If I’m being honest, the sleeves on this dress, Butterick 6333, were one of the big reasons it sat in the closet for most of the winter. This would have, should have, been an easy piece to pick up and finish when I wanted to blast through a UFO for a sense of accomplishment. But I could not figure out what I wanted to do with the sleeves. The pattern came drafted with a traditional fitted sleeve in short and long lengths, as well as binding for a sleeveless option. I simply couldn’t decide if it would get more wear sleeveless; if fitted sleeves, however lofty the fabric, would be annoying in the heat yet more flattering to wear; or if a longer elbow length or 3/4 length would make it a more transitional piece seasonally. I couldn’t figure it out. And I had plenty of fabric, which makes the decision harder because I could do whatever I wanted.
Then the spring catalogs rolled around with all their ridiculous ruffles and the shirtiest shirts that ever shirted. And while I’m not one to add a design element just for the sake of it, I do like a well placed bit of fun. So I decided on a baby pleated flutter sleeve. Fun and full enough to mirror the trends, but paired with an otherwise well tailored dress so as not to be over the top. A little fullness to balance the otherwise straight and fitted, without becoming a lady pirate.
I wanted the fullness to be at just under double, so I measured the armsceye of the dress to find my finished width. I traced the original curve for the underarm at the sleeve, and blocked off basic height and widths by squaring lines. I connected them with my curve rulers, so the height will gradually taper off in a traditional sleeve shape. I kept the bottom edge straight, so it would easily feed through my roll hem foot on my machine and to keep the polka dot print looking intentional. I cut two on the fold, keeping the dots centered and a line of dots along the lower edge.
Back seam and hem
I sewed the back seam and serged off the excess. In preparation to hem, I pressed the seams to one side and pressed in place the hem roll over the seam allowance. If a roll hem foot is ever going to fail you, it will be over the seam allowance bulk points, so I always like to pre-press those in place and the fabric will follow.
Under the foot, I start using a roll hem foot by first stitching a few straight stitches without the fabric feeding through the roll. This gives a nice anchor point, and makes sure you’re not starting off with the fabric pulled out of grain. After a few stitches, you can pop the fabric into the roll of the foot and sew the rest of the hem. On a straight edge like this, particularly if you’ve cut with a rotary cutter and have a good clean cut, it should feed right through perfectly.
Since the waist of the skirt was pleated instead of gathered, I loved the idea of echoing that in the sleeves. My trusty Singer Featherweight came with a pleating attachment foot, and makes the most perfect baby pleats. I swoon every time I use it. It adjusts with a lever to make a pleat every stitch, every third, sixth, or twelfth. You can also adjust by changing the stitch length, so there are a ton of variables with how much fabric it takes up. I usually test by marking regular intervals of 5″ with a contrast thread on a scrap, and run it through at a few settings.
When I figured out the settings that fit the sleeve I drafted, I just fed it through, leaving a couple inches on either side of the seam flat, so the lower curve will match up with the dress. (You also don’t really need that much fullness on the underside of your arm in a flutter.)
When fitting the dress, I discovered that the shoulder length was too long, meaning that the seam stuck out farther than my arm did. I had marked in the spot where you can feel the top of your bone in your arm socket, which is where a typical armsceye should sit. With the sleeve pleated, I laid it over the dress on a dress form, aligning the seam with my mark and the lower armsceyes matching, and found a new curve line for the sleeve placement by eye. I pinned into place, making sure both sides were the same, and stitched.
Ladies and gents. No one is perfect, and not everything works the first time you try it. This stuck out so far from my body it was comical. Sometimes its a matter of pressing, but this was clearly a fail. What I needed to do was change the shape of the upper cap, as I pinned out some of the curve.
Turns out it didn’t need a cap shape at all, but a gentle curve, leaving probably around the center third of the piece flat at the largest height. I took off the lower edge, and traced off the amount I’d pinned off. In retrospect, I probably could have also used less width, but I didn’t feel like recutting. I just fixed, repleated, and reattached.
I tried serging the edge and leaving it be, but I really didn’t want to take the chance that the sleeve might flip up and cause a clown-tastrophe again. Plus I didn’t like the serged edge showing. So I decided to make a self bias binding. I cut and folded in half, and aligned the raw edges to sew. I flipped the folded edge to the inside of the dress, and hand pick stitched it through to the outside. It left a nice clean edge on the inside, and I love how just a bit of decorative stitching shows on the outside.
Voila, sleeves! I do like the bit of frivolousness it gives an otherwise pretty conservative dress, which is kind of how I like my style. It ended up being the perfect choice to lend a bit of femininity.
I pinned the button placket placement down the front and have been staring at it for a week now, trying to decide if that’s actually where I want the buttons to be, and cannot decide. Since I picked pink half ball buttons, and the placket has centered pink polka dots, I can’t figure out if they should sit on top of each other, in the spaces between dots, or just (gasp!) at regular intervals, polka dots not even taken into account. Any thoughts? Send them my way before I finish it up for next week!
Love from Wisconsin,
For more posts in this series: