1833 Plaid Dress – Sleeves!

Museum of FIT – go big or go home!

The best part about early 1830s gowns, in my opinion, is the sleeves, of course! Big, huge, mega gigot sleeves are the primary identifier for this unique period of dress, so when recreating the look it’s a “go big or go home” situation.

Interestingly, there is quite a lot of variation in sleeve shapes in the ’30s. The Workwoman’s Guide has pattern shapes that run from slim to enormous, all accurate though not all the most fashionable. Abby patterned out the most extreme of the sleeve patterns and tested in muslin.

Of course we were all drawn to this wackadoodle circular pattern. It’s an ingenious design and a little tricky to wrap your head around at first. The “slice” forms both the forearm seam and the elbow-to-underarm seam, when opened out straight. Straightening the slice also causes the volume of the circle to tilt outwards, creating that huge volume we love.

We went with Figure 8 (resulting sleeve shape illustrated as Figure 7)

As with most sleeves in Workwoman’s Guide, these were cut on the bias by folding up a triangle of fabric a yard square and placing the pattern on the fold. I made a mistake at this point and cut both of my sleeves in the same direction (cutting plaid generally hurts my brain, and this was no exception), but as it turns out, several original gowns exhibit this f-up as well so I’m not freaking out about it too much. (I also 100% did not realize this until I was fully finished with the entire gown and was looking at it on my dress form. Oops!)

Making the triangle of fabric to cut the sleeve on.

Here is the sleeve opened up flat. Each sleeves take about a yard of fabric, so factor that in when buying your yardage!

One of the big questions the Gigot Girl Gang had while planning our projects was about lining and interlining sleeves. Many originals, including the green late ’20s silk gown in our collection, don’t have any sleeve lining at all, or they have a half-lining just at the top. (There is also one really weird gown from the Tasha Tudor collection interlined with cane) There is also commonly no interlining. Silk directly against the skin and no stiffening layer in the fabric seems counter-intuitive, but in making the sleeves the reasoning becomes a little clearer.

There is such a huge amount of volume in sleeve head that gathering it down into a relatively small armscye presents issues simply with fitting it all in. The sleeves are gathered all the way around rather than just on the top. Abby and I both lined with cotton voile and the added bulk was noticeable, so it makes sense that 1830s dressmakers would try to reduce this as much as possible. Pleating would help keep the slim profile but might compromise the poof-age of the top of the sleeves. It’s very much a give-and-take.

Lol Snuffle-upa-sleeve

When constructed but not set the sleeve doesn’t look all that big. You can see the pronounced elbow crook here. When this is on the arm, though, it take a quite different shape.

Originally I gathered the sleeve head and also 2 inches below that. This produced an upper arm band that is accurate and adds a dollop of texture to the bodice, but I ended up ripping out the extra band of stitching. Just that extra 2 inches greatly reduced the volume of my sleeves and visually dropped the shoulder quite a bit further. I didn’t hate the look, but it did throw off my intended early ’30s silhouette , so I removed the stitching and let fly the arm zeppelins of glory.

The sleeves when worn, with the top gathered. They look really good but it wasn’t really the look I was going for.

After the top gathering was released you can see how much more volume there is. This is the early ’30s shape I wanted, whoo!

When I reinstated the giganticnessessess of the sleeves, my sleeve plumpers were no longer big enough. Thankfully, Abby’s sleeve plumper pattern was ready to go (and you can download the PDF here) so I spent a couple hours patterning, constructing, and stuffing larger plumpers to fill out the larger sleeves.

Plumper before stuffing. Abby and I both made our plumpers out of glazed cotton and stuffed with down feathers. The glazing on the cotton was essential to keeping the feathers from poking through and wreaking havoc.

You’ve seen this photo before – the smaller plumper with the two larger ones behind.

A few more notes about the sleeves…

  • They are seamed together with the tailor’s method, which we diagrammed in The American Duchess Guide and which is also described in Workwoman’s Guide. It was very easy!
  • The sleeve seam, cuff, and armscye are all piped. It was infinitely easier to pipe the cuff while the sleeve was flat.
Pipe first, ask questions later.
  • The armscye has to be exactly right before setting in the sleeve. The 18th century method of fitting and setting sleeves deffo doesn’t work here! Once the armscye was correct, I piped it, then just shoved the sleeve in to cover the gathering stitch, and “stitched in the ditch” with a backstitch all the way around.
  • There is no left and right sleeve – hallelujah! But there is a very clear “crook” for the elbow, so the sleeve seam has to be in the right place where it joins the armscye.

Whew! That was *a lot* but I hope it made sense. The gown is now done so it’s time to move on the the millinery – a bonnet and a fluffy whitework canezou. More on these pieces coming up next…

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