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Adjust a Pattern and Sew a Bolero Vest with a Back Pleat and Roll-up Sleeves

Updated on July 7, 2016

The Goal

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

Breast
Shoulder
Back Drop
Sleeve Length
40 inches
16 inches
15 inches
13 inches
These are the measures of the lady who'll be wearing the vest. The measures will be compared to the pattern measurements to determine what adjustments will be necessary.

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).

The vest pattern is very basic, without a sleeve or back pleat, and has cutting lines for women's sizes petite, small and medium.
The vest pattern is very basic, without a sleeve or back pleat, and has cutting lines for women's sizes petite, small and medium.

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.

This is the Simplicity sleeve #8606 (women's 10 or medium). Some adjustments will need to be made because the vest pattern wasn't designed for a sleeve.
This is the Simplicity sleeve #8606 (women's 10 or medium). Some adjustments will need to be made because the vest pattern wasn't designed for a 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.

The circular motif in the fabric (upper) parallels the smaller circles in the skirt (lower). The fabric retailed for $16.99/yard, and a  Joann's 40% discount coupon brought the purchase down to $15.29 before tax.
The circular motif in the fabric (upper) parallels the smaller circles in the skirt (lower). The fabric retailed for $16.99/yard, and a Joann's 40% discount coupon brought the purchase down to $15.29 before tax.

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.

Cutting the vest pattern will ruin the instructions, so I use a sliding door as a light window to trace the Simplicity vest pattern onto packaging paper that I had saved.  That's  a felt-tipped pen in my hand.
Cutting the vest pattern will ruin the instructions, so I use a sliding door as a light window to trace the Simplicity vest pattern onto packaging paper that I had saved. That's a felt-tipped pen in my hand. | Source
The vest pattern I had traced. The sleeve still needs to be traced and adjusted.
The vest pattern I had traced. The sleeve still needs to be traced and adjusted.

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).

Clipped, slightly rotated, and taped armhole undersides of the front and back bodices so they fit.
Clipped, slightly rotated, and taped armhole undersides of the front and back bodices so they fit.

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).

I secure the two armhole pieces with scotch tape--top and behind, so tape doesn't stick to the fabric during cutting.
I secure the two armhole pieces with scotch tape--top and behind, so tape doesn't stick to the fabric during cutting.

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.

Here the pieces are cut, and  I need to be sure the armhole and sleeve top measures are the same. Front and back bodices are overlapped at what will be the 5/8" seam.
Here the pieces are cut, and I need to be sure the armhole and sleeve top measures are the same. Front and back bodices are overlapped at what will be the 5/8" seam.

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.

Here I've adjusted the vest front and back pattern pieces for length. Note the cut for the back (left) lined up with the original pattern's waistline. The front, however, required a fold just below the armhole and parallel to the  bottom edge
Here I've adjusted the vest front and back pattern pieces for length. Note the cut for the back (left) lined up with the original pattern's waistline. The front, however, required a fold just below the armhole and parallel to the bottom edge

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.

Ironing the fabric so it's nice and flat when I go to cut out the pattern. This happens to be an embroidered cotton, so my iron setting is 4.
Ironing the fabric so it's nice and flat when I go to cut out the pattern. This happens to be an embroidered cotton, so my iron setting is 4.
One possible layout for just the bodice pieces and pocket.
One possible layout for just the bodice pieces and pocket.

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.


My layout for the front of the vest.
My layout for the front of the vest.

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.

I  need to adjust the layout of my vest's back pattern to create a pleat similar to the one on this commercial jacket.
I need to adjust the layout of my vest's back pattern to create a pleat similar to the one on this commercial jacket.

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")*.

*Author's note: This was actually a miscalculation. A smaller width allowance in the actual cutting would have sufficed, i.e. 3" X 2" + 1/2 shoulder width difference. However, this all worked out as the creative process unfolded.

The layout of the back bodice with extra allowance for the pleat along the fold of the fabric.
The layout of the back bodice with extra allowance for the pleat along the fold of the fabric.

