Isabella d'Este by Rubens
copy of a lost 1529 portrait by Titian
The Lovely Italian Puff Sleeve
by Lady Fortune St KeyneIllustrations brought to you by MS Paint and the number 1997
The basic sleeve consists of 3 pieces:
- Puff – fashion fabric
- Lower Sleeve - fashion fabric
- Lining – I recommend silk or at least a satin weave here, as a lining fabric
(The lining gives everything structure, under no circumstances skip the lining, you will be sad)
The easiest shortcut is to take a modern sleeve pattern that fits you and draft the puff and lower sleeve from that pattern. If you want to be a cool kid draft your own sleeve lining from your measurements.
- Pro-Tip: I usually hold a tape measure up to my shoulder and allow it to droop around my elbow to get the length.
- If you are doing the shirred or puckered version of this sleeve cap add even more width.
2. The Lower Sleeve – the lower half of the sleeve lining pattern measuring from elbow to cuff. Add seam allowance to the top measurement.
- Pro-Tip: If embellishing the lower sleeve you may want to add a light canvas layer, or if using silk a layer of flannel as an interlining to give the fabric more body. You’d be amazed the difference it makes, this is how they make really nice silk drapes.
- Do these embellishments before sewing, and if using flannel baste it to the fashion fabric layer so they act as one, then cut off the flannel from the seam allowance to reduce bulk.
3. The Lining – it’s lining! Make sure you have enough ease (extra space) for your chemise/camicia, as you’ll need to stuff that bad boy down in there.
- Prepping the Puff – sew two gathering rows of basting stitches set as long as my machine will allow and tie off the ends together. Pull gently and gather into the top of the lower portion of the sleeve. Keep this as even as possible.
- Sew the Puff and the lower sleeve together at the gathering. Do it again when you realize you left your machine set to basting stitches. Refuse to feel alone as literally everyone has done this.
- Sew the outer sleeve in a malformed tube. “It’s ok tube,” you say, “I love you.”
- Sew into a tube! This will not be malformed, and you will love it no more or less.
Sewing it all together – Here we have a choice, like Robert Frost in the wood, you can take the Hardcore option or the OMG I HAVE TO WEAR THIS IN LIKE 2 HOURS (OMGIHWTL2H) Option.
1. Take your two tubes which you love very much and nest them within each other with right sides together. Pin at the seam allowance, pin at the top of the sleeve head and about a quarter of the way up each side from the seam.
- You don’t want to fully pleat your armscye, the extra fabric under the arm will become uncomfortable.
- I use inverted box pleats, I think that lends enough volume to the top of the puff. If you want to turn up the volume or have a lot of excess to pleat in you may want to use stacked box pleats.
- Another option I’ve used is an inverted box pleat at the top and knife pleats down each side in opposite directions.
***See the end of the post for examples of pleats***
3. Sew the pleats down, invert the tubes so they are right sides out and press slightly around the armscye, this will help later as you are hand sewing it and also helps set the pleats. Also press
the seam allowance of the cuff inside on the outer fabric and the lining and iron this down.
- Try the sleeve on. Realistically imagine stuffing the gorgeous huge sleeves of your camicia into them. Determine to make new camicia with tighter sleeves. Someday.
4. Hand sew the cuffs closed and hand sew the sleeve head to the armscye leaving the bottom of the sleeve open where the fabric is not pleated for side –lacing dresses.
5. At the joint of the outer sleeve, stitch by hand using the backstitch to attach the lining and the outer sleeve together. This will prevent the sleeve from drooping.
DING! Sleeves are done!
Now, how to cheat at it because it’s late and you promise in your heart of hearts to do it right later. (Later never comes gentle reader, be wary!)
The OMGIHWTL2H Option –
- Take your two tubes which you love very much and nest them within each other with right sides together. Align the seams at the cuff and sew.
- Invert your sleeve so the wrong sides are together. Pin at the seam allowance, pin at the top of the sleeve head and about a quarter of the way up each side from the seam.
- Starting at the center pin at the sleeve head pleat the excess fabric to the lining.
- Sew the pleats down using a smaller seam allowance than usual. If you usually use a 5/8” seam allowance, use a ½”, if you usually use ½” use ¼”. This will keep these stitches hidden when you attach the sleeve.
- Sew the sleeve head to the armscye leaving the bottom of the sleeve open where the fabric is not pleated for side lacing dresses.
- Hopefully you serged your fabric and the serged edges will be hidden under your arm. There is no pretty way to do this quickly, you can either sew the edges over or pin the raw edges in to each other and top stitch the unpleated section.
6. At the joint of the outer sleeve, stitch by hand using the backstitch to attach the lining and the outer sleeve together. This will prevent the sleeve from drooping.
- Or use a safety pin on the inside of your elbow. Again, with the promise to do it right later.
- You can try to do this by machine using the “stitch in the ditch” method, I find it easier to control by hand.
Ding! Dress is done!
And pretty as a portrait!
All of these except the rolled pleats are great options here.