Let’s start with an inspiring photo, shall we? My sister, Amanda Herbert, is an amazing and largely self-taught photographer. She came over at the weekend and agreed to snap some photos of my latest make in my back garden and then the uber-glamorous setting of Epping Forest. (Recognise it, Roobeedoo?!)
I thought we’d start with inspiration, because the rest of this post will be about technique, patience, challenges and swearing. Yes, I’m talking kimono sleeve gussets!
Why are these so challenging? The insertion involves an acute angle. Our very own So Zo has written a fascinating history of this construction detail over at Colette Patterns here and Pattern Scissors Cloth explains the technique much better than I can here. Her work with these gussets is much more accomplished than my own. A rose print hides many sins. Actually, to be fair, I was pleased with my final accomplishments but this technique is not easy. Extreme accuracy is needed. Oh, and would you mind just passing your laptop to whoever’s sat next to you on the sofa? Here’s a message from Karen:
When the Sewist in your life starts work on kimono sleeve gussets, leave the house. Get as far away as you can.
My boyfriend and I had our first ever Sewing Induced Argument when he became fed up with the language induced by these gussets – and my boyfriend has a high tolerance level for ripe and fruity words. That’s how frustrating these babies can be. I’m just saying. You can either listen to me now or spend a lot of money on relationship counselling. I’m not charging – it’s your choice.
So I’m going to share the few things I learned about these gussets and hope that when you turn to them tears and arguments will be side stepped. I don’t at all claim to be an expert (ha!) but I may be able to help. If any readers have their own experiences and knowledge, I know we’d all love to hear. Let’s begin.
First of all, let’s take a look at the two pieces of fabric that you’re going to sew together:
Yeah, that nice really curvy curve is going to be inserted into that really tight corner so that the two long sides can be sewn together. And those two short sides? They’re going to be sewn together too. Where these two seams meet will make the point of the gusset. How acute is that triangle? This acute:
The first time I attempted this was at home. (Most of my gusset sewing happened at home, sans tutor, because of time constraints.) I kept trying to turn the pieces on the machine with the needle down to negotiate that corner. It didn’t work. I was really sensible. I didn’t swear at all, I just put it to one side and thought, Oh well, my tutor will show me how in the next lesson.
And she did – how she did. You know when someone points out something really obvious and you feel a fool because it was so obvious and you can’t believe you didn’t think about it yourself and then you feel your cheeks turning red so you shuffle off to a corner? That was me. I am going to save you this humiliation and say the most important thing I CAN say in this post:
Don’t assume you have to sew the whole thing in one go. Break it down into three stages of sewing.
Yeah, since when did one entire seam have to be sewn in one continuous line of sewing?
But before we get to that stage we need to add a stabilising two inch bias square of fabric to the point of the corner. All strain will go on that corner when you raise your hands in the air to catch the bouquet, so you need to make sure the stitches don’t split:
At the point of that sewn ‘V’ you are going to start sewing in the long side of your side bodice piece, only working as far as the fullest point of the curve. You’ll want to start this line of sewing exactly as marked on the pattern. Exactly. If you don’t, the corner will pucker like hell and you will swear like a trooper. I used this top pin to let me know right where to lower my sewing machine needle:
Sew as far as the fullest point of that curve and stop. Take the sewing off the machine and pin together the two shorts sides. Go back and sew these together. You are now two steps through your three-stage sewing of this gusset:
Now, return to that long seam and sew up the rest of it. You have yourself a kimono sleeve gusset! The rear will look like this:
I believe this is how the rear is meant to look – let me know if I’m wrong. Ha! Can you see the little shreds of cotton from previous attacks with the seam ripper? A word of warning. If you use this fabric and have a lot of adjustments to make, it has strong memory for pin marks, as evidenced below:
As you can see, my gussets are by no means perfect, but they’re not bad. And remember – these gussets sit in the crease of your armpit, so few other people are going to be peering at them too closely. And I’ll repeat – prints disguise a million sins!
Because we all learn better visually, a young child with thick crayons (ahem) marked up each step of sewing below:
That’s your lot! Do launch in with any other advice for readers and, crucially, myself. And don’t forget to add interfacing to that buttonhole you’re going to sew…