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
I have to allow 8" (2X8""=16", the shoulder width)  plus seam allowance to the point where the center back dart will be. Total length, then, to the dart's seam from the shoulder's edge is 8 5/8".Like the commercial jacket dart, I allow 5 1/2" (plus seam allowance) for the length of the dart.After sewing the dart, open the fabric evenly and secure to inside back. Use a long basting stitch along the edge of the pleat's top to hold it into place.
I have to allow 8" (2X8""=16", the shoulder width)  plus seam allowance to the point where the center back dart will be. Total length, then, to the dart's seam from the shoulder's edge is 8 5/8".
I have to allow 8" (2X8""=16", the shoulder width) plus seam allowance to the point where the center back dart will be. Total length, then, to the dart's seam from the shoulder's edge is 8 5/8".
Like the commercial jacket dart, I allow 5 1/2" (plus seam allowance) for the length of the dart.
Like the commercial jacket dart, I allow 5 1/2" (plus seam allowance) for the length of the dart.
After sewing the dart, open the fabric evenly and secure to inside back. Use a long basting stitch along the edge of the pleat's top to hold it into place.
After sewing the dart, open the fabric evenly and secure to inside back. Use a long basting stitch along the edge of the pleat's top to hold it into place.
The pleat is centered, pressed, and secured with a basting stitch where the pleat and edge of neck meet.
The pleat is centered, pressed, and secured with a basting stitch where the pleat and edge of neck meet.

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
I use a small zigzag, edge stitch to secure the top of the pocket.Press the 5/8 seam allowances along the sides and bottom toward the inside of the pocket.Finally turn the one inch of the pocket's down and press. When both pockets are done, they are ready to place on the vest fronts.
I use a small zigzag, edge stitch to secure the top of the pocket.
I use a small zigzag, edge stitch to secure the top of the pocket.
Press the 5/8 seam allowances along the sides and bottom toward the inside of the pocket.
Press the 5/8 seam allowances along the sides and bottom toward the inside of the pocket.
Finally turn the one inch of the pocket's down and press. When both pockets are done, they are ready to place on the vest fronts.
Finally turn the one inch of the pocket's down and press. When both pockets are done, they are ready to place on the vest fronts.
Pin the pocket onto the vest front. Measure where the pocket edges fall from the side and bottom so the pockets are placed the same.
Pin the pocket onto the vest front. Measure where the pocket edges fall from the side and bottom so the pockets are placed the same.

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.

Sewing a front to the vest back with a 5/8" seam
Sewing a front to the vest back with a 5/8" seam

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.

The finished, folded seam using just a zigzag stitch.
The finished, folded seam using just a zigzag stitch.

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.

Here I'm securing the folded cuff with a blind hem stitch.
Here I'm securing the folded cuff 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.

These are my finished sleeves, ready for sewing onto the vest's bodice.
These are my finished sleeves, ready for sewing onto the vest's bodice.

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.

Here I'm matching the top of the sleeve to the vest's armhole.
Here I'm matching the top of the sleeve to the vest's armhole.

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.

Sewing the armhole with a straight stitch and 5/8" seam allowance.
Sewing the armhole with a straight stitch and 5/8" seam allowance.

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).

Clipping one side of the armhole seam to 1/8".
Clipping one side of the armhole seam to 1/8".
Folding the wider armhole seam over the trimmed one and securing with straight pins. Then, I finished the seam with a zigzag stitch.
Folding the wider armhole seam over the trimmed one and securing with straight pins. Then, I finished the seam with a zigzag stitch.

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.

Folding the final edge of the vest.
Folding the final edge of the vest.
Click thumbnail to view full-size
The finished bolero vest with sleeves unrolled.My friend wearing her vest showing back pleat.
The finished bolero vest with sleeves unrolled.
The finished bolero vest with sleeves unrolled.
My friend wearing her vest showing back pleat.
My friend wearing her vest showing back pleat.

© 2014 Marie Flint

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    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 2 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      I took about four leisurely days to finish this vest, and I had some concern about the armholes when I was finished, but the original vest pattern with my minor adjustment worked fine.

      I'm a self-taught sewing hobbyist. My mother didn't sew, but my paternal grandmother did, and she taught me a few little things about pattern marking with needle and thread.

      Immediately after high school (I took no Home-Economics classes), I sewed my own maid-of-honor dress for my best friend's wedding. I was a pastel dotted Swiss fabric, and the pattern had a sharp V (upside down) angle at the center front bodice.

