How to Make A Dress Part 10: Sewing the Front to the Back and Setting the Sleeves

Now that you have the back half of the dress made you can attach it to the front.

How to Sew the Shoulder Seams
First we'll start with the shoulder seams. Sometimes the back shoulder seam allowance is longer than the front one. It is so that the fabric shapes better to the curve of the upper back. The extra is taken up with a dart or with easing. In this example we shall use easing; it is less noticeable than a dart.

On the back shoulder seam allowance, right next to the stitching line, sew some hand running stitches. Make sure that you don't sew gathering stitches in the armscye and neckline seam allowances.

Pin the Back to the Front at the start and end of the running stitches, keeping the raw edges even. Then pull up the running stitches so that the back shoulder is flat against the front shoulder. Wrap the thread end in a figure 8 around the nearest pin to hold it drawn.

Even out the easing and pin. It is a good idea to baste as well. Now sew the seam with the eased fabric against the feed dogs. Press flat, then press open and neaten the raw edges with a zigzag stitch or with your serger/overlocker if you have one. If you neaten the seam allowances together, press them towards the front of the garment so that the seam will be less conspicuous when the garment is worn. Repeat for the other shoulder.

How to Sew the Side Seams
This bit is easy. Just match the raw edges and sew from the bottom to the armscye. Press flat, press open, and neaten. If you neaten the seam allowances together, press them towards the front of the dress so that the seam won't show as much when the dress is worn.

How to Ease the Sleeve Caps the Easy Way
When I was doing my first course in dressmaking I had to set a sleeve. I had printed the pattern out and it had no notches which didn't help. I passed, but I would have preferred to get a Distinction rather than a Merit. If I had known the technique I'm going to show you now, easing in the sleeve caps evenly (i.e. without puckers) would have been a lot easier and a lot quicker. : ) (BTW. I got this from Sandra Betzina's book POWER SEWING, available in my Amazon Store.)

It is easier if you do it before sewing up the sleeve seams, i.e. work with the sleeve flat. I didn't, as you can see in the video of machine ease-stitching, or as Sandra Betzina calls it, super-staystitching:

Starting at the first notch, put the sleeve under the presser foot. Backstitch to secure. Put your finger behind the presser foot and push it towards you as you sew.When there is to much fabric (and you will know when) bunched up behind it, let that fabric go and start pushing again. Do this until you get to the other notch. Then backstitch and remove your fabric. As you can see at the end of the video this shapes the sleeve somewhat.

Now you can sew the sleeve seam, keeping the raw edges even. Press and neaten as for the rest of the dress (see above). Repeat for the other sleeve.

How to Hem the Sleeves
The sleeve in this pattern has a 1 1/4" (3cm) hem allowance. First fold up the hem allowance the full amount (3cm) and pin. Then turn under the raw edge 1/4" (6mm), leaving 1" visible. Check as you go with your sewing gauge or ruler. Pin.

On the seam allowance, secure your thread with a few backstitches on top of each other, as in the top photo. Then take a stitch in the hem allowance about 1/4" long. Bring the needle through, then take a stitch of only one thread in the sleeve. Repeat until you have gone full circle. Then secure your thread as you did at the beginning. Repeat for the other sleeve. Now you can set the sleeves.

How to Set (insert) the Sleeves
With the dress inside-out and the sleeve RS-out, put one sleeve into it's armhole, matching the notches and matching the top of the sleeve which is also indicated by a notch with the top of the armhole, which is usually the shoulder seam, but sometimes a notch. (This is why the front has one notch, and the back has two notches: so that you get the sleeve in the right armhole.)

If the armhole is quite small, you will have to sew it in without using the free-arm because you won't fit the sleeve over the free-arm (unless perhaps you're using a Bernina which look to have nice narrow free-arms). If you are sewing baby clothes you will have to insert the sleeve in the flat (like they do with T-shirts) or by hand because the armhole is just too small.

The photo shows what it will look like when it is pinned in. It is a good idea to baste as well as this saves your pricking yourself too much. When you have done that, starting at the underarm seam (which you can see I have trimmed at an angle to reduce bulk) put the armscye under the presser foot with the bodice fabric against the feed-dogs (if you can use the free-arm, do - then you can have the sleeve fabric against the feed-dogs). Sew the seam, then sew again about 2mm or less away from the seam and in the seam allowance to strengthen the seam. Press. Do not press open. Trim the seam allowances to roughly 1/8" from the second line of stitching. Neaten the raw edge. I haven't done so yet in this photo, but used hand overcasting to neaten the edges.

Now turn the dress RS out with the sleeve sticking out of the armhole as it will look when you have finished. Press the seam with the seam allowance towards the sleeve. Repeat for the other sleeve and you are done!

Next week we'll apply the collar and the neckline facing. If there is time we may even add the bow as well.

I hope that helps!

Until next time, Happy Sewing!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner Haberdashery, 41 Market Place, Hornsea, East Yorkshire, HU18 1AP, UK

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