1940’s Tea Dress Sewalong No. 6: Making and Inserting the Sleeves

Did you all have a lovely weekend of sewing? Today we’re back and raring for more, so we’re going to show you how to insert the sleeves into your dress.
 
We’re going to start off doing a couple of lines of ease stitching around the sleevehead. This step is really similar to when we sewed those two lines of stitches to gather up the bust – only this time we’re not going to pull the threads quite as much. We’re doing this here because to accommodate your shoulder, the sleevehead is slightly larger than the armhole is it fitting into. We need to gather it up a little bit so that it fits into the hole nicely. So, with your machine set at stitch length 4, sew two lines of stitching between the notches, at 1cm and 1.4cm away from the raw edge. No backstitching at either end, remember.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong - Inserting the Sleeves | Sew Over It
 
This next bit can seem confusing, and to make it doubly tricky we have minimal photos of this stage (doh!), but we promise it will all work out okay if you follow the instructions carefully. You got this.

With right sides together, line up the bottom of the sleeve with the sleeve facing, making sure you match the notches at the side seams. With your stitch length back to 2.5, sew this seam and press the seam allowance to set the stitches.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong - Inserting the Sleeves | Sew Over It
 
Finish the opposite edge of the sleeve facing from the one you have just sewn, with an overlock or zigzag stitch.

Open out the sleeve so that both the sleeve piece and the sleeve facing are facing right sides up on the table. Fold the sleeve in half lengthways, right sides together. Pin and sew this seam from the underarm, continuing the row of stitching along the sleeve facings you have just attached. Finish the seam allowance and then you need to press towards the back – in the direction of the double notches on the sleevehead.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong - Inserting the Sleeves | Sew Over It

When we’re pressing a tube of fabric like this we don’t like to put it down on the ironing board and press it flat, as you end up with creases on the sleeve. It’s best to insert something into the tube, whether it be a tailor’s sausage like we’ve used, a sleeve board, or even just a rolled up towel.

Keeping the sleeve inside out, fold the sleeve facing up at the point at which it’s stitched to the main sleeve and give the seam a good press all the way round. This will set the stitches and help the facing stay on the inside where you want it. And now we’re ready to hand sew it in place. You heard, hand sew!

We’re going to sew the facing down on the inside with a slip stitch – a type of hand stitch that’s invisible on the outside of the garment. This gives the finished dress a more polished and professional look than if you just stitched it on the machine. And since polished and professional is what we want, hand sewing it is!

So, thread your needle with thread matching your fabric and anchor it to the edge of the facing with a few on-the-spot stitches. When you’re sure those stitches are not going anywhere, pick up a couple of threads of your main sleeve fabric with the needle, right by the edge of the facing, and gently pull the thread through.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong - Inserting the Sleeves | Sew Over It
 
You can just see how little fabric you need to pick up in the picture above. If you pick up too many the stitches will show on the outside of the garment. We don’t want that!

The needle should be coming straight back out on the same side of the fabric. Now, taking the needle down between the sleeve and the facing, bring it back up through the fabric. You can see we have done this at the edge of the overlocking stitches. Pick up another couple of threads from the sleeve fabric, and continue this stitch until you’ve sewn the facing down all the way round the sleeve and you get back to where you began. It should look like a kind of half hidden zigzag.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong - Inserting the Sleeves | Sew Over It

At no point should you be pulling very hard on your thread as you could end up ruching up the fabric and making a bit of a mess. Go gently. At the end another couple of on-the-spot stitches on the facing should secure your hard work in place. No harm in knotting the thread for good measure.

Repeat these steps for the other sleeve and then we can start inserting the sleeves into the dress!

Turn your sleeve the right way out and, making sure your dress is inside out, insert it into the armhole. Double and triple check that you have matched the notches up correctly and you are inserting the right sleeve into the right hole – the single and double notches should tell you all you need to know.

Align the underarm seam on the sleeve with the side seam on the bodice and pin together. Then match the central notches on the sleevehead with the shoulder seam on the bodice and pop another pin in. Now pin the points where the single and double notches match up. Once you’ve got these these points pinned, pull the loose threads slightly, and adjust the gathers evenly around the sleevehead. Use the central notch on the sleevehead to check that they’re even.

Once you’re happy with the gathering, grab your pins and get to work pinning the rest of the sleeve to the armhole. You can go a little wild here – you want this seam to resemble a sort of jewelled crown.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong - Inserting the Sleeves | Sew Over It

It’s best to get as many pins in there as you can so that the fabric doesn’t slip and slide whilst you’re sewing it on the machine.

When it’s all pinned and looking fit for a Queen, take it over to the machine and, with the sleeve fabric against the machine plate, sew the sleeve into the armhole.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong - Inserting the Sleeves | Sew Over It

As you’re sewing, place your left hand in between the two layers of fabric. This will allow you to smooth everything out as it goes under the presser foot. It’ll help to prevent puckering, and also stop the fabric from slipping, thereby maintaining the seam allowance at the sleevehead.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong - Inserting the Sleeves | Sew Over It

Go slowly and carefully – if you can change the speed setting on your machine like we can, try the slowest speed to give yourself more control.

Once you have sewn all the way round, turn the dress the right way out and check that the underarm seams are lined up, and that there is no puckering anywhere around the sleevehead. If you’re happy with it, remove the ease stitching threads and finish the seam allowance. Do not press this seam, as you will flatten the gathers and spoil their charm. Nobody likes a flattened gather.

Insert the other sleeve into the other armhole, making sure the gathering is as similar as possible on both sleeves. Turn the dress the right way out gaze upon it lovingly.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong - Inserting the Sleeves | Sew Over It

Just one last thing and then we’re done. To give the sleeve a bit of a cuff effect, fold up 3cm or so of the bottom of the sleeve and press. Hand sewing again, secure the sleeve with a few tiny stitches all the way round to keep it in place.

And that’s it for today. Your sleeves are done! Well done!

It’s all coming together isn’t it? We can hardly wait ’til we get to the end now – we want to know what you’re all up to. We’ve had a sneak peak or two after seeing some of your dresses cropping up on Twitter (and may we just say we are LOVING these fabric choices from our shop!). Bursting at the seams to see the finished articles!

We’ll see you again on Friday when we’ll be inserting the invisible zip. (Don’t worry – definitely not as scary as it seems.) We foolishly forgot to include an invisible zip foot on the list of supplies you’ll need for this project – if you don’t have one we really recommend it as an investment. Nothing like a perfectly put in zip!  (Sewing nerd alert!)

If you’re having any problems as ever you can contact us for rigorous questioning on our Facebook page, or tweet us @SewOverIt.

Our other sewaong posts can be found here:
Announcement
Choosing fabric
Measuring, tracing and cutting out
Assembling the bodice
Constructing the skirt

Have a lovely week everyone!

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