manipulation, and steaming a suit can undo it all. You may not see it now, just like once upon a time you didn't know the difference between canvas and glue, but you can learn to see it and to appreciate the work that goes into a well-made suit.
 

grimslade

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Another terrific post. Thanks!
 

Despos

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Hey Jeffrey,
Some tailors stretch the top sleeve as you show, some work fullness in on the under sleeve. Is the method shown your preference? If so, why do you prefer this method? Do you use different techniques for different weights and types of cloth ? Do you cut the under sleeve the same as the top sleeve?
I see a lot of english jackets with the inside seam too far in front, almost in line or forward of the thumb. Looks bad to my eye. Seam should be hidden as you say. When I started tailoring we use to thread mark down the front of the sleeve 1 1/4" from the front edge of the top sleeve. That was the finished edge of the pattern. We added the 1 1/4" on the cloth when we laid the pattern out.
Great to see your work and illustrations.
 

jefferyd

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Originally Posted by Despos
Hey Jeffrey,
Some tailors stretch the top sleeve as you show, some work fullness in on the under sleeve. Is the method shown your preference? If so, why do you prefer this method? Do you use different techniques for different weights and types of cloth ? Do you cut the under sleeve the same as the top sleeve?
I see a lot of english jackets with the inside seam too far in front, almost in line or forward of the thumb. Looks bad to my eye. Seam should be hidden as you say. When I started tailoring we use to thread mark down the front of the sleeve 1 1/4" from the front edge of the top sleeve. That was the finished edge of the pattern. We added the 1 1/4" on the cloth when we laid the pattern out.
Great to see your work and illustrations.


Hey

For a while there was a pressing machine that would help stretch the top sleeve but usually we work fullness in and then do the stretching as we bust the seam (on a dedicated form, of course). Saves an operation. Some people still stretch first so you can check the curve before seaming the undersleeve and because you don't have a line of stitching fighting the stretch. In any case I thought it would be a little clearer what we were doing if I left the undersleeve out of the equation since it really amounts to the same thing. I usually cut my undersleeve 1/4" longer, depending on the degree of curve- I like to have more but my patterns have to be good for a variety of cloths; I don't have the luxury of adjusting for cloth type in my day-to-day work unfortunately. Older methods of cutting had the seam at the front, hiding it the way we do came later and was known as a false..... something. I don't remember now. It's funny- all of the sleeve drafting methods I have ever seen make little mention of the shape of the armscye- only measurements, but I have found that the sleeve draft is also highly dependent on the jacket draft, especially if you want to be matching checks. But now I'm putting people to sleep so I'll stop. We should start a separate forum for tailor's gab, especially since the CTDA and IACD seem also to have gone to sleep.......
 

stickonatree

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thanks for the info! very informative and i shall look for the drooping sleeve now
 

Coachie

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Wow! So much going on in the seperate operations of tailoring, no wonder a fine suit costs so much!
 

KyleP

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I usually cut my undersleeve 1/4" longer, depending on the degree of curve-

Hey Jeffery. I too was taught to ironwork after the seam is sewn, but like the idea/control of this method better. It looks like your stretching out to the cut edge of the false forearm- only lengthening the seam by 1/4" or so? Thnx.

EDIT: (from jefferyd- thank you sir):

The amount of stretch needed is dependent on the amount of curve- deeper curves require a greater stretch- but yes, 1/4" or so is usually a safe bet.
 
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