5 March 2014

Sewing Coco 3: Sew the Sleeves + Side Seams

How’s your Coco coming along? Today we’re going to make it look more like a garment by sewing the sleeves and the side seams. Let’s do this…

Sewing the sleeves

While many sleeves are set "in the round", as tubes inserted into pre-stitched armholes, Coco’s sleeves are stitched “on the flat”, before the underarm seams of the sleeve and side seams of the bodice have been sewn. This way is so much easier! We can get away with using this technique on a design like Coco because the relaxed shape of the garment and added stretch of the fabric mean that we don’t need to add shaping at the shoulder.

The first thing to do is to work out which sleeve joins which armhole. Remember those notches you cut on the sleeve and armhole? The single notches indicate the front of the garment, the double notches the back (they are labelled on the pattern pieces to help you). Lay your bodice out flat on the table so you can see both the front and back, with the right side of the fabric (ie. the side that will show on the outside of the garment) facing up. Place the left sleeve next to the left armhole and the right sleeve next to the right armhole, matching up notches.

Take the left sleeve and flip it over on top of the bodice so the right sides of the fabric are facing each other. Align the shoulder notch on the sleeve with the shoulder seam on the bodice – as shown in the picture - and pin them together.

Now you can pin the rest of the sleeve to the bodice – after the shoulder, bring together and pin the armhole notches, then the corners, followed by the rest of the sleeve. Pinning perpendicular rather than parallel to the edge will help keep the curved seams together more accurately. I like to insert my pins with the heads sticking out so I can whip them out before the machine needle gets to them (never sew over pins, it’ll mess up your sewing machine!). The fabric won’t lie flat as you’re bringing the raw edges of the sleeve and armhole together – you kinda have to mould it to fit – so just be careful not to stretch the fabric as you’re pinning. (And rest assured that, even though the raw edges of the pieces may look like they’re slightly different lengths, what you’re really joining are the seam lines 15mm within the raw edges, and these will match up exactly.)

Once that’s all pinned, you can start sewing! Set your sewing machine to the zigzag stitch that you’re using to join seams (I’m using 1.5 width x 2.2 length). Stitch the sleeve to the armhole, taking your time to navigate the curves without stretching out the fabric. Try not to sew the pressed shoulder seam allowances down the wrong way. Now pin and stitch the other sleeve.

Trim the seam allowances and press them towards the sleeve, on both wrong and right sides of the fabric (ie. the inside and outside of the garment). You should end up with a crazy looking shape like the picture above. Cool man!

Sewing the underarm and side seams

Okey dokey, now we can sew the sides together – we’re going to sew in one straight line down each side from sleeve to hem.

Place the front bodice on top of the back bodice, right sides together. Pin together the underarm and side seams, starting at the points where the sleeves meet the bodice, then matching the notches and pinning the rest of the seam. This time, rather than pinning perpendicular to the edges, insert the pins directly along the stitching line, ie. parallel to and 15mm (5/8”) from the raw edges - now you can go try your Coco on and have a look in the mirror. Happy with the placement of the side seams? Great! If you’d like it tighter or looser, whether all the way down the seams or at certain points, put it on inside out and reposition the pins.

Once you’re happy with the side seams, you can either draw in the seam lines along the line of pins, using a chalk pencil or washable pen; or you can trim down the raw edges so they are 15mm (5/8 in) away from the pins; or you can simply use the line of pins as a guide to follow when sewing. But before you do that, if you’re sewing the top version, mark the top of the side split (the small circle marking) with two pins to remind you to stop sewing when you reach that point.

When you’re ready to sew, you can use a straight stitch here if you like because this part of the garment and grain of the fabric shouldn’t be very stretchy. Stitch each side seam from the end of the sleeve to either the hemline of the dress or the side split marking on the top, pivoting at the point where the sleeve meets the bodice, and back tacking securely at either end. (Pivoting allows you to turn a corner cleanly – with the needle pushed down through the fabric to hold it in place, raise the presser foot, and turn the fabric so the line you want to sew is directly in front of the needle. Lower the presser foot, then continue sewing.)

Trim the seam allowances down to 10mm (3/8 in) and press them open with the iron. A sleeve board, seam roll or even just a rolled up towel can be handy for pressing the sleeve seam open without pressing a crease into the sleeve. If you’re making the top version, press the side splits open too.

For the top version – Stitch the side splits

If you’re making the top, let’s finish those side splits. With the right side facing up, and the raw edges of the side splits still pressed under, we’re going to topstitch around each side split 5mm (1/4 in) from the edge. With your sewing machine on the straight stitch, begin stitching at the hem, using a 5mm (1/4 in) seam allowance, back tacking, and sewing up one side of the split to 5mm (1/4 in) above the split. Pivot the fabric, and sew horizontally across the top of the split for 10mm (1/2 in). Pivot again, sew back down the other side of the split and back tack to secure. The picture above shows you the direction of stitching. Repeat on the other side split. Tip for sewing with a 5mm seam allowance – use the side or another point on your presser foot as a guide (measure it first to find which point is 5mm away from the needle).

And that’s it for today! In the next post, we’ll finish the sleeves and sew the hem... (And if you need to catch up, all the posts will remain on the Coco page.)