This post is part tutorial and part cautionary tale. I am not a hand-sewing or doll-costuming expert. I merely share with you the hard-won lessons I have learned by making a multitude of mistakes, perhaps helping you to have a smoother sewing journey.
There are easy ways to set in sleeves on tiny doll costumes. This is not one of them.
Several months ago, I challenged myself to make a coat/dress for a 7″ all bisque doll inspired by this 1885 child’s garment in the Metropolitan Museum. It has two-piece sleeves. You can see the seam at the front of the sleeve in the photo. There’s another seam in the back.
I’ve been procrastinating over the sleeves for my little doll. But last week, I decided that I really needed to get them done.
Coat sleeves in the 19th century and even most modern ones are made in two parts, similar to the sleeves I made on my Huret’s wool jacket. On a 17″ (43 cm) doll, this was not a big problem. But I have never set coat sleeves on a really tiny doll before. Never.
For my 7″ (18 cm) doll, I was afraid that two seams in the wool sleeve would be too bulky. I found a pattern from La Poupee Modele that had only one offset seam. From the front, it looks like a two-piece sleeve, but without the added bulk.
(I apologize for the busy background on some of the photos in this post. I was so focussed and frustrated that I just took the photos on my ottoman instead of getting up to take them with my usual setup.)
When setting a simple, one-piece sleeve on a tiny doll garment, the sleeve has one seam that lines up with the underarm seam on the garment. The easiest way to handle it is to set the sleeve in the armscye with the side seam open and then sew the side seam and the sleeve seam in one long seam. I will show you how to do this easy sleeve in an upcoming tutorial.
To set in coat sleeves, you must sew the garment side seams, finish the armscye, sew the sleeve seam(s), finish the sleeve head, then sew the finished sleeve into the finished armscye.
This is what my first attempt looked like. It was way too bulky.
And the hem wasn’t smooth and caught on the doll’s fingers.
I made the sleeve by sewing the lining and wool together at the seam, then I turned under the top edge and basted it down. The hem was just turned up and whip stitched to the lining. I tried to ease the sleeve top into the armscye as I sewed it in.
When I got this far, I swore that I wasn’t going to take it apart. The capelet on the coat would cover my sins. It won’t matter…
But after a couple of days cooling off, I decided to try to do better.
First, I finished the armscye (like I showed you in Beginning Hand Sewing for Dolls Part 6).
Here’s the inside.
For the sleeve, I sewed the top edge, wrong sides together and turned up and basted the hem.
I turned it to the right side and pressed it. This made the top of the sleeve less bulky.
I turned under the bottom edge of the lining and stitched it over the inside of the hem and pressed it. This made a much smoother, less bulky finish than Attempt #1.
I stitched the sleeve seam closed and whip stitched the edges to the lining. Next, I stitched a line of gathering stitches at the top edge of the sleeve and stitched it to the armscye, easing it into the opening as I went. This was very tricky and tedious work.
I think it looks pretty good and it fits better over the doll’s hand.
Even after steam pressing the sleeve, it is still a little puckery in the back. But, I AM NOT REDOING THIS SLEEVE!
Hopefully, I’ll get better at this when I redo the other sleeve. I’ll let you know.
I love to challenge myself. That’s why I decided to make this garment with it’s tricky sleeves in the first place. Now I’ve done it. And I don’t think I need to EVER do it again.