      The bolero vest in this article worked out well (as you can see in the last thumbnail photo), and I was very pleased with the result.

      If you decide to make a similar vest and have questions, please let me know. I'll do my best to answer.

      Blessings!

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 2 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      P.S. I apologize for the wrinkled appearance of my pattern pieces. In the process of making the vest, I was more engaged in the actual construction and sewing than I was in taking pictures, so many of the pattern pieces were folded and put away, then pulled out again to take the pictures. Believe me, they WERE ironed flat when I worked with them! If I decide to edit this hub in the future, I may try pulling the pattern pieces out again for a second photo shoot, but that won't be for a while--it was enough just organizing the information I had. (Amen!)

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 2 years ago

      Very interesting and intricate details. I don’t usually give an “Awesome” vote on a hub. At one time I was an expert seamstress, so I feel qualified to rate this one “awesome”. My grandmother taught me to sew on her old treadle Singer. My mother furthered my lessons, then I took two years of home economics in high school. All that was fortunate because by the time I reached teen-age years, only child sizes fit me. As an adult, my first husband didn’t allow me to buy clothes, so I would sneak fabric purchases out of the grocery money to sew for myself and the children.

      I have had to alter many a pattern or improvise as you did. Using the sliding door as a light box is ingenious -- gosh, I wish I’d thought of that. I rarely sew anymore because fabric has gotten so expensive that I can buy nice clothes on clearance for less. I still have a whole drawer full of patterns that I’m keeping, and I may use them again when I retire. I regret disposing of several boxes full of patterns because I considered them out of style. Now I know that what goes around comes around.

      You were meticulous with the vest and with the hub. Keep them coming.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 2 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Oh, thank you, MizBeejabers! You and I will have to compare our pattern drawers. I have some little girl dress patterns because I love sewing for little girls--all the ruffles, laces, etc. The little ones look so lovely in them.

      I sewed many of my own clothes when I was in college. I even got a compliment from a professor once that I was better dressed than everyone else. Campus life does lend to the practicality of durable blue jeans.

      After that, I sewed clothes for my two daughters. In between clothing projects, quilting became a natural expression because of all the fabric scraps I had collected from the skirts and blouses.

      I tried sewing men's clothes, too. I had some luck with a Western-style shirt for my brother, and a shirt for my then husband. Men's slacks, however, were sorely inadequate when it came to pocket symmetry. I'd probably be better at it today.

      I appreciate your taking the time to get through this rather lengthy hub. Only someone who can appreciate the details involved in sewing can stand to read it (ha! ha!).

      Because of its practicality and inventiveness, I do think this hub will last awhile. There's a lot of information in it.

      Thank you so much for the "Awesome" and blessings!

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 2 years ago

      Men's clothes, yes, I did a few attempts for my then-husband. It seems like everything I sewed for him went out of style as quickly as it came in. I made him a great-looking white cotton cord Nehru jacket. Then do you remember those pants that had outside patch pockets and the front placket had buttons that buttoned through the top of the placket instead of a zipper underneath? I made him a pair out of dark blue corduroy, and the first time he wore them, he drank too much beer (as usual). In his haste to get them open in the bathroom, he ripped the buttons off, so that was the end of that. Just no appreciation, ha!

      I have made a few men's shirts, and I think they were for Mr. B but I haven't made one in years. A friend of mine had a local tailor give her some pointers, and she made his suits while they were in college and he was preaching at a little church. That goes beyond my patience.

    • Writer Fox profile image

      Writer Fox 2 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      You're so talented! I love your photos with this article; they add so much to understanding how to make a vest. Voted up!

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 2 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Thank you, Writer Fox. I especially appreciate the vote.

      I have more sewing hubs planned, but they will be slow in the making. This one did take a considerable length of time, as I felt I had a kind of deadline because if the vest didn't fit properly, my friend would have needed extra time to try to find another solution. I am grateful that my intuition in the process worked out to her benefit. Undoubtedly, I had guidance from on high for this one.

      Blessings!

    • profile image

      Salsa 2 years ago

      thanks for the post, it took me some time to decide bweeten these and the felt laptop sleeves from hard graft. In the end I went for a hard graft design for the muted colour scheme and attention to detail. Mark.

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