Sunday, 25 November 2012

Goldilocks and the Great Sleeve Mystery

This has intrigued me for a while. At exhibitions I keep seeing dresses from the 1950s and 1960s where the bodice and sleeve are cut as a single piece. The shoulder seam extends down the sleeve, and there is a separate piece set into the underarm. This appears on evening and day dresses, and both the ‘inspiration’ dresses for my Vegas Night dress have it, so clearly it was a common feature of the time.

One-piece sleeves on an assortment of dresses

I can understand the purpose that the underarm piece serves. If the sleeve and bodice are cut out as a single piece with the sleeve sloping down, it is impossible for the wearer to raise their arms. If the sleeve and bodice are cut out as a single piece with the sleeve at right angles to the bodice, the garment will pull at the neck when the arms are lowered because there is not enough fabric to go over the shoulder.

The gusset enables the one-piece bodice and sleeve to imitate the effect of a set-in sleeve, which is shaped to allow the arm to be raised or lowered.

How a set-in sleeve allows arm movement

Despite its apparent widespread use, this type of sleeve construction doesn’t appear in any of my vintage patterns; they all have set-in sleeves. So, I turned to my pattern drafting books, and this is where the Goldilocks reference comes in.

 Winifred Aldrich’s Metric Pattern Cutting is a standard textbook for a number of fashion and design courses. Unfortunately it only covers set-in sleeves; there was nothing on this type of sleeve at all.

“Dress Pattern Designing” and “More Dress Pattern Designing”, both by Natalie Bray, were published in the early 1960s.

Natalie Bray's 1960s pattern drafting books

I love just looking through them, as they have wonderful line drawings of the various styles of the time, and how to draft them from the basic blocks.

Various bodice styles, and how to draft them

From “More Dress Pattern Designing”, I discovered that the style I’m looking for is called the “Kimono Block”. The block and its variations are covered in depth, and while I definitely want to go back and read this properly sometime, it was a bit too much depth for what I need just now.

Finally I turned to Hilary Campbell’s Designing Patterns.

Not too little, not too much

This was recommended on a three-day pattern drafting course I went on earlier in the year. With clear diagrams and concise instructions for the kimono block it was, like Baby Bear's chair, porridge and bed, just right. We created our basic bodice and patterns on the course using this book, and armed with those I was able to draft my own front and back kimono blocks and of course the mysterious underarm gusset piece.

Drafting the kimono front block

The next step is the toile, and the complex-looking task of setting in the gusset.

No comments:

Post a Comment