Adjust a Pattern and Sew a Bolero Vest with a Back Pleat and Roll-up Sleeves
A friend has purchased a laced skirt to wear for an upcoming wedding and wants an unlined bolero vest with back pleat and 3/4 roll-up sleeves to wear with the skirt.
Author's note: This article uses the yardage system of measure. If you use the metric system, the process and pictures will still help you.
- Get Some Measurements
- The Pattern: Use What You Have
- Shopping for Fabric
- Copying and Adjusting the Pattern Pieces (CAPP)
- CAPP: Armhole Adjustments
- CAPP: Adapting the Sleeve Pattern
- CAPP: The Vest Bodice Length
- Preparing the Fabric
- The Cutting Layout
- The Back Pleat
- Preparing Simple Pockets
- Preparing and Sewing the Sleeves
- Sewing and Finishing the Armhole
- Finishing the Vest's Edge
Get Some Measurements
The breast measure is the girth around the fullest part of the chest. I measured the shoulder from the bodice-to-sleeve seam at the left shoulder to the same seam at the right shoulder. The back drop is measured from the back of the neck to the line parallel to the waist where the wearer wants the length to end. Because a 3/4-roll up sleeve is desired, the sleeve length is necessary and goes from the top of the shoulder to the wearer's desired length (unrolled).
The Pattern: Use What You Have
Patterns no longer cost $3 or $5; they're starting at $8 in these times, so I save old patterns and adjust them as needed.
Tip: Check consignment craft stores, thrift stores, and yard sales for old patterns. Usually these will be minimally priced or even free. Watch for sales on patterns; often these need to be cleared at year-end--or draft your own using packing or pattern paper.
Author's note: It has been many years since I took a pattern drafting class in San Francisco, but the main tenant of the design instructor was "the fabric does whatever you design it to do." He always allowed an extra 1/4" to body measurements for ease.
Sleeve and bodice patterns are basic, and I happened to have two Simplicity patterns that I could use with only minor adjustments (see two photos below).
This pattern's "medium" happens to be for a 38" bust measure, fairly close to the actual required measurement of 40". Since the front of the vest will be open when worn, the only adjustments I need make are for the desired length, black pleat, and sleeve.
Shopping for Fabric
The abundance and variety of fabrics today are amazing relative to what was available to our ancestors, who often had to weave their own fabric from cotton, flax, or wool. Silk was a rare luxury. Lace back then was hand tatted and very expensive relative to the times.
Below is a closeup of the fabric we chose. It's a yard and a half* of 55-inch-wide material. The design motif compliments that in the skirt with the circular shapes, and the white is neither too dark (like ecru or eggshell) nor too light--what a fortunate find!
*Author's note: I estimated the yardage from the recommended allowance from the vest pattern instructions (7/8 yard), rounded the figure up (1 yard), plus 1/2 yard for sleeves.
This particular fabric came as a 48 1/2 width, so I had a little additional fabric with which to work.
Tip: When a yardage guide isn't available, estimate square inches and divide by 1,584 (number of square inches in a yard of 44"W fabric). This gives you the needed number of yards. Convert decimals to larger, nearest quarter or half yard. Add an additional 1/4 yard to allow for error.
Copying and Adjusting the Pattern Pieces (CAPP)
I want to keep the original patterns as they are, so I need to transfer them to packaging paper that I have before making any pattern adjustments.
To get the creases out of the pattern and packaging papers, so I can work with them, I set the iron on acetate (2) and then iron the paper pieces so they're flat and smooth.
CAPP: Armhole Adjustments
I hadn't noticed the armholes were too big until after I cut out the pattern. (The pattern was not designed for sleeves.) So, I need to adjust the vest front and back bodice so that the top of the sleeve and the entire armhole will meet. Puffed sleeves were not requested, so the measure of the vest's armhole and the measure of the sleeve's armhole curve need to be the same.
I adjusted BOTH the sleeve and the vest's armhole after checking the armhole measurement on the commercially sewn jacket my friend had given me. I made the vest's armhole slightly smaller by slitting the vest's armhole on the undersides of both front and back bodice pieces, then turning turning them at an acute angle (see photo below).
CAPP: Adapting the Sleeve Pattern
In adapting the sleeve, I concerned myself with two things: 1) comfortable arm fit, and 2) sufficient length for a roll-up sleeve. The arm-length measurement is important here.
What I constructed with scissors and scotch tape is below. When making adjustments, I mainly try to make my cuts parallel (for widening) or perpendicular (for lengthening) to the grain line on the pattern.
To widen the sleeve, fold the sleeve from top to bottom, in half. Cut along the creased fold and separate the two pieces until the vest and sleeve armholes have the same measure. The space between the two new pieces should be the same all the way down for the new sleeve pattern (see below).
The width of the separation between the sleeve pieces is needed for the vest armhole and top sleeve curve to be the same. The width also happens to be closer to that of to the commercial top's sleeve width that already fits my friend.
