Back Stay, Sleeve Head, Deliberate Mistake

Yes, I’m concerned about the bubbling on that interlining, too.

Whilst I continue to avoid the terrifying challenge of making bound buttonholes on my V8548 coat, I have been keeping myself busy with a couple of other tailoring techniques.

I’ve added a calico back stay, pictured above, following Sewaholic’s fabulous tutorial. I’ve become such a fan of calico (muslin to US readers) since I started sewing. It’s affordable, unpretentious, and essential. I’ve found it a good idea to always have a stock on hand. Tilly recently raised the point that calico has become expensive because of rocketing prices at source. Here’s my top tip: go to Saeed Fabrics from Walthamstow market (or your local fabric supplier) and ask for some curtain lining fabric. It’s really cheap and just straightforward unbleached cotton. More than adequate for a person’s needs.

I’ve also made some sleeve heads, following instructions from the updated Clare B Shaeffer’s ‘Couture Sewing Techniques‘. I’m so glad to finally have used this book and justify the outlay! I tend to rely heavily on blog tutorials.

Sleeve heads prevent the top of the sleeve from collapsing. They don’t aim to change the shape, just maintain it. I felt this was a good technique to use on my coat as the cashmere wool does have some give in it.

Here are the sleeve heads pinned onto the seam line, which I marked with chalk:

And here are the sleeve heads once I’d hand stitched them in place:

Neat, huh? I mean, I don’t actually know what I’m doing so if any of my readers are sleeve head experts, do let me know if I’m going wrong anywhere. There IS a deliberate mistake in this photo – let me know if you spot it!

By the way, am I the only person this regularly happens to:

Every time I buy new chalk, I drop a piece. As day follows night, that’s the routine.  The chalk smashes into smithereens and basically becomes unusable. Should I be buying chalk pens instead? Advice, please!

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26 Responses to Back Stay, Sleeve Head, Deliberate Mistake

  1. I like those chalk wheel things. No need to sharpen them. Never had any success with chalk pencils yet. I found them reluctant to make marks and prone to breaking. But mostly I use tailor tacks rather than chalk.

  2. Your coat is looking good! Love the colour. I can’t wait to see your button holes! By the way, where did you get your silk organza from?

    I too am prone to a bit of chalk dropping and have recently splashed out on a Clover Chaco Liner pen for straight lines/curves and Clover Chacopel pencils for general marking. They are both really really good and anything that helps me make accurate markings is worth every extra little penny!

    • The silk organza was from Goldhawk Road. I’d say at least half the shops there sell organza, but I determinedly hunted out the cheapest available which was from Universal Textiles, on the same side of the road as the tube station and up near Vesbar. When buying it’s worth checking that it is SILK organza.

  3. piakdy says:

    Great to see progress on this coat. I was planning on making the same coat. Eventually. Mine won’t be as nice though as I bought the pattern to use up a very very old and stiff coat fabric I have in a very very ugly color. I might just adopt some of your ideas for mine – if I ever get around to making the coat!

    On the chalk, it happens to me too. But if the broken pieces are big enough to grab then I sharpen the edges with a craft knife and continue to use them. I must have been Scottish in my previous life!

    The other idea to grind them up and gather the dust up in a piece of scrap calico and use this for dusting around pattern pieces. I read about this in an email tip from the woman who makes Seam Allowance Guides. She uses the rock climber version & just dust around the pattern pieces. My Cabrera men’s tailoring book also mention a similar technique where the chalk is scratched to leave dust marking for pocket placement and other internal markings / guides. (Their pattern pieces are made of cardboard with notches / holes for these internal markings.) A recent post at Frabjous Couture ( also featured a Chanel video showing similar technique used to transfer embroidery design onto fabric – see segment about 2:40 into the video. I’ve also seen similar thing done for fresco painting where they use a tracing where to make the holes for the markings and then chalk or charcoal dusts transfer design onto the wall. Never used any of these ideas yet. One day though, one day…

  4. yesilikethat says:

    It’s all looking super professional, can’t wait to see the finished coat! Would also love to know where you got the silk organza – is there somewhere in London that sells it?

    I always manage to step on my chalk pieces. Sometimes when they’re under a piece of fabric so that tiny white specks go all over my work-in-progress.

  5. shivani says:

    I’m really enjoying these details – can’t wait to see the finished item!
    Those tailors’ chalks don’t last 30 seconds with me – I’m too clumsy. But I recently bought this chalk pencil set: – it’s brilliant, and comes with lots of colours! x

  6. Claire says:

    I love the clover loose chalk pen – after using it you will never go back to normal chalk.

