Kimono Sleeve Gussets

Butterick B5605

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:

Easy, right?

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:

Can you see the pin marks still there?

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…

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48 Responses to Kimono Sleeve Gussets

  1. Portia says:

    Hmmm, I don’t think this is something I’m going to want to tackle anytime soon, but well done you!
    BTW, that last photo is particularly lovely. It seems to capture the whole essence of that dress without even having very much of it in the frame….your sis is indeed a clever lady. Must be in the genes….;)

  2. Portia says:

    BTW, check out BBC 4 at 9pm tonight….;)

    • I saw that on your blog! I’m out tonight and am too much of a dunderhead to record it. (My boyfriend HATES it that I still talk about ‘recording’ things with, you know, a ‘tape’. That’s how it still works, right?)

      • Portia says:

        You should be able to download from the iPlayer for a couple of days after I think…?
        Have a good night out…now what is one of those like again….??

      • Ann says:

        LOL – I do that too – talk about recording show on the telly, watching a Video, say stuff like: I can’t find the TAPE with XY on. AND I teach my 3yo the same – they are going t think her parent are acient when she starts school.
        Sadly I won’t be able to catch any of those show either – with a bit of luck they might get a send in DK later

  3. This is beautiful and well done for your patience. Have never attempted anything like this before, but maybe now….!

  4. MrsC says:

    Beautiful work 🙂 Clever touch reinforcing the point -that’s the kind of tip that makes so much sense, once you’ve heard it!

  5. Uta says:

    You look great, and your dress turned out beautiful! When I made my second set of welt pockets my husband actually remembered the first set from about ten years back, and that we had renamed them “Fluchtaschen” (cursing pockets). Using Burda mag instructions and nothing else didn’t help; the second set went much more smoothly…

  6. Roobeedoo says:

    Well at least this solves part of the mystery of my failed attempt at a 1950’s dress last year. Though mine seemed to have a side bodice to slot in somewhere there too.
    Now why didn’t you take your pictures in a rowing boat at Hollow Ponds?! ; )

  7. Sandy says:

    I’ve never sewn a kimono sleeve but did get interested in a pattern once than someone said had devil like sleeve gussets, so methinks that could be the same.

    My “oh my gosh that’s so obvious, why didn’t I think of that?” moment was when you said about putting a small patch of fabric on a sharp turn….I have a Colette dress that had the sharp turn armholes….guess whos dress ripped at the armhole when wearing it??!? Fortunately I was at home and not out and about!!

  8. That’s really useful. I need to bookmark this page now! I’ve experienced the whole stitch, unpick, stitch, unpick before and it can be so disheartening. This is going to solve all my problems… [She says hopefully… ] 🙂

  9. mujerboricua says:

    OHMIGOD! Thank you for this. My dressmaking class ended yesterday and I started this pattern…um…yesterday. So I am going to be making this sans tutor and need all the help I can get! Oh boy. I am a bit afraid…

  10. prttynpnk says:

    This is such a great tutorial- thank you so much! I would have just done that whole long side then had to wrestle it with my leg up on the machine for the short side. You’ve saved me some hair loss, Ma’am!

  11. little betty says:

    I just made a frock from the 1960’s with similar gussets in the kimono sleeves. My pattern called for the bias square to be sewn right sides together to the front bodice, then slashed and turned to the inside. This pretty much gave you a reinforced corner and a guide for sewing. I still marked all of my seams to get them neat and interfaced the bodice points just above the gusset for a little extra reinforcement. You can see here on my blog and the instructions from the 1960’s:
    Great work!

  12. Wow, I had no idea there was so much involved with making a kimono sleeve. Very interesting info. By the way, your hair looks so gorgeous and shiny in these photos!

  13. Andrea says:

    Thanks for the detail tips on the kimono sleeves. I must confess that in my “newbie sewist” state, I have yet to encounter them but will be sure to refer back to this post if/when I do. Your dress is so lovely that I imagine when you look at it now the pain of the kimono sleeves was worth it, right?

  14. LinB says:

    Hahahahaha! you write so amusingly! Sorry that the gussets frustrated you. I LOVE gussets. They are the full-busted gal’s friend. Also the friend of those of us with large upper arms. You can insert them into any sort of seam, you know, not just under your arm. Crotch gussets are possible. Side seams. Sleeve seams. Inside fisheye darts (ref. “Silence of the Lambs” in the sewing room of the first victim). Oval gussets have saved many a garment for me, that somehow ended up just a squidge too tight under the arms. You can make them of another fabric entirely, to be a surprise for onlookers (or if you’ve run out of the fashion fabric, or are rescuing RTW). And you can use the corner reinforcement trick many places: at the ends of darts, to stabilize pleats, on every corner of an angular gusset.