Tip: One way to check whether a sleeve pattern is compatible with your vest pattern is to place a string along the sleeve's armhole curve and then the vest's. The lengths should be the same. If not, adjust the pattern pieces as necessary.
CAPP: The Vest Bodice Length
When adjusting for pattern length, remember to include a 5/8" seam allowance at the top AND bottom.
Preparing the Fabric
Author's note: I always wash commercial fabric before working with it. This accomplishes two things: 1) reduces shrinkage of cotton and other natural fabrics after sewing, and 2) removes any fireproofing residue which may have been used to treat the fabric. In washing fabrics off the bolt, I use cold water, one cup white vinegar for a full top-loading washer, and a mild soap. The white vinegar is useful as a cleaning booster while protecting color.
The Cutting Layout
Usually, there are at least a couple of possibilities for any pattern cutting layout, depending on the width of the fabric.The important thing is to line the pattern pieces so the grain of the fabric follows the pull of gravity when the garment is finally sewn and worn. Occasionally, if the weave and design are balanced, a piece can be cut on the cross grain. Curves cut across the bias of the fabric.
Above right is a suggestion for the bodice and pocket of the original vest pattern.
Tip: With experience, you can eventually learn to fold the fabric so just enough width is available to cut a pattern piece. In this way, you can cut out pieces one at a time while adjusting the width for each required piece. This method allows for greater areas of the fabric to remain in tact, which can be quite useful for future projects.
The Back Pleat
Once all the pieces are cut, the first thing that should be sewn is the back pleat. In using the commercial jacket as a model, I decide that a 3" pleat will suffice.
Because the pleat uses a double layer of fabric, I have to allow at least 6" in the middle of the back bodice, but I also need a little extra fabric for my friend's slightly larger-than-pattern build, so arbitrarily allow 12" (2 X 6" = 12")*.
* A smaller width allowance in the actual cutting would have sufficed, i.e. 3" X 2" + 1/2 shoulder width difference.
I measure and mark for the position and length of the dart that will form the pleat. Click on the thumbnail pictures to see how I formed the pleat.
Preparing Simple Pockets
The pocket pattern needs no adjustment and are optional. I envisioned this vest with pockets and thought it would be nice to have a place to carrying some facial tissue, as weddings are often occasions for tears of joy!
Click on the thumbnail photos (below) to see how I made the pockets and read the instructional captions.
Edge stitch the pocket onto the vest front with a straight stitch. A back stitch at the beginning and end of the pocket top helps secure the edges. SEW THE SSIDES AND BOTTOM ONLY! The top of the pocket has to be left open.
Once the pocket is sewn, three small stitches can be used to secure the top flap to the inside of the pocket.
Now that the pleat and pocket details are finished, the fronts and back can be sewn together at the shoulders, then the sides.
Preparing and Sewing the Sleeves
With the main part of the bodice together, the sleeves can now be constructed.
Author's note: The arm pattern is placed on two-layers of fabric along the grain, either the fabric faces right sides together or insides together--it doesn't matter, as long as mirror images result upon cutting.
With right sides together of one sleeve, sew the under seam with a straight stitch. Do the same for the other arm. If no serger is available, fold the edges of the seam in half and zigzag just the seam so the fold is secured.
Below is a picture of a finished seam.
Next, I create the cuffs so the sleeves can be folded back. I first press 1/8" edge of the cuff toward the inside so no raw edge will show. Then, I measure 4" for the cuff and secure this with a blind hem stitch.
The following video demonstrates a blind hem stitch by a left-handed seamstress. Although, the video is eight minutes long, the technique can be grasped in the first few minutes of the presentation.
Basically, the blind hem is somewhat similar to a running stitch, only the needle alternates between the two layers of fabric being joined. Also, as the seamstress explains, only a few threads of the outer fabric are caught by the needle so stitches are nearly invisible on the outside of the garment when being worn. A larger chunk of fabric can be caught on the inside edge of the hem.
Sewing and Finishing the Armhole
If the pattern does not have notches and double notches to match the sleeves to the bodice, you can tell which is the right sleeve or left generally by the length of the curve when the sleeve is flat. The back curve of the arm will be slightly larger than the front.
Match the sleeves and pin baste them to the vest's armhole. The right side of the bodice and the right side of the sleeve will be together.
Tip: When notches and dots are not marked, find the midpoints of the armhole and sleeve with straight pins, then the quarter points. Match the coinciding pins and re-pin to secure the pieces for sewing.
Once the sleeves are sewn onto the bodice, the armhole seams can be finished. I did this by clipping one side of a seam to 1/8" inch and folding the wider, unclipped seam over the clipped one (two photos below).
This trim-fold-and-zigzag method gets applied to both sides of the armhole seam for both armholes.
Finishing the Vest's Edge
The only raw edge remaining runs entirely around the vest. Start at the center back and work either clockwise or counter-clockwise, as desired.
Press 1/8" to the inside, then turn again--this time, 1/4". Secure with a blind hem stitch as demonstrated above in the video.
© 2014 Marie Flint