  7. Kay Y says:

    I’m curious why you are attaching the sleeve heads before setting in the sleeves. I’ve always done it afterwards, so it’s easier to figure out exactly where they need to be.

    • I have absolutely no idea! I barely know what I’m doing. Any other readers have opinions on the stages of work?

      • LinB says:

        I, too, attach sleeve heads and/or sleeve supports after the sleeves are set in. (Cut an oval on the bias to match the shape of the sleeve cap, fold oval in half, sew just outside armsceye sleeve seam — helps support sleeve on lightweight jackets, and blouses. The sleeve support rests on your shoulder, so the sleeve hangs more freely.) Strips of fabric sewn just outside armsceye sleeve seam act to fill in the gap between your shoulder and the sleeve in heavier fabrics, preventing the sleeve from collapsing or dimpling at your shoulder — as well as helping support the weight of the sleeve.

      • Thanks, guys! It looks as though I may have done my steps in the wrong order.

  8. Law says:

    Cheap chalk pencils always break on me so I gave up on them. I use a water soluble marker pen for most of my markings, but you have to test it on new fabric everytime, and it is obviously no good for dry clean only fabrics. I am personally not a fan of the clover chalk wheel pens, I find they make too much chalk dust and rub off too easily, but it seems like other peeps like them so they might work for you.

  9. Hi Karen,
    (As per other comments above) I love chalk pens too.
    There’s the triangle shaped ones (bit like a plastic version of the ones in your last picture), then there’s the pen shaped ones (‘Clover Chaco Liner‘ – round pen profile, or the ‘Premier Slim Chaco Liner Chalk Marker‘ – kind of like a flattened pen) – I get mine from here: (just $3.33 USD to anywhere in the World) I have them in light and dark colours – so that I have something appropriate to show up on different colours of fabric. Though they might not deliver to you quick enough? John Lewis stocks the triangle shaped ones for around £4 each – but only in white chalk powder IIRC.

  10. I’ll add to the recommendations for the Chaco Liner Pens and the Chacopel pencils. I recently splurged on lots of sewing bits and pieces and these are the best markers I have found.

  11. Jessica says:

    I’d tried all the marking tools from my local fabric shop, but they just didn’t give me want I wanted, clean lines, washable and usable on ALL fabrics. I read in the Pattern Review Tips book, but teachers chalk (12 for a dollar) and a 2 size pencil sharpener, chalk fits in the larger hole perfectly. I even bought a chalk metal grip to save it from getting lost and broken. If you wanted you could keep the shaving dust as mentioned above.
    It’s really the been the best thing for me.

  12. Elizabeth says:

    Is the mistake that you sewed them on upside down? Not sure as I installed mine when my sleeve was already attached. I love your detailed posts.

  13. LinB says:

    I use slivers of dried soap instead of chalk. They have a nice, sharp edge, and show up well on all but the palest fabrics. When they break, I feel far less guilty tossing them into the trash than when my chalk markers break. (Those go into the compost bin, which you may not have, as you live in a city.)

  14. MrsC says:

    I ust use the sharpened bits. One brand, makes rectangular chalks that don’t seem to break so easily, and I have seen a holder thingy for the triangle. I’ve tried modern gizmos too, but I come back to chalk, soap sometimes, and tailor’s tacks. An old fashioned girl at heart 🙂 And a cheapskate!

  15. MrsC says:

    Oh and of course, tailor’s carbo and a wheel…

  16. Ruth says:

    Last time I bought chalk, the shopkeeper seized it from my hand and vigorously hurled it at the counter top a couple of times, saying, “This is the best one. It doesn’t break!” i was a bit startled but now I know why he did it!

  17. Clarissa says:

    This happens to me too! I started using a chalk pen, but then I just drop those and break them too. Perhaps we’re just destined to break chalk.

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  19. Molly says:

    All caught up, have enjoyed your coat posts and filed away for a future project, what a journey for you but worth pushing your limits! May I ask what is the seam finish on the bodice princess seams? I use the same chalk cartridge pen as Shivani (also purchased from Morplan which is just off Tottenham Ct Rd IIRC) and really like it, they draw easily, brush off without too much effort, come with lots of colours and if you break a rod you can still use it in the pen. Changing colours is quick and easy. On my last project I used it to draw round the pattern pieces onto the fabric – it was just like using a ruler and pencil – then removed pattern, adjusted seams for fit and cut out fabric using pencil line as guide. Fun to do things a bit differently 🙂

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