  15. Farah says:

    Oh thank you so much for this walkthrough. I have a lovely early 60’s dress that is all cut out, but I had to put in in the naughty drawer because of the underarm gussets. The construction is exactly like yours, so i think i am going to give it another go. I think i need a more forgiving fabric though. a print is a great idea.

  16. Elizabeth says:

    Wow, I had no idea they were so tricky. Well done and thanks for the tutorial!

  17. Sherry says:

    Your gussets look amazing – like you never had to swear at all!
    Thanks for the mention! I will definitely give your stitch-in-stages suggestion a go at my next sleeve gusset.
    My advice for first-timers is to cut out the pieces in calico and have a practice first. The one about keeping boyfriends out of hearing range is good also!
    And I really hope you didn’t have a bouquet moment – repairing them would be worse than sewing them from scratch!

  18. Debi says:

    oooooohhhhh! Loving the dress! I’ve only tried sleeve gussets once (on my 1933 wool Katherine Hepburn inspired jacket and dress)….it definitely was very tricky. Wish I had done what you did 🙂

  19. I wish I’d read this before tackling the sleeves on Vogue 1239! mine aren’t nearly as neat as yours. Next time I’ll know what to do. My instructions had the bit about sewing the reinforcement to the right side too. I wasn’t entirely convinced. The whole thing feels a bit fragile. Guess the proof will be in the wearing.

  20. Jacqueline says:

    This couldn’t be better timed for me, I was wondering aloud to myself the other day about the lack of dresses with underarm gussets and you’ve provided the reason why. I’m still going to give this a try (whilst keeping your instructions strapped in front of my face, of course), when I work up the nerve. I have a killer dress pattern with kimono gussets that I KNOW will be a knockout, if I handle the construction properly…. so thank you.

  21. Bold Sewist says:

    Wow who would have ever suspected that something as simple-sounding as ‘kimono sleeve’ could require something as complicated as that?! A great tutorial – thanks!

  22. 1950's girl says:

    Amazing, have been squinting at my pattern and looking for some sort of decipher for the last couple of days, thinking that I must be mad, your website has explained it perfectly.


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  24. Penny says:

    Thank you thank you! I got this exact pattern and have spent the afternoon cursing the thing! Just went back to it with this tutorial and have success. True, this piece will have to be the lining since it’s a bit worse for wear now – but I so glad I know how to do it easily. The material I got wasn’t exactly cheap so I need to get it right!

  25. Lotte says:

    Ah Karen, you are a wonder. I’m doing my second make of this pattern (having never documented the first, bad blogger) and thought I would refer back to this tutorial, having gone commando the first time. Your pointers are ACE, the front basically did itself, and I think I’ve worked out how to line it without having to repeat the trick another four times. I’ll let you know how I get on. Thank you once again for holding my hand through this pattern, and the entertainment your dear blog provides me each time it pops up in my reader. x

  26. Heather Lou says:

    I am so happy I found this post. I am sewing up my muslin and was starting to swear loud enough for the neighbors (down the block) to hear. I’m attempting to do this in a stripe (to form a chevron at the bust and then horizontal on the gussets). Am I out of my mind?

  27. So this is the dress I chose as my FIRST EVER DRESS as a complete novice sewer. I did no research, I just went “ooh! pretty!” Understandably, I am now tearing my hair out! But with this wonderfully written post I see a light in my future! hehe, thanks so much for illustrating this tricky area xxx

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  29. Becky says:

    Actually, a typical kimono sleeve doesn’t have a gusset and truly is very simple to make. This is just a tricky combo of a kimono sleeve along with a fitted bodice, gussets and all. If you see “kimono sleeve” on something don’t be afraid of it.
    By the way, I love your dress, and I am so happy to see it because I already have the pattern and the fabric for my next project!

  30. Shedell says:

    I am working on this dress as a bridesmaid’s dress. Sewing 8 total gussets( for the lining) was an absolute BEAST!!!!! I am a novice sewer and I can not believe I made it through such difficult princess seams. Do we get a trophy for this?!?!?! It is such a gorgeous dress though.

  31. lana says:

    Thank you so much for the explanation, worked like a charm, and I was ready to forget abut sewing this dress, so am glad I stumbled upon ur blog, n ur dress is lovely.

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  33. THANK YOU so much!!! I am making this same exact pattern for the Fall Cotton Challenge and as I was making a muslin the gusset were giving me a hard time. I googled and searched online to find helpful hints and I came across this amazing blog post. Again, a billion thanks! I love your dress, btw!

  34. Rachel says:

    Thank you so much for explaining this. I have had a bad time trying to do these and it seems that I was doing them all wrong. For some reason I thought the pattern said to put the bias on the outside and I just couldn’t understand how that would work so I pushed them through the slash on to the wrong side. Do you put the bias on the wrong side? They have puckered a lot so I shall have to try again I think! Thanks for the help :0)

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  37. boocatbutterbee says:

    Thank you for writing this!! Just what I needed.

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