I’ve noticed widely varying sentiments regarding kimono sleeves — some people adore them, some really really don’t. I get that. For me, the thing I didn’t like about some of my earlier kimono-sleeve makes was the fit of the armscye — sometimes it was too low, sometimes too big, sometimes it just felt wrong or only the sleeve width itself needed adjusting. After a couple of years of finally getting a grasp on adjustments to set-in sleeves, these things threw me quite the curve — all while maintaining the pretense of being simpler…
But I really WANTED to like them. You know that feeling? Something was niggling at me. I saw it working for other sewists, I wanted to believe that I could make it work too, and yet I didn’t know how to get there. One of my TNT patterns has cut-on sleeves that work great, despite being made from woven fabric. But really, that was just lucky, because the truth was I didn’t understand how to tweak their fit to my liking.
What pushed me to figure it out was Cake. When I first sewed Tiramisu, I made zero alterations, and the bodice shape worked really well for me. The sleeves could stand to be widened a tiny bit, but they don’t bind or cause discomfort. Then I made my Cabarita, and I realized the more I wore it that I needed to figure this out. Even though I love that top, I want the armscye and sleeves to work a little better for me. On my body, the sleeves are snug and yet the armscye is roomy. Steph has said a couple of times on her blog that one of the reasons she loves kimono sleeves is because the fabric doesn’t stick under her arms when it’s hot. My preference is actually the opposite — when I’m sweaty, I hate to feel skin-on-skin at my pits. Sorry if this is TMI, but it is what it is. So, is there a way for both preferences to wear kimono sleeves with comfort? As it turns out, yes.
The Cake bodice size that fits me the best in most places is the 45. But straight up, that size is *not* big enough for my arms – Tira was an anomaly because of the bias cut. For my Cabarita, which was chosen by full bust size rather than high-to-full proportion, I made a 50 and my biceps even gave *that one* trouble. But I definitely like the height of the armscye better on the 45, so that’s the size I will choose from now on with this sleeve alteration.
First, decide how much to widen the sleeve. Divide this increase by two, and make the same change to the front and back bodice pieces. Make a mark up from the original sleeve cutting line to the increase:
Next, connect the shoulder point to the mark you made. I like to measure the original sleeve line and make the new one the same length, but this is preference — you can lengthen or shorten the sleeve at the same time as you make this alteration:
When I first tried this alteration, I didn’t change my underarm cutting line and I found it was too short — with my arms down at my sides, the hem rose higher under my arm than it did on the outside of my arm. I don’t have a picture of this unfortunately, so let me know if that doesn’t make sense. So now I lengthen this seam about an inch. Draw the underarm line if you’re changing it, and connect the two:
This last thing is optional, but I’ve found it useful. When I first figured out this alteration, I used a protractor to take a look at that shoulder angle, both before and after. Here’s why: depending on the sleeve length the designer has drafted, making the measurement like that first step above can unpredictable. But if you know the angle you like, you’re closer to your preferred fit:
I turned my house inside out looking for a protractor when I first decided to measure this! Remember those little metal ones? I don’t even know if those are still made that way (sharp metal corners and all), but we must have purchased at least half a dozen for my required school supplies over the years. I felt *sure* that I must still have one around somewhere… alas, no dice. But apparently there’s this newfangled world wide web thing where you can find anything you need and more that you don’t… I printed my protractors here. :)
but nothing’s that straightforward…
The peculiar thing about this was that I never brought it to Steph. She didn’t even know I was playing with my sleeve alterations until I told her what I did with my Red Velvet. She would have saved me a lot of time and befuddlement by helping me with it sooner, but I didn’t ask. So as I was writing this post, I examined that. At first I chalked it up to needing time to sort out what I was wanting from the fit. Yes, maybe that was part of it. I like to figure out a puzzle on my own sometimes? Sure, possibly a small factor.
But that wasn’t all there was to it. As much as I want to think that I’ve moved past this issue, the culprit was… body shame. Again. Even when I didn’t realize it. Sneaky, stealthy, silent snake, that body shame. Here was a pattern that fit me in almost all places, so the place where it didn’t must mean that my body was just wrong there, so just try to ignore it and maybe it will go away or magically get better. Or even worse, what if I said something that inadvertently revealed that Cake Patterns won’t work for me after all?? The designs I loved, the job I adored, even the friendship I’d developed with Steph were all at risk from the shame’s standpoint. WHAT THE HELL. It seems so ludicrous now in retrospect, but until I coaxed it to the surface I wasn’t able to resolve it.
Someone very important to me likes to say that one of the key traits of shame is isolation. I find that so incredibly true that even forcing myself to un-isolate it makes it go away. Shame can’t survive when it’s shared with other people, especially kind and empathetic ones. And the ironic thing is that we all have shame about something. And yet when we’re feeling it, we’re sure we’re the only ones.
So now I’m kind of on a mission…. to address some questions that sewists have regarding altering kimono sleeves. It will be cathartic for me, and I hope the result will be helpful for some others. I’ve started with the fitting issue that *I* was struggling with, but will you share with me if there’s a topic about kimono sleeves/bodices that you would like to see? It doesn’t have to be a Cake Pattern-related experience, and if you want to email me about your question rather than commenting about it here, that’s absolutely fine. Demystification, coming right up… :)